World in Conversation Project

Since my TEDx talk was released, I have been receiving lots of emails from people wanting to learn how to implement the ideas I shared. I’ve also been hearing from humane educators and groups doing fantastic work across the globe. For my next several blog posts, I wanted to share some of their great work.

In a recent blog post about Sam Richards' outstanding TEDx talk on empathy, I talked about the ways in which Richards so masterfully modeled the elements of humane education. Sam Richards is also the co-director of a fabulous humane education program at Pennsylvania State University – the World in Conversation Project – which provides a facilitated forum for important discussions around race. Check it out.


For a better world through education,

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

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Getting to the Source of Slave-free Chocolate

Valentine's Day is near, a holiday focused on love and chocolate. And while our love affair with gorging on chocolate isn't limited to February 14, the fact that billions of dollars of chocolate is sold around this time each year (and the focus on loving one another) provides an important opportunity to explore the connection between chocolate and slavery.

There's no shortage of evidence that much of the world's chocolate is still produced using child labor and slavery. (The Food Empowerment Project (FEP) offers a terrific, succinct overview of the issue.) And the chocolate industry has been slow to take positive action, though some companies are taking some action to ensure their cocoa is fairly and sustainably sourced.

I've been aware of the connection between chocolate and slavery for several years, and I've proudly purchased fair trade, organic, vegan chocolate as a most good, least harm option. However, I've recently discovered that not even the fair trade label can guarantee a product free from slavery. According to research conducted by the Food Empowerment Project(FEP), some fair trade companies have had to suspend their contracts with suppliers in West Africa because it was discovered they were using child labor.

So what's a person who wants to satisfy their cravings for cruelty- and slave-free chocolate to do? Food Empowerment Project says:

"The truth is that consumers today have no sure way of knowing if the chocolate they are buying involved the use of child labor or slave labor. There are many different labels on chocolate bars today, such as Fair Trade Certified, however, no single label can guarantee that the chocolate was made without the use of exploitive labor."

FEP has created a list of vegan chocolate that they feel comfortable recommending, based on information they received (or didn't) from several chocolate companies.

In 2009 the International Labor Rights Forum released a scorecard (pdf) of how they rate various chocolate companies, and Green America has also released a scorecard (pdf) for their grades of various companies.

The best way we can try to make the most humane chocolate choice is to contact companies, ask them specific questions and tell them (repeatedly) to ensure that they're cocoa is produced sustainably, humanely, and fairly.

~ Marsha

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Teaching for a Positive Future

Since my TEDx talk was released, I have been receiving lots of emails from people wanting to learn how to implement the ideas I shared. I’ve also been hearing from humane educators and groups doing fantastic work across the globe. In my next several blog posts, I will be sharing some of their great work; but to address the most common question I’ve been receiving: “How can I learn more about how to put these ideas into practice?” I wanted to share with you some upcoming opportunities.

The Institute for Humane Education (IHE) is offering its month-long, online course, Teaching for a Positive Future, starting February 7. This course (which offers CEUs from the University of Maine) offers educators anywhere in the world the opportunity to dive into the issues that comprise humane education (human rights, environmental preservation and animal protection); dive into themselves and their passion for teaching; dive into conversation with other passionate educators who want to teach for a better world, and develop new ideas, approaches, and enthusiasm for bringing the most pressing issues of our time into their classrooms.

We have other opportunities for more in depth training as well, including our Summer Institute for Teachers, June 27-July 1, at our beautiful facility in coastal Maine, and our soon-to-be re-launched graduate and certificate programs in Humane Education.


For a better world through education,


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


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The Psychology of Social Change: Nick Cooney's Change of Heart

Especially as new advocates for social change, we expect that it's only a matter of people learning the truth about an issue before they change their habits and choices. And then we learn that's not necessarily so. Case in point: The more global climate change is in the news, the fewer people who seem to actually care that it's an important issue or believe that it's human-caused. Social psychologists have been studying the choices, habits and motivations of people for decades, and they're discovering that it's neither straightforward nor simple.

There have been quite a few books published recently about the psychology of change, motivation, and choices. One that all humane educators and advocates for social change should read is Change of Heart: What Psychology Can teach Us About Spreading Social Change by Nick Cooney.

If you've read books by Dan Ariely or Daniel Pink or the Heath brothers, you'll recognize most of the studies and examples included in Cooney's book. But Cooney doesn't just hash out relevant research; he offers specific examples of what activists might want to do differently and the approaches that might be most effective for spreading social change.

I was going to write a review of Cooney's book, but then I discovered how many wonderful bloggers have already written about him; so I'm going to share a couple those instead.

Erik Marcus of Vegan.com and Jasmin Singer of Our Hen House both do a great reviews of Cooney's book from an animal advocacy perspective.

SocialBrite has an excerpt from Nick's book about the power of using social networks and connectors for positive social change.

And, Mercy for Animals did a nice brief interview with Cooney (most of the reviews have been from animal advocacy organizations so far, even though the book offers ideas for social changers of all stripes.)

Grab the book and a highlighter (unless it's from the library, then skip the highlighter) and settle down for some fascinating and useful reading.

~ Marsha

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The Scourge of Hateful Commentary - The Call to Be Kind

Yesterday, Yahoo! News placed an excerpt from my book, Most Good, Least Harm, (that had been posted awhile earlier by Simon & Schuster under the title “10 Easy Ways to Become a Better Person”) on their front page. I found this out when my and the Institute for Humane Education’s websites got a surprisingly large number of hits, and when I started receiving hate mail.

The excerpt was from the end of Most Good, Least Harm in a section which offered a short summation about how to make choices that do the most good and least harm to oneself, other people, animals and the environment. The section was titled, “10 Principles for MOGO Living,” (MOGO being short for doing the most good and the least harm).

Personally, I would never have chosen the new title, “10 Easy Ways to Become a Better Person” for a number of reasons. First, I don’t teach about being a better person; I teach about making choices that do more good and less harm to ourselves and others. Second, the 10 principles are about choices that create a better world rather than better people. But despite the fact that the title could have been off-putting for a list about making MOGO choices, it was hard to believe the staggering outpouring of vitriol that followed. I have never been called so many names before, by people who know nothing about me other than from a short excerpt, taken out of context and given a misleading title, from a book I wrote that is meant to offer people ways to make their lives more meaningful while contributing to a healthier, more just, and more humane world.

The irony was that I’d already written a post for today. It was a short piece with links to several newspaper articles, one of which was the Wall Street Journal’s recent excerpt of Amy Chua’s new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which elicited massive amounts of hate mail itself. I’d read that excerpt, and I, too, felt hostile toward Amy Chua. Now I know better than to judge Amy Chua by an excerpt. I pulled my blog post and wrote this instead.

It can be satisfying to vent our anger, especially from the safety of our computer keyboards, but it is damaging, not just to the recipients of our anger, but to all of us. When we fail to dig into information deeply and explore thoroughly, and when our discourse becomes crass and cruel, we close doors to understanding and learning.

I’ve learned from this experience to be ever more careful about my responses to what I read in the news, and to try, ever more diligently, to be kind.

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

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Empathy's Role in Education

Check out this TEDx talk by Sam Richards, a sociology professor and co-director of Race Relations at Penn State:





At the Institute for Humane Education, we identify four elements as key to providing quality humane education. They include:
  1. Providing accurate information about pressing issues and challenges of our time.
  2. Fostering the 3 Cs of curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking.
  3. Instilling the 3 Rs of reverence, respect, and responsibility.
  4. Offering positive choices and the tools for becoming a solutionary.

Note how masterfully Sam Richards, in just 19 minutes, manages to employ the first three elements, while leaving viewers pondering their choices and their roles in addressing some of the challenges we face. What I particularly appreciate, as a humane educator, is that the entire talk, entitled “A Radical Experiment in Empathy,” is aimed at evoking the compassion that can lead us toward critical and creative thinking and problem-solving for a better world.

This is such an important talk which everyone should see, and a incredibly useful tool for teachers exploring complex, challenging, and critical issues in classrooms.


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

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4 Resources for Teaching About Immigration

Mention immigration and immigrants in the U.S. and often there will quickly follow a host of passionate comments. Ask students their views, and too often they merely parrot what they've heard at home. Immigration is an important and complex issue that requires patient, in-depth discussion and exploration. Here are a few resources that can help.
~ 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.

At this school, students design their own curriculum (via TimesUnion) (1/24/11)

Does helping the planet hurt the poor? Not if the West makes sacrifices (commentary) (via Wall Street Journal) (1/22/11)

Study says confederate flag increases "racist attitudes" (via Alternet) (1/21/11)

Do dolphins have superpowers? (via Salon) (1/20/11)

Investigation shows catfish skinned, dismembered while alive & conscious (via Change.org Animals) (1/20/11)

India's informal economy (via NY Times) (1/19/11)

"Beware the water cowboys" (via Grist) (1/19/11)

"Making Holocaust remembrance matter" (via Jewish Daily Forward) (1/19/11)

"How change happens" (via Holistic Moms Network) (1/19/11)

Why students fall behind on history (via CNN) (1/18/11)

China bans animal circuses, some cruel practices (via The Guardian) (1/18/11)

Guns, mental illness & masculinity: lessons from Tucson (via Huffington Post) (1/17/11)


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

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Dr. Phil Zimbardo: Understanding Good and Evil

What is evil? Is everyone capable of evil? Are there just a few "bad apples" responsible for atrocities like the Holocaust? Abu Ghraib? The shooting in Tucson? Or do systems and circumstances have a strong influence in the perpetuating evil? What happens when good people are thrust into situations and systems that foster evil? These are the kinds of questions that Dr. Philip Zimbardo, professor emeritus of psychology at Stanford University, has been exploring for decades. Zimbardo has also been examining how our society can inspire and nurture more people to become heroes.

Most of us think that evil is something that only "bad" people do, and that there's a line that has to be crossed (and that most of us safely hang out on the "good" side of the line). But Zimbardo asserts that any of us can and have done evil and can cross back and forth over that line. He also insists that any of us is capable of great heroism.

Our friends at the Greater Good Science Center recently have featured Zimbardo's words and work into good and evil. Zimbardo's essay, "What Makes a Hero?" explores what heroism is, why people become heroic, and how we can foster that heroic action. They also feature videos of Zimbardo talking about "What Makes a Hero?" and "The Truth About Good and Evil".

Check out his brilliant but disturbing TED talk about good and evil:





If you're an educator, check out ideas for exploring good and evil with your students, using Zimbardo's book, The Lucifer Effect.

And, read the interview we did with Dr. Zimbardo about the power of education and challenges for the future.


The sooner we stop using the "bad apple" lens and realize that the evil in our world has much more to do with systems and situations, the sooner we can transform those systems and help nurture fewer "bad guys" and more heroes.


~ Marsha


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Reflections on Waiting for Superman: Pouring Knowledge Into Children's Brains ≠ Good Education

The movie, Waiting for Superman, finally came to rural Maine, and I so I finally got to see it. There is so much in it that is so important and so true. For example: It is a travesty that so many of our children are not learning the basics and are not verbally, mathematically or scientifically literate. It is a travesty that terrible teachers cannot be fired. It is a travesty that there are so many failing schools which are failing kids. It is a travesty that kids have to participate in a lottery to go to a good school.

Yet there was a moment during the film that I found so stunningly off the mark that I wondered if I was really watching a film meant to spearhead an educational revolution. In the scene, cartoon children in a classroom have their heads opened so that information can be poured in. To depict the problem the movie addresses, one child’s head is opened and the pitcher of knowledge is poured next to her, missing its mark. The message from the movie? How horrible that we have knowledge to pour into children’s brains and we are failing to do so.

Eight years ago, at a humane education symposium that we hosted at the Institute for Humane Education, a brilliant teacher, Matt Wildman, shared a cartoon depicting a child whose head is opened while information is poured in. To all of us, it was the opposite of good teaching. It still is. That Waiting for Superman implicitly suggests that this is the goal of schooling – to pour information into our children – is part of the problem. Will they get higher test scores? Probably. Will they learn the basics? Probably. But should this really be our goal for our children’s education? Absolutely not.

In my recently uploaded TEDx talk, I talk about what I believe the goal of schooling should be and the role of the basics in that higher purpose. I believe that in a world rife with injustices and looming catastrophes we need to provide children with the knowledge, tools, and motivation to be solutionaries and to use the basics of verbal, mathematical, and scientific literacy in service to a higher purpose of transforming unhealthy and unsustainable systems into ones that are humane and restorative.

Waiting for Superman certainly exposes some of the core problems with our educational system, but its implicit solution is ultimately a meager one. If all we do is more successfully pour information into our kids so they can pass standardized tests, this will still be a travesty. In a world plagued by complex challenges, our children need to be critical and creative thinkers whose educations have prepared them to employ “the basics” in service to innovation, brilliance, health, peace and joy.

Zoe Weil, President of the Institute for Humane Education
TEDx talk: "The World Becomes What You Teach"
Author of Most Good, Least Harm

Image courtesy of matt.janz via Creative Commons.

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Contemplating Compassion

Is kindness nature or nurture? Is it specific to humans? Why do some people go so far to help others? Is there such a thing as “pure altruism?” Can we change the world –- and ourselves –- through compassion? Marc Ian Barasch has traveled around the world, looking for the roots and depths of human compassion. In his book, Field Notes on the Compassionate Life, Barasch explores timeless and relevant questions, such as: Can we significantly increase our own potential for compassion? Can we forgive those who’ve harmed us? and What if the core tenet of all human society was “survival of the kindest”? Through the study of science, spirituality and our social connection, Barasch finds a path overflowing with love, kindness, forgiveness and empathy.

As a humane educator or parent, there are a variety of ways you could use this book and its concepts to spark discussion, exploration and practice of compassion. Here are a few ideas:

What is Compassion?
  • Have students discuss and explore: What is compassion? What is its purpose? What does it look like? Are there different kinds? What can help us be more compassionate?
  • The author infuses quotes from numerous world leaders and changemakers throughout the book. Use these quotes to spark discussion about compassion and compassionate choices.

Practicing Compassion:
  • Go to a public place and spend a certain amount of time people watching. Examine your judgments, evaluations and aversions about people. What experiences led you to have those reactions (media, lack of exposure, etc.)? Then find at least one positive quality about every one you see.
  • After some exploration of compassion, divide students up into small groups. Give each student an index card (or similar) and have them write one positive quality (internal, not physical) about each person in their group on a card (one quality/card per person). Then have them decorate their cards. Have them pass out their cards to the appropriate people in their group, who will then have a visual and artistic record of positive things others have said about them. Encourage students to do another index card for themselves.
  • After a discussion about compassion and jealousy, have participants think of someone or something they’re jealous of/about. Ask them to spend time each day appreciating that person and wishing them more success, joy, etc. Have them keep a journal for a period of time, recording their initial feelings about this person, and whether or not their feelings have changed over time, as they’ve spent time wishing that person well.
  • Develop a service project that requires students to rise above their comfort zone, whether it's helping people in need or volunteering at an animal shelter. This type of opportunity to develop one's compassion through action brings their learning from conceptual and reflective to real life experience!
  • Have participants practice some “What Would You Do?” scenarios focused around kindness, compassion and humane choices. IHE has created one activity on this topic:

What Would You Do? (pdf)
What would you do if….? Help students think deeply and critically about the quandaries between balancing personal desires with kindness toward others by engaging them in discussing personal and global scenarios.
Recommended for grades 3 through 8.
Time: 60 minutes

You can also create other examples, or have small groups create some, mix them up, and practice/discuss them as a full group (or in smaller groups).


How far can/should compassion extend?
  • In chapter 7, the author talks about people who have given kidneys to strangers. Share some of these (or similar) anecdotes, and lead a discussion with students about how far they might go to help someone else: a family member, friend, neighbor, stranger, etc.
  • In chapter 10, the author talks about people who have forgiven violent offenders who have committed atrocious acts against other people. Share some of these (or similar) anecdotes, and lead a discussion with students about how these people are able to forgive others who have done them such harm.
  • Discuss extending the circle of compassion to nonhumans (animals, the natural world). To what extent do we do that now? Where are the current boundaries and inconsistencies? How far and how deeply should we show compassion for nonhumans?
  • Have participants imagine that the earth is being visited by aliens. What would aliens notice about us humans and our compassion? This exploration could tie into two of IHE’s “aliens” activities:
Alien in the Ethical Universe (pdf)
Participants receive a visit from a traveling alien on a fact-finding mission to learn how beings treat other beings. The alien inspires students to consider the inconsistencies in how our society encourages us to treat others.
Recommended for grades 5 through 8.
Time: 20-45 minutes

and the first part of

The Aliens Have Landed: Exploring Oppression, Rights & Freedom (pdf)
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

Also check out this activity created by a group of our M.Ed. students:

Circle of Compassion (pdf)
What is compassion? Who and what are in our circles of compassion? This activity offers an exploration of compassion and uses "scenario" stations to inspire participants to think about who's in their circle of compassion and why, and what they can do to make a positive difference for those being oppressed.
Recommended for grades 4 and up.
Time: 60-90 minutes

~ Marsha

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Mark Your Calendar: 8th Annual AERO Conference: Transforming Education & Our World

If you want to get some seriously useful information and interaction with other educators passionate about democratic education and creating a better world through education, sign up now for the 8th annual AERO (Alternative Education Resource Organization) conference. We at the Institute for Humane Education are proud sponsors, and this year's theme focuses on "Transforming Education and Our World," two important and interconnected goals.

The conference is August 4-7 in Portland, Oregon, and it offers a terrific platform for exploring the best in schooling and the connection between education and nurturing a just, compassionate, healthy world.

In addition to sponsoring, IHE will be tabling and leading a workshop, and Khalif Williams, our former executive director, will be one of the keynote speakers.

AERO is also seeking proposals for workshops. (pdf)

This is one event you don't want to miss!

Find out more.

For more inspiration, grab a copy of AERO's book, Turning Points, which tells the stories of visionary educators (including IHE's President, Zoe Weil) in their own words. And check out former IHE executive director, Khalif William's terrific keynote talk from last year's AERO conference.

~ Marsha

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Part of Creating a Better World Means Putting Ourselves in the Way of New (& Often Painful) Information

by Mary Pat Champeau, IHE's Director of Education

One of the reasons my husband and I adopted a daughter from China rather than adopting a child in need of a home here in the USA was an awareness of what can happen to children in parts of Asia, especially girls, who do not have the protection of a family. There were other reasons for our decision, but we had both lived in Asia and had been shocked and saddened by the number of young children enslaved by the sex trade -- often used to attract sex tourism and treated as poorly as any human being on the planet could be treated. We figured that at least here in the USA there was a system in place (foster care) which was designed to help children without families, whereas, in many other countries around the world, no such system exists and children often fall prey to adults who exploit them in the worst possible ways. We knew of dramatic examples of this in Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam.

In the human rights course I teach, students are asked to visit a local organization that is working to end a human rights abuse. Although I was certainly aware of human trafficking, it wasn't until I read an essay written by one of my students that I fully grasped the devastating extent to which human trafficking, especially the trafficking of children, occurs here in the USA. He had visited an organization called OATH (Oregonians Against Trafficking Humans) and discovered the conditions in Portland, Oregon, that make it a good environment for trafficking. He had a link to a trailer of the film Playground, which I had watched once with my husband.

George (my husband) is a social worker and runs groups at a community mental health center for people who've committed sexual offenses against children and people with criminal histories that include violence. When we watched the film, I was still in a comfortable state of denial -- though he was not. He mentioned time and again how the signs of human trafficking are all around us, but we do not see them. He admitted that HE had not seen them either, until he began working in the community mental health center.

I read and re-read my student's essay and followed all the links. I made myself watch the Playground clip he included. I finally awakened and had the courage to begin looking into this issue for myself at a deeper level, with the commitment to put a big chunk of my volunteer energies into helping eradicate human trafficking in my area. It was easier to focus on other parts of the world for me, easier to believe that making a donation was the best I could do, or even adopting a child.

NO. We must learn before we can act, and the learning can be very difficult; but if our purpose is to cultivate meaningful lives and to change the world for the better, then what choice do we have but to keep putting ourselves in the way of new information?

Image courtesy of Ed Yourdon via Creative Commons.

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My TED Talk: The World Becomes What You Teach

I’m delighted to share my TEDxDirigo talk, The World Becomes What You Teach:




If you enjoy it and think it’s valuable, please share it with others so that together we can educate a generation of solutionaries. I welcome your comments as well.

Zoe Weil, President of the Institute for Humane Education
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Zeitoun and Humane Education

My son, a junior in high school, is taking a course entitled “Shared Voices,” an integrated class that brings together American History and American Literature, so that what students read for English is reflected in what they study in history. I love the whole idea of this course, as the separation of disciplines often leads students away from the integration that would make each subject even more relevant and meaningful. When I was buying my son’s texts for the semester, I was excited by the reading list and offered to read the books at the same time in case he wanted to talk about them outside of class.

The first book he was assigned was Dave Eggers', Zeitoun, the true story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian-American with a successful contracting and painting business in New Orleans. During Hurricane Katrina, Zeitoun chose to stay behind as the city’s populace, and his own family, evacuated. He did so not only out of stubbornness, but to protect the many properties they owned and were responsible for.

Zeitoun found himself feeling alive and purposeful as never before as he used his canoe to rescue people during the days following the flooding of the city and fed the dogs left behind in people’s homes. After a week of this heroism, Zeitoun and three others at his home were falsely arrested and brought to a newly erected jail at the Greyhound Bus Station. Zeitoun, not only completely innocent, but also the kind of man who should serve as a model of integrity, compassion, and honesty to us all, was abused and mistreated in ways that not only defy our core American values but our stated system of jurisprudence. The book serves as a wake up call to all those who assume our legal and punitive systems are relatively fail-safe and humane.

The book was captivating, enraging, inspiring, motivating, a profoundly important read, and a perfect example of humane education in action – bringing something deeply relevant and important into the study of history and English, igniting critical, and hopefully creative thinking, as the students grapple with the complexities of our modern society, government, religious freedom, incarceration and punishment, the military and legal systems and their potential breakdowns, intolerance and stereotypes, and most importantly, everyday heroism which lies at the core of this book in the character of Zeitoun.

As a newly published book there is no option for reading CliffsNotes, no likelihood that students will fail to engage with the text or the subject. Instead there are two teachers and a supportive high school who have crafted a course to awaken, inspire, enlighten, engage, and help make meaningful the critical study of both American literature and history. Every American should read this book. I’m just so happy my son is reading it in school.

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of The Power and Promise of Humane Education, Most Good, Least Harm and Claude and Medea

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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.

Becoming more conscious consumers (via The Independent) (1/17/11)

New book highlights America's waste of food (via Mother Nature Network) (1/15/11)

American veterinarians update oath to include concern for "welfare" and "prevention of suffering" (via Change.org) (1/14/11)

"Teacher training, taught by students" (via NY Times) (1/14/11)

USDA proposes guidelines to make school lunches healthier (via AP) (1/12/11)

Unique animal law clinic gives students real life experience w/ animal law issues (via Oregonian) 1/11/11)

The world is "one poor harvest away from chaos" (via The Telegraph) (1/7/11)

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

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Our Top 10 Most Popular Humane Education Activities for 2010

Humane education activities and lesson plans are just one of the perks we provide in our Resource Center. We now have more than 75 humane education activities available for free download, and we add new ones often. Here are our 10 most downloaded activities as of the end of 2010:


  1. The World's Most Powerful Animal - Who’s the most dangerous AND the most powerful animal? We are! Lead students on an exploration of the positive and negative impacts our choices have on the planet. (grades 2-5)

  2. Don't Tread on Me - 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'. (grades 6 & up)

  3. Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged - How do our own stereotypes and judgments limit our openness and receptivity to others? This activity uses props (or photos) to explore our snap perceptions of others. (grades 4 & up)

  4. A Moment in Their 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. (grades 6 & up)

  5. Two Apples - In this icebreaker, participants learn just how important words and actions are when they explore their impact on two apples. (All ages)

  6. Whale's Stomach - Students learn about the impact of our "throwaway" society by exploring all the different kinds of trash found in a whale's stomach. (grades 4 & up)

  7. Analyzing Advertising - Students learn to be ad-savvy by exploring the pervasiveness of ads in their lives and by analyzing what ads are trying to sell…and trying to hide. (grades 5 & up)

  8. Human Rights for All? - This activity familiarizes students with the Universal Declaration for Human Rights and inspires them to think about the freedoms they enjoy that others cannot. (grades 9 and up)

  9. Word Power - Words have enormous power and often assign value. This activity explores sample words in context and what kinds of value those words imply. (grades 4 & up)

  10. Lottery Ticket - Use this quick icebreaker to show participants that everyone can make a positive difference! (All ages)


Image courtesy of tracitodd via Creative Commons.


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Phil Zimbardo's Secret Power of Time and What It Means for Our Kids

Take a look at this RSA Animate video of Phil Zimbardo’s The Secret Power of Time.






As I watched this, I wondered what it would take for all of us to have a healthy balance of past, present, and future orientation so that we would all be able to learn from and appreciate our pasts, live fully in our presents, and be cognizant of and choose wisely based upon the goals we have for the future. Personally, I do not think that it is all that wise for most people to live predominantly in one of these categories and neglect the others. While it’s commonplace today for busy, future-oriented people (like me I’d add) to strive to live “in the present,” I think the real goal for people like me ought to be to live more in the present, and to find that elusive balance that enables us to be fully engaged right now while able and willing to reflect upon the past and eager to live in such a way to create a positive and healthy future for ourselves and others.

When Phil Zimbardo discusses the ways in which our children are now digitally rewired and fundamentally different than their parents in relation to time, and points out the ways in which traditional schooling is a disaster for so many kids – boys in particular – one wonders what the solution might be to raise a generation that is balanced in regards to time in today’s world. There are many ideas that lead to this balance for our children: time spent in nature where wonder may be cultivated; unstructured play time; and limited screen time to allow for a leisurely present that leads to joy and creativity in the early years of life that is later balanced with lessons in history (past oriented) and exploration of current conflicts and problems (in the present) that elicit creative ideas for system-changes and solutions (for a healthy future).

I believe it’s time to abandon any judgments about which orientation is “best,” as the early part of Phil Zimbardo’s talk reveals is happening in Italy, and to do away with the idea that our goal should be to “live in the present” or “wisely plan for the future” or “focus on learning from the past.” We need all of these aspects of ourselves together to lead lives that are joyful and wise, and we need to raise a generation that has the capacity to find the healthiest balance, too.

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of The Power and Promise of Humane Education and Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life

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Ten OTHER Things Martin Luther King, Jr., Said

Ill Doctrine video blogger Jay Smooth shares inspiring words, from an inspiring hero:





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Make the World Your Classroom: Help Prepare Students for Their Futures - Sign Up for Our Online Course for Educators

Teachers are busy. They have dozens of students, meetings, testing, standards, grading, more meetings, and a whole slew of other challenges to contend with on a daily basis. So why should teachers, parents and concerned citizens want humane education to be an integral part of schooling? Because it's not enough to teach students to become verbally, mathematically, technologically & scientifically literate, so that they merely continue to perpetuate unhealthy, destructive, inhumane habits and systems.

We must educate a generation of solutionaries who collaborate, communicate, and think critically and creatively to solve the grave challenges of our world in a way that benefits all people, animals and the earth. As one young 12th grader said when she learned about humane education, "We should have been learning this since kindergarten!"

Our popular month-long online course, Teaching for a Positive Future (February 7-March 4), offer teachers and community educators a chance to help prepare students for their futures by giving educators the skills and strategies to inspire students to become leaders and changemakers for a healthy, humane, and sustainable world.

As high school teacher and IHE M.Ed. graduate, Christopher Greenslate, said:

"All lesson plans can be modified to incorporate humane education. This is because at its core, humane education uses the world as the classroom. This is why I am a humane educator. I see the study of the world and the challenges we face as the most important educational journey we can undertake. If we don’t modify our lessons, our teaching, and ultimately our schools to this end we will not be successful in making the world a more compassionate place. But we must start somewhere, and the only place to start (that I know of) is right where we're at, with what we have."

Through our students, we have seen humane education incorporated into math, social studies, history, art, biology, physics, language arts and literacy, foreign language, drama, architecture, veterinary medicine, law, civics and environmental science classes and more. There is a way in which using the world as the classroom, and the four elements of humane education as a framework, calls forth the leader within us. Many of us have already stepped fully into our leadership roles as educators, others perhaps not yet. If we believe in the power of education to create a just, equitable and sustainable world for people, all species and the environment, then we must assume the mantle of leadership. Every one of us can be a transformational leader. Without exception. And Teaching for a Positive Future can help you tap into the power of education and the empowerment of yourself and your students.

Register now.

Know someone who would benefit from Teaching for a Positive Future (a colleague, your child’s teacher, etc.)? Please let them know about the course. Point them here: http://humaneeducation.org/sections/view/teaching_for_a_positive_future

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What Would Motivate Our Kids?

In another great RSA Animate YouTube film, Daniel Pink shares what really motivates us. It’s not what we think. After watching this video, I wondered what schools might do with this information.




Currently, our schools use grades and privileges to both motivate and punish students. High grades and special privileges are supposed motivators, and poor grades and removal of privileges are punishments. But extrapolating from Daniel Pink’s research, one wonders whether the incentive of good grades, or the fear of bad grades, and the incentive of greater privileges and the fear of removal of privileges, are really the motivators that we assume. Probably not. Not only does the goal of achieving a high grade often lead to rote memorization (often forgotten) and cheating, it also separates what should be the real goal: learning, from the real reward: learning!

Most of us love learning, and as this video describes, people are willing to learn a musical instrument on their own time with no external reward in sight. They’re also willing to share their learning with others, again with no extrinsic reward. When learning becomes its own motivation and reward, we’re golden, and when we realize this simple fact and hire engaging teachers who love to learn and love to share their learning, and abandon our carrot and stick approach in schools, we may find that our students astonish us with their capacity to learn, produce new ideas, and go on to teach what they know to others.

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of The Power and Promise of Humane Education and Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life

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Coming Fall 2011: IHE's New M.Ed., M.A. and Graduate Certificate Programs

We at IHE are very excited to announce that in Fall 2011, not only will we resume our M.Ed. in Humane Education, but we'll also be offering an M.A., an M.Ed. in Instructional Leadership, with a concentration in Humane Education, and a graduate certificate in humane education -- the only programs of their kind in the U.S.

What have our students and graduates said about our M.Ed. in Humane Education? Here are a couple examples:


"What I love about the Master of Education in Humane Education is that it not only teaches human rights, environmental ethics, and animal protection as an interconnected discipline, but it also allows the student to learn how to successfully educate others about the most pressing issues of our time. When I remember to apply all four elements of humane education, I find that I am a much better communicator, and people tend to be more open to embracing new information and making positive choices." ~ Gina Diamond, M.Ed. graduate and founder of Green Diamond Consulting


"From the moment I enrolled in the affiliated M.Ed. program, I knew that humane education would be my life's work. The program motivated, inspired, and prepared me to run a full-time humane education organization that now reaches thousands of young people every year with a message of compassion. IHE's program has given me what some people spend a lifetime searching for." ~Dani Dennenberg, M.Ed. graduate and founder, Seeds for Change Humane Education


"Going into the program, I assumed my major insights would come from learning the issues. I did learn a lot about the issues, but my greatest and most unexpected insights came in learning about my own life. Through my studies at IHE, I realized I was unwittingly contributing to many of the problems I wanted to solve. As a result I began making different choices; ones that reflected the values I felt were important. The support I received from IHE staff and fellow students was crucial. They helped guide me as I sought to make better choices in my life; they helped me make sense of the issues; and, they showed me by example what it meant to try to live a humane life." ~ Bob Schwalb, M.Ed. graduate and humane educator for HEART (Humane Education Advocates Reaching Teachers)


"Being in the M.Ed program has been transformative. It has at times been a roller coaster ride, alternating between deep sadness at the enormity of suffering in so many places and elation that there are so many in the world working for a better life for us all. Most importantly, this program has continually challenged me to adopt and model behavior that helps rather than hurts, nourishes rather than depletes, and loves rather than destroys." ~ Lynne Westmoreland, M.Ed. student



To be put on a list to receive more information about the programs and an application when they're launched, please contact Amy Morley, Director of Operations: Amy@HumaneEducation.org


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IHE Welcomes New Executive Director, Sarah Speare

Sarah Speare became the new executive director of IHE because of a book. She had a conversation with her son about a book he was reading, and what she heard so intrigued her that she decided to learn more about the book and the organization behind it. The book was IHE President, Zoe Weil’s book Most Good, Least Harm. She checked out IHE’s website, saw the posting for an executive director, and now her path has brought her to IHE’s helm.

Sarah says, “I believe so strongly in the Institute for Humane Education’s approach to creating social change through education – inspiring people to become solutionaries and the important connection between human rights, animal protection, and environmental preservation.”

The entire IHE staff is excited to have Sarah join us. IHE’s co-founder and president, Zoe Weil, says, “We couldn’t have found a better person to take IHE to the next level of growth. Sarah has creative vision and significant experience in growing and building organizations. She also has a passion and deep interest in helping people to use their knowledge, creativity and leadership to create positive change in their lives, communities and the world.”

Sarah has been a consultant and board member to several non-profits, and she co-founded and ran her own consumer foods company for 10 years. Sarah served as the first director of the Portland Arts and Cultural Alliance (PACA), and for a decade was the executive director of the Society for Environmental Graphic Design (SEGD). A graduate of Tufts University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, with a certificate in Arts Management from Radcliffe College, she has been honored with a Fellow Award from the SEGD and won an Innovation Award from the Center for Design and Business in Rhode Island.

We asked Sarah to share a little about herself and her plans for IHE.


IHE: Sarah, what is your vision for IHE for the next several years?

SS:
I was hired to grow IHE and its programs and to help humane education become integral to how we learn and to how we create positive change. I am committed to these tasks and to IHE’s mission. Our core programs are strong, our faculty are outstanding, our co-founder and president Zoe Weil’s books, talks and workshops are seminal, and as the public face for the organization, she has already inspired a generation of humane educators and solutionaries.

As we enter into our 15th anniversary, my focus will be to increase participation in and awareness of IHE’s programs and resources. My marketing and entrepreneurial hats will be used to reach into new areas to find students and to encourage more partnerships, increase our donor participation, and to attract institutional grants to underwrite some of our programs so that, as one example, we can offer more scholarships. I will work to offer our online courses and workshops more frequently so that at any given time a person can engage with our profound and re-affirming programs (A Better World A Meaningful Life, Teaching for a Positive Future, and Raising a Humane Child) to get the tools they need to effect change. A large part of my time will be devoted to growing our M.Ed., M.A. and Graduate Certificate programs in Humane Education as we launch a new university affiliation and additional degrees. These online advanced degrees (with summer residencies in Maine) in Humane Education are our strongest mission builders. I will work closely with our affiliate to make sure we are attracting as many teachers, educators and engaged citizens to the programs as possible. I also plan to connect with and build community through our vast network of alumni and supporters – and harness their talents. Finally, I will be working to increase the awareness of the issues that bring people to know and care about humane education, by increasing Zoe Weil's and IHE’s impact and profile in the public realm and discourse around creating a better world.

I have long wanted to work more directly in education – in an innovative program with teachers that instill creativity, critical thinking, inquiry, reflection and action – and IHE embodies this approach. At IHE, education is the breeding ground for ideas and solutions. It is where people are empowered to believe in themselves and to know that they matter – and can make a difference. At IHE, education is a powerful tool for creating positive change in the world. If we, and others in this realm, do our job, then one day this is how all of education will be. I realize that all of this is a tall order, and know that it will take time and a plan to get there. But the vision is clear, the passion is flowing and the dedication from IHE’s staff, board and community abounds. I look forward to my new role and the journey ahead. Please call me directly with ideas, feedback and to introduce yourself!

IHE: Tell us a bit about your family and what you like to do for fun and fulfillment.

SS:
I live with my husband, Michael, and our very social Boxer, Hazel, in Falmouth, Maine. We have two sons, Nicholas, a documentary filmmaker and journalist, and Emmett, who is traveling and in college. In my free time I love to sing, do Kundalini yoga, capture the whimsy in nature through photos, and I delight in my vegetarian kitchen.

~ Marsha

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Ken Robinson's New Talk on Education Paradigms

Take a look at Ken Robinson’s new talk on education paradigms through RSA Animate:



Ken Robinson is so brilliant about identifying the systemic problems in education that perpetuate and escalate ennui, lack of creativity, and the failure of wisdom to take root (that Barry Schwartz discusses in his recent TED talk).

What are the solutions to these problems?

Here are five, and they comprise the bones of a new book I’m working on about how to solve all of our problems in education and the world through a new vision of schooling:
  1. Embrace a new purpose for schooling: to educate a generation of solutionaries. Create curricula, courses, overarching topics, structures, clubs, and teaching approaches with this purpose always in mind.
  2. Abandon No Child Left Behind in favor of creative, useful assessment strategies built upon a this new goal for schooling.
  3. Turn teaching into a high status, highly creative, well-paying, sought-after job; have students evaluate teachers and have teachers assessed by the new goal for schooling articulated above; replace poor teachers with the great ones who will be lining up for the opportunity to have such a meaningful, important, well-funded job.
  4. Restructure how schools are paid for and create real school choice for every family; public funding for schooling based on zip code is inconsistent with our core values. Providing equal and adequate funding for every child that can travel with the child to any school will provide opportunities for creative school approaches to flourish and a variety of teaching and learning styles to meet the needs of each child.
  5. Abandon grades and excessive homework; grades can become a holy grail for kids motivated to get into prestigious colleges, but they are often an end in themselves, encouraging rote memorization (quickly forgotten) and cheating; independent work is important, but can be folded into the school day rather than requiring round-the-clock work from kids, something we don’t expect from adults. Instead, find creative and effective assessments that include narrative and evaluation of projects that serve the new goal for schooling articulated above.
Stay tuned for more.

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of The Power and Promise of Humane Education and Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life

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Born to Be Good: The Morality of Babies

Psychologists, theologians and others have debated and speculated for hundreds (if not thousands) of years about our morality. Are we born bad? Are babies an empty slate waiting to have their moral code written for them? Is it purely nature? Nurture?

Through a great blog post on Ode by Jeremy Mercer I learned about the research into the morality of babies by psychologist Paul Bloom. Last year Bloom published an essay in the New York Times about his work. As Bloom notes:
"...a team of researchers watched a 1-year-old boy take justice into his own hands. The boy had just seen a puppet show in which one puppet played with a ball while interacting with two other puppets. The center puppet would slide the ball to the puppet on the right, who would pass it back. And the center puppet would slide the ball to the puppet on the left . . . who would run away with it. Then the two puppets on the ends were brought down from the stage and set before the toddler. Each was placed next to a pile of treats. At this point, the toddler was asked to take a treat away from one puppet. Like most children in this situation, the boy took it from the pile of the “naughty” one. But this punishment wasn’t enough — he then leaned over and smacked the puppet in the head."
Bloom and his colleagues have discovered through their research that babies have "certain moral foundations -- the capacity and willingness to judge the actions of others, some sense of justice, gut responses to altruism and nastiness." Certainly they don't have an advanced sense of morality, with all its depth and shades of grey, but it appears that babies are born knowing a basic sense of right and wrong.

Read Bloom's complete essay here.

I was glad to come across this essay, not because I’m surprised, but because I think it’s great to confirm more quantitatively what a lot of us – especially we who have dedicated ourselves to working for a humane world for all -- have deeply known for some time: that goodness and compassion are our default operating system. It’s up to us to help nurture in ourselves and each other those qualities that reflect the best of what it means to be human.

~ Marsha

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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.

"The greening of environmental ed" (via Harvard Education Letter) (Jan/Feb 2011)

Study shows link between family's income & child's cognitive development (via GOOD) (1/11/11)

Can 60 1st graders in one classroom learn better? (via NY Times) (1/10/11)

Report shows climate change effects could continue for 1000 years, even if we had zero emissions now (via Treehugger) (1/10/11)

Study: more police in schools means more tickets for students (via Dallas Morning News) (1/9/10)

Starbucks ignores customer demands for more fair trade coffee (via Change.org End Human Trafficking) (1/9/11)

Groups in LA struggle to meet needs of increasing population of homeless students (via LA Times) (1/8/11)

South Korea buries one million pigs alive (via Sky News) (1/7/11)

New Jersey anti-bullying bill of rights becomes law (via NJ Today) (1/6/11)

High poverty neighborhood in Brazil tackles peak oil (via Treehugger) (1/6/11)

Cause of mass animal deaths still undetermined (via Treehugger) (1/6/11)

Movement works to bring backchildren's play (via NY Times) (1/5/11)

"Princess boys & Star Wars girls" (via Chicago Now blog) (1/5/11)

Veganism becoming more mainstream (via Washington Post) (1/5/11)

"The state of Native America: Very unemployed & mostly ignored" (via Common Dreams) (1/4/11)

More business students turning to social enterprise programs (via MSNBC) (1/3/11)

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


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Finding Joy in Simplicity: Our Silver Anniversary

Last weekend some friends threw my husband and I a 25th wedding anniversary party. That’s a pretty big deal in many circles, and I’ve known folks who’ve spent quite a lot of money and used quite a lot of resources to celebrate their big day. We chose to do something different, and we’re really glad we did. We wanted our party to reflect our values of doing the most good and least harm for all, and to be fun and low-stress for everyone.

We organized our party into three sections, so that people could come and go as their time and interests allowed. We had: a vegan dessert potluck; a talent/no talent show; and contra dancing. About 40 people attended, and most of them brought some type of dessert, so we spent the first hour nibbling on scrumptious tidbits and talking. There was everything from donuts to cupcakes to polenta cake to truffles to whiskey-infused cider. No one’s taste buds went unsatisfied.

We weren’t sure how well the talent/no talent show would go over. We’ve done them before at our co-housing community, but many of the people there were friends from other connections. Would they find it weird? Intimidating? Nope. People sang, solved a Rubik’s cube, demonstrated origami and paper beadmaking, told jokes, and the finale was a partner acrobatic performance that wowed everyone. Everyone who performed had an enthusiastic and appreciative audience.

We finished up with some fun and simple contra dancing, which had everyone laughing and smiling.

My husband and I have simple tastes, so we weren’t sure what people would think. But, numerous people told us it was one of the best parties they’ve attended – that it was such a unique and fun way to celebrate and much better than having three unstructured hours to fill with sitting around or talking. There was no expensive dinner, no costly decorations or band. No waste of resources with gifts we couldn’t use (the gift was being surrounded by so many of our friends). We sent out invitations via email, so there was no paper waste there. There was minimal stress for us, since a small group of friends took care of providing drinks and setting up the room. And a small group stayed at the end to wash dishes and clean up, smiling and chatting and nibbling on leftovers the whole time.

It was an unforgettable night, full of joy and happy memories for us. And it reflected our values of simplicity, compassion, and sustainability.

We’re also choosing simplicity for our own celebration of our 25 years of wedded bliss. Instead of spending a lot of money and resources to go on a big trip, together we’ve created a list of 25 fun, creative and/or challenging things that we want to do sometime in 2011. We’ve put them on note cards and posted them on our closet wall, so that we can see them every day. Most are modest: going on certain hikes in beautiful places in Oregon we haven’t been yet, taking a class together, trying out new recipes. And some are more challenging: doing the annual Portland Bridge Pedal, being able to each do 75 push-ups (at one time) by the end of the year. These tasks allow us to strengthen our bond, to support each other, to improve ourselves, to walk our talk, and instead of a one-shot trip that’s over in a week, we’ll be building memories all year long.

~ Marsha

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Barry Schwartz on Practical Wisdom and How We Need This in Schools

I’m a big fan of Barry Schwartz, and his recent TED talk on our loss of wisdom just adds to my appreciation of him and his work. Take a look:




Many of the issues he addresses in his short talk – teaching to tests, imprisoning people for non-violent acts – are ones I’ve written about in my blog, and Schwartz’s talk dives to the crux of the problem: We are beholden to rules rather than wisdom, and in order to live moral lives we may need to bend rules while we also work toward changing unwise systems.

Systems analysis ought to be a primary subject in schools so that our students can become effective system-changers, developing solutions that transform both grossly unjust and simply unwise systems into ones that are healthy, restorative, humane and wise.

There are numerous systems within schools that are unwise – and Schwartz points out one in his talk that represents a true travesty of education: teaching and attending to only those kids who might pass standardized tests, while ignoring everyone else – and I can think of little else that would be more valuable to our children and our world than educating them in such a way that they have the critical and creative thinking skills to identify, assess, and transform those systems that harm both them and our world.

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of The Power and Promise of Humane Education and Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life

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Humane Educator's Toolbox: U.S. Food Desert Map

Many of us give little thought to how easy it is to hop in our cars and motor down to the grocery store for our food. Not everyone in the U.S. is fortunate enough to have convenient transportation, let alone access to fresh, healthy food at a reasonable cost. In 2009 the USDA released a study (pdf) showing that 2.3 million households (that's households, not individuals) don't have access to a car and live more than a mile from a supermarket. Many of these families have to get their food from more expensive convenience stores with less selection, lower quality and higher prices. Essentially, they live in food deserts.

A map from the study offers a visual reflection of the data from the report, with some counties having more than 10% of households fall into this food desert category.

You can view an interactive version of the map via Slate.

Food is such an integral and essential part of our lives that it's an important topic for discussion with students. Pair this report (and the map) with resources like the Food Environment Atlas, also from the USDA, and a report on food insecurity and food deserts in the Santa Clara County region of California, created by our friends at the Food Empowerment Project.

~ Marsha

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10 Strategies for Reducing Prejudice

I doubt there are many people in the world who would say, "Yay, we need more prejudice and discrimination!" But wanting to reduce prejudice is one thing; how do we actually do it? In a recent blog post from Greater Good, psychology professor Rodolfo Mendoza Denton lists his Top 10 Strategies for Reducing Prejudice. They include:

10. Travel somewhere that challenges your worldview.

9. Take a course on prejudice.

8. If you value egalitarianism, recognize that unconscious bias is no more "the real you" than your conscious values.

7. Laugh a little.

6. Find your shared identity with "others."

5. Do you part to save the planet (and find ways to face challenges collectively).

4. Health & security with ourselves leads to more tolerance of others.

3. Acknowledge differences.

2. Remember that people are really bad mind-readers.

1. Make a cross-race friend.

Read the complete post.

If you want to understand more about prejudices (including your own), check out the great resource Understanding Prejudice, created by psychology professor, Scott Plous (who's also on IHE's board of advisors).

If you're an educator, also be sure to explore our humane education activities about prejudices and discrimination to use with your students.

~ Marsha

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