IHE M.Ed. grad, Neil Hornish, is co-founder of the Compassionate Living Project, a nonprofit humane education organization. He is also a humane educator for the Ethical Choices Program and a Systems Project Engineer at United Technologies Aerospace Systems.

Neil and his wife, Annie, who live in Connecticut, have been vegan for more than 20 years and are involved in various animal advocacy endeavors. Neil currently serves on IHE’s Board of Directors.

We asked Neil to share about his humane education work and his thoughts about IHE’s graduate program.

IHE: What led you to the path of humane education?

NH: My activism started simply by donating to various charities. As I became more aware of the different issues, I was compelled to not only donate money, but become personally active. I started with demonstrating at circuses and providing public testimony on environmental and animal welfare bills in the state legislature.

At an animal rights conference, I first heard Zoe Weil present the idea of humane education. While there are many different forms of activism, the vision of humane education and the manner in which Zoe presented the strategies to find solutions to problems struck me. I enrolled in IHE’s graduate program.

After graduating from the program in 2005, I created the Compassionate Living Project and began discussing animal, environmental, and human rights issues with students. I have presented to classes from fourth grade through college level. In 2016, after learning about Ethical Choices Program through the IHE Alumni Facebook site, I applied to become one of their humane educators.

IHE: Tell us about the Ethical Choices Program.

NH: The Ethical Choices Program (ECP) was created by Lorena Mucke in 2006 in the greater metro Atlanta, Georgia, area. ECP has expanded by certifying humane educators to provide their presentations in numerous states. In the first quarter of 2016, ECP educators reached more than 5,900 students with 254 presentations. Currently, there are 49 humane educators in 16 states and Alberta, Canada.

The Ethical Choices Program offers presentations to students aged 15 and older, with topics exploring animal agriculture in terms of health, environmental impact, treatment of animals, and the ethics of eating.

IHE: You already run a humane education program, the Compassionate Living Project. What made you decide to do the ECP as well?

NH: The presentations of the Ethical Choices Program (ECP) are very similar to some of the presentations of the Compassionate Living Project (CLP). The presentations focus on critical thinking, providing information of which the students may not be aware, and asking the students to reflect on their personal consumption choices. I am happy to support ECP. Their presentations are well thought-out and well-designed. I have found that some teachers prefer an ECP presentation, and others prefer a CLP presentation. One difference between CLP and ECP is that while some CLP presentations can be modified for different age groups, at this time the ECP presentations are designed for students ages 15 and older.

IHE: How have the students responded to the ECP presentations?

NH: Students have responded overwhelmingly positively to the ECP presentations. Some students are stunned, as they experience the realities of factory farming for the first time. Yet the presentations are designed to empower the students to make meaningful choices. Teachers also respond positively to the presentations because the students are not told what to think, and the sources of the information are available for the teachers and students to verify on their own.

IHE: Talking about veganism and animal agriculture in schools can feel controversial to some folks. What reaction have you gotten from teachers, parents, and other adults?

NH: During my time as a humane educator, I have noticed significant changes in the classrooms. Today, it is rare to find a student or teacher who does not understand the term “vegan,” and it is likely that at least one of the students in the classroom is vegetarian or vegan. Also, more students have at least heard of factory farming.

This knowledge of veganism and factory farming makes the discussion less controversial today than it was 10 years ago. Students appreciate that the presentations acknowledge that ultimately the students must make their own decisions. As a result, the reactions have been positive.

Students appreciate the respect they are given to make their own choices, and teachers and administrators appreciate that the presentations do not comes across as “indoctrination.” Even when presentations are given in schools with strong agricultural programs, and some of the students belong to organizations such as Future Farmers of America, while there may be differences of opinion regarding the ethics of eating animals, the details and impacts of factory farming have not been disputed.

IHE: What are some of the future goals of the ECP?

NH: The Ethical Choices Program continues to look for humane educators. ECP has a goal of having their presentations offered in every state.

IHE: What are some of your future humane ed goals?

NH: I will continue speaking to students in schools. Until humane education becomes part of the core curriculum and all teachers have exposure to humane education as part of their training, there will be a need for humane educators who are not full-time teachers to go into the schools.

I will also encourage more people to become humane educators through IHE’s graduate program, and assist in the implementation of IHE’s Solutionary Congress Program.

Taking a cue from IHE’s Solutionary Congress Program, I have also begun implementing some ideas into action. I have begun transitioning a relative’s tobacco farm into a certified organic farm. The goal is to transition the farm from a monocrop producer to a permaculture environment, and to have the farm be part of the community, supporting various local businesses and restaurants by providing a source of local, organic produce.

IHE: What would you say to others interested in IHE’s graduate programs?

NH: Without a doubt, IHE’s graduate program was one of the defining moments in my life.

Two things I learned from the graduate program are: what I don’t know far exceeds what I do know; and when you are willing to look honestly at the problems our society faces, solutions always present themselves. These two points have helped me keep an open mind, and to welcome new ideas and information.

People often ask me how a humane education degree can be used. My typical response is to start by doing something you enjoy, and you will find that humane education will augment that job.

Humane education is not just for teachers. It is for everyone, such as a financial investor who creates funds supporting sustainable businesses; a medical researcher who develops testing methods to replace animal testing; a manufacturer who ensures their raw materials are obtained using sustainable and fair-trade methods. Humane education shows up in all aspects of our society.

Lastly, in the grad program you will meet the most inspirational and supportive people, in both the faculty and your fellow students. They all help each other navigate the various social justice issues in our society.

It is one of the best and most important investments you can make in your life.

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