The Story of Stuff: Toxic Cosmetics

The Story of Stuff website continues to create short, animated films about the hidden effects of our everyday purchases. This one, on cosmetics, examines the toxic ingredients in our personal care products. Take a look, and then check out the other films at storyofstuff.org:




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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"Don't Confuse Me With the Facts": Lead with Values

Despite no evidence to the contrary, a small cadre of "birthers" who have questioned the fact that President Obama was born in the U.S. have managed to keep the media spotlight of distraction on them intensely enough that yesterday the White House released copies of President Obama's birth certificate. Will this end the "debate"? Probably not. When it comes to our deeply held beliefs, regardless of how counter to the truth they may be, and even when presented with contrary proof, we still like to cling to those beliefs.

In Mother Jones, Chris Mooney recently wrote a fascinating and instructive article, "The Science of Why We Don't Believe Science," that explores how our emotions "can set us on a course of thinking that's highly biased, especially on topics we care a great deal about."

Many of us use "motivated reasoning" in maintaining our worldview, which demonstrates that "our preexisting beliefs, far more than any new facts, can skew our thoughts and even color what we consider our most dispassionate and logical conclusions." We get new information that conflicts with our values and worldview, and instead of sparking us to think critically and to reexamine our beliefs, we're more likely to find ways to justify our current beliefs and to gravitate only toward memories and "evidence" consistent with those beliefs.

As humane educators and citizen activists, this article offers important information for us to consider. The default strategy for inspiring change has often been that once people know the facts, they'll want to change their behavior. However, studies mentioned in the article have shown that "the standard notion that the way to persuade people is via evidence and argument" isn't the most effective. As they say,

"In fact, head-on attempts to persuade can sometimes trigger a backfire effect, where people not only fail to change their minds when confronted with the facts—they may hold their wrong views more tenaciously than ever."

The conclusion of the article: "If you want someone to accept new evidence, make sure to present it to them in a context that doesn't trigger a defensive, emotional reaction." In other words, "lead with the values."

When engaging in conversations with people, teaching courses, writing articles, and educating in other ways, it's essential that we find common ground with their values and viewpoints. So, if we can show how what we're talking about connects to their need for safety or saving money, or how it supports their values of fairness or compassion, or how it helps uphold their religious beliefs or their desire not to contribute to violence or suffering, we can interweave the information we want to share and build bridges to a better understanding of how we all can contribute to creating a humane world for everyone.

~ Marsha

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Buy Change: Vote with Your Dollars

At Green Fest San Francisco, I met Jono Korchin, and we talked about the power of our purchases to create change. As a humane educator, I’m frequently telling students that even though they can’t vote in elections until they’re 18, they vote every time they spend their money. Each dollar is a vote that says, “Do it again.” While promoting consumerism and spending may not be the best way to create positive change in the world (although it does increase job opportunities), promoting the right kind of consumerism can definitely create positive changes. We all buy stuff, so in addition to the message to live more simply and less materialistically, it’s important to simultaneously promote the idea of MOGO (most good) purchases.

Jono and Season Korchin share some products on an episode of The View, which demonstrate how choosing a certain salad dressing, paper, soap, and handbag, can actually make an enormous difference. Take a look:




Shop MOGO,

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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It's So Easy: Relinquishing Our Responsibility: The Milgram Experiment Redux

If you've attended one of our workshops or read our blog posts, you've probably heard about the infamous and illuminating Milgram experiments that were first conducted in the 1960s to explore our susceptibility in relinquishing our responsibility in the face of authority.

I've heard and read about the experiments many times, but the horror I felt from that was nothing compared to watching a replication of those experiments. In 2009 as part of a BBC series exploring violence, host Michael Portillo witnessed 12 people participating in an updated version of the experiment (tweaks were even made that you'd think would make participants even less likely to complete the experiment). These were modern-day Brits who have learned about the Jewish Holocaust, genocide, and war. Yet their results mirrored those of other experiments. The majority of participants completely relinquished their sense of responsibility and morality and "shocked" their "fellow participant" to the maximum.

Anyone who resisted or expressed concern was told by the "scientist" in the lab coat:

"The experiment requires that you continue." or "Please continue."

If they hesitated again, they were told:

"There's no lasting tissue damage." or "It's essential that you continue."

That's all it took. You could see the participants writhing in indecision and concern, but 9 of the 12 continued until the end.

Watch the video in 3 parts here:

Part 1:




Part 2:



Part 3:



As host Michael Portillo said:

"When I started looking into this. I thought of violence as something other people did. And now I see for the first time that it's not some malevolent force out there; it's very much in us. In you, in me, in every one of us."

~ 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.

Studies show dieters misled by "deceptive food labels and packaging" (via Ethics Newsline) (4/25/11)

USDA to outsource gmo crop environmental impact studies to gmo industry (via Treehugger) (4/24/11)

Local food freedom laws enacted in Maine (via Treehugger) (4/23/11)

"What about American girls sold on the streets?" (via NY Times) (4/23/11)

Ways of teaching that we share with nonhuman animals (blog) (via Psychology Today) (4/14/11)


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

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Are You Known for Habits You Want to Be Known For?

Kerri Twigg, IHE M.Ed. graduate, humane educator, playwright, parent, and instructor for one of our online courses, wrote a blog post recently that I wanted to share with you. In her "Button Pusher" post she highlights an encounter with a store clerk, and how she became upset when he labeled her in this way (referring to her daughter's behavior): “Look at that, she’s just like you — pulling out the credit cards and punching buttons.”

Kerri says, "I thought bad things about the shop owner and decided he didn't know what he was talking about....Except that, I think he did."

She continues later: "Think about the actions you do that people see every day. The habits that are consistently indulged that your children, spouse, students, friends, neighbors and co-workers see you do. Are these the habits you want to be known for? What simple changes can you do change that?"

Read the complete post.

How often do others notice habits and behaviors that we wouldn't (and wouldn't want to) attribute to ourselves? How often are we truly modeling the message that we want our lives to convey?

~ Marsha

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Changemaker: Rachel Gutter: Greening Schools

Grist writer, David Roberts, recently posted an interesting interview with Rachel Gutter, the Director of the Center for Green Schools. Part of the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED program, Rachel finds creative ways to connect with schools and legislators to help them save money while greening schools. Here are a couple excerpts from the interview:
The real conversation to be had around green schools, the reason there has been such significant uptake in all 50 states, is about stewardship of taxpayer dollars. It's about finally starting to think about things in terms of ROI [return on investment]. One of the biggest barriers we are trying to help schools overcome is the separation of capital budgets and operating budgets. Schools could save 25 percent off the bat with some basic efficiency measures, occupant education, and engagement programs. I've seen it happen.
The first thing is, we don't just show up there. We identify champions, we identify partners, and whenever possible we aim for peer-to-peer conversation. The first thing is, we don't just show up there. We identify champions, we identify partners, and whenever possible we aim for peer-to-peer conversation. Sometimes that's through our chapter networks -- we've got chapters in all 50 states. Collectively there are more than 1,200 volunteers spread out throughout green schools committees. We've encouraged them to reach out beyond the architects, engineers, and facilities managers and bring in teachers, school board members, and administrators. Ultimately this stuff is common sense, but if you don't engage people in a partnership early on, you're not going to be successful.

Rachel and David also talk about the increasing importance of food in the "green school equation" and of helping students become leaders and changemakers in the whole process.


Read the complete interview.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of Center for Green Schools.

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Let's Save a Trillion Dollars: Reducing the Deficit By Improving Our Diet

Mark Bittman, food columnist for The New York Times, wrote an opinion piece, “How to Save a Trillion Dollars,” that I believe we should all read and heed. Many humane educators have been urging what Bittman suggests for a couple of decades now, and finally these ideas have become a “most emailed” piece in The New York Times. It’s about time.

As politicians continue to argue in Washington over budget cuts, perhaps a bit of sanity, perspective, and solutionary thinking is in order. Thanks to Bittman, we have a great article to share with our legislators, school administrators and teachers, hospital cafeteria food purveyors, and everyone else who might be in a position to create meaningful change around what we eat.

Bon appetit,

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times
My TEDx talk: "The World Becomes What You Teach"

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"I Couldn't Be More Excited!" Teachers, Community Educators Prep for Our Transformative Summer Institute

Recently, when registering for our upcoming Educating for a Better World Summer Institute (June 27-July 1), one educator said, "I couldn't be more excited!" That's what we love to hear, and that's part of what makes our Summer Institute so life-changing, dynamic and relevant. Teachers and community educators bring their experiences and their enthusiasm to meld with our faculty's insights and expertise, along with the beauty of the Maine coast, to help each other prepare their students for their future and to rejuvenate and revitalize their own teaching.

We invite you to join us this summer. Spend an amazing and valuable week learning to incorporate the critical and creative exploration of pressing global issues into your teaching. 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.

We've already filled half the available spots, so sign up now!

Find out more about our Summer Institute.


~ Marsha

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Envision the Future: Join Our Crystal Ball Community Art Project

Envisioning the Future is a statewide creative and collective visioning of the future. People, schools and communities from across the U.S. are invited to share and express their visions for the future through words, images, collage, mixed-media - any medium at all - and apply them onto handmade, large (3 to 4 ft) "crystal balls." They will all come together (physically or in photos/ videos) on the evening of July 2, 2011 in Surry, ME, to represent the hearts and minds of citizens and to help celebrate the 15th Anniversary of the Institute for Humane Education (IHE). Following the celebration, they will return to their original homes where they can continue to inspire people. Download the details and instructions. (pdf)

~ Marsha

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Redefining Apathy: Let's Remove Barriers and Obstacles to Positive Action

Is it really true that people are apathetic and just don't care? That we humans are selfish and self-absorbed? Dave Meslin, in his TEDx Toronto talk, shoots down the assertion that people are apathetic. He posits that "Apathy as we think we know it doesn't actually exist. But rather that people do care; but we live in a world that actively discourages engagement by constantly putting obstacles and barriers in our way." Check out his talk (about 7 mins):



Meslin's talk is full of important insights and ideas for humane educators and changemakers to explore. What are the barriers and obstacles to positive change, and how can we dismantle them?

Share your ideas with us!

~ Marsha

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WebSpotlight: Race: The Power of an Illusion

Race: The Power of an Illusion is an online companion to a 3-part documentary about race in society, science & history, this site can stand alone as a useful resource for exploring issues about race, identity, diversity, perceptions, assumptions, and more. The website offers information, resources, interviews, discussion ideas and suggestions for educators. It explores important questions, such as:
  • Where did our idea of race come from?
  • Does everybody think about race the same way?
  • Why is it so hard to talk about race?
  • How great a role does race play in someone's life?
Check it out.

~ Marsha
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Humane Education in Action: Sustainable Living Roadshow

At Green Fest San Francisco, I had the opportunity to meet and interview Cee, from the Sustainable Living Roadshow. I love what these folks are doing: Bringing sustainable living on a green bus tour to college campuses and festivals and using entertainment and education to inspire sustainable choicemaking.

One of the ideas that has been a perennial suggestion for ways in which humane educators can do our work is humane education centers, where people can gather, learn, buy green, fair trade, humane, reused, and recycled products, and eat sustainable and humane foods. These centers might be hubs for afterschool programs, humane education talks and workshops, film and discussion events, and much more.

The Sustainable Living Roadshow is akin to a roving humane education center, and the energy that they bring to their work is infectious and exciting. Check them out.

Cheers,

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times
My TEDx talk: "The World Becomes What You Teach"

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Two Great Resources for Reinventing & Reclaiming Our Cities

There's no question that people living in urban areas much prefer neighborhoods that offer diversity, stores, entertainment and other offerings within walking distance that meet their needs, convenient alternative transportation, green spaces, livability, and more. But when a lot of cities were built, especially as the prevalence of suburbs exploded, the primary focal point was the car. While politicians are in gridlock over creating healthier cities with more convenient modes of transportation and more vibrant neighborhoods, people and organizations are taking matters into their own hands. Here are two great resources that can help people interested in reinventing and reclaiming their own cities.

As someone who technically lives in the suburbs and who bemoans the lack of convenient and usable transportation options, I was excited to learn about the Moving Beyond the Automobile series created by the organization StreetFilms, which focuses on "documenting livable streets worldwide." Ten short videos highlight "smart and proven strategies to reduce traffic and improve street safety for all users." Topics of focus include bicycling, car sharing, traffic calming, road diets, congestion, and traffic calming. StreetFilms offers more than 350 videos about smart transportation design and policy. It's a terrific and inspiring resource (and I'm happy to see how many times my beloved city of Portland, OR is mentioned).

Also inspiring a relevant is a recent feature from our friends at GOOD, which offers examples of "DIY Urban Design." From reclaiming intersections, to citizens creating their own bike lanes, to adding seating to areas devoid of places to rest, to guerilla gardening, there's plenty to enjoy & inspire.

If you're looking for more detailed ideas and help, there are plenty of resources out there, from
On the Commons to City Repair (yay, Portland, again!).

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of Robbi Baba via Creative Commons.

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Why We Need Humane Education: American Teens Know Less About Climate Change Than Their Parents (But Want to Know More)

There's good news and bad news from a recent study by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. Overall, American teens know even less about climate change issues than their parents do. The good news is, they acknowledge the importance of human-caused climate change and want to know more.

Using a grading scale to assess teens' responses to several questions about climate change, only 25% of teens received a passing grade (A, B, or C). (30% of adults surveyed received a passion grade.) Here are a few highlights:
  • 54% of teens say that global warming is happening, compared to 63% of adults;
  • 35% of teens understand that most scientists think global warming is happening, compared
    to 39% of adults;
  • 7% of teens know how much carbon dioxide there is in the atmosphere today
    (approximately 390 parts per million);
  • 34% of teens don’t know enough to say whether scientists think global warming is
    happening, compared to 17% of adults;
  • 26% of teens don’t know that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere affect the average global
    temperature of the Earth, compared to 16% of adults;
However, as the study notes:
"American teens also recognize their limited understanding of the issue. Fewer than 1 in 5 say they are 'very well informed' about how the climate system works or the different causes, consequences, or potential solutions to global warming, and only 27 percent say they have learned 'a lot' about global warming from in school. Importantly, 70 percent of teens say they would like to know more about global warming." (emphasis mine)

Read the complete report.

The most important take away for humane educators and citizen activists from this study isn't that teens lack a lot of knowledge about these issues. After all, as the study mentions, some questions were harder, if different questions had been used the results might have been different, the way questions were worded might have confused some, and so on. The important take away is what I highlighted above: 70% of teens want to know more about these issues. This is an important gap that needs filled in our youths' knowledge base, and it's a great opportunity for classroom teachers, humane educators, and concerned citizens. Already there are groups like the Alliance for Climate Education that offer free high school assemblies about climate change in several states across the country.

Do you know of schools or organizations that are helping teach young people about climate change issues? Let us know!

~ Marsha

(h/t to Treehugger)

Image courtesy of Oxfam International 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.

Study shows American teens know less about climate change issues than they're parents (but want to know more) (via Treehugger) (4/18/11)

10,000 students march, rally for action on climate change, BP spill (via Treehugger) (4/18/11)

Study shows suicide attempts by teens more common in "politically conservative areas" (via Boston.com) (4/18/11)

2nd grader leads campaign to support students in post-quake Japan (via NJ.com) (4/17/11)

India's growing "gendercide" (via The Independent) (4/15/11)

Study: antibiotic-resistant bacteria found in 25% of U.S. meat (via Reuters) (4/15/11)

Ads in schools (& on school buses): good moneymaker or harmful to kids? (via NY Times) (4/15/11)

Energy project shows how transparency, feedback help encourage conservation, change behavior (via Treehugger) (4/14/11)

EPA striving for environmental justice across the country (via NY Times) (4/13/11)

Study shows GM crops cause kidney, liver damage to animals (via Treehugger) (4/13/11)

Coalition advocates for spending less on prisons, more on education (via Miller-McCune) (4/13/11)

New study shows 60% of young people support use of torture (via The Daily Beast) (4/12/11)

In unprecedented move, Congress removes an animal (wolves) from the ESA (via NY Times) (4/12/11)

Creating a culture of public transit (via The Atlantic) (4/12/11)

Bolivia set to pass law giving nature "equal rights with humans" (via The Guardian) (4/10/11)

Workers at IKEA factory in U.S. complain of discrimination, unfair working conditions, poor pay (via LA Times) (4/10/11)

Mexican students, Southwest schools struggle to cope with trauma of drug war (via NPR) (4/9/11)

6th grade winners of local science contest turn activists to save sharks, ban shark finning (via OC Register) (4/8/11)

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

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Want to Influence Kids' Food Choices? Just Add Cartoon Characters

Kids may be learning to eat healthier at school and at home, but throw in some cartoon characters (especially licensed ones they're already familiar with), and all bets are off.

A recent study at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School of Communications offered young kids (ages 4-6) their choice of "Healthy Bits" or "Sugar Bits" cereal, with and without cartoon penguins on the box, and asked them to rate them. With the "healthy" cereal, the presence or absence of the penguins didn't affect their rating; in fact, they rated both versions of the "healthy" higher than the "sugary." Go nutrition education! But, add those cartoon penguins to the "Sugar Bits" box, and the sugary cereal rated just as well as the healthy.

There's already precedent for this finding. A 2010 study from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University showed “a causal relationship between licensed characters on food packaging and children’s snack and taste preferences.” In the study, young children tasted three types of foods: graham crackers, gummy fruit snacks, and carrots. The result? Kids like the stuff better when a licensed cartoon character appeared on the package. (Though the result was less spectacular for the carrots.)

This is not only important information for us as parents, but exploring with students the influence of images, framing and advertising (especially when most of us think we're not influenced by advertising) on our choices and perceptions, is a great opportunity for humane educators. (Check out activities such as our Analyzing Advertising for ideas.)

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of navets via Creative Commons.

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Look Beyond Either/Or to the Both-And

I'm swamped with our new graduate programs right now, so here's a repost from 7/20/09 that I hope you'll enjoy.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which we humans seem to gravitate towards “either/or” choices. Either we protect Northern Spotted Owls or people’s logging jobs. Either we invade Iraq or not. Either we pull the troops out or stay. There are more. Either we trust our minds or hearts. Either we are Christian or Muslim. Either we are Republican or Democrat.

Yes, there are people who want to protect owls and jobs, think beyond either/ors and work creatively to come up with the wisest choices in Iraq, trust both their minds and hearts, see the connections between all religions, and consider themselves Independents. But it seems to me such people are the minority.

Among activists, the either/ors are sometimes cast starkly: either someone (or some company or industry) is good or evil. The CEO of Altria (formerly Philip Morris), of Exxon-Mobil, of Monsanto –- they must be evil, while the CEO of Working Assets/CREDO must be good.

It’s just not this simple. But complexity is, well, complex. Commitment to seeing both-ands instead of either/ors demands more from us. It may at first even appear wishy-washy, as if you’ve lost your passion and your commitment if you don’t immediately “take sides.” It shouldn’t. Instead, a commitment to both-and is a commitment to problem-solving at the deepest level. A realization that people have the capacity for dangerous, unwise, unhealthy choices, as well as compassionate, kind, and brilliant choices means that we can try to influence the former, rather than call people names and divide the population into us and thems.

There will be many times when taking sides is exactly what you need to do, but let’s not let side-taking become a knee-jerk reaction to everything that is presented to us in either/or terms. You’ll find either/ors everywhere. Listen for them. And then see if you can determine a more nuanced both-and…and a solution that works for all.

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times
My TEDx talk: "The World Becomes What You Teach"

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Expanding Our Circle of Compassion: Giving Rights to Nature and Animals

One of the concepts we at IHE often explore with our students, whether from our graduate programs, or elementary-aged children, is the circle of compassion we each have, who/what is included there, and ways to expand our circle of compassion to include others we hadn't previously considered, including, animals and the natural world. (Circle of Compassion and Alien in the Ethical Universe are examples of two of our activities that explore this concept.)

Often this recognition that the needs and interests of animals and nature as worthy of consideration and respect -- and that they are deserving of rights -- has been limited, but now conversations about these issues are appearing on the international stage and actions are being taken around the world, in the constitutions of countries and in ordinances in small towns.

Just recently Bolivia announced their plan to establish "11 new rights for nature" that, in essence, grant "all [of] nature equal rights to humans." Those rights will include:
"...the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered. Controversially, it will also enshrine the right of nature 'to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities.'"
And Yes! Magazine has a great article about several recent campaigns to recognize and establish the rights of ecosystems and animals. From small communities striving to pass ordinances to protect their communities (including the air, water and earth of those communities), to scientists and philosophers advocating for cetaceans and other sentient beings to be known as "nonhuman persons," there are efforts blossoming around the world. And, as the article says, "Granting rights to animals and ecosystems would transform them into something resembling people in the eyes of the law, with huge impacts on how communities and corporations interact with nature."

Stories like these mark an important opportunity for humane educators and citizen activists. Not only are concepts such as rights, property, legal standing, and other issues worthy of discussion and exploration themselves, but this growing reframing of our relationships with animals and the natural world provides us with a chance to help students of all ages expand their circle of compassion and to empower them to create greater positive change both in their own lives and in the global community.

~ Marsha

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Why We Need Humane Education: 60% of Young People Support Torture

When we think of a humane world, torturing "the enemy," or murdering and dismembering civilians aren't usually on the list. Two recent news stories remind us why we need humane education:

As reported by The Daily Beast (with a h/t to GOOD), a survey conducted by the American Red Cross revealed that nearly 60% of young Americans "believe there are times when it is acceptable to torture the enemy" and more than half believe that "there are times when it is acceptable to kill enemy prisoners in retaliation if the enemy has been killing American prisoners." Is this due to increased media coverage of interrogation techniques? Is it an increasing lack of empathy? Is it Jack Bauer's fault? Is it because we raise our children in a culture that accepts and condones violence as commonplace and necessary?

And, lauren, founder of the Food Empowerment Project, recently blogged about a story from Rolling Stone about the horrific incidents of American soldiers killing Afghan civilians (including a 15-year-old boy), mutilating the bodies, and taking photos to share around. Officials are pointing to the culprits as "bad apples," but most acts of evil don't occur in a vacuum. As one of the perpetrators said, "None of us in the platoon – the platoon leader, the platoon sergeant – no one gives a f**k about these people."

As with most issues, there is no simple answer and no simple solutions, but there is a reminder to us of the importance of humane education, and the need to transform systems that perpetuate such unconscionable violence and a culture that raises our children to think that torture has a place in our world.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of isafmedia via Creative Commons.

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Humane Education & Star Trek: Envisioning a Better World for All: My Interview on Conversations with Maine

I'm delighted to share my interview with Frank Ferrel, host of Conversations With Maine, which recently aired on the Maine Public Broadcasting Network. We talked about humane education, the MOGO Principle, my family, Star Trek, the work that I do on behalf of the Institute for Humane Education, and the challenges and joys of making choices that do the most good and least harm for all:

Watch the full episode. See more Conversations with Maine.


If you enjoy this interview and think it’s valuable, please share it with others so that they can learn more about humane education and the power in the choices that we all have to create a better world. I welcome your comments, as well.

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times
My TEDx talk: "The World Becomes What You Teach"

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Seal or No Seal? Thinking Critically About the Canadian Seal Hunt

The seal hunt has begun again, with more seals than ever scheduled to be killed, and more complexity, due to climate conditions, fewer seals, the European ban, and more, so I thought that I'd repost this post (with a few tweaks) from 2009.

Every year in the spring, animal protection groups bring out the photos and video of adorable, precious, fuzzy seals…and pair them with gruesome images and video of men with clubs and of bloody seal bodies covering the ice in order to protest Canada’s annual seal hunt. Hundreds of thousands of seals are killed and skinned (sometimes alive) each year, mainly for their fur, which is usually shipped to markets in places like Norway, Russian and China. The annual hunt is the “largest slaughter of marine mammals”; this year the Canadian government has set a limit at about 400,00 seals, many of whom are only a few weeks old.

Animal lovers call the Canadian hunt barbaric, destructive and unnecessary; sealers call it an important part of their livelihood. It seems like an intractable problem…and thus can be a great topic for exploring with students (in age appropriate ways).

Those against the seal hunt say:

  • It’s cruel and barbaric. The seals are killed in gruesome ways (either clubbed or shot), and are often skinned alive.
  • Most of the seals killed are young ones (usually 2-3 weeks old).
  • The seal hunt is difficult to monitor, so there’s no good way to tell whether any regulations are being followed.
  • The hunt doesn’t provide a lot of money for the sealers (in 2008, the slaughter of seals brought in about US$6 million), so stopping it wouldn’t hurt them too much, and they can be trained to make their livelihood in other ways that don’t require killing innocent animals.
  • The seals are mainly hunted for fur, which is an unnecessary fashion item.
  • Hunting so many young animals will harm the future of the seal population.


Those supporting the seal hunt say:

  • The hunt is humane (especially with the new regulation introduced in 2009 year that says that, if clubbing doesn’t kill the animal, the hunter is to bleed the seal out until the seal is dead by severing the arteries under the flippers, so that no seals will be skinned while alive).
  • The hunt is well-managed and a necessary source of income for hunters.
  • There are other countries that have seal hunts, including Greenland, Norway, Russia, Namibia, and Finland.
  • Some seal hunters are from indigenous populations who live in the Arctic, where conditions don’t allow other ways of earning a living, so what else are they supposed to do?
  • It’s a proud tradition for some indigenous cultures.

The U.S. has banned Canadian seal products since 1972, and the Netherlands and Belgium recently introduced bans. In 2009, Russia announced a ban on hunting harp seals younger than a year old, and the EU voted to ban the import of seal products.

As you can imagine, the news media is full of stories about the annual hunt, some opposing, some supporting, and some just reporting.

Some ways of exploring this topic might include to:

  • Lead a discussion to find out how much students know about the seal hunt and the various stakeholders and issues involved.
  • Have students conduct a media browse to find out the details of the viewpoints of the various stakeholders.
  • Encourage students to investigate questions such as: How many people support the seal hunt? How many oppose it? What various groups/stakeholders are the supporters/opposers from?
  • Have students explore the impact of the seal hunt on humans, animals (both as individuals and as species), the environment, and culture. What might be the most good/least harm choices for each? What are the most good/least harm choices when looking at the needs of all as a whole?
  • Have students take on different roles of stakeholders (indigenous hunter, “regular” hunter, fur industry representative, anti-hunt advocate, scientist, citizen, seal, etc.), learn about the positions of their “roles” and role-play a conference at which everyone shares their views and works to develop positive solutions for all.
  • Encourage students to explore important questions, such as:
    • Is killing seals a humane choice? Is there an alternative? If it is determined that seals “must” be killed, what is the most humane way to do so? (Is there a humane way to kill another being that doesn’t want to be killed?)
    • Should killing seals for fur for fashion and killing seals for subsistence living be considered separately?
    • Is “tradition” reason enough to continue a practice that some consider cruel? Can the traditions and needs of an indigenous culture be honored and respected in a way that doesn’t require harming other beings? (Students may want to write to indigenous seal hunters and ask for their input.)
    • How much do seal hunters rely on the annual hunts for their livelihood? Are there humane, sustainable alternatives for the seal hunters to gain a livelihood that doesn’t involve killing seals?
    • When there are other countries that also conduct seal hunts, why is so much attention given to Canada’s hunt?
    • What happens to the fur, blubber and meat? How much of each is used for what purposes? Who benefits? What happens to what’s left over?
    • Some entities, including the Canadian government, subsidize the hunt. What does that mean? Who benefits?
  • Invite students to examine what positive actions they can take, both in their own lives and on a systemic level, to address this issue.

There’s certainly no easy answer to Canada’s seal hunt. But exploring all the issues involved in-depth and learning more about the perspectives of the various stakeholders can help students think critically about a complex and controversial topic and encourage them to develop potential solutions that would do the most good/least harm for all.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of lilone2 via Creative Commons.

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John Spencer: 10 Ways to Help Students Ask Better Questions

One of the 4 elements of humane education is fostering curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking, so I was glad to come across a blog post by teacher John Spencer (we follow his blog, Spencer's Scratch Pad) that outlines how he helps his students ask better, deeper questions. Critical, thoughtful analysis and synthesis isn't something that happens a lot in today's dysfunctional education system, so insights like these from John are inspiring and illustrative, and very useful for humane educators and activists to consider when engaging with others. Here's his list of 10 ways he helps students ask better questions:
  1. Question Everything - Encouraging inquiry & thoughtfulness about everything
  2. Reading - Asking questions before, during & after
  3. Inquiry Days - Allowing students time to explore their own interests
  4. Feedback on Questions - Providing students with specific, clear feedback
  5. Model It - Demonstrating best practices
  6. Practice It - Practicing makes perfect
  7. Scaffolding - Offering students basics to build on
  8. Types of Questions - Teaching the strategies and uses
  9. Multiple Grouping Formats - Providing experience in a variety of situations
  10. Technology - Using tools familiar and useful to students

Read the complete post.


~ Marsha

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On the Day of Silence, Speak Out for Safer Schools for All Youth

Unfortunately, there's no shortage of stories in the news about gay and lesbian students who are mocked, harassed, and bullied (including by their teachers), and hate crimes against people who are gay continue to rise. A 2009 survey revealed that nearly 9 out of 10 gay and lesbian students have been harassed (or worse) in school.

Friday, April 15 marks the annual Day of Silence, the "largest single student-led action towards creating safer schools for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression." Participating students take some form of a vow of silence on that day, to help bring attention to the bullying and harassment -- the "silencing" -- of LGBTQI students and their allies. The website offers resources, as well as suggestions for other activities in which students and schools can also participate.

~ Marsha

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Beth Terry: New Study Shows Lots of Plastics Leach Chemicals

We frequently see news stories and blog posts about the dangers of BPA and about which plastics are safest. But, as our friend, Beth Terry, My Plastic-free Life blogger, emphasizes in a recent post, "We can’t be sure any plastic is safe as long as we don’t know what chemicals are in the plastic and as long as those chemicals have not been tested."

Her recent post does a terrific job of outlining the findings from a new University of Texas study, which "confirms that hormone-disrupting chemicals leach from almost all plastics, even BPA-free plastics." Here are several of the "points" that Beth has synthesized from the 33-page study:

  • Almost all of the plastic products tested in the study leached Estrogenic Activity (EA) chemicals.
  • Plastic product tests need to expose the product to "the kinds of stressors it will be subjected to in real life" in order to determine whether or not and how much it leaches EA and other chemicals.
  • Just because plastic is made from plants doesn't make it safe.
  • Knowing the type of plastic isn't enough. We need to know what additives the plastic contains.
  • We should be skeptical of new plastics (and old plastics), as some may be worse than what they're designed to replace.
Beth ends her post by reminding us that it's important to stay informed, ask lots of questions, keep an open mind, and remain skeptical.

Read the complete post.

~ Marsha

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Rubbing Elbows with Solutionaries: Green Festival San Francisco

I’ve just returned from California where I had the opportunity to speak at the University of California at Berkeley (a MOGO talk) and on the main stage at the San Francisco Green Festival (a humane education talk). In my absence the ice melted (finally) from our pond, and the crocuses bloomed. Much can happen in just a few days.

While the pond was thawing and the crocuses were blooming, I was talking to scores of people interested in creating a better world. There were so many ideas from so many solutionaries, and I’ve come home with a stack of cards from people I want to work with and learn from. I even got to interview a few of them for Treehugger (and you can watch some of these interviews on Treehugger.com starting here). In the next several blog posts I’m going to talk about these different people and groups and share their ideas, so that together we can expand our reach and efforts.

I’m grateful for the opportunities I had this past weekend, and I'm also grateful to be back in Maine. My first flight home was delayed so I missed my connection in Detroit and had to spend the night at a Detroit hotel. While at first I was frustrated and negative, I realized just how lucky I was to have a bed to sleep in and food to eat, even if I got home a day late. Lessons like that are important, especially after a weekend in the city walking by dozens of people huddled under blankets on the streets; especially when the crises we’re trying to avert claim the lives of millions; especially when I’ve been privileged to do work that helps, surrounded by amazing changemakers.

Stay tuned for more,

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 Green Festival.

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MOGO Heroes: The Goldman Environmental Prize Winners

Need a little inspiration and motivation for changing your piece of the world? Read about this year's Goldman Environmental Prize winners. Each year the Goldman Environmental Prize, which is the world’s largest prize honoring grassroots environmentalists, recognizes 6 activists from around the world (one for each of the 6 inhabited continental regions) who have shown significant leadership in helping the environment and their communities. Here are the 2011 winners:

Raoul du Toit, Zimbabwe: Raoul grew up loving and wanting to protect the natural world, so when he saw how animals like rhinos help enhance biodiversity, he set out to help them. Raoul has coordinated efforts and established programs to help protect black rhino populations in Zimbabwe and to balance conservation and development.

Dmitry Lisitsyn, Russia: Dmitry's lobbying and activism efforts have helped protect the critical endangered ecosystems on Sakhalin Island, and have succeeded in instituting stricter measures for oil and gas companies in the area. Among other victories have been the cleanup of toxic sludge, the discontinuation of waste-dumping in the ocean, and the creation of the Vostochny Wildlife Refuge.

Ursula Sladek, Germany: In response to Germany's expanded reliance on nuclear energy, Ursula created Germany's first cooperatively-owned renewable power company. The company focuses on energy efficiency for its customers, as well as solar, small hydroelectric projects, and wind and biomass.

Prigi Arisandi, Indonesia: Saddened by the pollution of his hometown's water sources by industry, Prigi founded an organization dedicated to protecting the water sources and wetland ecosystems in Indonesia. He has instituted environmental education programs that recruit water quality monitors, increased public awareness, sued for stricter regulations, and helped change government and corporate policy.

Hilton Kelley, USA
: Horrified by the industrial pollution and economic devastation in his hometown, Hilton decided to organize his community members to work toward environmental justice and economic development in a community plagued with petrochemical and hazardous waste facilities. His leadership has resulted in cooperation between industry and community.

Francisco Pineda, El Salvador: Mining is a huge threat to El Salvador's water supply. Francisco led a citizens' movement to halt a planned gold mine that was destroying El Salvador's "dwindling water resources and the livelihoods of rural communities." Even under threat of assassination, his work continues.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize.

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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.

Another state tries to outlaw photographing animal cruelty on factory farms (via Treehugger) (4/12/11)

Slideshow of DIY urban design (via GOOD) (4/12/11)

Gulf communities use money from BP for stuff that has little to do with cleaning up the oil spill (via Seattle Times) (4/11/11)

Pro sports seeking to go greener with Green Sports Alliance (via Grist) (4/11/11)

Is it okay to make some suffer as long as others benefit? (via Alternet) (4/8/11)

Award-winning teacher connects students to real-life environmental issues (via The Oregonian) (4/5/11)

"Closing the vocabulary gap in Chicago preschools" (video) (via Learning Matters) (4/5/11)

"10 everyday acts of resistance that changed the world" (via YES Magazine) (4/1/11)

Chicago schools, communities struggle with youth gun violence
(via NPR) (3/21-3/27/11)

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Humane Educator's Toolbox: Powerful Images

Words are powerful, but sometimes, as National Geographic knows, you only need images to deeply affect your audience. When the earthquake and subsequent tsunami swept over Japan's coastline, people around the world weren't moved to action by numbers or statistics, but by the compelling photos and video clips. The first element of humane education is to provide accurate information, and sometimes that's best done with images. I want to share with you the work of a few artists who offer photos helpful in teaching others about important issues.

Edward Burtynsky discovered his life's focus when he stumbled upon a coal mining operation in Pennsylvania. His work depicts "manufactured landscapes," which document humanity's impact on the world. If you go to his website, you'll find powerful images from mines, recycling yards, quarries, ships, oil spills and more, each one as breathtaking as it is bleak. Burtynsky has published several books filled with his work, including Manufactured Landscapes (which has also been made into a full-length documentary) and his most recent, Oil. Burtynsky is also a TED prize winner and has done two TED talks, one on manufactured landscapes, and another that follows the path of oil.

Chris Jordan has done amazing work on a variety of topics, most of which dissect our consumptive lifestyles. His "Midway: Messages from the Gyre" exhibit shows image after image of dead albatrosses with their stomachs full of plastic. His two-part "Running the Numbers" series offers statistics about our American lifestyles, using smaller objects to depict a larger image (such as creating a portrait of Ben Franklin out of 125,000 one-hundred dollar bills to depict the amount of money the U.S. government spends every hour -- $12.5 million -- on the Iraq war). And his series, "Intolerable Beauty," offers visceral photographic statements about American mass consumption. Jordan has published several books, and you can see a great TED talk in which he delves into his supersized images and statistics.

There are numerous places you can find arresting images about animals, but Jo-Anne McArthur's site, We Animals, does an amazing job of exploring animals in the human environment. She says, "My objective has been to photograph our interactions with animals in such a way that the viewer finds new significance in these ordinary, often unnoticed situations of use, abuse and sharing of spaces." McArthur's images span from alligator and bear bile farming to animals as food, companions, entertainment and research subjects, to rescued animals. Potent, important work.

Many people are familiar with Peter Menzel's photographs because of his books, Material World, which offers a global portrait of people's relationship to stuff, and Hungry Planet, which explores what families around the world eat. His newest book, What I Eat, follows 80 different people from around the world and looks at what they eat and how they live, from a Japanese sumo wrestler, to a Sudanese refugee, to an American competitive eater. There are also essays discussing food politics and other food issues. In addition to what you'll find in these skillful books, Menzel's website offers a gallery of images reflecting a variety of themes, from food and water to travel and death.

Students can learn a certain amount from reading about an issue or hearing someone talk about it, but images like those from these masterful photographers offer a powerful and provocative means for exploring such issues on a deeper and broader level. They provide room for asking a lot of meaningful and important questions, for connecting emotionally, and for helping us consider our own relationships to what these images depict.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of Ars Electronica via Creative Commons.

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Words Do Hurt...And Help

There are two powerful and important videos circulating on YouTube produced by youth. The first is a brave and moving film from a vulnerable 8th grader who confronts her bullying by sharing it with us with a plea for awareness that words hurt:




The second is a beautiful, powerful, and loving response from a 20-year-old who reaches out:



What’s revealed in these two, short videos is the power of words to both harm and heal and the power of communicating to make a difference. As these films go viral, which I’m sure they will, I expect that we’ll begin to see the power of this medium not simply to inform, but to transform, in ways that our bullying prevention programs have yet to accomplish.

Thanks Alye and Erika.

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times
My TEDx talk: "The World Becomes What You Teach"

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The Power of the Positive: Reading About Selfless Acts Inspires People to Do Good

As humane educators and citizens working for a better world for all, it can be easy to fall into the trap of focusing too much on all the suffering, cruelty, violence, hatred, and destruction that seems omnipresent in our world. After all, we stress that one of the first steps in creating positive change is to educate ourselves and others, so we have to learn about the bad stuff. And, if we pay attention to the news at all, we know that it's filled with stories of death, disgrace, destruction and other depressing topics. But it's essential to remember that the fourth element of humane education is to offer positive choices, so that people feel empowered to act in ways that support their deepest values. And new set of studies out of the University of British Columbia confirms the importance of accentuating the positive.

According to CBC News researchers in four separate studies "found a direct link between a person's exposure to media accounts of extraordinary virtue and their yearning to change the world." Lead author, Karl Aquino, emphasizes the valuable role that media could play in reporting on extraordinary acts of goodness and heroism. He said, "Our study indicates that if more attention was devoted to recounting stories of uncommon acts of human virtue, the media could have a quantifiable positive effect on the moral behaviour of a significant group of people."

These studies are an important reminder to humane educators and activists that sharing positive stories and alternatives with people is just as essential as offering them accurate (and often disheartening) information.

~ Marsha

(h/t to the Good News Network)

Image courtesy of sniderscion via Creative Commons.

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A Powerful, Crucial Vision for the Future of Schooling: Teaching 2030

Teaching 2030: What We Must Do for Our Students and Our Public Schools... Now and in the Future is perhaps the most cogent, reasonable, clear, and yet visionary book about educational reform in the 21st Century. Written through a collaboration of twelve teachers/teacher-leaders and changemakers, Teaching 2030 steers clear of rhetoric, either/ors, political side-taking, and focuses on what we need to create for a future in which all our children are well-educated for the changing world. It is a brilliant book, written with clarity and practicality, and it would not be difficult to implement every one of their suggestions. This book has the capacity to truly transform schooling, and I’m excited to include it as required reading for the students in our M.Ed. and M.A. programs in humane education.

It might appear that such a book is just for teachers or educational reformers and policy-makers, but it is one of the most important books that each of us could read this year simply as citizens. Schooling serves as the bedrock for our future, and each of us has an enormous stake in its success and relevancy.

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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Rethinking Systems: Collaborative Consumption

What do you do with all the stuff that you’ve used, but no longer want, like books or DVDs? What if you want to garden but don’t own land? What if you only need a car occasionally? Why does everyone need a power drill? These are the kinds of issues that collaborative consumption addresses. New networks and systems of sharing and swapping goods and services are arising as a counterpoint to our decades of hyperconsumerism and hyperindividualism. People are getting their needs met in ways that are better for themselves, their pocketbooks, the planet, and other people. Rachel Botsman, co-author of the book, What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption, outlines the case for these sharing networks in a recent TEDx talk:



~ Marsha

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Help Students Build Eco-Appreciation

Although “Every day is earth day,” if there’s a month that’s especially tender to the earth, it’s April, month of the worldwide celebration of Earth Day, and of the U.S.’s National Environmental Education Week (this year April 10-16), which “inspires environmental learning and stewardship” for K-12 students.

Especially with the warmer weather, April is an excellent time to share some environmental protection activities with your students to celebrate the wonder and importance of the natural world. IHE has several free, downloadable activities you can use, including activities for reverence-building, such as Wonder Walk, Find Your Tree, Everything is Beautiful or Council of All Beings. You can help students pay attention their impact on the planet and its inhabitants though activities such as Trash Investigators or Leave Only Footprints. Or, do some major critical exploration and future-thinking with activities like Sustainer or Spaceship Earth.

Check out all our Environmental Preservation Activities.

~ Marsha

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Save the Shoes: An Inspiring Call to Ordinary Heroism

In this 4-minute TED talk, volunteer firefighter Mark Bezos, offers a funny, inspiring, and simple call to action: don’t wait to make a difference:




After watching this video, before sharing it on Twitter or your Facebook page and moving on, consider pausing long enough to reflect on this simple, but powerful and important call to action. Really introspect. What talents, passions, and skills do you have that you could use to make this world or others’ lives better? What makes you come alive and how can you turn this into a gift to others? What service would make a real difference while utilizing all that you have to offer? How can you give best? Please consider sharing these reflections on your Facebook posts and Twitter feeds (along with Mark’s talk) and in your communities, because you can inspire your friends and neighbors too. I welcome your responses to Mark’s call to action.


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

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Reinforcing Gender Stereotypes in Children: Two Examples

Not everyone seems to agree about how much advertising and media influence social behaviors, stereotypes and assumptions, but there's little doubt that it does, and there's special concern when it comes to our children. Recently I've come across two useful examples of reinforcing gender stereotypes.

Thanks to our friend, Lisa Ray, at Corporate Babysitter, we discovered a great (informal) assessment about how toy ad vocabulary reinforces gender stereotypes. Crystal Smith, author of The Achilles Effect, used Wordle to create an image of the kinds and frequency of words used in ads for toys for boys & for girls, targeted to ages 6-8ish. Here's what she found:



































You can read the complete post here. And, Crystal's post received so much feedback that she posted a follow-up here.


I can't remember where I first saw this second example, but The Center for a Commercial-Free Childhood has reproduced it here.


















The small type says:

For girls, it's the "Perfectly Pink! Pack: Little princesses will love these five enchanting stories -- filled with everything PINK!"

For the boys, it's the "Power Pack: Keep active kids reading with five power-packed books about rockets, bulldozers, and more."

These examples would make great discussion starters in media literacy, psychology, language arts, art, and similar classes.

~ Marsha

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