Framing Our Food: Companies Are Stealth Shrinking Our Food Packaging & Calling It Good for Us

Because I wrote a post recently about framing, I think it was on my mind, so when I came across this article yesterday from the New York Times about how companies are shrinking the sizes of product packages (so that they can raise prices without actually raising prices), several of the examples popped out at me as great (but unfortunate) illustrations of framing.

Here's the context: food prices are increasing, so instead of raising prices of packaged foods (citizens don't respond well to raising prices), companies have, as the article says, "tried to camouflage price increases by selling their products in tiny and tinier packages." And people have started to notice...and get a little cranky about it. This strategy isn't new. But the way that companies are framing these changes, in order to counteract and preempt consumer backlash, is becoming increasingly creative. As the article says, "...this time, the smaller versions are 'greener' (packages good for the environment) or more 'portable' (little carry bags for the takeout lifestyle) or 'healthier' (fewer calories)."

Here are a couple of prime examples:
  • Kraft is introducing "Fresh Stacks" packages for a couple of its cracker products. The packages have "about 15 percent fewer crackers than the standard boxes," for the same price. What's the benefit of this new packaging? "Kraft says that because the Fresh Stacks include more sleeves of crackers, they are more portable and 'the packaging format offers the benefit of added freshness,' said Basil T. Maglaris, a Kraft spokesman, in an e-mail." (I love the use of "packaging format.")

  • Certain bags of chips now hold 20 percent fewer chips than they did in 2009. The reason, according to a company spokesman? "...those extra chips were just a 'limited time' offer."

  • Proctor & Gamble has expanded its "Future Friendly" products, "which it promotes as using at least 15% less energy, water or packaging than the standard ones." (But, of course, that's in large part because the product is smaller.)

I don't think many will dispute the logic that, if food prices increase, so will prices for packaged foods. But there's something many people consider dishonest in maintaining the shelf price while shrinking the packaging and framing it as something other than a price increase. It's clever, but unkind.

Framing is an important social construction to learn and understand, so that we're aware of how issues and opinions (and products) are being framed for us -- and so that we can use honest and accurate framing ourselves. It's also a great topic for exploring with students, to improve their media literacy and critical thinking skills.

~ Marsha

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What the School Reform Debate Misses About Teachers

For my post today, I’m sharing an excellent op-ed by former New York chancellor, Joel Klein. While I don’t always agree with Klein, in this case, I believe that he’s hitting the crux of the issue regarding teachers, and that we need to stop choosing sides and ensure that our children get great teachers and that great teachers are properly compensated for their crucial work. Here's a short excerpt:
"The problem is that our discussion too often fails to distinguish between these very different types of teachers, treating them all the same. This 'group-think' not only pollutes the current public debate - either you're for or against teachers - it is also killing our opportunity to fix our schools. Any reform worth its name must start by recognizing that teachers are our most important educational asset. That's why we need to treat teaching as a profession, by supporting excellence, striving for constant improvement and ridding the system of poor performers."

Read the complete op-ed.

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

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Spring at IHE: Bursting with Opportunities to Help You Create a Better World

It may be cliché to say that spring brings thoughts of renewal and new beginnings, but there's nothing cliché about taking advantage of all that revitalizing energy to renew your passion and commitment for working toward a just, compassionate, healthy world for all. Whether you want help and support to tweak your life's journey, or you want to embark on a new career path, we have wonderful opportunities for you.

Educating for a Better World Summer Institute

Spend an amazing and valuable week this summer (June 27-July 1) learning to incorporate the critical and creative exploration of pressing global issues into your teaching, while enjoying the beautiful coast of Maine.

Our Educating for a Better World Summer Institute will rejuvenate you and your teaching, and you'll gain skills and strategies for helping provide your students with the knowledge, tools, and motivation required to create healthy, peaceful, and sustainable lives for themselves, other people, all species and the earth.

Find out more about our Summer Institute.


Graduate Programs in Humane Education


IHE's new and expanded graduate programs provide in-depth training in comprehensive humane education, helping educators, activists and others gain the skills and strategies to teach others about the interconnected issues of human rights, environmental preservation, animal protection, and media, culture & consumerism, and to empower them to become solutionaries for a better world. The programs include a Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Humane Education; a Master of Arts (M.A.) in Humane Education; an M.Ed. in Instructional Leadership, with a Concentration in Humane Education; an M.A. in Liberal Studies, with a Concentration in Humane Education; and a credit-bearing Graduate Certificate in Humane Education (which can be either stand-alone or added to an existing degree).

Find out more about our Graduate Programs.

Help spread the word about our graduate programs. Download & share a copy of our press release.


Online Courses


Our online courses offer powerful, transformative learning for educators, activists and concerned citizens seeking the tools, knowledge and motivation to align their actions with their deepest values and to become more effective leaders in creating a just, compassionate, healthy world for all.

IHE's online format allows our classes to be innovative and interactive in the use of communications technology, enables people across the globe to participate, keeps our programs affordable, provides a flexible learning environment, and quickly builds a powerful, cohesive community of learners

Find out more about our Online Courses.

~ Marsha

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Do You Know When You've Been "Framed"?

I first became mindful about the concept of framing when I read the book Don't Think of an Elephant by George Lakoff. Since then, I've become much more aware of word choices, imagery, what kind of information is shared and how, and what kind is left out, and so on. The way issues or opinions or information is framed can have a very strong influence on our perceptions.

Recently I was browsing my email when I came across a great example that illustrates the power of framing. In an e-news from YES!, one of my favorite magazines, I was immediately struck by the way they had framed a "point-counterpoint" issue about whether or not we should eat animals. I don't know whether the framing was intentional or not, but as someone who has a strong opinion about the issue of eating animals, it really stood out to me. As you can see in the image above, there are side-by-side teasers for two stories (one an interview, one an essay) about the issue of eating animals. Here are a few things that I observed from what you can see in the image above:
  1. In the magazine itself (I'm a subscriber) and in the online versions, the two stories take up about the same amount of space. However, in the e-news, the "pro-eating animals" teaser comes first and is given more width space. The "pro-vegan" teaser is squeezed to the side.
  2. The title of the pro-eating animals article offers a positive feeling (including the word "respect" in the subtitle, for example), while the pro-veg headline lays out an unequivocally negative statement.
  3. The pro-eating animals teaser includes a professional photo and an image of a two-page spread, while the pro-veg teaser displays an odd, somewhat comical, and perhaps, to some people, even offensive (a nude woman) and distasteful illustration.
  4. The longer summary of the pro-eating animals story includes appealing words like "healing" and animals as "co-laborers and "dance partners" and ends with a link, all in caps and bold red that includes the word "exclusive." Exclusive is one of those words that's always meant to entice. The pro-veg teaser gives the author of the article two sentences, and the only link is the title itself, which doesn't become apparent until you mouse over it.
My goal here isn't to pick on YES! (as I said before, it's one of my favorite magazines, and I respect a lot of what they do), nor is it to stir up debate about the issue of eating animals. This excerpt from the e-news is a terrific example of how our world (and thus our perceptions) are framed for us by others. When we use words like "collateral damage" instead of talking about civilian deaths; or when yet another action movie has a white guy as the hero, with the side-kick-of-color who serves as the comic relief, and a beautiful woman who needs to be saved; or when we paint challenging issues as either/or -- these are all types of framing that influence our thoughts, our opinions, and our decisions. Becoming more aware of framing can help us regain power over those thoughts, opinions, and decisions and ensure that they're ones that reflect our values.

~ 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.

Will new conflict minerals regulations really make a difference? (via Treehugger) (3/29/11)

U.S. "increasingly left behind" in clean energy investments (via Bloomberg) (3/29/11)

Room for debate: "How to raise the status of teachers" (via NY Times) (3/28/11)

European Commission proposes banning gas fueled vehicles by 2050 (via Treehugger) (3/28/11)

"The battle for biodiversity: Monsanto and farmers clash" (via The Atlantic) (3/28/11)

President Obama calls for less emphasis on standardized tests (via AP) (3/28/11)

Philadelphia schools struggle to help students eat healthier (via NY Times) (3/28/11)

The corporate tax controversy (via NY Times) (3/24/11)

Summit shows U.S. education policy opposite that of highest-achieving countries (commentary) (via Washington Post) (3/23/11)

Another Gulf oil spill (via Huffington Post) (3/23/11)

"Food: Six things to feel good about" (commentary) (via NY Times) (3/22/11)

Some parents opting-out of standardized tests for their kids (via CNN) (3/21/11)

"The tire iron and the tamale" (via NY Times) (commentary) (3/4/11)


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Changing a Culture

Our friend and colleague, Matt Langdon, founder of The Hero Construction Company, kindly gave us permission to reprint his essay, Changing a Culture. Matt's company helps teach kids about the heroes within them and how to help their heroic selves thrive.
This year, it has really hit home that I've become part of the culture at a few of the schools I visit. When I walk in, staff welcome me, kids whisper to each other, "there's the hero guy", and some brave kids even say hi. I've enjoyed that feeling of belonging, but it wasn't until this last month that I realized it was much bigger than that. As I've become part of the culture, I've also become responsible for it. I don't mean that I have some all-powerful magic wand, rather that I now have the same responsibility that every member of that community does. When I started the Hero Construction Company, I expected I would be coming in and out of single teacher's classrooms, but the reality is that I've now spoken to every kid between the age of 10 and 16 in some towns. I didn't plan to have an investment in each community, but I have.

The cool thing about the schools that I've aligned myself with is that they all understand that to change any negative aspects of the school, they have to change the culture. Name-calling will not stop because three assemblies talked about it. Fist fights in the bathrooms won't stop because there's a no tolerance policy in place.

If we attack the negative, we can't be successful. Instead, we have to promote the positive.

That's what all of "my" schools are doing. Their leadership teams are playing the long game. Yes, they're getting the hero guy in (and I think I'm contributing), but more importantly they're spending every day looking for ways to increase the feelings of respect, caring, and citizenship in their students - AND THEIR STAFF. The principals, vice principals, counselors, and teachers that I speak with in these schools are taking small steps toward a stronger, more positive culture in their schools. It's the only way to make change.

If you're ready for a smile and perhaps some inspiration, check out this video. These teachers know their kids need to see them as human beings who are helping them be successful in the world:




What are you doing in your school to improve the culture?
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Want Better Schools? Exalt Great Teachers

For my blog post today, I’m sharing an essay I wrote that was published on Common Dreams.org, a progressive news site. Here’s a short excerpt:

"We all have our stories of bad teachers. Most of us have memories of being bored, frustrated, anxious, and often miserable at school. We love our great teachers, and we remember them fondly and with gratitude, but for too many of us, they are too few in number to offset the bad and mediocre ones. Thus, teachers as a whole are commonly vilified, and the field of teaching is often perceived as a 'semi-profession.' The incompetent teachers really do have seemingly cushy jobs where they work little and get paid far more than they’re worth. And the great ones are often perceived as heroes and saints, but not as the standard toward which we should aim, nor as professionals worthy of six figure salaries. And thus we perpetuate the cycle of mediocrity.

It is obvious that we cannot have great schools without great teachers, but what is less obvious is that we will be hard-pressed to build a preponderance of great teachers while we are demeaning the profession in the public sphere; diminishing the status of teachers, and paying them salaries that are not competitive with those of other professionals. This is why I believe that we must transform our discourse on teaching. We should exalt the profession."

Read the complete essay.

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"

Image courtesy of kitty.eden via Creative Commons.

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Rethinking Schools: Considering Coal & the Climate Crisis

As the editors say in the latest issue of Rethinking Schools magazine:
"Educators need to begin to treat the climate crisis with the urgency it deserves as arguably the most significant threat to life on earth....Educators across the curriculum need to collaborate to develop students as the scientist-activists they need to be. And despite the looming risks to the planet—or perhaps because of these—this can be exciting and joyful academic work....The fight for a climate-relevant education is part of the broader fight for a critical, humane, challenging, and socially responsive curriculum. It’s work that belongs to us all."
And this issue of Rethinking Schools offers a thoughtful, creative, and engaging example of bringing important issues that affect climate change into classrooms. Educator Bill Bigelow outlines a unit he team taught for high school students about a topic not often considered in our classrooms: coal. The lesson juxtaposes what students learn in playing and analyzing a game created by the coal industry to teach elementary students about coal mining (using chocolate chip cookies), with the realities of the impacts of coal mining and mountaintop removal on people and the planet. The students are asked to think deeply and critically about a broad spectrum of issues and aren't given easy answers or solutions. It's a great unit that includes several of the elements of humane education, including offering accurate information, inspiring curiosity & critical thinking, and offering positive solutions. There are also a few suggested resources (films and websites) that educators might find useful for exploring these issues.

Find more articles from the latest issue here.

~ Marsha

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Paying Teachers $125K for Excellence

In this 60 Minutes episode, “Charter School’s $125,000 Experiment,” Katie Couric reports on a New York City charter school experimenting with high salaries to attract great teachers, none of whom are provided the safety net of tenure.

What do you think?


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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What's Your Ecological Footprint?

Ecological footprint screenshotBy now you've probably come across any number of footprint calculators and quizzes, from water to carbon to your foodprint. But the progenitor of them all is the Ecological Footprint Quiz. This quiz - which has been recently updated to be more accurate and comprehensive -- calculates how many planets would be needed "if everyone lived like you," based on your responses to questions about housing, food, energy, transportation, and other choices. The quiz is a great springboard for assessing your own impact, and for discussing the impact of our individual and collective choices on people, animals and the planet. Several of our online courses require taking this quiz.

IHE also offers an activity for grades 6 and up called Leave Only Footprints, (pdf) which uses paper footprints and adaptations of the original Ecological Footprint quiz questions to simulate our impact on the planet and spark discussion.

~ Marsha

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Friends & Enemies: Picture Books About War and Peace

Book Cover: Paulie PastramiMarch marks the 8th anniversary of the war in Iraq. Some children have known war their entire lives. As journalist and peace teacher, Colman McCarthy says, “Why are we violent, but not illiterate? Because we are taught to read.” We teach children science, math and competition, but not peace. We offer them lessons on good character and anti-bullying, but often don’t model those traits ourselves. If we truly want a peaceful world, then it’s important that we actively work toward one; that includes involving our youth in exploring issues of war and peace in thoughtful, age-appropriate ways. Here are a few suggested picture book titles to help humane educators, parents and concerned citizens begin those essential conversations.

Book Cover: Playing WarPlaying War by Kathy Beckwith. 2005. (32 pgs) Gr. 2-5.
War is a favorite game with Luke and his friends, but when Sameer doesn’t want to play, the kids learn about his real-life experiences with war.
Empathy. Games. Play. War.



Book Cover: The WallThe Wall by Eve Bunting. 1990. (32 pgs) Gr. 1-4.
A boy and his father visit the Vietnam War Memorial to find his grandfather’s name on the wall.
Memorials. Vietnam War.


Book Cover: The EnemyThe Enemy: A Book About Peace by Davide Cali & Serge Bloch. 2009. (40 pgs) Gr. 2-6.
After watching an enemy for a long time throughout a long war, a soldier finally sneaks into his enemy’s hole and is surprised by what he finds.
Enemies. Peace. Soldiers. War.


Book Cover: The Peace BookThe Peace Book by Todd Parr. 2004. (32 pgs) Gr. K-2.
Shares many ideas for what peace is.
Peace.


Book Cover: World War WonWorld War Won by Dav Pilkey. 1987. (29 pgs) Gr. 2-6.
Two kings race to build the biggest stockpile of weapons, until a strong wind threatens to topple the piles.
Arms race. Conflict. War.
Read the entire book online here.


Book Cover: Paulie PastramiPaulie Pastrami Achieves World Peace by James Proimos. 2009. (40 pgs) Gr. K-5.
Paulie plans to achieve world peace before he turns eight!
Conduct of life. Kindness. Peace.


Book Cover: Silent MusicSilent Music: A Story of Baghdad by James Rumford. 2008. (32 pgs) Gr. 2-6.
A young boy uses his calligraphy to help him cope with the war outside.
Art. Calligraphy. Iraq. War.


Book Cover: The Butter Battle BookThe Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss. 1984. (56 pgs) Gr. 1-5.
The Yooks & Zooks battle over which way is the “right” one for eating buttered bread, with the feud escalating to the possible annihilation of both communities.
Arms race. Conflict. War.



Book Cover: The WarThe War by Anais Vaugelade. 2007. (32 pgs) Gr. 3-6.
An anti-war allegory in which two kingdoms are locked in endless war, until one prince uses a trick to end the war without using violence.
Conflict resolution. War.


Book Cover: The Librarian of BasraThe Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter. 2005. (32 pgs) Gr. 2-6.
When war comes, the chief librarian does all she can to help save the library collection, which contains the history & culture of her country.
Courage. Conflict. Iraq. Libraries. War.



~ Marsha

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No Independent Thought or Discussion Allowed in AP Class!

A friend’s daughter is taking Advanced Placement (AP) World History. During class she and another student got into an engaged discussion about a topic they were studying that both had passionate feelings about and which both were prepared to discuss respectfully and knowledgeably. One had made a statement with which the other had disagreed and so voiced her opinion. The other was eager to take her on, his eyes lighting up with enthusiasm. But rather than allow the discussion to unfold and engage the rest of the class, the teacher responded by saying, “Whoa you two, okay. That’s enough of that.”

AP classes are meant to be the equivalent of college courses. Has it really come to this that there are teachers, especially at this supposed high level of learning, who will not permit their students to voice their opinions, engage in discussion, or even be permitted to think and speak in class about the very topics they are studying?

The dangers we face in the world stem from a combination of our lack of critical and creative thinking, along with our propensity for myopia and our deadening of our own compassion. The systems in place that perpetuate injustice, destruction, and cruelty cannot be shifted or changed if we are unable to assess them; yet schools have been relentlessly moving away from critical and creative thinking as they have focused more and more on covering material on which students will be tested.

It’s time to devise solid and meaningful assessments for critical and creative thinking, reasoning, and innovation. That is what our world needs from our graduates. And if we elevate these skills and develop good ways to chart our progress in conveying them, perhaps our children will finally be invited, encouraged, and made to think.

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"

Image courtesy of Scott Ogle via Creative Commons.

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MOGO Heroes: Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen: Protecting Rainforests & Orangutans

It takes a lot of courage, conviction, and creativity to influence corporations and change systems, and Girl Scouts Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen have plenty of each. When their research project about orangutans led them to discover the link between palm oil and the destruction of the rainforest and extermination of orangutans and other animals, they were shocked. But when they discovered that palm oil is an ingredient in Girl Scout cookies, they decided to take action.

Both young women have been lobbying Girl Scouts USA for years to switch to a more planet- and animal-friendly alternative. When their efforts to educate and influence didn't bring about the change they wanted, they began networking and finding ways to expand their influence. Now they've partnered with the Rainforest Action Network. And, although their work has encouraged Kellogg's to announce that the company will be purchasing "greener" palm oil, the girls are determined to convince Girl Scouts USA and larger stakeholders in the palm oil industry to change their ways.

Grist blogger Glenn Hurowitz recently wrote about Madison and Rhiannon. Read his post.

You can also hear a recent interview with them on Public Radio International.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of davidandbecky via Creative Commons.

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Humane Issues in the News...

Each week we post links to news about humane education & humane living, and items connected to humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media, consumerism and culture.

"Parents face challenges in keeping kids from violent video games" (via Tampa Bay Online) (3/22/11)

Helping students develop self-directed learning projects (via NY Times) (3/21/11)

"Separate and unequal" still common in our schools (opinion) (via NY Times) (3/21/11)

"Quinoa's global success creates quandary at home" (via NYTimes) (3/20/11)

Study shows urbanization means fewer native species, more invasive ones (via Science Daily) (3/18/11)

Poll: Majority of Americans now support legalizing gay marriage (via NPR) (3/18/11)

Rising food prices mean increase in poverty, hunger worldwide (via Huffington Post) (3/18/11)

Research shows adult monkeys recognize friends, family in photos (via BBC) (3/17/11)

"Meet the doll that teaches your daughter to pluck and shave" (via Globe and Mail) (3/17/11)

"Why preschool shouldn't be like school" (via Slate) (3/16/11)


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How Much Food Will a Dollar Buy?

You may remember that teacher and IHE M.Ed. graduate, Christopher Greenslate, and his partner, teacher Kerri Leonard, wrote a book that stemmed from their experiment living on a dollar a day (the amount more than a billion people in the world have to find a way to live on). With food prices continuing to rise, food insecurity is increasingly of concern for more people around the world, and discussions about food, the impact of our food choices, and issues of food policy always make great topics for students to explore.

Recently I came across a post from our friends at the Center for Ecoliteracy(CEL) highlighting a project of photographer Jonathan Blaustein, which focuses on The Value of a Dollar. Blaustein, who lives in northern New Mexico, photographed examples available in his area of a dollar's worth of food, from potted meat, to organic blueberries to a cheeseburger from a fast food restaurant, to rice. Blaustein's project raised a number of questions for him, such as:
  • How much food will a dollar buy?
  • How much of it is healthy?
  • How much of it should even be considered food?
  • How can a cheeseburger and a double cheeseburger cost the same?
  • Why is processed food so much cheaper than fresh food?
  • Why are organic blueberries from Chile cheaper than organic blueberries from the U.S.?
As CEL blogger, Karen Brown, mentions, "These questions open into larger issues that influence the availability and quality of food, including government subsidies, global trade, 'cheap' energy, and workers’ rights." There are also the larger issues of the impact of these food choices (and of food policy and systems) on animals and the environment.

Additionally, students could delve into issues surrounding the types of foods Blaustein chose to (and not to) photograph. He mentions in a New York Times article that part of his criteria was to show "how interconnected global commerce can be," which probably reflects why items like escargot and fenugreek seeds are two of his choices. However, there are other types of foods, such as oatmeal, dried beans, and certain types of fruit that would allow much larger servings for a dollar than say, the organic blueberries, or the pork floss. So, for example, how might the foods he photographed influence the lens through which we view the way we think about food?

We at IHE have often said that the exploration of our complicated food systems and policies could serve as a Ph.D. dissertation. There's so much to investigate that encompasses so many subjects. Balustein's images are a useful resource to add to the mix.

~ Marsha

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Mark Bittman: "Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others"

I so appreciated Mark Bittman's March 15 opinion piece in the New York Times, "Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others." Our hypocrisy surrounding the treatment of animals is stunning, and Bittman’s essay makes the point powerfully as he recounts the ASPCA’s arrest of a teenage girl for killing her sister’s hamster (a felony) while the routine killing (following nothing short of torture) of billions of other animals in our society is not only legal but ubiquitous.

Bittman’s essay describes the sort of unreflective and hypocritical (as opposed to critical) thinking that prevents us from creating a society that is just and humane and healthy, and I would love to see this essay read in high school classrooms, followed by class projects that uncover various inconsistencies within their own schools and our society that require investigation and, hopefully, rectification.

Imagine what would happen if our students became these sorts of critical and creative thinkers.

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

Image courtesy of meddygarnet via Creative Commons.

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Resources for Teaching About What's Happening in Japan, Wisconsin & Beyond

As we've mentioned before, as humane educators in the classroom, exploring current issues in age-appropriate ways with students is essential. Although the bombing of Libya has taken center stage in the news, the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan, and the uprisings here in the U.S. to support collective bargaining are still at the forefront in the minds of many. If you'd like to explore these issues with your students, here are a couple of helpful resources.

The most useful resource available so far regarding the events in Japan is the New York Times' collection of resources and teaching ideas. Although most are based on Times' content, there are plenty of comments from educators about how they're addressing the issue.

Our friends at Rethinking Schools have published a page with resources and ideas for teaching about labor issues and the events in Wisconsin. The page includes suggested books, songs, films, blog posts and essays, and teaching ideas. As Rethinking Schools says, the current uprising in Wisconsin and other states "presents a powerful opportunity to teach students about what the protests are about and why their teachers and neighbors are joining the struggle. It's an opportunity to critically examine issues, and to model for students responsible civic action and engagement in the political process."

It's also worth browsing the comments of their post to note additional issues and ideas for exploration and engaging discussion and critical thinking.

Exploring these issues can also be as basic as making a list of what questions, concerns, and assumptions students have, and then investigating the items on the list using accurate information, critical thinking, and an eye toward positive solutions.

And, especially when dealing with younger students, it's important to focus on when and how to explore challenging issues. As Amy Jussel says in a great post at her Shaping Youth blog, "there comes a time when common sense and age-appropriate filters need to gauge over-exposure to the insta-loop replays and daily deluge of graphic videos of wailing loss, floating cars and crying kids." Sharing too much too soon in age-inappropriate ways can be really traumatizing, as our own Director of Education, Mary Pat Champeau, recently discussed.

~ Marsha

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Reflections on Japan and Our Lives

When I awoke on March 12 and heard the news on the radio of the earthquake and ensuing tsunami in Northeastern Japan the previous day, I quickly rushed to my computer. I have found myself barely able to tear away from the YouTube videos of the tsunami wiping out villages, the photos, the reports, the stories, the Japanese live streaming news on their NHK English channel, and the many news sources reporting on the aftermath, from the terrifying situation with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to the displaced people to the economic ramifications, to the activists groups trying to help both people and animals in Japan. Each day I’ve thought to myself, How come I’m not blogging about this? And each day I’ve come up against the truth: I’m at a loss for what to write.

I have no suggestions; I have nothing of value to add. There is no link of relevance, at least not at this moment of crisis, to humane education and MOGO (most good) living, the subjects for which I advocate in our blog. I cannot recommend one particular aid source over another. I have no words to serve as a balm. Yet I feel compelled to write something, because to ignore this tragedy in the pages of our blog feels all wrong.

The Internet provides us with a new opportunity: to know about our extended family of fellow inhabitants of this beautiful planet; but what do we do with this knowledge? How do we do more than “know”? How do we do more than grieve? Certainly we can send money, which the Japanese people need, but what else? And even as Japan suffers, I’m aware that every day at least as many people die from poverty or preventable diseases as died in the tsunami, and many, many more are living desperate and horrifying lives as slaves or political prisoners or simply as women in the many places where misogyny is a way of life. Billions of animals are enduring nothing short of torture in our modern farms and through our various industries.

The plight of all these people and animals is as mundane as the rising sun in today’s world, and consequently, it doesn't preoccupy most of us as this tragedy in Japan rightly does at this moment in time. But shouldn’t they all have their place in our hearts and minds? And if they should, then how? How do we carry such suffering, and what good can we then do with such knowledge? It is simply impossible to hold it all: the suffering in Japan at this moment, along with with the relentless daily suffering of so many, every day. We were not built to know this much, and yet our technology now enables it; and I believe that we mustn’t turn away.

And so, while I have no words of wisdom, I will make this plea: Along with the good things we do for our family and friends, can we each seek to do one thing each day to help another whom we do not know? Can each of us strive toward one small act of heroism – putting another before ourselves and perhaps at risk to ourselves – at least once each year? And can we each choose a goal, worthy of the gift of our life, toward which we will work in our lifetime to make this world better?

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm

Image courtesy Eastop.

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Humane Education in Action: HEART

One of our friends and partners in pioneering comprehensive humane education is the organization HEART (Humane Education Advocates Reaching Teachers). They offer humane education programs in schools (and after-school programs), and do teacher training and consulting in the New York City and Chicago areas. We're proud that several of our M.Ed. graduates now work for HEART, and our co-founder and president, Zoe Weil, is on their board.

HEART recently released a short video (under 4 mins.) about their work. You can see it here:



My favorite part is at the end. A student stands up and talks about how what she's learned from the presentations has changed her life; and, when a teacher asks the students how many of them are interested in pursuing careers that will help protect the environment, animals and people, most of the students raise their hands high.

A great example of the power of humane education to change lives, and the world.

~ Marsha

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"Love One Another" Includes Us

When I was growing up, one of the biblical tenets I was taught was "Love your neighbor as yourself." As my horizons have expanded, I've seen that same philosophy reflected in other religions. I read a quote in a book on Buddhist philosophy once that basically said “To truly love, you must love everyone.”

When we come across these tenets, we think, rightly, about our need and responsibility to love others, regardless of their geographic location, ethnicity, beliefs, species, etc. But what we often neglect is to have love for ourselves. At IHE, one of our online course assignments asks students to share their best qualities. The vast majority of students really struggle with doing this activity. Our culture doesn't encourage us to love ourselves (after all, those ubiquitous advertisements are constantly telling us all the ways we're lacking).

I, like many people -- and I wonder if this is true for a lot of humane educators, activists, and concerned citizens -- struggle with the self-love part. But, I've noticed that I still also sometimes struggle with the loving others part. And something I read the other day connected the two for me.

In the book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, by Karen Armstrong, the author speaks of an important lesson she learned from Rabbi Albert Friedlander. She says, "Albert taught me that if you cannot love yourself, you cannot love other people either." (emphasis mine) She goes on to tell this story:
"[Albert] had grown up in Nazi Germany, and as a child was bewildered and distressed by the vicious anti-Semitic propaganda that assailed him on all sides. One night, when he was about eight years old, he deliberately lay awake and make a list of all his good qualities. He told himself firmly that he was not what the Nazis said, that he had talents and special gifts of heart and mind, which he enumerated to himself one by one. Finally, he vowed that if he survived, he would use those qualities to build a better world. This was an extraordinary insight for a child in such circumstances. Albert was one of the kindest people I have ever met; he was almost pathologically gentle and must have brought help and counsel to thousands. But he always said that he could have done no good at all unless he had learned, at that terrible moment of history, to love himself." (p.75-76)
He could have done no good at all, unless he'd learned to love himself.

And the validity of this philosophy expands beyond the spiritual realm. As The New York Times recently reported, research shows that compassion and love for ourselves is incredibly important to our health and well-being.

One of the most essential elements of being a humane educator means modeling our message. As part of the message to love others, we need to ensure that we're including ourselves at the heart of our circle of compassion, or we may find our work to love and do good for others hampered.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of joebart via Creative Commons.

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Dexter Chapin's Master Teachers

I recently read Dexter Chapin’s excellent book, Master Teachers: Making a Difference on the Edge of Chaos and underlined more passages than I had in any book in years. For my blog today, I wanted to share some of them.

"Nothing the federal government, the state government, or the school district does will improve education and schooling nearly as much as recognizing the impact and magic created by a master teacher connecting with students."

“What really sets teachers apart are two traits. The first is that teachers are idealists. To a person, they believe the world can be a better place and they, all by themselves, can make a difference, and, perhaps, a big difference.”

“Everybody has moments of success, but teachers see it every time the kids’ eyes light up when they see and understand something never seen and never understood before.”

“By the time he retires, every good teacher has hundreds of heirs. Perhaps this is the best reason to teach. Teachers dream a better world and have a capacity to achieve that dream not for just one generation but certainly two and possibly three generations.”

“The good teacher needs student questions the way a thirsty person needs water. And no matter where the question leads, the master teacher can bring it back to where the students have to go.”

“Teachers are political animals. The decisions they make about what knowledge to include in their class is an intensely political act. This fact cannot be avoided because not choosing is an equally political act. College professors have the partial protection of tenure, but most K-12 teachers do not. Safety for many teachers lies in mediocrity, where the definition of mediocrity is what most people do most of the time. However, master teachers do have a safety net or protection that is not available to mediocre teachers, the trust of their students. Master teachers have compassion; the ability to meet students where they are. Over time, compassion breeds trust. Over time, trust allows the teacher to shake the students’ knowledge base to its foundations, while the students make a conscious effort to protect the teacher.”

“Integrity and empathy are the beginnings of a foundation for lifelong learning. Therefore the goal of the master teacher must be to increase both in students.”

“The flow of information from the teacher to the student dwarfs the flow from the student to the teacher. The measure of success is regurgitation. Can the student give back what was given? Yes? No? Success? Failure?.... It is a trivial system indeed that returns an input as output with no change. How trivial are we going to make education and our students?”

“Optimistic teachers are confident that the world can be changed. However, they do not believe that only they have the power to change the world. They trust their students. Therefore, their role is not that of a blacksmith hammering a piece into shape, but rather a gardener encouraging growth…. A second trait of optimistic teachers is the belief that they have never peaked as a teacher. What happened in their class yesterday can be improved on. It has never been as good as it might be. They are constantly looking for other ways to do things, to broaden the experience, to enrich the information sources, and to tailor the structure and function for the class to meet student needs and interests.”

“While we rush, rather thoughtlessly, to copy the rote memorization techniques that enable kids in Asia and elsewhere to score so well on standardized tests, the education ministries in Japan, China, and India are frantically dispatching minions into the field, exhorting teachers to ‘teach in a more American fashion,’ in order to stop squelching the creativity, imagination, and argumentative confidence that we encourage (or used to encourage) so well.”

“Part of the art of teaching is to be able to read the students as they come through the door… To make our lives easier, I built a eudemony meter for the classroom. Eudemony is a measure of general well-being. The meter consisted of an open pine cabinet with a layer of cork in the back with a seven-inch circle inscribed. At the base of the cabinet were five containers of push pins; green, blue, clear, yellow, and red. The cabinet was situated so I could not see the color pin the student put into the cork on entering the class. Before I started class, I would look at the pattern in the target and knew immediately what I was dealing with. Some days I could go for broke and some days I couldn’t. Some days, I just abandoned the lesson plan, and did something else entirely because it was really green or really red…. In those instances where I had a single red at the start of class for two or three days running, the students always made sure I knew who was having a bad time. They never did it outright; it was always in code, but they made sure I knew. The student in question was always grateful.”

“A necessary basis for students feeling safe is the presence of rules that are held inviolate. The rule that leaps to mind is the golden rule, ‘Do unto others…’ The trouble is that this rule is meaningless to precisely those students who have the greatest tendency to create social havoc. They are bullies who have ‘already been done to’ and see the world as being a place where you do first before it can be done to you. A better rule might be, ‘You can say, or do, anything provided it is true, kind, and useful (it gets us down the road to where we want to be).’”

“Competition between students has a bad aroma with some teachers…. However, done appropriately so that one person, group, or team does not metaphorically score ten runs in the first inning, it can generate very positive outcomes.... the competitive situation should have the following characteristics:
• It must be limited to a specific situation, assignment, or time, and not generalized across the context.
• The ‘rules’ must be the same for all players but the outcomes may be different.
• There must be multiple, limited competitions between variable groups.
• The competitive situation should always be novel and unpredictable.
• And finally, the competition must always remain a game and be fun.”

“... there are two questions to be asked. The first question is, if we gave any one of the high stakes tests such as the SAT, ACT, or NCLB mandated state tests to a thousand congressmen, CEOs, artists, or military officers, would a significant portion be embarrassed by their performance? Which raises the second question, what does a successful person need to know, and how and where can each person learn it? The answers to these last questions should drive a national organization of teachers. Forget the rest of it. If we can get this in front of the nation, everything else will follow.”

“Please do not even try to be a teacher if you do not have all of the attributes of character: integrity tempered by empathy, intelligence tempered by awe, risk-taking tempered by common sense, independence tempered by the desire to serve, and most important, self-confidence tempered by self-knowledge. Even with all the attributes, please do not start or continue on the journey just because it is possible. Start or continue on the journey because it is what you have to do, almost a calling.”

“In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less because passing civilization along from one generation to the next ought to be the highest honor and highest responsibility anyone could have.”

With hope for schools filled with master teachers like Dexter Chapin,

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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Wise About Water: World Water Day

Many of us take for granted washing our hands, using flush toilets, getting a drink of clean water, and having water on demand for whatever we want. But nearly 1 billion people don’t have access to safe drinking water. In North America, the average person uses about 106 gallons of water/day. In Mozambique, that number is about 1.3 gallons/day. World Water Day is a project of the United Nations and other organizations. This year (March 22) focuses on the challenges of providing sufficient clean water and sanitation for cities.

As water is something all people, animals and plants need, and none of us can live without, World Water Day offers an important opportunity to explore water in our lives and the challenges of everyone having access to sufficient, safe supplies of water.


If you’re a teacher, here are a few ideas for exploring water issues with students:

  • Brainstorm a list of what needs water to survive (people, animals, plants).
  • Have students list everything they can think of that contains or uses water (soda, nuclear power plants, agriculture, canned food, etc.). Which of these uses are vital to our sustainability and survival (and to that of animals & the earth) and which are not?
  • Have students list all the ways they use water every day, calculating how much water they use each day, and then comparing their use with how much water people in other countries use.
  • Have students carry around a gallon jug full of water and see how long it takes them to use it all up (drinking, hand washing, teeth brushing, etc.). Then repeat the exercise, seeing if they can reduce the amount they use (while still maintaining proper hygiene).
  • People (mainly women) in many countries have to carry large quantities of water in containers on their heads. Provide students with a safe opportunity to try this method of carrying water, and then have them explore current solutions for making hauling water easier; encourage them to develop their own solutions.
  • Brainstorm all the ways that people can conserve water and reduce their water footprint. Invite them to try some of their ideas at home and in their school community.
  • Use resources such as Surfrider's video, The Cycle of Insanity: The Real Story of Water, and GOOD's video overview of water use to spark discussion about water issues.
  • Use resources such as The Story of Bottled Water and A Skwril's View - Bottle vs. Tap to help spark discussion about bottled water use. Have them engage in a blind "taste test" of bottled versus tap water. Help your students learn more about the community's water supply, from source to tap.
  • Learn about people taking positive action to help those who need clean water and encourage students to find ways to support these efforts.
  • Use lesson plans from organizations such as Water Partners International to explore water issues.


As a concerned citizen, there’s also a lot you can do, such as:

  • challenging yourself (and your friends, family and co-workers) to conserve and protect water. Start by noticing when and how much water you use: when you wash your hands, bathe, brush your teeth, do dishes and laundry, wash the car, water your lawn or plants, prepare food, and so on. And then, work to get by with less. There are really simple changes you can make, such as not running the water when you brush your teeth and taking shorter showers -- and there are more significant changes, such as installing a greywater system and using rain barrels. Use tools like this one to calculate your water footprint.
  • getting involved in your community: Learn more about where your water comes from; help set policy about the use of bottled water; explore ways to conserve water, both in your home and community; educate others about water issues and ways to use less water; work with others to ensure that everyone in your community has access to clean, safe water; and support clean water projects worldwide.
  • learning more about water issues. Water is essential to our survival, so there are plenty of books, documentaries and other sources to help you. Check out a few of these websites to get you started:

~ Marsha

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IHE Expands Its Online Courses for a Better World

Starting this summer and fall, IHE is pleased to be expanding its online courses by:
  • adding two weeks to our Teaching for a Positive Future and Raising a Humane Child courses so that they now run for six weeks;
  • offering bonus exercises and resources to extend learning and help participants plan beyond the end of the course;
  • increasing the frequency of sessions offered, so that people interested in our online courses have more opportunities to take them.

If you haven't taken an online course before, be prepared for a dynamic learning experience that in itself is changing the face of education. Many things are possible online that are not available in traditional classroom settings. IHE's online format allows our classes to be innovative and interactive in the use of communications technology, enables people across the globe to participate, keeps our programs affordable, provides a flexible learning environment, and quickly builds a powerful, cohesive community of learners. CEUs are available for all courses.


Check out our online course offerings for summer and fall:


Teaching for a Positive Future
For educators who want to inspire their students to become leaders and changemakers for a healthy, peaceful, and sustainable world.

July 11 - August 19, 2011
October 17 - November 25, 2011


A Better World, A Meaningful Life
For people who want to put their vision for a better world and a more joyful, examined life into practice.


September 2-30, 2011
October 3-28, 2011
November 4-December 2, 2011


Raising a Humane Child
For parents who want to expand their strategies and skills for parenting more mindfully and intentionally and help their child be a joyful, caring citizen in a humane, sustainable world.


September 12-October 21, 2011
November 7-December 16, 2011

Email us if you have any questions.

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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.

What happens when kids "rule the school"? Lots of learning (via NY Times (3/14/11)

"Itinerant life weighs on farmworkers' children" (via NY Times) (3/12/11)

Giving the community a stake in forest management may lead to less illegal logging (via Mongabay.com) (3/10/11)

Study shows peaceful resistance more effective than violent resistance (via NY Times) (3/9/11)

Study: mother hens experience empathy for their babies (via Mongabay.com) (3/9/11)

California introduces bill to encourage companies to consider people and planet, as well as profit (via Civil Eats) (3/9/11)

New U.N. report says way to feed world's hungry is NOT industrial agriculture (via Alternet) (3/9/11)

Your "natural" cereal probably contains GMOs (via Eat Drink Better) (3/9/11)

Landmark UK ruling says man's animal rights beliefs deserve same protections against discrimination as religious beliefs (via The Guardian) (3/9/11)

Changes in Middle East spark students to learn more about global issues (via WAMU Radio) (3/8/11)

"Room for debate: Why blame the teachers?" (via NY Times) (3/6/11)


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

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Creating Systems for a Better World: Collaborative Consumption

I live in a co-housing community, so sharing -- whether cars, tools, ideas, food, or something else -- is part of my daily life. Sharing reduces waste, promotes community, lowers our ecological footprint, saves money, and offers alternative ways to do things that promote a healthier, happier way of living. I've always been a fan of sharing, so I've been excited by all the new opportunities that have been cropping up online and in communities all over the world. It's also why I nabbed the new book, What's Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption off the library shelf as soon as I saw it. I was so inspired by what I read that I had planned to write a series of blog posts highlighting some of the great sharing opportunities available, but Beth Buczynski over at Shareable saved me the effort (Thank you, Beth!). In her post, Beth includes helpful sharing resources for these categories:
  • Housing
  • Social Food
  • Personal Finance
  • Entrepreneurship/Work
  • Travel
  • Land/Gardening
  • Transportation
  • Media (Books, movies, etc.)
  • Clothing
  • Redistribution Sites
  • Renting/sharing in your neighborhood
  • Campus
And these suggestions are only a sampling of the many wonderful opportunities available.

So, in the spirit of sharing, I encourage you to read Beth's post, which, although called "The Gen Y Guide to Collaborative Consumption," is relevant for every generation.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of gibsonsgolfer via Creative Commons.

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Education About Eating Animals

Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have chosen Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals as the summer reading book for their incoming freshman for 2011. Rarely would summer reading for a college’s new students be newsworthy, but this one is. For a book that so carefully and comprehensively uncovers animal agriculture and meat-eating to be selected among all others as the one every entering freshman must read tells us something important. Factory farming, on land and sea, is no longer simply a trendy topic for middle and upper middle class foodies or committed activists, and hard-hitting books about our food system don’t need to extol the virtues of “small” and “local” and “pasture-raised” as the only alternatives to a system of destruction and cruelty, because in Foer’s book, it’s hard not to conclude that vegetarianism (more commonly marginalized in popular food-critique books) comes out as a moral winner. This is new.

Eating Animals is a beautifully written book. It is both personal and painstakingly researched. There is no proselytism in its pages, though it would be difficult not to want to make more conscientious and compassionate food choices after reading it. It is a book that digs deep and wide where most popular authors about our food system problems fall short. It also offers a voice to different approaches to an ethical diet so that the reader can choose for her/himself.

This is a book everyone should read, and that two major universities have chosen it as summer reading is a testament to both its importance and to the changes that have taken place in our society. We are finally seriously talking within our universities about what we eat and how our food is produced, and with that conversation comes both the recognition that the complex and far-reaching effects of food choices are important for our students to learn about and provides hope for changes in our food system.

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

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Humane Education Graduate Programs to Launch This Fall

Learn how to take your compassion and convictions and turn them into positive action through education.


At the Institute for Humane Education, we're proud to announce our new graduate degree and certificate programs in humane education -- the only programs of their kind in North America. These premiere programs are offered through a partnership with the highly respected and accredited graduate school of Valparaiso University. There are five programs offered:

  1. Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Humane Education
  2. Master of Arts (M.A.) in Humane Education
  3. M.Ed. in Instructional Leadership with a Concentration in Humane Education
  4. M.A. in Liberal Studies with a Concentration in Humane Education
  5. A credit-bearing Graduate Certificate in Humane Education (which can be either stand-alone or added to an existing degree)

Sarah Speare, IHE's Executive Director, said, "IHE's five new graduate programs offer the most comprehensive and highest level programs in humane education today. For the students who enroll from all over the world, it is a rewarding and transformative experience - and one of the most important steps they can take towards realizing their goals to educate for a better world."

Mary Pat Champeau, our Director of Education, said, "In thirty years in the field of education, I have never found a more powerful, engaged, intelligent, creative and dynamic group of educators than those drawn to humane education. They are the evolutionary tip of education, in my opinion."


Find out more about our graduate programs.


~ Marsha

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Joy in Observation & the Right Attitude

A foot of powdery snow fell on a recent Friday, so early the next morning I put my x-country skis in my car and drove 20 miles to Mount Desert Island to ski on the carriage roads in Acadia National Park. I noticed that the thick snow-covered trees at home gave way to sparkling, ice-covered branches on the island, but it was so beautiful I didn’t pause to think what this might mean for the trails.

When I began the 14-mile loop around several mountains, the snow was not nearly as deep as at home and had a thick layer of crunchy ice, with a bit of powder on top. The ice wasn’t thick enough to ski atop, rather each glide ended with a thump as my weight (all 96 pounds of it) caused the crust to break. It was a slog, but I suspected that the volunteer trail groomer would be out soon. Or some other skiers coming from the other direction would have broken some trail, too. I plowed on.

Despite the hard work, it was breathtaking. The evergreens were weighed down with thick, crusty snow and the tips of the needles shone with teardrop-shaped icicles. The deciduous trees were sparkling in the sunlight, all lit up by a coating of ice. I followed a coyote’s tracks for a couple of miles and then a fox track, which converged with the coyote’s. There were rabbit tracks, mouse tracks, and squirrel tracks, too, all made within a few hours. Perhaps some of these animals were watching me. I was so noisy with my skis and poles crunching the ice that they certainly could hear me coming, but perhaps they observed me, as I observed their tracks. For about 1/4 mile, I skied alongside a human’s footprints accompanied by a dog. It was interesting to compare the dog prints to the coyote and fox prints, the wild canines' so different from their domesticated cousin’s.

Then I noticed another kind of print in the snow, random and patternless. It took me a little while to figure out where they came from. They were leaf prints from the oak and beech leaves that had been clinging to the trees since last fall, finally released by the stormy winds, skittering on the snow before coming to rest in little drifts.

I felt good about all this noticing; it brought a kind of joy, this simple observation of what was around me.

Then I reached the fork where I expected to see others’ tracks. Alas there were none, and the trail groomer hadn’t yet made it this far, either. I faced a long and arduous uphill. I began the climb enthusiastically, but by the time I reached the top and the next fork and there were still no tracks or groomed trails, my spirits sank. By now the sky was overcast. I was only at the halfway point and this side of the mountain had borne the brunt of the storm. Whereas the other side had a thin layer of powder atop the crunchy stuff, here it was mostly ice. Each glide resulted in shards cracking and a deep, unpleasant, body-jarring thump. And I still had another slow uphill before I’d reach a point where I might have a downhill respite. When I did finally reach that point, going down was hardly easier, as my skis got stuck in the ice, tripping me up. I finally paused for a snack and something to drink, and the first and only live animal I was to see, a woodpecker, flew next to me and pecked away at a birch while I sipped my tea. I was so appreciative of that bird. The woodpecker, along with gorgeous blue-green ice overhanging the cliffs beside me, renewed my spirits.

The slog resumed. My spirits declined more quickly this time, especially when I reached the next fork and the next big uphill stretch and it, too, had seen neither skier nor groomer. Finally, I ran into two good friends coming my way who listened to my grumpy complaints about being tired (I’d now been skiing 4 hours and had broken 10 miles of trail) and then turned around so that we skied together. I thought of how my mood had changed, from joyful appreciation of the tremendous beauty; from rapt attention to every detail, to exhaustion, frustration and moodiness. That in itself was a lesson. I could have continued to observe carefully. I could have recognized the blessings surrounding me, rather than bemoaning the lack of groomed trails and the unexpected icy conditions. I could have stopped wishing that I’d taken a different route, or that I'd gone skiing closer to home where the snow was snow, not ice, instead of focusing on the “what ifs.” My friends were just what I needed though: ears to listen to a few minutes of complaints, so that I could put my grumpiness aside and revel in the now groomed trail I was delighted to ski upon.

Joy in observation; changing moods; kind listeners. Attitude may not be everything, but it counts for a lot.

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


Image courtesy of Roland Tanglao via Creative Commons.

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