Get Your (Humane) Game On!

Helping young people understand what someone is experiencing from what seems like the other side of the world can be a challenge. Experiential activities, in which the participant gets a "real" taste of a different life (such as having them stand on a milk crate in sock feet in order to get an inkling of what a hen trapped in a battery cage endures, or spend a few minutes tying tiny perfect knots so that they have an idea of what children who are forced to make rugs experience) can really help them empathize with another. But, if they can't experience such a life directly, a virtual experience is a good second. I discovered two interesting web-based role-playing games recently, that focus on human rights issues and may be useful for humane educators to incorporate into their work.


What’s it like to try to survive in a refugee camp? In Darfur is Dying players take on the role of a Darfurian who tries to complete a variety of tasks in order to help his/her community survive, including foraging for water, obtaining food, building shelter and staying healthy. If a player can do all this and survive -- surviving attack, escaping capture, etc. – then s/he's “won.” Mousing over question marks scattered throughout the camp provides data about what life is like in a refugee camp. The game offers additional information about the plight of Darfurians in Sudan and suggests ways to help.


Ayiti: The Cost of Life explores the question: “What is it like to live in poverty, struggling every day to stay healthy, keep out of debt, and get educated?” In this complex role-playing game, Players are in charge of determining what happens to a family of 5 in Ayiti. They must try to keep everyone healthy, while helping them get as much education as possible and make enough money to survive and thrive. The player has 4 years (divided into 16 seasons) to try to succeed, and has to choose a “strategy” at the beginning: health, education, happiness or money. Who will work, rest, go to school, volunteer, get health care? How will it be paid for? Each choice has a consequence (some positive, some negative). The game is somewhat complicated, with a variety of choices and actions necessary for each season. There are a couple of lesson plans that accompany the game, to help participants process their experience and/or think critically about the issues.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Humane Toolbox: Frequently Asked Questions

Last week I gave an interactive presentation on factory farming to adults. During the Q & A phase, here came those common questions that shadow humane educators everywhere, like a pesky little brother -- you love him, but you're tired of him being around all the time and wish he'd go play with someone else for awhile...or at least come up with more original questions. "What about plants? Plants have feelings too!" "Why should we care about animals when there are so many humans in need?" "But animals are here for us to use."

It’s essential for humane educators to be prepared to respond well to any number and type of questions and comments from students, parents, administrators, teachers and others regarding humane education issues. Fortunately (or not, depending on how you want to look at it), people ask many of the same questions about these issues, so it's easier to think about and practice compassionate, thoughtful responses (or questions you'd ask in return) -- ones that don't tell the person what to think or how to act, but which inspire critical thinking and encourage positive choices. Sometimes, the questions people ask -- or the comments they make -- can be really surprising and disconcerting; practicing active listening, addressing their core needs, remaining calm, and responding compassionately can really help you become more prepared, even for those tricky situations.

As part of his Master's degree requirements, one of our graduates has done a lot of work to help ease your way into responding to frequently asked questions and comments regarding humane education issues. IHE graduate Bob Schwalb, who is now a full-time humane educator in New York City, developed an FAQs booklet, (PDF format) which offers possible responses to a variety of questions and comments in order to stimulate critical thinking and allow the questioner to make his/her own choices. Check it out, and add it to your humane toolbox.

~ Marsha, Web Content & Community Manager

Image courtesy of teachscape.
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Change is Happening!

I attended the Bioneers conference in San Rafael a week ago, and what a breath of fresh air it was. Speaker after speaker shared information about the great challenges of our time, but they also talked about the solutions they and others were implementing. Whether it was Van Jones talking about promoting green collar jobs among disenfranchised and impoverished youth (and making us laugh throughout); or Jay Harman demonstrating his technologies, derived from the concept of biomimicry, that dramatically reduce fossil fuel use; or Eve Ensler regaling us with her successes in reducing violence toward women worldwide; or Majora Carter showing us her blighted South Bronx neighborhood transformed into a green space; or Ka Hsaw Wa and Katie Redford reporting their success at winning a lawsuit against Unocal, which sets a precedent that will eventually make human violations by corporations working overseas a thing of the past - there was so much good news.

The energy level of the thousands of attendees, especially of the engaged youth, was incredible, and a most welcome and hopeful sign of things to come. If you're feeling overwhelmed and full of despair, visit and get to know these efforts and people who are making a difference. Then join them!

We can create a peaceful, sustainable, humane world.

~ Zoe, IHE President
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Six Activist Youth Honored With Brower Youth Award

Last night six hardworking youth were awarded the 2007 Brower Youth Awards. The Brower Youth Awards "recognize people (age 13 to 22) living in North America who have shown outstanding leadership on a project with positive environmental and social impact."

Winners of this annual, national award receive "a $3,000 cash prize, a trip to California for the award ceremony and wilderness camping trip, and ongoing access to resources and opportunities to further their work at Earth Island Institute."

The winners for 2007 are:

Rachel Barge, a UC – Berkeley student who co-created the Green Initiative Fund, which secures money for sustainability projects on campus.

Erica Fernandez, 16, who helped mobilize the youth of her community to defeat a proposal to put a liquefied natural gas facility through low-income neighborhoods.

Actress Q’orianka Kilcher, 17, has used her celebrity to bring attention to the plight of the Achuar peoples in the Peruvian Amazon basin in fighting against Occidental Petroleum, which has released toxic contaminants into the water.

Alexander Lin, 14, has taken on E-Waste. He has helped establish programs to divert tons of it from his community and has set up a system to provide refurbished computers to international youth.

Carlos Moreno, 19, has helped his community create summer jobs for youth, as well as to mobilize teens to get active in their community.

Jon Warnow, 23, was integrally involved in mobilizing participation in the National Day of Climate Action, involving more than 1400 communities in all 50 states.

Know of young people working for environmental and/or social justice? Tell them about the 2008 awards.

The BYA are a project of the Earth Island Institute.

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Humane Reads: Frances Moore Lappe's New Book: Getting a Grip

Writer, educator and activist Frances Moore Lappe, author of books like Diet for a Small Planet and Hope's Edge (and source of one of my favorite quotes: "Every choice we make can be a celebration of the world we want."), has published a new book about the power to transform our "frame" and make real, lasting change. Getting a Grip: Clarity, Creativity & Courage in a World Gone Mad is about "learning to see the killer ideas that trap us and letting them go. It’s about people in all walks of life interrupting the spiral of despair and reversing it with new ideas, ingenious innovation and courage. It’s about finding that mixture of anger and hope to energize us for this do-or-die effort."

Lappe says, “My book’s intent is to enable us to see what is happening all around us, but is still invisible to most of us. It is about people in all walks of life who are penetrating the spiral of despair and reversing it with new ideas, ingenious innovation - and courage.”

Find out more.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Mark Your Calendar: Help Students Make Connections with Food

Are you part of a team of teachers (or humane educators, parents, administrators, etc.) interested in increasing your students' connection to and understanding of food and food systems? Is your school trying to increase the amount of fresh, healthy foods your kids consume?

Consider applying to attend "Rethinking Food, Health, and the Environment: Making Learning Connections," one of the 5-day professional development institutes sponsored by the Center for Ecoliteracy.

The dates are:
June 23-27, 2008 - Berkeley, California
August 9-13, 2008 - New York, New York

Find out more.

Image courtesy of e3000.
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Toy Guns & Roses... Should Humane Kids Play with Toy Weapons?

In our discussion boards for students and graduates – our “Online Classroom” in which we can all debate and discuss, ponder and process the important (and not so important) issues – someone often brings up an issue in their own lives in which they’re struggling to do the most good and least harm. Below is one such question, followed by my response.

Q: Before I had children, I was always very firm with the thought that I would never let my child play with toys that had anything to do with violence. Now that I am a parent, I see that it's not as easy as I thought. I am still resolute that I do not want my son playing with toys like that (He's only 2 now, but they grow up fast!). However, some people don’t think it's such a big deal to let him play with pirates wielding swords, action figures that might have weapons, etc. They’ve said that they played with toys like that and played "Army" and things of that sort when they were children and didn’t turn out to be violent.

I see boys in the neighborhood running around "play fighting" and things like that and I know that my son will be exposed to this type of play whether we allow such toys in our house or not. I'm looking for some insight and thoughts from other parents who have struggled with this issue with their own children, or from others who have seen children playing with such toys and how it affected them.

It seems hypocritical to try to raise a child to be a humane, peace-loving person while at the same time allowing play with violent-natured toys. Yet, on the other hand, I wonder if making such things taboo would only make children more interested in them. What is the fascination with these kinds of toys anyway?

~ Stephanie, IHE M.Ed. graduate

A: This is a tough one, Stephanie, and I can sympathize. I did not allow any toy guns in the house when my son Forest was little, but I did allow swords. But the truth is that even if I didn't allow swords, Forest would have made his own, as he did with fingers turning into guns. When he won a water gun at a fair many years later, I didn't take it away. When he turned 13, his friend called me up to ask if it was okay to give him a nerf gun for his birthday. I acquiesced. It wasn't the only nerf gun he got that day - another friend got one for him, too, and that's what they played at his birthday party. This summer (he's 14 now) I let him use his own money to buy 2 airsoft guns (they look just like handguns and shoot plastic pellets). He can't play with them at our house or on our property, which just moves them out of my personal sphere so that I can tolerate their existence. He rarely uses them, and he never uses the nerf guns anymore.

Which leads me to believe that forbidding toy weapons makes them more coveted and appealing, and that, in truth, they don’t hold all that much interest after a certain point.

But the deeper question, why do they want them, is really important. We can't pretend that we, as a species, are just acculturated to be drawn toward violence - it's too much part of our history and our species to think that this is just something our societies perpetuate. We're both predators and prey after all, with a million years of evolution in our blood that make us both altruistic and compassionate, as well as protective and territorial. We know how to fight, and we know how to negotiate. We're complicated. Swords offer children a sense of power and nobility and the chance to play out their fears and be chivalrous, not just hostile.

Forbidding guns doesn't stop the impulse. I remember my husband being more concerned that if we had a daughter she'd want to play with Barbie dolls. Well, I loved my Barbies and I turned into a feminist just as my husband loved guns as a kid and turned into a gentle, compassionate man.

As a kid at camp, I LOVED riflery. Just loved it. Wanted to go to the camp I went to because they had riflery. I never wanted to shoot anyone, but I loved shooting targets. I don't know why really. A sense of accomplishment, gaining a skill, the idea of it, the discipline, the challenge.

These questions go to the core of who we are as humans. We can try to deny our impulses and our children's impulses, but where does that get us? The key in life is to choose kindness, compassion, honesty, generosity and integrity over cruelty, apathy, deception, greed and laziness; we have the capacity to manifest all of these and much more, but if your son is drawn to sword play, can you help him to use his sword to protect others? And if you choose not to allow any weapons of any sort, be prepared to reconsider as he gets older. In the spirit of openness, engage in dialogue about it; find out what's important to him.

~ Zoe, IHE President

Image courtesy of shermee.

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Mystery Meat No More! Hop on the Healthy School Lunch Bandwagon

Happy National School Lunch Week!

Ah, school lunches. Fond memories of glunk plopped on a plastic tray, featuring the 4 food groups: cholesterol, fat, salt and sugar. (Gotta love those tater tots, though!)

With child obesity rising, more sugary/fatty drinks and snacks available throughout the day, and the most challenging lunch decision for many students being which in-school fast food stop to make, I'm not sure schools as a whole have really improved what they're feeding kids. Fortunately, more schools, parents, educators and activists are beginning to pay serious attention to food in schools: how it effects our health and community, how it impacts our environment, and even the need for animal-free options.

If you're a parent concerned about what schools are feeding your kids, or a humane educator looking for a way to make a positive impact, consider these sample resources for helping schools -- and students -- develop a healthier relationship with food.

Ecoliteracy: Rethinking School Lunch
Information and resources for developing healthier food programs in schools.

Farm to School
Resources to “connect schools with local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving student nutrition, providing health and nutrition education opportunities that will last a lifetime, and supporting local small farmers.”

Healthy School Lunches
Information & resources from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine about bringing healthy school lunches to your school.

Two Angry Moms
A documentary about 2 moms’ journey to improve school lunches.

For those who prefer to bring your own lunches:

Vegan Lunch Box
An award-winning blog that features the yummy, nutritious food one mom makes for her son’s school lunch each day.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager

Image courtesy of Fazoom.

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Just the Facts, Ma'am

The other day a parent came up to me at the Reference desk at a public library where I occasionally work and asked me where she could find an older history textbook that had “just the real facts” and not any of this asking students about their feelings about what happened in history, or that politically correct stuff that her daughter’s school textbook has. While I tried to determine more specifically what her needs were (like a good librarian does), I also mentioned that, while dates and locations and names are often factual, all of history is in some way biased, as it is seen and written about through the lenses of different people with different values and perspectives. She agreed, but still insisted on a history book with “just the facts.”

Monday was Columbus Day, and this year, as in generations before, elementary schools all across the United States taught another group of children the FACT that, "In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue" and discovered America, etc. It is a fact that Columbus sailed to North America in 1492 and encountered Native peoples, but there’s a whole lot that seems to get left out about what happened after that. Like mass murder and the transatlantic slave trade.

These two events led me to thinking about three things as a humane educator. First, it’s ever-more urgent that we provide people with a more complete picture of issues to help them make the most humane choices possible. More people are starting to mark Columbus Day as “Indigenous People’s Day” or as “Genocide Day,” to acknowledge the slavery and genocide of Native people that occurred after Chris set foot on the “new world.” How many children would still want to celebrate the “discovery of America” if they were more informed?

Second, for those things that are facts, we need to be sure to know the facts and to get them right. I’ve lost count of the number of times in my earlier years that, when talking with someone about the “evils” of something or other, when the person started to ask in-depth questions, I realized I didn’t know as much about the issue as I thought. It was enough for me to learn the basics about an issue -- the connection between chocolate and slavery, the cruelty of factory farming, the enormous impact of consumer behavior – to inspire me to change my habits. I didn’t need to know the “gory details.” Some people do, so it’s important that we know them and know them well. It’s also essential that the facts we share are accurate. Stretch the truth, mislead, or misremember – even just a little – and our credibility evaporates forever.

It’s also important to get clear on what’s indeed a fact and what’s a belief or perspective. As activist Laura Moretti said, “That’s the nice thing about beliefs. Just because you’ve put your faith in them doesn’t make them true.” The things that happen to factory farmed animals are facts; the amount of pollution that’s released into our air and water and food and earth is a factual amount (whatever amount that is); that children, men and women are being forced into slavery all over the world is a fact; that more teenage girls are signing up for breast enhancements is a fact. That all those things are WRONG is a belief.

As gut-wrenchingly difficult as it can be, it’s important that we know our facts, get them right, share our own beliefs, and not try to tell people how they must live. We can inform and empower people so that they can make choices that are best for their lives…though it may not always be the choice we wish they would make.

~ Marsha, Web Content & Community Manager

Image courtesy of: dbking.

P.S. It wasn’t until I was a student with IHE that I really learned details about the different “versions” of history. If you’re interested in exploring more for your own education, or want to pursue sharing with students about different perspectives in history, you might find these sample resources useful:

The Columbus Story:

Rethinking Schools has created a book for educators called Rethinking Columbus that deals with this subject. It offers ”resources for teaching about the impact of the arrival of Columbus in the Americas” and includes ideas for kindergarten through college.

In her book Black Ants & Buddhists: Thinking Critically and Teaching Differently in the Primary Grades, Mary Cowhey offers a description of how she has explored with her second graders the issue of Columbus’s encounters with Native peoples.

History Reenvisioned:

Three books (among many) that explore different perspectives in American history from those most kids and adults are taught are: Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen (2007 ed.), A People’s History of the United States: From 1492 to Present by Howard Zinn (2005 ed.), and Don't Know Much About History: Everything You Need to Know About American History but Never Learned by Kenneth C. Davis (2004 ed.).

The Culture of Make Believe by Derrick Jensen (2004 ed.) examines many of the atrocities that have made up our culture, using several historical events as a springboard.
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Especially these days when our youth begin drinking in technology about the same time they start breastfeeding, images and video are important tools in sharing information with kids and in encouraging them to think critically about important issues. But, it can be difficult to find good sources of video that are quickly available and that have that all important element: they're free.

The creators of have developed their website so that people can view -- via web streaming -- documentaries on a variety of important issues, from war to democracy to animal abuse to globalization. The site offers access to nearly 80 complete documentaries and has organized them by title, topic and region. Haven't seen Supersize Me? Fahrenheit 9/11? Born into Brothels? Earthlings? Invisible Children? Watch them, and many other important films at this site, and use them during your humane education presentations.

For additional excellent resources for videos on humane issues, check out the Weblinks section of our website.

~ Marsha, Web Content & Community Manager

Image courtesy of Ssh.
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Language Matters

I found myself in a Starbucks buying tea last week for my mother who was in the hospital in New York. As I stood in line, the employees behind the counter would periodically yell out, "May I help the next guest, please?"


When it was my turn I asked the guy serving me if he had to call us guests, and he said he did. I laughed. Guests don't usually pay for their food, I said. He laughed, too.

In fact, here are the first two definitions of "guest" in my dictionary:
1. Somebody who receives hospitality at the home of somebody else.
2. Somebody who receives entertainment, such as a meal or attendance at a social event, that is paid for by somebody else.

Hmmm... I guess my tea should have been free.

So what if Starbucks execs want me to be called a guest. Does that do any harm? So what if the smallest size Starbucks offers in tea or coffee is called "Tall." Who cares? What does it matter?

Language matters. Starbucks is manipulating us. My small, single tea bag cup costs almost two dollars, but because it's "Tall," perhaps I won’t notice the price. I have to wait in line, but hey I'm just at a party, I'm a guest! Lucky me to be invited to the home of Starbucks!

Language shifts our perceptions and attitudes. Remember the book Brave New World? Remember Doublespeak? Starbucks is just one of many companies attempting to alter our realities through language. Stay alert and call them on it. Think your own thoughts. When you realize that you’re being manipulated, you gain back some of your freedom.

~ Zoe, IHE President

Image courtesy of Simon Shek.
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Mark Your Calendar: See LaDuke, Jensen & Shiva in Pennsylvania

Three of the major changemakers in the social justice and environmental arenas are speaking in Erie, Pennsylvania, October 12-14.

Winona LaDuke, Native American activist, environmentalist, economist and writer; Derrick Jensen, environmental activist and author; and, Vandana Shiva, physicist and activist will all be giving presentations and/or speaking on a panel as part of the Good People Gather: Charlene M. Tanner Speaker Series at Mercyhurst College, Friday, October 12 through Sunday, October 14. The event is free and open to the public and is co-sponsored by the Gaia Defense League.

Focused on “our societal and environmental global crisis and the urgent need for justice,” the event will also include “primitive skills, scenic hikes, art, earth and reflection workshops as well as an atlatl competition.”

Find out more.

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Mark Your Calendar: Connect with Social Justice Educators

If you’re going to be in the San Francisco, CA, area on Saturday, October 13, make sure you attend the Teaching for Social Justice Conference. The event will be at the Ben Franklin Campus, home of Gateway and KIPP Schools, 1430 Scott Street, from 9:00 am – 4:30 pm.

This year’s theme is “Breaking the Script,Visions for Change.”

This conference is sponsored by Teachers 4 Social Justice. Their mission is “to provide opportunities for self-transformation, leadership, and community building to educators in order to affect meaningful change in the classroom, school, community and society.”

The conference is free, but organizers request that you pre-register online.

If you hail from the other side of the Mississippi, then mark your
calendar for the Teaching for Social Justice Curriculum Fair,
Saturday, November 10, Orozco School,
1940 W. 18Th Street, Chicago, Illinois. The fair runs from 11 am – 5 pm and offers workshops, group discussions, and plenty of opportunities to see what other teachers are doing with social justice issues in their classrooms. The event is sponsored by Teaching for Social Justice in Chicago and Rethinking Schools.
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Education Guru Parker Palmer Speaks in Boston October 4

Author and education revolutionary Parker Palmer is speaking in Boston, Massachusetts, on Thursday, October 4. Educators for Social Responsibility and the Center for Courage and Renewal Northeast at Wellesley College are among the co-sponsors of this free event, which begins at 6:30 pm at the Boston Public Library -- Rabb Lecture Hall, 700 Boylston Street, Boston, MA. Find out more about the event.

Parker is most well-known for his book The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life, which is one of the required reading titles for IHE’s M.Ed. and HECP programs.

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