Embrace Your Power as a Humane Educator

Image courtesy of Spirit-Fire via Creative Commons.
At the Institute for Humane Education (IHE) it’s our goal that all schools embrace a new vision for education: to provide all students, in age-appropriate ways, with the knowledge, tools, and motivation to be conscientious choicemakers and engaged changemakers for a healthy, peaceful, and humane world for all. Put another way, we think that the purpose of schooling should be to graduate a generation of solutionaries.

IHE endeavors to operationalize this vision through our online graduate programs in humane education, online courses, workshops across the U.S. and Canada, and an extensive and award-winning resource center filled with activities that educators across the globe can use in virtually all kinds of settings. We want to see every teacher become a humane educator who incorporates relevant global issues into whatever subjects they teach, and we want every school to have courses in humane education and solutionary teams so that students are able to focus attention specifically on persistent challenges and problem-solving.

Yet with all that said, and with this fairly grand vision, it’s gratifying and important to realize that even a taste of humane education can make all the difference for a student. Twenty-three years after taking a week-long humane education summer course, David Berman, an HIV/AIDS activist working for the mayor of New York, was quick to say that the course changed his life. Middle schoolers exposed to a single humane education talk in their classroom have come up to me years later, remembering specific things they learned that day that altered them irrevocably. Two high school seniors, Coral O’Brian and Ruby Treyball, who did their two-week independent study with me last winter (reading five books, watching numerous films, visiting dozens of websites, participating in daily discussions, and taking their first steps into activism), changed their diets, started a school activity group, spoke to the parents’ association of their school, led a humane education arts project, and are now bringing their activism to their respective colleges. All inspired by a two-week project.

Which is all to say that while the goal of changed school systems and a new vision of the purpose of schooling is what I believe we should be working toward as the best approach to solving all of our interconnected, global, entrenched, and seemingly intractable problems, even the smallest forays into bringing these issues to people can make a huge difference.

I recently heard from a college professor who teaches a course to education majors at her university. She has been utilizing IHE’s resources, requiring every student to plan, teach, and reflect upon a humane education lesson. In three years, she has reached over 600 education majors, who in turn have reached a minimum of 20-30 children each. One teacher, one course, impacting thousands of people, animals, and the environment.

Each of us is a humane educator. Each of us has the capacity to reach others through education, inspiration, and critical thinking. While the power traditional teachers have to enlighten and inform is obvious, each of us is a teacher. Any of us can mentor high school students; can host a film and discussion at our local library; can create an afterschool program or camp; can start a salon with our friends and neighbors; can use the materials at IHE’s resource center to teach in their living rooms; can create a “True Price” group that assesses everyday choices and helps promote MOGO (most good) alternatives.

If each of us embraces our role as a humane educator, we can do a host of good.

For a humane world,

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDx talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

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