The Real Crisis in American Education

Last fall I came across this quote in Harper’s magazine from Mark Slouk:
“Why is every crisis in American education cast as an economic threat and never a civic one?”
Great question. The lens through which we look at schooling will determine the kind of schooling we offer our children, and if our goal continues to be staying competitive in the global marketplace we will continue to focus on those skills that lead to such productivity, regardless of whether such a competitive edge serves the needs of a world in the midst of many crises. Why isn’t our highest priority to provide our children with an education that enables them to be fully engaged truth-seekers and truth-finders who are creative, courageous, compassionate and wise.

The world is changing so fast. Even if we were to cling to an economic goal for schooling, we would still do better to provide youth with critical and creative thinking skills and adapt our classes to our ever-changing world. Our children have facts at their fingertips, but they do not have a means for obtaining critical and creative thinking skills unless they have parents and teachers who cultivate these with rigor. So on two counts we are falling short.

Critical and creative thinking are the great tools of the mind, but our children need the passion of their hearts in order to commit their lives to doing good in the world and embodying their deepest values faithfully.

Zoe Weil
Author of The Power and Promise of Humane Education and Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times

Image courtesy of krossbow via Creative Commons.

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Bringing Attention to "Blood Phones" and Broken Systems

Often when we're talking to people about the impact of their choices, we bring up the issue of the systems in place that cause us to support destruction, violence and injustice, even though we don't want to support them. Often we use our laptops and cellphones as examples of products that support war, violence, genocide, animal cruelty, environmental destruction and slavery because of the components (such as coltan) used in their creation.

Recently the connections of our electronic gadgets to such atrocities are finding more space in the media. Nicholas Kristof recently wrote a column about "blood phones" and their connection to the barbarity that is the war in the Congo. He says,
"In Congo, I’ve seen women who have been mutilated, children who have been forced to eat their parents’ flesh, girls who have been subjected to rapes that destroyed their insides. Warlords finance their predations in part through the sale of mineral ore containing tantalum, tungsten, tin and gold. For example, tantalum from Congo is used to make electrical capacitors that go into phones, computers and gaming devices.

Electronics manufacturers have tried to hush all this up. They want you to look at a gadget and think 'sleek,' not 'blood.'”
Treehugger and PlanetGreen also recently brought attention to the issue of conflict minerals, and there have been social media campaigns aimed at companies like Intel and Apple to encourage them to go conflict-free.

The Enough Project has created a great new spoof off the I'm a Mac/I'm a PC commercials to bring attention to the conflict minerals that are part of computers. See it here:




Of course, we as citizens can't buy conflict-free gadgets (though we can choose not to buy the gadgets in the first place) until the manufacturers create a system that ensures access to conflict-free minerals. And the manufacturers aren't going to create that system until enough citizens politely insist that they do. And even if/when we have conflict-free electronic gadgets, our gadgets still contain toxins and release pollution during their production, distribution, and disposal; there is still the issue of the sweatshop conditions under which many of our gadgets are products; there is still the issue of the children and other people -- usually in developing countries like India -- who are exposed to all the toxins and pollution as they glean whatever reusable parts remain as part of the "recycling" efforts. There's still the habitat destruction and exploitation and extermination of animals that occurs as part of the mining for minerals. And so on.

Companies who make "consumer products" and those who exploit and oppress are counting on us to find it too hard and time-consuming and inconvenient to insist on systems, practices and products that support and nurture the compassionate, just, sustainable world we want. But we're not going to get that world unless we work for it. And we can start by speaking out for an end to "blood phones" and broken systems.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of scottpowerz via Creative Commons.

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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 reducing meat & dairy consumption can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ag sources (via Treehugger) (6/28/10)

Study shows healthier school food, more exercise lower students' health risks (via Science Daily) (6/28/10)

Schools can stop cyberbullying by teaching character & civility (via Salon.com) (6/28/10)

School fundraising projects reflect sustainability, social change (via Times Colonist) (6/27/10)

As "thin" becomes a popular male body type, more men worry about their bodies (via The Guardian) (6/27/10)

AZ immigration law inspiring young Latino activists (via The Arizona Republic) (6/26/10)

Rape in the Congo is not "cultural" (op-ed) (via NY Times) (6/25/10)

"Chicago youth work to decrease violence in schools" (via Truthout) (6/25/10)

"Lung-on-a-chip" offers alternatives to animal testing (via New Scientist) (6/24/10)

Schools will focus on principles of democracy, social justice (via Omaha.com) (6/23/10)

"Students think of ways to help others" (via NorthJersey.com) (6/23/10)

"Talks to reduce whale hunting collapse" (via NY Times) (6/23/10)

"Tuna's end" (NY Times) (6/21/10)

One girl's experience with bullying (via Boston.com) (6/20/10)


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Humane Education Activities: Help All Beings Gain Freedom From Oppression

As people in the United States are celebrating independence and freedom this July 4, there are millions of people all over the world who are victims of bonded labor and slavery. According to Kevin Bales, author of Disposable People, right now there are approximately 27 million slaves all over the world – including many children. In addition, there are billions of animals suffering from oppression and exploitation. We, as humane educators, can help this become a world free from the enslavement, exploitation and oppression of other people and animals by bringing awareness to the lack of freedom that is endured by so many and by helping people feel empowered to take positive action. Explore our website to find useful activities (and other resources) to help teach others (and yourself) about these issues. Samples include (free downloadable PDFs):

The Aliens Have Landed: Exploring Oppression, Rights & Freedom
Students explore oppression, rights & freedoms by participating in a scenario in which aliens have invaded earth and humans must plead their case not to be oppressed to a Universal Court. Recommended for grades 8 through 11.
Time: 60-90 minutes to several days

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

Don’t Tread On Me: Exploring Oppression
What is oppression? Who gets oppressed? Why don’t we all agree about that? Participants explore their own beliefs about oppression and learn about others'.
Recommended for grades 6 and up.
Time: 60-90 minutes

The Dreaded Comparison
Participants explore the connections between human and animal oppression and ways that we can choose not to oppress others.
Recommended for grades 7 and up.
Time: 45-60 minutes

Free at Last?
Use visuals of everyday things around us to introduce and explore the concepts of freedom and oppression.
Recommended for grades 5 through 8.
Time: 15-30 minutes

A Moment in Your Shoes
How will students feel spending a moment in the shoes of a battery hen or a child slave? Use this lively and thought- provoking activity to introduce human and animal issues and the connections between them.
Recommended for grades 6 and up.
Time: 45 minutes to several days

Picturing Oppression
Use images from magazines and other sources to spark students to consider the ways oppression, exploitation and dominance of animals and other people are still prevalent.Recommended for grades 7 and up.
Time 60-90 minutes


Find more useful resources in our Humane Education Activities section and our Resource Center.

~ Marsha

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Pretending in Education

In the July issue of The Sun magazine, in the "Readers Write" section on pretending, Susannah Mackintosh writes this:
“I’m an actor, but for 12 years I held day jobs as a teacher. I taught everyone from homeless preschoolers to union members to teen felony offenders to fifth-graders (by far the most challenging). At some point during each job, I would reveal to my co-workers that I was an actor, and they would say something like ‘Oh, teaching must be easy for you, then. You just get up and pretend to know what you’re doing!’

"I did pretend as a teacher: I pretended to care about tests. I pretended that getting through the day’s lesson was of the utmost importance. I pretended that effective conflict resolution could be taught in 12 forty-five minute workshops. I pretended that getting your GED would radically alter your life, even if all the odds were stacked against you. I pretended that six months’ rehabilitation could remove the obstacles that racism and poverty had placed in a young person’s path. I pretended that I didn’t care when students insulted or humiliated me. I pretended to believe that my students should listen to me as an authority figure. I pretended to respect my principal and to care about keeping my job.

"There are indeed skills that are transferable from acting to teaching: pretending is not one of them. As an actor I never pretended. I always expressed the truth.”
Reading this I wondered how many teachers pretend. How many go along with systems in schools they do not support or believe in? How many stealthily teach with passion and conviction and then help the students cram for their standardized tests as a secondary function of their job? How many convince themselves to follow a system they don’t believe in? How many leave public education for independent schools that are more aligned with their teaching goals? How many leave teaching altogether? And how many think our current approach to educating the next generation is the right one? And if they don’t, what pretense do they put forth, like Susannah did?

I welcome your thoughts.

Zoe Weil
Author of The Power and Promise of Humane Education and Most Good, Least Harm

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The Science of Creating a Compassionate World

We're fans of the Greater Good Science Center, which is based at the University of California, Berkeley, and is dedicated to fostering a compassionate society using scientific research into the psychology, sociology and neuroscience of well-being.

Recently they've featured a series of articles, essays and videos about compassion, and I wanted to share a couple links with you.

In "Global Compassion" psychologist Paul Ekman and the Dalai Lama discuss how to move the world to greater global compassion. Here are a couple of excerpts:

Dalai Lama:
"The first step is to appreciate really and deeply the pros and cons, the benefits and the disadvantages of narrow-mindedness, nationalism, tribalism, provincialism, whatever it is, as opposed to a global consciousness, a unity of humanity. How do we do this on a global scale? Here it becomes very important to reflect deeply upon the interconnected nature of the modern economy, and how environmentally our fates are all intertwined.

"On a global level, we need to have a deeper appreciation of how many of the conflicts and problems that we face today are really the consequence of an inadequate appreciation of the global dimension, and that this is the result of narrow-mindedness, of one form or another."
Ekman:
"...I think it is a serious problem to confront, how we share the world’s resources equitably when we have an inequitable situation to begin with, and a very powerful nation that is benefiting from the inequity. This may be a very large obstacle to achieving global compassion."

In another article, Paul Ekman outlines his "taxonomy of compassion," which includes emotion recognition, emotional resonance, familial compassion, global compassion, sentient compassion, and heroic compassion. Read the article here.

And, in the essay "The Roots of Moral Courage," Professor Kristen Renwick Monroe examines why some people "perform heroic acts of altruism and compassion" when others don't. She says,
"I found that what drove such altruists is what I call the 'altruistic perspective,' a particular way of looking at the world in which altruists see themselves as bound to others through their common humanity. Where the rest of us see a stranger, the altruist sees a fellow human being. This worldview is such a part of the altruist’s basic identity that it makes some actions—turning away from those in need, for example—simply unimaginable. It is analogous to the way we consider our options at a restaurant: It’s tough to get sushi at an Italian bistro; it’s just not on the menu. So it is with the altruistic perspective: It presents some of us with moral choices that differ significantly from the options available to others. Altruists simply have a different cognitive menu."
Compassion (actively manifested) is something I believe our world and our lives need much more of, and while some of us are satisfied with "feeling" our way to a more compassionate world, some folks operate from a place that requires more logic and scientific verification to satisfy them, so resources like those available at Greater Good are a useful find.

Add GG to your list of bookmarks.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of cornetta via Creative Commons.


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Do Kids Know Too Much Too Young?

As a humane educator, I’m always walking a delicate balance between exposing youth to global problems that are often horrific and igniting their commitment to use their one precious life to make a difference. Recently, after teaching 6th and 7th graders for several mornings, I wondered if our society in general is creating a kind of apathy among most kids such that they do not feel that it matters much what they do. They know so much. Before I taught about child labor, for example, they were well aware that their shoes and clothes might have been produced in sweatshops by kids their own age. And most of them weren’t inclined to change their habits or choices.

There is a danger in the over-exposure to atrocities and problems among adolescents. They become inured to bad news. This is not true of all children, of course, as the young heroes of our time illustrate. But, when one is exposed to a grave problem in adolescence that shatters one’s innocence and sparks one’s passion for justice, the seeds of changemaking are planted. When instead, the slow seepage of too much bad news and too much destruction pervades one’s awareness, a dangerous apathy can emerge.

I don’t know the answer to this dilemma, nor do I always know how to walk that delicate balance as a humane educator, but I fear for the future if we do not find a way to educate the next generation about the problems we face, provide them with the skills for solving them, and motivate them to choose lives of compassion, service, and courage. I welcome your thoughts.

Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times

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2010 U.S. Human Trafficking Report Includes U.S. for First Time

Each year for the last decade the U.S. State Department has released the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, which "grades" countries of the world according to their progress in working to end human trafficking. For the first time, the U.S. has included itself in the report. According to Secretary Clinton, "The United States takes its first-ever ranking not as a reprieve but as a responsibility to strengthen global efforts against modern slavery, including those within America. This human rights abuse is universal, and no one should claim immunity from its reach or from the responsibility to confront it."

Countries are ranked by a tier system, with Tier 1 (which includes the U.S.) being those countries that meet at least minimum requirements for fighting human trafficking. Those in Tier 2 are doing some work, but need to do more; Tier 3 countries aren't meeting minimum requirements and aren't really trying to do so.

According to the report, more than 12.3 million people are trafficked worldwide; the major forms of human trafficking include forced and bonded labor, sex trafficking, forced child labor, and child soldiers.

Find out more.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of v i p e z via Creative Commons.

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Hope is Vegan Shampoo in Smalltown Kansas

I'm short on blogging time this week, so here's a favorite, reposted from 6/6/07.

I’m so grateful for the new world vision I have – the virtual lenses I wear that make me aware of the impact of my choices and help me live a more humane life. But sometimes those lenses can be a real downer. I try to live my life with joy, but when you’re aware of all the suffering and destruction and injustice that surrounds us all the time, the world can seem so much darker, less hopeful, more, “What’s the point of making these more humane choices again?” For example, sometimes, when I look at a cow, I don’t just see and appreciate the cow (although I totally love cows!); I see the suffering that all farmed animals endure. I hear the cows (and pigs and chickens and others) screaming and begging for mercy and justice. When I see the new shoes my friend bought at Wal-mart “for a really good price!”, I don’t just see the shoes, but the human rights violations, environmental destruction and consumer gluttony that accompany them. I sometimes struggle daily not to become overwhelmed by the “dark side.”

But, a recent trip has renewed my hope.

In mid-May I went to visit my mom in my small hometown, right in the heart of cattle, gas and oil country. My husband and I joke about needing a special passport to pass safely through this land as vegans, but sometimes it feels close to the truth. This visit, though, I noticed several small differences. While picking up a few items at the local grocery, you would have thought from my yips of joy that I had won the lottery. I felt like I had. There were vegan burgers and non-dairy ice cream, organic produce and eco-friendly, cruelty-free toothpaste and shampoo! During that visit I saw an article in the newspaper of a nearby (larger) city about healthy vegetarian cooking (with recipes!) & the county extension office was offering veg cooking classes. My hometown now has a farmer’s market in the summer. And for the first time ever, my mom, who has pretty much stuck her fingers in her ears and done the “la-la-la-la” song any time I bring up humane issues -- especially surrounding animals -- admitted that I’ve changed her thinking about the place of animals in the world, and that “Thou shalt not kill” and “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren….” might actually include animals, too. She expressed her willingness to consider not buying slave chocolate. She has recommended a “progressive” book to her church group. She is willingly reading books by people like John Robbins & Zoe Weil…and liking them.

I tell you, friends, when you’re lenses are dragging you down instead of lifting you up, take them off, polish them a little, and put them back on. Those little beacons of hope will start popping up in your field of vision. Notice them, appreciate them, and let them bring a smile to your eyes and joy to your heart. Because those little beacons mean that humane choices are making true progress.

~ Marsha

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Being Right...Or Not

The other morning I took a walk along the rocky beach by our house. I sat on a rock for awhile watching what I thought was a seal sunning herself on a rock with a crow standing by her. But after a very long time with only the crow moving, and not the seal, I decided that I was watching a crow by a rock atop a rock, rather than a seal. But then the seal moved, and I realized that I’d been right the first time, only now I realized there was no crow. The movement of the “crow” had actually been the movement of the seal’s head, which was darker than her body. Are you with me?

We’re so sure of ourselves. So sure we’re right. And when we change our minds, we’re sure we’re right about that, too. And then when we’re shown to be wrong, we blithely accept our mistake, and we’re sure we’re right the next time.

The nice thing about the MOGO (Most Good) principle is that you never have to be right; you just have to persevere, commit to the 3 I’s of inquiry, introspection, and integrity and make choices that do the most good and the least harm to the best of your ability. It’s quite a relief to know that with MOGO as a guide you can choose differently tomorrow based on new information and deeper reflection. It’s also a relief to know that every person offers you the possibility to learn anew so that your choices can become even more MOGO. And finally, it’s a relief to know that while you won’t always be right, you’ll always be good.

~ Zoe Weil,
Author of Most Good, Least Harm

Note: Zoe's busy getting ready for our Summer Institute, so this is a repost from 4/25/08.

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Humanity By the Numbers: The Miniature Earth

Many of us trying to grasp the details of the lives of the nearly 7 billion other humans around the world can feel our brains melting at the attempt. It's challenging enough for some of us to empathize with and relate to our immediate neighbors and community members, but with 6+ BILLION of them?

That's why tools like The Miniature Earth are so useful. This little video helps viewers connect with others by distilling and quantifying humanity into numbers and ideas that are easier on our brains -- and more likely to inspire us to think critically and compassionately about others.

The video uses Donella Meadows' "State of the Village Report," in which she reduced Earth's human population to 1,000 people, and, keeping the same proportions, calculated statistics such as ethnicities, religions, income distributions, and so on. The information for The Miniature Earth video has been adapted and updated (and a new version is in the works).

Viewers can imagine themselves as one of the 100. Would they be...
  • One of the 9 disabled?
  • The one with HIV/AIDS?
  • One of the 67 non-Christians?
  • One of the 43 without basic sanitation?
  • One of the 6 that own 59% of the entire wealth of the community?
  • One of the 7 educated at a secondary level?
  • One of the 97 without Internet access?
  • One of the 71 living on $2 a day or less?

The images are moving, and the statistics included provide excellent opportunities for discussion, critical thinking, and further exploration, especially for educators wanting to use a variety of subjects (math, geography, language arts, etc.) to help students to delve into human rights and social justice issues. There are also great opportunities to discuss the challenges in trying to divide people into specific categories.

If you'd like a similar concept in book form, check out David J. Smith's books If the World Were a Village and If America Were a Village.

~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.

"Was 'failing' New York school failed by the system?" (via AOL News) (6/22/10)

"Racism in Indian education" (via Native American Times) (6/21/10)

Cartoon characters influence kids' food choices (via USA Today) (6/20/10)

Louisiana environmental scientist helps people, communities battle impacts from oil, gas industries (via The Guardian) (6/20/10)

"Nations divided over lifting ban on whale hunt" (via AP) (6/20/10)

"Iraq's slumdog massacre: one million dogs face death" (via Mother Jones) (6/18/10)

U.S. increases enforcement against farmers hiring children & underpaying workers (via NY Times) (6/18/10)

UK government offers parents, groups chance to apply to start up their own "free" schools (via The Independent) (6/18/10)

Flower farms may be harming wildlife, ecosystem at Kenya's Lake Naivasha (via Treehugger) (6/17/10)

U.S. government to spend $1.2 billion on "cycling and walking initiatives" (via The Telegraph) (6/16/10)

U.S. wastes large amount of food (commentary) (via Washington Post) (6/15/10)

"Life after worry" (via YES! Magazine) (6/15/10)

How a woman is dressed shouldn't determine how she's treated (commentary) (via CS Monitor) (6/15/10)

Food prices to rise by up to 40% over coming decade (via The Guardian) (6/15/10)

USDA proposed 2010 dietary guidelines call for more plant-based focus (via USA Today) (6/15/10)

"Oil spill: here's what you can do to help" (via BoingBoing) (6/15/10)

Study shows teens are bored in school (via Education Week/Daily Me) (6/15/10)

Ugandan schools adding animal welfare education to curriculum (via AllAfrica.com) (6/15/10)

Report revels more than 1 in 5 kids "live in poverty" (via USA Today) (6/8/10)

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Humane Education in Action: Se Habla Kindness

Connie Durkee started working with animals as a Veterinary Assistant in 1979 but she had a love for animals all her life. One of eight children, her parents taught them an appreciation for all living things. Among other jobs, Connie has worked as a Veterinary Technician, as president of a county humane society, as office manager of a vet hospital, and for the animal protection group In Defense of Animals.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Connie went to New Orleans and Mississippi to help with animal rescues. Over the course of two years she helped transport hundreds of animals from the devastated south to the east and west coasts. This experience got her interested in disaster relief, and she began taking every disaster relief training course she could.

In 2009, Connie, her husband and their four cats and dog moved to the Dominican Republic (DR). Since moving to the DR she has participated in spay/neuter campaigns and has started a Humane Education program in the local schools. After the devastating earthquake in Haiti in January 2010, Connie went to Haiti with one of the first animal welfare groups on the ground.

Connie shared with us her experiences starting a humane education program and helping rescue animals in the Dominican Republic.

Quick Facts:

Current hometown: Cabrera, Dominican Republic
IHE fan since: 2008
Current Job: Part-time with Animal Balance
Current Passion: Organizing a Humane Education program in the schools of Cabrera
Your hero: Jane Goodall
Book/movie that changed your life: Book: Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. TV show: the network news in Portland, Oregon, in August 2000, when they showed footage of "the first cloned monkey" from The Oregon Regional Primate Research Center. A technician entered the room where the baby monkey was playing, and she darted to a corner of the room and huddled in utter fear of the technician coming for her. The fear I saw in that baby monkey’s eyes changed my life. I knew I had to do something.
Guilty pleasure: Wine
Inspired by: Peggy Kirk and Matt Rossell for their animal welfare work; for their humane education work, I'm inspired by Marsha Rakestraw of IHE and two women from the island of Dominica who run a Humane Education program there.
One of your strengths: determination


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


CD: I attended the Caribbean Animal Welfare Conference in the Dominican Republic in April 2008, searching for a new direction in my life. My husband and I had always wanted to live overseas, so this felt like a good opportunity to tap into the animal welfare community of the Caribbean. The last day of the conference was focused mainly on Humane Education, and a presentation was given by Yola Toussaint, Assistant Director and Humane Values Educator at The Humane Society of Dominica, and her assistant, on their Humane Education program. I was so inspired by them and what they were doing I knew right away I had found my new direction.


IHE : You’ve transitioned from doing outreach for an animal protection non-profit (primarily working with adults) to offering humane education programs to school kids and working with rescue groups in the Dominican Republic. How did that transition occur, and what made you choose that as the next step in your journey?

CD: I had been working for In Defense of Animals for six years and was wanting to get back to the more hands-on part of working with animals, as well as to start a Humane Education program. I was also encouraged by my friend, Emma Clifford, the Founder and Director of Animal Balance. She lives in Cabrera, DR, and suggested we move there and help out with AB’s efforts. Animal Balance is an amazing group, and since moving here 15 months ago, I have participated in two spay/neuter campaigns with them, through which almost 800 dogs and cats have been altered and many injured and sick animals helped.

Working with kids is definitely a different experience than working with adults. I’ve learned a lot from the kids, and it has shaped me into a different person. I’ve learned how willing they are to learn and how energetic and thrilled they are to talk about the animals and our earth. So far it’s been a totally rewarding experience.


IHE : Tell us more about your humane education work with kids.


Children in the DR feeding beach dogs and picking up trashCD: I have been working mainly with The Esperanza Project this past year. The two founders have graciously invited me to join their project and to incorporate Humane Education into their curriculum. Some of the presentations I’ve given with their students include:

  • Pets and their needs
  • Dangers for animals
  • Animals in our community
  • What do you feel? – We discuss how they might feel when they see people treating animals kindly, and animals being treated cruelly.
  • Making humane choices: The Golden Rule
  • Sea life and oceans
  • Cloth bag project
  • Dog safety
  • Feeding beach dogs and garbage pick up – I take the kids to the beach and we feed the beach dogs. I explain to them how the dogs got there, why they are almost always female and where I get the food to feed them (leftovers from a local school where the kids put it in a container for me so they know it’s for the beach dogs). I also talk about getting the dogs spayed and neutered and why that is so important. We then used recycled bags to pick up garbage on the beach. We take before and after pictures of the area we cleaned up and ask questions like "Which beach would you rather go to?" We talk about how harmful all the garbage is to our oceans and our earth.


IHE : You’re also working to directly help animals in need in the DR. Tell us about that.

Tommy the dog back with his family (and Connie)CD: There are ALWAYS animals in need here, especially because many of the people here can barely afford to feed their families, let alone feed a dog or cat. Sarna (mange) is rampant here, and I am always finding animals that need medication for their skin problems.

Other dogs have been hit by cars and left to die on the road. Tommy is a good example of that. A friend of mine saw him get hit by a car, but he ran off into the bushes before she could catch him. It was three days before we found him, and his front leg was broken, and he had a wound the size of a baseball in his groin area. He was skinny and flea-ridden. Dr. Medina, the local veterinarian, is a wonderful man, and he agreed to help us do surgery on Tommy. We were going to have to amputate his front leg, and as we were prepping him for surgery, we noticed that one of his back legs had been broken before and had healed incorrectly. We weren’t sure Tommy would be able to walk if we amputated his front leg. But, we decided to go ahead with the surgery. It took some time but Tommy did great and lived at my house for two months. He learned to walk on two legs (right front and left rear). We were lucky enough to find his Dominican family, and they loved him so much they wanted him back. He is now happily back with his family and we visit him often. He runs to greet us with such enthusiasm; it’s heartwarming.

Animal Balance sometimes has visiting veterinarians come to Cabrera, and when they do we always do our best to get in as many spay/neuter surgeries as we can. I am currently working with Animal Balance to organize a free rabies vaccination clinic. We hope to vaccinate 1,000 dogs.

I could go on and on… Lulu, the little dog we rescued from a poor Haitian family, who now lives in Maryland; the puppies who are dropped on my doorstep because the locals know where I live and know that I will take care of them; the two orphaned two-week old kittens we recently took in, feeding of the beach dogs, etc.


IHE : What has it been like establishing yourself in a new culture. How have people responded to what you’re trying to do?

CD: Most people here have welcomed me into the community. Emma and Animal Balance were here before me, so that helped educate many of the locals on the advantages of spay/neuter. They have seen the results: fewer street dogs, fewer dog bites, less danger of rabies, etc. I’m actually flattered by how grateful most of them have been. When I’m feeding the beach dogs people will come up to me and thank me for what I’m doing and tell me Vaya con Dios. The people here really are special and most of them do care; it’s just not always easy here. The local ex-pats have been totally supportive of my idea of a Humane Education program in the schools.


IHE : What have been some of your successes and challenges?


Students showing off the cloth bag they createdCD: Well, I’m really proud of the cloth bag project and of all the animals I’ve been able to help since being here. For the cloth bag project, after discussing how all the plastic can harm our oceans and our sealife, one of the things we came up with to help stop the pollution is for people to take their own reusable bag with them while shopping. We decided this would be a great project and started making plans to make our own cloth bags for the community. We went to the local supermarket and counted how many plastic bags went out of the store in a single day. We spoke with the owner of the store and told him of our plans and asked if he would agree to giving people a small discount on their purchase if they brought in their own cloth bag. We sent an email out to friends and family asking for donations of material that they were no longer using, such as old jeans, hammocks, drop cloths, etc. We had a contest with the kids to design a logo and a slogan. We found a pattern for a bag on the Internet. We got a sewing machine donated, so we started making our bags. I do the sewing while the kids cut out the material and apply their own personal drawings, along with the logo and slogan. They are a huge success.

Challenges can be many: electricity only 50% of the time (for sewing); the way some people just don’t care at all; water and Internet are not always available; supplies for my projects are hard to come by; getting animals dropped off at my house at any time, etc.


IHE : You started a humane education program with little actual experience doing humane education. What was that like for you? How did you develop your program and connect with the schools and the community?

Students cleaning up a beach in the DRCD: It was overwhelming at first. I was so anxious to get here and get started. But then I learned that nothing here happens "fast." We’re on Dominican time. So, I learned to be patient. I looked for resources that were available: books, Internet resources, videos, etc. I did take IHE’s Sowing Seeds workshop before coming to the DR and bought Zoe’s book The Power and Promise of Humane Education, and that has been instrumental in the creation of my program. I also got Humane Education informational booklets, both in Spanish and English, from other groups and brought them with me when I came. I got into the schools by talking with locals and presenting my idea. I have had nothing but support so far.


IHE : What advice would you give to others who might want to start a humane education program in another country?


CD: Be patient. Be sensitive to the culture. Try not to feel overwhelmed and use your resources, especially from others who have started Humane Education programs in other countries. Listen to their experiences and their successes and failures. Feel your students out and understand that the curriculum you put together may not always work the way you think it should, so be flexible in your planning. Start small and enjoy yourself. You will make a difference.


IHE : Any future plans, dreams or projects?

CD: I plan to continue my work with Animal Balance, and I hope to work with The Esperanza Project again next school year. They are having a free summer camp for the local children this summer, and I’m hoping to be involved with that, possibly building a shelter for the two resident donkeys.

There are also plans being made for me to work with The Catalina DR Foundation next school year. We plan to go into four rural public schools and incorporate my Humane Education program into the curriculum.

~ Marsha

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Education is Not Indoctrination

There are some who argue that education is virtually always synonymous with indoctrination, and those who hold this position certainly have evidence to support it. The U.S. government removed native children from their homes, put them in boarding schools, forbade them from speaking their own languages, and indoctrinated them with very specific values and beliefs. These practices continue today with children from indigenous families around the world who lose their languages and cultures as they head off to boarding schools that aim to help prepare them for a very different future than village living. The Dairy Council has been producing “educational materials” for schools and indoctrinating several generations with the belief that we need dairy products for our health, which is patently false. Corporations in general utilize schools to indoctrinate students and influence them to prefer their products over others and to become productive workers within a global, corporate culture.

But this does not mean that education is by its very nature indoctrination. We mustn’t confuse education with schooling, because they are not synonymous. Education happens all the time, through interactions, mentoring, reading, apprenticeships, observation, and simply living. Of course it also happens in school where specific subjects are taught and we gain new skills and knowledge. Schools can be places where indoctrination takes place in a wholesale fashion, as when it serves a specific ideology and seeks to produce graduates who have specific beliefs, rather than simply a breadth of knowledge and skills. And schools can also be places where indoctrination is subtle but still pervasive. But schools do not have to be places of indoctrination. Certainly, we are all enculturated in school, but this is not the same.

The definition of indoctrinate is this:
in·doc·tri·nate vt
to teach somebody a belief, doctrine, or ideology thoroughly and systematically, especially with the goal of discouraging independent thought
or the acceptance of other opinions
School can and should be one of the very best places to encourage independent thought, critical and creative thinking, and broad understanding of and appreciation for a multitude of perspectives. Rather than reject schooling as indoctrination, as some are doing, we need to be developing and promoting schools that are committed wholeheartedly to exposing students to a variety of viewpoints and providing them with the most important tools for their future: problem-solving, and critical and creative thinking along with a deep commitment to living lives that contribute to a healthy world.

Zoe Weil
Author of The Power and Promise of Humane Education and Most Good, Least Harm

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WebSpotlight: The Seventeen Magazine Project

The growing number of people blogging about various "special" experiments and projects is ballooning into such a cacophony, that it's becoming more challenging for the really interesting and unique ones to catch attention. But one young woman's recent efforts have caught my eye (and the eye of the media). Jamie Keiles, a high school senior (just graduated) from Pennsylvania, who'll be studying economics and gender studies in college, decided to "spend one month living according to the gospel of Seventeen Magazine." Here are the rules she chose to follow:

  1. I will read the entire June/July issue of Seventeen magazine from cover to cover.
  2. Every day I will utilize at least one "beauty tip" (hair/makeup/skincare/whathaveyou) and one fashion tip.
  3. I will follow all diet and exercise tips provided in the issue to a T.
  4. I will participate in every activity recommended by the magazine (i.e. host a fright night, score your hottest summer hookup ever, be confident in a bikini, etc.)
  5. I will apply for every single "freebie" offered by the magazine, every day.
  6. I will consume all media recommended by the magazine at least once. (books/movies/music)
  7. I will hang all provided pictures/posters of "hot guys" in my living environment.

The experiment started with Jamie asking herself, as she posts in her first entry: "What would happen if an actual teenager were to apply all of these 'tips and tricks' to her life? Would it actually improve? Would she actually become cuter/hotter/thinner/fitter/healthier/more popular? Do embodying these traits even make one's life more fulfilling?"

Obviously, the answer is no. So why do so many teenage girls (and the women they become) continue to buy these magazines?

In addition to blogging about her experiences following the magazine's advice and sharing about teen culture, Jamie also includes her own commentary and analysis -- all of which makes this experiment an interesting and useful resource for parents, educators, and other teens.

A great tool for sparking discussion and critical thinking about a whole host of issues relevant to tweens (and especially) teens.

~ Marsha

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Call for Proposals on Teaching Math and Social Justice

Are you passionate about teaching both math and social justice issues? The sponsors of Creating Balance in an Unjust World, a conference "on Math Education and Social Justice" is seeking proposals from educators and community activists who want to facilitate workshops, interest group gatherings or presentations focused on the intersection of math and social justice. (The conference is October 22-24, 2010, at Long Island University, in Brooklyn, New York.)

Proposal summaries are due June 30, 2010.
Proposal applications are due July 16, 2010.

Find out more.

(If you're an educator who'd like to know more about connecting students with social justice issues through math, check out resources such as Radical Math.)

~ Marsha

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Detroit Airport Friday vs. Sunday

Last Friday night I was traveling to Minneapolis for the Their Lives, Our Voices conference. I had a tight connection in Detroit, and the forecast called for thunderstorms in both Detroit and Minneapolis. I was worried. But it was beautiful in Bangor, so I began to feel more confident about everything staying on schedule. Then a fuel sensor was broken on the plane, and we were delayed out of Bangor for an hour. We arrived in Detroit 25 minutes before my next plane was scheduled to take off.

Carrying my luggage, my props for my talks, and my way-too-heavy computer, I ran from the farthest most gate in terminal C to my connecting gate on the far end of terminal A. I knew that if I didn’t make the flight, chances were that I wouldn’t make it to Minneapolis in time for my keynote address first thing in the morning. There was a pregnant woman on my first flight also trying to make the flight to Minneapolis, and I promised to let them know she was on her way if the doors to the plane were still open, as I knew I’d get there first. Fortunately, when I arrived at the gate, albeit drenched with sweat, they were still boarding, and I was able to get on the plane. However, because they had switched airplanes and the new one was smaller, everyone in rows 42 and higher was bumped off the flight. I was lucky my seat was in row 22, and I felt for the other passengers who wouldn’t be able to make it to Minneapolis that night. Just as I was boarding, I saw the pregnant woman. They’d bumped her off the flight because they assumed she wouldn’t make it due to the delay in the first flight. She pointed me out to them, saying I was on the same flight and they were letting me on. At that point, I decided I couldn’t get involved and risk being bumped off myself. I dashed onto the plane, hoping for the best for this woman, but doing nothing to assist her. When I saw her board the plane, I was relieved. She said that being pregnant had its perks; she used her pregnancy to convince them to let her on.

Thirty-six hours later, I was returning home, and my layover in Detroit was 3.5 hours. I felt stress-free. I took my time finding a place to get a vegan meal and was delighted to find an actual peanut butter and jelly restaurant. Then I stopped at a store to buy a new pair of reading glasses because mine had broken on the first flight. When I paid the cashier he told me he was heartbroken. “Why? I asked. “Because I had my ten minute break, and I went to get a Frappuccino, and the line at Starbucks was too long so I couldn’t get it.” I offered to get it for him, and off I went, still carrying all my luggage, but without any need to hurry. He was very happy when I brought it to him, and he shared that after his shift was over he had to be at another job at midnight. He had really needed that pick-me-up.

I decided to treat myself to a back massage at the Detroit aiport “spa” because my neck and shoulders hurt a lot after the breakneck run with my computer and luggage on Friday. The woman who was giving the massage was so stressed out. Her electricity had gotten turned off at home, and she was unable to reach an actual person at the utility company, and she couldn’t receive calls at work, and she was running behind. She worried that her energy was so stressed it would impact my massage, but I reassured her and just let her vent. At the end of the massage she told me she felt so much better and was really grateful to me because I’d made her feel so much calmer.

On Friday night, I wouldn’t have stopped to help a soul. I might have run right by a person who’d tripped, a child who was lost, or someone having a heart attack, just hoping another would help. On Sunday, I would probably have been available to help anyone I passed at the airport, open as I was in my stress-free state to see the people around me.

This reminds me that often, those people we think are inconsiderate, rude, or unhelpful may simply be very stressed, while those who are kind and compassionate may simply be in a space in which they can let these qualities shine. As Philo of Alexandria once said, “Be kind, for everyone is fighting a great battle.” I think this also means that we can be kind to ourselves when the battle we are fighting eclipses our own kindness and goodness. I was not especially kind to anyone on Friday, but I was kind on Sunday.

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

Image courtesy of indywriter via Creative Commons.

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Zoe Weil on Video: The MOGO Principle and Humane Education

College of the Atlantic, in Bar Harbor, Maine, has hosted Zoe Weil twice during 2009 and 2010, and we wanted to share these inspiring talks with you. If you have an interest in having Zoe speak in your community, please contact us.



Most Good, Least Harm
(72 min.)
In this talk hosted by Summer Programs at COA on July 31, 2009, Zoe spoke about the 7 Keys to the MOGO (most good) Principle, which can help motivate you to make your own life an expression of your deepest values. The MOGO Principle is a philosophy and path that can create a better world and more joyful, healthy, and engaged lives. Watch here.

"When we do the most good and the least harm in our daily choices, acts of citizenship, community, work, and volunteerism, we create a life of inner peace while contributing to the building of a peaceful, sustainable world for all." ~ Zoe Weil

The World Becomes What You Teach (26 min.)
In this talk conducted during the Earth Day celebration at COA on April 17, 2010, Zoe explores education in the context of pressing global challenges we face and discusses activities and approaches in teaching that foster reverence, respect and responsibility as well as creative problem solving for a better world. Watch here.

"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." ~ Zoe Weil

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What a Humane World Looks Like: Maintaining a Sense of Humor

How many activists does it take to change a lightbulb?

None. Activists can't change anything.

I use this joke in a talk I give about compassionate, effective vegan activism to demonstrate the importance of maintaining a sense of humor when educating others about and/or dealing with challenging global issues. Focus on the state of the world for too long, and most of us are going to want to crawl into bed and stay there. (Or watch a lot of TV. Or go shopping. Or find other ways to distract ourselves from the rollercoaster to oblivion that we seem set on riding.) I also use the joke to point out that many activists and humane educators are quickly branded as "Debbie Downers" if we spend too much time pointing out all the doom and gloom around us without injecting a little humor (and sharing positive solutions). If we're too serious and angry and despairing when communicating with others about important issues, we're only going to cause more harm. (Of course, I'm not suggesting that we underplay or make light of the cruelty, destruction and suffering occurring daily.)

Lately I've come across some great examples of people and organizations using humor to bring attention to an important issue. Here are a few I found especially useful:

Recently The Onion, a satirical news source (not always age-appropriate for students), ran a story titled "Children of All Ages Delighted by Enslavement of Topsy the Elephant." A couple years ago their "Onion News Network" produced a "news story" asking if animals themselves should be doing more for the animal rights movement. I'm a fan of The Onion, and they often have stories that are great for deconstructing our society and culture and sparking critical thinking.

Cartoonists like Barry Deutsch and Dan Piraro, of Bizarro fame, offer great commentary about important social issues. I recently happened upon this Bizarro comic of a woman sitting at a lawyer's, saying "I want to sue PETA and Amnesty International for 'pain and suffering' for making me aware of the pain and suffering caused by my life style choices."

And, in the realm of effective social media humor, shortly after the BP Gulf oil spill occurred, a new Twitter account, @BPGlobalPR, appeared, purporting to be run by a BP representative. However, with tweets such as these:
  • Obama says there will be more oil before this is all done. Dibs!
  • If you want to help clean up. Drive your cars fast and often. Let's melt those glaciers and dilute this mess!
  • Catastrophe is a strong word, let's all agree to call it a whoopsie daisy.
  • The good news: Mermaids are real. The bad news: They are now extinct.
the account is obviously a satirical site meant to use humor to bring attention to the issue. @BPGlobalPR has nearly 170,000 followers (more than the actual official BP account).

Remember, too, to maintain a sense of humor when people challenge your values and views personally. For example, several years ago, a few of my colleagues took advantage of a raffle offering a free side of "beef" that a co-worker was promoting and relentlessly teased me about buying several tickets on my behalf so that I could "win." If I'd shown offense or tried to share why my values were important to me, it would have triggered them to escalate; instead, I stayed nonchalant and smilingly invited them to go right ahead. The joke quickly became tiresome to them when they realized I wouldn't "take the bait" and they moved on (and at least a few were impressed at my calm and humor and were more thoughtful about repeating such an action in the future).

There's nothing funny about cruelty or destruction or suffering. But we can use humor as an effective tool for introducing people to difficult topics in a more palatable way, and for maintaining our own sanity as we work for a humane world for all.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of Jenny Rollo.

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Hens in a Cage = Travelers in a Hotel with Room Service?

This past weekend I had the great privilege of speaking at the Their Lives, Our Voices conference in Minneapolis. I also had the even greater privilege of getting to hear some amazing talks. Paul Shapiro, senior director for factory farming issues at the Humane Society of the United States, gave a talk about rebutting animal agriculture claims. Among the quotes Paul shared were two from Trent Loos, a farmer and radio host who is a spokesperson for a PR group that opposes animal welfare reforms in agriculture. This was one:

“A hen in a cage is actually not that much different from a traveler in a hotel with room service.”

Paul is a witty guy and not easily riled, so he just shared with us two slides. The first of hens in battery cages:












And the second, of travelers in a hotel with room service:














He toggled back and forth between the slides to make sure that we could really tell the difference. Hens in a cage. Travelers in a hotel.

I so appreciated Paul’s humor and way in which he shared such a horrific image in a manner that allowed our compassion to be ignited while using our critical thinking skills and laughing all at the same. Many Americans do not want to see the images of hens in battery cages. They do not want to be confronted with the reality that the eggs they eat – unless they raise hens themselves or only purchase eggs from farms where they’ve witnessed the conditions – almost always come from battery cage facilities in which chickens are treated unimaginably cruelly. To know and to see requires that we either change our behaviors and refuse to let our desires eclipse our values, or to live with the internal conflict that we are regularly contributing to egregious suffering that we would never allow to be perpetrated on our pets.

Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life

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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.


"Schools grapple with growing problem of cyberbullying" (via Teacher Magazine) (6/15/10)

Tasmania to ban gestation crates for pigs by 2017 (via ABC) (6/10/10)

"Racism in education - why the resurgence?" (blog) (via Ms.) (6/9/10)

Scientists discover that dolphins use diplomacy in their communication (Science Daily) (6/9/10)

5th-grader uses her art to raise $60,000 to help birds affected by oil spill (via AL.com) (6/8/10)

"Study: children of lesbians may do better than their peers" (via Time) (6/7/10)

"The animal cruelty syndrome" (via NY Times) (6/7/10)

"Playing at sexy": sexualizing girlhood (via NY Times) (6/7/10)

Students facing tough times with cuts to staff, programs (via AP) (6/3/10)


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Finding Gratitude in Every Situation...Like in Cat Bites

Last night I found myself the unpleasant recipient of a rather significant cat bite at the base of my right pinky finger (2 deep punctures that look like little vampire fang marks) and several cat scratches on my right leg (especially impressive considering that I was wearing jeans). While taking my cat, Peter, outside for a short adventure on his leash and harness (the only way he gets to go outside), a neighbor cat took exception to Peter's existence and attacked him -- and me. Thus the scratches (from the neighbor cat climbing my leg to try to disembowel Peter), and the bite (from Peter expressing his displeasure at the entire situation). Because cat bites and scratches are a playground for infections, my husband sped me to the emergency room to hopefully acquire a tetanus shot and some antibiotics.

In no way could this be considered anything other than a sucky situation, but I was pleased at the ways in which I was able to find gratitude in a less-than-desirable circumstance. Here are some of the ways I was able to find gratitude:
  • I maintained a relatively Zen outlook and kept my sense of humor (after the initial cursing and shouting).
  • Peter didn't receive any wounds from the encounter, so we didn't have to make 2 trips to 2 ERs.
  • Friends were near to help right after the incident and one stayed awake until we came back from the ER (at 12:30 am) to check on me.
  • Although the wait at the ER was really long (the place was packed), the hospital staff were all very kind, friendly, helpful and as efficient as they could be under the circumstances.
  • At the ER I was able to witness so many acts of kindness and of families and friends helping each other.
  • The guardian of the other kitty freely offered to pay my medical bills and came to check on me first thing the next morning.
  • While the pain certainly makes itself known, it doesn't hurt as badly as it could.
  • While I can't use my right hand for many tasks for the next several days, I am able to do some typing, so that I can continue to work.
  • A friend and neighbor offered to help me with whatever tasks I might need help with today (such as picking up our puppy from doggy daycare).
  • My husband was there to help me triage the wounds, take me to the ER, sit with me for 3 hours, comfort me when I was feeling worried, take me home, put me to bed, stay home from work for a couple hours the next morning to take care of my prescriptions and a couple of errands I couldn't do, make my lunch so I wouldn't have to, etc. (My husband rocks, by the way.)
I could continue the list, but you get the idea. I could have been angry and wallowed in my pain and been impatient at the long ER wait and mad at my neighbor (and at the cats), and upset about the expense, and frustrated at the lack of use of my hand, etc., but I was -- and am -- none of those. There are just too many things to be grateful for during this experience (although I'll happily never repeat it, if I can help it!).

I'm often not nearly as grateful as the situation deserves, but being able to find so much to be grateful for after getting my butt kicked by two cats has given me hope that my ability to find gratitude in every situation is increasing.

~ Marsha

(The image is our 16 year-old cat, Peter, with his patent-pending glare at the entire universe.)


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Go Outside! For Yourself & the World

Why do I ever forget to go outside? No, that's not quite right. How is it that I ever feel too lazy, tired, busy, or stressed to go outside for an hour and take a walk through the woods, climb a small mountain, or stroll by the ocean? There will always be a million things to do, a mountain of work. There will always be stressors. I will likely always think of reasons why not to. And every time that I allow that persistent voice that says "Go! Now!" to convince me to drag myself outside, I am so grateful. My best ideas happen in the natural world. My creativity is sparked; my soul is soothed. I am reinvigorated for the work at hand. I am energized, even if my body tires. My reverence is reawakened, and I know just what it is I'm spending my life trying to protect - this unfathomable, remarkable, gorgeous world we were all born into.

Please go outside. For yourself and the world.

~ Zoe Weil, author of Most Good, Least Harm

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Humane Education Bookshelf: Turning Points: 35 Visionaries in Education Tell Their Own Stories

We all have our stories of school. Many of us either struggle or strive through those 13 years and then move on to our careers and our lives, but some are so affected by their educational experiences that they're drawn to make schooling more meaningful, relevant, joyful and authentic for future students.

In Turning Points, published by the Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO), 35 visionary educators share how their own schooling experiences helped shape their vision of education and what they're doing to help bring revolutionary thinking and action to today's educational system.

The featured visionaries were asked to respond to these questions:

  • What was your schooling like?
  • When did you realize that there is a need for an alternative approach?
  • What have you done since to help realize that vision?
  • What are you doing now?
IHE's President, Zoe Weil, is one of the featured visionaries and wrote an essay called "The World Becomes What You Teach: Education for a Peaceful, Sustainable, and Humane World."

Other contributors include Riane Eisler, Gustavo Esteva, John Taylor Gatto, Arnold Greenberg, David Gribble, Yaacov Hecht, Matt Hern, Shilpa Jain, Dennis Littky, Grace Llewellyn, Chris Mercogliano, Ron Miller, Jerry Mintz and Lynn Stoddard.

Find out more.

~ Marsha

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Questioning Assumptions & Searching for Truth

Over the years, I've been surprised by how many people I've met believe in various unsubstantiated things, and I’ve written about this subject before here.

The following TED talks provide good examples of how and why I believe that we all ought to question our assumptions and search for truth. I welcome your thoughts and comments after watching these.






Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm

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