Headshot of Laura Chepner smiling towards the camera.

A Truly Humane Education – Laura Chepner – The Vegan Society’s Education Officer – Sentientism Ep:194

Find our Sentientist Conversation here on the Sentientism YouTube and here on the Sentientism podcast.

Laura is Education Officer at The Vegan Society and Chair of The Vegan Society’s Education Network. She is a qualified primary school teacher and well known for introducing the phrase ‘vegan-inclusive education’ to the education sector. Laura worked for several years as the UK’s only vegan inclusion education specialist under the pseudonym ‘Primary Veducation’ and continues to offer training to school staff on what it means to be vegan and how to appropriately teach and treat vegan learners in their care. Laura also empowers vegan learners and parents/guardians by facilitating the creation of peer-developed and reviewed resources and offering supportive interventions.

In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?”

Sentientism is “evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” In addition to the YouTube video above the audio is on our Podcast here on Apple & here on all the other platforms.

00:00 Clips!

01:14 Welcome

03:20 Laura’s Intro

– Supporting vegan learners & their families in education (vs. discrimination, being misunderstood)

– Former primary school teacher “my first love”

– Supporting the educators. Building the world’s first and only CPD (continuous professional development) training course helping educators in being “vegan inclusive”

– Leaving teaching after becoming vegan “I felt that the curriculum clashed with my ethics too much”

– Vegan daughter starts school “They told me that they weren’t going to provide a lunch for her… I was crying around the supermarket getting a packed lunch… my daughter is the most compassionate, kind & loving girl… I think she’s being discriminated against.”

– Working with friends to create the UK’s first vegan menu in her school

– Starting “Primary Veducation” as a free consultancy

– “Theorising vegan-inclusive education”

– “To live through that [discrimination] was mind-boggling… I felt like I was by myself… on my own… all of these things were just completely flipped… I had to find this voice… I believed I was the only vegan the village… who would even care?”

– Finding a vegan community. A wave of vegan parents wanting help “I realised it’s not just me… shouting in this echo chamber”

– “Everything I’d been taught… by people who I respected… my parents, my teachers, religious leaders… told me that one thing was correct… it wasn’t”

– “Everything felt undone… it did feel utterly heartbreaking… something good has come out of it”

11:44 What’s Real?

– Jewish family. Russian-Latvian-Irish-British

– Grandmother born Christian, converted to #judaism

– Attending Jewish school, Synagogue and Sunday School

– Mother “wanted my brother and I to be the most Jewish we could possibly be so we could fit in… Bar and Bat Mitvah’s”

– “Religion… become something… neither of us… are particularly driven by anymore”

– Brother & family atheist

– Valuing Jewish community, tradition, culture, food… “it’s familiar”

– “religion… of great importance… probably not… it’s just that background part of my identity”

– “A lot of the people who I grew up with just have blind faith and don’t question… god did this, god created that, we live the way the 10 commandments tell us to – anything other than that is just outrageous”

– “We are a people who have been discriminated against… we are strong… we need each other… we just follow the rules and we don’t question”

– Outgrowing friends from school “they don’t ask these questions…”

– “Sometimes ignorance is bliss… aren’t you worried you’re going to die one day? – no because god… it seems like a lovely thing to have… a safe, kind, supportive place to be.”

– “I was already starting to question… did Noah’s ark really have these animals… was the Red Sea really parted? They seemed to much to be stories… to have any real truth about them”

– At college & university “I rarely spoke about it [religion] at all… it wasn’t part of my life at all”. Party trick writing people’s names in Hebrew

– “The hypocrisy for me… it was just becoming too stark”

– Reform and orthodox Judaism

– “I would sit at my synagogue – men and women together… they would encourage children to come and play at the front… my rabbi is female and vegan… she and I had a conversation… she did a sermon on being kind to animals”

– “But if I go to a synagogue where the majority of friends from school went… the women would have to sit upstairs… I just couldn’t understand why the women were shaving their heads and wearing sheitels and sat upstairs… had to play this role of mother… where is all their ambition?… I just found myself questioning a lot, all of the time”

– The kosher rule against mixing meat and milk “…it wasn’t fair to mix the meat of the mother with the milk for the intended calf… you’re so close!… Someone somewhere has had the thought that it’s a little bit crazy to separate the mother from her child…”

– “Here we’re celebrating life by having a burnt egg on the table… eat lamb chops”

– “Too many questions about these traditions… why wasn’t anybody thinking more about compassion for the non-human animal”

– Going vegetarian at 11 yrs old “it was so unheard of”, vegan at 30

– “Everything that was coming from everybody who I respected and who was religious… didn’t make sense to me”

– “Laura the lawyer” nickname – giving a speech about fox-hunting in front of class

25:30 What & Who Matters?

– “I genuinely believe that every human is born with an intrinsic love and compassion for everyone and everything around them… non-human animals… each other… themselves and the planet… then we’re corrupted”

– Child A who kills a spider “wouldn’t you… be concerned about that child” vs. Child B who saves a spider “wouldn’t you want to harness and love and just reward this child”

– “They’ve probably witnessed others do that… they’ve just missed out on that humane education… somebody saying… put yourself in the shoes of that spider…”

– “We either witness the pain & the suffering and then we build this cognitive dissonance… or we catch them early enough”

– Before 11 yrs “I thought it was normal, natural, necessary… to use and abuse animals”

– “When the ego softens and you learn more about the world… my natural intrinsic love for non-human animals… became more powerful… I’m one of the lucky ones”

– The turning point “My late grandmother offered me a tongue sandwich… I said ‘grandma that’s a peculiar name for a sandwich… and that was it… when she explained to me why it was called tongue… I couldn’t unsee or unfeel what I’d felt that way. I don’t know how other people can eat non-human animals… an alien concept.”

– “My mum, to her credit, became vegetarian at the same time because she’d also had these thoughts and feelings but didn’t feel supported enough to actually follow through”

– “I was lucky enough to have that support that she’d never had… it was just the two of us – nobody else who we knew was vegetarian for many years”

– “When I became vegan so did she, so did my brother and his wife and their children and… pretty much all a big gang…”

– “My friends were not very supportive… my school – not very supportive… the wider world – not very supportive back then either”

– “I didn’t even know what a vegan was when I was 11… otherwise I may have gone straight to that”

– A teacher asks “Do you think that my children are bad people because they eat animals?”… “I said ‘absolutely not!’”… marketing, how we’re brought up, social norms…

– “For me and my daughters it’s very black and white… we either cause harm or we don’t… we’re either compassionate or we’re not… a lot of people are stuck in a grey area where they perhaps haven’t had the right education… their cognitive dissonance is strong… listening to people… who are saying these things are OK”

– Remembering what it was like to have been enthusiastic about consuming animal products

– Kids being taught about “lovely” animal farms, chick hatcheries, butterfly hatcheries, visiting zoos “from such an early age the use and abuse of animals is used so much in our education system… generation after generation can’t even understand veganism as a concept because of that constant messaging of ‘it’s OK… use them… they’re here for us’”

– “There aren’t good people or bad people it’s just how much are you listening to the bad message”

– JW: “The things you have to believe to think that consuming animal products is ethical… you have to believe some crazy stuff… animals aren’t sentient… farming doesn’t cause them harm… we can’t survive without them… those epistemological errors are often much more of the issue than people just saying ‘I don’t’ care about animals’ because nearly everybody does.”

– Anti-vegan Twitter trolls “just bored or want to upset you… if you put a knife and a pig in front of them… they’d show their true colours”

– Biocentrism and ecocentrism and anthropocentrism vs. sentiocentrism

– “I’m glad that there are people advocating for nature… it’s in dire straits… we are all interconnected”

– “Effective altruism… I’ve only got so much time and effort and money and energy to spend so I’m going to craft this area [vegan education]… but I know without all of these other people [health, environment…]… it wouldn’t be a movement at all…”

– People advocating for protecting rivers and forests “I’m grateful that they are”

– “There aren’t enough of us making enough noise… we’re not winning currently but I’d like to think that we well… if our voices join up”

44:57 Making a Better World?

– JW: “There’s a positive opportunity for education… but we could do so much by not doing bad education!… let kids develop as they are that would be 90% of the problem.”

– “We have to just get the youth while they are young… I promote a humane curriculum that celebrates non-human animals but doesn’t use non-human animals”

– “Yes, as a teacher, please use animals as a muse… but don’t bring them into class and don’t take them on trips to see them caged… let’s teach children about compassion for non-human animals”

– Building a tree-house instead of hatching chicks under light-bulb without their mother

– “Just see things from the animals’ point of view”

– Kids feel awe learning about dinosaurs they’ve never met “they never need to see a zebra up close… you don’t need to drag them to a zoo… if you’re a good enough teacher you can create that same awe and wonder…”

– “Educators have the power to foster that innate love, that compassion, that beautiful thing that I believe all children are born with – if they are teaching a humane curriculum”

– “Simple tweaks… when they’re baking… use a plant-based recipe.”

– “Refer to them as animals who are farmed as opposed to farm animals”

– Teaching kids about compassion “it’s a half an hour or an hour at the end of the day… it should run all the way through everything that is taught”

– Nursery rhymes “once I caught a fish alive… three blind mice… old Macdonald and his make-believe farm – it’s  just relentless… from entry level”

– “If educators all around the world just stopped teaching the curriculum… outdated, irrelevant… and started thinking about ‘what are the problems in the world – how can we fix them?’”

– “It is time for humane education to step up… and the big players in the humane education field start getting into politics… selling this idea that we need to start again… completely”

– Fundamental shifts but in practice easy changes

– Writing Laura’s book “Veducation: An educators guide for vegan-inclusive teaching”… curriculum, school ethos, policy, leadership… “and then the food also”

– “Perhaps if we didn’t do that we’d be raising more compassionate children…  would that be so terrible?”

– “If I can write a book on a subject then it’s an easy subject… I’m just a teacher and a mum… it should be so easy for policy-makers”

– Schools already have compassion and caring in their values statements. JW: “All we’re asking is ‘let’s put that into practice’”

– The Institute for Humane Education. See Zoe Weil and Mary-Pat Champeau Sentientism interviews

– “The humane education community needs to step up”

– “Stop putting plasters over the problem and get to the root cause… I’ll do it!”

– Good feedback from vegan parents “Vegan parents feel more empowered… there is stuff happening”

– Getting humane education training / online CPD courses on vegan inclusion (coming soon globally available!) to stick in schools is tough

– “I feel as though I need to do a lot more work in policy… perhaps get into politics… do that route changing myself”

– “Without somebody… more influential than little old me saying ‘you have to do this’ it won’t be done”

– In the UK “schools do not have to provide vegan food… it’s not in the standards… but if a school chooses not to they’re not complying with the public sector equality requirements [veganism is a protected characteristic in human rights legislation]… it’s outrageous!”

– “We can scream it from the rooftops but essentially… because of that grey area… why would a school comply?”

– “It’s ridiculous how much pressure teachers and headteachers are under”

– “As much as I love my job and I feel that it is having some effect in some places… there’s still so much to do”

– “As the community grows… and as veganism grows… it is growing exponentially… people who plant seeds to not shade in its leaves… perhaps mad enough to get stuff done… It’s my passion.”

– “I don’t feel on my own either…” Michelle St John (VinE), Ruth Jenkins (vegan inclusive education map), PETA / Viva / Animal Aid developing education work, ProVeg school plates, Plant Based School Kitchens, Plant-Based Universities branching in to Plant-Based Schools… “there is a community of us… it’s just all very slow… I’m just impatient…”

– “Sense has to prevail… it just has to!”

– Teaching veganism and sentientism in “religious and worldviews” education

– The struggle to get focus on worldviews/philosophy/values education given the pressures re: Maths, English, sciences and other subjects “the Humanities aren’t seen as something greatly important”

– “It’s nice to have veganism on the curriculum… but it’s more important to get that curriculum changed so it runs through…”

– JW: “Kids love the fundamentals of philosophy… how can we work out what’s true?… who should we care about?… the average 6 year old is better at philosophy than the average adult on Twitter – although that’s a low bar…”

– “Isn’t it so sad to think those same wonderful children… are being confined to the Victorian style method of teaching… I cannot believe this is still what our education system looks like.”

– Laura as a future Education Secretary! “I might just be mad enough to do that”

– “I am full of hope… it feels like a marathon and I just want to sprint”

– Vegan CampOut (Laura runs the family marquee!), vegan documentaries, feeling the momentum… “I just hope that I do get to live to see some of the benefits”

01:17:12 Follow Laura

Laura at The Vegan Society


Veducated: An Educator’s Guide for Vegan Inclusive Teaching

Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at Sentientism.info.

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Thanks to Graham for the post-production and to Tarabella and Denise for helping to fund this episode via our Sentientism Patreon.

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