The Obama Family in Bar Harbor

In a previous blog post I wrote about spending my birthday hiking 13 miles over 9 peaks in Acadia National Park. What I didn’t mention was that we had heard that the Obamas, scheduled to be in Acadia the weekend of July 16th, had actually come several days earlier and were already in the park. Since we were spending the day climbing most of the mountains in Acadia, we thought there actually might be a chance we’d run into them. We joked all day about it, calling “Barack! Barack! Where are you?” and asking people we met on the trails if they’d seen the Obamas yet.

My husband even made up a riddle that went like this: “Zoe, if you were rock climbing a really hard 5.12a route on Otter Cliffs (at the ocean) and you were at a particularly difficult spot in the climb and Barack Obama happened to sail by just at the moment, what would the person belaying you say?”

The answer was: “Zoe! You’re caught between Barack and a hard place!”

By the end of the day when we were exhausted and hadn’t run into the Obamas, my husband pointed out it was a “Barack O’bummer.”

Ah well. Turned out the Obamas had not come early and were still scheduled to arrive over the weekend.

So then on Friday, July 16, I was heading to the Bar Harbor airport to fly to Washington, DC, where I would be receiving an award inducting me into the Animal Rights Hall of Fame and giving a humane education workshop, and as I approached, the airport traffic was at a standstill. I knew immediately what was happening. The Obamas were arriving! Now, however, I was freaking out because I was not allowed to get into the airport. The police and US Air would give me no information, and I knew I had a connecting flight in Boston to catch. Now the Obamas were cramping my style and I was none too happy about it.

How fickle!

I pulled over and waited as the Obamas were whisked out of the airport and I was finally allowed to enter. I watched Air Force 1 fly off and all proceeded as planned. Thank goodness. So I’m trading locales with the Obamas this weekend. I hope they enjoy their time in beautiful Maine where they’ll probably appreciate the 80 degree weather while I melt in the 97 degrees in DC. Since I made my flight after all, I’m free to feel benevolent about their visit once again.

Cheers,

Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm

Image courtesy of http2007 via Creative Commons.

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MOGO Hero: Brandon Wood, Saving Chimpanzees

Citizens passionate about getting chimpanzees and other primates out of laboratories have been working for decades to get the Great Ape Protection Act passed in the U.S. But it has been the work of one 10-year-old boy that has recently helped garner more mainstream attention for this issue. Brandon Wood first became interested in chimpanzees when he wanted to buy one as a pet. But when he learned about the use of chimpanzees in laboratories, he decided he wanted to help. When he read about a recently-rescued chimpanzee, Elway, whose father, Boy, was still imprisoned in a laboratory, Brandon started raising money to reunite the two. He continues to raise money to help other chimpanzees and to bring attention to the Great Ape Protection Act, through his blog, Make a Chimp Smile.


Read more about Brandon here and here.

~ Marsha

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Finding Our Own Truth as Humane Educators

by Mary Pat Champeau, IHE's Director of Educational Programs

As most true educators know, if we do not stand in our own truth as we seek to share our knowledge with others, we will soon lose our passion for this vocation. It took me a long time to realize the importance of the "teacher" in teaching. I would say for the first few years of teaching, I focused so much on my students and on developing my professional skills that I began ignoring and neglecting all other strivings. Quickly, I became "a teacher" rather than a person who loved teaching and learning as a way of being in the world.

One afternoon, after a long day of teaching, I noticed a student (Elena) crying in the back of my classroom. I was very inexperienced, I was teaching adults who were older than I was, and I didn't know how to handle tears in my classroom so I just ignored the whole situation (this still makes me cringe). The crying became a terrible sob, impossible not to notice, but I just kept teaching. Finally, other students in the class gathered around Elena and herded her out of the classroom. Everyone left. I was standing in an empty room. For lack of a better idea, I gathered up my things and followed my students out of the building and across the street to a small park. By the time I reached my students, most of them were also in tears, and I still didn't know what to do. Elena had lost her young sister to gunfire in El Salvador the day before, and I stood there with my notebook -- honestly considering asking everyone to return to our classroom. Thankfully, one of my students came and put her arm around my shoulder and said, "It's okay, Mary. We can learn another day."

I learned that day. I watched the outpouring of love and compassion from my students toward Elena and found myself unable to step out of my teacher role: who was I? What had happened to me? I understood in that moment that something had to change -- I needed to bring my whole self to class: head, heart and hands. In order to do this, I needed to know my own truth, what I believed in, what I valued most, what I loved and felt passionate about, what I wanted to protect, what I wanted to help eradicate, what I hoped to accomplish in my work and in my life. Twenty years too soon, I needed the MOGO questionnaire!

A few weeks later, Elena and I went out for coffee. We talked about that day, and about her young sister. I mostly listened, but at the end, I thanked her for sharing so much about her precious sibling with me, and also for bringing me back to my own humanity. She knew exactly what I meant.

Image courtesy of fotologic via Creative Commons.

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IHE in the News: Zoe Weil's TAFA Workshop

We always love hearing from others who've been touched by humane education. Doris Lin, the animal rights guide for About.com, attended IHE President, Zoe Weil's, humane education workshop at the Taking Action for Animals Conference last weekend. She wrote a great post highlighting humane education and Zoe's workshop.

As Doris mentions in her post:

"And humane education is not just for children. Anyone can be a humane educator, and can teach friends, family and co-workers."

Read the full post.

Want more proof about the power of humane education? Check out what other attendees of Zoe's workshop said:
This was one of the best presentations of the conference! Thank you!

I love Zoe Weil’s compassionate persuasion – she keeps it so real [and] helped me be a better messenger for a better world.


Best workshop ever! I’m inspired!


Best workshop so far. Fantastic!


Wonderful, engaging, such a terrific speaker!


What can I say – Zoe is amazing - her intelligence, patience, and practical info!


This was fascinating! Very interesting and informative!


Excellent content, excellent presentations, clear and interesting, inspiring!


Informed, inspiring speaker! Great use of personal examples and parables.


Wonderful workshop! Very engaging and entertaining.


I loved – loved – loved it!


~ Marsha

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Thank You, Khalif Williams!

For 8 1/2 years, the Institute for Humane Education (IHE), the organization I co-founded in 1996, has been blessed by Khalif Williams. He joined our organization as an office manager and development director in 2002, and two years later became our executive director. Khalif has not only been a tremendous asset to our organization and a humane education leader, but also my dear friend.

Khalif is stepping down as executive director to become the interim director at the Bay School – a school you may be familiar with if you read my blog regularly, because I’ve taught week-long humane education blocks to the middle schoolers for the last several years and have written about my experiences with the wonderful kids there in my blog and in my book, Most Good, Least Harm. It’s a fabulous school, and Khalif will be a wonderful director. He has longed to work directly with kids in a school for some time, and so I’m very excited for him, even though we are so sad to see him leave his position at IHE. Fortunately, he will be joining our board of directors, so he will still remain in a leadership role here.

I wanted to write this tribute to Khalif publicly because I feel so grateful to have been his partner at IHE for all these years and to honor the great contribution he has made to the field of humane education by furthering this important work. Khalif has such extraordinary qualities, and I’ve been so lucky to work with him. He is kind and generous, direct and clear-headed, poetic and wise, and incredibly smart. He is an amazing father and husband and leader and friend. Thank you Khalif. I wish you great success at the Bay School!

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

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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.

"Humane Education - Teaching kindness" (via BARK) (7/10)

Is the U.S. criminal justice system racist? (via Common Dreams) (7/26/10)

"Equity of test is debated as children compete for gifted kindergarten" (via NY Times) (7/25/10)

"Wisconsin school cuts crime by changing the menu" (via Treehugger) (7/25/10)

U.S. laws help kids who've grown up here illegally get a good education, but won't let them use it (via Seattle Times) (7/25/10)

Survey shows fewer people think "college is necessary" (via Huffington Post) (7/23/10)

Research shows benefits to older adults of volunteering (via Greater Good) (7/22/10)

"Will national standards improve education?" (via NY Times) (7/21/10)

LA city council calls for policies to make it easier to get leftover food to the hungry (via LA Times blog) (7/21/10)

"The bicycle's big comeback" (via Alternet) (7/19/10)

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

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Observing Nature While Floating in a Tube on the River

In our Teaching for a Positive Future month-long distance course, one of the exercises asks participants to go outside and observe a "small window" of nature for at least 30 minutes and then report back on their experiences. One of our participants, 5th grade teacher Alison Panik, wrote such a great summary of her experience, that we wanted to share it here:

I did this activity over the weekend floating in a tube on a river.

I noticed that while it was a very hot day, at the river it was cool. The water froze my feet at first. The breeze blew up river and made little waves. It also added to the leisurely drift, slowing my progress to give me time to look around. The trees above me made a canopy. The sides of the river showed evidence of a higher river height, probably from last weekend’s storms. There are little holes along the riverbanks. Probably snakes. I imagine what if otters lived in this river and wonder why they don’t. There must be tons of insects over my head because there are birds darting back and forth, sometimes turning in mid-air and looking like they are going to collide, but just missing each other. The bush over here in the sun is always full of dragonflies, blue and black ones. Two large, black dragonflies with broad wings are playing all around us. They seem to have no idea we are here, they are so involved in what they are doing. They go on and on until one is behind my tube and the other in front and they can’t see each other. Are they fighting? Are they mating? Or are they just playing?

There is an old tire and a dead fish nearby on the side of the river. Related or not? I grab the tire and float it down river to the landing so I can roll it to the garbage can when I’m done. I hear the birds, but I also can hear the trucks and cars on the turnpike. The smell changes from fishy to that fragrance that I recognize to be corn, depending on which way the breeze blows. The corn field is way down around the bend. I see fishing line caught in a bush and it gets caught on my shoe. There are ripe wild raspberries on a bush hanging over the river. I use my arms to pull on over there and fill my hands with sweet berries. As I am carried steadily along, I see a shoe drifting down the river behind me. It’s not my shoe – both of them are still on my feet! But I hold onto a rock and wait for it to near and I grab it. It’s a nice shoe and it’s my size. Will the other come drifting along? It never does.

My dog scares a blue heron out of its riverbank repose and it goes squawking up into flight over my head and down the river. I’ve never heard the sound they make. It is an ugly alarm and does not match the serenity of the bird at all. A duck is swimming ahead off us. Her baby went underwater and disappeared. Do baby ducks swim underwater? Do they know how to do that?

What stood out for me after writing my observations is how there are stories in nature that are just happening all around us and they'll sometimes happen whether we are there or not. Questions were born. I saw things from my place in the river that I have never seen in 40 years standing at the side of the river.

Image courtesy of krossbow via Creative Commons.

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The Great Drama Unfolding Around Us: A Celebration of Different Ways of Learning

After a day of meetings and before one more evening meeting, I scooted out after dinner to kayak at low tide. The sun was setting and the clouds were pink in the western sky. The loons were making their eerie calls. I slid my kayak into the ocean and slowly paddled, staring into the shallow water to watch the drama unfolding below me. Crabs were battling, frilly worms were swaying like anemones, fish were schooling around me, tiny sea stars were clinging to little rocks and giant sea stars to big ones. Seals were bobbing their heads to look at me as I looked at them, both of us curious.

What a world we live in! What mysteries unveil themselves when we choose to observe!

In a previous blog post, I wrote about observing tadpoles and knowing that at some point I’d look them up and learn more about them from others’ knowledge, but for now I was enjoying learning by watching. I told my husband about my desire to learn who was who among the tadpoles and so for my birthday he created a book for me called “Zoe’s Wogs.” He printed photos and charts from his research on the Internet and included his own drawings to make identification even easier. Now I can identify which tadpoles will turn into which frogs. I love it, and I love that I now have two means of knowing – my own experiences and observations and the accumulated knowledge of many ethologists and biologists.

So this blog post is my praise for learning, both experiential and book learning. How lucky we all are that we can learn something new each day.

As I’ve said before, please go outside. Take a look. Notice what you learn. And maybe read a book, too. What did you learn today?

Cheers,

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

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Humane Educator's Toolbox: MOGO Questionnaire

One of the activities we ask all our program, workshop and course students to do is take our MOGO Questionnaire. (MOGO is short for "most good, least harm.") The MOGO Questionnaire helps people to reflect on their choices and their vision for their lives, to put into words some of their concrete goals, and to map out some next steps for positive action.

In our Teaching for a Positive Future month-long distance learning course, we asked participants to take the questionnaire, and then to consider how they could use such a tool with their own students. There were some great responses, and we wanted to share some of them. Here's 5th grade teacher Alison Panik's summary of doing the questionnaire herself:

"The questionnaire helped me not only consider the role I'd like to play as an educator, but also just as a person. I enjoyed identifying the qualities that are most important to me and writing my epitaph (never did that before!). It gave me a big picture of what I want my life to mean. I learned that while there are many qualities I value, I am not as good at modeling them in all areas of my life as I would like to be. It was challenging to think about why I was not modeling some of the qualities in the different areas – exactly what was getting in the way and what I needed to do to change this. I am humbled and somewhat embarrassed by my ignorance about the producers and suppliers of the products and services I use everyday. And I realized through this questionnaire that this ignorance is actually intentional. I recognize that I resist knowing about suffering. I turn off television commercials about people suffering in other countries and animals suffering in shelters, not because I don’t care, but because it actually makes me feel despair and that hurts almost physically."

Here are a few of the ideas that participants had for using the MOGO Questionnaire with their students:
"I would like to lead my students through a process of identify ways to bring more good to the community around our school….I can see how this form of self-reflection can help kids (and adults) align what they believe is important to them with what they are doing on a daily basis in their lives."
~ Alison Panik


"I want to continue to discuss with them and instill the belief that they have the power to make a difference; ask them to seriously consider what are their skills, what do they like to do; what problems do they see in our world and what are their solutions; continue to stress the importance of Jane Goodall's message of 'The Power of One': 'The greatest danger to our world is apathy. You may be overcome by feelings of helplessness. How can your actions make a difference? Best you say to leave it to the decision makers. And so you do nothing. Can we overcome apathy? Yes, but only if we have hope. Each of us must work as hard as we can now to heal the hurts and save what is left.' Lastly, an idea to bring self-reflection is to discuss how students/adults can be 'bucket fillers or bucket dippers' - based on the book,
Have You Filled a Bucket Today by Carol McCloud."
~ Teaching for a Positive Future participant


"I want them to reflect on how their actions affect their community and the steps needed to make the changes to be humane."
~ Kari Shutts


"I have been incorporating information about the fair trade movement, environmental issues and human rights issues into various courses and levels, but I need to find a better way of guiding students to think deeply about these issues and to engage in problem-solving. In many cases, challenging students to get around the 'either/or' thinking addressed in our text could lead to productive discussions about the interrelatedness of problems like poverty, economic inequality, exploitation of workers, human health crises and environmental degradation. I also want to be more intentional about hooking up students of Spanish with opportunities to be advocates and activists in areas that concern them."
~ Stacy Hoult-Saros


"Once students have learnt about a particular issue, ask them to write three things they will do within the next month to turn their intentions into practical changes. This is a great opportunity for students to realize that the situation is not hopeless but most importantly that they can at their level make a difference."
~ Elodie Guillon


"Besides sharing information on such issues I personally feel that stories related to people like Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Jesus Christ, and Nelson Mandela can be of great help and best used to imbibe humane education amongst students - their sacrifice and contribution to the society which has impacted humankind with long lasting positive changes. Apart from this, students can also be asked to do or perform at least one moral act in their normal day-to-day life, they can note it down and share with other students in the class that how the particular act have impacted both."
~ Nishant Gupta

~ Marsha

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9 Peaks, 13 Miles, 4,500 Foot Elevation

I recently turned 49. It felt like a big birthday, 7 cycles of 7, last of the 40s and all that. When I was a kid, I was a gymnast. Then at 13 I started experiencing severe back pain, and I was diagnosed with all sorts of problems that would plague me for 30 years. And then, shortly after my back no longer really bothered me, I began dealing with incapacitating sciatica that morphed into bearable but challenging sciatica for a couple of years. For an athletic person who practices Aikido and dances, recurring and debilitating pain that prevents movement has been especially frustrating.

So, for my 49th birthday I set my goals high. I planned a 9-peak, 13-mile, 4,500 feet of elevation hike with my husband in Acadia National park. To psych myself up, I did 49 rolls in Aikido class the night before. We enthusiastically hit the trail at 8:50 a.m. on a misty day, seeing nary a soul for several peaks. By 5 p.m., when we were embarking on the last mountain, we were exhausted, but in reasonably good spirits, and the reward was a swim in a lovely alpine pond to cool off.

Now my calves are sore, but it feels great to know that at 49 I’m actually stronger and more fit than I was as a teenager. My back is strong, and I look forward to entering my 50th year knowing that when I set my sights on a goal, I can achieve it.

So can we all. So let’s set our sights on the most important goals: a peaceful world, a restored environment, a compassionate society, and an end to cruelty, exploitation, and oppression. There’s no reason we can’t achieve these goals, too.

For a better world,

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

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MOGO Hero: Katie Stagliano

If you love to dunk your digits in the dirt and want a way to help those in need, take some inspiration from MOGO Hero Katie Stagliano. In 3rd grade Katie grew a 40-pound cabbage in her family's garden and decided to donate it to a local soup kitchen. She fed 275 people.

Katie was so excited about helping others that she has created Katie's Krops and now tends six different vegetable gardens, which produce thousands of pounds of produce a year -- all going to feed those in need.

Katie is also working to inspire other kids to adopt her idea, offering grants to young people start a garden in their own communities.

Read more about Katie in this recent story on Tonic.

Check out Katie's organization, Katie's Krops.

~ Marsha

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Delightful Delawning: 3 Tips for Replacing Your Turf

One of the deep questions of the universe I always wondered about was who the %@! invented lawns?! Lawns can be useful in certain circumstances, especially if you need a spot for your dog or want to build a common space for you and your neighbors to congregate. But I’ve had a hate-hate relationship with lawns, ever since I started paying attention to just how much space they take up, how many chemicals they use, how much time and effort and water they require, the battle with “weeds”, the destruction of wildlife habitat, and so on.

I’m not alone in my quest to transform lawns into something more MOGO (doing the most good & least harm). News reports like this and this one reflect a growing interest in dumping the grass and going with food, flowers or something else more planet- people- and animal-friendly.

If you’re interested in losing the lawn (or at least part of it), consider these options:

1. Grow Food

Not since the Victory Gardens of World War II has growing our own food on our own little plots been so popular. One of the most well known resources on the topic is the group of local chapters of Food Not Lawns, which encourages using permaculture methods to turn your lawn into an ecologically-friendly food garden.

But not everyone has their own little piece of land, so new resources are popping up, such as Portland’s Yardsharing, which helps people identify neighbors willing to host garden space (or looking for it). Another new trend sweeping up those lawn clippings and replacing them with fresh produce is Neighborhood Supported Agriculture. Groups of folks, like these in Boulder, Colorado, are choosing to grow food in vacant lots, yards and other small spaces and combine their goodies.

Some people, as mentioned here and here, are even using their (or their neighbors’) former lawns to grow food for profit.

At my cohousing community, we’ve begun to turn several sections of lawn into raised beds for gardening. These garden goodies often find their way into our common meals. We’ve also planted several fruit and nut trees and bushes; just the other day several of us were standing around a cherry tree (grafted with 5 different varieties) snacking while we talked. My husband and I have also transformed the tiny plot in front of our condo from a riot of flowers to an integrated group of wild plants for the wildlife and food for us. That way we can watch the hummingbirds flittering around the salvia while enjoying the strawberries, peas and other tasties from our own front “yard.”


2. Support Wildlife

As our hunger for bigger and better housing grows, good habitats for our fellow creatures disappears, If wildlife watching is more your style, you can transform those blades of grass into critter-friendly habitat. Organizations like the Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation, and the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service have suggestions for creating a “healthy habitat” for wildlife, you, and your family.

We’ve made a conscious effort at Cascadia Commons (my cohousing community) to provide wildlife habitat. In fact, nearly one of the almost three acres of our property (which houses 26 families) is dedicated wetlands. Most residents at Cascadia have also made an effort to grow flora in their little yards that’s fauna-friendly. Over the years we’ve seen more than 80 species of birds, as well as countless species of insects (gorgeous butterflies & dragonflies among them), and, considering our urban location, a surprising number of mammals.

3. Plant Something Else

Neither of those ideas strike your fancy? Try one of these:
  • Low-maintenance groundcovers (some can even be edible!)
  • Xeriscaping
  • Rock gardens
  • Native perennials and other plants

And there are other options available, too. Just check your local library and/or the web for more ideas.

Not everyone can go lawn-free, but many of us can at least reduce our lawn footprint by trying one or more of the above delightful delawning ideas. You'll save money, water, energy, reduce the amount of pollution and pesticides in our air, soil and water, and provide beautiful, healthy options for yourself and the other critters who call your green space home.

~ Marsha


Image courtesy of Editor B via Creative Commons.

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What Price Beauty? Exploring the "Story of Cosmetics"

Each day many of us -- especially in the Western nations -- slather ourselves with shampoos, soaps, lotions, make up and other products. We want to look good, but we don't stop to think about the cost of all these cosmetics to ourselves, other people, animals, and the earth. Story of Stuff guru Annie Leonard and crew have created another short video to dissect the "toxics in, toxics out" merry-go-round of our personal care products. The Story of Cosmetics explores issues such as the toxic chemicals in our products, pinkwashing, the lack of safety testing, the self-policing by industry, the scarcity of safer products, the lack of legal protections for citizens, and more.

Check out the video:




As usual, Leonard's videos provide a great opportunity to explore important issues and spark critical thinking and discussion on a variety of topics. Students can verify the accuracy of the information presented in the video; pay attention to biases in the video (and compare those to biases in what the cosmetics industry says); do some of their own investigating of the impacts of product ingredients, such as in our free, downloadable activity, What Price Beauty?, for grades 8 & older. They can look at the advertising and marketing of personal care products to people of different ages, cultural backgrounds, socioeconomic status, etc. They can explore the many ways in which people, animals and the environment are helped or hurt by these products; they can research alternatives to buying such products (and even make their own personal care products), and more.

What are your ideas for using this video as a tool for humane education?

~ Marsha

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Building Empathy and Critical Thinking: A Lesson About Animals

At our Summer Institute for teachers at the Institute for Humane Education, participant Betsy Messenger, who is the humane educator at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary in New York, created a lesson on animal issues that was so effective and powerful, I wanted to share it with you. She gathered our group outside and “borrowed” my dogs, whose only task was to run outside and do whatever they wanted to do. Our job was to simply observe them and record on paper the kinds of activities and emotions they were demonstrating in one column, and in another column write down whether we had ever experienced similar emotions. While the dogs demonstrated some acts that people don’t normally do, like tearing grass with their mouths, the emotions they displayed – curiosity, playfulness, attention-seeking, joy, abandon, and so on – were ones familiar to every person.

After observing the dogs, Betsy had us get into groups of four and stand shoulder-to-shoulder, facing one another. Then she drew a circle with chalk just outside of our feet. As we stood awkwardly in our groups, enduring the close contact that is not the norm for our species unless we are intimately connected with a person, Betsy asked us to imagine how we would feel if we were to have certain things done to us -- portions of our bodies mutilated, for example -- and had us consider how long some might be required to remain like this (a year). After a few minutes she gave us the reprieve to move out of our circles, and she shared with us the reality for chickens and turkeys raised for food and eggs in modern agricultural facilities: intense confinement, debeaking and toe removal, ill health, and so on. Finally, she shared the story of one turkey who was rescued from such a factory farm and showed us photographs of this particular turkey, a positive note on which to end the 20-minute activity.

What I loved about Betsy’s activity was the sequencing of observing another species and relating their behaviors to our own, the kinesthetic experience of pretending to be poultry in confinement, the information about modern confinement agriculture, and the happy ending for at least one turkey. We went on quite a journey in 20 minutes, and Betsy managed to include several elements of humane education in such a short time, including: providing us with accurate information; fostering our curiosity and critical thinking; instilling our reverence, respect, and sense of responsibility; and raising our awareness of choices we can make. So powerful. It reminds me of how much learning can happen in such a brief time when someone carefully crafts a varied and meaningful activity.

(Betsy will be writing this activity up to include in the free downloadable activities in the resources section at our website.)

Zoe Weil
Author of The Power and Promise of Humane Education

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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.

"Teach the children well and animals and humans will benefit" (via Huffington Post) (7/19/10)

Teen creates "bare necessities" bags to help homeless, those in need (via Democrat-Herald) (7/18/10)

Schools getting "kickbacks" for putting junk food in front of students? (via Alternet) (7/17/10)

Documentary looks at plight of children of migrant workers (via Washington Post) (7/17/10)

Factory in Dominican Republic commits to paying living wage (via NY Times) (7/16/10)

Maryland considers mandatory environmental education (via Education Week) (7/16/10)

"Argentina legalizes gay marriage" (via NY Times) (7/15/10)

One potential solution to sex slavery? Prosecute the "johns" (commentary) (via NY Times) (7/14/10)

Demand for "civet" coffee leading to creating of coffee CAFOs (via Worldwatch Institute blog) (7/14/10)

"Can animal rights go too far?" (via Time) (7/14/10)

"Couple lives trash-free for one year" (via Treehugger) (7/14/10)

"The creativity crisis" (via Newsweek) (7/10/10)

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

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Guest Post: Find Your Tree

This is a guest post from IHE M.Ed. student, parent, humane educator, drama teacher, and blogger, Kerri Twigg. (You can read our recent interview with her here.)


I did a fun activity while I was at The Summer Institute a few weeks ago, called Find your Tree.

Yesterday, I tried doing it with Julia along the river path five minutes from our home. We didn’t bring a blindfold, but we are both good at not peeking. I slowly walked with her as I led her to a tree that split into two. It had just rained and she enjoyed the wet grass on her ankles and the wet bark beneath her fingers. She was great at really feeling the tree with her eyes closed. We walked back to the path and she opened her eyes. She looked around and confidently went to her tree, pointed and said, “this one.” She was right.

She was great at leading me, making sure to go extra slow because I had Macy in the baby carrier. She led me to a tree that had a new sprout and a smooth lower bark. I was able to find my tree on the first try too. She asked me what other kind of activities I did at my school and I described some. Today, we are doing smell teas.

Later in the day at the wading pool, Julia made some new friends and the topic turned to our morning tree activity. The other girls said, “that sounds super fun” and then Julia told them about the smell teas planned for today. The girls want to come. We gave them our phone number and today I am taking five little girls and a baby to the lovely tree lined river path to make scent teas. Pretty dreamy. Perhaps, this is the start of an unofficial summer humane education program in our community. Also, pretty dreamy.


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Imagine a Different Experiment: Ted Kaczynski and the Murray Experiment at Harvard

I recently read an article from The Atlantic Monthly online titled “Harvard and the Making of the Unabomber.” The author, Alston Chase, has corresponded with Ted Kaczynski at length and also wrote the book A Mind for Murder: The Education of the Unabomber and the Origins of Modern Terrorism. I first came across Alston Chase’s work when I listened to a Radio Lab podcast about an experiment conducted at Harvard during the 1950s. The experimenter, psychologist Harry Murray, had worked for the OSS, the precursor to the CIA, studying (and creating experiments on) stress in interrogations. It’s unclear whether his experiments at Harvard were under the auspices of the OSS or whether they were independently motivated. According to Chase, it’s even unclear what the real purpose of the Harvard experiments were.

The experiments, conducted over a period of 3 years, deceived Harvard students and subjected them to severe stress and cruelty. At one point in the experiments, students were asked to write an autobiography and detail very personal accounts related to their sexuality, toilet training, and other intimate experiences. They were told they’d be meeting with another student, who had also written an autobiography, to discuss their various experiences. Instead, they were placed in brightly lit interrogation rooms, hooked to electrodes to monitor their responses, filmed through a one-way mirror -- from which they were being observed -- and then ridiculed, humiliated, insulted and victimized by an older stooge, not a peer as they were expecting. They were later required to watch the videos of themselves undergoing this humiliation and trauma.

Ted Kaczynski was one of the students in these experiments, and although he wouldn’t talk about them with Chase, it turns out that he had a huge negative response, according to the monitors of his stress levels. Chase explores whether these experiments influenced Kaczynski such that he became more predisposed to carry out his murders as the Unabomber.

When I heard about these experiments, and after getting over my shock that they were ever conducted, I couldn’t help but wonder what might have happened had a different experiment been performed. In one of the experiments Murray did, the students wrote their life philosophies. What if an experimenter asked students to write a combination autobiography, personal philosophy and goals for their lives and a “stooge” validated their ideas and encouraged their interests and supported their goals, and rather than humiliate them, extolled their virtues. What if they went over the top in the other direction? I’m not suggesting that this would be a good thing to do, but I wonder what the result would be. What might the students do with such praise and validation? Who might they become? How might Ted Kaczynski’s life have been different had this been the experimental protocol conducted over three years? And lastly, where are the social psychology experiments that seek to bring out the best in people so that we can learn how better to foster compassion, courage, honesty and integrity for a healthier world?

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

Image courtesy of myguerrilla via Creative Commons.

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Teachers Inspired, Empowered by IHE's Summer Institute

Twelve dynamic educators gathered at the Institute for Humane Education’s beautiful facility in Surry, Maine, from June 28 to July 2 for Teaching for a Better World: A Summer Institute for Educators.

Each day was designed to give participants an opportunity for personal and professional inquiry into global ethical issues and the core tenets of education and teaching. Participants also examined the way their own educations have shaped their experiences as educators and the role education plays in the health and future of our planet.

The week began with an exploration of the elements of humane education. Through lectures, indoor and outdoor activities, film viewings, large and small group discussions, and role plays, participants expanded their knowledge of existing connections between education, environmental ethics, animal protection, culture, consumerism and media, and human rights, and explored ways to integrate these topics across various disciplines.

Role play pratice for Summer InstituteParticipants each created and presented a 20-minute humane education activity or lesson plan and received feedback. These dynamic presentations demonstrated a real understanding and enthusiasm from the participants.

Participants included:
  • classroom teachers
  • college advisors
  • community educators
  • homeschooling parents
  • a theatre educator and playwright
  • a student studying environmental education

and came from as close as Maine and as far away as Hong Kong.

IHE faculty member, Mary Pat Champeau, with 2 Summer Institute  participantsIHE faculty Mary Pat Champeau and Zoe Weil facilitated the program, with IHE Executive Director, Khalif Williams, facilitating several discussions. Additionally, participants enjoyed special guest Robert Shetterly, creator of the Americans Who Tell the Truth portrait series. Rob shared his vision of how to help students come to understand their heritage and ultimately, inspire their futures.

Participants also engaged in evening social activities, including dinners at area restaurants, a special dinner at the Institute that included participants’ families, and an evening out at Acadia Improv.

IHE received very positive feedback from participants. Here are a couple samples:

"It rejuvenated me and was an excellent way to gain CEUs. (The) value was immeasurable. I gained friends and confidence and knowledge to share."
~ Andy Bryan, teacher in Maine

"I expected it to be educational and fabulous, and it was both. My overall idea of what humane education means is much clearer. I’ve been inspired to continue. Humane education will no longer be a concept that I endeavor to incorporate into my classrooms and personal life; rather, it will be a chosen lifestyle. I am changed, and will continue to grow and change. I am better for it and will like myself more throughout my life because of it."
~ Deborah Burger, college ESL teacher in Michigan


We IHE staff felt equally inspired and renewed by the experience and thank everyone who attended and made it a very vibrant and productive week!

We’d like to thank a few sponsors that provided scholarship funds to help participants attend:

  • Shawn Sweeney, National Program Coordinator with Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots (Shawn is also currently one of IHE’s M.Ed. students)
  • Bar Harbor Bank & Trust in Blue Hill, Ellsworth, and Bar Harbor, Maine.


We also want to thank the local supermarkets, Tradewinds and Hannaford, that provided sponsorship for our healthy afternoon snacks.

See more photos and testimonials from our 2010 Summer Institute.

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Go Out and Seton Watch!

In my last post I wrote about Seton watching, a form of nature observation in which one sits quietly and observes a small window in the natural world for at least 20 minutes. I’ve chosen to do this daily at our pond, and it’s been amazing what I have observed. I recently wrote about observing the rescue of two damselflies. I only noticed this because I was Seton watching and paying close attention.

Over the course of the past two weeks, I’ve been watching a multitude of frogs and salamanders at every stage of development. There are tiny, gilled newts, and full grown salamanders, and red efts ready to emerge for their time in the woods. There are tadpoles from half a dozen different species, all in various phases of their transformation into frogs. I’ve been watching them grow their rear legs, and then their front, and move onto land, and slowly reabsorb their tales. I’ve listened to the trilling of tree frogs, the peeping of peepers, the honk of bullfrogs, and beeps of green frogs. My foot has been the way station for an emerging frog. I’ve noticed the way in which some species of tadpole are bold, while others quite shy and how the full grown salamanders are the most skittish of all, ascending quickly for air only to dive down to the depths as fast as they can.

I’ve watched huge water scorpions swim laboriously as they paddle through the water with skinny legs. I’ve watched hundreds of damselflies with their iridescent blue backs mate and dip their fertilized eggs into the water. My legs and arms have been the resting spot for many.

Mostly I don’t know much about what I’m observing, at least not in the scientific sense. I don’t know the names of the different species of tadpole, nor the life cycle of the water scorpion. I could find out of course, and I likely will; but I am experiencing so much just through observation, and I’m reluctant to turn to books quite yet. I want to discover what I am able to learn and know by carefully watching what’s around me.

I recommend such an activity to everyone, but especially children. In our media-saturated, indoor- or sports field-focused world, we neglect to experience the magnificent natural world that sustains us all. We do this at our peril, as a failure to cultivate our wonder often results in our failure to protect what we neither experience, nor understand, nor love.

As I’ve said before, please go outside; for yourself and the world. And try sitting quietly in the same spot each day for 30 minutes and notice what comes.

Enjoy!

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

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What a Humane World Looks Like: NOT Waiting for "Perfection"

"Better to help ten real hurting people -- or nine, or one, than to be overwhelmed and withdraw and do nothing." ~ Sister Helen Prejean

My mom tells me that when I was a kid, I tried lots of different things: swimming, baton twirling (it was that decade), piano, etc. And, if I couldn't do something really well -- if I couldn't do it perfectly -- then I'd quit. I wanted to be perfect. Not because I needed to be better than everyone else, but because I couldn't bear the shame of being less. "Perfectionist" is a label that has trailed (and haunted) me throughout much of my life. Striving for excellence is one thing -- and something I work toward daily. But the craving for perfection has prevented me from becoming the person that I know I can be. It has repeatedly stopped me from taking action that could help create a better world.

My husband and I smilingly remember my father's "good enough" approach to home repair and remodeling. Especially as he got older, he'd patch something using duct tape, or mis-measure the cut of a board, and fall back on "That's good enough." That philosophy doesn't really fit well when you're building a fence or painting a house, but it is a standard that more of us who want to create a just, compassionate, sustainable world should embrace. The world can't wait until we have all the knowledge, all the skills, all the confidence, and all the resources we think we need to take positive action. The world can't wait for our perception of perfection. The people, animals and earth who are being exploited and oppressed need us to take action now -- to start with "good enough" and work from there.

As Paul Loeb, author of the book, Soul of a Citizen, says in an essay for Huffington Post:
"I love viewing Gandhi not as the master strategist of social change that he later became, but as someone who at first was literally tongue-tied--shyer and more intimidated than almost anyone we can imagine. His story is a caution against the impulse to try and achieve perfection before we begin the journey of social change."
In that same essay he quotes Atlanta activist Sonya Vetra Tinsley, who says:
"I think it does us all a disservice when people who work for social change are presented as saints--so much more noble than the rest of us. We get a false sense that from the moment they were born they were called to act, they never had doubts, were bathed in a circle of light. But I'm much more inspired learning how people succeeded despite their failings and uncertainties. It's a much less intimidating image. It makes me feel like I have a shot at changing things too."
In another essay, Loeb says:
"We might therefore characterize the citizens who make the most difference in this difficult time as people of imperfect character, acting on the basis of imperfect knowledge, for causes that may be imperfect as well and in circumstances they'd rarely have chosen. I think that's a profile any of us could match. If the change we need occurs, it's those who act for justice despite their doubts, limitations, and uncertainties who will ultimately bring it about."
So start with where you are. Pair your passions with your current skills and take positive action, even if it's only a small step.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of woodleywonderworks via Creative Commons.

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Observing the Natural World & Creating Poetry

During our Summer Institute, June 28-July 2, we introduce the participants to a form of nature observation called “Seton watching.” Each of us finds a place at the Institute for Humane Education’s meadow, woods, or by the pond to sit and observe a small window of nature for 25 minutes. It’s always remarkable how much we each see when we slow down, cast our gaze narrowly but intently, and just watch.

One of the participants, reading teacher Carolyn Ericksen-Buss, was moved by this simple act of observation to create an activity for her presentation in which we went outdoors in pairs, read aloud a Gary Snyder nature poem for inspiration, and then chose a small window to observe before creating a joint 12-line poem. We composed the poem by having each member of the pair write a line, going back and forth until the poem was complete. It’s amazing what little gems of poems were created in just 10 minutes!

What I loved about this activity was that it effortlessly brought humane education to the study and act of writing poetry. By first reading a poem, then choosing a small window in nature, we both learned from a master poet and summoned our skill at observation and evoked our reverence for the natural world along with our imagination and creativity. There was no time to critique in the 20-minute time frame, and so we had the rare opportunity to revel in our creative impulses and joy in experiencing the natural world without an inner, or outer, editor.

This is a gift any language arts teachers can give their students.

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

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A Matter of Choice: We Can't Just Legislate Each Other to a Better World

I was at an animal protection conference recently, in which one of the speakers, director of a grassroots group in his community, mentioned that his group had ceased to lobby restaurants to stop serving foie gras. One restaurant (usually after months of campaigning), would agree to stop serving it, only to quietly put it back on the menu a few months later. It was too much work for little or no positive progress. In 2008, the Chicago city council announced that the ban on foie gras that had been enacted in 2006 was overturned. Animal protection advocates banged their heads against the wall in frustration, while foie gras fans cheered and happily renewed serving the “delicacy.” Why did the restaurants go back on their word? Why didn’t the Chicago ban stick? Simply, because people don’t like to be told what to do.

One of the first phrases we learn to utter at the top of our voices as kids (after “No!”) is “You can’t tell me what to do!” Especially in the U.S., our culture cultivates an almost-religious fervor for individualism and the freedom to believe and do and choose pretty much as we want. Go diversity! Go freedom!

People want to feel like they have a choice, and they don’t want that freedom of choice (whether illusion or reality) to be taken away. That’s one reason laws are so complicated and tricky. As nice as it would be to just legislate everyone into making humane choices, you can’t create a humane world by forcing people to comply with something they haven’t freely chosen. We have daily evidence that compelled obedience doesn’t work: murder, rape, pollution, discrimination, child abuse, slave labor, drug use, corruption, speeding in a school zone –- we have laws in the U.S. that prohibit all of these actions, yet they are still daily occurrences. If we ask everyone whether these behaviors are wrong, most people will say yes; that hasn’t stopped them from committing these acts anyway.

There is definitely a place for legislation. Legislation has brought about the Clean Air and Water Acts, the Endangered Species Act, the right for people who are gay to marry in certain states, the banning of some of the cruelest farmed animal confinement practices in a few states, and more. But laws can also lull people into a false sense of security (Oh, that’s against the law now. Good. Nothing more needs to be done. I don’t need to take any action.). And, they don’t stop the actions of those who don’t care about the law.

Creating a humane world can only happen by increasing the number of people who choose to live humanely of their own free will. So, yes, let’s continue to work on legislation for a more humane world. But, more importantly, let’s work to educate, inspire and empower people to make daily choices that do the most good and least harm for all people, animals and the planet.

If a critical mass of people believe that slavery is wrong and take positive action, no more slavery. If enough people speak out against cruelty to animals and take positive action, no more cruelty. If enough people truly want a humane world and make choices every day to help manifest that vision, then we’ll have that humane world.

~ 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.

Washington Post interview with Jane Goodall (via Washington Post) (7/13/10)

"World Cup's Soccer City Shows Scale of Mining Waste in South Africa" (via Treehugger) (7/12/10)

Wild tiger population to go extinct? (via Treehugger) (7/12/10)

Chennai schools introduce program to nurture kindness to animals (via Times of India) (7/10/10)

"Iran halts woman's death by stoning" (via The Guardian) (7/8/10)

"Judge topples U.S. rejection of gay unions" (via NY Times) (7/8/10)

Students in Queensland "worried sick" over testing (via Courier Mail) (7/8/10)

More colleges offering "animal studies" courses that explore culture (via USA Today) (7/8/10)

Researchers discover fish may "talk" to each other (via The Telegraph) (7/7/10)

"The inconvenient truth of buying video games" (via Kansas City Star) (7/6/10)

"Children of Incarcerated Parents" (va Scholar & Feminist Online) (Spring 2010)

The world needs parents to raise compassionate kids (via Canada.com) (7/10)

How generous we are influences our health, happiness (via Canada.com) (7/10)

"7 animals way smarter than us" (via Treehugger) (7/7/10)

"Obesity rate tops 25% in two-thirds of states" (via LA Times blog) (6/29/10)

"Education reform: an ignored problem and a proposal" (commentary) (via Truthout) (6/25/10)


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

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What I Learned in My Teacher Training: Don't Smile Until Christmas

by Mary Pat Champeau, IHE's Director of Educational Programs


"The classroom should be an entrance into the world, not an escape from it.” ~ John Ciardi

"Teaching was the hardest work I had ever done, and it remains the hardest work I have done to date." ~ Ann Richards


"Don't smile until Christmas." ~ Mary Pat's first teacher-trainer, 1979



We’re in the midst of one of our 30-day distance learning courses, Teaching for a Positive Future, with 25 wonderful, insightful teachers and community educators. One of our exercises calls for participants to explore their teaching in relation to the 4 elements of humane education. Here’s what I shared with them:

During my own teacher-training many many years ago, we were told not to smile until Christmas or our students would walk all over us. I was teaching children between the ages of 8-14, in an Islamic country (no Christmas) in classrooms without electricity or running water in the southern crescent below the Sahara desert, 40 children to a classroom, three to a desk, ridiculous texts books (the first lesson I was supposed to teach was called "A Trip to the Ice Cream Parlor" in a country where no such thing existed), a yearly ration of one box of precious chalk, and a director who physically beat children that stepped out of line, and legally so.

Don't smile until Christmas? What would make the children want to come to school? But, I was not the most natural of teachers and I had to learn everything experientially, so I took this suggestion to heart and tried not to smile at my students, no matter how charmed I felt by some of them. Their parents were paid to send them to school so they came and went from distant villages, depending on the growing and harvesting seasons, staying in group-compounds without their parents when it was time to attend school; some were as young as six years old, entirely on their own.

Don't smile until Christmas? I did my best to be stern and authoritative, and basically I acted as if I didn't like the students, because that's what I had been trained to do even though in my heart I actually rather loved them! One afternoon (before Christmas, so I was still obnoxiously stern) I wrote the word "eigth" on the board and during the portion of the class where students were taking notes, a student raised his hand and told me the word was spelled wrong. I looked at the word and panicked -- I knew it was spelled incorrectly (I had meant to write "eighth") but I didn't feel I could risk the loss of authority that might come from admitting I'd made a mistake (before Christmas) so I sternly reminded my student that I was the teacher and the native speaker of English (I was an ESL teacher) and I advised him, and the rest of class, quite strongly to copy this word into their notebooks exactly as I had written it on the blackboard. They did as I asked them to do. For the rest of the year, whenever we were writing ordinal numbers, I had to spell "eighth" incorrectly just to save my face.

This is all to say I couldn't even offer my students, so long ago, the very first element of humane education: Provide Accurate Information. Critical thinking? Creativity? Reverence? Curiosity? These lofty goals never even occurred to me -- I needed to keep order! Of course, my classes weren't fun for any of us, and I will never forget the day some of my students came to my house and offered me a cup of ice they had purchased from a man who was selling this exciting novelty out of a cooler in the market. They said maybe it would remind me of home, and maybe then I would be happy.

Later, when I got to know these students, they relayed that there was a consensus about me in the beginning that I hated living the village life, and they felt sorry for me, and they assumed I would leave. I told them I never had plans to leave back then, and that I had been trained not to smile until Christmas/December. One boy's face lit up and he said, "You did succeed!" He seemed genuinely happy for me. Oh my! Some successes are not worth achieving.

What if I had been trained in the four elements of humane education rather than in the traditional methods of classroom management? I doubt I could have incorporated each of the elements into every class, but over the course of a month or a semester or a year, I could have created the fun, generous, lively atmosphere that these elements engender, and nobody would have mistaken me for an unhappy teacher.

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What Superhero Would You Be?

During our Summer Institute for teachers, June 28-July 2, participants offered the group short presentations on any humane education topic. Andy Beardsley, a high school English teacher, explored superheroes with us and then invited us to consider what superhero we would be, what powers we would have, and how our superhero story would originate were we to craft such an alter ego for ourselves.

Andy had already thought of the superhero I would be – MOGO Girl – so I was off and running. I immediately thought that my super power would be the ability to make people see the true impacts of their choices and feel compassion as they witnessed the suffering, cruelty and destruction that lay behind even the smallest decisions about what they ate or wore or purchased or chose for entertainment. For example, as someone was about to purchase a conventional chocolate bar, they would witness the slave children toiling in cocoa plantations that provided the cocoa beans, or as they were about to eat an omelet they would witness the chickens crammed together in battery cages, unable to stretch a wing and the male chicks from egg-laying hatcheries ground up alive for feed and the spent hens on the slaughterhouse lines, many of them still alive as they’re dropped into the scalding tanks to loosen their feathers. The ability to see would alter people’s choices and compel humane and sustainable changes in our culture. It would be the culmination of my work as a humane educator rolled into an effective super power that motivates us all to change, based on a combination of our knowledge and our care.

Now I just have to design my costume!

What I love about this activity is the opportunity it provides to kids to imagine themselves as heroes, righting wrongs, making a difference, having the power to do great things with their lives. Instead of simply loving other superheroes, Andy had us using our creativity to imagine ourselves as superheroes. What a gift this is! To be invited to see ourselves in this light is to launch a new vision for our abilities and our commitments and to recognize the hero within who has the power – even through imagination – to be a positive force for good.

What superhero would you be? What would your powers be? What effect does imagining this have on you? I welcome your thoughts.

Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, The Power and Promise of Humane Education and Above All, Be Kind

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Featured IHE Student: Deb Freitag

IHE HECP student Deb Freitag's passion for exploring the landscape and cultures of the world led her to share that passion with children as a social studies teacher. Her discovery of humane education has sparked another passion in her: to help her students to become positive changemakers for a better world.

Read Deb's essay about her experiences with IHE's program:

"I went into teaching for several of the wrong reasons. However, it was my minor in geography that pulled me towards working with kids and loving it. I have always enjoyed learning about the world’s rich variety of physical, cultural and historical geography and then sharing that passion with others. Nearly three years ago I discovered the Institute for Humane Education through a small ad in Ode magazine, and my life hasn’t been the same since! After arguing over the rigor, relevance and validation of the Humane Education Certificate Program with my public school district in Wisconsin for nearly a year, I finally received full approval to take the program and have it officially recognized as the powerful and valid curriculum that it is. As a social studies teacher of world geography, I feel the most significant thing I can do for my students is to expose them to the critical issues of the world today (in an age-appropriate manner), and then help them develop the mentality that solutions can and do exist, but we need to work together and outside of the traditional methods of globalization to develop these solutions. Not only has the HECP opened my eyes and educated me on a wide variety of topics (flaws in our current approach to education, environmental awareness, animal protection, culture and consumerism, and human rights) but it has inspired me to develop lessons for my seventh graders -- and sometimes even family, friends, and colleagues –- to challenge their perspectives and the status quo.

"When an assignment in one of the five main courses of the program hasn’t seemed to fit ideally into a middle school framework, the instructors have always worked with me to make modifications that will meet my needs and benefit my students or the future for my own two children, Macey and Drew. Although I have already completed undergraduate and graduate degrees, none of the feedback I have ever received from faculty has been as thorough, encouraging, or genuinely helpful as the incredibly detailed and perceptive comments that come back interwoven throughout every piece of coursework I have submitted. As a teacher myself, I can only imagine the countless hours invested in each and every humane education student that comes through one of the IHE programs.

"There have also been a couple highlights in the program that I would like to add. First, the five-day residency in Surry, Maine, is exceptional! To have a chance to meet and learn from these powerful, yet humble models (if not founders) of humane education is truly a gift! Second, I am currently using the knowledge and insight I have gained from the HECP program to rewrite the curriculum for a nine-week course that I started called “Project World.” The original goal of Project World was to help seventh-grade students explore and discover their unique interests and strengths, and then find ways to put those attributes to work making a positive difference in their community. Although the course is constantly morphing into something new and different, that goal hasn’t changed. However, I am continually weaving in new activities that help students explore complex, humane education issues and become “solutionaries” instead of mere observers. For my practicum, I am working on rewriting the objectives and curriculum for the course to more thoroughly include the critical aspects of humane education. I still want students to volunteer in the community and build meaningful relationships within our class, but equally important, I want Project World to expose them to global issues and help them to begin formulating their own ways to work for change! As heard in the documentary Darius Goes West, “Idealism is the signature of youth!” If that statement is true (which I believe it is), when we focus the vast majority of our attention on math, science, reading and writing in all their years of public education, we are doing students and the world a great disservice! We need to leave them educated about the global issues facing their futures and, equally important, inspired to create change and empowered to know their lives can make a difference! That’s what IHE has moved me to believe."
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Reflections on Our Summer Institute

Last week twelve educators gathered for the Institute for Humane Education's summer training institute for teachers. One teacher came from down the road a half mile, and another from Hong Kong. We ranged in age from 19 to 69. What we had in common was an interest in bringing the most pressing issues of our time to youth in order to prepare them to be engaged and active citizens dedicated to creating a healthier world through whatever fields they pursue. It was a fabulous week, and I learned so much from this great group of educators. In the coming days I’ll be sharing the creative activities they shared during their presentations, and we’ll be adding many of them to our free downloadable activities at www.HumaneEducation.org. Stay tuned!

Zoe Weil
Author of The Power and Promise of Humane Education

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What a Humane World Looks Like: Teaching Empathy

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, if we want a society of empathetic people, then we need to "teach" empathy. Of course, empathy isn't something that should be pressed onto another; it's something to be cultivated, nurtured, and modeled.

Inspiring empathy in others is something that most humane educators regularly strive to do. As part of a presentation I give to adults about the lives and deaths of farmed animals, I ask for a couple of volunteers to stand on milk crates with their shoes off for a few minutes. In addition to sparking curiosity and critical thinking (part of the 4 elements of humane education), that brief activity helps inspire empathy for hens who live their lives in battery cages and/or pigs who must endure six months standing on hard concrete floors. Another part of the same presentation involves giving participants each a card with a type of farmed animal listed on it (male battery chick, female dairy cow, "broiler" chicken, and so on) and asking them to tap into their empathy and imagination as we take a journey that outlines their lives and deaths as these farmed animals. Between the horrific but factual information, the minimally graphic images and the use of the second person (This is what happens to you - this is your life.), I've discovered that the experience is extremely visceral and powerful for participants. Few, if any, leave the presentation unaffected. They've just spent the last 40 minutes in touch with their empathy, and it stays with them.

As part of the coursework for our students at IHE, they're asked to interview people who have been victims of human rights violations (for our course on human rights). And, for our course focused on animal protection issues, students take a field trip exploring some sort of institutional use of animals (whether a factory farm, slaughterhouse, circus, research facility, etc.). Both opportunities connect students with their empathy for others and help them cultivate a deeper understanding of how their choices affect other people, other animals, and the earth.

We have numerous humane education activities in our Resource Center that can help you nurture and inspire empathy in your students and/or children, from Circle of Compassion (pdf) to A Moment in Your Shoes (pdf).

One activity I want to highlight for building empathy is Council of All Beings (pdf).

In this activity, appropriate for grades 4 and up (and modifiable to younger grades), students "become" another being (a certain animal, a part of the natural world, or another human) and ask themselves questions, such as
  • What is happening to me as this being?
  • How do I feel?
  • What is my life like? My days? My nights?
  • What are my interactions with other beings like? With my environment?
  • What do I do? What do I have to say?
  • What would I like to tell people?
  • What wisdom do I have as this being?
Students then create a mask representing that being and, in a Council circle, take turns sharing about themselves as their being. At the end of the formal ceremony, students make a promise to change one aspect of their lives that hurts their being.

If done in a sincere, respectful way, the Council can be incredibly powerful and transforming and really help participants access their empathy.

If you have/know of any great activities for nurturing empathy, let us know.

~ Marsha

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