Avis Ex Machina or "I Can't Believe That's a Bird!"

Image courtesy of corvidaceous
via Creative Commons.
Many years ago, my husband and I began noticing a strange recurrence in the woods. Periodically, we’d be walking along and hear the start of an engine, putt-putt-putt, followed by the revving up as the engine catches, followed by... silence. How odd. It was as if our distant neighbors (we live in rural Maine where dwellings are far apart) started up their chainsaws only to stop before actually using them.

What was especially weird was that this kept happening, on walks to the ocean by our house, and in the wilderness far from any people at all, and it always followed the exact same pattern: a slow start, the roar of the engine, and nothing. Why were there machines starting and stopping all over the woods? And why could I find no one else who’d ever noticed this?

Last weekend, my husband was listening to his bird song app on his iPhone, and he clicked on the Ruffed Grouse. Lo and behold, there was the machine noise, called “drumming,” that the male makes by rapidly flapping his wings while puffing out his chest. At long last, our mystery was solved.

After this discovery, I found myself thinking that on the one hand we’ve been pretty observant visitors to the woods. We’ve noticed a sound no one else we know has ever noticed. But on the other hand, I’m struck by the fact that in all these years, it took an iPhone app to identify the source of that sound, and that what we have been convinced had to be mechanical was actually just a bird, the size of a small chicken, flapping his wings. Reason and sleuthing should have led us to the Ruffed Grouse years ago, but we were easily led astray by our senses, which insisted that this sound was a human-made machine, however illogical this obviously was.

How easily we come up with faulty explanations for the unknown, believing in false premises, jumping to conclusions, becoming superstitious. But if we’re willing to persevere and allow our curiosity, coupled with our reason, to steer us toward truth, we may yet get there.

(Here is a link to hear and see the drumming of the male Ruffed Grouse yourself . You will need good speakers as the frequency is so low that most computers won’t do the sound justice.)

For a humane world,

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

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Guest Post: Education Should Cultivate Curiosity and Collaboration

 Michelle Cintron is a humane educator, activist, and president of the Federation for the Protection of Animals of Puerto Rico (FEPA).

 Michelle is a participant in our online course, Teaching for a Positive Future. We loved this essay she shared in class about some of the new insights she has gained about education, and she kindly agreed to allow us to share it here:

It is not until recently that I have considered aspects of education other than imparting information. I might organically have fostered some of the elements [of humane education] in my interventions with groups, but not as a conscious effort.

Recently, while getting my eCornell Plant Based Certification, I was able to hear Dr. Antonia Demas' lecture on “Nutrition in the Public School System.” Her approach with children inspired me to learn more about education. She emphasizes fostering curiosity, [one of the elements of humane education], as a critical part of her method to lead children toward a healthier diet. She says:
“I've done lots of experiments with kids in terms of the way you introduce foods to them and their perception. The typical adult attitude is,'Kids hate vegetables, and I'm going to assume they have very limited palates and that they are not going to like the healthy foods,' and many adults project that attitude to children. I've taken foods that kids and many adults are traditionally not supposed to like, such as Brussels sprouts, and I've designed whole experiments around those foods. So, it's all in the way you package it. I've taken the Brussels sprouts' big stalk that's growing, which is pretty wild looking if you think about it—it's got this tall stalk with the Brussels sprouts attached to it and these leaves at the top—and I'll take one of those stalks into the classroom and ask one of the students, 'What do you think this is?' Usually they have no idea what it is, because they haven't seen a plant that looks like that. So then we examine it and I say, 'Well, do you notice these little balls next to the stalk, what you think they are?' Usually someone will say, 'Oh, they look like baby cabbages,' and I tell them, 'Yes, those are baby cabbages; they're called Brussels sprouts, and I'm going to let each of you pluck off one of the little baby cabbages, or Brussels sprouts, and I want you to look at it and examine it.'

So they have the Brussels sprout in their hand, and I tell them to take off a leaf as carefully as possible. And what does the leaf look like? They'll say, 'It looks like a little bulb,' and it does look like a little bulb. So that little bulb becomes many little bulbs; they pluck off a number of them and decorate them with berries and nuts, and it's really beautiful. So they have these cute little balls with Brussels sprout leaves that are full of real health-promoting foods, and the kids then eat the Brussels sprouts. So they get very excited about it because of the way it's introduced."
This is a wonderful example of how to open a door and let children walk through it out of their own interest.

I’ve also found inspiration for problem solving tools, [another element of humane education], in John Hunter’s World Peace Game. He says:
“I’ve learned to cede control of the classroom over to the students over time; there is a trust, an understanding and a dedication to an ideal. I simply don’t have to do what I thought I had to do as a beginner teacher: control every conversation and response in the classroom. It’s impossible. Their collective wisdom is much greater than mine and I admit it to the openly.”
Up until now I’ve had a pattern of wanting to give my students all the answers; now I understand that this is my biggest area of opportunity. My goal now is to continue exploring so that I can get to a place where I am able to impart the information with an open enough door that my students can walk through freely and willingly as part of an educational process based in collaboration.


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by guest posters are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute for Humane Education or its staff.

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Humane Issues in the News

Each week we round-up the news you need to know about humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media and culture.



"The co-occurrence of homelessness in people and their companion animals" (via NMAS) (2/12)

"The seven habits of highly effective changemakers" (commentary) (2/24/12)

50,000 chickens abandoned without food; only 1,000 to 2,000 "healthy enough to survive" (via Turlock City News) (2/23/12)

"There is no ethical smartphone" (via Salon.com) (2/23/12)

"Membership in cooperative businesses reaches 1 billion" (via Worldwatch) (2/23/12)

Teen activists suing U.S. to stop climate change (via YES!) (2/22/12)

Study says more U.S. children living in high-poverty areas (via Chicago Tribune) (2/22/12)

"Shrimp's carbon footprint is 10 times greater than beef's" (via Mother Jones) (2/22/12)

"New York judge upholds fracking ban in towns" (via CNBC) (2/22/12)

"How using antibiotics in animal feed creates superbugs" (via NPR) (2/21/12)


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Michael Michalko: 12 Things You Were Not Taught in School About Creative Thinking

Image courtesy of creativedc via Creative Commons.
According to business executives and school administrators, creativity is a very important skill, but as a recent study revealed, "neither schools nor businesses are making creativity a requirement of either their employees or their students." And many people, such as Sir Ken Robinson, even believe that schools are killing creativity.

At IHE we believe that creativity is an essential skill for bringing about a just, compassionate, healthy world for all; it's one of our core elements of humane education: fostering the 3C's of curiosity, creativity & critical thinking. We have to be able to simultaneously see the big picture and the small; find the both/and rather than the either/or; and discover the solutions that do the most good and least harm for people, animals, and the earth. That's no easy task -- which is why developing our own creative thinking skills as educators, activists, citizens, and students is important.

Creativity author and columnist Michael Michalko recently offered 12 concepts about creativity that usually aren't taught in schools. They are:

  1.  You are creative.
  2. Creative thinking is work.
  3. You must go through the motions of being creative.
  4. Your brain is not a computer.
  5. There is no one right answer.
  6. Never stop with your first good idea.
  7. Expect the experts to be negative.
  8. Trust your instincts.
  9. There is no such thing as failure.
  10. You do not see things as they are; you see them as you are.
  11. Always approach a problem on its own terms.
  12. Learn to think unconventionally.
Read the complete post.


How do you flex your creativity in your own life? Your students' lives? Your work? Your activism? Your citizenship? Your parenting?

~ Marsha
  
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Education: It's About Time

Contributing blogger and IHE M.Ed. graduate Kurt Schmidt is a humane educator in New Brunswick whose current students are Aboriginal Canadians studying introductory level university mathematics.





The first half hour of my afternoon class was coming to a close, and I was making my way around the room collecting the students’ quizzes. (I like to begin many of my classes with a brief piece of written work that allows my students to remember and show off the impressive skills they have acquired!) All was quiet and smooth until one of my students, Adam, stopped me short: “So you’re telling me that I can’t have any extra time to finish this quiz?! I think that’s totally unfair. I’m just asking for some more time.”

Up to that point in the course Adam had not made many efforts at preparing for such a quiz, at least as far as I could tell. So I wasn’t shocked that he felt a bit lost with the concepts and processes I was hoping to assess. Nevertheless, Adam’s comments struck a nerve—a sensitive one—and ultimately helped to remind me exactly why I’m professionally committed to teaching and learning.

I suspect that anybody involved in education is acutely aware of time constraints. They are ubiquitous and suffocating to students and teachers. The tyranny of the schedule can be senseless, and the pressure of curricular outcomes can be extreme. There is never enough time to accomplish everything that is required in a given course—especially, it seems, when teachers are saddled with the responsibility of preparing students to write terminal or qualifying exams or standardized tests. 

On top of these “internal” pressures, the broader climate is also one of time-induced stress. The planet is beset by numerous local and global crises: environmental and climatic, cultural, financial, political, personal. And as everything is in critical condition, time is money, and everyone is under the gun. 

Given these realities, it is far too easy for educators and learners to be swept away in the busy currents of anxiety and impatience as they all try to live up to the impossible expectations of our time-starved world.  It was and is easy for me to be so swept up, anyway. That’s why I was thankful for Adam’s complaint. By drawing my attention to his own personal experience of time constraints, Adam called me back to myself and helped me remember that education is not essentially subservient to the pressures of time. It is not a time-sensitive business transaction—it’s not about deposits and withdrawals, rewards and punishments (not even at tuition-driven universities!). For those are the operations of a heartless educational economics, a sick and limited model of accountability.

Great teachers and great communities of learning, it seems to me, operate under an alternative model of accountability—an economics of grace. According to this radical model, all learning is gift and mystery: We are astounded to be able to learn anything at all (like walking and talking, for a start!).  We are privileged to be able to help each other discover fresh insights and deeper understandings about ourselves and the other creatures with whom we share the planet. We are grateful for mistakes and failures that help us to see things more clearly. And most of all, we rest patiently in the awareness that there will be enough time to learn exactly those lessons we are meant to learn when we are meant to learn them. So we can take our time. We can attend to one another and to the big ideas of our teaching. We can even dare to waste some time together. Because, in the educational economics of grace, we have all the time in the world.

So, yes, I think it’s about time  Education is about time. But not about “getting it in” under the wire, just in time for the exam. It is, rather, about giving the time, making the time, and taking the time on behalf of our students, our planet, and ourselves.

Just for the record, I did collect Adam’s incomplete quiz, and the class moved on to the next activity together. We arranged a later meeting in order for Adam and some other students with similar concerns to have another attempt at showing that they were indeed capable of accomplishing the work that was originally quizzed. They took some extra time to prepare, and I took a bit of extra time to meet up with them and set up another quiz. Nobody was punished or penalized, and I daresay some of the students really wrapped their heads around the key concepts. It was time well spent.

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What is Humanity's Essential Nature? That's the Wrong Question

Image courtesy of Jan Ramroth via Creative Commons.
For my blog post today, I’m sharing a recent post I wrote for One Green Planet, a website dedicated to ethical choices. Here’s an excerpt from "What is Humanity's Essential Nature? That's the Wrong Question":
"Many people seem to find it important to identify some quality – whether positive or negative – as the true essence of human beings. I find this need to essentialize our nature perplexing. To me it seems quite obvious that humans are all of these things (and more). We are capable of extreme acts of brutality and cruelty and extraordinary acts of altruism and generosity. We are both cooperative and competitive. We live, by and large, peacefully with one another, but we are also violent, as evidenced by murder, rape, and war. We are mimetic but are also capable of thinking for ourselves. We are often superstitious and believe in unfounded things but can be rational and are excellent at reasoning. We can be reactive and impulsive but are also able to harness the qualities of self-discipline, restraint, and self-control.

If instead of latching on to one primary quality and insisting that it represents humanity’s true nature, we recognize the complexity of our nature, and then identify a meaningful principle by which to live that relies upon that complexity for its healthy execution, we might find ourselves more creatively addressing the real challenges we face. The principle I advocate is this: living a life in which we strive to do the most good and the least harm to ourselves, other people, animals, and the environment, through all of our choices — including what we eat, wear and buy; what we do for work and entertainment; and how we participate in society and democracy as citizens, volunteers, and changemakers."


Read the complete post.

For a humane world,

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

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Humane Educator's Toolbox: Kindness Boomerang

One of the students in our Teaching for a Positive Future online course shared this lovely and inspiring video with us. It tracks how one act of kindness inspires another, which inspires another, until the kindness boomerangs back to the person who started it all. It's only a 5 minute video, with the song "One Day" as the only soundtrack, but it's a great tool for confirming that our actions have unknown ripples. Enjoy!



~ Marsha

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The True Cost of a Burger

A recent UK study evaluating the carbon footprint of 61 categories of food reveals that a switch to a vegetarian or vegan diet would dramatically reduce carbon emissions. Here's an excerpt from a Science Daily article about the study:
"The report 'Relative greenhouse gas impacts of realistic dietary choices' published in the journal Energy Policy says that if everyone in the UK swapped their current eating habits for a vegetarian or vegan diet, our greenhouse gas emissions savings would be the equivalent of a 50 per cent reduction in exhaust pipe emissions from the entire UK passenger car fleet or 40m tonnes.

"... Fresh meat had the highest emissions of all, but meat and cheese had generally high greenhouse gas costs. These emissions were largely caused by methane from rumination, slurry and farm yard manure and nitrous oxide from fertilizer."

Read more here.

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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Guest Post: Throwing Out Fear With the Angel Food Cake Pan

Rhonda Langley is a writer, musician, and teacher who lives with her husband and two boys in Portland, Oregon.


Image courtesy of cinderellasg via Creative Commons.
Today I’ll be playing violin at church. It’s a good thing my muscles aren’t too sore, because yesterday I got taken by spring fever and repainted our bathroom. I thought it would be easy. It’s a little room. But actually I think there should be a yoga move called “painting behind the toilet.”

When we moved in to our house five years ago all the walls were white. Not being the home improvement types, all the walls are still white five years later, only very dirty now. It’s beginning to weigh on my soul. So now the walls in the bathroom are harbor (I considered cathedral, running river, and magical evening, but decided to go with harbor).  One of my sons thinks their bedroom would look nice with a color called “the queen’s robes.” I think maybe we should go with iced mint. But after yesterday, I don’t think I want to paint another room at least for a while.

I was also taken yesterday with the desire to give all our possessions to Goodwill. This isn’t as surprising. I have this urge every now and then. The possessions weigh on my soul even more than the dirty walls. Why, for instance, do we have an angel food cake pan that belonged to Grandma Ollie before she died twenty years ago? We’ve never made angel food cake in all those years, and it was a beat up pan to begin with. Why do we still have the fish tank of our long-deceased pet beta, Minty? Why do I have socks in my drawer that I haven’t worn in four years?

It’s because of a kind of fear we all seem to have. Sure, we don’t use  those things very often. But what if we want them later? What if we give it away, and then wish we hadn’t? Our things make a sort of buffer between us and the world. It feels safe. If life throws the need for an angel food cake at you, well, you’re ready. You have that pan to pull from the back of your cabinet.

I’m becoming very aware of these fears that we live with, lately. There’s the fear of stepping outside the box, as well. I would like, for instance, to talk to the “One coin will help” lady whom I pass by on my way to work each morning. The desire has been growing in me. But in order to do that I’d have to park my car in the Wells Fargo lot, walk down the on ramp, past all those people in their cars waiting for the signal to change, and stand there with her beside the freeway. That’s just not something that people do. You drive past the cardboard sign people, averting your eyes. You don’t park, walk through traffic and stand there talking to them. And even more frightening, what on earth would I say? I have no idea. She’s had some different signs lately. One said that she needed size 5 diapers. I guess that means one of her children is a toddler. Another sign said they were waiting to get into a shelter. But she always goes back to the “One coin will help.” It’s even possible that her kids go to my school, since it is the closest school to her freeway on ramp. I’d like to know her name.

And maybe I’ll do it. I'd better decide quickly, because she could disappear from my life with no warning, and I’d never know what had happened to her.

And the angel food cake pan is history. I refuse to live in fear of being unprepared for the possible need of an angel food cake.



Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by guest posters are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute for Humane Education or its staff.

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Guest Post: Freeing Students to Make Up Their Own Minds

Judy Williams is the Writing Center Director for Unity College in Maine and teaches English courses there and at the University of Maine and the University of Phoenix Online. She lives with her husband in Belfast, Maine.

Judy is a participant in our online course, Teaching for a Positive Future. We loved this essay she shared in class about integrating the 4 elements of humane education, and she kindly agreed to allow us to share it here:


In my Composition classes, I choose topics that require students to read and write and think critically about the challenges of our times: food consumption/production; environmental impact of industrial vs. organic farming; racial inequality; the impact on formerly sustainable economies of other countries by decisions made by our government related to the resources of those countries, etc. The challenge always is not just to be informed, but to use knowledge as a springboard to action and to distill that action down into the contributions of an individual. Inspiring empathy is easy--the stories stir this in students, but empathy alone is nothing. I ask students to think critically and creatively about steps that they could take to solve these types of problems. We discuss what the stories call up in each of us and how we will respond to that call.

I think of one class where we were using Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle as a springboard for discussions about food production and the treatment of animals in that process. As we learned about the way turkeys are unable to support the weight of their breasts because of the way they have been bred for breast production in industrial turkey farming operations, and the way chickens spend their entire lives unable to stretch out their wings due to cage constrictions, most students were horrified; but one young man's response was "It's just a bird." This type of response opens up possibilities for conversations about the assumptions we each make about our place as humans within the greater cosmos of life on this planet. The challenge always in this type of educational experience is to refrain from imposing my own values or steering the values of students in any way. If they are to truly become "solutionaries," it will be because educators have freed them to make up their own minds--honestly feel their own reactions without fear of reprisal by educators with agendas.


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by guest posters are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute for Humane Education or its staff.

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How to Help Our Children Make the World a Better Place

Image courtesy of Fabio Medda.
For my blog post today, I’m sharing a recent post I wrote for Care2.com, an online community for people passionate about creating a better world. Here’s an excerpt from "How to Help Our Children Make the World a Better Place":
"We all know what compassion feels like, and what kindness looks like. We know when we empathy, and we are aware when we are kind to another person or animal. We also know how kindness feels when we are its recipient. But what does it mean to be kind within a globalized economy? What does it mean to be kind in relation to our food, clothing, product, career, transportation, and dwelling choices, and in relation to the economic, production, agricultural, energy and other systems in society?

The most ostensibly kind teenager in a high school may be complicit in horrendous cruelty and exploitation and shocking levels of environmental degradation when she sits down to eat in the school cafeteria or when she buys a new electronic device or pair of athletic shoes. But how would she know?

Fostering good character in a globalized world necessitates an education that extends the best qualities we seek to foster in our children beyond the classroom walls, beyond the local community, and beyond our nation’s borders."

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"

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Humane Issues in the News

Each week we round-up the news you need to know about humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media, consumerism and culture.



Group proposes "Declaration of Rights" for dolphins (via One Green Planet) (2/21/22)

"Swimming in sick seas" bad for people, marine mammals (via MNN.com) (2/20/12)

"Poacher gangs massacre elephants in Camaroon" (via Sydney Morning Herald) (2/20/12)

Study shows rampant exploitation of women in restaurant industry (via Alternet) (2/16/12)

"Exxon Valdez oil walloping mom and pup sea otters" (via Mother Jones) (2/16/12)

"Nation's largest public food forest takes root" (via Crosscut) (2/16/12)

New study: "agriculture consumes 92% of freshwater used globally" (via Treehugger) (2/16/12)

"Leak offers glimpse of campaign against climate change" (via NY Times) (2/15/12)

Trader Joe's finally signs Fair Food Agreement (via Alternet) (2/14/12)

Farmers exposed to herbicides become their own advocates (via 100 Reporters) (2/14/12)

Studies show education gap grows between rich & poor (via NY Times) (2/9/12)


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Jennifer Lehr Struggles with "the Nag Factor"

Image courtesy of SteveFE.
It's said by the time they're 2 or 3, children already demonstrate brand loyalty, and a significant knowledge of brands (even for products not targeted to them). Our children don't magically acquire this knowledge and preference; marketers spend billions of dollars targeting them (most recently about $17 billion), and encouraging what's been coined "the nag factor."

Parent and blogger Jennifer Lehr shares her own struggles with the nag factor in this wonderful recent post. Jennifer relates how a relative's trip to Disneyland resulted in Jennifer buying a Darth Vader mask for her own son, and how a trip to see Susan Linn speak helped Jennifer focus on just how slippery a slope this whole marketing-to-children-nag-factor thing is. (Susan is the author of Consuming Kids and director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.)

Jennifer lists some of European Union's guidelines regarding children and advertising (there are several), and compares them to what's happening here in the U.S.  She says:
"Here in the U.S. we have no  such guidelines. Regulation, schemegulation. Here, it is up to us parents to micromanage everything they see and to just simply say no when they ask for everything under the sun.

'All of my friends have it!!!'

Who are we to go up against the carefully researched 'nag factor' combined with 17 billion dollars combined with smartphones and smartwatches and smartheadrests in the car and video billboards that means screens are everywhere our kids look.

No generation of parents, Susan explained, has ever had it so tough.

Are we just totally f*cked?

If it was only that our pocketbooks were being raided, that would be one thing. But something far more precious is being taken from our children when they truly believe that if they don’t have a particular toy or a particular character they will NEVER BE HAPPY. When they believe that pleasure comes from things, not from within us. They’re being sold a false promise of happiness.

And not only that!

Their natural desire for make believe play is being taken from them.  When children’s play is so deeply influenced by clearly defined characters that follow a specific story line, they’re not working through their own stuff, they are enacting someone else’s.
Read the complete post.

So what's Jennifer's solution? She says: "... I’ll still buy him stuff. But we can make stuff. And he can make stuff. And he can see his joy isn’t dependent on the shape of some plastic that is covering his head."

If you want more ideas for helping your children become compassionate, conscientious citizens who aren't dependent on stuff for their happiness, consider signing up for our online course for parents: Raising a Humane Child. The next session begins April 9. 

~ Marsha

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Humane Issues Round-Up: Factory Farming

Pig in factory farm penWe know you want to stay informed about important humane-related issues but are short on time; that's why we aggregate the good stuff for you! Recently the news has been full of stories related to industrial animal agriculture. Here is a sampling of the most relevant issues.




~ Marsha

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Save the Date: Teaching for the 21st Century: Bringing Humane Education into the Classroom

How can we best prepare our students for the important roles they must play in meeting the challenges of today’s world?

How can we help youth to become creative and critical thinkers who embody the qualities of wisdom, compassion, and integrity and who focus their great minds and deepest values on solving systemic problems in our increasingly interdependent world?

On Saturday, April 28 in New York City, we're hosting a day-long workshop, co-sponsored by our friends at HEART, in which teachers will learn how to bring global ethical issues into the classroom through innovative activities and approaches that enable their students to become conscientious choicemakers and engaged changemakers for a more humane, peaceable, and healthy world

The earlybird rate (register by April 13) is only $75.

Find out more.

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I'm An Educator, So Don't Believe Me

Image courtesy of Flickr.
For my blog post today, I’m sharing a recent post I wrote for Care2.com, an online community for people passionate about creating a better world. Here’s an excerpt from "I'm An Educator, So Don't Believe Me":

"When I teach, I often begin my classes by telling the students not to believe me. They’re usually shocked by this. It’s uncommon for teachers to discourage their students from believing what they say. What would be the point of school if teachers weren’t worth believing?

It’s not that I want my students to distrust me. Rather, I want my students to be able to distinguish fact from opinion and to be ready and willing to ascertain the validity of any statements or statistics they hear, see, or read. This is no easy task. How can any of us know whether the information we read and hear is accurate?"

Read the complete post.

For a humane world,

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

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Humane Educator's Toolbox: Students, Communities Work to Stop Hate, Spread Peace

Image courtesy of William Bender.
The NIMBY (not in my backyard) concept takes a whole new twist with Not in Our Town, an organization which has launched a new documentary and a nationwide educational campaign to stop actions of hate and promote inclusive communities. Their new documentary, Not in Our Town: Class Actions -- which is running on PBS this month -- chronicles the efforts of three communities taking positive action after facing racism, anti-Semitism, and teen suicides spurred by bullying.  Screening and discussion guides are also available.

Even more exciting than the new film is the Not In Our Town campaign, which offers a website full of ideas and resources for educators, students, and concerned citizens. There's a section of lesson plans and ideas for how to use the NIOT site and videos; there are kits and suggestions for starting a NIOT school, campus or community group, as well as profiles of groups and communities taking positive action; and, in addition to grant opportunities for educators to bring the documentary to their schools, there are contests and challenges for students.

With regular headlines in the news about discrimination and bullying in schools (such as this recent story from Rolling Stone), tools like Not In Our Town are important resources for helping communities feel connected and find useful strategies for promoting peace.


~ Marsha

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When Desire and Will Compete

Note: This is a repost from 10/19/2009. Enjoy!

I was reading an excellent essay by Eknath Easwaran in the Blue Mountain Journal, titled “Will and Desire.” He begins:

“Desire is the key to life, because desire is power. The deeper the desire, the more power it contains."

The Upanishads say:

"You are what your deep, driving desire is. As your deep, driving desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny."

Ah, but we are filled with such conflicting desires! And the strongest-willed among us, those who might become dedicated changemakers, leaders, visionaries, and doers, may also be those who are driven to fulfill desires that do not further a better world. What do industrial tycoons and Mahatma Gandhi have in common? Powerful wills to achieve their passionate desires.

As Easwaran’s excellent article explored, our desires are manifold and our will to manifest them a double-edged sword. He quotes the Bhagavad Gita: “The will is our only enemy; the will is our only friend.” As someone who has been accused of being strong-willed since I was a little child, I know this well. My strong will made me a challenging child to raise because I was endlessly attached to my desires and often inflexible. Yet, my strong will also became my great ally in achieving my goals and living according to my principles.

Making MOGO (most good) choices in our lives requires a strong will. Inevitably we will have conflicting desires. We may desire a certain food or product that is produced inhumanely or unsustainably. We may desire certain pleasures that have negative effects upon other species, other people, and the environment. We may also deeply desire a life of integrity and purpose and the unfolding of a peaceful, restored, and compassionate world. These desires may compete, and this is where we must harness our will.

Recognizing the range and breadth of our desires allows us to focus on those that are aligned with our values and pursue these with tenacious wills while acknowledging, but not indulging, those desires that don’t ultimately serve our greatest goals and the world we hope to create.

This is no easy task. But the very struggle can be rewarding, because when we wrestle with our desires and direct our will consciously, we create more freedom in our lives – freedom from the incessant pursuit of pleasure; freedom to create the lives we want most; freedom from advertising, peer and societal pressures; freedom to choose with wisdom and compassion.

What is your greatest desire? Your most fervent hope? Harness your will towards this end.

 For a humane world,

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

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A Definition is Not Just a Definition: Language in Children's Dictionaries

"Children encounter new words every day. Although dictionaries designed for young readers can help students explore and experiment with language, it turns out many mainstream children’s dictionaries fail to accurately describe the world in which many students live." ~ Teaching Tolerance


Our friends at Teaching Tolerance have posted a fascinating & useful article from the Spring 2012 issue of their magazine, which is a great reminder that a word is not just a word with neutral value.

The article explores the evolving definitions and meanings of many words used in children's dictionaries. As Louise Robbins, senior editor for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Trade and Reference Division, says: “Language changes very fast—and it’s our job to reflect how that language is being used. ...We all realized [for example, that] kids hear the word gay in school. You can’t just say gay means ‘cheerful’ or ‘merry’ and pretend there isn’t another meaning that is more common in the culture.”

The creators of children's dictionaries discuss the challenges of dealing with complex issues related to words such as feminism, gender, race, and ethnicity -- as well as even "simple" definitions, like tan. Tan used to be defined as "skin turning brown," but that has been revised in Houghton Mifflin's new version as "skin turning darker." And, there are some words, like retarded, that aren't used in common practice anymore (in the case of retarded, by health professionals or the federal government), but remain in children's dictionaries (and often include the derogatory slang definitions of the word).

Read the complete article.

Do you use dictionaries for your children/students at home or school? How do you handle misleading or inadequate definitions?

If you want to explore language further, our free downloadable activity, Word Power(pdf), explores sample words in context and what kinds of values those words imply.

~ Marsha

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What Assumptions Are We Making About Our Students' Experiences?

Image courtesy StarWatcher307 via
Creative Commons.
A few years ago I read an essay from a teacher who was reading the story of the "Three Little Pigs" to her class. She had students who'd emigrated from other countries in her class, and it occurred to her that the story made a judgment about what kind of house was the best kind. How might her students who had lived in houses made of materials like straw feel about this assertion that brick is best? The story reveals assumptions about the experiences of readers.

Similarly, in another essay, a teacher noted how horrified one of her new students was that the class was using food as a tool of play. As countless classes have done before, students were using beans to create artwork. This student, for whom food was a precious and never guaranteed resource, such cavalier treatment was shocking. The art activity reveals assumptions the teacher had made about appropriate uses of food and her students' relationships to food.

And, in a Rethinking Schools essay, a teacher of Inuit children noted one of the questions on a standardized test asked how people get to the hospital. The "correct" answer was car (or it might have been ambulance -- I can't remember for sure), but most of the students had marked airplane as the  answer, because in their part of the world, that's indeed how people get to the hospital. The test makes the assumption that everyone shares the same experiences.

And now a recent story in the New York Times profiles a school that uses the real world as an educational tool. At P.S. 142 in New York, where nearly all the students qualify for free lunches, teachers are exposing their students to experiences and language that many assume most everyone already knows. Principal Rhonda Levy "has made real life experiences the center of academic lessons, in hopes of improving reading and math skills by broadening children’s frames of reference."

For example, if you've never been inside a car, or to the doctor's office (other than the emergency room) or used a parking meter, how can you make connections about those experiences when you read about them? How can you understand the vocabulary? P.S. 142 is working to change that.

Stories like these are a great reminder to us as educators to be mindful about assumptions we might be making about our students' experiences, values, and frames of reference. Are we creating lessons inadvertently designed to allow some children to fail? What messages might our lessons be sending to people who've not lived a privileged, Westernized life, for example? Mindfulness about assumptions also extends to those of us who work with adults. We can't assume that our audiences know about global warming or factory farming or poverty or fracking.

What assumptions have you caught yourself making about your students' experiences?

~ Marsha

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Helping Students Live Big Lives

Note: This is a repost from 8/3/11. Enjoy!

Award-winning educator and educational revolutionary, John Taylor Gatto, wrote in his book, Weapons of Mass Instruction:

“Being a mature being means living with a purpose, your own purpose: it’s about welcoming responsibility as the nourishment a big life needs: it’s about behaving as a good citizen – finding ways to add value to the community in which you live; it’s about wrestling with your weaknesses and developing heart, mind, and spirit – none of them properties of the spectator crowd.”

What I love most about this quote is its underlying call: choose to live a big life.

Living a “big life” doesn’t mean we strive for fame or fortune. It doesn’t mean we need to be the next American Idol. It simple means we live with a purpose that we determine for ourselves and take responsibility for achieving. That’s all. It’s that simple and that meaningful.

Imagine if our schools invited each student to live such a life. Not to get good grades for the sake of those grades (and the college those grades allow them to enter); not to pass No Child Left Behind tests for the sake of moving to the next grade; not to regurgitate memorized equations or dates in history because a teacher said so; but to become mature -- meaning, to find our purpose and to be agents of our lives, rather than followers of someone else’s plan for us.

When I imagine schools that invite students to live such a big life, I feel a bit tingly. Can you imagine bored children in such a school? Bullies? The very air would be vibrant with possibilities, each child understanding from the earliest age that their life was so important and sacred that finding and pursuing their purpose and welcoming responsibility as nourishment were their holiest of callings.

Perhaps what I appreciate most about Gatto’s quote is that it blends individualism with community. The call to live one’s own purpose cannot be uncoupled from being a good citizen and a contributor to the community. Together these comprise the big life.

It is possible for schools to achieve this vision. Educating students to be solutionaries for a better world – the purpose that we promote at the Institute for Humane Education and in my TEDx talk – demands that we provide students with the knowledge, tools, and inspiration they need to chart their paths as contributing members of their communities and of our very planet. It invites them to take responsibility as the surest path toward their own freedom, while ensuring that they will chart their course humanely, sustainably, and peacefully. It is a vision for education that provides students with the greatest opportunities to live big lives.

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

Image courtesy of badkleinkirchheim 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.


Private corporations offer cash in exchange for state prisons & the guarantee they'll be kept 90% full (via Huffington Post) (2/14/12)

School uses real world as teaching tool (via NY Times) (2/14/12)

Will our addiction to gadgets give Malaysians cancer? (via Mother Jones) (2/13/12)

McDonald's agrees to help end use of pig gestation crates (via NY Times) (2/13/12)

China factories making Apple products open to outside inspections (via USA Today) (2/13/12)

"Monsanto guilty of chemical poisoning in France" (via Reuters) (2/13/12)

Study reveals depictions of nature in children's books "down by half since 1960" (via Treehugger) (2/11/12)

"Even critics of safety net increasingly depend on it" (via NY Times) (2/11/12)

"Behind the big drop in euthanasia for America's dogs and cats" (via Christian Science Monitor) (2/10/12)

Judge rules orcas cannot be considered slaves (via Treehugger) (2/9/12)

Grand Canyon park to ban bottled water sales (via Reuters) (2/8/12)

Whales stressed out by underwater noise (via ABC News) (2/8/12)


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Richard Louv: EVERY Child Needs Nature

"If a child never sees the stars, never has meaningful encounters with other species, never experiences the richness of nature, what happens to that child?" ~ Richard Louv

A recent study noted that depictions of nature in children's books have significantly decreased. Other studies have noted how little time children spend connecting with the outside world, and just how beneficial and important it is for all of us to be in regular contact with nature. When we read about these studies the emphasis is usually on people of privilege. But what about people in economically-challenged neighborhoods and rural areas? And how are different cultures engaging with the natural world (or prevented from doing so)?

In a recent blog post, Richard Louv (author of No Child Left Inside and The Nature Principle) highlights that "we need a much deeper understanding of equity and capacity" when it comes to people's access to nature, and he offers 12 questions to explore. Here is a sampling:

  • How do different minority or ethnic communities — urban, suburban or rural — connect to nature? What tools and traditions do these communities practice that could be encouraged – and adopted by other groups?
  • What barriers to nature experience are specific to children and young people with disabilities? Also, what nature-oriented abilities and capacities could be adapted to other communities?
  • What is the comparative availability of nearby nature (especially natural parks) based not only on acreage, but also on such issues as crime, legal restrictions, and the quality of the built environment?
  • What role does prejudice — based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability — play in the nature experience?
  • What is, or will be, the impact of the widening income gap on the nature experiences of children?
  • In urban, suburban and rural areas, what is the impact of repeated nature experience on developmental advantages, confidence, resilience and health benefits – and how aware are residents of the benefits?
Read the complete post.

This kind of information -- and the questions for deeper reflection -- are important for humane educators and schools to pay attention to. What kinds of opportunities are you providing to expose your students to the natural world and help build their reverence and curiosity? In what ways could you integrate required curriculum with study of nature? What obstacles prevent more time outside? Who in your school and/or community could you partner with to provide more opportunities for every child to get his nature fix?

~ Marsha

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Humane Educator's Toolbox: Battling Bad Science

Coffee both causes and prevents cancer? Shopping makes men impotent? We've all seen the headlines that oversimplify health and nutrition issues, and sometimes even mislead.  This is a perfect arena to help students flex their critical thinking skills and unpack the good and bad science behind all these claims.

In his TED talk, "Battling Bad Science," doctor and epidemiologist Ben Goldacre explores some of the ways that evidence can be distorted and studies can be manipulated. He briefly dissects claims such as that red wine helps prevent breast cancer and that olive oil reduces wrinkles. He also looks at the ways that experiments themselves can be manipulated (such as companies comparing their drug A against a too high or too low dose of drug B to show that drug A is more effective), as well as the impact on a study when negative data goes missing.

Watch the video here:



As Dr. Goldacre says, "real science is about critically appraising the evidence for somebody else's position." Critical thinking is an indispensable skill for us and our students to hone, and Goldacre's video provides a great steppingstone for closely examining health and science claims.

For a related activity, check our our Be a C.R.I.T.I.C. lesson plan, which uses the CRITIC technique to examine materials from a variety of sources.

~ Marsha

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It IS About Equality: Rep. Maureen Walsh on Gay Marriage

For my blog post today, I simply wanted to share a moving testimonial from Representative Maureen Walsh, testifying on the Washington state bill regarding gay marriage (which is to be signed into law today):




 For a just world for all,

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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Choosing My Father's Ties: Changing Systems

When I was a child, my father would come into my room most mornings and ask me to choose which tie he should wear with the suit he had on that day. He usually brought two ties into my room from which I could choose. As I got older, sometimes I felt that neither choice was ideal, and I’d head over to his tie rack to suggest a better option. I adored my dad, and I took my job helping him with his ties quite seriously.

As a humane educator, my job now includes offering other people choices, although the choices revolve around more pressing issues than tie fashions. Offering positive choices is the 4th element of quality humane education, and it’s a critical component to creating a humane, sustainable and peaceful world. Humane education explores the greatest challenges of our time (e.g., global warming, resource depletion, human rights, institutionalized animal cruelty, habitat destruction, overpopulation, economic stability, etc.), and it offers positive choice-making as an integral component of changemaking. Like my father, I try to offer people a couple of choices that are reasonable and good, but sometimes no such choices are available, and my students must head to the “tie rack” of choices to find something better.

When there’s nothing quite good enough on the tie rack – no pattern or fabric that fits – system-changing and creativity are paramount. I never faced an insoluble tie choice with my father, but there were days I lingered for a long time, uncertain about the best choice. The best choice might have entailed designing a new tie.

We need to design new systems to solve many of our entrenched problems. The key is to recognize when a choice is good enough and when to engage fully in the process of designing a MOGO (most good) choice because none are suitable. In my book, Most Good, Least Harm, I offer 7 keys to operationalizing the MOGO principle. Key 5 is “Model your Message and Work for Change.” In other words, wear the best tie you can while designing the best tie possible. We must all engage in system-changing -- whether through our work, our volunteerism, or our charitable donations -- in order to create the systems that make all our choices MOGO ones. And, at the same time, to the greatest extent possible we must model our message relying on what “ties” currently exist.

 For a humane world,

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

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Youth Changemaker Stevie Nelson Helps Animals

Image copyright ASPCA (screenshot).
I recently found out about the passionate and industrious young Stevie Nelson when his mom wrote us to share his story.

The loss of his dogs and an ASPCA PSA sparked Stevie to want to help his animals through his local humane society. For his 6th birthday (you read that right), Stevie helped raised more than $25,000 (along with more than $6,000 in donated goods) for the Northeast Nebraska Humane Society.

Stevie is the 2011 ASPCA Kid of the Year. You can see more about his story here:



Now Stevie has big plans to help animal shelters all over the U.S. For more about Stevie's plans, check out his website here.

I love sharing stories like this, because it's important for us to remember that all of us -- no matter our age -- have the power to create positive change for people, animals, and the earth.

~ Marsha

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New York Teachers Offered Humane Education Professional Development Course

Humane Education Advocates Reaching Teachers (HEART), in partnership with the United Federation of Teacher Humane Education Committee and the ASPCA is offering a 36-hour professional development course, "Promoting Success in Science and Literacy Through Humane Education," for  New York teachers. Teachers will learn to "enhance student science and literacy skills while increasing knowledge of humane topics, including Jane Goodall and chimpanzees, companion animals, wildlife, farmed animals, humane literature, environmental issues and human rights" in eight Saturday sessions, from March 3 - May 19.

According to HEART, this course has "the quality and rigor of a graduate level course" and qualifies toward a salary differential. The fee for the course is $125 (plus a one-time $10 materials fee).

Download the information flyer. (pdf)

~ Marsha

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One Small Step for a Better World: Believe That You Matter

Until we confirm for ourselves that what we do matters, we won’t become positive, potent changemakers for a better world. Most of us have probably heard the old refrain “I’m just one person; what I do doesn’t matter.” Perhaps we’ve spoken those words ourselves. But two wise changemakers say differently:

"Your life does matter. It always matters whether you reach out in friendship or lash out in anger. It always matters whether you live with compassion and awareness or whether you succumb to distractions and trivia. It always matters how you treat other people, how you treat animals, and how you treat yourself. It always matters what you do. It always matters what you say. And it always matters what you eat.

“When you choose to affirm the dignity inherent in life and to uphold the beauty, the magic, and the mystery of the living Earth, something happens. It happens whether or not anyone else recognizes your efforts, and it happens regardless of how wounded and flawed you are. … Your life becomes a statement of human possibility. Your life becomes an instrument through which a healthier, more compassionate, and more sustainable future will come to be.”
~ John Robbins, in The Food Revolution

"It's the action, not the fruit of the action, that's important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there'll be any fruit. But that doesn't mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result."
~ Mohandas Gandhi

For the next several days (working up to every day) try to pay attention to all the myriad ways you make a difference, from speaking kind words to a harried colleague, to showing extra patience with your child, to making choices that do more good and less harm, to speaking out, even when you’re afraid to. If you need an extra boost, write yourself a letter of support – e.g., 10 Ways That I Matter -- and hang it somewhere visible to help your member that everything you do matters.

~ Marsha

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Finding the Right Words When Talking with Children About Race

This post is by contributing blogger Kelly Coyle DiNorcia, a graduate of our M.Ed. program, and a humane educator specializing in helping parents raise joyful, compassionate children. Find out more about Kelly's work at her website Beautiful Friendships, and her blog, Ahimsa Mama.




A year ago, my daughter started playing the violin. Before we started, I assumed that the violin-playing crowd would be, shall we say, monochromatic, particularly given that I live in a monochromatic community. I was wrong. Our studio is diverse, a nice antidote to the homogeneity to which my daughter is ordinarily exposed.

Last week she had her first recital, and let me just say: She did fantastic! A virtuoso! Look out Carnegie Hall, here she comes! Okay, maybe not…but I was proud. (You can watch it on You Tube if you want.  Yes, I am that mom.) It was a pleasure to watch all the children perform with poise and confidence.

Afterwards, my daughter shared that she really likes watching violinists who move their bodies with the music. One child in particular is an animated performer, and so I asked Bess if she complimented Shoshana on her playing. “Which one was Shoshana again?” she asked.

As it turns out, Shoshana is African-American. But as I was about to answer, “One of the African-American girls,” I stopped. I couldn’t say it. In that moment, I could not use the term “African-American.” African-American as opposed to….what? I don’t describe my second-generation American children as “German-American.” It felt, in that moment, like labeling, as opposed to describing. Add to this the fact that I didn’t want the conversation to reinforce a common stereotype - namely, that black people are good dancers - and I just couldn’t make myself say the words.

What I said was: “Shoshana is one of the girls who has very dark skin. She played 'The Two Grenadiers.'”

“Oh, yes!” Bess said. “I didn’t tell her, but I will the next time I see her.”

Was that the right thing to say? I don’t know. It felt right at the time. Or at least it felt less inappropriate than the alternative. What I said is absolutely accurate. Shoshana’s skin is darker than my daughter’s Mediterranean complexion, just as my daughter’s skin, inherited from her father, is darker than my northern European shade of pale. In one sense, it is as simple as that.

And yet…in another sense, it couldn’t be more complicated. It isn’t accurate to pretend that the difference between Shoshana and Bess is melanin-related in the same way skin color differentiates Bess from me. To imply otherwise is insincere, and unfair, and disrespectful. It is easy for me to describe Shoshana that way, given that I am speaking from a place of relative privilege. I cannot even begin to imagine all the ways in which people of color do not experience the world in the way that I do. 

Was this about the way I want my daughter to see other people? My desire to treat Shoshana respectfully? A selfish desire to see myself as “color blind”? All three, probably. At any rate, I was surprised by the degree to which I was caught off-guard given the amount of time I spend thinking about these types of things. 

I am interested to hear from other parents: How do you talk to your children about race? What kind of words do you use? What kind of community do you live in, and do you think the demographics of your community affect the way you approach these types of conversations with your kids?

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You have read this article humane parenting / language / parenting / race / skin color / stereotypes / white privilege with the title February 2012. You can bookmark this page URL http://actuosa-participatio.blogspot.com/2012/02/finding-right-words-when-talking-with.html. Thanks!

Tips for Raising Humane Kids

For my blog post today, I wanted to share a guest post I wrote for the veg parenting blog, Raising Veg Kids. Here's an excerpt from "Tips for Raising Humane Kids":
"When asked about their deepest hopes for their children, most parents don’t mention elite colleges, the best outfits, high SAT scores, athletic prowess, or future prom queens. Above all, most parents want their children to be happy and kind. They want them to have abiding values that will carry them through life and enable them to be good, hard-working, successful people whom others like and respect. They want them to make healthy and wise choices and put their talents and skills into practice in meaningful ways. In a word, they want their children to be humane, embodying the best qualities of human beings.

Raising a humane child is challenging in today’s world. Parents are often raising their children in opposition to cultural norms. While today’s society promotes materialism, junk food, myopia, and endless competition, many parents want their children to experience wonder, to be healthy and wise, and to learn to collaborate. These parents are often trying to inculcate awe, compassion, gratitude and respect for self and others (including the natural world and other species), while their culture is busy producing ever more entitled,“screen-addicted” teenagers. It’s not an easy task to raise children even within a culture that supports one’s values, but it’s much harder when one’s deepest values are contradicted daily, in school, through the media, and within mainstream culture.
"
Read the complete post.

For a humane world,

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

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You have read this article children / citizens / compassion / critical thinking / humane education / humane parenting / Most Good Least Harm / parenting / values with the title February 2012. You can bookmark this page URL http://actuosa-participatio.blogspot.com/2012/02/tips-for-raising-humane-kids.html. Thanks!