Revel in the Little Passings & Let Your Life Burst Forth

Spring is the season in which we get to observe most obviously the miracle of life. Every day in May, when I walk outside, there is some more new life to experience. If I sat still long enough, I suspect I could see the lady slipper’s grow and bloom, and the star flowers, and the bluets, and the lilacs. Everything happens so fast. Some years, the students in our M.Ed. and Humane Education Certificate Programs at the Institute for Humane Education come for their week-long residency in May. I always remind them during Monday’s outdoor activity at our beautiful facility in coastal Maine to pay close attention to a few spots on the property. I let them know that they will be completely transformed by Friday. It is rare that we get to witness the unfolding of so much life so quickly.

Rabbi Rami M. Shapiro wrote this poem about life and death:

Life and death,
a twisted vine sharing a single root

A water bright green
stretching to top a twisted yellow
only to wither itself
as another green unfolds overhead.

One leaf atop another
yet under the next,
a vibrant tapestry of arcs and falls
all in the act of becoming.

Death is the passing of life
And life is the stringing together of so many little passings.

Take some time this spring to go outdoors and witness the stringing together of so many little passings. Know that your life, too, is one of these little passings, so precious and fleeting, so deserving of care and celebration and love and joy. Know that your brief life has the power to contribute, to nurture the unfolding of what is good and kind and positive. Revel in this spring and let this season burst you forth in full expression of your life.

Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm

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MOGO Hero: Kathrine Gutierrez Hinds

Quite a story about 24-year-old Kathrine Hinds, whose heroism may have saved two young Russian women from exploitation and worse. Read the story.

Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm

Image courtesy of seantoyer via Creative Commons.

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MOGO Video: "Our Today is Forever"

Beth Terry at Fake Plastic Fish posted about this haunting, horrifying video last week. It's definitely an emotional sucker punch, but the message is clear and cogent. See the "Our Today is Forever" video, featuring the consequences of our passion for plastics set to Queen's "Who Wants to Live Forever":



Yet another potent example of the importance of changing our personal habits AND working for systemic change. If you're inspired to make some personal changes, check out this list (pdf) of disposable and single-use plastics to avoid, with suggested alternatives, from the Plastic Pollution Coalition. And, Fake Plastic Fish is a great resource for reducing your use of plastics.

~ Marsha

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Got Compassion? Humane Education Activities to Inspire Adding Farmed Animals to Our Circle of Concern

Most people who've seen footage like that recently released from an undercover investigation at an Ohio dairy are shocked, horrified and disbelieving that such cruelty, violence, and suffering are a daily occurrence for billions of farmed animals. We humane educators know that animals are often left out of our society's circle of concern -- their needs, rights and interests are rarely considered in making individual and systemic choices. So how can we spark discussion, critical thinking and greater compassion?

We at IHE have a variety of humane education activities and resources that explore and nurture animal protection. Here are just a few examples that are especially relevant to this recent act of cruelty.

For younger students/children:

The Council of All Beings (grades 4 & up) gives students a chance to "become" a being or part of the natural world and share the lives, concerns, hopes and wisdom of their being in a Council. This activity could be modified to focus on different farmed animals, as well as the other stakeholders involved (farmers, slaughterhouse workers, the land being farmed, etc.), so that students can explore and connect with different perspectives.

Who Am I? (grades 2-5) serves as a great introduction to helping students think about the commonalities that humans, cows, pigs and chickens share and why we treat "farmed" animals the way we do.

Whom Do You Pet & Whom Do You Eat? (grades 4 & up) explores what our relationships with different kinds of animals are and why those relationships exist. The activity helps students think about why we treat different types of animals differently, and how we can learn to view them with different eyes.

Note that with young students you can also use literature as a springboard for discussing important issues. In her book, Black Ants & Buddhists, teacher Mary Cowhey describes how an incident about stepping on ants (or not) led to important discussions in her second grade class about compassion, personal responsibility and religions (see page 2 of her book for the beginning of the story).

For middle schoolers and older:

Alien in the Ethical Universe (grades 5-8) uses the scenario of a traveling alien on a fact-finding mission about how beings treat other beings to spark discussion and critical thinking about the inconsistencies in how our society encourages us to treat others. Beginning with questions about how we treat other people, the conversation leads to our treatment of animals. Asking several questions about our relationship with "food" animals and the inconsistencies there brings awareness to habits we've often never thought about.

Be a C.R.I.T.I.C. (grades 6 & up) uses a special technique to encourage students to bring critical thinking skills to their analysis of information from a variety of sources. Pairing information in a variety of formats from the animal agriculture industry with that from government sources and animal protection non-profits will help students become better evaluators of information about farmed animals.

True Price (grades 6 & up) helps participants become more conscious in their consuming by analyzing the "true price" on people, animals and the earth of different products. Analyzing products such as a fast food burger or other animal-based product can highlight the plight of animals used in those products.

It's only through education that we're going to realize the just, compassionate world for all beings that we want. Use activities like these as a starting place.

~ Marsha

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Seven Ducklings and the Peace of Wild Things

This morning as I walked by our pond, I saw a Mallard with her seven newly hatched ducklings. I kept my dogs under control as we walked past the pond while the mother duck quickly gathered the babies to keep them safe from us predators. I was ambivalent about seeing this family of ducks on our pond. I love seeing them, love the fast-swimming, sweet-chirping, fuzzy little ducklings, but I have watched too many be killed at our pond by crows and other wildlife. Ours is not a particularly safe pond for ducklings. Year after year I observe their numbers decline as the days go by. One year, a mother duck lost every single duckling in the space of three days. I wondered about her, whether she was a young mother, inexperienced in protecting her babies, unwise in her choice of ponds. Did she have better luck in succeeding years? How did she cope with her terrible loss?

I often recite this poem, Wendell Berry’s “The Peace of Wild Things,” to soothe myself when life is particularly challenging.
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
I come into the presence of still water,
and I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light.
For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
The line, “I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief” has been both balm and occasional curative for my worried mind, but today I had to wonder. Does this Mallard mother truly live in the present moment? Is she never taxed by forethought of grief? She is a vigilant mother, always attentive and ready to steer her young to safety. Perhaps she does indeed anticipate the terrors that lurk around her, and worry and fret for her children’s lives, as Wendell Berry does. Perhaps it is only our wishful thinking that there is a way to truly live free of such anxiety and fear.

Still, I try to accept what I cannot change and release unhelpful worry. I try to have faith that whatever comes in life I will have the capacity to endure it and maintain some modicum of equanimity and composure and never lose my integrity or courage. And still, I, like Berry, return again and again to what feels like the peace of wild things, whether or not it is truly peaceful for them. And, like Berry, it is in that grace that I, too, find a taste of freedom.

Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and So, You Love Animals

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Food Not Bombs: 30 Years of Feeding the Hungry

Creating a just, compassionate world requires lots of different kinds of actions: raising money, transforming broken systems, educating others, changing our own destructive habits, passing legislation, and so on. Hacking at the roots, as Thoreau said, is essential to realizing lasting, positive change, but sometimes you just need to see the fruits of your labors immediately and with your own eyes. For 30 years, Food Not Bombs has been helping feed the hungry around the world, directly affecting the lives of millions (on Monday, they celebrated their 30th anniversary). According to their website, FNB "shares free vegan and vegetarian meals with the hungry in over 1,000 cities around the world every week to protest war, poverty and the destruction of the environment."

Food Not Bombs is such an effective and relevant organization, because:
  • They accomplish so much, while operating with almost no budget and an all-volunteer force. Their chapters are all autonomous.
  • They understand the interconnectedness of issues like poverty, environmental protection, peace, food justice, consumerism, and health.
  • They make use of the "unwanted" food from restaurants, groceries and other places, so that it feeds people instead of getting thrown away.
  • Anyone can start a chapter; their website includes a handbook, graphics, and other useful resources.
  • Anyone can volunteer and get instant gratification by helping someone in need.
Learn more.

~ Marsha

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Humane Issues in the News...

Each week we post links to news about humane education & humane living, and items connected to humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media, consumerism and culture.

Report shows more Americans spending time outdoors (via Treehugger) (5/25/10)

"Preschools take root in forests" (via Discovery News) (5/24/10)

Casting white actors as "ethnic characters" sparks controversy (via LA Times) (5/23/10)

The state of the animal rights movement in the U.S. (via National Journal) (5/22/10)

"Cracking down on the ocean's pirate fishermen" (via Time) (5/22/10)

"Yale study: Obesity issue is a social justice topic" (via Yale Daily News) (5/22/10)

Will we fight for human rights, or look away as they are eroded? (via YES! Magazine) (5/21/10)

"How alcohol companies launched a digital campaign against America's kids" (via Alternet) (5/21/10)

Teen whose "Vision is Green" wins President's Environmental Youth Award (via EPA press release) (5/20/10)

The surprising lessons one teacher learns in teaching his students about genocide (via GOOD) (5/19/20)

New report looks at role of poverty on student achievement (via Washington Post blog) (5/18/10)

Survey shows kids worldwide value TV, video games over saving environment, animals (via Mongabay) (5/18/10)

Historic agreement in Canada to protect 170 million acres of boreal forest (via Treehugger) (5/18/10)

Report shows 97% of worst safety violations came from BP (via Daily News) (5/17/10)


Keep up with more humane issues in the news via our Facebook or Twitter pages.

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Plan Book for Educators Offers Resources, Ideas for Integrating Social Justice

Social justice is becoming a hot topic in schools and communities, and more educators are interested in integrating the exploration of social justice issues into their curriculum, after school programs or other educational forums. Especially if you’re new to teaching about social justice, Planning to Change the World: A Plan Book for Social Justice Teachers, 2010-2011 created by Education for Liberation Network and the New York Collective of Radical Educators, in partnership with Rethinking Schools, is a helpful resource. Planning to Change is a “plan book." But unlike those green-lined plan books you may remember your teachers carting around from your own school days, it includes much more. The book was created to help educators “translate their vision of a just education into concrete classroom activities.”

Some of the highlights include:
  • Significant anniversaries and birthdays of social justice leaders, relevant events, and national holidays (ex: anniversary of the Trail of Tears; World Day for Water)
  • “Essential questions” to spark discussions with your students (ex: How does what you watch on TV shape your understanding of the world? Who has the power to include or exclude groups of people from American life?)
  • Inspirational quotes
  • Lesson plans and resources related to important observances
  • Brief tips/anecdotes from social justice teachers about integrating social justice issues

The planner also includes a list of social justice conferences, and a list of helpful organizations, and it includes a couple of IHE's social justice activities.

Planning to Change is a useful and powerful tool in bringing social justice issues to mainstream teaching.

The book is designed for classroom teachers, but it could also be useful to educators teaching in other venues, such as after school programs, clubs, or homeschooling classes.

Educators can pre-order a copy through Rethinking Schools by June 30, 2010 for the discounted price of $14 ($13 for bulk orders), plus shipping and handling (Retail bookstore price $18). Orders will be shipped to in mid-July.

~ Marsha

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Let No One Else Decide How You Will Act

My good friend and colleague, Mary Pat Champeau, once offered me some words of wisdom, ones that helped her to maintain integrity, equanimity, and calm no matter what the situation. She said, “I try not to let anyone else determine how I will act.” This has been one of the most important pieces of advice that I’ve ever received, and I wish that it came more naturally to me to heed it.

I’m what you might call a reactive person. Zero to one hundred in a split second. I don’t know how to stop my reactive nature, but I do know that I can consciously choose not to act upon my immediate reactions. In other words, if my heart races as adrenalin rushes through me; if my brain has generated immediate, but unwise words; if my body is in flight or fight mode, I can still, albeit with enormous effort, refuse to indulge my reactions and pause long enough to follow Mary Pat’s good advice.

There will always be others who enrage us; who hurt us; who cause us great fear and consternation. But to have integrity, to be true to our deepest values, we must remind ourselves again and again that no matter what another does or what behavior incenses us, we and only we are responsible for our actions and our words. Unless we have been imprisoned or live under a dictatorship (or, as women, under some patriarchal strangleholds), we adults should blame no one else for our actions. We can seek to understand the ways in which we don’t live with full integrity, courage, or honesty. We can look to cultural norms and unhealthy systems that influence us, but as soon as we say or do things that defy our own values, we must look nowhere but in the mirror.

Imagine how your life and those you impact would improve if you were to let no one else decide how you would act, but instead acted based on what you believe and value with your most deepest and fervent effort.

Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and Above All, Be Kind

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Educators: Help Make a Better World Possible with Our Summer Institute

As an educator, whether you are just beginning your professional journey or are a veteran, you know that as you help shape the future of so many, so, too, are you shaping the future of our society.

If we're serious about preparing young people for their future, educators and schools everywhere must provide students with the knowledge, tools, and motivation required to create healthy, peaceful, and sustainable lives for themselves, other people, all species and the planet.

Spend an amazing and valuable week this summer (June 28-July 2) learning to incorporate pressing global issues into your teaching, while enjoying the beautiful coast of Maine. Our Teaching for a Better World Summer Institute, designed for classroom teachers and community educators, will rejuvenate you and your teaching.

The week takes place at IHE's beautiful facility, situated on 28 oceanfront acres overlooking the mountains of Acadia National Park. The grounds include an organic garden, a beautiful wooded trail, and a pebble beach where seals, eagles, loons and osprey are frequently seen.

Each day:

Enrich your mind with new ideas and reconnect with the most fundamental reasons for choosing to teach. Explore your passion for education as a means of confronting pressing global challenges and learn to bring issues of social justice, environmental preservation, human rights and animal protection into your classrooms and communities in ways that vitalize your teaching and add even greater depth and relevancy to your curricula. Practice new skills with other committed educators who share your enthusiasm for inspiring young people to hope and action.


In the evenings:

Enjoy the optional group activities, such as:
  • Dining at nearby restaurants where you can socialize with faculty, staff and your fellow participants;
  • Hiking up Blue Hill Mountain to see the sun set;
  • Joining a group cook-out at our facility, where you have the option of inviting your friends or family (for a small fee) who may be traveling with you.
IHE is just a 30 mile drive to Mount Desert Island (MDI), widely known as the home of Acadia National Park and the town of Bar Harbor. More than two million visitors each year come to Acadia to hike granite peaks, bike historic carriage roads, or relax and enjoy the scenery. Before or after the Summer Institute or in the evenings during the week, you might like to include some activities on MDI or in the Park.

You can also explore the nearby towns of Blue Hill, Deer Isle, Stonington, Ellsworth and Bar Harbor, which offer other hikes, restaurants, films, performing arts and comedy. Whether you choose camping, an affordable nearby motel, or a local bed and breakfast, this region of Maine will enrich and delight you.

Tuition:

Tuition is just $575 for the whole week, including lunch and snacks and the required reading materials. Lodging and travel are not included. CEUs are offered through the University of Maine.

Join us this summer June 28-July 2 in Maine for a very extraordinary week of rejuvenation and learning! Enroll now - only 9 spaces remaining.

Learn more about the Teaching for a Better World Summer Institute.


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Please share information about this opportunity with educators you know! Thank you!
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Zoe Weil Book Wins Silver for 2010 Nautilus Book Awards

We at the Institute for Humane Education are very pleased and proud that IHE President Zoe Weil's latest book, Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life, is a Silver Winner for the 2010 Nautilus Book Awards. The award "recognizes books and audio books that promote spiritual growth, conscious living & positive social change, while at the same time they stimulate the "imagination" and offer the reader "new possibilities" for a better life and a better world."

Most Good, Least Harm won Silver in the category for Ecology/Environment/Sustainability - Green Values.

Congratulations, Zoe!

(Posted by IHE Staff.)
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The Oil Spill: Two Templates for a True Solution

It’s been a month since the explosion on an oil rig set off the unprecedented environmental disaster that is occurring in the Gulf of Mexico, and I’ve been so heartsick and overwhelmed, not to mention not-well-enough informed, beyond what I read in the media, to write about it.

But it’s time to write something. I want some good to come from this catastrophe, and all I can think of is how wise and wonderful it would be if this served as the catalyst for the U.S. to utilize the ideas in Peter Barnes’ critically important book, Capitalism 3.0, and to adopt the 28 words penned by Robert Hinckley in his corporate code of citizenship that allows corporations to pursue profits, “…but not at the expense of the environment, human rights, public health and safety, dignity of employees or the welfare of the communities in which the corporation operates.”

Please read Barnes’ book and spread these ideas. These thoughtful men have provided a template for a true solution to so many problems and potential disasters. If the oil spill serves as the motivation for a considered reassessment of how we conduct a healthy capitalism for all -- humans, non-humans, and the environment -- then perhaps we can live with the dire consequences and move toward a healthy future.

Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm

Image courtesy of NASA Goddard Photo and Video via Creative Commons.


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What a Humane World Looks Like: Finding Something to Love in Everyone

This month we have 25 students from different parts of the world taking our month-long online course, A Better World, A Meaningful Life.

Each week day the participants complete an activity or exercise designed to get them thinking and exploring about MOGO (most good) choices in their personal lives and on a systemic level. One of the first exercises focused on “What do you care most about?”, and there have been some really interesting answers. The question sparked me to think about what my own response would be.

I can’t remember the wording of the quote or its source, but a few years ago I read a quote in a book on Buddhist philosophy that basically said “To truly love, you must love everyone.” The thought that I should actually proactively work to love everyone – not just those in my family or circle of friends – but EVERYONE really struck me and has stayed with me to this day. I’ve always loved animals and the natural world, but because of some trauma in my childhood, I grew up not liking people for the most part. And, what I’ve learned — and continue to learn — about all the horrific things that people are doing to each other, animals and the planet made it easy to dislike humanity as a whole, prompting me to save my love and concern for animals, the planet, my loved ones and for those I perceived as “good.”

But, completing the coursework and readings for becoming a humane educator, and reading philosophies such as those found in that book on Buddhism, has lead me to open my heart much wider. To focus on the good in humanity, to understand that people are much more than certain habits or choices. To acknowledge that most people are making the best choices they know how at the time.

I used to focus on animal protection and environmental preservation issues, but now my circle of concern encompasses everything. Of course, since I’m only one person, I can’t address every single issue or concern, but looking through the lens that sees the interconnectedness of all issues helps me make choices that have a greater positive impact for all. It’s still hard for me to “love everyone.” And I certainly don’t like or condone a lot of what I see; but, trying to live a MOGO life continues to help me find something to love (or at least respect) in everybody.

~ Marsha

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More on the Bystander Effect

Just days after delivering the sermon, A Better World, A Meaningful Life, at the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, which included a discussion about a shocking example of the “bystander effect,” Hugo Tale-Yax died after being stabbed while coming to the aid of a threatened woman on the street in Queens, New York. He died on the sidewalk as 20 people walked by and did nothing. The scene was captured by a security video; you can watch it here.

While it is true that there are systemic and situational forces at play that influence our behavior, as revealed powerfully by Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment and described in his book, The Lucifer Effect, it is also true that not all people do nothing. Not everyone is apathetic, cowardly, or lacks empathy in situations that have the potential to bring out these qualities. In this recent example, the story only begins when Hugo Tale-Yax chooses to risk his life to help another. That twenty people walked by and did nothing (one even snapping a picture!) to help him as he lay bleeding on the sidewalk, should be a wake up call.

We are all susceptible to the bystander effect, and we must be vigilant about cultivating and nourishing our own empathy so that when our time comes to act, we will be ready. We won’t have allowed cultural norms, peer pressures, creeping inertia and apathy, situations and systems that push us toward inaction, or the deadening of our sensitivity to violence, to eclipse our values.

As the late Howard Zinn wrote:
“People are practical. They want change but feel powerless, alone, do not want to be the blade of grass that sticks up above the others and is cut down. They wait for a sign from someone else who will make the first move, or the second. And at certain times in history, there are intrepid people who take the risk that if they make that first move others will follow quickly enough to prevent their being cut down. And if we understand this, we might make that first move.”
Hugo Tale-Yax was a good Samaritan who needed others. He might have lived if only one of those people walking by him had stopped to help. Can’t each of us do such a small thing?

Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind and Claude and Medea, Moonbeam gold medal winner for juvenile fiction about young heroes

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Talking With Kids About the Oil Spill: Tips and Ideas

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is on the minds of millions -- many of whom feel fear, trauma, anger, frustration, and a whole swirling gyre of conflicting feelings. We adults are having enough trouble coping with this tragedy -- what about kids? Treehugger tipped me to the National Wildlife Federation's page for kids, answering questions about the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill. NWF also has a guide for parents & teachers about how to talk to children of different ages about the spill. The tips offer suggestions such as: be age appropriate, answer questions, let kids guide the conversation, and empower them with positive action and attitude. (One of the best suggestions was a reminder that young children are young, and we should be helping them engage with the natural world, rather than burdening them with problems we adults have caused.)

If you want to explore the oil spill more deeply with your students, consider some of these resources:

NOAA has a mini-lesson about the Valdez oil spill that can help give older students background in the effects of such a disaster on people, animals and the earth, as well as an FAQs section about oil and chemical spills (students can even find out about oil spills that have happened in their area).

The New York Times has posted a lesson for examining the current spill and designing and executing experiments to explore the impacts of the spill.

Breaking News English offers a series of activities connected to the oil spill for ESL students (the activities that promote discussion and critical thinking are the strongest).

The Smithsonian Institution has a few suggested resources and ideas for exploring the spill.

And, of course, there are numerous opportunities to spark student critical thinking, discussion and community action with this topic.

What resources and ideas have you come across for engaging young people about the BP oil spill?

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of marinephotobank via Creative Commons.

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Zoe Weil Guest Post on CrazySexyLife: "Action is the Antidote to Despair"

Give yourself & your soul a boost! IHE President, Zoe Weil, has a guest post on the blog CrazySexyLife: "Action is the Antidote to Despair." Here's an excerpt:

"There are myriad systems that need transformation: food production, electronics production, energy, schooling, conflict resolution (can’t we come up with an alternative to war?!), architecture, suburban sprawl, transportation, and so on. Even if our individual daily choices do have a positive impact, that isn’t enough to fully transform unsustainable, destructive, and inhumane systems into ones that are restorative, healthy, and just.

But here’s the great news: when we not only harness our energies toward making healthy daily choices, but also uncover our most creative and viable solutions to solve systemic problems, we discover that we have never felt more alive, joyful, and purposeful."


Read the complete post, leave your comments & please share it with others!

(Posted by IHE staff.)
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Humane Issues in the News...

Each week we post links to news about humane education & humane living, and items connected to humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media, consumerism and culture.

Sylvia Earle: We're Removing Sea Creatures & Replacing Them with Plastic (via Treehugger) (5/18/10)

Student sparks kindness month on campus (via New University) (5/17/10)

Teachers get instruction in counseling skills to help teach the "whole child" and their families (via Spokesman-Review) (5/17/10)

"Pesticide exposure linked to increased risk of ADHD" (via Treehugger) (5/17/10)

Groups work to recover "ghost nets" killing wildlife (via USA Today) (5/17/10)

Japan struggles with whaling issue (via NY Times) (5/16/10)

Pre-schoolers learn value, power of helping others with a little change (via 11 Alive) (5/15/10)

Safety Commission warns parents not to buy "cheap children's jewelry" (via Daily Green) (5/14/10)

"Green charter schools take off" (via MNN.com) (5/12/10)

"NPR erases domestic terrorism" (via PR Watch blog) (5/11/10)

Educator, sailor launches project to clean up the "Pacific garbage patch" (via Christian Science Monitor) (5/10/10)

Scientists divided on effects of violent video games (via LA Times) (5/3/10)

Study looks at impact of single-sex schools with primarily black and Latino boys (via Metropolitan Center for Urban Education) (4/10)


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Humane Educator's Toolbox: Research to Help Reconnect Your Students With Nature

A recent study showed that “nature makes us nicer” – it brings out more caring feelings in us. Another recent study revealed that spending only five minutes exercising in a “green space” has both positive mental and physical benefits.

Those who grew up playing in nature – and those of us who are “treehuggers” and “nature lovers” – know that we are deeply connected to and dependent upon the natural world. I know that whenever I step into a forest, my body and soul both give a sigh, as if I’ve returned to who and where I’m supposed to be. We know that kids today have developed a sort of “nature deficit disorder” (as author Richard Louv terms it), spending their time indoors, surrounded by electronic gadgets.

The Children & Nature Network, which works to reconnect children and nature, has compiled a great online library of research and studies that focus on nature in education and educational settings.

The site has organized the resources into these categories:
  • Overviews about children’s contact with nature, particularly in educational settings
  • Studies about the relationship between children’s outdoor behavior and school performance
  • Studies about children’s physical activity and weight in relation to their school and outdoor environments
  • Benefits to children from nature contact
  • Examinations of children’s outdoor behavior
  • Types of children’s outdoor spaces and the way they influence children’s experiences
  • Examinations of children’s environmental knowledge and behavior

For those educators who might need either ideas or credible support for launching lesson plans and projects helping kids explore and immerse themselves in the natural world, this library is a helpful resource.

~ Marsha

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A Better World, A Meaningful Life: A Service at the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee

I recently had the great honor and joy of being the first Morton Series Lecturer on individual responsibility at the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee (FUSM), and below you’ll find a copy of what I shared at the services on April 25.

Last week I read Erik Reece’s essay, “In the Presence of Rock and Sky” in the April issue of The Sun magazine. Reece is a writer and environmental advocate who has written about strip mining in the Appalachians, and in this essay he shares his experience in Norway, the land of his ancestors. He explores Norwegian cultural perspectives, extolling Norwegian virtues of modesty, humility, and environmental stewardship. When he contrasts Norwegian values with the atrophy of empathy in our culture, he shares the following personal story which I’m going to quote in full:
“One morning a few years ago, on a visit to New York City, I was trying to navigate the subway when a train approached my platform. A throng of businesspeople rushed from it, and in that mad dash someone’s careless foot came down on the slender white cane of a blind man, breaking it. He fell to the concrete and reached furiously around for the remnants of his shattered cane. No one, including me, stopped to help him. ‘Do I have all the pieces?’ he cried out. Bystanders showed no sign of listening. I stood there, paralyzed. Why didn’t I do something? Why didn’t anybody else? Had we all inoculated ourselves against such daily pathos? Would I be embarrassed in front of these New Yorkers, to be seen helping this man – embarrassed by my empathy? Finally a man in a yarmulke stooped to gather up the scattered sections of the blind man’s cane, then helped him up the stairs to the street. And that simple act stung me with a shame I carried for days.”
When I read this paragraph I was honestly stunned. First of all, I grew up in New York City, and New Yorkers are not, despite our reputations, callous, unfriendly, unhelpful people. In fact, when my mother took a fall a couple of years ago, within moments two people had come to her aid. Sure, there are nasty New Yorkers, and sure the “bystander effect,” in which the likelihood of helping another declines as the number of witnesses rises, influences whether we’ll come to someone’s aid, but it is astounding to me that Reece observed so fully the details of this blind man’s fall, from the stepping on the cane, to his cries for help, to the lack of response, to the final denouement when Reece watches a man in a yarmulke lead the blind man up the stairs and to the street and yet Reece still did nothing. Apparently, he was not among those rushing to get on the subway himself or he would not have been able to observe all this and in such vivid detail. No, he just watched. And then felt a shame he, quote, “carried for days.”

It’s hard for me to imagine someone carrying such shame for only days. I like to think that a person who did nothing as a blind man fell before their eyes after his cane had been broken by a careless passerby (whether or not he cried for help) would feel some shame for the rest of their life – not a destructive shame but an instructive shame that helps to transform them. I like to think that like Reece, they would seek to understand their lack of response and wonder about the ways in which their culture molded them into a person who fails to help another in distress, but I would hope that they wouldn’t generalize to the degree Reece did, elevating Norway and decrying America’s loss of empathy and simply stop there. After all, the bystander effect, in full force in Reece’s subway story, could happen in Oslo, too. Even in his essay, Reece shares the response of a Norwegian man (with whom he says he does some U.S.-bashing) to Norway’s low crime rate and the Norwegian responds, “We don’t have that many people here. If we had as many people as you do in America, we’d have a lot of crazies, too.”

No, I think there is different lesson here, one Reece neglected to explore. When we only blame our culture for our behavior, we implicitly fail to take responsibility for ourselves and our choices. The truth is that while the systems around us powerfully affect our behavior and choices, we are still responsible for our choices, and we are also responsible for our efforts to transform inhumane or destructive systems to the best of our ability.

In the story, "The Emperor and the Seed," that Kim shared, we meet the character Ling, a boy who demonstrates perseverance by never giving up on the seed the emperor bestowed upon him; honesty by not planting a new seed like the other children, and courage by bringing his bare pot to the emperor’s gathering, ready to face ridicule by his peers and possible anger and grave disappointment from the emperor. Ling has grown up in the same culture as his peers, with children who quickly resorted to deceit, but if deception is a cultural norm, Ling will have none of it. No, Ling takes responsibility for himself and his actions and in doing so embodies several of the best qualities of human beings. The wise emperor recognizes that leadership requires that we are virtuous, true to our values and beliefs, committed to our own integrity. Thus, Ling’s great virtue brings him great power.

I have come to believe that when we consciously put our deepest values into practice in our lives, embodying them through our daily choices and interactions as well as our acts of citizenship, our work, and our efforts at transforming unjust, unsustainable and inhumane systems into ones that are peaceful and restorative, we become more powerful than we may ever have imagined. We may not become emperors like Ling, but we become effective changemakers for whom meaning, purpose and joy are daily experiences. We become agents of our lives instead of cowardly or apathetic bystanders.

I don’t need to describe the world’s grave threats and problems to you. Most Unitarians are aware of such challenges as global warming, genocide, escalating worldwide slavery, institutionalized animal cruelty, habitat destruction and extinction of species, lack of access to clean water, poverty, and so on. You didn’t come to church today to hear a litany of woes. But I suspect that many, if not most of you, are deeply concerned about these issues, and that for some of you, they may bring dark nights of the soul, may take you to the edge of despair, may bring such fear for your children and grandchildren’s future that instead of feeling empowered to make a difference, you may become too despondent to act.

And so here’s my good news, the news that I hope will stir your soul, inspire your good works, enliven your spirit, help bring about solutions to our challenges, and, simultaneously, bring you a large measure of inner peace:

What you do matters. You, acting from your values and using your talents, can make a difference, and when you choose to do this, you will likely find, as Joan Baez put it so beautifully, that “Action is the antidote to despair,” a beautiful win-win in which your effort brings about positive change for others while powerfully enriching your own life.

Let me give you some examples of individuals whose work to change unjust, inhumane, or problematic systems have led to significant, sometimes amazing positive effects in the world.

Many of you have likely heard of Mohammad Yunus. He was an economics professor in Bangladesh, and during the terrible famine in his country he wondered what all his education was for if he couldn’t help the poorest people starving all around him. So he visited a village and asked 42 people what they needed. They considered his question and came back to him saying that collectively they needed $27 to bring rice to market. He loaned them this money and thus launched the microcredit movement. Mohammad Yunus came to believe that the typical banking system – where you have to have money (or collateral) in order to borrow money – didn’t make sense, and he wanted to change it. Those with nothing most needed loans. So he opened Grameen Bank to provide small loans to very poor people, mostly women, so that they could lift themselves out of poverty. He had a 95% loan repayment, and microcredit slowly began to sweep the world lifting millions of people out of poverty. Now people like us can go to a website like kiva.org and make small loans to people around the world, choosing the individuals and the businesses we wish to support.

Mohammad Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize. Not the Nobel Prize in Economics mind you, but the Nobel Peace Prize, because when we end poverty, we create peace. One man, one idea, created a revolution. Recently, Mohammad Yunus came up with a new idea – social businesses. Instead of the either/or of for-profit or not-for-profit corporations, Mohammad Yunus is promoting social businesses that make a profit doing a social good. His new book, Creating a World Without Poverty, describes what we might achieve with this third approach to business.

So now I’ll tell you about someone who’s following this new business model. Dara O’Rourke was a UC Berkeley professor who was putting sunscreen on his 5-year-old daughter when he suddenly wondered what was really in this stuff he was smearing on his child. So he did some research and found out there was a toxic ingredient in it. He realized that while he had the wherewithal to find out this information, other parents might not, because we don’t have transparent production systems in which consumers have access to knowledge about the ingredients or full effects of the things we buy and use. So he put together a team of scientists and technology experts and launched goodguide.com, a for-benefit business to provide consumers – that’s all of us – with the most comprehensive, credible, and useful information so that we can make conscious and conscientious choices about what we buy. In so doing, O’Rourke is hoping that our collective conscientious choicemaking will influence companies so that more humane, sustainable, and healthy products are produced in the future.

Here’s a third person. Back in the mid-1970s a man named Henry Spira, a gruff union organizer and teacher, learned about product testing on animals, an entrenched system in which products from cosmetics to dish soap to oven cleaner are put into the eyes of conscious rabbits, force-fed to animals in quantities that kill, and smeared on their abraded skin all without painkillers or anesthesia. Wanting to do something to stop this, he had an idea. In 1980, he took out a full-page ad in the New York Times with a photo of a rabbit with its eyes blacked out and the caption, “How many rabbits does Revlon blind for beauty’s sake?” Within a year Revlon had donated three quarters of a million dollars to research alternatives to animal tests and soon after discontinued their own animal tests, followed by many other companies. Now, largely thanks to Henry Spira and the movement he launched with that ad, we can buy personal care and cleaning products that aren’t tested on animals. I’m guessing many people in this church already seek out such products, looking for the leaping bunny logo or the words “cruelty-free” on products so that you don’t participate in cruel animal tests. You can do this because one man had an idea and launched a movement to change a system.

Here’s another story, this one about a woman who decided to use her professional training to change an unjust system. Her name is Katie Redford, and when she was a law student she visited Burma and discovered the human rights atrocities being perpetrated by a military dictatorship that was securing a pipeline through Burmese villages for the California company, Unocal. Invoking an obscure 18th century law called the Alien Tort Claims Act, Katie Redford wrote a paper in law school arguing that Americans should be able to sue U.S. companies for their human rights abuses abroad. She got an A. For some that might have been the end of their effort, but Katie Redford’s work had just begun. It took her nine years with a team of other lawyers to bring her case to court. And she won. And as the lawyers here know, setting a precedent in the law is system-changing. Katie Redford harnessed her passion and her skill as a lawyer to create a system change in American jurisprudence.

Now I’ll tell you my idea for creating change. The system I want to change is schooling. Currently, if you ask most people, “What is the purpose of schooling?” they’ll likely say something like this: that it is to provide verbal, mathematical and scientific literacy, along with some basic historical and other knowledge, so that our graduates can find jobs and compete in the global economy. So here’s a thought-experiment for you. Imagine if every child in the U.S. were to pass their No Child Left Behind tests with flying colors and either find a job after high school or go to college and find a job or go to college and graduate school and find a job so that we had 100% employment. Would we think that we were successful at meeting our educational goals? My guess is that most people would say yes. But I don’t believe this is enough. Given the grave problems in the world, I don’t think preparing our children to enter a workforce that perpetuates many of those problems is good enough. I think we need a bigger purpose for schooling. Beyond verbal, mathematical and scientific literacy, which are obviously foundational, I believe that we should provide all students with the knowledge, tools, and motivation to be solutionaries for a better world so that, whatever careers they pursue, they will be committed to making sure that they are creating healthy, just, and humane systems through their professions, whether they’re engineers, urban planners, custodians, politicians, fashion designers, businesspeople, health care providers, and so on. I’m working for the day when schools have as many solutionary teams solving problems as there are debate teams arguing about who is right and wrong in fabricated either/or scenarios. Just imagine how quickly we could solve all the pressing challenges of our time if we raised such a generation to be fully engaged and knowledgeable citizens and changemakers.

So I’ve described a few people and their ideas. What issues in the world concern you most? What systems do you want to change? What ideas come to mind? What skills and talents do you have? How can you bring those skills and talents together with your ideas? You may not have answers come to you immediately, but I urge you to ponder these questions and don’t stop until you’ve hit upon your great idea. Because just like Mohammad Yunus and Dara O’Rourke and Katie Redford and Henry Spira and a host of solutionaries in the world, you can make a difference, too. And there is little that will be as fulfilling and satisfying as that. As each of us finds our calling to create positive change; as each of us takes responsibility for ourselves and our choices, we find great joy. And at the same time we will leave the next generation a better world, resting a bit easier that we’ve done our part, not burdened by a shame that we failed to act.

Unless an idea has already popped into your head, you may wonder how you will find your calling and embrace it fully. There may be a voice inside you that says you’re too busy or too old or too young or too focused on raising your family or caring for your elderly parents. Some have said to me after hearing my talks, “Zoe, I’m no Gandhi.” Well, as children’s advocate, Marion Wright Edelman once said, “A lot of people are waiting for Martin Luther King, Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi to come back, but they are gone. We are it. It is up to us. It is up to you.”

In my book, Most Good, Least Harm, I interviewed three people whose lives, each very different from one another’s, represented to me a profound and moving effort to make a difference in the world. One of those people is Kim Korona, who just shared the story of "The Emperor and the Seed," and in the interview for my book Kim said this:
“There are so many problems in the world, and I used to wonder what the most important work was. Then I realized I needed to ask myself a different question. Based on who I am, how can I best serve the world? We must consider our best talents and strongest interests, and discover how we can put the two together.”
Kim went on to say that some may wonder if such a life might be difficult because of the sacrifices they may be called upon to make, but as she said, “I find that as one realizes the positive impact one is having, nothing feels like a sacrifice. Life feels rejuvenating because it isn’t superficial.”

I don’t know if I have convinced you. To be honest, even I, someone who has spent my whole adult life working to bring humane education to people across the globe in an effort to create a peaceful, sustainable, and humane world, have days when I think that we will not succeed. But even in those moments, I choose to work just as hard, because whether or not I reach my lofty goals, I still have to live with myself and having integrity is its own reward. I want to die knowing I did my best. The alternative, giving into apathy, is soul death and cowardice. It is no life. And it brings the sting of shame, which I do not want to carry. And so I consciously and tenaciously choose effort and optimism, and I urge you to do so, too.

Alex Steffen, founder of Worldchanging.com, calls optimism a political act. He says, “Those who benefit from the status quo are perfectly happy for us to think nothing is going to get any better. In fact, these days, cynicism is obedience. What’s really radical is being willing to look right at the problems we face and still insist that we can solve them.”

So imagine if we promised each other and ourselves that we would solve the problems we’ve created and improve all of our lives in the process. Imagine the world we would create. Imagine the joy and inner peace we would experience. We are already on the way to creating such a world. The question is, will we succeed?

The answer begins with each of us, which means it begins with you and me.

And so, may each of us commit to both proximal and far-reaching kindnesses. May we always stop and help an individual in need and may we harness our skills and match them with our passions to bring about a better world for all.

I will end today with two quotes, the first from William Penn:

“If there is any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not deter or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”

And the second from Unitarian Minister, Edward Everett Hale:

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something I can do.”

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind and Claude and Medea

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Humane Education in Minutes - Activities You Can Do in 15 Minutes or Less

Got a few minutes? Then you have time to promote humane education! We have several activities that you can use with kids, teens or adults in only 5 to 15 minutes. These can make great icebreakers, introductions to other humane education concepts or activities, or time-fillers, if you have a few minutes to spare.


5-10 Minute Activities


Lend a Hand
It comes naturally to most of us to help out when needed. This icebreaker sparks discussion about the importance of helping others, and how easy it can be to make helping part of our every day lives.
Recommended for grades 2 and up.
Time: 5-10 minutes

Lottery Ticket
Use this quick icebreaker to show participants that everyone can make a positive difference!
Recommended for All ages.
Time: 5 minutes


Two Apples
In this icebreaker, participants learn just how important words and actions are when they explore their impact on two apples.
Recommended for All ages.
Time: 5-10 minutes

10-15 Minute Activities

Choices Cards
Bottled or tap water? Fair trade or conventional? Hunting or taking photos? Participants consider pairs of related behaviors and products and contemplate which choices do the most good and least harm.
Recommended for grades 5 and up.
Time: 10-45 minutes

Everything is Beautiful
Students use 4 of their senses to explore the beautiful in nature.
Recommended for grades K-2
Time: 15-30 minutes

Human Picture
This icebreaker encourages participants to consider the kind of world they want to live in by creating human statues that depict positive and negative emotions.
Recommended for grades 3 and up.
Time: 10-15 minutes

What Does a Humane World Look Like?
Have students create their vision of a humane world and compare it to the world we live in now. What are the differences, and how can we make the world “as it is” become the humane world envisioned?
Recommended for grades 2 through 6.
Time: 15-30 minutes

What Will You Say?
At the end of your very long life, a child asks you what you did to help make the world so much better. Guide students through this visualization to help them get in touch with their power to make positive change.
Recommended for grades 5 and up.
Time: 10-20 minutes

Which to Pick
Great for a larger assembly, this activity asks students to compare pairs of similar products to consider which of the two helps more and harms less.
Recommended for grades 5 and up.
Time: 15-30 minutes

Why Are We Here?
What is our purpose here on Earth? What can we do about the problems of the world? The activity uses two short films and discussion to help students explore these important issues.
Recommended for grades 4 through 10.
Time: 15-30 minutes

Word Power
Words have enormous power and often assign value. This activity explores sample words in context and what kinds of value those words imply.
Recommended for grades 4 and up.
Time: 15-30 minutes

Image courtesy of: Richard Cocks

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MOGO Hero: Susan Sparrow

Seventeen-year-old Susan Sparrow of Salt Lake City mobilized a group of 20 peers at her high school to lobby state legislators expressing outrage that women in Utah earn only 66 cents for every dollar a man makes. On one of many visits to the statehouse during their three-month campaign, they passed out cookies, some large and others 34% smaller, with messages such as "Aren't we worth it? Vote yes on HB 81." The result was passage of a new law called the Compensation Pay Study that will collect payment data by gender, an important step in addressing pay inequity.

[Source: Youth Activism Project Success Stories]

~ Zoe Weil

Image courtesy of seantoyer via Creative Commons.

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Humane Educator's Toolbox: Just How Much Energy Are Your Gadgets Using?

Just how much energy, money and gas do all those gadgets and appliances you have use? GE has a nifty new tool that allows users to "understand more about how we consume energy in our homes." With the tool, you can determine:

  • How much power does each appliance use in watts?
  • How much does each appliance cost to use in dollars?
  • How much does each appliance consume in gallons of gasoline?
  • What does 1 kilowatt hour yield for each appliance?
You can view the data for each individual appliance, and you can deselect the appliances you don't own to determine a total for your household. Some of the costs can also be calculated by amount of time (year, month, day) and by state.

The types of appliances are occasionally random (aquarium? popcorn popper?) and a little role-biased (a curling iron but no electric shaver? kitchen appliances but no power tools?), but the tool is still useful for exploring and discussing our energy use at home, and it's fun to browse around.

When using this, remind yourself and your students that, while 20% of energy use "is residential," that means 80% belongs to business and industry, and while we can make different personal choices to decrease our energy use, it's also important that we work toward changing the systems to become more efficient and sustainable.

~ Marsha

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What a Humane World Looks Like: Watching Your Language

In the humane education presentation I give on compassionate, effective vegan advocacy, one of the topics I highlight is to "Watch Your Language." I talk about the importance of language and framing in the conversations that we have with people. How very different it is to talk about choosing not to eat animals versus "giving up" meat. Being for compassion and an end to suffering versus being against factory farms. Having a plethora of food choices versus food restrictions. Empowerment versus sacrifice. Soy chicken versus fake meat. I ask my audiences to be aware of the language choices and euphemisms that the animal agriculture industry makes -- using words like culling or harvesting, or "confined animal feeding operations", or beef and pork instead of unshackling the truth and using words like killing or murdering, or factory farming, or calling the animals by their names: cow and pig. The use of the objectifying it versus s/he. And so on.

Skim the headlines or listen to talk show pundits, and you'll find numerous examples of incendiary and misleading word usage. We talk about radicals and extremists when we think others' views are far beyond what we consider "right" and "normal." We toss out words like "traitor" and "socialism" and "evil" and "crazy" as if they have no influence on anyone -- just combinations of letters that pour out of our mouths and fall harmlessly on the ear.

What are we doing with our language choices? Are we objectifying animals and other people? Are we vilifying those with whom we disagree? Are we inciting violence? Are we hiding the truth?

As comedian George Carlin said, “You can’t be afraid of words that speak the truth, even if it’s an unpleasant truth….I don’t like words that hide the truth.”

Language is such a powerful tool. It has influenced and shaped the beliefs and actions and values of billions. Language can be extremely persuasive. It can help people empathize; it can make people angry; it can spur people to action, both violent and peaceful. But language should be used with compassion and awareness. It should always be accurate. It should be truthful. It shouldn’t be used to hurt or destroy.

Consider your own words before you speak, and think about the meaning and intent of words that seem inflammatory or misleading or less than straightforward. Choose words of truth and compassion. Watch your language, and you'll watch a more kind and just world emerge.

~ Marsha

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Why Do We Like to Gossip? How Can We Stop?

gos·sip n
1. conversation about personal or intimate rumors or facts, especially when malicious
2. informal and chatty conversation or writing about recent and often personal events
3. somebody given to spreading personal or intimate information about other people

Sometimes there are good and important reasons to gossip -- that is, to share facts, and sometimes even rumors, about others. If you feel confident that the news you have heard about a neighbor molesting a child may well be true, I believe you are obligated to tell other parents whose children could fall victim to the neighbor.

But generally gossip does not fall into this category. Most gossip is damaging and unhealthy. It causes more harm than good. So why is it so compelling? Why do so many of us enjoy it? Why does it seem to foster intimacy among those who gossip, when in truth, if we gossip about others among our friends, those same friends would be wise to limit what they share with us, lest we end up telling someone else?

I think it’s MOGO (most good) not to gossip, but like other things that are MOGO, our desires often eclipse our values. There are many times I make choices that I know don’t do the most good and the least harm because I want what I want when I want it. So, too, with gossip. That news about so-and-so and her scandalous affair? It’s a bit of excitement and fodder for repartee. That info about the pillar of the community cheating on his taxes? Fodder for righteous indignation and perhaps some good jokes.

When I was writing my book, Above All, Be Kind, I had a dream in which I had decided to write it under a pseudonym, and the name that was chosen was “Miss Goody Two Shoes.” No one likes a Miss Goody Two Shoes, and I found the dream unnerving. Are good, kind, compassionate, honest, gossip-avoiding people boring? Do they make other, less kind people feel judged and ashamed. Is it ultimately isolating to be so good that you refuse to listen to gossip and speak out against it? Does gossip, in its insidious way, build some sense of camaraderie and belonging, even as it should be a warning that the gossiper is untrustworthy?

I wish gossip weren’t fun. I wish I always had the strength to steer a conversation away from it. I wish that I never sought it out, as I sometimes do. I do know that there have been times when I’ve felt dirty after being at a gathering where others became the topic of conversation. I have wanted to leave, but I haven’t mustered the courage. I’ve wanted to say “I’m not comfortable with this conversation,” but have been afraid of upsetting people and sounding judgmental and self-righteous.

What about you? Do you find yourself gravitating toward gossip on occasion? If so, why do you think that is? And is it something you want to change in yourself as you strive to make choices that do more good and less harm?

I welcome your thoughts.

Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm

Image courtesy of foxypar4 via Creative Commons.

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WebSpotlight: Admongo.gov

Recently the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) launched a new website, Admongo.gov, that features an online game designed to help educate tweens about advertising and empower them to think critically and make better informed consumer choices. The game "teaches core ad literacy concepts through game play." The site also includes a section of curriculum for educators and parents to use with their tween children.

The sections of the game use fake brands similar to many products marketed to tweens to help players learn to:
  • identify ads
  • decode ads (see how the pieces of an ad work together to make the ad more appealing)
  • understand how advertisers target their ads
  • make their own ads
The game is single-player, and players begin by creating their own avatar from a list of attributes. At each level, players pick up points for completing the mission, answering bonus questions, and collecting coins. The game's designers have worked hard to make it fun and very video game-like, but it's pretty simple, straightforward play, and the "lessons" within each mission may turn off tweens used to more flash and fun. While certainly not a one-stop resource for helping kids learn media literacy skills, it's a useful tool for trying to hook the interest of kids used to learning from textbooks and chalkboards and teach them a few insider strategies.

Admongo isn't without controversy, so in addition to using it as a tool to help teach kids basic media literacy awareness, it serves as a great tool in itself for media and marketing deconstruction. As "Corporate Babysitter" Lisa Ray said in a recent blog post:
"Agencies who should be doing something now are instead putting their time and effort into advertising literacy campaigns. The FTC recently unveiled Admongo, an online game to teach kids how to decipher the very ads that shouldn’t be directed at them in the first place. Why not just go after the advertisers? Seems the FTC was careful not to alienate any corporate campaign donors when creating Admongo, in fact, they’ve partnered with Scholastic, the single largest offender of bringing corporate advertising directly into the classroom via licensed-character-laden books."
And, in a mixed-review on Slate, writer Seth Stevenson, mentions:
"...check out the Admongo poster, which the FTC includes with the package of curriculum materials it makes available to teachers. The poster is meant to be hung up in classrooms. It's an illustration that helps kids spot all the different places ads can appear, from cereal boxes to magazines to blimps in the sky. Ironically, in the poster's lower right corner is the logo for Scholastic—which worked with the FTC on the Admongo project, and which sells books and other products through its catalogs to a captive school-kid audience."

~ Marsha

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Humane Issues in the News...

Each week we post links to news about humane education & humane living, and items connected to humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media, consumerism and culture.

Study shows overweight children more likely to be bullied (via NY Times) (5/10/10)

US Forest Service spends $500,000 to get "more kids in the woods" (via Treehugger) (5/10/10)

Students learn about effects of global warming on local wildlife (via Silver City Sun-News) (5/9/10)

Oil in your stuff: 50 products you probably use daily (via Treehugger) (5/7/10)

Concord, Massachusetts, first U.S. town to ban bottled water (via Treehugger) (5/7/10)

"Agencies pledge to curb abuse of child farmworkers" (via AP) (5/6/10)

Maryland elementary students work to save the world (via Washington Post) (5/6/10)

Neighbors build community support, sharing group (via YES!) (5/5/10)

Studies show engaging in political activism improves sense of well-being (via YES!) (5/5/10)

The rise in "serious games" that address environmental & social justice issues (via Forbes) (5/4/10)

Massachusetts passes strong anti-bullying legislation (via GovMonitor) (5/4/10)

"Environmental certification becoming increasingly crowded and contested field" (via Washington Post) (5/3/10)

National Teacher of the Year treats "every student as a unique learner" (via Good News Network) (5/1/10)

Chicago school students want healthier food (via NPR) (4/28/10)

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Featured IHE Student: Michele Thames

"I want to find a way to teach people that kindness and compassion will change the world."

IHE M.Ed. student, Michele Thames, began her career helping abused and neglected children. When she discovered how well the kids responded to her dog, Lady, Michele began exploring the human-animal bond and discovered the power inherent in using humane education to nurture and support both children and animals.

Read Michele's essay about her experiences:

"Humane education has been a part of my life for the past few years, and I really did not even know it! I began my career working at a Child Advocacy Center, a place where abused and neglected children receive the services they need to begin the healing process. Part of my job was to find community resources to help families help heal from the trauma of abuse. After a long day at work, there was nothing better than coming home to my dog, Lady. She offered unconditional love no matter how I was feeling and she always managed to lift my spirits.

I began to wonder if she could work her magic with my kids at work. After speaking with my director, Lady began to accompany me to work each day. The smiles she would bring to scared children’s faces and the laughter she brought to the work environment was amazing. Working with different types of people seemed to be Lady’s forte in life, and I hoped that I could continue to watch her bring people joy.


After witnessing her effect on children and adults, I began to focus on the human-animal bond. I volunteered at local animal shelters and became familiar with the plight of homeless animals. The cruelty that some of the animals endured reminded me of the cruelty that some of my kids at work endured. That was the catalyst that started my search for a graduate program that could help me focus on the link between violence towards human and non-human animals.


Taking the step of applying to the Master of Education in Humane Education program was huge for me. I had been searching high and low for a program that would facilitate different learning styles as well as nurture my interest in the human-animal bond. From Environmental Ethics to Animal Protection to Human Rights, I have been engrossed in each of my assignments, learning more and more each day. I want to find a way to teach people that kindness and compassion will change the world. Easing the pain of those who cannot help themselves is my passion, and each time I complete an assignment, I feel more equipped to handle this challenge."


Read more of our students' stories.

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