Vegan teacher inspires whole class
Convincing people to go vegan can be challenging because people need to unlearn a lifetime of misinformation and harmful habits. But what if there’s a way to prevent that? What if we can educate children on the realities of the animal industries and inspire them to adopt compassionate habits at a young age? There’s a vegan teacher who did just that! Unfortunately I can’t reveal her identity, but I can share her story:
Children love animals
I teach in England, in a two-form entry mainstream school of over 450 children aged between 2 and 11. The age group I am referring to here is a Year 3 class of 30 children: 15 boys and 15 girls, aged between 7 and 8, the majority of them being from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In all my years of teaching in the primary sector, I have always found that children are innately attracted to animals – not only pets, which a lot of them have at home, but all species, whether farm or wild animals. Because all my life I have always been passionate about the subject, even in my pre-vegan days, I ensured every year that whichever age range I would happen to be teaching, I made time during the day to talk about animals and share facts with the children using online resources and books and also share our personal experiences.
Last academic year, the school I work at decided to raise the children’s awareness of the environmental damage humans are causing to the planet. Starting in September and for the first few weeks of the year, during whole school assemblies, the management team would focus on the importance of recycling, on how much waste we are producing and on how detrimental this is globally. Back in the classroom, one of the children told me she had seen a programme on TV about how eating meat also contributes to the decline of the environment. I saw this as an opportunity to educate my whole class on veganism…
None of the children were aware of the term vegan or veganism although a few had heard of vegetarian. We started by defining what constitutes dairy as the majority of them had no idea that, for instance, cream, ice cream and butter are all made from milk. We also discussed terms such as veal, pork, beef… and what animals they are relating to. One of the children said that someone in her family is vegetarian and how good it is that they are not eating animals. I went on to explaining the difference between being a vegetarian and being a vegan.
We first started by looking at the dairy industry – how cows are treated, the type of life they lead until they are no longer needed and what happens to male calves soon after they are born. We went through the children’s school lunch options for that week and together identified which items contained dairy, such as the cheese sauce on their pasta or the yogurts on offer for dessert. They realised that dairy is used in a lot of what they eat (and drink) on a daily basis. I showed them that the smiling cow figuring on their milk cartons (distributed by the teaching assistant at snack time) is depicted that way to make people believe cows are well treated and happy. One little boy asked what would happen to all the milk cows produce if people stopped drinking it so I explained that cows only produce milk because they have had their babies but those babies are taken away soon after birth so the milk can go to humans instead. I taught them about all the various plant milks available in our local supermarkets and showed them online pictures of cartons of cashew, coconut, oat, rice, soya, almond milk and so on so they would easily identify them when out shopping with their parents. I talked about what I personally use each of them for, like oat milk in my coffee. They all discussed this and were very excited.
We went on to talk about eggs and what happens in poultry farming – again the living conditions for hens and the fate of male chicks. A girl in the class explained she has a few hens in her back garden which her parents keep for their eggs so she asked me whether it was wrong of her to eat the eggs knowing the hens are well cared for. In the same breath, someone else asked about honey and why, bearing in mind bees are not being killed for their honey, whether it would then be alright to eat it. I explained that, if we stop and think about it, animals’ milk, eggs, honey, wool, fur, skin (leather), etc are theirs, not ours to start off with, and I asked whether they thought we should take them knowing they don’t belong to us. They said they had never thought of it that way…
Over the next few weeks and months, we discussed broader issues relating to animal rights and animal welfare. They all decided zoos and circuses were cruel to animals and that it might be better for them to live a shorter but fuller and happier life in the wild than a longer but confined, lonely and often miserable one. We talked about hunting in general and fox hunting in particular, why people kill animals for their fur, ivory, etc and why hunting is considered as a sport by some. One of the children asked if hunting and poaching are a few of the reasons some species are becoming endangered and even extinct.
We discussed animal testing in laboratories, the use of animals in racing such as horses and greyhounds, dog/cock fighting, the dog and cat meat trade as well as animal exploitation in general. The children were not only fascinated but appalled at the same time.
One question led to another
One day, I was sitting with my whole class on a coach on our way to Box Hill, Surrey, for a class trip when the little girl sitting next to me suddenly looked alarmed and asked ‘Miss, are we sitting on real leather seats?’ I explained the seats were most likely not real leather but probably vinyl. She clearly relaxed and replied ‘That’s good because it would have been very wrong, wouldn’t it, if it was real leather?’ The child sitting in the seat in front turned round and, unexpectedly, asked whether it would also be wrong to wear silk.
It was truly amazing. Every day, in or out of class, one question would lead to another and so on and so on. They wanted to know everything. I often had to stop their discussions so that we could get on with the curriculum.
A number of children would also carry out their own online research at home, under adult supervision, and feedback to us the next day. One girl, in particular, found out how sows are kept in dreadful living conditions, in metal crates, with extremely restricted movement and also how calves are kept in hutches, away from their mothers, until they are either sent off to slaughter or follow in their mothers’ footsteps.
Age appropriate guidance
I have to add, at this point, that throughout the course of the year, I never showed the children any footage or any graphic or distressing pictures of animals and I always let them discuss between themselves what we would have just been talking about so they may also have their peers’ perspectives.
I have been teaching most of my life a great number of age ranges and I know children’s psychology and how different children may process information differently according to their level of maturity and understanding.
I did not, at any stage, force my ideas onto them but I guided them by constantly asking them questions and asking for their opinions to make them think and reflect. Most answers did not come from me but from them.
Making different choices
Out of the 30 children in my class, a few of them would bring a packed lunch to school every day. Out of those on school dinners, only a couple of them were still choosing the meat option by the end of the year. The rest consistently opted for the veggie, such as pasta with vegetables in tomato sauce or a jacket potato with beans. Most of them had also stopped requesting the pudding or yogurt for dessert but would choose fresh seasonal fruit instead. Similarly, only 2 children were still drinking cows’ milk mid-morning at snack time. The remaining children did not want to drink theirs any longer. This was their decision, not mine.
The parents’ responses
Out of all of the parents, only one raised an objection. Her daughter told me once that her mum was not really happy about me talking about veganism to the class and that she wanted to come and see me. I asked the little girl to let her mum know that I would be happy to meet with her but she never came to see me and I did not hear any more.
Another parent asked me after school one day whether I could give her more information on veganism as her son had been telling her all about it and she was interested.
I do understand that these children, although old enough to distinguish between what is right and wrong as far as animal welfare is concerned, are greatly influenced by their home life and are not in any position to decide on their lifestyle and diet. The little girl whose mum is keeping hens and wanted to come and see me, announced towards the end of the academic year, that she and her mum had come to a compromise – whilst she was still living at home, she could follow a vegetarian diet until the day she is old enough to live by herself, buy and prepare her own food and become vegan if her mind is still set on it by then.
A better future
In my eyes, this past year has been an outstanding achievement in terms of reaching out to these children, regardless of what path they will opt for later on in their lives. I will be happy even if only one of them takes on board everything that has been discussed and taught and decides to spread the word. Who knows, one may ultimately attain a highly placed position within our society and further our cause to end animal suffering…
I know, because I have experienced it year after year after year, that children are born compassionate and naturally caring and are genuine animal lovers.
Hopefully, I planted a seed in 30 minds and that seed will germinate, for at least a few of these children as they are entering teenage years and then adulthood, into something positive and marvellous for the future of all our animal friends.