Politics and You

I was recently invited to attend a reception for Tom Allen, a Congressman from Maine who is running for Senate against Susan Collins. I've always liked Tom Allen's politics -- what I know of them anyway. And I liked how he responded to questioners at the reception. Some were somewhat peeved at Tom because of a few of his votes, and because he hadn't gotten us out of Iraq yet.

Tom's responses to his more testy questioners was never defensive, capitulating or bullying. He calmly expressed his views. I went up to him after the reception to give him two books: Capitalism 3.0: A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons (by Peter Barnes) and Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (by McDonough & Braungart). While I was waiting to speak to him, someone came up and asked a question. Tom responded with his own thoughts and then said, "What do you think?" He seemed genuinely to want to learn from his questioner. He appeared authentic in his awareness that he didn't have all the answers, and his job was to learn. He graciously, and apparently gratefully, welcomed my book donations. I gave them to him because I believe that our politicians have as much to learn as we do, and that we must work together to find meaningful, practical, ethical solutions to challenges, which books such as these help us to do.

Whether Tom is as genuine as he seems, I don't know; but I do know that we play our role in democracy by participating in it and helping to educate our political leaders.


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Learning Education -- Part 2

Let me restate the question: How do we learn what education is? This question is important to me because I think it’s somewhere at the heart of our struggle to create a better future. It’s at the core of why so many young people are unfulfilled by their schooling experiences. I’d like to make the proposition that, as our society practices education according to its definition, if we think the practice is somehow flawed, then perhaps we need to look at the definition. If the definition is flawed (and I suggest strongly that it is), then how do we keep more generations from being passively indoctrinated the same way I was (see Learning Education Part 1.

The word education comes from the Latin educere, meaning "to lead out.” Socrates, a powerful influence in western thinking, spoke about education in terms of drawing out that which was already inside people.

In contrast, here’s the current definition according to the American Heritage Dictionary:

1. The act or process of educating or being educated.
2. The knowledge or skill obtained or developed by a learning process.
3. A program of instruction of a specified kind or level: driver education; a college education.
4. The field of study that is concerned with the pedagogy of teaching and learning.
5. An instructive or enlightening experience: Her work in the inner city was a real education.

Here is a sample of definitions I cut and pasted from the web:

“The central task of education is to implant a will and facility for learning; it should produce not learned but learning people. The truly human society is a learning society, where grandparents, parents, and children are students together.” ~Eric Hoffer

“No one has yet realized the wealth of sympathy, the kindness and generosity hidden in the soul of a child. The effort of every true education should be to unlock that treasure.” ~Emma Goldman

“The only purpose of education is to teach a student how to live his life -- by developing his mind and equipping him to deal with reality. The training he needs is theoretical, i.e., conceptual. He has to be taught to think, to understand, to integrate, to prove. He has to be taught the essentials of the knowledge discovered in the past -- and he has to be equipped to acquire further knowledge by his own effort.” ~Ayn Rand

“The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think — rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with the thoughts of other men.” ~Bill Beattie

Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” ~Paulo Freire

“The one real object of education is to leave a man in the condition of continually asking questions.” ~Bishop Creighton

“The central job of schools is to maximize the capacity of each student.” ~Carol Ann Tomlinson

Defining education shouldn’t be left up to professional educators, famous thinkers or, heaven forbid, the lexicographers. Education is an organic, ancient dimension of human culture and its professionalization and commoditization is perhaps quite recent (e.g., the sophists of 5th century B.C.).

What influences have shaped the definition of education in the modern West? Is it meeting the needs of our modern world? How can we dedicate ourselves to education that truly serves our future? How can we “lead out” all that is best in humanity?

~Khalif Williams, IHE Executive Director
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Imagination, Ideas, Effort

In our M.Ed. and Humane Education Certificate Programs, students read a lot of books – about 40 all together. In the course on Human Rights, they currently read Derrick Jensen’s brilliant, comprehensive, no-stone-left-unturned book, The Culture of Make Believe. It’s an impressive work of 600 plus pages that chronicles all that’s wrong with the world. And at the very end, just when you’re hoping to discover the solutions to the web of interconnected problems, Jensen leaves you hanging with a call for the end of civilization and a return to the particular. Hmmm....

Students in our program write their own last chapters to Jensen’s book, with their own suggestions and ideas for real solutions and answers to the challenges we face and the problems we’ve created. This is what humane education is all about: diving deep into the issues of our time and tapping our creativity, talent, insight and wisdom for meaningful, practical ways to create systemic change. It’s about giving others these tools so that together we can actually create a safe, sane, sustainable world.

Whenever and wherever you are faced with a thorny problem or danger, seek a solution. Less rant, more imagination; less can’t, more positive ideas; less shan’t, more effort.

--Zoe Weil, IHE President
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Hope is Vegan Shampoo in Smalltown Kansas

I’m so grateful for the new world vision I have – the virtual lenses I wear that make me aware of the impact of my choices and help me live a more humane life. But sometimes those lenses can be a real downer. I try to live my life with joy, but when you’re aware of all the suffering and destruction and injustice that surrounds us all the time, the world can seem so much darker, less hopeful, more, “What’s the point of making these more humane choices again?” For example, sometimes, when I look at a cow, I don’t just see and appreciate the cow (although I totally love cows!); I see the suffering that all farmed animals endure. I hear the cows (and pigs and chickens and others) screaming and begging for mercy and justice. When I see the new shoes my friend bought at Wal-mart “for a really good price!”, I don’t just see the shoes, but the human rights violations, environmental destruction and consumer gluttony that accompany them. I sometimes struggle daily not to become overwhelmed by the “dark side.”

But, a recent trip has renewed my hope.

In mid-May I went to visit my mom in my small hometown, right in the heart of cattle, gas and oil country. My husband and I joke about needing a special passport to pass safely through this land as vegans, but sometimes it feels close to the truth. This visit, though, I noticed several small differences. While picking up a few items at the local grocery, you would have thought from my yips of joy that I had won the lottery. I felt like I had. There were vegan burgers and non-dairy ice cream, organic produce and eco-friendly, cruelty-free toothpaste and shampoo! During that visit I saw an article in the newspaper of a nearby (larger) city about healthy vegetarian cooking (with recipes!) & the county extension office was offering veg cooking classes. My hometown now has a farmer’s market in the summer. And for the first time ever, my mom, who has pretty much stuck her fingers in her ears and done the “la-la-la-la” song any time I bring up humane issues -- especially surrounding animals -- admitted that I’ve changed her thinking about the place of animals in the world, and that “Thou shalt not kill” and “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren….” might actually include animals, too. She expressed her willingness to consider not buying slave chocolate. She has recommended a “progressive” book to her church group. She is willingly reading books by people like John Robbins & Zoe Weil…and liking them.

I tell you, friends, when you’re lenses are dragging you down instead of lifting you up, take them off, polish them a little, and put them back on. Those little beacons of hope will start popping up in your field of vision. Notice them, appreciate them, and let them bring a smile to your eyes and joy to your heart. Because those little beacons mean that humane choices are making true progress.

-- Marsha Rakestraw, Web Content & Community Manager

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It All ADs Up

During the past two mornings, I’ve been teaching my son’s seventh grade class about advertising and helping them to think critically about the products that surround us. I began, as I often do, by testing their brand knowledge. I showed them the first letters of several brand names (The M in McDonald’s, the A in A & W, the K in Kellogg’s, the H in Hershey’s, etc.) and asked whether they could name the brands just from seeing the first letter; (they could). Then I checked to see if they could recognize a brand by just a logo (such as the Target bullseye), and they all could do this, too. Most of them could even identify a brand by just a color (such as GAP navy). Lastly, I asked them to fill in the blanks: Got ______? Just __ __. Give me a ________. Do the ____. In the process, they realized just how much they “knew” from advertising. I then gave them some tools for analyzing ads so that they would not be unwitting victims, but conscious viewers and listeners able to discern, think critically, and make choices based on their own values. I also had the students analyze products and research the product's effects on themselves, other people, other species, and the environment. Finally, I let them know about some young people who have, like them, learned about some of the problems in the world and have sought to fix them.

By the end of class, they were all making promises to do or change something that would make a difference. I emphasized that the promise should be small – something they would be sure to keep. On Monday, one child will be setting up a donation box at school to gather items for kids at out local homeless shelter. Another is starting a petition against animal testing. One plans to try to buy only fair trade items from now on.

There’s not much that’s as heartening and hopeful as watching a group of young people learn about some of the challenges we face and seek to solve problems. It’s why I’m a humane educator, and why I hope that more and more teachers and activists will become humane educators, too.

-- Zoe Weil, IHE President

Download some sample activities like those mentioned above:
Analyzing Advertising activity
Behind the Scenes activity
True Price activity

Find more humane education activities.
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