Why We Need Humane Education: To Bring Solutionary & Critical Thinking to Our Careers

Here in the U.S., we're taught to consult (and believe) the experts in the field. After all, they've been trained, so they should know the best answers, right? Want to know about the law? Consult a lawyer. Need advice on nutrition? Contact a registered dietitian. But what if those experts have been educated and trained in their fields using a narrow lens and without the encouragement to think critically about what they're learning -- to question and to challenge it? What if they're surrounded by conflicting information and trained to accept the status quo and the information of the "experts" they're exposed to?

Recently, public health lawyer and writer, Michele Simon, reported on her experience at the annual conference of the American Dietetic Association, where around 7,000 registered dietitians converged to learn about the latest and greatest in nutrition. Who might we think would co-sponsor a conference dedicated to healthy eating and living? How about:

"The top-paying sponsors, whom ADA called 'partners,' were Coca-Cola, Aramark, the National Dairy Council, and Hershey (their 'Center for Health and Nutrition' - really). 'Premier sponsors' included PepsiCo, Mars, and General Mills."

Simon says that even worse than the "partners" and the exhibit hall were the "educational sessions," which she asserts should have been "off-limits" from marketing influence. Not so, according to Simon. She mentions panels such as:
  • "Dairy Innovations" by the National Dairy Council
  • "Are Sugars Toxic? What's Wrong with Current Research?" by the National Corn Refiners Association
  • "Snacking and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines" by Frito-Lay
  • "A Fresh Look at Processed Foods" and "How Risky is Our Food? Clarifying the Controversies of Chemical Risks" both by an industry front group
Simon reports that in the panel on chemicals in our food, the "experts," both academic researchers, were "apparently hand-picked by IFIC for their industry-friendly positions." Simon says,

"And indeed, each speaker downplayed any risks of chemicals in food such as pesticides, food dyes, and other additives, while practically making fun of organic production. Jones lamented about organics being too expensive and offered tired arguments about how risks are everywhere, so really, why worry? She also claimed people automatically fear something because it is artificial. But Andy Bellatti, an RD in attendance told me he found this 'rather insulting; she's trying to argue we have no capacity for rational thought. The concern with artificial ingredients is over studies showing harmful effects.'"

Read Michele's complete post.

Of course we don't know the minds of the 7,000 registered dietitians in attendance. But, if this is typical for an ADA conference -- the "experts" in the nutrition field in the U.S. -- then we can imagine that many of the attendees went home with a certain amount of incorrect information and confusing and misleading messages.

This is another example of why humane education is so essential. Imagine if, when they were younger, all these RDs-to-be were taught to seek out accurate and credible information; to think critically; to question and challenge; to make choices aligned with their values; and to become problem-solvers and solutionaries in their field. Imagine how such a conference might have been different if the organizers had been immerse in humane education. Who might the conference "partners" have been? What kinds of educational sessions would have been featured, and who might have been the expert speakers? And, even if faced with a conference just like the one Simon describes, how might attendees who grew up thinking critically and systemically have reacted to being offered education panels by sponsored by the junk food industry?

Imagine in how many other careers new graduates are taught to perpetuate destructive and harmful systems and practices.

Humane education is designed to help all students, regardless of the careers they pursue, to become solutionaries for a better world, so that they can bring the humane education lens to their work and help create systems and solutions that are just and healthy and restorative for all.

~ Marsha

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