Solutionaries Confront Worldwide Oppression of Women & Girls: Watch "Half the Sky" on PBS

Image courtesy of fishbone1 via Creative Commons.
If you have access to a television, be sure to tune in October 1 and 2 to the two-part presentation on PBS's Independent Lens of "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity Worldwide."

Based on the book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky tells the stories of (extra)ordinary heroes and solutionaries who are working to change the systems and situations that oppress and exploit women and girls worldwide. Here's the description from the show's website:
"Filmed in 10 countries, the series follows Nicholas Kristof and celebrity activists America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union and Olivia Wilde on a journey to tell the stories of inspiring, courageous individuals. Across the globe oppression is being confronted, and real meaningful solutions are being fashioned through health care, education, and economic empowerment for women and girls. 

The linked problems of sex trafficking and forced prostitution, gender-based violence, and maternal mortality — which needlessly claim one woman every 90 seconds — present to us the single most vital opportunity of our time: the opportunity to make a change. All over the world women are seizing this opportunity."
The presentation is part of a "landmark transmedia project, which also includes "a Facebook-hosted social action game, mobile games, two websites, educational video modules with companion text, a social media campaign supporting over 30 partner NGOs, and an impact assessment plan."

Find out more.

~ Marsha

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New Dream Webinar: Learn to Start a Time Bank and Skill Exchange

Image courtesy gr0uch0 via
Creative Commons.
As more of us look for ways to create new systems that help create a just, humane, sustainable world, it's exciting to see people and organizations offering how-to support, so that we don't have to reinvent strategies that are already succeeding.

Our friends at New American Dream (NAD) are offering a free webinar to help people learn to start a time bank and skill exchange. As NAD's website says:

"In a time bank, a group of people agree to trade hours instead of money. An hour of cooking lessons may be exchanged for an hour of dog walking, a ride to the airport may be exchanged for childcare, and so on. Time banks are a creative way to strengthen community, promote equity, and allow everyone in the neighborhood to exchange their time and talents no matter how much money they have."

The free webinar is Thursday, October 11, from 10-11 am PT/1-2 pm ET.

Find out more.

~ Marsha

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What a Humane World Looks Like: Rethinking "Away"

I live in Portland, Oregon, where we have excellent recycling options. I'm fortunate to be able to recycle an enormous variety of stuff, from electronics, to Tetra-Pak containers, to several kinds of plastic lids. Having such a bounty of recycling opportunities can occasionally make one feel a little smug (as well as frequently incredibly grateful); and it can also lead to a level of unconsciousness about how much I'm consuming.

In fact, a recent study explored whether having access to a recycle bin affected consumption habits. Researchers discovered that when a recycle bin was near, rather than just a trash can, people tended to use more. As one researcher said: "People may view recycling as a 'get-out-of-jail-free card' to consume more."

Our ancestors didn't have the luxury of recycling (though there are some indications that our ancient ancestors engaged in the practice -- sort of), so they either threw it "away" or reused the heck out of it.

And in many places around the world (and in the U.S.), options for recycling or throwing stuff "away" are still limited to non-existent. A few months ago GOOD blogger Megan Wood wrote about the lessons she learned about "away" living in Paraguay for two years:
"Paraguay doesn't have government-regulated garbage pickup, or septic systems that can handle toilet paper. What to do? At first, I simply bagged my banana peels, empty juice boxes, and other secret garbage that I'd never given a second thought to in the United States, and tossed it all in the trash cans at the center of town. I assumed the government would be along shortly to empty them. The garbage trucks never came.  

It didn’t take long for me to realize that disposing of my garbage in Paraguay wasn’t really disposing of it at all. I noticed an American brand can of Pringles rolling down the street, the same flavor I'd bought the week before. Then some school papers with my name on them. Then—the horror—a used tampon wrapped in toilet paper. For Paraguayans, litter is a bigger problem than excessive garbage accumulation. Candy wrappers are a regular occurrence in the street. The trash is tossed in cans loose, rarely bagged, and tends to scatter through the street as people sort through it looking for treasures.   

While I scrambled around picking up my waste, I realized that garbage in Paraguay was going to be my responsibility. My trash was no longer anonymous. There’s a lesson the Western world could learn from a garbage system like Paraguay’s—that is, no system at all, only personal responsibility."

Whether it's recycling or trash, "away" is a place that doesn't really exist. Our trash goes to habitat-destroying landfills or incinerators -- sometimes in another state, or even country. Our electronics often go overseas, where their toxic components may be handled by children. To help create a humane world we need to rethink "away" and bring mindfulness to all our encounters with stuff. We can ask ourselves questions. We can avoid packaging and disposables as much as possible. We can flex our creativity. We can educate ourselves and others about all the positive options we have for foregoing mainstream culture's "away" mentality and making choices that do the most good and least harm for all.

~ Marsha


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My Competitive Nature on Mount Katahdin and My Failure of Agatsu

Image courtesy of natreb via Creative Commons.
I practice Aikido, a non-competitive martial art in which we learn how to blend with an aggressor and diffuse aggression without harm. One of the concepts we learn about in Aikido is “agatsu,” which means victory over oneself. To me practicing agatsu means focusing on what I need to improve, attending to my own challenges, attitudes, and actions, and not thinking about what others do. I find this very hard.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I awoke at 3:45 a.m. and drove to Baxter State Park, home of Mt. Katahdin, Maine’s biggest and most magnificent mountain. Our plan was to hike the most challenging route: up the Cathedral Trail (so named because of its many challenging spires), over the Knife Edge (so named because of its narrow path with 2,000 foot drops on either side), and down Helon Taylor, an exposed long descent.

When we arrived, the parking lot was overflowing, and by the time we signed in at 7:40 a.m., 300 people had already begun their ascent from just this one trailhead. It felt a bit like Times Square. We began passing groups of people, and because I was so shocked by the crowds, I began counting them. But what started as a way to mentally record the numbers of people turned into a competition. I felt proud that we middle-aged 50 somethings were passing scores of 20 somethings. I’m sure I sped up to pass even more people. A few commented on our speed, reinforcing my competitive nature.

It was a rainy and windy day, and when we got to the peak it was completely socked in. My husband’s glasses fogged up within minutes of wiping them off. We were prepared to tackle the Knife Edge despite the weather, but the fact that my husband wouldn’t be able to see was reason enough to abandon the plan and take a safer route down. I felt so disappointed. So down we went, continuing to pass people. By the time we reached the bottom, only 6.5 hours after we’d begun the 11 mile, 4200’ elevation gain, we’d passed 120 people. Only 3 people – strapping young men – had passed us. We were home by 6 p.m.

As we ate dinner, I commented that I felt like we’d just gone to the gym for a long workout rather than climbed Mt. Katahdin. We’d raced up and down our beloved mountain. Our visibility above treeline was barely 20 feet, so the sweeping, majestic, heart-stopping views that we’d once marvelled at, were just memories from years ago. There was nothing scary about the climb this time because we couldn’t see how far we could fall. I realized that it had been more of a competition than an experience.

On one level we “won.” We’d pushed our bodies hard, and they’d achieved an impressive result. I’d demonstrated (to myself at least) what a small, short-legged, middle-aged vegan could accomplish. I posted our photo from the foggy, rainy peak and the description of passing all those people on Facebook, and received the kudos (in the form of Facebook “likes”) I wanted.

But I’m struck by my lack of agatsu. True victory over myself would have meant the following:
  1. I wouldn’t have been so disappointed by the need to take a different route down.
  2. I wouldn’t have counted those I passed or evaluated the men who passed us as younger and stronger than I.
  3. I certainly wouldn’t have posted the numbers on Facebook of those we passed.
  4. I would have paused and stopped to appreciate the beauty up close, since I couldn’t see the beauty far away.
  5. I would have eaten dinner having known that I experienced Katahdin, not raced through it
Agatsu is a powerful concept, asking that we not compare ourselves to others, but simply work to attend to ourselves, and in so doing, improve ourselves. Next time I climb Katahdin I hope to remember what I’ve written today and practice agatsu more consciously. And I hope to take this lesson into other aspects of my life, competing less with others and practicing victory over myself with more effort and commitment.

~ Zoe

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 TEDxConejo talk: "Solutionaries"
My TEDxDirigo talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"


Get tickets now for the October 13 NYC debut of my 1-woman show -- My Ongoing Problems with Kindness: Confessions of MOGO Girl -- at United Solo, the world's largest solo theatre festival.

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Measuring What Matters and Redefining "Growth"

It's a dire economic situation out there. Many of us have several loved ones who have lost their jobs. The news is full of stories about the need for economic recovery. The U.S. presidential candidates and Congress argue about whether tax breaks will fuel economic growth.

But according to a recent essay in Orion by associate professor Steven Stoll, we're "mismeasuring" what's important. And an increasing number of communities and countries are making changes in how they measure "growth."

Stoll outlines the disconnect between our GDP, which is considered the ultimate indicator of success, and the amorality of what it does (and doesn't) measure. He says:
"Consider the sale of a two-dollar t-shirt by a big-box store. The sale instantly becomes part of GDP, but there would have been no sale were it not for the undercompensated labor of the Cambodian woman who made the shirt. A Cambodian woman who, in one year, stitches and sews $195,000 worth of goods is paid $750. That calculates to a share of three-thousandths of every retail dollar. Meanwhile, many Cambodian workers aren’t paid enough to adequately feed their families.

Thoroughly globalized products present a problem for GDP as a measure. After all, what is a “domestic product” when the citizenship of product and profit are difficult to determine? The t-shirt’s costs stay in one country and its profits go to another. If the true cost of producing the t-shirt became part of its price, few households in the United States could afford to buy one. The profitability of the t-shirt and its volume of sales for the big-box store depend on below-subsistence wages and the absence of environmental laws. Economists call this externalizing—when the costs of production are dumped on the public, while the profits remain in private hands. To the extent that GDP represents millions of products shared across national economies, it is a highly subsidized number—in which other people and other places sustain the true costs of growth."
 Stoll calls for the implementation of new measures of prosperity, and an investment in "natural capital" -- those "benefits" that we and our fellow beings enjoy from the natural world doing its job (such as providing oxygen, holding back floods, and maintaining balance).

Stoll mentions several of the alternative measures that are being used by others, including:
  • Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare
  • Genuine Progress Indicator
  • Happy Planet Index
  • Gross National Happiness measure
  • National Accounts of Well-Being

Read the complete essay.

Most of us don't even consider the effects of relying on the GDP as a measure of health & success, so it's a great topic to explore with students. Check out our free lesson plan about the GDP and alternative indicators -- Is What's Good for the GDP Good for Me? -- which helps students, grades 8 & older, think critically about our current system and consider better ways of measuring the health & well-being of people and planet.

~ Marsha

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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 and environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media and culture, to activism, education, and changemaking.


President Obama issues executive order strengthening protections against human trafficking (via White House.gov) (9/25/12)

Why do we cling to outdated ways of looking at the world? (commentary) (via Salon.com) (9/25/12)

"Foxconn factory riot blamed on iPhone 5 rush" (via Information Week) (9/25/12)

Shell sues to stop protesters (via Common Dreams) (9/21/12)

Mass protests in Quebec lead to victory for students (via Common Dreams) (9/21/12)

Why is there so much arsenic in U.S.-grown rice? (via Mother Jones) (9/19/12)

"Report indicates significant re-segregation of public schools" (via Education Week) (9/19/12)

"'Show me your papers' law takes effect in Arizona" (via Common Dreams) (9/19/12)

Young girl "makes a stand" selling lemonade to raise money to free slaves (via Good News Network) (9/15/12)

Turning a school into a community center (via NPR) (9/13/12)


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What I Learned in My Teacher Training: Don't Smile Until Christmas

by Mary Pat Champeau, Director of Education


"The classroom should be an entrance into the world, not an escape from it.” ~ John Ciardi

"Teaching was the hardest work I had ever done, and it remains the hardest work I have done to date." ~ Ann Richards


"Don't smile until Christmas." ~ Mary Pat's first teacher-trainer, 1979



During my own teacher-training many years ago, we were told not to smile until Christmas or our students would walk all over us. I was teaching children, ages 8-14, in an Islamic country (no Christmas), in classrooms without electricity or running water, in the southern crescent below the Sahara desert. There were 40 children to a classroom, three to a desk. There were ridiculous textbooks (the first lesson I was supposed to teach was called "A Trip to the Ice Cream Parlor" in a country where no such thing existed). There was a yearly ration of one box of precious chalk, and a director who physically beat children (and legally so) who stepped out of line.

Don't smile until Christmas? What would make the children want to come to school? But, I was not the most natural of teachers, and I had to learn everything experientially, so I took this suggestion to heart and tried not to smile at my students, no matter how charmed I felt by some of them. Their parents were paid to send them to school, so they came and went from distant villages, depending on the growing and harvesting seasons, staying in group-compounds without their parents when it was time to attend school; some were as young as six years old, entirely on their own.

Don't smile until Christmas? I did my best to be stern and authoritative, and basically I acted as if I didn't like the students, because that's what I had been trained to do, even though in my heart I actually rather loved them! One afternoon (before Christmas, so I was still obnoxiously stern) I wrote the word "eigth" on the board, and during the portion of the class where students were taking notes, a student raised his hand and told me the word was spelled wrong. I looked at the word and panicked -- I knew it was spelled incorrectly (I had meant to write "eighth"), but I didn't feel I could risk the loss of authority that might come from admitting I'd made a mistake (before Christmas), so I sternly reminded my student that I was the teacher and the native speaker of English (I was an ESL teacher), and I advised him, and the rest of class, quite strongly, to copy this word into their notebooks exactly as I had written it on the blackboard. They did as I asked them to do. For the rest of the year, whenever we were writing ordinal numbers, I had to spell "eighth" incorrectly, just to save face.

This is all to say that I couldn't even offer my students, so long ago, the very first element of humane education: Provide accurate information. Critical thinking? Creativity? Reverence? Curiosity? These lofty goals never even occurred to me -- I needed to keep order! Of course, my classes weren't fun for any of us, and I will never forget the day some of my students came to my house and offered me a cup of ice they had purchased from a man who was selling this exciting novelty out of a cooler in the market. They said maybe it would remind me of home, and maybe then I would be happy.

Later, when I got to know these students, they relayed that there was a consensus about me in the beginning that I hated living the village life; they felt sorry for me, and they assumed I would leave. I told them I never had plans to leave back then, and that I had been trained not to smile until Christmas/December. One boy's face lit up and he said, "You did succeed!" He seemed genuinely happy for me. Oh my! Some successes are not worth achieving.

What if I had been trained in the four elements of humane education rather than in the traditional methods of classroom management? I doubt I could have incorporated each of the elements into every class, but over the course of a month or a semester or a year, I could have created the fun, generous, lively atmosphere that these elements engender, and nobody would have mistaken me for an unhappy teacher.


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Creating a Better World is Habit-Forming

Our culture and habits can easily lull us into a daily string of unconscious choices that may not reflect our deepest values. But once we get a taste of the joy and fulfillment in making choices that help create a better world, it can become habit-forming. 
Our online course, A Better World, A Meaningful Life (next session begins October 1) offers you a safe and flexible space for reflecting on the kind of life you want, connecting with others, and developing lasting habits that do the most good and least harm for all.


One participant said, "I met the most wonderful, intelligent, compassionate, brave people through this course. I highly recommend it for anyone open to examining your own life choices and values in order to do more good for yourself, family, community, animals and the planet."

Find out more & register now.


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Learning Through "Edutainment"

Image courtesy Mickey Thurman via
Creative Commons.
Often, when we think of education, we think only of classrooms, where “formal” learning takes place. But there are many ways to educate and engage people, and classrooms are only one venue. While they are a perfect place to bring relevant global issues to students who are prepared – and often eager – to learn about them, the ways in which we learn are myriad. We learn in our homes, from news sources, within our religious and cultural traditions, from friends and colleagues, through books, from careful observation, at workshops, perusing the Internet, etc.

Most of us relish learning, not only as children but throughout our lives. Learning something new is often deeply satisfying and pleasurable. Learning may take some effort, but we enjoy it. Sometimes, though, we feel that learning takes work, and when we’re done “learning” for a period of time, we may want to take a break for “entertainment.”

Yet entertainment can be one of the very best venues for education. When I first saw the theatrical productions The Vagina Monologues and Crossing the Boulevard, I was struck by how brilliantly Eve Ensler and Warren Lehrer and Judith Sloan managed to entertain, while teaching their audiences about some of the great injustices and cruelties in the world. One watches those shows and learns much. I’m less certain whether these great pieces of theater inspire action and galvanize their audiences to become changemakers; but in recent years edutainment-into-action has become a commonplace endeavor, too.

Every week a new documentary comes along, created by activists determined to spur change. That Waiting for Superman and Race to Nowhere – two films about the generally "unsexy" topic of K-12 education – and Supersize Me, Forks Over Knives, Vegucated, and Food, Inc. – about our dietary habits and their effects – have become such big hits reminds us that we have entered the world of learning and doing. Waiting for Superman (a problematic film which I’ve written about here), left viewers texting at the end in order to stay involved. And how many people changed their dietary habits because of one of the slate of documentaries about diet and food production?

Comedy is also growing as a popular form of edutainment. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have built their careers on the marriage of serious news and comedy. And how many of us were moved to think more deeply about social injustice and destructive societal norms by George Carlin, one of America’s greatest comedians?

Which is why I’ve personally decided to try my hand at comedic edutainment. I've created a 1-woman show -- My Ongoing Problems with Kindness: Confessions of MOGO Girl -- which I'm performing around Canada and the U.S., including at Times Square in New York City as part of the United Solo theatre festival.

My hope is that while people are laughing they will also be learning and considering how they can live more deeply aligned with their values and make a difference in a world that needs them.

~ Zoe

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 TEDxConejo talk: "Solutionaries"
My TEDxDirigo talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"


Get tickets now for the October 13 NYC debut of my 1-woman show -- My Ongoing Problems with Kindness: Confessions of MOGO Girl -- at United Solo, the world's largest solo theatre festival.

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Matt Langdon: Ditching Anti-Bullying Programs to Build Pro-Hero Schools

Why does Matt Langdon, founder of the Hero Construction Company, cringe every time he sees an anti-bullying sign in a school? Why does he think anti-bullying programs should be ditched in favor of cultivating heroes? In his TEDx talk, Matt shares his 4 reasons for cringing and his vision for a school of heroes. He says:

"If you build a school of heroes, you're not going to deal with kids vandalizing the toilets, you're not doing to deal with kids beating each other up, you're not going to deal with people insulting each other or calling people names or sending naked texts of each other. And that stuff is going to just disappear, because the heroes take care of it themselves."

Watch his talk (19 min):





~ Marsha

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Get Greener, Safer Products with EWG's Guide to Healthy Cleaning

Many of us make some of our own cleaning products as a way to do the least harm to people, animals, and the earth, while helping ourselves. When we need to turn to a store-bought product, we usually look for something "green." But as the Environmental Working Group's new 2012 Guide to Healthy Cleaning shows, green doesn't necessarily mean as healthy or eco-friendly as we might think.


EWG's guide offers a searchable database, which rates more than 2,000 products on their level of safety. As their website says:
"U.S. law allows manufacturers of cleaning products to use almost any ingredient they wish, including known carcinogens and substances that can harm fetal and infant development. And the government doesn’t review the safety of products before they’re sold. To fill those gaps, EWG’s staff scientists compared the ingredients listed on cleaning product labels, websites and worker safety documents with the information available in the top government, industry and academic toxicity databases and the scientific literature on health and environmental problems tied to cleaning products. They used that information to create EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning, which provides you with easy-to-navigate safety ratings for a wide range of cleaners and ingredients."


To help them in rating the products, EWG focused on these criteria:

1. Does the product contain hazardous substances?
2. Do we know about all the ingredients?
3. Do other factors (such as a green rating or violation of regulations) come into play?
4. How does this product rate overall?

Because many companies don't disclose their ingredients, some products that might actually be greener and healthier may have received lower ratings. Additionally, although the guide does give a nod to animal testing, their research in that area doesn't appear to be very thorough, and doesn't seem to influence ratings much. (One example: I saw one brand rated a B from a company that conducts animal testing.)

When I first heard about the guide, I decided to search for my laundry detergent, only out of curiosity. I was confident that my detergent, which comes from a company that clearly states its concern for the health of people and the planet, would rate high. I was surprised to discover it received a D rating, (mainly due to weak ingredient disclosure practices). It was a good reminder that as committed citizens we need to make such choices with clearer eyes and more research, and not just rely on what companies tells us.

Find out how your favorite cleaning products rate.

~ Marsha

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Since Other Animals Are Predators, Why Shouldn't We Eat Animals?

Image courtesy Zoe Weil.
For my blog post today, I’m sharing a recent essay I wrote for Care2.com, an online community for people passionate about creating a better world. Here’s an excerpt from "Since Other Animals Are Predators, Why Shouldn't We Eat Animals?"
"... basing our behaviors on those of other animals is a slippery slope, and can be dangerous, silly, and potentially just self-serving. If I am right that the green frog in this photo is eating another green frog, does that mean we should be cannibals? My dog Elsie loves to eat poop. Should I therefore eat poop? Elephant seals have harems and control their multitude of much smaller female mates aggressively, seemingly raping them repeatedly, and attacking other elephant seals who try to mate with any of their females. Does this mean that men ought to have harems, rape women, and attack other men who threaten their dominion?

Humans have the capacity to make decisions based on our ethics, not simply our desires, and throughout human history, we have codified our morality. Every religion and every society, theistic or not, has its list of ethical principles designed to help us humans avoid succumbing to brutality, cruelty, jealousy, greed and hatred, and live harmoniously with compassion, love and kindness.

So to me, the fact that falcons prey on rodents, that some frogs eat other frogs, that cats are carnivores, and that most fishes eat other fishes does not mean that I should cause harm and death to other animals by eating them if I don’t have to. Unlike falcons, frogs, cats, and fishes, I can choose."

Read the complete essay.


~ Zoe

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 TEDxConejo talk: "Solutionaries"
My TEDxDirigo talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"


Get tickets now for the October 13 NYC debut of my 1-woman show -- My Ongoing Problems with Kindness: Confessions of MOGO Girl -- at United Solo, the world's largest solo theatre festival.

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Sustaining Inspiration with a Social Justice Reading Group

Contributing blogger Ariane White received her M.Ed. from the Institute for Humane Education in 2010. She currently serves as a 9th and 10th grade advisor and humanities teacher at Wildwood School in Los Angeles. She is also a member of Wildwood's Multicultural Leadership Team, which develops advisory curriculum and supports faculty and students regarding issues of equity and inclusion.





Working as a teacher within an imperfect system, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the tremendous scope of my responsibilities and the intensity of my desire to promote social justice and empower young people to work together toward a sustainable future for all beings. It is also easy, at times—usually in mid-semester when I have stacks of papers to grade, texts to read, and endless ideas for curriculum to develop—to slip into unconscious habits, merely going through the motions of school rather than acting from a sense of conscious purpose. Over the years, I have recognized the need to adopt practices and structures that keep me connected to my vision for working with young people in transformative ways.

One practice that has supported me (and hopefully others) in sustaining our collective inspiration as educators is a monthly social-justice oriented reading group, where colleagues from my school and extended community gather to discuss readings that connect to our shared purpose as educators working for social justice. A colleague and I began the group after hearing Tim Wise speak about one of his recent works, Colorblind, which critiques the popular rhetoric that promotes a stance of “colorblindness” rather than honest, critical dialogue about injustices that continue to be perpetuated by institutional racism. We decided to support each other in completing the reading by scheduling a time to discuss it. We opened it up to other colleagues and received an immediate, positive response from a number of them.

From our very first meeting, where our discussion extended beyond the text itself into our own experiences as teachers, as well as our lives beyond the classroom, I immediately felt re-invigorated in my commitment to humane education. When we finished Colorblind, we took stock of the ideas that had emerged from the group’s discussions and proposed further readings that would support us in continuing the conversations about race, racism, and their effects on our teaching and our lives. We have since read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, which clearly articulates how the prison system—and the entire system of law enforcement as it currently operates in the United States—reinforces the historical legacy and status quo of systemic injustice based on race and class; Weapons of Mass Instruction by John Taylor Gatto, which offers a powerful, if bleak, critique of the educational system; and Witnessing Whiteness by Shelly Tochluk, which provides many practical suggestions for how white people, in particular, can work effectively for racial justice. This summer, we read Uprooting Racism by Paul Kivel.

Momentum continues to build within the group, as the conversations so clearly ground us all within our purpose as educators and provide an essential sanctuary for reflection, personal growth, and true professional development. We are building authentic community with each other and seek to support each others' growth and development as teachers and as human beings whose work in our classrooms and beyond revolves around working for justice and equity. 


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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 and environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media and culture, to activism, education, and changemaking.


"A garden grows in juvenile hall" (via Center for Ecoliteracy) (September 2012)

"Teachers' expectation can influence how students perform" (via NPR) (9/18/12)

Study says "climate change threat more real to those with perceived personal experience" (via Vancouver Sun) (9/17/12)

Study says costs of climate change significantly underestimated (via Treehugger) (9/17/12)

Conservationists use unique tactics to help save rhinos from poaching (via Conservation) (9/12)

Factory fires killing more than 300 in Pakistan show egregious lack of concern for worker safety (via The Guardian) (9/14/12)

"The bottom line of corporate good" (commentary) (via Forbes) (9/14/12)

Oil & gas companies have plans to drill in up to 42 U.S. National Parks (via Treehugger) (9/13/12)

"Survey finds young adults lack world knowledge" (via Education Week) (9/12/12)

"Ex-Iowa egg farm manager pleads guilty to bribery" (via SFGate) (9/12/12)

"A 61-million-person experiment in social influence and political mobilization" (via Nature) (9/12/12)

"Courting controversy: how (and why) we teach ethics" (commentary) (9/12/12)



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Get Inspired to Teach for a Positive Future

So far more than 150 educators have taken our online course, Teaching for a Positive Future, and we're excited about what they've been inspired to do. (We think you'll be inspired, too!) Here are just a few examples:

  • Writing teacher Kristine is creating a year-long curriculum that integrates humane education into her classes.
  • Megan is launching a life coaching business that uses humane education principles as the core focus.
  • Meghan used the course to help her create a curriculum to teach adults about ecological gardening in urban environments.
  • Lynn (U.S.) and Gypsy (Australia) had their students collaborate to write the lyrics and music for a song about being kind to animals.
  • After taking the course, Stephen completely revised his teaching curriculum to include humane education.

And one of our participants, who is integrating what she learned from the course into her work as an environmental engineer, and her volunteerism for a vegan organization, said this about the course:

"I would recommend that anyone who is interested in being a part of a humane world take the course. Everyone can benefit and the course teaches us that we can all be humane educators. I really enjoyed this course so much! It's filled with hope and encouragement! There's so much to take with me and utilize in every day life, my professional job, and my volunteer work. Thanks IHE!"

Sign up for our next session, which starts October 8.


You can also sign up for our other online courses:

A Better World, A Meaningful Life
October 1-26
Put your vision for a better world & joyful, meaningful life into practice.

Raising a Humane Child
October 8-November 16
Gain strategies & support for raising compassionate, conscientious citizens.

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IHE Seeks New Board Members

IHE is looking for new members of our board of directors, specifically in the areas of fundraising and board development.

Ideally applicants know and support IHE; are passionate about education change, human rights, animal protection, and environmental sustainability; and have a professional background in fundraising and development and/or have the capacity to bring in donors through their own personal contacts. Board members do not need to live in Maine.

The board meets in person only once a year and via phone 3-4 times per year. Committees meet separately by phone or Internet.

If you are interested or would like to recommend a candidate, please contact Zoe Weil, President of IHE's board: zoe@HumaneEducation.org. If you would like to apply, please include a resume or CV and a letter describing your interest.

Here's our current board of directors.


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Scrubbing Our Assumptions About Our Students

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won't come in.” ~ Alan Alda, actor

We all make a lot of assumptions. Generally speaking, our assumptions come from unexamined beliefs about the world around us. For example, if we really stopped to think about it, we might not assume that a very disruptive high school student is simply not interested in school. Without thinking about it, this is our first assumption. If she were interested, she would pay attention and try to succeed. It’s a simple correlation. But in that simple correlation, a whole value system opens up.

While it is impossible to rid ourselves of our assumptions (and we don’t think we’d want to, even if we could), it is part of an educator’s vocation to examine as deeply and habitually as possible the unexamined beliefs that might be preventing us from really “seeing” our students. The assumptions we make about our students can cause a lot of unintentional harm. Studies have shown that how teachers see their students has a significant influence on how students see themselves. Here are 4 important questions to help guide our inquiry:

  1. What assumptions am I making about my students' families? As teacher Mary Cowhey says, "Don't assume that students live in traditional families with both married heterosexual birth parents." When I speak, am I careful not to exclude non-traditional families? Do I talk about "mom and dad" or "parent or guardian"? Do I make room for all types of families in my classroom and curriculum?
  2. What assumptions am I making about my students' gender identity? About what's "appropriate" for certain gender roles? More parents are giving their children the freedom to explore their gender identity. We know from experience that children at an early age can feel frightened by violence and threats associated with being targeted as “gay.” Am I able to accept and welcome gender fluidity in my classroom? Do I promote diversity in gender roles? 
  3. What assumptions am I making about the kind of content my students' can handle? In the film, A Touch of Greatness, we see master teacher Albert Cullum introducing Shakespeare to kindergarten students who embrace this literature passionately, and 10-year-old children organizing campaigns in favor of Shaw over Sophocles (or vice versa). Building reverence in the early grades can help instill responsibility in the later grades and our assumptions about what our students can and cannot handle might be limiting the imaginative power of our lessons.
  4. What assumptions am I making about my students' values and experiences? Have I built in ways for students to share their perspectives and experiences? As I look around my classroom, how many stories do I see? What is the most significant thing that has happened to each of my students? Am I aware of what my own values are and how they influence my teaching?
The language we use, the way we divide students into groups, our curriculum, our body language, whom we call on, how we assign tasks, how we handle student outbursts and conflicts: All these actions send messages to our students about how we see them and who we think they are.

Each student can either thrive or wither in our classroom; by holding each student in the best possible light, we help that student thrive. Examining the beliefs that create our assumptions and drive our actions help immeasurably as we set forth to create an open atmosphere of truth, curiosity, respect, and learning in our classroom.

~ Marsha Rakestraw & Mary Pat Champeau

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3 Alternatives to Wildlife-Killing Balloons

Image courtesy Zoe Weil.
A couple of weeks ago my husband and I were bushwhacking through a wilderness area in Maine. We were far from any town, deep in thick woods, in an area where we’ve never seen another human being. How surprising then to come upon this Mylar balloon.

This balloon, with its congratulatory message, had once been filled with helium. It had escaped its confines and floated up to the sky far from its place of origin. When the helium was gone, the balloon floated back down to earth and landed in these woods. It is now trash.

Fortunately, this balloon landed in a forest where it was unlikely to cause much harm. Had it landed in the ocean close by, it could easily have been mistaken for a jellyfish, swallowed by a marine mammal.

Balloons are festive and fun, but they can be deadly and destructive to other species. Even those that aren’t filled with helium quickly become landfill. After all, balloons aren’t meant to last. There are many festive ways to celebrate birthdays, graduations, and other special occasions, that don’t include balloons and that invite our creativity. Here are 3 ideas:

  1. Make congratulatory collages from old magazines – these offer you the chance to say and show what you want in an imaginative, beautiful way – far more welcome than a store-bought balloon.
  2. Decorate with branches, grasses, pretty weeds and wildflowers, and other found objects.
  3. Write a poem, share a story, craft a Haiku, sing a song to celebrate a loved one’s special day or event – your effort will be vastly more appreciated than a bunch of balloons.

~ Zoe

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 TEDxConejo talk: "Solutionaries"
My TEDxDirigo talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"


Get tickets now for the October 13 NYC debut of my 1-woman show -- My Ongoing Problems with Kindness: Confessions of MOGO Girl -- at United Solo, the world's largest solo theatre festival.

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Why We Need Humane Education: The Kind of World We Have Depends on Us

The signs are everywhere that the world is hungry for humane education: in schools, in the work place, in government and industry. In our homes and places of worship. In the choices that we make every day. When most of us talk about the kind of world we want, words like poverty, violence, suffering, injustice, cruelty, devastation or hunger rarely enter the conversation …unless it follows “an end to….”

Most of us speak longingly of peace, compassion, justice, simplicity, connection, harmony, as if they are nostalgic, fuzzy remembrances from a distant past, or lovely, sparkly gems that will always be just out of reach. We speak as if we’re hopeful of something different, but are resigned to the path of destruction and emptiness our civilization continues to wend.

That’s why humane education is so powerful.

Humane education encourages living with compassion and respect for all beings, and helps provide the tools for doing so. It brings awareness to important issues that affect us all and emphasizes our interconnectedness; it fosters critical thinking and creativity; it offers positive alternatives for living with integrity and compassion; it empowers us to clarify our values and to make choices that are more in line with them, as well as to join our voices together with others to speak out and act for a more sustainable, compassionate world. Humane education also respects the journey of transformation that everyone undergoes; encouraging people to rejoice in the small positive changes and to make the journey at their own pace.

Humane education helps people with divergent views find common ground. It fosters and celebrates connection and diversity. It emphasizes the importance of engaging different strengths and strategies to build a better world. It instills a desire to interact with others with an open and loving heart, with patience, with sincere listening and a desire to understand, and with a recognition that we are all more than just the pieces of us with which people might disagree.

Humane education reveals to us the enormity of our power: the power of our choices. As Frances Moore Lappe' says, “Every choice we make can be a celebration of the world we want.” Every choice says Yes! to something and No! to something else. We, individually and collectively, decide with our choices, what kind of world we’re going to nurture and support. As Robert Kennedy said,
“It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a person stands up for an idea, or strikes against an injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope; and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression.”
Journalist and peace activist Colman McCarthy said, “Think about the kind of world you want to live and work in. What do you need to build that world? Demand that your teachers teach you that.” Most of us want the same kind of world: happy, healthy families, a meaningful life & work, connection to something larger than ourselves, a healthy, sustainable planet, to know that we’ve made a positive difference. We can learn to achieve that, and we can help others; humane education is the catalyst and the conduit that leads the way.

~ Marsha

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Fur & Feathers Game Lets Kids Save Animals

Image courtesy Animal Matters.
Gaming has become a popular way to teach children about important issues, and a new board game seeks to teach kids about compassion for animals. Fur & Feathers is a game for 2-6 players, ages 6 and older. Creator Christine Durrant invented the game "in an effort to teach children to be kind to animals in a fun, gentle and cute way."

Players make their way around a game board by rolling the die and following directions and/or answering questions. Players can stop in at the animal shelter, the farm, or the cafe (full of veggie options) to help save animals. The first player to save all 5 kinds of animals (dogs, cats, chickens, cows, and pigs), wins.

The game board is colorful and has a clean design, and the simple rules are modifiable for those who can't yet read. It's a bonus (for people in the U.S.) that the game is made in the U.S., and a portion of the proceeds from game sales go to help rescued farmed and companion animals.

One quibble we had was with some of the questions. The game comes with a pack of question cards. Some deal with facts about animals (how high a cat can jump or what you call the red part on top of a rooster's head). And a few offer questions about being kind to animals, (which are the strongest questions -- we would have loved more of these). However, a few of the questions are so vague or generalized that they can be confusing and misleading without additional information, and one question states that vinyl is a good alternative to leather (vinyl has a very toxic lifecycle, so it's not a good alternative to anything). Of course, to counter any weakness in the questions, adults/kids can create additional question cards and invite players to seek out more information and verify statements.

Despite our concern with some of the question cards, we're excited to see a game focused on saving animals and cultivating compassion. Kids will find this one fun!

~ Marsha

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The World Doesn't Owe Us a Thing: On Not Complaining

Image courtesy of aturkus via Creative Commons.
I admit it. I complain. A lot. It helps me cope. I complain, and then I move on. Because I try to model my message for others, I usually do it in private. Sometimes my husband and I do it as entertainment -- as a way of releasing a little of the tensions of the day. It feels pretty harmless.

My awareness of my complaining ebbs and flows, but it flared up front and center after I read this terrific essay our friends at the ToDo Institute posted by Brother David Steind-Rast on not complaining. Here's the whack between the eyes part:
"It’s the little me against the rest of the world. And the little me sees itself as entitled to something. The world owes me something. But really, what on earth does the world owe you when it comes down to it? Absolutely nothing. Everything is given to you. Even the fact that you are here is a gift. You didn’t bring yourself here, you didn’t buy this life. How did you get here? It’s all a gift. 

Then you turn around, separate yourself from the rest of the world and make claims – it’s amazing. This separation, this complaining is a blockage of my freedom to avail myself of the opportunity that this present moment gives me."

Read the complete essay.

So, not so harmless after all. It's a great reminder about the power our unconscious habits have over us and over the way we view and live in the world. Time for me to bring more attention to not complaining and to finding the opportunity in each moment.

~ Marsha

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Rethinking Elementary Education

Nurturing thoughtful, engaged citizens begins when children are young. Elementary school teachers have a wonderful opportunity to help their students nurture their curiosity and passions, explore meaningful issues, and learn skills to help them thrive in the world. But too often elementary school teachers feel constricted in what and how they can teach.

Rethinking Elementary Education -- edited by the wonderful folks from Rethinking Schools-- offers stories, ideas, and lessons for reenvisioning what teaching in the elementary classroom can -- and should -- look like, even with today's climate of standards, testing, and politics.

The framework of the book is child-driven and highlights the vital opportunity to explore important, real-world issues in an interconnected context, which often can be much easier in an elementary classroom. And much of the content reinforces the value and vision of integrating humane education issues and principles into the curriculum.

Rethinking Elementary Education introduces topics many educators would hesitate to address, but which, even at this young age, are essential to students' skills and well-being -- from the diversity in families, to the fluidity of gender identification and gender roles, to global challenges. It also highlights the power young children have to make a positive difference in their communities and the larger world.

As teacher Bob Peterson said in one essay: "If we neglect to include an activist component in our curriculum, we cut students off from the possibility of social change. We model apathy as a response to the world's problems." (p. 56)

The book is divided into six parts:

  1. Building Classroom Community - Focuses on empowering students in decision-making, being inclusive of student diversity, and helping students cope with strong emotions and challenges.
  2. Reading and Writing Toward a More Just World - Offers ideas and lesson plans for integrating social justice issues in your teaching, including immigration, child labor, homelessness, and even AIDS.
  3. Minding Media -  Highlights ideas for using a variety of media to help students hone their critical thinking skills and deeply examine the messages we're given in everything from our curriculum to consumer products.
  4. Math is More than Numbers - Focuses on questioning the world through math and making meaning out of the numbers that surround us.
  5. Laboratory for Justice: Science Across the Curriculum - Explores the connections between science and social justice, from rethinking the natural world to understanding issues about water and water rights.
  6. The Classroom, The School, The World - Explores the teachers' & schools' roles in larger issues, from testing to inclusion to mandates.
It's especially helpful that some of the teachers share what didn't work and how they'd approach the topic or unit differently. It's important to show that our attempts as educators don't all magically work the first time; that we constantly have to adjust and rethink, based on circumstances and the needs of our students.

One thing to note is that if you already own books from Rethinking Schools, some of these essays will be repeats.

With wisdom and a variety of teaching ideas from seasoned educators, Rethinking Elementary Education is a valuable addition to any elementary educator's toolbox.

~ Marsha

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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 and environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media and culture, to activism, education, and changemaking.


Why don't more cities promote composting?: "Big trash" (via Earth Island Journal) (Autumn 2012)

100 most endangered species listed: are they worth saving? (via NBC News) (9/11/12)

Reframing global warming as a public health threat (via NPR) (9/10/12)

"Retaliation against whistle-blowers up sharply, says study" (via Ethics Newsline) (9/10/12)

"Hong Kong retreats on 'National Education' plan (via NY Times) (9/9/12)

"A terrifying way to discipline children" (commentary) (via NY Times) (9/8/12)

One woman's campaign against household toxins (via NY Times) (9/6/12)

"New Zealand grants a river the rights of personhood" (via Treehugger) (9/6/12)

Animals desperate for food, water during drought turn to towns (via NY Times) (9/6/12)

"Rethinking humanitarian relief: sourcing locally before disaster strikes" (via GOOD) (9/6/12)

Report says climate change will starve the poor even more that we thought (via Treehugger) (9/5/12)

Hong Kong airline bans transport of "unsustainably sourced" shark products
(via Treehugger) (9/5/12)

Illegal wildlife trade flourishes online (via The Guardian) (9/3/12)


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IHE Launches New Humane Education Program in Hong Kong

A recent news feature about the Fluffy Love program.
Inspired by what she learned at IHE's student residency in 2010, IHE graduate student, Rosana Ng, founded her own humane education program in Hong Kong. Fluffy Love Learning Club, which uses the platform of humane education to teach young schoolchildren English, has garnered a lot of media attention.

Now Rosana has become IHE's official Hong Kong Director. Her first official project is a collaboration between Animal Asia Foundation, HEART, and IHE to conduct teacher training in Hong Kong. She will lead workshops and use IHE's online courses and resources, as well as HEARTs materials, to provide training and raise awareness, so that humane education can grow in Hong Kong.

Rosana said, "I am extremely excited about being IHE's Hong Kong Director as I now have the opportunity to introduce humane education to the 7.8 million people in Hong Kong!"

Rosana described some of the challenges and possibilities in bringing humane education to Hong Kong students:

"Most Hong Kong schools still teach by indoctrination, and due to the highly competitive environment, students have to spend an enormous amount of effort on school work in order to achieve high marks.  Humane education will be a new approach for most students. Bringing real world issues into the classroom, exploring issues together, encouraging students to seek accurate information and ask questions is the kind of revolutionary teaching method we need for students to acquire the critical thinking skills required to become a generation of changemakers.

"We also live in a concrete jungle and nature is unfamiliar to us. I was a classic product of this environment until I discovered humane education. We need to open our students' mindset to see the interconnectedness of the world so that they can become citizens of the world. I am thrilled to be the agent of change and provide this opportunity to our students."


 In this photo: Rosana Ng (center) with Jasmine Nunn, Education Director, and Dave Naele, Executive Director, Animal Asia Foundation















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What Humane Education Looks like: Finding the Connections and Root Causes of Global Issues

We live in a world in which we too often dichotomize issues into a simple black/white, either/or, us/them framework. We find it in the news, in our education curricula, in our government and business policies, and even in our own daily choices.

But the world is much more complex. As we teach in humane education, most issues are deeply interconnected, and the most effective change happens when we seek out the root causes of our problems.

I wanted to share two great examples that highlight that interconnectedness and demonstrate the importance of diving beyond the surface. Not only are they great discussion starters, but they serve as a model for educators and activists alike.

The first example is from educator and environmental leader, David Orr. In his 2004 book,
The Last Refuge: Patriotism, Politics, and the Environment in an Age of Terror, he said the following:
"I once asked a class to explain the Gulf of Mexico dead zone (which is roughly the size of New Jersey), the fact that 22 percent of U.S. teenagers are reportedly overweight or obese, and the possible relationships between the two. After an hour, they had filled the blackboard with boxes and arrows that included federal farm subsidies, U.S. tax law, chemical dependency, feedlots and megafarms, the rise of the fast-food industry, declining farm communities, corporate centralization, advertising, a cheap food policy, research agendas at land-grant institutions, urban sprawl, the failure of political institutions, cheap fossil energy, and so forth. Most of the things described by those boxes, however, resulted from decisions that were once thought to be economically rational or at least within the legitimate self-interest of the parties involved. But collectively they are an unfolding continental-scale disaster affecting the health of people and land alike.

The same connect-the-dots kind of exercise could be done to explain urban decay and land sprawl, a defense policy that undermines true security, a de facto energy policy that promotes inefficiency, transportation gridlock, and the failure to provide universal health care. Our individual and collective ­failure to comprehend and act on the connectedness of things is pervasive, systemic, and threatens our health and long-term prosperity. It deserves urgent national attention, but is scarcely noticed. 

Why is this so?"
 The above excerpt is required reading for our graduate students, and for many of them it's an epiphanic moment. As one of our students recently shared about her humane education training (and referred to Orr's statement):

"... humane education has taught me how to draw a web. Now, when I think about factory farming, I think of human slavery; when I see KFC packaging and to-go containers, I think about the loss of habitat for Sumatran tigers; when I see a cheap cotton shirt at a department store, I think of sick children in Asia; when I see people littering and trashing the earth, I think about female exploitation and abuse. To me, this is the brilliant insight of humane education."

The second example is from a book I'm reading now: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. He relates the story of entrepreneur, Paul O'Neill, who at one time was working for the U.S. government and was assigned to determine why U.S. infant mortality was so high. O'Neill was determined to get at the root cause of the problem, which on the surface seemed like this simple solution: to lower infant mortality, improve mothers' diets.

But O'Neill made his assistants dig deeper, and they uncovered this trail: To improve mothers' diets (which would reduce malnourishment of babies), women had to improve their diets before becoming pregnant. Which meant they needed to be educated about nutrition before they became sexually active. Which meant teaching them about good nutrition in school. Which meant making sure that high school teachers (especially in rural areas) were proficient enough to teach good nutrition. Which meant improving how teachers were trained. As Duhigg says, "Poor teacher training, the officials working with O'Neill finally figured out, was a root cause of high infant mortality. If you asked doctors or public health officials for a plan to fight infant deaths, none of them would have suggested changing how teachers are trained."

Again, the interconnectedness and complexity of an issue is revealed.

Helping our students and fellow citizens to become solutionaries means giving them the skills and motivation to seek out the connections and root causes of global issues, so that they can eschew the over simplistic and often inaccurate framing that inundates our culture and focus on truly creating a better world for all.

~ Marsha

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Time, Change, and Complacency

Image courtesy Edwin Barkdoll.
We dropped our son off at college a couple of weeks ago. After returning from the 16 hour round trip drive, my husband and I and our three dogs walked down to the ocean at sunset. At one point we were standing by a pool formed at low tide by a ring of rocks. I recalled that when my son was three years old, he waded and played in this pool, and I took a photo of him. Now my husband was taking a very different photo, and our son was in college. The mark of time was suddenly so stark.

But while the passage of time has altered his life, and ours, enormously, little seems to have changed on Patten Bay. The long-tailed ducks still come and congregate in the winter in chatty groups just offshore; the seals bask on the rocks and bark in summer. The loons call. The ospreys return in the spring, as do the herons. The grass and beach heather still grow in the same spots. And while the small rocks move and shift, the big ones stand as seemingly everlasting totems. The sun makes its arc, sometimes narrow, sometimes wide, depending on the season, but predictably, year after year.

And so it is easy to imagine that it will always be this way. The changes we make to the environment – unless they entail clear cuts or mountaintop removals – usually happen slowly. A housing development here. A new shopping center there. A new cottage on the shore. And only over time do we notice how much has changed; how the growth in our human population results in an inexorable encroachment on wilderness.

I’m lucky that the 16 years between the photo that I took of this pool when my son was three, and the photo my husband took a couple of weeks ago, present a generally unchanged landscape. But I remind myself not to be misled. The landscapes, here and across the globe, are changing. The water comes up higher as the seas rise. The oceans are acidifying, and the corals are dying. So many species of fish of are disappearing. It’s critical that we don't let our inability to easily see visible changes blind us to the realities occurring all around us. If we love this earth, as I so dearly do, we must protect what we love and not become complacent.

~ Zoe

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 TEDxConejo talk: "Solutionaries"
My TEDxDirigo talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"


Get tickets now for the October 13 NYC debut of my 1-woman show -- My Ongoing Problems with Kindness: Confessions of MOGO Girl -- at United Solo, the world's largest solo theatre festival.

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Fans Film "Captain Planet" Trailer Tribute

In the work we all do to help create a better world, it's vital to remember the importance of fun and creativity.

In that vein, check out this fan-created trailer (h/t to Treehugger) for a non-existent Captain Planet movie. (For those too young -- or old -- to know, Captain Planet and the Planeteers was a TV series in the early 90's. It was super-cheesy in a lot of ways, but it also helped raise youth awareness about environmental issues.)





Obviously the creators have excellent filmmaking skills. It made me kinda wish Captain Planet was real. But since he isn't, it's up to us to combine our powers to create that just, compassionate, healthy, sustainable world we want. And to remember to do so with added joy and fun.

Go Planet!

~ Marsha

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Taking on Animal Oppression at the Root: Carnism Action & Awareness Network

Image Carnism Awareness & Action Network screenshot.
Our human culture teaches us that certain beliefs and behaviors are normal, necessary, and natural; it also teaches us that most of the decisions we make are intentional and logical. But as numerous psychological studies have shown, that's not the case. Many of our decisions are based on influences we're not even aware of, and many of the beliefs we hold close are a matter of cultural indoctrination, rather than of a conclusion reached after careful, critical thought.

Such is the case with our relationship with nonhuman animals, and a new website has launched, with the goal of helping us rethink that relationship -- specifically the way we think about eating animals.

Dr. Melanie Joy, author of Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows, has created the Carnism Awareness & Action Network (CAAN), which seeks to "raise awareness of and challenge carnism, the invisible belief system that conditions people to eat certain animals."

As Melanie says:
"Carnism is a violent, oppressive system that causes widespread animal exploitation as well as human victimization. However, the vast majority of consumers of animals, who care about animals and their own wellbeing, are unaware of the consequences of carnism on themselves and their world. At CAAN, we believe that people need and deserve to know the truth about carnism so they can make their food choices freely – because without awareness, there is no free choice."

Right now the website offers some suggested resources, useful information about carnism, and Melanie's terrific video presentation about carnism (which is required viewing for our graduate students). Soon the website will also have an active group of task forces that will help professionals in various fields work together to challenge institutional carnism.

One of the most exciting and hopeful aspects of CAAN is that:
  • it targets the root of the belief system that condones and promotes eating certain animals;
  • it frames eating animals as a social justice issue, rather than as a "personal choice";
  • it works on changing the systems of oppression, not just on individual change.

All of these aspects are key elements of humane education.

Check out the CAAN website for more information.

~ Marsha

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