Humane Educator's Toolbox: Animation of Rates of Animal Slaughter in the U.S.

The principal at Whitwell Middle School in rural Tennessee knew that it was difficult for students to envision just how many 6 million is when they were studying the Holocaust (the number of people who were exterminated by the Nazis), so they decided to collect paperclips (one clip to represent one person) to help create a visual representation (see the documentary about the project it became).

Likewise, when we ask people to think about the number of land animals killed for food in the U.S. each year – more than 10 billion – the number alone can be a poor representative of the depth and breadth of suffering and death involved. Recently I found a powerful little visual representation of the number of chickens (9 billion), pigs (116 million) and cows (35 million) killed in the U.S. for food in 2008.

Created by Mark Middleton, founder of Animal Visuals, the brief video shows little animated cow, pig and chicken carcasses sliding along a slaughterhouse line at the average rate of slaughter (such as 287 per second for chickens). The data for the animation comes directly from the USDA.

Middleton’s goal with Animal Visuals is to “provide compelling visuals and interactive media to empower animal advocates, educate the public, and expose the injustices of animal exploitation.”

He has also created a Virtual Battery Cage, which offers a glimpse into what a battery hen endures while in her cage. The “virtualization” also includes sound and factoids. It's not as strong a tool as the slaughter animation, but still worth a look.

Look for Middleton to create more such tools in the future.

~ Marsha

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The Susan Boyle Phenomenon

I’ve been curious, delighted, and dismayed by the media response to Susan Boyle’s instant notoriety after performing on Britain’s Got Talent. Her performance has generated over 60 million views on YouTube, , and she’s become the new singing sensation. But most of the conversation has been around her appearance. Even Talk of the Nation, a radio show that usually covers meaningful issues, devoted a segment to her looks. Recently, the New York Times had an article analyzing the reasons why her looks are such a topic and assessing stereotypes and human psychology. At least now we’re delving into the phenomenon, rather than taking part in Boyle-bashing based on looks.

My curiosity revolved around the speed at which one woman’s unlikely success became an international phenomenon. As someone who’s trying to gain media attention for efforts in humane education and the MOGO principle, and who has come to realize just how difficult this is, it’s remarkable to watch what can happen when someone becomes a media sensation overnight.

My delight revolved around Susan Boyle’s success based on talent, not on beauty, wealth, youth, or whom she knew.

My dismay revolved around the overwhelming focus on her appearance, including the specificity of the critique. There was an inordinate amount of attention paid to her frizzy, greying hair and bushy eyebrows, which infuriated me. She is being criticized for leaving the hair that grows on her body alone, instead of buying products to change it and removing parts of it to meet conventional standards of beauty. Listening to a debate on the media about what sorts of makeover would be appropriate, I found myself alternately shifting from outrage to wonderment. Is this really what we care about? Is this really the topic of the day? With all the pressing issues of our time, we readily turn our attention to the grotesquely unimportant: Susan Boyle’s physical appearance and what she should do about it.

I keep wondering what we could do to generate this kind of attention for humane education and MOGO living. Every idea that could generate media attention seems ridiculously gimmicky and lacking in integrity. So dear readers of this blog, any suggestions for creating a media phenomenon for MOGO?


Image courtesy of ITV.
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7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Buy

iPods, flatscreen TVs and cars are in. Clothes dryers, older TVs and microwaves are out. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, the sorrowful state of the economy has inspired Americans to change their minds about what they can -- and can't -- live without.

Back in 2006 when the economy was still flush with confidence, more stuff and gadets were much more likely to fall into our "needs" category -- everything from air conditioners to microwaves to dishwashers. Now, in this recent survey, many of those have been identified as "luxuries." It's amazing how quickly we can change our perspectives and behaviors when we need to. What we think we need is based much more in our heads than it is in reality.

It's also quite telling what items are considered "needs" in this new economy: what the survey calls "old tech" and "middle-aged" items (such as microwaves and standard TVs) are tossed aside in favor of high-speed internet and cell phones, especially among younger people. And, of course, we still believe we can't live without our cars.

The survey also indicates that people are looking for a variety of ways to save money:
"...eight-in-ten adults have taken specific steps of one kind or another to economize during these bad times. Almost six-in-ten say they are shopping more in discount stores or are passing up name brands in favor of less expensive varieties. Nearly three-in-ten adults say they've cut back spending on alcohol or cigarettes. About one-in-four say they've reduced spending on their cable or satellite television service or canceled the service altogether. About one-in-five say they've gone with a less expensive cell phone plan, or canceled service. One-in-five say they've started mowing their own lawn or doing home repairs rather than pay others for the service. And about one-in-five adults say they are following the example of first lady Michelle Obama and are making plans to plant a vegetable garden to save money on food."

For those of us who want to keep more pennies in our pocketbooks while bringing mindfulness to the material goods and services we add to our lives, we can ask ourselves these seven questions when we're having difficulty determining what's actually a need and what's not:

7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Buy:

  1. Is this really a Want or a Need?
  2. How much will I use it? How long will it last?
  3. Could I borrow it ? Make it? Do without it?
  4. Will having this add meaning to my life?
  5. Is purchasing this item the best way to care for myself and the planet?
  6. What is the true cost of this item to:
    • Myself?
    • Other cultures?
    • Other people?
    • Other species?
    • Other animals?
    • The environment?
  7. What will happen to this item when I’m finished with it?

~ Marsha

Thanks, Worldchanging, for the heads up about the survey.
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Humane Issues in the News...

Each week we post links to news about humane education & humane living, and items connected to humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media, consumerism and culture.

What’s the future of plastics?Mother Jones (5/09)
”However, plastic requires more than just an image makeover if it's going to make a positive contribution to a more energy efficient, less disposable world. ‘I think the case is fairly clear that we need to stop wasting petroleum for single-use products, like plastic bags and water bottles that get used for a few minutes and discarded,’ says Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. ‘What's less clear is what we do next, and how we do it in a cost-competitive and ecologically sound way.’"
Thanks, New Dream Blog, for the heads up.

Companion animals being abandoned at alarming rateAlterNet (4/28/09)
”As more and more Americans have lost their homes to the wave of foreclosures that has swept the nation, a shocking portion of them, whether due to an inability or an unwillingness to find homes for their animals after being rendered homeless themselves, have simply left their pets behind.”

Save the frogs, save ourselves (4/26/09)
”Kriger, a research biologist who has studied the amphibian plague chytridiomycosis, started SAVE THE FROGS! because ‘there was little to suggest that our society was on the path to saving threatened frogs or other amphibian species. Few people knew frogs were disappearing and there was no movement to avert an impending environmental disaster….’”

Scientists, conservationists call for 20-year fishing ban on 1/3 of oceansGuardian (UK) (4/26/09)
”The proposal comes in the wake of a green paper calling for radical reform of the common fisheries policy, which EU ministers admit has failed. It reveals that 88% of European Union stocks are overfished (against a global average of 25%), while 30% are ‘outside safe biological limits’, meaning they cannot reproduce as normal because the parenting population is too depleted.”
Thanks, Treehugger, for the heads up.

“Recycling takes a back seat in New Orleans’ recovery" – E Magazine (3-4/09)
”Over three years later, city officials still haven’t found a way to resume 'blue bin' recycling. Those who want to recycle are forced to pay an average of $15 a month to a private recycling company, such as Phoenix Recycling, or alternatively, hoard their recyclables in their homes for weeks, until they are able to unload them at drop-off sites. In either case, glass is no longer accepted as recyclable waste.”

Chocolate companies still using child laborNew Internationalist (4/09)
”Cargill, a major cocoa trader, has been honest about the reasons behind its failure effectively to address the problem. It admitted, in its public response to an ILRF action last year, that it did not have sufficient ‘market incentive’ to eliminate slavery from its supply chain. Consumers can avoid eating chocolate by one company or another. However, as Cargill is selling to all of them, can you be sure your chocolate did not go through Cargill’s hands?”

Advertisers shifting focus to “economical” productsNew Jersey Business News (4/26/09)
”Companies are moving their ad dollars from gourmet or frivolous items to pantry staples and traditionally ho-hum household goods. Hamburger Helper, Kool-Aid drink mix and that golden oldie, butter, are the advertising stars these days. The new advertising is aimed not only at cashing in on the new frugality of recession-wary consumers but also at fending off a flight to cheaper store brands.”

Swine flu outbreak may be linked to pig factory farms Grist (4/25/09)
”The Mexico City daily La Jornada has also made the link. According to the newspaper, the Mexican health agency IMSS has acknowledged that the original carrier for the flu could be the 'clouds of flies' that multiply in the Smithfield subsidiary’s manure lagoons.”
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Any Plan for Saving the World Must Include Humane Education

Last week’s Earth Day celebration passed with the usual green this and eco that. But this year also brought more attention to how both Earth Day and the concept of green have started to lose a bit of their shine, with their cooption by multinational corporations and other companies trying to cash in on our desire to do good. There’s also the growing revelation that taking those itty bitty steps for the planet, while better than nothing, isn’t nearly enough to save us – or the earth – from ourselves.

As Worldchanging says,

“We'll only head off disaster by taking steps -- together -- that are massive, societal and thorough. Most of what needs to be done involves political engagement, systems redesign, and cultural change. It can't be done in an afternoon and then forgotten about.”

Worldchanging has created a list of 10 “big, difficult, world-changing concepts” essential for helping create the just, compassionate, sustainable world we want (and need). Here’s their list:

1. Eliminate nuclear weapons.
2. Stabilize the bottom billion.
3. Create a globally transparent society.
4. Be prepared, globally.
5. Empower women.
6. Enable a future forward diet.
7. Document all life.
8. Negotiate an effective climate treaty.
9. Build bright green cities.
10. Build no new highways.

If you check out the full post, you can see their explanations about the problems that each of these concepts solves and why it’s important.

All of the above are admiral, desirable elements of a humane world. But, one essential concept that’s missing from the top of their list is:

1. Integrate comprehensive humane education into all areas of our lives.

If we’re taught from a young age to live with integrity, compassion and wisdom; if we’re given the tools and knowledge to put our deepest values into action; if we learn to pay attention to the impact of our choices and to do the most good and least harm for all people, animals and the planet; if we’re encouraged to think critically and creatively and to find solutions that work for all; if we’re inspired to look at the world through a lens of interconnectedness; if we’re empowered to make positive personal choices and to transform systems, we can create a truly humane world.

We're going to have a challenging time accomplishing all that other stuff on their list if we don't collectively have the passion, the skills and the integrity to create that world, and those are things that have to be nurtured and taught.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of flaivoloka.

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Let's Embrace MOGO Living as Quickly as We Adjust to New Technologies

During my current 13-day book tour (I'm writing this on day 6), I've relied heavily on relatively new technologies: email and a GPS accessible on my cell phone, for example. In six days I have slept in six beds and traveled 750 miles to many different locations. I have supplemented my GPS with Mapquest, MSN and Google Maps, just to be certain that, if the GPS loses signal, I'll still be able to get to my daily new destinations. These technologies are a few years old. For decades I've been getting to new places by carefully writing down directions and using a map. No longer. I don't even have maps of the areas I'm traveling to on this tour in my car. Instead, a little device tells me where to turn, and if I fail to do so, it calmly recalibrates and tells me how to rectify (usually to make a legal U-turn as soon as possible).

I was amazed by GPS technology for about 10 seconds. I was amazed by Mapquest for even less time than that. I adjusted to these new technologies so readily that I became irritated by their failures almost immediately. What do you mean you don't get a GPS signal in this area?! Why is the Mapquest mileage off by .5 mile?!

When I watch the YouTube video "Did you Know?" or witness the next generation's ability to utilize technologies so quickly without ever being taught, and when I pause to consider what is happening inside our brains, I marvel at our capacity for adaptation -- even at the impressive speed of current changes. And, I marvel at our just as quick failure to adjust back, if our technologies fail us. To clothe and feed and shelter and warm and cool ourselves without the perks of civilization's ever-increasing technologies. Our capacity for rapid adjustment is extraordinary. Our capacity to readjust when technologies fail less so.

But the truth is that it's time to rapidly adjust to new ideas of sustainable living, to paradigm shifts about what education is for, to the MOGO principle, not just to new technologies. If we can embrace new technologies with barely a notice, we can embrace a new perspective on living that puts conscious choicemaking and engaged changemaking for a better world at the forefront of our behaviors and goals.

~ Zoe

Image courtesy of Rotorhead.
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Are You Good? Are You Happy? 5 Online Tests Can Help You Tell

Are you good? Are you happy? How do you know? How good or happy are you compared to others? The daily choices we make can tell a lot about our values, intentions, and attitude, but sometimes people want more quantitative, “scientific” data. If you’re a fan of online quizzes, are curious about how your “goodness” might be perceived by others, and want to help contribute data for several ongoing studies, check out a recent blog post from Jason Marsh of Greater Good Magazine. He recently shared several “scientific tests” that measure a variety of factors on the “goodness” scale.

Marsh’s tests cover several areas, including:
  • How moral are you?
  • How prejudiced?
  • How empathic?
  • How socially intelligent?
  • How compassionate?
The tests only provide indications and generalizations, but they're still fun (most take no more than a few minutes to complete) and informative. They can also be a great tool for exploring with your students, if you're an educator.

~ Marsha
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That's the Funny Thing About Judgments and Assumptions...

This past weekend I led a MOGO Workshop at Bard College. My car had broken down the night before, and so I borrowed my niece's SUV to drive to the workshop from my brother's house ninety minutes away. I begin MOGO workshops by exploring assumptions and judgments. I ask participants their impressions and assumptions about me carrying different bags: a Tiffany & Co. bag, a Victoria's Secret bag, and a WalMart bag. The judgments fly. I'm alternately told I'm rich and vain, sexy and slutty, and poor and (believe it or not) evil -- and lots in between. This particular workshop, I had the opportunity to ask the audience what they thought of me when I told them that I drove an SUV there. I asked them to be honest. Some were clearly disturbed. What sort of hypocrite was leading a MOGO workshop and driving an SUV? Others, wanting to like me (after all, they'd just paid money to learn from me!), tried to give me the benefit of the doubt. Maybe because my drive from Maine was so long, and because there was so much to bring to the workshop, I needed the big gas guzzler, one participant offered kindly. MOGO wasn't about being perfect one lovely young woman reassured me and the audience.

There was clearly a sense of relief when I revealed that my car had broken down and I'd borrowed the SUV. One high school girl exclaimed, "I knew it!"

Funny about our judgments.

And so I asked the group to park their judgments and assumptions at the door, and to assume just one thing: that everyone in the room had something to teach them and that they had something to teach everyone in the room. I'm confident this proved true.

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Students Experiment With Living More Simply & Deliberately

A month without sugar? Without cell phones or Internet? A lot of people might scoff at the idea of high school students doing without these perceived necessities of teenage life, but a group of students from Mundelein High School in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois have been successfully “doing without” for several months.

Part of an “immersion journalism project,” students have chosen to ”withdraw from certain elements/habits of their modern society.” Each month students “voluntarily withdraw” from something different, from watching television to using new paper to buying something new to talking/texting on cell phones and surfing the Internet. Participants also agreed to “individualize each month with some of their own simplifications, withdrawals, and experiments.”


Both the teacher and the students are hoping the experiment helps students become more aware of the impact of our convenience culture and helps connect them with a simpler and more deliberate and deeper way of living. As students say on their experiment’s website:
“What do [people who choose voluntary simplicity] get back? The possibilities are multitudinous. They might get back time, peace of mind, a deeper sense of self, a better understanding of the world, empowerment, thoughts to explore, perspectives to write about, etc., etc.”
In addition to blog entries from the participating students, which describe their struggles, insights and triumphs, the voluntary simplicity experiment website also includes an overview of the issues involved, as well as sample resources.

~ Marsha
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Goldman Prize Winners Out to Change the World

Some people say that one person can’t change the world. Those people haven’t met the Goldman Prize winners. Each year the Goldman Environmental Prize, which is the world’s largest prize honoring grassroots environmentalists, recognizes 6 activists from around the world (one for each of the 6 inhabited continental regions) who have shown significant leadership in helping the environment and their communities. Here are the 2009 winners:

Marc Ona Essangui, Gabon: Marc Ona helped expose the “unlawful agreements” behind an enormous mining project that threatened to devastate Gabon’s ecosystems and inspired the government to adopt new environmental oversight regulations.

Rizwana Hasan, Bangladesh: As an environmental lawyer, Rizwana held increase public awareness and improve government regulation of the “exploitative and environmentally-devastating ship breaking industry” in Bangladesh.

Olga Speranskaya, Moscow, Russia: Russian scientist Olga Speranskaya transformed the NGO community in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia into a potent, participatory force working to identify and eliminate the Soviet legacy of toxic chemicals in the environment.

Yuyun Ismawati, Indonesia: Yuyun has developed sustainable, community-based solutions to increasing waste management problems by providing job opportunities to low-income people and helping empower them to protect and improve the environment.

Maria Gunnoe, USA: Maria is a powerhouse in the fight against mountaintop removal mining, which is incredibly devastating to the environment and to local communities.

Wanze Eduards & Hugo Jabini, Suriname: Wanze and Hugo helped organize their communities against logging on their traditional lands, which led to a landmark ruling for indigenous and tribal peoples throughout the Americas to control resource exploitation in their territories.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of the Goldman Environmental Prize.
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The Humane Educator's Paradox

It's painful to learn about the terrible injustices and cruelties in the world. Sometimes, the more we know, the more hopeless we become. Even when we also learn about the great courage, generosity, wisdom, and dedication of countless changemakers, even when we see success in their efforts to create new systems that solve the great challenges of our time, we can still become despondent in the face of persistent exploitation, destruction, and oppression.

The question “How can we choose to know and still maintain hope in the face of ghastly atrocities?” is a seminal one for humane educators and reflects a paradox that is difficult to resolve. We must know in order to create positive change. Knowing leads to what Buddhists call “right action” and Jews call “tikkun olam” (repairing the world), but it can also to lead to rage, depression, fear, and violence, and even, paradoxically, to apathy when we simply cannot absorb or care about so much.

Most of us know angry activists who turn off more people than they turn on, whose actions are counter productive, who fail to model the peace and compassion they seek to create in the world. These people “know” but their “knowing” actually inhibits their successful changemaking.

And most of us also know activists who tirelessly create healthy change while inspiring others. What is the key to their success? How do they both know and radiate kindness, acceptance, patience, and openness? I believe that most such changemakers find a practice that grounds them, as well as outlets for experiencing joy and inner peace. They may spend time in the natural world, or meditate, or read inspiring works, or find strength from their religious beliefs, or gather with friends to laugh and play. They self reflect, they revel in all that is good, they acknowledge their own sadness and frustration as worthy emotions, and they persevere in cultivating their own best qualities.

Humane educators must not only cultivate all this within themselves, but also in the students we teach. If we create a generation full of despair, rather than a generation enthusiastic to play their part in creating change, we will have failed. If, however, we honor our students’ sorrow, fear, and anger and help them transform these emotions into “right action” we will have created a generation that can embrace the humane educator’s paradox and move toward the unfolding of a better world.

~ Zoe

(Since I'm currently on tour: a repost from 6/2/08.)
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Humane Issues in the News...

Each week we post links to news about humane education & humane living, and items connected to humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media, consumerism and culture.

“Why is there peace?”Greater Good Blog (4/09)
”But from the Middle Ages to modern times, we can see a steady reduction in socially sanctioned forms of violence. Many conventional histories reveal that mutilation and torture were routine forms of punishment for infractions that today would result in a fine. In Europe before the Enlightenment, crimes like shoplifting or blocking the king's driveway with your oxcart might have resulted in your tongue being cut out, your hands being chopped off, and so on. Many of these punishments were administered publicly, and cruelty was a popular form of entertainment.”

“Microjustice” movement helping those without access to basic legal protectionsOde Magazine (4/09)
”Van Nispen tot Sevenaer explains that while many aid organizations assist with criminal justice and human rights problems, few help with the most basic building blocks of participation in civil society: identity documents, property rights, labor rights and legal status for small enterprises. ‘For masses of people, no one is specifically addressing the problem of socio-economic participation,’ she says. ‘Without this, you always live on the margins of society.’”

U.S. Supreme Court to revisit animal cruelty video lawAFP (4/20/09)
”The US Supreme Court said Monday it will review a lower court ruling that last year struck down a decade-old law banning the sale of videos depicting extreme acts of cruelty to animals. Starting during its next term, the Supreme Court will take a new look at the controversial decision taken last year by a Philadelphia appeals court, which overturned the 2004 conviction of Robert Stevens for selling videos of dog fights and voided the law under which he was prosecuted.”

Mozambique president launches environmental education campaignAll (4/16/09)
”The campaign is intended to transmit basic knowledge and understanding of the environment, to develop the skills required to solve environmental problems, and to contribute to the development of environmentally sound social attitudes.”

Freegans feast off what others throw (4/16/09)
”These urban foragers are neither homeless nor destitute. They are committed freegans, radical environmentalists (typically vegan) who reject our wasteful consumer culture by living almost entirely on what others throw away. Freegans rarely go hungry thanks to the colossal amount of food Americans dump every day — 38 million tons annually, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.”

New animal ethics class to be taught at Drury UDrury Mirror (4/15/09)
"’People have certain views on something, but very often they don't understand where they come from,’ [Dr. Lisa Esposito] said, ‘this is why it is important to provide the students with the ethical framework upon which to base their conclusions.’"

“Jane Goodall’s animal planet”Salon (4/14/09)
”There's hope when we realize that every one of us makes an impact on this planet every single day. We have a choice as to what we buy, what we eat, what we drink, what we wear, how we get from A to B, how we interact with people and animals. These small changes in lifestyle can add up to the kind of change that we need.”
Thanks,, for the heads up.

Student club works to green their corner of the worldGreat Falls Tribune (4/14/09)
”The Helping Our World Club formed this fall, and already the roughly 30 students have projects under way to improve the environment. ‘The community has really taken a hold of this,’ said club president Shannon Gilskey. ‘It's cool to see how people can work together to change the world. The club is doing so much together.’"

China releases human rights planUSA Today (4/13/09)
”Human rights groups welcomed China's new initiative but complained it lacks concrete targets to improve civil and political freedoms in the one-party state where political opposition isn't tolerated. The move ‘is important because it's the first-ever action plan for China, and there are clear goals in areas such as education and pollution,’ said Si-si Liu, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Amnesty International. ‘But it fails to address key areas where there are serious, ongoing violations of human rights,’ such as the ‘re-education through labor’ system, in which the government sends people to prisonlike camps for up to four years without a trial, Liu said. ‘We urge China to do more,’ she said.”

“Green revolution” hurting farmers in IndiaNPR (4/13/09)
”One of the best-known names in India's farming industry puts it in even starker terms. If farmers in Punjab don't dramatically change the way they grow India's food, says G.S. Kalkat, chairman of the Punjab State Farmers Commission, they could trigger a modern Dust Bowl. That American disaster in the 1930s laid waste to millions of acres of farmland and forced hundreds of thousands of people out of their homes.”
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PBS Frontline Examines Impacts of Pollution in "Poisoned Waters" Documentary

I just found out that PBS is airing a special Frontline 2 hour show tonight (Tuesday, April 21) called Poisoned Waters (it's also supposed to be accessible online).

Poisoned Waters uses two important waterways, Puget Sound and the Chesapeake Bay, as a springboard for examining the severe impact that pollution from industry, agriculture and suburban development is having on our own health, the health of the planet, and on animals.

Here's the trailer:

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Peter Barnes' Ideas Go to Washington

In a recent Washington Post article, the ideas of Peter Barnes, author of Capitalism 3.0, may finally gain some ground in Washington. Capitalism 3.0 offers solutions to the problems that free market capitalism creates, and now Barnes has specific suggestions for addressing climate change that will help solve the problem while putting money in the pockets of those who conserve. Read it here.

~ Zoe
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There Are No MOGO Experts

I was recently asked for my opinion on an ethical quandary facing a friend of a friend. I was asked because I was perceived as somewhat of an expert on ethical issues due to my role as a humane educator, president of the Institute for Humane Education, and a writer about MOGO choices. I was surprised that someone would consider my opinion on an ethical matter more valuable than someone else’s, though, and when I took the ethical issue in question to our staff, a group of people whose moral compasses I admire immensely, we were pretty much split on it. So much for expertise.

I’ve always been bemused when an ethical issue arises in our culture, and the media call in an ethicist to offer an expert opinion. I don’t generally find such opinions to be more valid than my own or others’ perspectives. People’s opinions on ethical matters differ not because someone has studied philosophy while another has not, but because ethical decisions are often highly complicated as well as steeped in personal values, experiences, and beliefs.

This does not mean that I don’t think ethics is an important subject to study, nor that I would do away with ethicists. My life was radically shifted in 1984 by philosopher-ethicist Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation, in which he lays out not only the cruelties perpetrated on animals but also the philosophical reasons for desisting in such cruelty and exploitation. The MOGO principle stems from what I learned from Professor Singer almost 25 years ago, and my own career as a humane educator is ethically driven and ethically informed. I teach people to consider what is right and good, which is a large part of what it means to be a humane educator. But I believe that ethicists are not experts. Rather, they’re deeply engaged seekers of ethical truths for a better world. Instead of looking to ethicists, each of us must commit to becoming an ethicist for our own lives and choices. Of course we can and should ask people we respect for their opinions on ethical matters, but it’s ultimately up to us to make MOGO choices through our own commitment to inquiry, introspection, and integrity – the 3 I’s I refer to regularly in this blog.

Does this mean that MOGO is always relative, that there are no right and wrong answers to ethical questions, and that whatever you personally decide is right? No. Many ethical questions are pretty clear, and moral relativism is often simply a way of justifying harmful decisions. But many choices are complex, especially when taking into consideration not only yourself and your family but also all people, all species, and the earth itself, and these require our commitment to MOGO. We won’t be experts, and we won’t always make MOGO choices, but the more we hold MOGO as an ideal toward which to strive, the more we will slowly but surely choose MOGO as a matter of course.

~ Zoe

(Since I'm currently on tour: a repost from 5/1/08.)
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Zoe's Book Tour Schedule

Between April 16-28 I will be traveling to New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to speak about MOGO and my new book, Most Good, Least Harm. Below is the schedule for events that are open to the public (for more details see IHE's Events page):

April 19, 9:30 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.MOGO Workshop, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY
April 20, 7:30 p.m. – Oasis CafĂ©, Long Valley, NJ, MOGO presentation and booksigning
April 21, 6:30 p.m. - Runnemede, NJ, presentation and booksigning
April 23, 6:00 p.m. - Western Connecticut State University, Student Center Theater, Danbury, CT, MOGO presentation
April 26, 2-4 p.m. - Animal Haven, Manhattan, NY, Free Mini-MOGO workshop for activists

~ Zoe
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Flip the Switch Off for Turnoff Week, Flip It on for Teaching Media Literacy

iPods, iPhones and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter may take the gold for capturing a significant amount of our time, but television still wins a medal, as people in the U.S. are watching more TV than ever. According to a recent Nielsen study, on average, Americans have the TV on for more than 8 hours a day. And that doesn’t count time watching movies and other video. (When do people eat and sleep?)

In an effort to help counteract the impact of all those electrons and all that sitting (and to remind people that there is actually life beyond the screen), organizations like the Center for Screen-time Awareness are sponsoring Turnoff Week, April 20-26. The campaign invites and encourages people of all ages to flip that power switch off for 7 days and take time to focus on other ways to have fun and to connect with others.

After decades as a television junkie, I don’t even have a TV anymore, and I don’t miss it a bit. But the sad truth is that almost everyone in the U.S. has at least one television stashed somewhere, and that the vast majority of folks glue their eyes to the screen on a regular basis. So, while campaigns such as Turnoff Week are terrific for reminding us about life beyond American Idol, Lost and Failblog, it’s essential that we provide people – especially young people – with the creative and critical thinking skills they need to make healthy and humane choices about the media they consume.

Here are some suggestions for engaging youth (students, if you’re a teacher; your kids if you’re a parent) in thinking critically about television and other media.

1. Have students discuss issues such as:
  • Is watching TV a healthy activity, a harmful activity, or does it depend on the TV program? What are the benefits? The drawbacks?
  • How much TV is appropriate for various age groups?
  • How much impact does what you see on TV have on your values and behavior?
  • How much impact do commercials have on your buying habits?
  • What are the possible motivations for people/companies creating media?
  • Should there be any controls/restrictions on media?
  • What alternatives exist to mainstream media?
  • How are problems solved in the media (such as problems prevailed over in 21 minutes for a 30 minute show, or bad guys “solved” by shooting them, etc.)?
  • What does media tell us about our culture/world? What does it tell us about other cultures?
  • How are men/women portrayed in media?
  • How are people of other races, religions, sexual orientations, abilities, etc., portrayed?
  • How does television (and/or other media) affect our relationship with other people? With animal species? With animals as individuals? With the planet?
2. Have students create a representation of the world the media portrays (drawing, collage, etc.), and then compare it to the “real” world. What are the differences, and why do they exist?

3. Have students list the values/attitudes/behaviors that we admire, our parents value, our society values, etc. Then have them list the values promoted by TV shows, movies, video games, advertising, etc. Lead a discussion on the differences between the two.

4. Encourage students to explore the power of narrative in the transmission of cultural values. Have them look at/find stories, fables, guerrilla theater, ads, music videos, YouTube, songs, etc., and consider: how are we consciously & unconsciously affected by the stories within these media and how do they influence our behaviors, values, attitudes, etc.?

5. Have students watch age-appropriate shows of different types [decide how many and what types, such as a cartoon, a news program, a prime time show, a cable TV show (if students have access), etc.] and count the violent acts that they see during that show. You could repeat the exercise, each with different criteria, such as with “sexual” situations, racist and/or sexist comments, etc. All criteria (such as what constitutes a “violent act”) would need to be defined, so that everyone is clear. You could also have students include the commercials.

6. On July 26, 2000, numerous medial & psychological organizations (including the American Medical Association & the American Psychological Association) issued a joint statement that said “viewing entertainment violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and behavior, particularly in children” (Consuming Kids, 117).
Explore with students: What is the relationship between media violence and children’s behavior? What are some other contributing factors?
Have them look at news stories and other resources about how some communities have responded to youth violence that appeared to be “influenced” by media. How did they respond? What/whom did they blame? What might have been a more effective response?

7. Explore: “Do commercials tell the truth?”
Find sample commercials promoting products that appeal to your students’ age group. (YouTube or the company’s website might be good sources.) Be sure to include a couple samples that especially “stretch the truth.”
Ask students to respond to the question: “Do commercials tell the truth?” and to share their thinking behind their answer. (You may wish to explore what “truth” is and what it means.)
Have students watch sample commercials and pay attention to the “truth” promoted in them.
Ask students to explore whether those sample commercials told the “truth” or not.
Ask students to consider what they know about “truth” in advertising and compare that to their own product preferences. Why do they have these preferences? (How have the commercials influenced them?)

You can also find free, downloadable activities about media, marketing and advertising on our website.

~ Marsha
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Tweenbots: Another Sign of Hope for Humanity

One of the graduates of our Humane Education Certificate Program sent me this link to Tweenbots. Take a look.

Recently, I’ve found myself absorbed in thinking about the Milgram Experiments, conducted in the 1960s at Yale University, in which ordinary men and women were willing to administer electric shocks – up to 450 volts – to a fellow participant in a study on learning (or so they thought; the test was really about obedience to authority, and no shocks were actually administered). Prior to the study, 14 senior Yale psychology students were asked what percentage of people they thought would administer the maximum voltage. The average of their guesses was 1.2%. This was far, far different from what transpired. In the experiments, nearly two thirds of participants were willing to administer the maximum voltage, thinking they were harming -- and possibly killing -- their compatriot. Even psychology students, less than 20 years after the Holocaust, could not predict humanity’s enormous capacity for harm and cruelty.

Then along comes something as simple as Tweenbots, and I’m reminded of humanity’s equally great capacity for kindness – even kindness to a robot.

If only we could crack this nut – figure out what forces conspire to lead us to acts of altruism, heroism, and simple kindness and what ignites such events as the genocide in Rwanda, or the everyday exploitation of millions of people who are enslaved around the world.

As a humane educator, I believe that if we give youth the knowledge, tools, and motivation to be positive choicemakers and changemakers for good, then we will shift societal systems that are cruel and destructive towards ones that are healthy and sustainable. This is an act of faith. When I teach courses, I make sure that my students learn about the Milgram and Stanford Prison Experiments. I want them to understand what we humans – and they themselves – are capable of, so they can shield against such obedience to systems that are designed to be destructive or cruel. I also teach them about acts of goodness and about changemakers who make a profound difference in the world.

But now I will add the Tweenbots – not because this little experiment reveals the best in us, but because it demonstrates very ordinary kindness and desire to be helpful, when it matters not a whit, yet still inspires our care. And because it’s a light and joyful little example of simple virtue, and makes us each a little more likely – I hope – to do good.

~ Zoe

Image copyright Kacie Kinzer.
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Humane Issues in the News...

Each week we post links to news about humane education & humane living, and items connected to humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media, consumerism and culture.

Students learn power of activism through art - Daily Camera (4/13/09)
”While making the tapestry, Jones also taught her students about conservation so they could have factual information to accompany the tangible example of bottle consumption. But for most students, the plastic bottle drapery was enough to make an impact. ‘It really shows how many bottles Americans use,' said seventh-grader Deedee Strohl, 'and it's pretty shocking.’"

12 year-old promotes global (4/12/09)
”Inspired in part by participating in a 2007 project initiative to build a library and deliver more than 60,000 books to a region of South Africa still feeling socioeconomic effects from apartheid, Shekhar decided to launch his own initiative. Personally reaching out to area doctors, businesses and schools, he was able to collect approximately 1,000 medical books valued at $300 to $400 apiece, plus models, posters, stethoscopes, a digital projector and funding for the Delta School of Nursing, an educational facility in a small Southern India coastal village that serves girls from oppressed and impoverished communities.”

Boat made of plastics, waste, set to sail around “Pacific Garbage Patch”Guardian (UK) (4/12/09)
”The patch, north-west of Hawaii, was discovered in 1999 by researchers who found that its waters contained tens of thousands of pieces of plastic per square mile, the remains of rubbish caught in the region's circulating ocean currents. This pollution is now devastating populations of seabirds and fish that live in the region.”

Student travels to Uganda to “see fruits of labor”San Diego Union-Tribune (4/11/09)
”Alexandra and her classmates in La Costa Canyon's social justice program, in which students learn about human rights, animal protection and environmental issues, dived into the book drive with gusto. Students placed numerous collection bins around the campus, spoke to classes and had the school's student-run television station promote a competition among second-period classrooms. One student reached out to elementary schools to help with the drive, and another lobbied churches and synagogues.”

Obama has helped spark renewed interest in community organizingNew York Times (4/12/09)
”With their jobs, students envision helping communities address urgent issues — economics or the environment, education or social justice — while developing leadership skills. And these jobs, students say, can actually lead to ... well, you know.”

Former banker practices kindness, “reverse tithing,” giving away 90% of his moneyThe Age (4/10/09)
”Yet asked if he is happier than he used to be before he decided to give his money away, he says: ‘Yes. 'Happy' is an odd word. I feel a sense of joy in every second of every day, because I know how precious and fleeting every second of life is. We deprive others of their lives at our own moral peril.’"

Students “walk” in the shoes of local changemakersTuscaloosa News (4/10/09)
”The collection of shoes, an exhibit called ‘Walk the Walk: Inspiration for Change,’ was gathered by sixth-grade students of Cathy Collins’ U.S. history class at Collins-Riverside. Collins assigned her students to find and interview someone in their community who has stood up for social change and equality.”

Preference for boy children in China creates gap of 32 million
- New York Times (4/11/09)
”In 2005, they found, births of boys in China exceeded births of girls by more than 1.1 million. There were 120 boys born for every 100 girls. This disparity seems to surpass that of any other country, they said — a finding, they wrote, that was perhaps unsurprising in light of China’s one-child policy. They attributed the imbalance almost entirely to couples’ decisions to abort female fetuses.“

Animal rights now part of “mainstream ethical agenda”New York Times (editorial) (4/8/09)
”John Maynard Keynes wrote that ideas, ‘both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else.’ This idea popularized by Professor Singer — that we have ethical obligations that transcend our species — is one whose time appears to have come.”

Climate change activist profile: May Boeve - The Nation (4/8/09)
”The question remains: what specifically drew Boeve to climate change, rather than, for instance, animal (or insect, as it were) rights? ‘I felt that it connected so many of the issues I care about: the environment, protecting animals, human rights, political development,’ 25-year-old Boeve explains. ‘Also, I'm drawn to community, and my community was working on climate change, and I wanted to be part of it rather than off doing something else by myself.’"
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On the Day of Silence, Speak Out for Safer Schools for All Youth

On April 6, 2009, an 11 year-old-boy hanged himself after frequently being bullied and taunted for being "gay," even though he didn't identify as gay, and even though his mother had repeatedly asked the school to intervene. Such incidents are continuing to lose their rarity. In fact, a recent survey revealed that nearly 9 out of 10 gay and lesbian students have been harassed (or worse) in school.

Friday, April 17 marks the annual Day of Silence, the "largest single student-led action towards creating safer schools for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression." Participating students take some form of a vow of silence on that day, to help bring attention to the bullying and harassment -- the "silencing" -- of LGBTQ students and their allies. The website offers resources, as well as suggestions for other activities in which students and schools can also participate.
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What Happens When We Pay Attention?

and watch the video. Make sure that you do not read the information below the video until after you have followed the instructions carefully. And don't read the rest of this blog post until you’ve done the above, too. Then come back and read the rest.


When we bring our attention to something specific and concentrate very hard, we miss all sorts of things – even big things – as the experiment above reveals. There are so many ways in which our attention is diverted, and so we constantly miss the gorilla in the room. Whether it is diverted by fear-mongering, or images of success that are unsustainable and destructive (but which sway us as they simultaneously create anxiety), or what is happening in our immediate lives that distracts us from the greater world -- or, conversely, what is happening in the greater world that distracts us from our immediate lives -- where we put our attention largely determines what we believe and how we behave.

Intense focus on a narrow subject is often good and useful, but not if we become unable to shift our focus and expand its range.

Because I’m committed to the spread of humane education, I’ll “attend” to that subject in this post, near and dear to my heart as it is. What are our students typically asked to attend to? Where is their attention? It’s on the details necessary to pass mostly multiple choice, standardized tests in various subjects. It’s on sports. It’s not on how we can live sustainably on this planet, or peacefully, or humanely. It’s not on the role we can and should play to solve our challenges and create a thriving, healthy world for all. It’s not on getting along.

If our schools asked our youth to pay attention to what makes them most enthusiastic and engaged, or to what they most care about, or to the fixable problems we face, or even to what we’ve actually learned from history (as opposed to the names and dates of battles), we might actually start attending to what so desperately needs our attention. We would see the most important gorillas.

~ Zoe
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Humane Education in Action: Bringing Humane Issues Center Stage

With her sweetness, vibrancy and quirky sense of humor, Amy Morley lights up the IHE office, where she works as our Operations and Events Manager. But Amy also has a second life bringing wit, intelligence and kindness to humane issues via the theater stage. Read our interview with Amy:

Quick Facts About Amy:

Current hometown: Lamoine, Maine
IHE fan since: 2006
Current job: Operations and Events Manager, Institute for Humane Education
Your hero: Rachel Carson (just one of them)
Book/movie that changed your life: World As Lover, World As Self by Joanna Macy
Guilty pleasure: fair-trade coffee
Inspired by: love of people, this planet and animals
Love about yourself: I am optimistic and my motivations are positive.
One of your strengths: Creativity and ability to see connections
Desired epitaph or tagline: "Expressed her love interpersonally and in her actions to benefit the world, and motivated others to change through her enthusiasm, non-judgmental expression of ideas, and acceptance of others."

IHE: What led you to the path of humane education?

AM: I have been interested in human rights and keeping the planet healthy for a long time; for example, I was active in recycling, politics, river clean-ups, and supporting displaced Tibetan monks. I have also been engaged in Buddhist philosophy study since 1990. Since attending Hampshire College, I have been very interested in socially-engaged Buddhism and in the intersections of social change, compassion and non-violence in finding creative and healthy solutions to global problems like human rights abuses and environmental waste. But it was the Institute for Humane Education (IHE) that introduced me to the field of humane education; I learned about it when I saw my current job advertised. Something immediately spoke to me when I read the description. IHE has really enlightened me, in that it brings all of these issues together, and it has broadened my interests to include animal protection. Humane education is an amazing intersection of social change and education, motivated by compassionate concern.

IHE: In addition to your work managing workshops and courses for IHE, you’ve been integrating humane education into your work as an actress. How did that come about and how exactly have you been integrating humane education on the stage?

AM: With some background in performance, I started performing in a local political and social satire troupe called Aunt Mae’s Cabaret. We perform in Blue Hill, Maine, about twice a year. The material is very funny and speaks about what is happening currently in our politics and culture. At first I just performed in other people’s skits. The cabaret group is composed of people who are interested in social change, and many of them are activists, journalists, and engaged citizens. The group is very collaborative and creative, and it was easy to decide to write a few skits and share them with the group. I think what I wrote was just naturally influenced by the work I was engaged in with IHE. IHE’s president, Zoe Weil, attended our performances, and it was she who really brought to my attention that my skits had a humane education slant –- not just in the content, but in their presentation and objective.

IHE: Tell us about some of your specific projects.

Amy Morley in Aunt Mae's Cabaret performanceAM: I have written two skits that I am proud of. One is a fanciful skit entitled “Dr. T. Mobile,” an interview between a news anchor and a surgeon, named Dr. T. Mobile, who specializes in surgery related to the health effects of cell phones; specifically, he removes brain tumors and corrects the crippling effects of text messaging. There are references to animal testing, corporate influence and power, consumerism, advertising and marketing, the state of health care, and our current cultural practice of constant communication. The other skit is about marriage and social convention. It’s a bit less social change-oriented, but it takes a look at the stereotype of a woman determined to get married and what she will go through to do so. For that skit, I wore a wedding dress on stage, and got married in the first act, and then divorced in the second; it was a reflection of interpersonal relationships and gender stereotypes.

IHE: What has been the reaction to your integration of humane education themes into your work by your fellow actors and by the audience?

AM: People have expressed lots of enthusiasm over my skits –- but I am not sure yet if it is “making people think” or if it is just entertainment. Although the “Dr. T. Mobile” skit doesn't point fingers at people for using cell phones, I did find that people seemed to have an apologetic tone in speaking with me after seeing the skit. They perhaps felt remorseful about something that seeing the skit brought up for them. I think that’s normal, and many people react that way at first when they are considering their actions. These skits are an outlet to help me and the audience consider what is going on in the world.

IHE: What have been some of your biggest challenges?

AM: My biggest challenge is finding time to fully live the lifestyle that I want. But, I think this is just making it a priority. If I want to live without a lot of plastic in my life, for instance, then I can; I just need time to make other provisions. My other biggest challenge is that I can see that many people view concerns of any magnitude over the suffering of animals to be a fanatical concern, unlike many other global problems. This will probably change over time, but it sometimes makes it more difficult to talk about issues related to animals. It just requires more refined interpersonal skills, because some people put up barriers with this subject right away!

IHE: Share a success story. What has helped encourage you?

AM: Just last weekend, I was at a dinner party, and because I was asked what I do for work, I talked a little about IHE. An interesting conversation ensued, and I was inundated with a lot of questions. Before we moved on to the next conversation, my new acquaintances told me that they liked that I seemed non-judgmental and open about expressing my ideas. They volunteered this opinion on their own, and expressed it ardently. It made me aware of just how effective good communication can be in sharing ideas. I credit this ability in part to IHE because it has helped provide for me both a foundation of knowledge that I am building on and a feeling of calmness about the issues. This calmness comes from realizing that the people I am speaking to are as important as the issues I am speaking about. I do not feel the least bit fanatical about any issue of concern. I feel unafraid to talk to people about difficult topics, and I get a good response very often. This to me is encouraging, because the first step to solving global problems is people letting down their guards and not feeling aggressive or attacked.

IHE: What are your thoughts about the power of humane education to positively transform the world?

AM: IF people are doing humane education, it does have the power to transform the world (I say “if” because people have to engage in it for it to work!). I feel sure of it. Why? Because education in its truest and simplest form is learning and inquiring, but it’s also about being open to new knowledge. Nothing will change in our habits and actions if we are mentally closed. We cannot get everyone to recycle, or consume less, or care about another human being in another part of the world who is enslaved if people are not open to what is happening. Also, humane education is not dogmatic about a certain agenda. Its primary objective is critical thinking, which we use to make sense of complex problems. What could be better than critical thinking and openness to solving the world’s problems?

IHE: Any future plans, dreams or projects?

AM: Through my work with IHE, I want to find effective ways to reach out to teachers to further humane education through our workshops and courses. In terms of performance, I want to do more humane education skits that are funny and really inform at the same time. Specifically, I would like to create a skit that aims to amuse the audience while scaring the pants off of them about ever using a plastic bag again! Additionally, I would love to create a documentary about marriage that addresses both my questions about the conventions of marriage -- from the perspective of heterosexual women -- and delves into the issue of the right to marry in a way that would perhaps educate people and help break down prejudices that stand in the way of allowing full rights for gay and lesbian couples.

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For the Good of Our Youth (and Our Society), We Must Redefine the "Typical" Educational Experience

I recently read Debra Gwartney's new book, Live Through This, her memoir of her years as the mother of two runaway teenagers. It’s an agonizing story. An ugly divorce and a move to a new city destabilize her family, and her two eldest daughters slowly come unraveled, full of anger and pain, and fall into the worst nightmare a parent can imagine. She watches, more helpless by the month, as her daughters begin their decline into cutting, a nearly deadly overdose, and running away from home.

After finishing the book, I listened to a "This American Life" radio segment which featured Gwartney and her now grown daughters (who are drug free, stable, and one of whom is now a parent herself). As I listened I wondered what our society could have done to prevent such a terrible decline into danger, dread, and disaster. While I know there will be some who place all the blame on Gwartney or her daughters for what happened in their family, I see it differently. We’re all part of the tragedy of teen runaways and drug abuse, even if we can’t see the role we play.

After leaving home and being gone for several months, the younger daughter, Stephanie, managed to get herself to Austin, Texas, after her older sister almost died from a bad batch of heroin in Tucson, Arizona (their mother and young sisters lived in Eugene, Oregon). In Austin, Stephanie lied about her age, got a job at a pizza restaurant, and found an apartment, where she lived with a dog she rescued -- for almost 9 months. She was fourteen.


I wrote recently about John Taylor Gatto’s new book, Weapons of Mass Instruction. One of the things Gatto is most frustrated by is how our culture and our schools dumb kids down –- keeping them kids instead of letting them grow up. He tells many stories in his book about the accomplishments of our founding fathers (and others) who, as teens and even pre-teens, did remarkable things. School, Gatto thinks, infantalizes young people and perpetuates a lengthy adolescence when such energetic youth ought to be contributing and doing, instead of sitting all day following unimportant rules and being fed boring instruction. Teens, he says, are capable of so much more. Oddly, Stephanie’s survival on her own at fourteen is a reminder that Gatto is right, although he certainly doesn’t promote running away, doing illegal drugs, living on the street, and terrifying your family. While I found myself furious at Stephanie (and her sister Amanda) for their self-centered, cruel, reckless behavior that nearly destroyed their mother and terrified their younger sisters, I was also impressed by their courage, tenacity, self-reliance, and will. Imagine what could have happened had these girls had good options, where those same qualities could have made a positive difference in their and others’ lives.

When Stephanie finally returns home at fifteen, the regular public school in her town is not an option. She has lived on the streets on and off since she was twelve, and a typical high school is clearly not going to work. They find a special private school in Colorado, funded by Honda and free-of-charge, to which she applies and is accepted. Three years later, she graduates. This is a rare school for kids who can’t or won’t function in typical high schools, but the question that I keep coming back to is this: Why is it rare?

What if Debra Gwartney had had good options for her out-of-control daughters – a place like the high school Stephanie eventually went to that offered a different path for angry, fearless, reckless teens to channel some of that passion and angst into something worthwhile? What if there were good work and living options for such youth, or real apprenticeships for real tasks? What if typical high schools with their typical academic subject categories and typical bells and typical separation of issues and typical grades and tests and typical sitting in classrooms and working out of textbooks were a rare option, and a range of choices to meet teens’ passions and interests and match them with the world’s needs were offered in every city – not just at a unique boarding school here or there?

Gwartney lived through hell. I’d like to think that we as a society could have created different opportunities for her daughters when they were in such pain, offering them a path out of their own hell. We are all responsible for creating those options. Schooling as it typically happens today may work well for some and tolerably for others; but for many, it’s a recipe for irrelevance that dulls creativity, imagination, action, and true accomplishment.

Yes, this is another plea to use your own voice to promote humane education that offers youth meaning, purpose, ideas, inspiration, tools, and knowledge for contributing to a better world in their own unique way.

~ Zoe

Image courtesy of superelvis.
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Take Calculated Steps to Reduce Your Footprint

You've probably read tons of tips about living lighter on the planet, but have you ever taken the time to calculate your ecological footprint -- the amount of land, water and other resources it takes to support you, and the amount of waste that you generate? There are a slew of "eco" calculators, and of course, they can only give you a general idea of how your choices affect the environment and its inhabitants, but they're still a helpful and fun tool that you can use yourself and share with others. Here are 4 of the most popular ones we've found:
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For a Humane World Tomorrow, Start Advocating Humane Education Now!

Recently, I had the privilege of speaking at an induction ceremony for the National Honor Society at our local high school. Six juniors, who had demonstrated character, scholarship, leadership, and service had been selected, and I felt honored just to be in their presence. I spoke to them about the Stanford Prison Experiment and the ways in which, no matter how wonderful our character traits, systems and situations will inevitably impact our behaviors and choices –- often negatively. I brought this closer to home by holding up a T-shirt and inviting the audience to inquire into its effects. Pointing out that we all wear T-shirts, I asked the audience what they would need to know about the one in my hand to determine whether it caused harm to others. We discussed sweatshops, cotton production and its impact on child laborers in Asia, pesticide use, toxic dyes, and much more.

The point of my talk was to encourage these young leaders to think of themselves as future systems-changers, and I used the T-shirt as an example. I told them that the world needs lawyers who protect those in sweatshops and the environment from the negative impacts of T-shirt production; scientists and entrepreneurs who develop sustainable fibers and non-toxic dyes; policy makers and legislators who create laws that protect our ecosystems and all of us on this planet. Then one young woman from the audience pointed out we need teachers who educate about these issues, too.

Later that evening, Mary Pat Champeau, the director of our M.Ed. and certificate program at the Institute for Humane Education, was talking to one of the inductees. She asked her what she thought of my talk. The girl responded that it made her angry that no one had ever taught her about these issues before. That all of her clothes were, in fact, part of the problems I’d described, and that she and her fellow students should have been learning about these issues since kindergarten.

I couldn’t agree more.

Please write your legislators, President Obama, and Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, about the importance of humane education. If you’re a parent, join the PTA and lobby for humane education in your child’s school. If you’re a teacher, bring humane education into your classrooms (for training, materials, and other resources visit: If you’re a student, bring your interest to the faculty and administration at your school or start a MOGO club and educate your peers.

Our world needs young men and women like those I spoke to to dedicate their careers toward creating systems that work for all. We can’t wait much longer for a revolution in teaching that fully embraces humane education.

~ Zoe
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Humane Issues in the News...

Each week we post links to news about humane education & humane living, and items connected to humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media, consumerism and culture.

Students become global social issues activistsDaily Breeze (4/5/09)
”Barker and other teachers created the program four years ago when they were troubled to see so many students lacking much interest in what was happening in the world. ‘We said, `Let's make this real. Let's open up the classroom and make this about what's really happening in society,’' she said. ‘So what we have here is this enormous civic action project where kids find something that they passionately care about.’"

Students getting lessons in empathyNew York Times (4/4/09)
”Many urban districts have found empathy workshops and curriculums help curb fighting and other misbehavior. In Scarsdale, a wealthy, high-performing district with few discipline problems to start with, educators see the lessons as grooming children to be better citizens and leaders by making them think twice before engaging in the name-calling, gossip and other forms of social humiliation that usually go unpunished. ‘As a school, we’ve done a lot of work with human rights,’ said Michael McDermott, the middle school principal. ‘But you can’t have kids saving Darfur and isolating a peer in the lunchroom. It all has to go together.’”
Thanks, Global Ethics Newsline, for the heads up.

The 21st century commune – a new way of living in the cityNPR (4/2/09)
"’I think there are going to be more and more people coming into communes — that's really where the future's going to be now,’ Silberfein says. ‘Because the economy is really breaking itself down, the government is breaking down, all the systems are breaking down. And all that's going to be left is going to be small communities living together and sharing the land.’"

Report calls for electronics companies to boycott “blood minerals” - InterPress Service (4/1/09)
"’The conflict in eastern DRC - the deadliest since World War II - is fuelled in significant part by a multi-million-dollar trade in minerals,’ the report states. ‘Armed groups generate an estimated 144 million dollars each year by trading four main minerals: the ores that produce the metals tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold.’"
Thanks, Common Dreams, for the heads up.

Link between vinyl flooring and autism? - Daily Green (3/31/09)
”Children who live in homes with vinyl floors, which can emit chemicals called phthalates, are more likely to have autism, according to research by Swedish and U.S. scientists published Monday. The study of Swedish children is among the first to find an apparent connection between an environmental chemical and autism.”

Humane Society Opens Green “Animal Community Center” - Veterinary Practice News (3/30/09)
“’Our sustainable, environmentally friendly Animal Community Center not only promotes animals but showcases the ease and beauty of water savings, energy efficiency and building in harmony with nature,’ Benninger said. ‘We believe our new center will be an inspiring model of humane care, community involvement and green building design for shelters and nonprofits nationwide.’ Benninger said all the new features and services will help change the way the public thinks about animal shelters.”

New programs linking food to farmer - New York Times (3/28/09)
”The underlying idea, broadly called traceability, is in fashion in many food circles these days. Makers of bananas, chocolates and other foods are also using the Internet to create relationships between consumers and farmers, mimicking the once-close ties that were broken long ago by industrialized food manufacturing.”
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Seal or No Seal? Thinking Critically About the Canadian Seal Hunt

Every year in the spring, animal protection groups bring out the photos and video of adorable, precious, fuzzy seals…and pair them with gruesome images and video of men with clubs and of bloody seal bodies covering the ice in order to protest Canada’s annual seal hunt. Hundreds of thousands of seals are killed and skinned (sometimes alive) each year, mainly for their fur, which is usually shipped to markets in places like Norway, Russian and China. The annual hunt is the “largest slaughter of marine mammals”; this year the Canadian government has set a limit at 338,000 seals, many of whom are only a few weeks old.

According to an AFP story, “Harp seals are hunted commercially off the coasts of Greenland, Norway, the United States, Namibia, Britain, Finland and Sweden. But Canada is home to the world's largest annual commercial seal hunt.”

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

Those against the seal hunt say:

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

Those supporting the seal hunt say:

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

The U.S. has banned Canadian seal products since 1972, and the Netherlands and Belgium recently introduced bans. Just last month, Russia announced a ban on hunting harp seals younger than a year old. This month the European Parliament will be voting on whether or not to “ban products derived from seals from being imported, exported or even transported.”

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

Some ways of exploring this topic might include to:

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

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

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of lilone2 via Creative Commons.

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