Can Film Change the World? Submit Yours for Pangea Day & Find Out

There's no question that a number of films have inspired and challenged people all over the world, and now that pretty much anyone with a camera can create something and share it with others -- thanks to sites like YouTube -- there's ever more opportunity for us to learn more about each other and come together to help transform the world into a compassionate, sustainable, peaceful place.

The people behind Pangea Day hope to harness the power of film to do just that. They have 3 goals for their event:
  • to bring together people from all over the world on one day -- May 10, 2008 -- to share the experience of inspiring films, music and speakers
  • to use "the power of film" to help us all understand one another better
  • to form a "global community" that can work together to create a better future.
Right now, Pangea Day organizers are seeking people to share their stories through film. The deadline for submitting films is February 15, 2008.

The Pangea Day website includes sample films that the organizers have found inspiring, as well as all the submission and event details.

What a great opportunity for humane educators to share their stories and promote the power of humane education!

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Humane Education Issues in the News...

Bosphorus University in Turkey opens new Peace Education CenterBianet (12/24/07)
Bosphorus University in Istanbul, Turkey, has opened a Peace Education Practice and Research Center. The purpose of the center is to offer educational materials, organize peace education opportunities, give seminars on “peace journalism” and conduct/publish research on peace issues.

Middle school students honored for activismThe Courier-Journal (12/23/07)
Students from the St. Francis of Assisi school’s Committee on Conscience were recently honored by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum for their work in promoting and supporting social issues.

EU Government to promote media literacy for citizens - China View News (12/21/07)
Based on results from a recent survey of EU citizens regarding their media literacy, the European Commission has decided to emphasize improving the media literacy of EU citizens.

Halifax universities increasing environmental ed opportunitiesThe Daily News (12/21/07)
The number of courses, programs and degrees focusing on environmental studies and sustainability are significantly increasing at universities in Halifax, in order to keep up with interest and demand.

Portland State University commits to hiring more “green” facultyThe Oregonian (12/19/07)
In order to increase PSU’s (and the city of Portland’s) reputations as sustainable leaders, PSU plans to hire up to 10 faculty with expertise in sustainable issues.

New York State launches kids conservation magazine to connect students with natureNYS Department of Environmental Conservation (12/18/07)
Fourth grade students in New York public schools will receive a special gift three times a year. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation has launched Conservationist for Kids, a magazine designed to “encourage children to reconnect with the outdoors and the natural world.” The magazine’s website will also offer resources for teachers.

Group turns gardening into lessons about food, interconnection – Paly Voices (12/14/07)
Collective Roots, a nonprofit group, has spent the last seven years using organic gardening to teach K-12 students about nutrition, the source of their food, and the impact of their choices on the environment.

Elementary students learn media literacy skills in the classroom - Herald Online (12/6/07)
Fourth graders at Orchard Park Elementary school learned about dissecting ads, comparing ads with the actual products, looking for deceptive techniques, and other media literacy skills.
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Winter Solstice

It was Solstice just the other day, the darkest time of the year in the northern hemisphere, but also the time when longer days resume, a strange conflation of darkness and coming light.

I have just returned from an emergency visit to my father-in-law. A couple days ago, doctors told my husband that his 92-year-old father was in kidney failure and had just days to live. Today, he is clamoring to get out of bed (and doing so), reading the newspaper, and heartily eating. Life is unpredictable. As is death.

We live in dark times. Or do we? There’s no doubt that we face dangers unprecedented in human history. The ice caps are melting. Species are disappearing faster than we can identify them. Human slavery is on the rise. Resources are dwindling. Institutionalized animal cruelty causes tens of billions of sentient animals to suffer horribly. All true. All dark.

But just as my father-in-law defied the dire predictions this week, so too may the challenges we face be met not with catastrophe, but with positive change and creativity. I believe that our personal challenge is to meet the dark with our own light – our wisdom, our compassion, our courage, and our commitment, and thereby transform the perils we face into opportunities.

As the year turns and as the light returns, may you bring forth your light to this world that needs you so.

~ Zoe, IHE President
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Filmmakers Use Comedy to Explore the Multiracial Experience

Many people probably still remember the controversy over comedian Michael Richards' use of the "N" word on stage. Radio host Don Imus, fired over his use of racial slurs, has recently been rehired with another station. What are the limits of who gets to say what?

Crossing the Line: Multiracial Comedians is a documentary that explores the multiracial experience through comedy, pain, healing and power. It analyzes "how mixed race comedians mediate multiracial identities and humor." The film also includes interviews with people like Dr. Randall Kennedy, Harvard Law School professor and author of the book Nigger.

Crossing the Line's website offers a 12 minute excerpt from the film (click on the "demo"), which could serve as a useful jumping off point for humane educators wanting to explore issues of bigotry, language, context, boundaries, freedom of speech, etc., with high school and college students.

The film recently premiered in Brookline, Massachusetts, and the DVD will be available to purchase ($299) as of January 15, 2008. The Educational Edition includes a teacher's guide, an interactive activity, extended interviews, and more.

This documentary is the first in a four-part series, with other topics including politicians, shock jocks and rock/rap musicians.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Don't Sweat(shop) the Small Stuff

While our children are all nestled in their beds with visions of sugarplums dancing about, and looking forward to acquiring a whole slew of new stuff that they'll be talking about incessantly with their friends for weeks after winter break is over, it's an excellent time to encourage them to think critically about the people behind all that new stuff -- most of which quite possibly came from sweatshops.

Several sites address issues of sweatshops, child labor and fair trade. A couple that might be especially useful for helping students explore these issues include:

Co-op America’s Ending Sweatshops Program
Information about sweatshops, tips for avoiding sweatshop products, and a sweat-free products guide.

Global Exchange Sweatfree Communities
Information about sweatshop issues, resources and ideas. Their site also has a Sweatfree Toolkit for launching a sweatfree campaign in your community.

National Labor Committee
“Putting a human face on the global economy.” Get personal accounts, photos, news & information about worker conditions around the world.

The NLC also has a new report : “A Wal-mart Christmas: Brought to You From a Sweatshop in China” which details the conditions under which Christmas tree ornaments are made in China. Some of the laborers include youth. The report includes video footage from the factory.

And, for those interested in taking up legislative action against sweatshops, the NLC has been tracking anti-sweatshop legislation in the U.S. Congress. If the Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act passes, it would “prohibit the import, export or sale of sweatshop goods in the U.S.” The bill was first introduced at the beginning of 2007. So far, about 17 senators and 139 representatives have signed as co-sponsors to the legislation. Students and others are invited to write their representatives to ask them to sign on as a co-sponsor (or to thank them for being one), as well as to encourage other organizations to endorse this legislation.

And, of course, IHE has a variety of humane education activities, such as Where in the World, which helps students (grades 9 & up) make connections between what they wear and the conditions under which it's made.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager

Image courtesy of cambodia4kidsorg.
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Humane Education Issues In the News....

Treehugger interview with David Orr - TreeHugger.com (12/17/07)
Educator & environmentalist David Orr (Chair of the Environmental Studies Program at Oberlin College) -- and author of Earth in Mind, which is required reading for IHE students -- is interviewed on TreeHugger.com. This is part 1 of a 3 part interview.

Green charter schools growing; Wisconsin leading the packWausau Daily Herald (12/16/2007)
The newly formed Green Charter Schools Network is focused on nurturing green schools and a demand for more environmental education. CHSN reports that Wisconsin leads the country in green charter schools, with 12. Three green charter schools have partnered with the network to increase environmentally-focused programs in schools.

New journal focuses on sustainable economics – Inderscience Publishers
Starting in 2009, the International Journal of Sustainable Economy (IJSE) will begin publishing quarterly. The goal of this new academic journal is “to publish research papers which analyse all aspects of sustainable economic growth and development and to offer researchers and professionals the opportunity to discuss the most demanding issues regarding the sustainable economy.” The subscription price is high (minimum 470 Euros), so point your students to their university libraries.

Social Justice Academy helps at-risk kids change the world
Inside Bay Area.com (12/16/2007)

"We're trying to address real issues students face on a daily basis….We've created a program where we can incorporate those issues into the curriculum."

At-risk students at San Leandro High School are learning academic skills through “real-life” experiences, as part of the Social Justice Academy. Teacher Ari Dolid started the Academy to help students who don’t connect with traditional teaching topics and styles. Academy students learn about social justice issues through guest speakers and hands-on experiences, and complete a variety of service-learning projects.

Taiwan government passes stronger animal protection lawsTaipei Times (12/15/07)
Recently the Taiwanese legislator revamped the Animal Protection Act, which increases protections for animals and imposes tougher consequences for those who abuse animals.

Senate Farm Bill version passes with some animal protection components – HSUS (12/14/07)
The U.S. Senate has passed its version of the Farm Bill, and it includes a few provisions designed to help protect animals. Those provisions passed include reducing the number of puppies imported for commercial sal, strengthening the federal law against dogfighting, phasing out the use in research of random source dogs and cats obtained through Class B dealers, and delaying approval of food products from cloned animals.
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Witnessing the Power of Humane Education

Last week I offered a mini humane education course for a class of 6th and 7th graders. I taught the students for 90 minutes each morning, weaving together the themes of critical thinking and compassionate choice-making in an effort to help free these students from the influences of advertising, peer imperatives, and desires that eclipse their deepest values, as well as to invite their conscious commitment to examining their lives and creating a better world.

Although I spent many years teaching young people (reaching about 10,000 students annually), I no longer visit classrooms much because I spend my days writing and training adults to be humane educators at IHE. Teaching this 6/7th grade last week was not only a treat, it was a reminder of the incredible power of humane education to raise awareness and ignite dedication to a thoughtful life.

The students' last homework assignment was to each complete a personal MOGO plan that outlined their intentions for how to incorporate what they'd learned into daily choices, future effort at learning, and involvement in actions that lead to substantive changes in the world . On our last day, they shared their commitments. One after another they talked about what they planned to do - simple things like wearing a sweater in the house in winter and keeping the heat down, not throwing their relatively clean clothes in the laundry, eating less meat. They also talked about more involved actions, too, like joining groups dedicated to solving entrenched problems. Every single child shared something he or she was going to do to make the world better, and every child listened attentively to the others. It was beautiful.

Perhaps the most exciting moment came when I asked the students a question about my book, Claude and Medea, which they had read in school. I had urged them, from the first class to the last, to question both me and any information or statistics they would hear or read. I also urged them to express their opinions openly, because all would be respected, whether they were part of the majority or a single voice that disagreed. Many students comfortably let me know that they didn’t think that Claude and Medea’s dangerous and illegal rescue of stolen and abused dogs was the right thing to do. You might think I was disappointed that so many thought that my protagonists had behaved wrongly, rather than just heroically, but I was absolutely delighted. They had absorbed one of my most important points: think for yourself.

When I left after the last class, I was a bit teary. Several students had rushed up to hand me the kinds of thank you cards that make teachers realize that their work matters. But more than that, I was filled with a rare sense of deep optimism. Imagine if all students were offered humane education, given the tools to think for themselves, the inspiration to make a difference, and the knowledge to make good choices. Imagine the problems they would solve and the world they would create. The sooner humane education becomes ubiquitous, the sooner such a healed world will unfold.

~ Zoe, IHE President

Image courtesy of Sleestak66.
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Escape From the Prison of Your Preferences

A couple weeks ago I was listening to a podcast on Vegan.com, featuring an interview with Professor T. Colin Campbell, nutrition expert and author of The China Study. During the conversation, Dr. Campbell stated that people are “prisoners of our taste preferences.” He said that most people can’t imagine changing, but that, given time, we often come to prefer our new choices and can’t believe that we liked things the “old” way.

Dr. Campbell was referring to our food preferences – which often develop from how we were raised and don’t necessarily have a logical or healthy basis for existing. The same is true with ALL our choices: based on habit, convenience, or cultural pressure, we make the same choices again and again. And because those choices have become familiar, comforting, convenient habits, we balk at making different choices – even if those choices are healthier and more humane for people, animals, the planet, and ourselves. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can escape from the prison of our preferences by making changes in our daily choices. Then those new choices become new habits, then our new preferences, and the old habits fall away….and we can’t imagine why we were ever tied to them to begin with.

I grew up a meat, potatoes and canned fruits & vegetables girl. I couldn’t imagine eating any other way. Once I became vegan, I began to explore a variety of foods – both those new to me and those that had previously been on my “yuk” list – and I developed a preference for this new way of eating. Now I can’t imagine going back to the “old” way, especially when my new preferences promote health, sustainability, and compassion for all. I can name dozens of other ways I’ve escaped the prison of my preferences – from the stuff I buy (or don’t), to the people I befriend, to how I communicate with others, to how I spend my time. I have broken free of old, destructive preferences and have joyfully embraced new, more positive ones.

Having preferences is a good thing, as long as they support and nurture peace, justice, sustainability and compassion. Grab those chains and begin breaking free of those preferences that don’t support your deepest values!

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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WebSpotlight: The Story of Stuff

"Our enormously productive economy...demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption...we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate." ~ Victor Lebow, retailing analyst

All the interconnected issues surrounding our stuff -- where it comes from, how it gets to us, why, where and how we buy it, what happens to it after we're done with it -- can be quite complicated and confusing. Sustainability expert Annie Leonard has created The Story of Stuff, a 20 minute flash movie that condenses the story of our stuff -- from extraction to production to distribution to consumption to disposal -- into a powerful and understandable package. With little "pencil" animations created by Free Range Studios, Leonard explores the artificially-created love affair we have with shopping and our stuff, the degree to which it is destroying our planet, our communities and our future, and what we can do to transform this destructive cycle into something positive and sustainable.

The website includes an annotated/footnoted script, so that people can verify the accuracy and sources of the facts and statistics she shares, and the movie can be viewed all at once, or by segments. The site also features a large resource section, with book suggestions and links to common ground groups, as well as a blog, and a list of 10 Little and Big Things You Can Do to make a positive difference.

The Story of Stuff is a great tool for anyone wanting to learn (or teach) about the impact of our consumer culture.

~ Marsha, Web Content & Community Manager
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Humane Education Issues in the News

Tiny Maine college is the greenest in the land - Plenty Magazine (12/11/07)
The College of the Atlantic, a small college (300 students, 35 full-time faculty) in Bar Harbor, Maine, has been receiving a lot of press lately for its new celebrity as a "national model for environmentally-committed institutions of higher education."

New York City council member pushing for NYC schools to “teach animal rights.”New York Sun (12/10/07)
NYC council member Tony Avella has submitted a resolution that, if passed, would require NYC schools to comply with a 1947 law that requires state schools to educate children "the humane treatment and protection of animals and of the importance of the part they play in the economy of nature."

Florida teacher brings respect for nature, exploration of the natural world into her classroomUSA Today (12/9/07)
Florida teacher Jill Putney is profiled for her creative “hands-on” approach to teaching her fourth grade students, and for integrating respect for the natural world and critical scientific exploration into her lessons. (Note: It’s interesting that some of the comments bash the teacher for promoting a “narrow political view” in the classroom.)

Vermont student group works for global social justiceThe Times Argus (12/8/07)
Community members in Montpelier, Vermont recently learned a great deal about child soldiers, thanks to a student-led class which focuses on positive activism. The group shared information and “take action” ideas for stopping support of countries that use child soldiers.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Human Rights for All?

Today is International Human Rights Day, which marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

As much progress as humanity has made in establishing and maintaining rights for others, we have only brushed the surface of ensuring equal human rights for all.

Surprisingly, too many people still think of slavery as something abolished with the U.S. Civil War; too many still make daily choices that support sweatshops, child labor, racism, oppression and other acts of injustice.

One of the ways you can help promote human rights is to teach others about human rights issues. IHE has a number of activities and lesson plans regarding human rights issues. Samples include:

Do You Want Slavery With That?
Modern slavery is still ubiquitous. Students hear about it from the slaves themselves (through their stories) and consider what they can do to help.
Recommended for grades 6 and up.
Time: 60-90 minutes

Human Rights for All?
This activity familiarizes students with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and inspires them to think about the freedoms they enjoy that others cannot.
Recommended for grades 9 and up.
Time: 30-45 minutes


Find more IHE activities/lesson plans on human rights issues.
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WebSpotlight: Video as a Tool for Human Rights

One of the most powerful media tools in working toward a more compassionate, sustainable world -- and in educating others -- is video. The human rights organization Witness is taking advantage of the power of citizens to film and share video related to human rights by establishing The HUB, "the world's first participatory media site for human rights." Through the site, individuals and groups can upload, share and view videos related to human rights issues and abuses, in order to increase public attention and action.

The site is in its Beta version, and thus still has a few bugs. The easiest way to find relevant videos seems to be to select a human rights issue from the drop-down menu and browse the choices. Some of the video clips can be quite graphic, so previewing for age-appropriateness is essential. And, since anyone can upload a video, veracity isn't guaranteed. Still, humane educators may be able to find useful content here.

For those interested in video advocacy, Witness has a training section on video advocacy, including a free downloadable "how-to" book.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Call Me Citizen

I’ve been called a lot of names throughout my life, but one that continues to make me cranky is “consumer.” According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, to consume is to “do away with completely”; to “destroy”; to “spend wastefully” or “squander” or “use up”; to “waste or burn away.” Yes, I know it also means to “utilize as a customer,” but that’s the fifth and last definition given. The whole of my life is not about buying and using stuff, so why should I be identified by only one small piece?

I wonder about calling all of us consumers. Yes, we consume; but, if we identify with BEING a consumer – if everyone from the government to the media to retailers refers to us as consumers -- then are we going to be more likely to fall into the self-fulfilling prophecy of consuming more than we normally might? Will we choose the “save the planet by buying green stuff” route, which doesn’t begin to solve our global problems? Will we care a little bit less about those around us and the impact of our choices? Studies have shown that people rise (or fall), according to the expectations given to them. If we embrace a culture of consumerism, is that who we become? Is that all we become?

I prefer citizen. Citizens are members of “a state” or inhabitants "of cities and towns." Citizens do much more than consume (at least, that’s the implication). Citizens participate in their communities; citizens demonstrate leadership and take active part in building a healthy, sustainable, compassionate world. Consumers lay waste to their surroundings. A person can be a citizen who purchases products and services. But a citizen is so much more.

So, call me citizen. (Or at least, stop calling me consumer.)

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Be the Change! Video Contest

Thanks to the growing prevalence of online social networking and user-generated content, more people have the power to share the good they're doing with others. QuantumShift.tv and its many "action partners" want to take advantage of the actions young people are taking to make a positive difference in the world by sponsoring a Be the Change! Share the Story! School Video Contest. Teams of students from the U.S. and Canada in grades 1-12 are invited to participate by developing an environmental or social justice project and submitting 2 videos about it. (Deadline for the first video is January 31, 2008.)

Grand prize winners in each category receive $50,000 in cash & prizes for their schools.

Find out more.

This is a great opportunity for humane educators working in schools to promote positive action.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Statistics

In the book, The Myth of Progress, author Tom Wessels shares the following from Bjorn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist:

"Discussing forests, Worldwatch Institute categorically states that the world's forest estate has declined significantly in both area and quality in recent decades. As we shall see in the section on forests, the longest data series from the UN's FAO show that global forest cover has increased from 30.04 percent in 1994, an increase of 0.85 percentage points over the last 33 years."

Well, that’s certainly a surprise, isn’t it?

But Wessels goes to the source of Lomborg’s statistic (the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization) which defines a forest as: “any site that is greater than 0.5 hectares in size, with trees that reach a minimum of five meters in height and a crown coverage that exceeds 10 percent of the area.” Wessels explains that under this definition many suburban lawns, golf courses, and city parks would be considered forests! Exploring further, Wessel also learns that under the FAO guidelines tree plantations, tree nurseries and even recent clearcuts also fall under the definition of forest “if in time they will grow sixteen-foot tall trees.”

To me, this is another reminder to be very wary of statistics. Whenever we read or hear them, whether they support our personal ideologies or not, we need to question them.

~ Zoe, IHE President
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Connecting With the "Other"

Our students and graduates often have great insights to share on our Online Classroom (our electronic discussion board), and occasionally we like to share their thoughts and views with a larger audience. Recently Petra P., one of our HECP students, shared some especially interesting insights....

"Last month I attended a workshop put on by the Common Bond Institute called 'Engaging the Other.' I understood the conference to be about how to garner greater inclusion between diverse groups. The discussions and experience affected me profoundly. One of the “aha’s” was a panel discussion about spirituality and violence in our world.

"The panel members were well educated, respected and experienced representatives of their religions. Rather than using the word spirituality, the moderator chose the word religion. He defined religion by the origins of the word as Ligare which means to bind, connect. This definition of religion was new to me but made a lot of sense when you consider what religion ultimately does for a person…connects individuals to each other as well as to something bigger…God(s), the Universe, Nature, Oneness. The panel consisted of a Lakota Woman, a Jewish Rabbi, a Buddhist Monk, a Baptist Minister and an Islamic Imam.

"It quickly became very clear that each spoke about their own group in very different terms than when they spoke about the “other” group. Although different speakers did so to a different degree and with different speaking styles, all five speakers distinguished their group from the “other” in the same basic ways. Each spoke very eloquently about the connectivity and “goodness” of their group and the violence thrust upon them by the “other.” When speaking of their own group the tone of voice was soft, melodic, warm and with great understanding; when speaking of the “other,” the tone of voice harshened -- became more staccato, cold and righteous. When speaking of their own traditions and history, each focused upon positive, compassionate and inclusive aspects and examples; when speaking of the history and traditions of the “other,” each focused upon negative, suspicious and exclusive aspects and examples. Although each did so to varying degrees, some with more subtle sophistication than others, each speaker -- without exception -- positioned their own group as the innocent victim and the “other” group as the guilty perpetrator of violence.

"Since then I’ve listened to people talking in the media, in my sisters’ shop, to associates, friends, family and myself, for that matter…and we all use the tone of our voice and the examples we choose to set the stage to create the illusion that our/my group, choice, idea, action, reaction is “good,” “peaceful,” “compassionate,” “rational,” “right,” “necessary,” and “enlightened,” and that the “other” is the opposite: “bad,” “violent,” “hateful,” “irrational,” “wrong,” “unnecessary,” “unenlightened,” etc.

"I’ve been meditating on this for the last month, looking for some understanding. I’ve considered it through the lenses of my limited knowledge about psychology, philosophy, social psychology, anthropology, and neurobiology, finding myriad paths to explain aspects of the phenomena. My initial thought was that I need more education to “figure” it out. But I find that what I am searching for is understanding and synthesis at the most basic level…the human level, which any human being can observe without formal education or language.

"Several things occurred to me about what I witnessed at the panel discussion. First, the information that we choose to focus on determines who or what we connect with. For instance, I have a friend whose husband recently had an affair. When she focuses on her husband’s affair she hates her husband, wanting a divorce; but, when she focuses on the ten great years of their 12-year marriage, their children, and his apology and recommitment to her, she loves him. I’ve been paying attention to my own thoughts and what I’m focused upon when positive or negative feelings or interpretations arise. I am stunned by how quickly a change of focus can change my feelings. I thought I might just be weird, but a friend of mine that attended the conference agreed to try the same exercise, and she had the same results.

"Second, one can’t be connected to everything, nor can we be connected all the time; however, we can always be open to the possibility of connection. There are more people and things to be involved with than there are energy and time. And different people have different styles, needs and tolerances for connection. The question becomes “How does the connection and disconnection occur, and what meaning do we give it?” In monitoring my own connections and disconnections, I found myself to be much more erratic and circumstantial than I would have previously thought. When I’m happy, I’m open to the possibility of connection. When I’m tired, crabby or in a hurry, I connect or disconnect abruptly. I avoid connecting with people about whom I’ve developed negative stories, even if I don’t really know them. I started to notice what voice I used when connecting. And noticing how people responded to me in my various states of connection.

"Third, I can easily observe another person’s behavior, tone of voice, expression, etc. However, there is no way to really know the depth or breadth of another person’s intentions, interpretations, emotions, intellect, experiences or heart. Initially I thought the converse was also true -- that it would be difficult to observe myself and easy to know my own intentions, interpretations, emotions, intellect, experiences and heart. But oddly the reverse was true. A little attention and discipline easily brought about self-observation, but untangling my intentions, interpretations and emotions was difficult. I found myself confused -- wanting to deny, minimize, rationalize and deflect my negativity or blame myself. It occurred to me that the “other” could also be me. So not only do we reject others but we also reject ourselves!

"At first I took these personal experiments quite seriously, but after a while, when I saw all this nonsense going on within and around me, I started to find it quite humorous. I’ve decided to make it part of my daily practice to pay attention to the quality of my focus, connections and observations. I try to remind myself that when I get all fidgety, agitated and anxiety-ridden, that we are all human, and therefore, at the most basic level, we are connected, regardless of our “otherness.” Knowing this gives me serenity, even within the storm."
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Can Baby Steps Really Save the World?

There have always been resources advocating “simple things you can do to save the world” actions. But, I’ve been noticing lately, that the number and type of sources plugging the you-can-save-the-world-without-
inconveniencing-yourself-or-
changing-your-habits-much mantra seem to have become implanted into mainstream consciousness.

Green is definitely in (the new black, some call it – as if it were a fashion, rather than a necessity), but it’s an easy, convenient, fun, non-threatening green. There are books and blogs like The Lazy Environmentalist; e-news like Ideal Bite; buttons to click to save the species – or help the cause -- of your choice; games like Free Rice in which knowing your vocabulary words gives rice to the hungry. On the one hand, any step toward a more sustainable, compassionate world is a positive step, but I wonder if such fanfare for such small steps is encouraging people to feel completely content with hanging out on the surface – as if “earning” grains of rice is really going to solve problems of hunger.

Of course, the message can’t be all about doom and gloom. “Wear only sackcloth, eat only fruit fallen from the tree and walk everywhere, uphill, both ways” isn’t an image that inspires much emulation. Life should be meaningful and joyful. But does that mean we screw in our compact fluorescents, buy our local, organic produce and stop there?

I think the breadth and fluidity of the “green” continuum makes an excellent discussion topic for those exploring humane issues. Are baby steps enough? If we focus on small steps, are we hurting ourselves – and others – in the longer term? Are the easy, convenient choices the only and/or best way to draw people into making deeper, more compassionate, sustainable choices? With global warming, peak oil, water shortages, etc., do we have time to start with the easy choices? Is there a third side (or fourth, or fifth)?

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Fear and the MOGO Principle

My husband and I were hiking up a mountain in Acadia National Park this morning. The last half mile to the peak was very icy. I slipped numerous times, whereas my husband slipped only once. Initially, I found this perplexing. I was much more fearful of the ice, and therefore more cautious, slower. We’re equally coordinated and fit, and our eyesight is equally bad without corrective lenses, so I couldn’t chalk up my instability to greater clumsiness or poorer vision.

Then suddenly I understood. My fear actually interfered with my clear judgment and ability to accurately perceive the ice. It made me less steady and balanced. It made me fall. I realized that a bit of realistic caution (enough to avoid recklessness) is helpful; too much becomes irrational, debilitating, and counterproductive.

What does this have to do with MOGO living? Fear may inhibit many of us from making MOGO choices. We may fear we won’t have enough if we’re too generous. We may fear ostracism if we make choices that depart from the mainstream. We may fear inconvenience. But because the MOGO principle asks us to make choices that do the most good for ourselves, other people, animals, and the environment, it requires that we maintain a healthy, realistic awareness, so that we balance the MOGO principle in the most positive manner for all. MOGO need never be frightening, but rather exciting and inviting because it opens us up to the good we can achieve in our own lives and for all those whose lives we affect. With MOGO as a guiding principle, we won’t slip or fall, but instead will take more conscious and deliberate steps on our path.

~ Zoe, IHE President

Photo courtesy of mad paul.
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Should Companies With Mixed Messages Get the Axe?

Marketers are well-known for pushing boundaries and inciting controversy, and thus they provide great opportunities for humane educators to use them for discussion and exploration of important issues. One of the latest companies on the chopping block of public opinion is Unilever.

Unilever owns Dove, who's viral video "Onslaught" -- which is part of Dove's "campaign for real beauty" and supposedly exemplifies Dove's social awareness about the impact of beauty marketing on young women -- shows a young girl being lambasted by beauty ads and images and tells parents to "Talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does." The video has been incredibly popular and well-received...until bloggers, news reporters and others discovered that Dove and Axe -- which has the ads of lusty, sexy young beauties slobbering all over young men who use their body spray -- are both owned by Unilever. One marketing exec was so intrigued by that fact that he created his own mashup viral video, inserting Axe commercial clips and ads into the "Onslaught" video and ending the video with the tag "Talk to your daughter before Unilever does."

This controversy provides great opportunities for students to explore issues surrounding marketing, products and more, such as:
  • Unilever says that the Axe ads are all in good fun. True or not? Does it matter?
  • Should a company like Unilever be able to send mixed messages with its different products?
  • Does it make sense for Dove to campaign for "real beauty" and "against" the beauty industry while still selling beauty products?
  • How much impact do beauty products ads really have on young people?
  • How much responsibility do companies hold for the impact of the messages their ads send?

You can read more about the Dove/Axe controversy in this Ad Age article.

(Thanks to Katya's Non-Profit Marketing Blog for the heads up about this article.)


~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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IHE Student in the News: Social Justice Class Educates About Homelessness

Students of IHE M.Ed. student and La Costa Canyon High School (CA) teacher Christopher Greenslate recently spent time educating their fellow students about the issue of homelessness. Students in Christopher's Social Justice class choose to learn about and take action on an issue that sparks a passion for them, whether it's related to human rights, animal protection, environmental preservation or media and culture.

A couple of students in Greenslate's class chose to learn more about homelessness, and several members of the class decided to use street theater to educate their fellow classmates.

Read the full story and see a short video.

You can find out more about Christopher's Social Justice class from their website.
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Campaigns Bring Attention to Violence Against Women

"Violence against women and girls continues unabated in every continent, country and culture. It takes a devastating toll on women’s lives, on their families, and on society as a whole. Most societies prohibit such violence — yet the reality is that too often, it is covered up or tacitly condoned." — UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, 8 March 2007


At least in the Western world, many people believe that the “battle” for equal rights for women has been won. More women in the work place, in “traditional” male roles, in positions of power. Mark that one off the list and move on to the next task. Not so. Violence against women all over the world is, as the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) states, “a problem of pandemic proportions.” According to a UN General Assembly 2006 study, “at least one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.”

In order to raise awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue and to empower others to take positive action in ending violence against women several groups have come together to promote the 16 Days campaign. From November 25 – December 10 (International Human Rights Day), 16 Days is promoting a variety of activities and resources.

The 16 Days website offers a few sample resources, but the real gem of information comes from UNIFEM. UNIFEM's site includes facts and figures about violence against women all over the world, as well as reports, first-hand accounts and other resources. The site also has a link to their “Say No to Violence Against Women” campaign, which offers a chance to add your signature to those opposed to violence. It also includes a brief video about “one of the biggest reasons for suffering violence in the world today.”

Humane Educators looking for resources and ideas to address issues related to human rights and violence against women will want to explore these.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Consumed

This past week, Marketplace Morning Report, an NPR radio program that airs during Morning Edition, presented a program called “Consumed” on the impact and sustainability of our consumer culture. I had numerous reactions when I began hearing the program, which had segment additions each day. I was excited, eager to hear the segments, and glad to have Marketplace address this issue. Only after the entire program aired did I realize that a critical issue - about which I’ve been teaching for two decades, and which has remained on the fringe of society, relegated to alternative media and nonprofit organizations all these years - had just become mainstream. MAINSTREAM!

Part of me sighs cynically, “Well, it’s about time.” Another part of me wants to do a jig because, as the most critical issues of our time become part of daily discourse, we have a far greater opportunity to change systems that are destructive into ones that are restorative. I think I’ll do a jig.

~Zoe, IHE President
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Sink Your Teeth Into Two New Documentaries

Corn on the cob. Cornbread. Veggie corn dogs. All pretty tasty, right? What about high-fructose corn syrup? Maltodextrin? Sorbitol? Um. Not so tasty-sounding. As one of the "most productive, most subsidized grains" in the U.S., corn's presence is everywhere. So is its impact. In order to learn more about where their food comes from, two friends decided to conduct an experiment: to farm an acre of corn and follow it into the food system. And then they made a film about their experiences.

King Corn can serve as a great tool for discussing and exploring a variety of topics. As the filmmakers mention, growing and processing corn affects "soil, water, energy, history, genetic modification, and of course, food." There are additional issues, such as hunger, poverty, environmental degradation, worker health and animal suffering that can also be explored.

King Corn was first released in theaters about a month ago (mid-October), and it's making its way around the country. It has already won several documentary awards. DVDs will be available soon. The website includes a trailer.


Another new film out in theaters that provides excellent opportunities for exploring humane issues is Sharkwater. In this documentary, filmmaker Robert Stewart "debunks historical stereotypes and media depictions of sharks as bloodthirsty, man-eating monsters and reveals the reality of sharks as pillars in the evolution of the seas" and works to save sharks worldwide.

Aside from the obvious important issues of animal protection and environmental preservation, the fact that the Stewart teams up with controversial conservationist Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Society can also make an excellent discussion springboard (e.g., How far is it ethical to go to protect another being?)

The Sharkwater website includes photos and a trailer, a Special Features section with video clips (interviews, the "making of"the film, etc.), as well as a Shark Education section. This latter page includes facts and resources about shark finning, as well as a Sharkwater Study Guide for teachers of elementary and secondary students.

Sharkwater has already won several documentary awards.

Both films provide great opportunities for discussion of humane issues, critical thinking, and social action.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Help Stop the Stuffing Epidemic!

Jack Frost nipping at our noses. Silver bells ringing. Chestnuts roasting. Credit cards groaning. Retailers giggling with glee. It must be the holiday season again. Every year many North Americans shop until they drop in order to shower all their friends and family with material goodwill that their F&F will likely then stuff in a closet or spend the first half of the new year standing in lines to return for something they really want.

This year the National Retail Federation estimates (i.e., really really hopes, with fingers and toes crossed and sugar on top) that the average U.S. citizen will spend more than $900 on holiday-related shopping this year (presents, food, decorations, anti-depressants, anti-stress spas).

Fortunately, more North Americans each year are catching on and giddily turning away from the lemming-like rush toward the precipice of consumer destruction. ("You mean I don't actually have to put myself or my family through this? We can actually choose to celebrate without being surrounded by stress and stuff?").

As a humane educator, any time of year is a great time to analyze issues surrounding consumerism, but the uber-consumptive holiday season can make such explorations more meaningful.

One great resource for exploring hyper-materialism and its impacts is the book Stuff, by John C. Ryan and Alan Durning. Stuff explores the impact of some of our choices by making connections between our daily habits and the various impacts of those habits and allowing us to uncover the hidden story of “everyday consumer goods” like shoes and fast food. Stuff also offers a curriculum guide for teacher use.

You could also have your high school or adult students explore Buy Nothing Day, a worldwide, annual "24 hour moratorium on consumer spending," observed on the day after Thanksgiving each year (usually the biggest shopping day of the year). There's also a Buy Nothing Christmas campaign. These campaigns provide great fodder for discussion.

The Resources section of our HumaneEducation.org website also has several useful humane education activities related to the impact of our consumption and waste-generation. Here are a sampling: (Note: You'll need to sign up for a free account with us in order to download these.)

Leave Only Footprints
Everyone has an ecological footprint. Participants use paper footprints to simulate the impact of their choices on the earth. Extension activities allow students to explore their ecological footprints and what choices can be made to reduce them.
Recommended for grades 6 and up.
Time: 45 minutes

Trash Investigators
What’s in our trash that doesn’t need to be there? Participants investigate a trash source and analyze which items can be removed from the waste stream.
Recommended for grades 4 and up.
Time: 30 minutes

True Price
Help participants become more conscious in their consuming by analyzing the “true price” of the products we use.
Recommended for grades 6 and up.
Time: 20-60 minutes, or several days

Whale’s Stomach
Students learn about the impact of our “throwaway society” by exploring all the different kinds of trash found in a whale’s stomach.
Recommended for grades 4 and up.
Time: 15-45 minutes

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager


Image courtesy of ToddNeville.
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Mark Your Calendar: Help Create Solutions to Global Warming


"According to a new U.N. report, the global warming outlook is much worse than originally predicted. Which is pretty bad when they originally predicted it would destroy the planet." --Jay Leno

Those who don’t know about global warming are either on the world’s longest and most comprehensive media fast, or live on an entirely different planet. But knowing something and doing something about it aren’t always the close-knit twins we’d like them to be. A lot of people, companies, organizations and educators are taking action to decrease the negative impact of global warming, and some, such as Focus the Nation, are organizing major initiatives. Focus the Nation has the goal of helping educators and others engage millions of students and citizens in “helping shift the national conversation about global warming towards a determination to face this civilizational challenge.”

Toward that goal, FTN is organizing several events and projects for its "Global Warming Solutions for America," including a national teach-in on January 31, 2008, in order to encourage schools, universities and other groups to focus on discussion and developing positive solutions. FTN is also facilitating dialogues between students, citizens and decision-makers, streaming 2% Solution, a free, live webcast; and encouraging participants to vote on five priority actions to promote to political leaders in the U.S.

Schools, companies and organizations all over the U.S. are signing up and getting involved. Consider adding yours to this effort.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Use Your Words....and Win

Words have power. They can influence, change minds, and thus, change actions. Lantern Books, publisher of titles on a variety of humane topics, wants to encourage people to share the power of their words by entering its annual essay contest.

According to their website: "The aim of our essay competition is to allow new thinking to emerge on the key subjects of Lantern's publishing program and to encourage new voices to step forward to shape the debate of the future."

Contestants can write an essay (up to 1,500 words) on one of the following topics:
  • How far does personal responsibility extend when it comes to the environment or other issues affecting the planet?
  • Where do you find peace, and how can that space be extended?
  • What "bad" experience has turned out to be "good" for you?
The deadline for entries is December 31, 2007.

First prize is $1,000.

This is a great opportunity for humane educators to use the power of your words to inspire positive change!

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Students Put Their School on a Low-Carb(on) Diet

Using recycled paper. Carpooling. Reducing energy use. Reusable coffee mugs. Those are just some of the changes that a group of high school students from Redmond, Washington have been successfully challenging their teachers to make in order to reduce their school's carbon footprint. Yes Magazine Online! reported about this school's "Cool School Campaign." Read the full story. (The story includes audio clips from some of the students, sharing about their efforts.)


Image courtesy of ButterflySha.
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WebSpotlight: Be the Change

Most people are familiar with worldchangers such as Gandhi, MLK, Jr., Mother Teresa, Wangari Maathai. But there are people in all areas of the world making a positive difference. A new website, Be the Change: Upstanders for Human Rights, spotlights 5 such people in order to help middle and high school students learn about positive actions for human rights and to inspire them to take action themselves. The 5 featured activists, whose profiles include video clips, photos & other information, include:

Arn Chorn Pond, a Cambodian peace activist.
Ernest Guevarra, a doctor from the Philippines who promotes health care and human rights.
Martin O'Brien, a peace activist from Northern Ireland.
Vanita Gupta, a lawyer who fights racism.
Yinka Jegede-Ekpe, a Nigerian AIDS and women's rights activist.

The site also offers resources for teachers, links to similar organizations, and sample student activist spotlights.

The site is sponsored by Facing History and Ourselves, an organization whose goal is to help "students make the essential connection between history and the choices they confront in their own lives." FHO serves teachers and students through curricula and resources focused on topics such as the Holocaust, civil rights and genocide.

Reebok, founder of the Reebok Human Rights Award, is a co-sponsor of this site (all the featured activists are former winners, so bear in mind this site is a bit of self-promotion on Reebok's part).

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Help Ensure No Child is Left Inside

Environmental education may see a little light after a long spate of darkness. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 made no provisions for environmental or outdoor education, and with the increased push for more testing, many valuable programs have been dropped. Several Congressional Senators and Representatives are now coming together to support the No Child Left Inside Act of 2007 (NCLI), an initiative to provide federal funding for environmental education.

According to the NCLI website, if the Act were passed, it would:
  • Provide federal funding to states to train teachers in environmental education and to operate model environmental education programs, which include outdoor learning.
  • Provide funding to states that create environmental literacy plans to ensure that high school graduates are environmentally literate.
  • Provide funding through an environmental education grant program to build state and national capacity.
  • Re-establish the Office of Environmental Education within the U.S. Department of Education.
Such provisions might serve as an excellent tool to bring humane education to more children nationwide.

Find out more.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Get Your (Humane) Game On!

Helping young people understand what someone is experiencing from what seems like the other side of the world can be a challenge. Experiential activities, in which the participant gets a "real" taste of a different life (such as having them stand on a milk crate in sock feet in order to get an inkling of what a hen trapped in a battery cage endures, or spend a few minutes tying tiny perfect knots so that they have an idea of what children who are forced to make rugs experience) can really help them empathize with another. But, if they can't experience such a life directly, a virtual experience is a good second. I discovered two interesting web-based role-playing games recently, that focus on human rights issues and may be useful for humane educators to incorporate into their work.


DARFUR IS DYING

What’s it like to try to survive in a refugee camp? In Darfur is Dying players take on the role of a Darfurian who tries to complete a variety of tasks in order to help his/her community survive, including foraging for water, obtaining food, building shelter and staying healthy. If a player can do all this and survive -- surviving attack, escaping capture, etc. – then s/he's “won.” Mousing over question marks scattered throughout the camp provides data about what life is like in a refugee camp. The game offers additional information about the plight of Darfurians in Sudan and suggests ways to help.

AYITI: THE COST OF LIFE

Ayiti: The Cost of Life explores the question: “What is it like to live in poverty, struggling every day to stay healthy, keep out of debt, and get educated?” In this complex role-playing game, Players are in charge of determining what happens to a family of 5 in Ayiti. They must try to keep everyone healthy, while helping them get as much education as possible and make enough money to survive and thrive. The player has 4 years (divided into 16 seasons) to try to succeed, and has to choose a “strategy” at the beginning: health, education, happiness or money. Who will work, rest, go to school, volunteer, get health care? How will it be paid for? Each choice has a consequence (some positive, some negative). The game is somewhat complicated, with a variety of choices and actions necessary for each season. There are a couple of lesson plans that accompany the game, to help participants process their experience and/or think critically about the issues.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Humane Toolbox: Frequently Asked Questions

Last week I gave an interactive presentation on factory farming to adults. During the Q & A phase, here came those common questions that shadow humane educators everywhere, like a pesky little brother -- you love him, but you're tired of him being around all the time and wish he'd go play with someone else for awhile...or at least come up with more original questions. "What about plants? Plants have feelings too!" "Why should we care about animals when there are so many humans in need?" "But animals are here for us to use."

It’s essential for humane educators to be prepared to respond well to any number and type of questions and comments from students, parents, administrators, teachers and others regarding humane education issues. Fortunately (or not, depending on how you want to look at it), people ask many of the same questions about these issues, so it's easier to think about and practice compassionate, thoughtful responses (or questions you'd ask in return) -- ones that don't tell the person what to think or how to act, but which inspire critical thinking and encourage positive choices. Sometimes, the questions people ask -- or the comments they make -- can be really surprising and disconcerting; practicing active listening, addressing their core needs, remaining calm, and responding compassionately can really help you become more prepared, even for those tricky situations.

As part of his Master's degree requirements, one of our graduates has done a lot of work to help ease your way into responding to frequently asked questions and comments regarding humane education issues. IHE graduate Bob Schwalb, who is now a full-time humane educator in New York City, developed an FAQs booklet, (PDF format) which offers possible responses to a variety of questions and comments in order to stimulate critical thinking and allow the questioner to make his/her own choices. Check it out, and add it to your humane toolbox.


~ Marsha, Web Content & Community Manager

Image courtesy of teachscape.
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Change is Happening!

I attended the Bioneers conference in San Rafael a week ago, and what a breath of fresh air it was. Speaker after speaker shared information about the great challenges of our time, but they also talked about the solutions they and others were implementing. Whether it was Van Jones talking about promoting green collar jobs among disenfranchised and impoverished youth (and making us laugh throughout); or Jay Harman demonstrating his technologies, derived from the concept of biomimicry, that dramatically reduce fossil fuel use; or Eve Ensler regaling us with her successes in reducing violence toward women worldwide; or Majora Carter showing us her blighted South Bronx neighborhood transformed into a green space; or Ka Hsaw Wa and Katie Redford reporting their success at winning a lawsuit against Unocal, which sets a precedent that will eventually make human violations by corporations working overseas a thing of the past - there was so much good news.

The energy level of the thousands of attendees, especially of the engaged youth, was incredible, and a most welcome and hopeful sign of things to come. If you're feeling overwhelmed and full of despair, visit Bioneers.org and get to know these efforts and people who are making a difference. Then join them!

We can create a peaceful, sustainable, humane world.

~ Zoe, IHE President
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Six Activist Youth Honored With Brower Youth Award

Last night six hardworking youth were awarded the 2007 Brower Youth Awards. The Brower Youth Awards "recognize people (age 13 to 22) living in North America who have shown outstanding leadership on a project with positive environmental and social impact."

Winners of this annual, national award receive "a $3,000 cash prize, a trip to California for the award ceremony and wilderness camping trip, and ongoing access to resources and opportunities to further their work at Earth Island Institute."

The winners for 2007 are:

Rachel Barge, a UC – Berkeley student who co-created the Green Initiative Fund, which secures money for sustainability projects on campus.

Erica Fernandez, 16, who helped mobilize the youth of her community to defeat a proposal to put a liquefied natural gas facility through low-income neighborhoods.

Actress Q’orianka Kilcher, 17, has used her celebrity to bring attention to the plight of the Achuar peoples in the Peruvian Amazon basin in fighting against Occidental Petroleum, which has released toxic contaminants into the water.

Alexander Lin, 14, has taken on E-Waste. He has helped establish programs to divert tons of it from his community and has set up a system to provide refurbished computers to international youth.

Carlos Moreno, 19, has helped his community create summer jobs for youth, as well as to mobilize teens to get active in their community.

Jon Warnow, 23, was integrally involved in mobilizing participation in the National Day of Climate Action, involving more than 1400 communities in all 50 states.


Know of young people working for environmental and/or social justice? Tell them about the 2008 awards.

The BYA are a project of the Earth Island Institute.

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Humane Reads: Frances Moore Lappe's New Book: Getting a Grip

Writer, educator and activist Frances Moore Lappe, author of books like Diet for a Small Planet and Hope's Edge (and source of one of my favorite quotes: "Every choice we make can be a celebration of the world we want."), has published a new book about the power to transform our "frame" and make real, lasting change. Getting a Grip: Clarity, Creativity & Courage in a World Gone Mad is about "learning to see the killer ideas that trap us and letting them go. It’s about people in all walks of life interrupting the spiral of despair and reversing it with new ideas, ingenious innovation and courage. It’s about finding that mixture of anger and hope to energize us for this do-or-die effort."

Lappe says, “My book’s intent is to enable us to see what is happening all around us, but is still invisible to most of us. It is about people in all walks of life who are penetrating the spiral of despair and reversing it with new ideas, ingenious innovation - and courage.”

Find out more.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Mark Your Calendar: Help Students Make Connections with Food

Are you part of a team of teachers (or humane educators, parents, administrators, etc.) interested in increasing your students' connection to and understanding of food and food systems? Is your school trying to increase the amount of fresh, healthy foods your kids consume?

Consider applying to attend "Rethinking Food, Health, and the Environment: Making Learning Connections," one of the 5-day professional development institutes sponsored by the Center for Ecoliteracy.

The dates are:
June 23-27, 2008 - Berkeley, California
August 9-13, 2008 - New York, New York


Find out more.

Image courtesy of e3000.
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Toy Guns & Roses... Should Humane Kids Play with Toy Weapons?

In our discussion boards for students and graduates – our “Online Classroom” in which we can all debate and discuss, ponder and process the important (and not so important) issues – someone often brings up an issue in their own lives in which they’re struggling to do the most good and least harm. Below is one such question, followed by my response.

Q: Before I had children, I was always very firm with the thought that I would never let my child play with toys that had anything to do with violence. Now that I am a parent, I see that it's not as easy as I thought. I am still resolute that I do not want my son playing with toys like that (He's only 2 now, but they grow up fast!). However, some people don’t think it's such a big deal to let him play with pirates wielding swords, action figures that might have weapons, etc. They’ve said that they played with toys like that and played "Army" and things of that sort when they were children and didn’t turn out to be violent.

I see boys in the neighborhood running around "play fighting" and things like that and I know that my son will be exposed to this type of play whether we allow such toys in our house or not. I'm looking for some insight and thoughts from other parents who have struggled with this issue with their own children, or from others who have seen children playing with such toys and how it affected them.

It seems hypocritical to try to raise a child to be a humane, peace-loving person while at the same time allowing play with violent-natured toys. Yet, on the other hand, I wonder if making such things taboo would only make children more interested in them. What is the fascination with these kinds of toys anyway?

~ Stephanie, IHE M.Ed. graduate

A: This is a tough one, Stephanie, and I can sympathize. I did not allow any toy guns in the house when my son Forest was little, but I did allow swords. But the truth is that even if I didn't allow swords, Forest would have made his own, as he did with fingers turning into guns. When he won a water gun at a fair many years later, I didn't take it away. When he turned 13, his friend called me up to ask if it was okay to give him a nerf gun for his birthday. I acquiesced. It wasn't the only nerf gun he got that day - another friend got one for him, too, and that's what they played at his birthday party. This summer (he's 14 now) I let him use his own money to buy 2 airsoft guns (they look just like handguns and shoot plastic pellets). He can't play with them at our house or on our property, which just moves them out of my personal sphere so that I can tolerate their existence. He rarely uses them, and he never uses the nerf guns anymore.

Which leads me to believe that forbidding toy weapons makes them more coveted and appealing, and that, in truth, they don’t hold all that much interest after a certain point.

But the deeper question, why do they want them, is really important. We can't pretend that we, as a species, are just acculturated to be drawn toward violence - it's too much part of our history and our species to think that this is just something our societies perpetuate. We're both predators and prey after all, with a million years of evolution in our blood that make us both altruistic and compassionate, as well as protective and territorial. We know how to fight, and we know how to negotiate. We're complicated. Swords offer children a sense of power and nobility and the chance to play out their fears and be chivalrous, not just hostile.

Forbidding guns doesn't stop the impulse. I remember my husband being more concerned that if we had a daughter she'd want to play with Barbie dolls. Well, I loved my Barbies and I turned into a feminist just as my husband loved guns as a kid and turned into a gentle, compassionate man.

As a kid at camp, I LOVED riflery. Just loved it. Wanted to go to the camp I went to because they had riflery. I never wanted to shoot anyone, but I loved shooting targets. I don't know why really. A sense of accomplishment, gaining a skill, the idea of it, the discipline, the challenge.

These questions go to the core of who we are as humans. We can try to deny our impulses and our children's impulses, but where does that get us? The key in life is to choose kindness, compassion, honesty, generosity and integrity over cruelty, apathy, deception, greed and laziness; we have the capacity to manifest all of these and much more, but if your son is drawn to sword play, can you help him to use his sword to protect others? And if you choose not to allow any weapons of any sort, be prepared to reconsider as he gets older. In the spirit of openness, engage in dialogue about it; find out what's important to him.

~ Zoe, IHE President

Image courtesy of shermee.

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Mystery Meat No More! Hop on the Healthy School Lunch Bandwagon

Happy National School Lunch Week!

Ah, school lunches. Fond memories of glunk plopped on a plastic tray, featuring the 4 food groups: cholesterol, fat, salt and sugar. (Gotta love those tater tots, though!)

With child obesity rising, more sugary/fatty drinks and snacks available throughout the day, and the most challenging lunch decision for many students being which in-school fast food stop to make, I'm not sure schools as a whole have really improved what they're feeding kids. Fortunately, more schools, parents, educators and activists are beginning to pay serious attention to food in schools: how it effects our health and community, how it impacts our environment, and even the need for animal-free options.

If you're a parent concerned about what schools are feeding your kids, or a humane educator looking for a way to make a positive impact, consider these sample resources for helping schools -- and students -- develop a healthier relationship with food.

Ecoliteracy: Rethinking School Lunch
http://www.ecoliteracy.org/programs/index.html
Information and resources for developing healthier food programs in schools.

Farm to School
http://www.farmtoschool.org/
Resources to “connect schools with local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving student nutrition, providing health and nutrition education opportunities that will last a lifetime, and supporting local small farmers.”

Healthy School Lunches
http://www.healthyschoollunches.org/
Information & resources from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine about bringing healthy school lunches to your school.

Two Angry Moms
http://www.angrymoms.org/index.html
A documentary about 2 moms’ journey to improve school lunches.

For those who prefer to bring your own lunches:

Vegan Lunch Box
http://veganlunchbox.blogspot.com/
An award-winning blog that features the yummy, nutritious food one mom makes for her son’s school lunch each day.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager

Image courtesy of Fazoom.

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