To Bear Reality, We Must Cultivate Joy, Connection, Compassion

T.S. Eliot once wrote, "Humankind cannot bear much reality." In today's world, threatened as it is by global climate change, human overpopulation, massive extinctions, fresh water depletion, toxic waste, and replete with escalating worldwide slavery, brutal institutionalized animal cruelty, human starvation and many more problems, it’s no wonder we can’t bear much reality.

In our Master of Education and Humane Education Certificate Programs at the Institute for Humane Education, we know students struggle with the content of their courses (on education, human rights, environmental preservation, animal protection, and cultural issues such as consumerism, social psychology, media and globalization). Although every course has books and articles with practical and wise solutions to our problems, each also exposes our students to the challenging realities of our time. After all, we cannot solve our entrenched problems and transform unhealthy systems if we don’t know about and understand them.

Many of our students struggle with the dark content of some of the books and films in the program because, indeed, it is hard to bear that much reality. But there is another reality that our program explores: that of our human capacity to experience wonder, joy, connection, compassion, and understanding. Our students are required to spend time in a natural setting, participate in activities that reawaken their reverence, meet and connect with people from other cultures, listening to their stories and building relationships. Each student also does a practicum, not only to put their knowledge and training into practice, but also to experience the joy that comes in doing the work of humane education.

Yes, we cannot bear much painful reality, and so we must cultivate the joyful reality that is our inheritance so that we can hold the joy and pain together and rely upon our experience of profound connection and empathy to face and transform those systems which harm. If we expect to change the world through doomsday stories, we will find that many turn away, unable to bear that much reality. But if we inspire people to fall in love with this gorgeous planet, revel in their senses and ability to feel awe, turn their apathy into compassion, and hear the stories of the heroes among us, then we will discover that our reality is huge: full of light, dark, and everything in between, and we can bear it all in our hearts and minds in order to create a better world.

~ Zoe

(Note: Zoe's getting ready for Residency, so this is a repost, originally posted 11/24/08.)

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Be the Change: An Interview with Changemaker Mia McDonald

Mia MacDonald is the Executive Director of Brighter Green, a New York-based public policy "action tank" that aims to raise awareness and encourage dialogue on and attention to issues that span the environment, animals, and sustainable development, both globally and locally. Brighter Green's work has a particular focus on equity and rights.

Mia has worked as a consultant for United Nations agencies, foundations, and international non-profit organizations, including the UN Population Fund, UNICEF, the Ford Foundation, the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and the Ms. Foundation for Women. She is also a senior fellow of the Washington, D.C.-based Worldwatch Institute. She holds a master's degree in public policy with a concentration in international development from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and has a strong interest in the impacts of the globalization of factory farming on animals, the environment, people's livelihoods, and public health. We asked Mia a few questions about her work and her views about the power of humane education.

IHE: What role does education play in creating a better world?

MM: A big one: creating awareness, allowing people and groups to become "conscientized," and laying the groundwork for action.

IHE: What personal and professional experiences have led you to your current vision and work as a method of changemaking?

MM: I believe strongly in the role of civil society and citizen-activists in bringing about social change. I also believe that most of today’s problems –- and particularly, ecological challenges and crises –- cannot be resolved by the actions of one sector of society or only a handful of people. This complexity demands (with apologies for the policy speak) cross-sectoral understanding, partnerships, and buy-in. This is my model for Brighter Green -– to analyze problems and encourage policy responses from a number of entry points: the environment, animals, and global development, while maintaining a commitment to sustainability, equity, and rights. For more than a decade, I’ve done international work on conservation, gender, rights, population and reproductive health, and indigenous issues. Through this, I’ve seen how at the ground level the issues (or entry points) aren’t separate. They are inter-related. That’s led me to wanting to work for change in a holistic manner. I’ve also been influenced by the example of a number of outstanding advocates, community organizers, writers, and gadflies, many of them women that I’ve met or had the honor of working with in regions of the global south (Asia, Africa, and Latin America).

IHE: What do you see happening in the world that gives you hope for a more just, compassionate, sustainable future?

MM: Greater awareness of the centrality of environmental issues to everything we do and have; more respect for animal welfare and rights, including in the area of food production; the passion and strategic discernment of many younger activists; and the many women and men doing extraordinary work in often hostile circumstances, with many resource constraints, in the developing world.

IHE: What are the biggest challenges in creating a humane and peaceful world?

MM: Having people wake up to these issues and to then move beyond self-interest and what sometimes seems like (at least in the U.S.) an epidemic of narcissism. I also worry about the increasing “niche-ification” of media, of interests, of social networks –- how can we get through? -- but I also see new media and some technologies offering many opportunities for social change and social movements to gain strength and influence. One of the challenges for humane educators is to find effective, strategic ways to tap into these.

IHE: What advice do you have for aspiring humane educators?

MM: I like to paraphrase something said by Nobel Peace laureate Wangari Maathai, with whom I’ve been extremely privileged to work: It’s those of us who know who are called to action. Keep at it, but also take time and space to renew yourself. If you can, find supportive networks or people or practices. Believe that change is possible, while acknowledging that evidence of it may take a long time to see -- and that some work will have to be done over and over again. Also, use complexity in the service of expanding individuals’ recognition of their role in solutions. Even though we see it all around us, dumbing down probably doesn’t lead to deep change.

~ Marsha

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Never Say Never

A few months ago I was having dinner with some new acquaintances, and we were talking about the way that my friend and colleague, Khalif, lives. Khalif is the Executive Director of IHE, and he and his wife and two sons live in a 580 square foot eco-friendly house they built themselves (with the help of friends). They don’t have plumbing, and they lived without electricity for several years (they recently installed solar panels, so they now have a light or two). They use the “humanure” method for dealing with their own waste. They eat vegan, local, mostly non-processed stuff, and almost everything they buy is used. Their lives are simple, low-impact, healthy, and happy.

This way of living is so outside the realm of a couple of my dinner-mates that they said “I admire him, but I could NEVER live like that.” [Interestingly, Khalif lives more like (and still more easily and conveniently than) most people in the world do.]

Of course, as a long-time activist and humane educator, I’ve heard plenty of people say “I could never give up (insert item here)!” or “I could never live without my car.” or “I could never make the time to cook my own meals/eat healthy/look at the impact of my choices on others.” or "I could never do what (person) does."

I’m sure you’ve heard people say “I could never….” about something. We encounter something new, strange and perhaps uncomfortable to us, and we’re certain that we could never. There are some things we should definitely never do, but most of our “nevers” stem from what we’re accustomed to. We grew up eating certain kinds of foods — it’s a part of our tradition, our culture, our daily habits — so we think we could never choose differently. Likewise, many of us grew up with running water and plumbing and electricity at the flick of a switch, so we can’t imagine being able to live without them. Cars take us where we want to go with speed (usually) and convenience, so we come to believe that we could never do without them. And with the explosion in technological devices, there are now all sorts of gadgets that we could NEVER live without.

I’ve had plenty of I could nevers. I never thought I’d stop eating animals, live without a television, or go to the bathroom in the woods. I never thought I’d come to dislike shopping or pop culture. I never thought I’d come to love humanity. I never thought I’d do public speaking as often as I do.

You get the idea. We close ourselves off to positive change because it’s scary and inconvenient at the time and not what everyone else is doing, but it’s actually more just a matter of what we’re used to. If we’re willing, we can create new, more compassionate, just and sustainable habits, so that eventually we look back on some of our choices and think “I can’t believe that I ever thought I’d never….”

Take a close look at your nevers and consider whether there’s any wiggle room for “I'm willing to try….”

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of demi-brooke via Creative Commons.

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No Child Left Unkind: Building Humane Education Competencies

Teachers are expected to educate their students so that they are competent in certain subjects, and No Child Left Behind and state laws require that students pass tests demonstrating their knowledge and competencies. While it’s important to know that we are succeeding in our goals as teachers, and that our students are actually learning and developing the skills we endeavor to impart, the danger with constantly measuring our students is that we may begin to teach simply to enable them to pass multiple choice tests and neglect what’s harder to measure, but ultimately more important to learn: to think creatively and critically, to connect relevant issues of our time to our personal responsibilities, actions and choices, and to make healthy, positive choices for ourselves and others.

If we believe that the primary goal of education ought to be the ability to participate effectively and enthusiastically in the unfolding of a peaceful, sustainable and humane world, then there are certainly competencies we will want our students to have:
  • the ability to think critically and creatively about the challenges we face, as well as the messages that bombard us from all sources, so that we gain freedom
  • the awareness and understanding of our individual responsibility to do more good and less harm, so that we gain commitment
  • the tools to make positive choices and be problem-solvers, so that we gain empowerment
There is no standardized test to measure these competencies, and such a test would potentially undermine the very creativity, process-orientation, and flexibility that education should seek to cultivate. Yet we must ensure we’re succeeding in our goals as educators. How can we do this?

We can observe our success in the projects our students take on and the outcomes of their efforts, witnessing their commitments in action. We can “test” their skill at recognizing fact from opinion and thinking critically with entertaining activities that allow them to analyze and deconstruct all sorts of messages, from advertising to media to government to textbooks. We can engage them in group projects and witness their sense of empowerment grow as they succeed in solving or contributing to the solutions to local and global problems. If we’re attentive and creative, we can know that our efforts to raise a generation of creative citizens and “solutionaries” are working.

~ Zoe

(Note: Zoe's getting ready for Residency, so this is a repost, originally posted 9/29/08.)

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Are You Sold? Explore the Hidden Costs and Influences of Ads

Many of us think that we’re not that influenced by ads. We’ve developed our brand loyalty over the years due to in-depth research, careful study and solid choices of the best types of products that meet our needs, right? Um, yeah, sure.

Try these two little quizzes. The first one doesn’t even show you the logo; it just describes it in a couple of words. Can you name the company the logo belongs to? (Note: answers are at the very bottom.)

A. Swoosh
B. Dripping coffee cup
C. Peacock
D. Golden arches
E. Big red spoon
F. Fruit w/ bite taken out
G. Mountain w/ stars above peak
H. Giraffe head
I. Silhouette rabbit’s head w/ bowtie
J. Red roof w/ name of company below

What about these taglines. How many can you name? Some of these are decades old. (Answers are at the very bottom.)

1. The happiest place on earth.
2. Must see TV.
3. I’m lovin’ it.
4. Takes a licking and keeps on ticking.
5. Where’s the beef?
6. So easy, even a caveman could do it.
7. What’s in your wallet?
8. Just do it.
9. A diamond is forever.
10. Finger-lickin’ good.

How many of these companies could you identify? How many of these companies do you actually purchase products or services from? Even if you had trouble with some of these, I’m sure there are plenty that you could list. How many people can list whole slew of TV characters or company logos or taglines, but can’t tell you what continent Iraq is on or who the U.S. Secretary of State is, for example?

The point isn’t to make anyone feel embarrassed; it’s to point out how ubiquitous marketing and advertising are in our lives, and how susceptible we can be to their messages, without even knowing it. Our culture inundates us with marketing and advertising every day; almost everywhere we look, someone is telling us we won’t be happy or successful or sexy or worthy unless we buy what they have to offer.

But, not only do we often neglect to pay attention to advertising’s impact on us and our habits, but we also often don’t consider the hidden messages, suffering, oppression and exploitation that are inherent in many ads and their products and services.

Whether you’re a parent, teacher, advocate or concerned citizen, here’s a little activity you can do yourself (or with your kids, friends, family, students, workmates, etc.) to help analyze ads.

Take one or more (age-appropriate) ads, and ask these questions:

a) What product or service is the ad selling?
b) What deep need or desire is the ad appealing to? (i.e., Does the ad appeal to your desire to have love, happiness, wealth, beauty, friendship, security, etc.?)
c) Who is the intended audience, and what do you suppose their reaction to the ad might be?
d) Who is excluded by the ad? (i.e., what classes, races, body types, gender, etc.)?
e) What suffering, exploitation, or destruction is hidden from view? (In other words, what suffering to people or animals does the production of the product or the generation of the service lead to and/or what destruction to the environment does the product or service cause?)
f) How does the ad affect your personal desires, self image, beliefs, and consumer choices?
g) What would life be like without the product or service that the ad is selling?

Here’s an example that I've used in some of the presentations about humane education that I've done.

Here’s the ad. Below are the questions and potential responses. (In case you can’t read the ad text, it says: “Need to lose a little weight before your wedding?”

a) What product or service is the ad selling?

Slim Fast

b) What deep need or desire is the ad appealing to? (i.e., does the ad appeal to your desire to have love, happiness, wealth, beauty, friendship, security, etc.?)

Acceptance, to be loved, to feel good about self, to be thin & fit, to be happy, to get a man.

c) Who is the intended audience, and what do you suppose their reaction to the ad might be?

Women, especially brides-to-be, especially brides-to-be with body image issues. It might also be (to a lesser degree) for men who have certain expectations about women’s body types.

d) Who is excluded by the ad? (i.e., what classes, races, body types, etc.)?

Men, people who aren't white, people who are gay, people without a lot of money.

e) What suffering, exploitation, or destruction is hidden from view? (In other words, what suffering to people or animals does the production of the product or the generation of the service lead to and/or what destruction to the environment does the product or service cause?)


Three primary ingredients in the product are:

  • milk = hides the suffering of dairy cows and veal calves, as well as the environmental impact of raising cattle; hides the discomfort of those who are lactose intolerant
  • sugar = hides the habitat destruction inherent with sugar plantations, as well as the frequent worker mistreatment
  • cocoa = hides the connection of chocolate to slave labor/child labor
  • aluminum can = hides the destruction of the environment that comes with bauxite mining, as well as the toxins from the chemicals/dyes used to make the can’s label
  • Unilever = the product is made by Unilever; Unilever also owns Dove (see info about the impacts of palm oil), as well as Axe body spray (well-know for its sexist commercials).

f) How does the ad affect your personal desires, self image, beliefs, and consumer choices?

Self-esteem, need this product to be healthy, thin and loved.

g) What would life be like without the product or service that the ad is selling?

Fine. It’s really unnecessary to my life.

Try it yourself with some of the ads you see. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you become aware of all the messages surrounding you and your family.

~ Marsha

Answers to 1st quiz:

A. Nike
B. Maxwell House
D. McDonald’s
E. Betty Crocker
F. Apple
G. Paramount
H. Toys R Us
I. Playboy
J. Pizza Hut

Answers to 2nd quiz:

1. Disney
2. NBC
3. McDonald’s
4. Timex
5. Wendy’s
6. Geico
7. Capital One
8. Nike
9. DeBeers
10. KFC (used to be Kentucky Fried Chicken)

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Stories From Newfoundland #3: 50,000 Birds

Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Preserve lies at the southernmost tip of the southwest peninsula on the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland. It is usually shrouded in fog. In fact, the day that we drove there from St. John’s, Newfoundland’s biggest and most colorful city, it was sunny and warm. But as we wound our way down the peninsula the fog rolled in, thick, foreboding, even a bit eerie as it crept along the bogs and over the narrow road. It lifted a bit as we entered the visitor center at the beginning of the mile long trail, and from the large windows we could see bird rock, a huge outcropping jutting up a couple hundred feet from the sea by the cliffs that lined the shore (see photo). Bird rock gets its name from the thousands of birds who nest in every foot of space. Years ago the birds who claimed the rock were murres; now they are gannets. They nest all over the cliffs, and you can hear them (and smell their guano) more than a mile away.

We walked to bird rock, arriving to a cacophony. The gannets, beautiful, prehistoric-looking birds, come to the same nest each year with the same mate. They lay their egg and spend all summer caring for their chick, who lies mostly immobile on the sparse nest, lest she fall to her death off the cliff edge before being able to fly. There are ten thousand gannets who nest here, another ten thousand murres, and as many kittiwakes. There are a few hundred razor bills – the closest relatives of the extinct great auk – and they all share what looks like crowded high rise apartment buildings. Though territorial, they tolerate each other surprisingly well, given that they may have a mere square foot or two of space.

This year the summer in southern Newfoundland has been hot and dry. The winds are coming from the west bringing warm air. And the capelin, abundant in the north where we watched the whales, haven’t come to their bays in the south. Thus the murres who depend upon the capelin have laid few eggs, and there are no chicks in sight. The kittiwakes are leaving their chicks alone on their nests to find food, whereas in normal years either the father or mother would stay behind with them. It’s possible that there are more single parents this year due to lack of food as well.

There are more icebergs, too. This may sound counterintuitive. How can there be more icebergs when the water is warmer? The icebergs calve off the great glaciers in Greenland and travel for 2-3 years around the coast of Greenland, over to Labrador, and follow the Labrador current down to Newfoundland. With global warming there are more calving icebergs traveling their several year journey.

We’re all connected, and it’s so very obvious when you sit at Cape St. Mary’s and pay close attention to the birds surrounding you. In the midst of my own awe and gratitude for the privilege of seeing this wondrous place, I couldn’t help but regret the role I played in contributing to the persistent problems befalling these animals. My trip to Newfoundland, the fuel I consumed just to get to this magnificent land, plays a destructive part. I watched the birds in amazement and with deep appreciation, and knew that we visitors help protect this rare place by ensuring its preserve status. But we also harm it.

MOGO choices are occasionally simple and clear. Sometimes they are challenging. What is MOGO for me – to witness and experience the natural world I seek to protect – isn’t always MOGO for those I seek to help. Yet these experiences further ignite my passion to help because my awe and wonder spur greater knowledge, understanding and more committed action.

~ Zoe

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Educating Youth to Create More Livable Communities

No Child Left Inside and other educational initiatives focused on connecting youth with the natural world are essential to helping create a compassionate, sustainable world for all. But sometimes it’s easy to forget how many youth don’t have ready access to natural areas and how important it is for us to develop a positive and proactive relationship with our own neighborhoods. Livable Streets Education (a project of the Livable Streets Initiative) is an organization based in New York City that focuses on inspiring students to connect with the streets and neighborhoods around them and on offering resources for teachers to help them integrate exploration of “urban livability and advocacy” into their curriculum. LSE takes what kids are learning in school and connects it with the important issues surrounding them, such as transportation issues, environmental stewardship, and community service. Recently LSE created a short video to highlight some of the work they’ve been doing with middle school students in a school in Brooklyn. Some of the students’ activities have included:
  • Brainstorming more sustainable ways to get to school
  • Keeping a climate change journal that records their activities
  • Monitoring traffic patterns and issues around their school
  • Measuring air pollution and CO2 emissions around their school
  • Some of the students also created raps to highlight their views and suggestions for more sustainable choices.

If you can't view the above film, go here.

A great little film to inspire youth you know about the power they have to take positive action, and a nice resource for exploring urban livability issues.


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Stories of Newfoundland #2: Humpback Whales

Every summer, humpback whales travel north from their winter homes in the Caribbean where they’ve lost tons of weight (literally). They come to eat capelin, small fish that comprise the majority of their diet. The humpbacks feast for months and then head south to mate or bear their young, having put on the fat they need to get them through the winter. We happened to be at the right place at the right time one evening at sunset, perched on high rocks over a bay in which dozens of humpbacks and harp seals were feeding beside icebergs. In ten minutes we’d seen eight whales breach, rising out of the ocean propelled by their powerful tails and crashing back down with a huge splash (my husband took the accompanying photo). Then we climbed lower on the rocks, just 25 feet above the cold North Atlantic to watch several pairs of humpbacks directly below us lunge feed, roll and dive. It was spectacular. We weren’t the only ones reveling in the opportunity to be this close to these behemoths: one of the people who worked at the Inn where we stayed, who has spent eight 5-month seasons on this island seeing countless whale displays, was just as excited and amazed as we.

Imagine what would happen if we raised children who regularly experienced the wonders and beauty of the natural world and who grew up with such appreciation and love for nature. Perhaps they would be as joyful and appreciative as this man was. Perhaps they would strive to protect this beautiful world.

~ Zoe

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Be the Change: An Interview with Changemaker Bill Bigelow

Bill Bigelow has taught high school social studies in Portland, Oregon, since 1978. He is curriculum editor with Rethinking Schools and is author, most recently, of A People’s History for the Classroom (Rethinking Schools, 2008.) He is also author of The Line Between Us: Teaching About the Border and Mexican Immigration (2006) and co-editor of Rethinking Globalization: Teaching for Justice in an Unjust World (2002).

We did an interview with Bill about a year ago, and since he recently published a terrific op-ed in The Oregonian called "Schools Foster Climate Illiteracy," we wanted to highlight Bill and his work, as well as his views about the power of education.

IHE: What role does education play in creating a better world?

BB: Simply put, there won’t be a better world without education. That’s not to say that all good education takes place in school. As we know, a lot of bad education happens in school — but we have to get smarter about educating people about the dimensions of the world’s social and ecological crises and helping them to think about alternatives. A little over 20 years ago, I took a week-long class from the great Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, at Portland State University. I remember Freire saying then something to the effect that, “Pedagogy needs to be more political and politics needs to be more pedagogical.” Well, it’s still true. I’m frustrated by educational leaders who want us to focus on “common assignments,” rubrics, curriculum alignment, and, of course, test scores, but ignore the social and ecological emergency that we find ourselves in. It’s not like we ought to hand our students particular conclusions about what actions to take, but we need to put the world’s problems at the center of the curriculum. And activists need to remember that politics is not about just winning this or that reform or electing this or that politician — it’s about equipping people to understand the world more clearly. “Fixing” the world needs to be grounded in a clear analysis of how and why it’s broken. And activists also need to pay attention to schools.

Last fall, I attended a global warming teach-in in Washington DC, sponsored by the International Forum on Globalization. I learned a huge amount, but I was astounded that not one speaker so much as mentioned the importance of activists developing a strategy to reach out to teachers and students. It was as if every speaker thought that schools were irrelevant to creating a better world.

IHE: What personal and professional experiences have led you to focus on educating others as a method of changemaking?

BB: I was a senior in high school in the 1968-69 school year. My U.S. government teacher was a fellow named Tino Lavezzo. In Tino’s class, we sat in a circle and discussed the world — what was happening in Berkeley, the war, the draft. I realized, “Oh, school doesn’t have to be about reading textbooks and memorizing stuff. It can be about life; it can be about what’s going on in the world.” It was the war in Vietnam that propelled me to ask question after question, and that made me realize how fundamentally this society needed to be changed. So I suppose that seeing the of impact good teaching may have planted the seed that education can be part of changemaking.

IHE: What do you see happening in the world that gives you hope for a more just, compassionate, sustainable future?

BB: Ah, good question. We’re always looking for signs of hope, for indications that change may be around the corner. Ironically, even though I can’t remember a time in my life when I thought the problems were as enormous as they are today, I also feel more hope today than I can remember feeling in a long time. For starters, in public schools, the pendulum is beginning to swing back. No Child Left Behind is now widely seen as a terrible law — one that has increased inequality and stifled good teaching. A few teachers have committed civil disobedience in refusing to give NCLB tests. And a few weeks ago [May 21, 2008] just about the entire 8th grade at a South Bronx Middle School [Intermediate School 318] refused to take a mandated 3-hour social studies test — more than 160 kids. The headline in the New York Daily News was, “Hell No, We Won’t Take Another Test!” So the test-and-punish regime is increasingly discredited and coming under attack.

Last October, Rethinking Schools editors participated in the annual “Teachers 4 Social Justice Conference” in San Francisco. There were over 1200 participants — more than twice the previous year’s number. I sense a real hunger on the part of educators to live their values in their work — to link their work with students with a social and ecological justice project. I think that many people sense that our problems are too urgent to see education as simply teaching testable skills to students.

In Portland, Oregon, where I live with my wife Linda Christensen, we see lots of positive developments. People are really taking the environmental crisis seriously. More farmers’ markets, more bikes, more people using terms like “carbon footprint” and “ecological footprint.” It’s hard to talk with anyone here these days who is not somehow trying to make a difference. In the fall of 2007, with another teacher here, I convened an “Earth in Crisis” curriculum workgroup, and teachers have responded enthusiastically, developing lessons that alert students to issues of climate change, over-consumption, peak oil, fresh water scarcity, and the like. I realize that this is green Portland, and it’s kind of expected here, but as I travel around the country I sense a willingness to think more critically about the need for radical social and environmental change.

IHE: What are the biggest challenges in creating a humane and peaceful world?

BB: I think the biggest challenge is that we still are living in an economic system that distributes rewards based on profit. There is a simulation I developed that’s included in the Rethinking Schools book, Rethinking Globalization: Teaching for Justice in an Unjust World, called “The Thingamabob Game.” I just revised it with the climate crisis in mind. The activity puts students into seven groups and they each represent a company. They start out with the same amount of capital and in five rounds they make decisions about how many “thingamabobs” their company will produce. At the end of the game, teams will be rewarded with candy based on how much profit they’ve accumulated. The catch is that production and transport of goods requires the burning of fossil fuels and the release of carbon dioxide. With each round, depending on how much students produce, the combined thingamabob production releases more and more CO2. The game begins with 380 CO2 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere, about where we are now. I tell students that we don’t know what the tipping point is that can lead to catastrophic environmental events, but that for the purpose of the game, it’s somewhere between 420 and 480 ppm. If together they exceed the trigger figure, then they’ve hurt the earth irreparably and no one gets any candy. The question is: In a competitive environment, where the rewards will be based not on how nice one is to the earth, but on profit, can these companies exercise enough restraint to save the earth? The game is not rigged; it’s possible for some groups to win, but none ever do. So, as I say, this is the biggest challenge, our need to critique and reorient the profit-prizing, individualistic premises that drive our society. It’s not just the economy, of course, but the economy frames everything.

IHE: What advice do you have for aspiring humane educators?

BB: That we can’t do this work alone. We need each other. Aspiring humane educators need to seek out others doing this work. The entire time I’ve been a teacher — and I began 30 years ago, in 1978 — I’ve always been in one or more groups of social justice teachers who were trying to figure out how we do this work. We’ve developed curriculum together, read books together, cried on one another’s shoulders, discussed tough problems, shared resources. Sometimes these groups have been around particular curricular areas — like the globalization curriculum workgroup that I began to help support work on the book, Rethinking Globalization, but that quickly took on a life of its own and lasted seven years. Other groups, like our Portland Area Rethinking Schools network, began as a small support/reading group of area teachers. Now, we’re a regional network of educators of conscience. And there are supports on the national level, too. The organization that I work with, Rethinking Schools, publishes a quarterly magazine that highlights inspiring social justice teaching, and reports on trends in education. We also publish books on curriculum issues — from the war in Iraq to Mexican immigration to how to teach math, language arts, and history from a social justice standpoint. Today, we also have Teaching for Change, an outstanding catalog of the best social and ecological justice teaching materials available. This is work we have to do together.

Another piece of advice is to be gentle with oneself. This is hard work. And we’ll mess up. And we’ll especially mess up when we’re early in our career and the gulf between our aspirations and our skills can be pretty enormous. No doubt, it’s important for us to be willing to be self-critical, because that’s how we’ll grow. But not self-critical in a harsh way. We need millions of educators to address the enormous social and ecological challenges we face at the same time that we address children’s daunting emotional and academic needs. We have to be in this for the long haul, and for that we need each other’s support and wisdom.

~ Marsha

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Sun Come Up: A Film About Our First Climate Refugees, the Carteret Islanders

Despite increasing crazy weather, flooding, water shortages, and other consequences of global climate change, most Westerners haven’t truly felt its impact. Even though we in North America contribute significantly to global warming, because we are relatively protected (at the moment) from the worst effects, we can more easily ignore its existence. Many other cultures around the world aren’t nearly so fortunate. They’re reaping now the consequences of what we’ve sown over decades.

“Most of our culture will have to live in memory.”

One prominent example is the Carteret Islanders in the South Pacific Ocean, who, due to rising sea levels, are in the process of losing the home they’ve know for thousands of years. Their islands are being permanently flooded, and they are forced to relocate to a new home – which means a loss of their culture, their livelihoods, much of what they’ve known. Their most likely prospect: Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, which is trying to recover from the ravages of civil war.

Jennifer Redfearn and Tim Metzger are two filmmakers working to bring the plight of the Carteret Islanders to mainstream notice through their documentary, Sun Come Up, which details their stories and struggles in trying to find a place to relocate, while reconciling themselves with the loss of their home and heritage. You can read an interview with the filmmakers that was recently posted on Daily Green.

Redfearn and Metzger created an 8 minute version of their film, called "The Next Wave"; it recently won the Jury Prize for the Media That Matters Film Festival. You can see the short film below:

Note: If you’re unable to view the above, go here.

The documentary helps make the consequences of global climate change more real and serves as a great springboard for discussing the impacts of our actions, the importance of sustainable, restorative systems, the special situations of island nations, and the need to connect with and respect other people and cultures around the world.

~ Marsha

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Stories From Newfoundland #1: Newfoundlanders

I spent the past two weeks in Newfoundland on vacation, and although this blog is not normally filled with musings on travel, some of the experiences I had feel compelling enough to write about. I’m not fond of stereotypes and generalizations, but it’s funny how when they are positive they don’t seem problematic to say, so I’ll just say it: I love Newfoundlanders. While not every Newfoundlander I met embodies the generalizations I’m about to list, the great majority seemed to have most of these qualities:
  • Honesty
  • Humility
  • Humor
  • Openness
  • Acceptance
  • Friendliness without being cloying or pushy
  • Down-to-Earth-ness
  • Love of their land without patriotic bravado
  • Generosity
  • Helpfulness

Although I’ll be posting about some amazing nature experiences on “the rock,” meeting and talking to Newfoundlanders was a huge highlight. One evening in particular stands out: for my 48th birthday we went to hear Anchors Aweigh, a four-man band who play Newfoundland, Cape Breton, and Irish music on a host of instruments, including the native “ugly stick” and the accordion. The leader of the group also tells Newfoundland stories to his sold out crowds who laugh so hard it hurts. But what struck me was the sheer joy the band clearly experienced, playing for three hours straight, no breaks. They seemed as if they would go on all night, and only reluctantly stopped because the audience wasn’t accustomed to post-midnight music. Given that this band of middle-aged men plays three nights a week all summer to audiences who only pay Canadian $12, this is love at play. Would that we were all so joyous and generous.

~ Zoe

Image courtesy of natalielucier via Creative Commons.

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"Prom Night in Mississippi" Important Tool for Exploring Discrimination, Positive Change

There’s excitement sparking the air as young men and women dress up in their snazzy clothes and fuss with their hair. What’s the big deal? It’s prom! What’s special enough about this prom that cameras are documenting the event? It’s 2008, and it’s the first integrated prom in Charleston High School’s history. Prom Night in Mississippi, an HBO documentary which first aired on July 20, chronicles the historic event in Charleston, Mississippi, a town with a long tradition of hosting two proms: one for the white kids and one for the black kids. In 1997, actor Morgan Freeman made an offer to his hometown high school: have one integrated prom, and he’d pay for it. The school refused. When Freeman made the offer again, more than a decade later, the school decided to accept. But even with the school-backed integrated prom, some parents decided to hold a separate, whites-only prom.

To help educators in exploring the issues with their students that spring from the prom, the school and the community, Teaching Tolerance has created a teaching guide with suggested activities and lesson plans for use with grades 7 and older. The six lessons in the guide include:
  • Viewing and Exploring the Film
  • Segregation, Then and Now
  • Interrupting Racism and Bigotry
  • Loving Across the Color Line
  • Does Our School Need to Mix It Up Too?
  • Sustaining Change

It can be difficult to for some to believe that such bigotry, discrimination and racism are still so prevalent today; this film serves as a great tool for encouraging critical thinking and discussion about these issues and for fostering a more compassionate and just society.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of "Prom Night in Mississippi", copyright HBO.

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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 do some “trouble spots” get all the attention? - (7/19/09)
“The world is all but ignoring the crisis in Somalia, parts of which have worse rates of malnutrition than Darfur, but which receives less than one-tenth the aid that Darfur does. In Asia, though Suu Kyi presents a compelling and tragic case, Washington might well find more success combating human rights violations in Laos, where the aid-dependent government would potentially be more responsive to outside pressure than isolated and xenophobic Burma.”

In Jamaica, people who are gay fear for their lives AP (7/19/09)
"’The macho ideal is celebrated, praised in Jamaica, while homosexuality is paralleled with pedophilia, rapists,’ Chin said. ‘Markers that other people perceive as gay — they walk a certain way, wear tight pants, or are overly friendly with a male friend — make them targets. It's a little pressure cooker waiting to pop.’"

“Schools foster climate illiteracy” (Opinion) - Oregonian (7/18/09)
“Individual teachers will continue to create imaginative and relevant curriculum in their own classrooms, but teachers alone cannot transform the curriculum. This will require parents and activists demanding that children encounter lessons on today's environmental challenges -- especially climate change -- that go well beyond the biased and simple-minded descriptions in district-adopted textbooks.”
Thanks, Common Dreams, for the heads up.

Woman works to save cheetahs from extinctionABC News (7/14/09)
"’Their extinction is happening now -- and their problems are a man-made and human-caused problem,’ Marker told a group of students. ‘If we don't move rapidly, the cheetah is not going to be around in 20 years.’"

“Rethinking consumerism” – an interview about changing how we measure “growth”NPR Marketplace (7/13/09)
”There are lots of things in our society that we need to grow. We need to grow health care, we need to grow education, we need to grow infrastructure, we need to grow an entirely new energy system. But what we probably don't need to grow is the volume of our stuff. We now have . . . the square-footage of the self-storage industry in the United States would now cover all of San Francisco and the entire island of Manhattan combined.”

More youth starting own charity efforts -Washington Post (7/12/09)
“What they are doing goes far beyond the kind of volunteering that an increasing number of young people engage in. Young philanthropists devote hundreds of hours to their causes, making appeals many donors find irresistible even in tough economic times.”

Teen girls seeking image consultants to help boost confidence, image -Washington Post (7/11/09)
"”Girls are identifying with what they see depicted on TV, in the movies and online,’ says Patricia Dalton, a clinical psychologist in Washington. ‘They think, act and talk in ways that make them seem older and more mature than they actually are developmentally.’"

Controversy arises over which historical figures to include in Texas social studies standardsDallas News (7/9/09)
“The social studies requirements will remain in place for the next decade, dictating what is taught in government, history and other social studies classes in all elementary and secondary schools. The standards also will be used to write textbooks and develop state tests for students.”
Thanks, Feministing, for the heads up.
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Look Beyond Either/Or to the Both-And

I've been thinking a lot about the ways in which we humans seem to gravitate towards "either/or" choices. Either we protect Northern Spotted Owls or people's logging jobs. Either we invade Iraq or not. Either we pull the troops out or stay. There are more. Either we trust our minds or hearts. Either we are Christian or Muslim. Either we are Republican or Democrat.

Yes, there are people who want to protect owls and jobs, think beyond either/ors and work creatively to come up with the wisest choices in Iraq, trust both their minds and hearts, see the connections among all religions, and consider themselves Independents. But it seems to me such people are the minority.

Among activists, the either/ors are sometimes cast starkly: either someone (or some company or industry) is good or evil. The CEO of Altria (formerly Philip Morris), of Exxon-Mobil, of Monsanto -- they must be evil, while the CEO of Working Assets/CREDO must be good.

It's just not this simple. But complexity is, well, complex. Commitment to seeing both-ands instead of either/ors demands more from us. It may at first even appear wishy-washy, as if you've lost your passion and your commitment if you don't immediately "take sides." It shouldn't. Instead, a commitment to both-and is a commitment to problem-solving at the deepest level. A realization that people have the capacity for dangerous, unwise, unhealthy choices, as well as compassionate, kind, and brilliant choices means that we can try to influence the former, rather than call people names and divide the population into us and thems.

There will be many times when taking sides is exactly what you need to do, but let's not let side-taking become a knee-jerk reaction to everything that is presented to us in either/or terms. You'll find either/ors everywhere. Listen for them. And then see if you can determine a more nuanced both-and…and a solution that works for all.

~ Zoe
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New Plan Book for Educators Offers Resources, Strategies for Integrating Social Justice

Social justice is becoming a hot topic in schools and communities, and more educators are interested in integrating the exploration of social justice issues into their curriculum, after school programs or other educational forums. Especially if you’re new to teaching about social justice, Planning to Change the World: A Plan Book for Social Justice Teachers, created by Education for Liberation Network and the New York Collective of Radical Educators is a helpful resource. Planning to Change is a “plan book." But unlike those green-lined plan books you may remember your teachers carting around from your own school days, it includes much more. The book was created to help educators “turn your daily lesson planning into a strategy for teaching toward democracy, equity, fairness and peace.”

Some of the highlights include:
  • Significant anniversaries and birthdays of social justice leaders, relevant events, and national holidays (ex: anniversary of the Trail of Tears; World Day for Water).
  • “Essential questions” to spark discussions with your students (ex: How does what you watch on TV shape your understanding of the world? Who has the power to include or exclude groups of people from American life?).
  • Featured quotes.
  • Lesson plans and resources related to important observances.
  • Reproducible “social justice awards” for students.
  • Brief tips/anecdotes from from social justice teachers about integrating social justice issues.

The planner also includes a list of social justice conferences, and a list of helpful organizations. There’s also space in the back to keep information about your students.

Overall, Planning to Change is a useful and powerful tool in bringing social justice issues to mainstream teaching.

The book was designed for classroom teachers, but it could also be useful to educators teaching in other venues, such as after school programs, clubs, homeschooling classes, etc.

Be sure to check out the sample pages.

~ Marsha
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Valuing Teachers/Valuable Teachers

Zoe is on vacation this week, so this is a repost that was originally posted 7/7/08:

As an educator, Woody Allen's famous line in Annie Hall still haunts me. “Those who can’t do, teach, and those who can’t teach, teach gym,” he quipped to big laughs. As a teenager watching the film for the first time, I laughed, too. I certainly wasn’t considering teaching as a profession back then. No status, poor pay, little respect. Woody Allen was right, and I had my sights set on something important; I went to college pre-med.

Years later, I became an educator despite Woody Allen, but as I said, his line still haunted me: did I become a teacher because I couldn’t do something? I’ve come to realize the answer is a resounding no. I could do plenty of things. I choose to teach because I believe that we must raise a generation with the knowledge, tools, and motivation to create solutions to global challenges and create a better world. I teach because I love inspiring and empowering people to live their lives as meaningfully and positively as possible. I teach because I believe that good education is one of the most important gifts we can give others. I teach because I can think of no nobler, more meaningful, or more important work for myself. I teach precisely because it is the best thing I can do.

Yet, our society still grants teachers little respect, even less pay, and hardly any status. And it shouldn’t come as a surprise that while many brilliant, inspiring, enlightened people go into teaching as a profession, many others go into teaching for less than noble reasons. A few years ago, I learned that a certain state university (which will remain unnamed) accepts people into its M.Ed. program who have a C average from college. I find this disturbing.

We want our doctors and lawyers to be exceedingly smart and well-educated. We expect our college professors to be not only highly intelligent, but also wise. But we don’t have very high expectations of the teachers who will be paving the way for our children’s future on countless levels, not least of which is their passion for and ability to pursue lifelong learning.

I’ve written in this blog that I believe the purpose of education should be to provide the knowledge, skills, and inspiration for people to live sustainably, peaceably, and humanely, but I’ve not written much about teachers. We need to build a society in which the very brightest, wisest, most inspired and inspiring people go into teaching -- not just at the university level, but in primary and secondary schools, too. We need to value our teachers the way we value our physicians and pay them accordingly, so that such people are drawn to education, not just to medicine, law, and business.

There is no easy formula for this. But there are some steps we can take:

  • If you are a parent, show your gratitude and respect for your children’s best teachers. Let them know how important they are. Share books and websites with them (such as so they can learn more themselves.
  • If you are a teacher, honor yourself. Woody Allen was wrong. Realize the potential you have to make an enormous impact on the lives of your students as well as on the world. Be a lifelong learner, and commit to bringing humane education to your students. Doing so may reawaken your passion for and commitment to your chosen profession.
  • If you are an educational reformer, brainstorm ways in which we can begin to pay teachers better and more equitably across communities. Meet with other educational reformers to draft policy ideas and share these.
  • If you are a concerned citizen, write letters to the editor, your own blog posts, or simply voice your commitment to education – help build a society which values education and hence attracts more and more valuable teachers.

Our motto at the Institute for Humane Education is “The world becomes what you teach.” We believe that we will build a better world when we teach for such a world. Nothing is more important than the teachers who will do this great work.

~ Zoe
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Humane Education in Action: Laying a Foundation for a Humane World

When asked to sum himself up in a few words, Michel Estopinan called himself a “Cuban, progressive Christian, Humane Educator, dreamer, visionary, idealist.” Michel’s passion for educating students and creating a compassionate, sustainable world has melded into a powerful combination of humane education programs and projects, including an award-winning Humane School Initiative. Read about Michel’s work.

Quick Facts:

Current hometown: Miami, Florida
IHE fan since: 2003
Current job: High School Teacher at Hialeah Senior High School
Your hero: People and children like Mattie Stepanek
Book/movie that changed your life: Pay it Forward
Guilty pleasure: Chocolate
Inspired by: Jesus' command to “Love one another”; Mother Teresa's work with the outcasts; Mahatma Gandhi for his message of change, peace and simplicity; Native American Indian's connection with Mother Earth; Zoe Weil for the most inspiring and comprehensive line of thoughts I have completely identified with.
Love about yourself: Perseverance and patience.
One of your strengths: My sense of justice and compassion.
Desired epitaph or tagline: “…I was not perfect, I did not have extraordinary abilities, I was not famous or popular but I did what I could to make the world a better place for all people, all animals, and the environment.”

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

ME: Education was not my career of choice. Back in Cuba, the government asked high school seniors to consider a career in education to solve the always-growing demand for teachers. I would have chosen architecture, graphic design, psychology, or natural sciences, but I ended up responding to my sense of social responsibility, and that's how I landed in the classroom. Once there I saw the opportunity I was given to be an instrument of change, and soon in my career, I realized teaching was my mission in life, and I had to do it in a responsible way.

As a TESOL (Teacher of English as a Second Language) I have always had the flexibility to cover a wide variety of topics, so that my students used the language in different life situations. The best topics to spark a good debate were always the ones we consider controversial, so through TESOL I was able to bring up for discussion topics that covered most of the global challenges we face today in the world.

Soon after I began working in American public schools in 2005, I started to find out what the new demands of my work as an educator were: classrooms packed with culturally diverse students coming from different parts of the world adapting to the new American culture and way of life. By observing the students and their social interactions, I saw a lot of prejudices, discrimination, bullying -- all related to ethnic differences, skin color, spoken language accent, academic capacity, etc.; the most evident and widespread of all were the cases of homophobia. I used to hear more than 80 times a day how students referred to something they did not like as “gay” -- for example: “That pencil is gay.” “That's so gay!” “I don't do this, this is gay!” The fact that I also witnessed many cases of bullying during the passing times in the halls against students who were perceived as gay made me think there were a lot of social justice issues in the school that needed to be resolved; so I had a lot of work to do.

An announcement on the teacher’s bulletin board led me to a professional development conference about “School Safety and Sexual Minority Issues.” The teachers who attended were exposed to a group of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, inquiring) students who explained how they felt everyday at school. They talked about how difficult it was for them to be able to concentrate on their academic progress when they had to deal with daily acts of bullying, name calling, manifestations of hate, etc.

I decided to survey the LGBTI students at my own school and determine if they felt the same pressures I had learned about in the workshop. The results were pretty much as expected. The students asked me to serve as the sponsor for a Gay Straight Alliance club they wanted to start. I have to admit I hesitated for a moment, thinking on the possible ramifications that it might have for me as a teacher, but I finally accepted the challenge -- deciding that, if I wanted to change the world, I had to face the world, and speak out for what I think is right.

Since I did not feel comfortable helping only one particular group of students fight for their rights, knowing there were so many other forms of discrimination and hate in the school, I invited the GSA students to not only fight for the rights of LGBTI students, but also for the rights of all the students who were victims of social injustice. That's how the GSA turned into a club for Social Justice and Human Rights.

Later on, in my TESOL classes, after being shocked and angered about what we learned while exploring the use of animals in different industries and the environmental destruction of the planet, my students asked that we start a club on Animal Rights and Environmental Responsibility. As a place to begin, we decided to focus on educating the rest of our school community, and on evaluating how we participate as consumers in practices that support animal suffering and environmental degradation. We implemented a variety of initiatives.

At this point I was running and sponsoring two clubs, one club oriented towards social justice, and the other to animal rights and the environment. Since both clubs were focused on different kinds of social justice issues, I suggested that the two clubs merge into a holistic club that deals with global issues in general. That’s how our current club, known as The Humane Honor Society, was born.

In looking for resources and connections, I found the Institute for Humane Education; to my surprise, I found that the work I’d been doing was known as Humane Education. From that day on I have identified myself professionally as a Teacher and Humane Educator.

IHE: Tell us about how you’re currently manifesting humane education. What are your challenges? Successes?

ME: The Humane Honor Society is just one of the Humane Education projects I have implemented. Another project has been to bring Humane Education to my classroom through a variety of means, including a green-humane classroom materials list; a class website to help reduce our paper consumption; and readings focused on global issues. As part of our explorations, I've invited students to create possible solutions or available alternatives that could provide a MOGO (most good) solution to the issues discussed.

On Fridays, the day when teachers and students are drained from the intense week of work, I have implemented Humane Education Fridays, a fresh and relaxed educational window where we mostly have popcorn and organic lemonade to accompany watching thought-provoking videos. We later debate and analyze them through the Humane Education lens. As part of Humane Education Fridays students are assigned research projects at the end of each grading period and a final project where they have to create a video where they expose the issues, explain them, and offer available alternatives. They also present slide shows and create posters and a variety of art projects.

Many parents have been intrigued to learn about these new topics their children are exposed to. Some friends of mine, as well as my adult students, wanted to get involved, so we created a Humane Living Community Night, where we meet once a month as a community in a public location. Students make presentations about the work they have been doing and the issues they have learned. We offer light vegan snacks and drinks, we invite guest speakers, etc.

I also helped bring IHE’s Sowing Seeds workshop to our district; I won a National Environmental Education Foundation grant, which allowed me to take a class called “Fundamentals of Environmental Education.” Most recently I completed IHE’s first Sowing Seeds Online course.

All these trainings have inspired me to expand my projects to reach the entire school, and that's how I came up with The Humane School Initiative (HSI). HSI’s purpose is to bring Humane Education to the entire school by creating an HSI committee -- including at least one administrator, the head custodian, the school cafeteria manager, the head of security, and a representative from each of the school academic departments. Through the committee we analyze how we can work together to create a safer, more peaceful, environmentally-friendly, sustainable and humane school environment. Recently The Humane School Initiative was awarded a 2009 Best Practices in Character Education by The Partnership in Character Education Program.

One of our bigger challenges today is to find the resources to implement all these programs; this need has brought me to consider consolidating all these programs as a nonprofit organization. So, some of the students who were co-founders of the Humane Alternative Club (today Humane Honor Society), who are now back in town for the summer from Yale, MIT, Princeton, and the University of New York – as well as other members of The Humane Foundation and I -- are in the process of filing for nonprofit status. Most recently, we began working with a recently-founded Eco Center in the city of North Miami, where we started our first Humane Foundation Chapter to service the North Miami Schools and community with our programs.

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

ME: Because of my personal purpose and commitment to be a world changer, I have learned of many organizations that are fighting to achieve the same goal; during these years learning, teaching, and growing to the light of Humane Education and the MOGO principle, I haven't found a more effective way to transform the world than through Humane Education. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Humane Education is the most powerful and effective tool to prepare the next generation to face the challenges our world presents and find the solutions we need in order to bring the world back to its natural order and balance. To bring people back to a sense of responsibility for our global community, to mutual respect, to collaboration, and to peaceful coexistence. To bring animals back to their natural habitat, to treat them with kindness and compassion as fellow earthlings with the same rights that we have to enjoy their lives to the fullest.

IHE: Any future plans, dreams or projects?

ME: One of my biggest professional development goals is to enroll in the Masters Program in Humane Education at the Institute for Humane Education.
I want to turn the Humane Foundation into a Humane Education provider that can reach every community of the world.

I want to materialize my dream concept of “The High Performance School of Humane Education.”

But above all, I want to witness in my lifetime, at least the eve of the result of the work of all the changemakers who dedicate every day their free time, their efforts, their energy, their actions, and their resources to change the world.
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The Not Necessarily Happy Planet Index

Does your country do the best job of efficiently converting natural resources into long and happy lives for its inhabitants? If you live in Costa Rica, then the answer is yes. The New Economics Foundation (NEF) has just released its Happy Planet Index 2.0, a report outlining "the ecological efficiency with which human well-being is delivered around the world." According to NEF, their data shows that high levels of resource consumption do not necessarily convert to high levels of well-being, and that "a good life is possible without costing the earth." The report offers data for 143 countries, focusing on the target criteria of life expectancy, life satisfaction, and ecological footprint for each country and its inhabitants.

With the highest life satisfaction in the world, the second-highest life expectancy in the world (Canada is highest), and a footprint of 2.3 hectares, Costa Rica scored the highest. In fact nearly all the top 10 countries in the survey are Latin American. The bottom 10 scores are all from sub-Saharan African countries (Zimbabwe is at the bottom), while most of the rich, most developed nations hover around the middle. The. U.S.? It ranks at 114th place (out of 143 countries).

The report noted that no country yet "successfully achieves the three goals of high life satisfaction, high life expectancy and one-planet living."

You can download & read the complete report (pdf).

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of hickoryhollow113 via Creative Commons.
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The True Price of Your Hand Soap

The swine flu has you freaked out, so you’re carrying around a bottle of hand sanitizer and washing every chance you get. Or, you’re a parent who’s concerned about the health of your child, so you’ve stocked the house with antibacterial everything, just in case. You’re not trying to hurt anyone – just protect yourself and your family – but using those antibacterial products is quite likely causing harm to yourself, others, animals and the planet.

If you’re washing your hands with antibacterial soap, then you’re probably contributing to poisoning dolphins, according to a new study. The report reveals that Atlantic bottlenose dolphins in areas around Florida and South Carolina whose blood was tested were discovered to have accumulations of triclosan in their blood. Triclosan is an additive common in hand soaps, deodorants and other personal care products. It’s also added to products such as toys, socks, garbage bags and cutting boards as a measure “to curb the growth of bacteria.” According to the report, the triclosan enters waterways mainly from home sinks in locations where the water is treated and then released into water bodies.

Triclosan is also considered a hazard by many health and environmental groups, as well as by some government agencies. For example, The Environmental Working Group’s cosmetic safety database rates triclosan as a high hazard, with potential ties to cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity, and bioaccumulation concerns. They offer a guide to triclosan and suggestions for avoiding it. The group Food and Water Watch also recommends avoiding triclosan and offers a fact sheet outlining its dangers to humans and the environment. According to EWG, the use of triclosan is restricted in Japan and Canada, and the European Union has classified it as an irritant.

The Daily Green just reported yesterday that several groups, from Food and Water Watch to Beyond Pesticides are petitioning the FDA to ban the use of triclosan in consumer products.

These reports about triclosan serve as great reminders that all our choices have consequences, and some of them can be extremely negative, as well as far from the realm of our daily notice. All the more reason for us to pay attention to the impact of our choices and to work to make choices that do the most good and least harm for all.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of via Creative Commons.
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Widening Our Criteria for MOGO Food Choices

Note: Zoe is on vacation this week, so this is a repost that was originally posted 9/1/08:

Food is in the news, and many people are considering what's MOGO (Most Good) when they make their food choices. But making MOGO food choices can be complicated. Taking into consideration what’s best for people, animals, the environment, and oneself in a system that is extremely complex isn’t easy.

Periodically, a food movement will emerge that seems to answer the question, “What’s the MOGO diet?” For about two decades the vegan movement has grown substantially because it has made connections between the protection of individual health, world hunger, ecological protection, and animal rights. The organic food movement has also grown considerably, too, buttressing the vegan movement with another lens through which to make MOGO food choices.

Recently, the locavore movement has emerged, and its proponents argue that eating locally, including eating animal-based foods and choosing local over organic when local organic is unavailable, is MOGO, because local foods require less energy to transport and help communities create food security in unreliable energy times.

But then there are studies that show that eating foods considered local (within 150 miles) that are transported by small farmers in small trucks is actually less energy-efficient than eating foods grown further away but trucked in a single large vehicle, and still other studies show that local meat still contributes more global warming gasses than non-local non-animal foods. Such studies don’t diminish the positive effects of truly local food (within 20 miles for example), and the food security that can happen through sustainable, local agriculture, but they point out that local shouldn’t be the only lens for MOGO food.

I believe that when we grab onto a food concept, like vegan or local or organic and make all our choices through this single lens, we limit our capacity to make truly MOGO food choices. It’s much easier to choose foods through a single lens, and I understand the desire to do so to simplify such complicated choices, but instead, we can consider several lenses when choosing food.

My criteria for MOGO food, which I describe at greater length in my book, Most Good, Least Harm, are these:

As often as possible, choose foods that are:
  • Locally and organically produced.
  • Plant-based.
  • In season.
  • Produced through fair trade practices.
  • Whole and unprocessed.
  • Not overly-packaged, and if packaged, only in recycled and recyclable materials.
  • Low in saturated fats and cholesterol.
  • Produced without refined sugars and without hydrogenated vegetable oils.
  • Produced without abuse towards and exploitation of animals.
  • Not genetically engineered.

Bon appetit,

~ Zoe
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Eco-Briefs: Quick Guides for the Eco-conscious

There are so many global challenges we must contend with -– poverty, pollution, cruelty, injustice -– that it can be difficult to get a grasp on them or know where to begin to take positive action. As part of his work helping individuals, businesses and other organizations make more socially responsible choices, IHE HECP graduate Roberto Giannicola has created a series of Eco-Briefs, 30-40 page ebooks that serve as “quick guides for the aspiring eco-conscious.”

Each Eco-Brief offers an overview of the issues surrounding the topic of focus, as well as quotes, factoids, graphs and charts, and other useful elements that help draw a clear picture of the topic and what concerned citizens can do to enact change. The tips and strategies given include ideas not only for the home, but for positive changes that businesses can make. The Eco-Briefs also include recommended books, websites and other resources. Because Roberto’s company, Provokare, is based in California, some of the resources provided are specific to that area. But, there are plenty of useful suggestions.

So far Roberto has created Eco-Briefs on the following topics:
  • Consumerism
  • Factory Farming: Health & Environment
  • Greening the Workplace
  • School Lunch Waste
  • Toxic Chemicals: Health & Environment
  • Water

and he is in the process of creating ebooks focused on topics such as human suffering, the oceans, population, and prejudices and privileges.

I think my favorite Eco-Brief is the one on School Lunch Waste, for which Roberto did a detailed survey of waste generated by the school lunches in his daughter’s elementary school. The images and charts that outline his analysis of the amounts and types of waste generated really illuminated the amount of food waste that occurs in nearly every school in the U.S.

The Eco-Briefs offer a nice combination of information, images and tips that educate and inspire, but don’t overwhelm. Even though, as a humane educator, I already know quite a bit about these issues, I was able to learn more and was inspired to make additional changes in my daily choices.

The Eco-Briefs come as PDF files that are easily downloadable from Roberto’s website for a reasonable price of $5. A sample PDF of each is available to view.

Note: IHE will also be offering these Eco-Briefs for sale in the near future.

~ Marsha

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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.

New report asserts that significant action against climate change is needed, or “much of civilization will collapse” - Independent (UK) (7/13/09)
”The immediate problems are rising food and energy prices, shortages of water and increasing migrations ‘due to political, environmental and economic conditions’, which could plunge half the world into social instability and violence. And organised crime is flourishing, with a global income estimated at $3 trillion – twice the military budgets of all countries in the world combined. The effects of climate change are worsening – by 2025 there could be three billion people without adequate water as the population rises still further. And massive urbanisation, increased encroachment on animal territory, and concentrated livestock production could trigger new pandemics.”
Thanks, Common Dreams, for the heads up.

Consequences linger, months after coal ash spill - (7/13/09)
”But locals say they want more than cleanup. They want answers about their health problems. ‘TVA is denying health issues, yet they tell us 'don't breathe it, don't touch it, don't let kids near it,' ‘ McCoin said. ‘I know darn well that stuff's hazardous, and you know what, they know it too,’ McCoin said.”

More people eschewing bottled water; how to tell your tap water is (7/12/09)
”Thanks to the recession and growing concern about plastic water bottles in landfills, tap water is suddenly chic -- more chic than it’s been since the first little green Perrier bottles landed in North America in 1976. Sure, by some estimates, Americans spent more than $11 billion on bottled water in 2008, but that figure represents a slight decline in sales, the first drop in more than a decade.”

Does living in a racist society make African Americans sick?Alternet (7/11/09)
”Her own complex explanation for what's happening — the weathering framework — rests on two unexpected, controversial causes: racism and stress, in the broadest senses of both terms. American minorities face a bevy of chronic obstacles that whites and the socioeconomically advantaged cope with far less often: environmental pollution, high crime, poor health care, overt racism, concentrated poverty. Over the course of a person's life, the psychological and physiological response to this kind of stress leads to dire health problems, advanced aging and early death.”

800,000 chickens die in fire; financial impact “minimal”KFDA News (7/10/09)
”Cal-Maine foods estimates four hen layer houses were destroyed and a fifth has severe smoke damage. 800,000 birds died in the fire that started Thursday evening after five….Cal-Maine says the financial impact of the fire will be minimal.”

Rhino poaching on the rise, devastating rhino populationGuardian (UK) (7/10/09)
”Poachers in Africa and Asia are killing rhinos at an alarming rate to meet the demand for rhino horns, which are believed to have medicinal value in some countries. According to new research, the level of rhino poaching is about to hit a 15 year high, and is ‘the worst rhino poaching we have seen in many years.’"

Empowering women key to sustainable human population? (Opinion) - Christian Science Monitor (7/10/09)
”In the US, which spends about 17 cents per dollar of economic activity on healthcare, nearly half of all pregnancies is unintended. Yet in all nations in which a choice of contraceptives is available, backed up by safe abortion services, women have one or two children. Combine such services with education for girls and decent opportunities for women, and average global fertility would fall below two.”

More parents rethinking spendy items for kids - New York Times (7/9/09)
”Such consciousness is championed by those who have long protested the encroachment of consumerism into parenting. Until recently, children in America received, on average, 70 new toys a year, Ms. Linn said. She calls the recession an opportunity to have a conversation with children about the rampant spending on their behalf. Marketers, she said, ‘use fear to make parents buy things they really don’t need. We are not going to live sustainably in a culture that is built on excessive consumption.’”

In Afghanistan, women’s rights declining, violence increasingThe Independent (UK) (7/9/09)
"’Despite a number of significant advances in terms of the creation of new legislation and institutions, there is a chronic failure at all levels of government to advance the protection of women's rights in Afghanistan,’ [Navi Pillay] added. Ms Pillay said attacks on girls' schools and female pupils threaten to have a ‘devastating long-term impact’ on Afghan women getting involved in their society.”

Invasive species flourishing in U.S. - AP (7/9/09)
”From a mysterious fungus attacking bats in the Northeast to zebra mussels in the Great Lakes and snakehead fish in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, native wildlife is facing new threats nationwide.”

“Watching whales watching us”New York Times (7/8/09)
“’I don’t anthropomorphize,’ Frohoff told me. ‘I leave it to other people to do that. What I do is study gray whales using the same rigorous methodologies that have long been used to study the behaviors of other species and interspecies interaction. Those who would reject out of hand the idea that whales are intelligent enough to consciously interact with us haven’t spent enough time around whales.’”

A carbon cap for every person? - Newsweek (7/7/09)
”Instead of assigning limits based on a country's overall emissions, the focus should be on the highest emitters, no matter where they're located, argue lead author Shoibal Chakravarty, of Princeton University, and several colleagues. ‘Half of all emissions,’ Chakravarty says, ‘come from about 10 percent of the world's population.’ More of them are obviously in industrial countries, but, says Massimo Tavoni, another coauthor, ‘there are also people in China who drive Ferraris and fly a lot.’ So in this proposed new scheme, they write, ‘All of the world's high-CO2-emitting individuals are treated the same, regardless of where they live.’"

Elephants relocated to reserve after violent conflicts with Malawi villagersTelegraph (UK) (7/7/09)
"’Moving the elephants was, without argument, the only solution to a terrible situation for both the elephants and the community.’ The elephant evacuation took a month to complete at a cost of £200,000 and is believed to be the biggest ever deliberate mass relocation of the animals. It followed years of conflict between the elephants and their human neighbours near the town of Mangochi in southern Malawi.”

Can college roommates of different races help reduce prejudice?New York Times (7/7/09)
“’Just having diversity in classrooms doesn’t do anything to increase interracial friendships,’ said Claudia Buchmann, an associate professor of sociology at Ohio State and an author of the Duke study. ‘But the intimacy of living together in residence halls, with no roommate, or a different-race roommate, does lead to more interracial friendships.’”
Thanks, Greater Good Blog, for the heads up.

Quality of federal “organic” standards in questionWashington Post (7/3/09)
”Under the original organics law, 5 percent of a USDA-certified organic product can consist of non-organic substances, provided they are approved by the National Organic Standards Board. That list has grown from 77 to 245 substances since it was created in 2002. Companies must appeal to the board every five years to keep a substance on the list, explaining why an organic alternative has not been found. The goal was to shrink the list over time, but only one item has been removed so far.”
Thanks, Treehugging Family, for the heads up.
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