Believing Untruths - The Dangerous Lack of Critical Thinking

Sharon Begley has written an important essay in Newsweek, “Lies of Mass Destruction,” that every educator should read. Begley explores the strange, but ubiquitous, tendency of people to believe untruths even when there is massive evidence to contradict them. Whether it’s the persistent belief among many that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, or the current beliefs about “death panels” (among other misinformation) in the pending health care reform proposals, we humans consistently believe things that simply are not true.

At the risk of raising the ire of my readers who believe in many unsupported things (and I’m not naming any of these for fear of inciting that ire), I can only say that Begley has just touched the tip of the iceberg. We believe in countless unfounded, unproven, even preposterous ideas and religious dogmas (not to mention what might make for good scifi or fairy tales), and many of us don’t even flinch when we present these unfounded beliefs as truth and seek to proselytize.

One of my favorite bumper stickers reads: “Don’t let your mind be so open your brain falls out.” I worry that between the poles of open-mindedness and close-mindedness (often resulting in the same sorts of beliefs in untruths), there lies a vast arena that we are failing to cultivate: critical thinking.

Critical thinking was a hot button subject in the 90s, and every school was eager to ensure it was teaching this skill. Now it’s been relegated by many “back to basics” proponents as soft, liberal, untestable and far less important that passing those standardized tests.

But it is dangerous to neglect critical thinking. An inability to assess information critically, especially in an Internet age of massive information and misinformation, leads to an inability to participate honestly and realistically in a democracy.

In the 20th century, a few dystopian novels, such as Brave New World and 1984, exposed the danger of mass thought. Ironically, there are plenty of people who believe silly things who consider themselves disciples of such books, whether on the left or the right. They may believe in unfounded conspiracies or false information, perceiving themselves as the true critical thinkers and the rest of us as duped.

The only solution I see to this pervasive tendency among people is to commit fully and wholeheartedly to cultivating critical thinking and inculcating healthy skepticism among youth. Yes, it means they may question their parents beliefs. Yes, it means they may question their teachers. Yes, it means they may question entrenched institutions and systems. It also means they may question peer pressure, advertisers’ unhealthy manipulations, and the health value of their cafeteria food (I just had to throw that in).

If we teach the next generation to be deep and hard-working thinkers, we will give them perhaps the most important skill people need to create healthy, productive, fair and just societies and systems.

~ Zoe

Image courtesy of rossgram via Creative Commons.

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Beyond Either/Or: Practice Third-Side Thinking in Your Habits

We live in what appears – on the surface – to be a dichotomous society: black or white, masculine or feminine, paper or plastic, organic or conventional, animals or people, jobs or environment, us or them, and so on in an infinite number of either/ors and exclusions of something or other. But in reality, we often have a much broader set of choices. There is almost always a third choice. Or a fourth. Or fifth.

I was skimming a magazine recently that offered a list of ways to save money and energy when upgrading your electronics. Some of the choices included stereo vs. mp3 player; cable vs. satellite; plasma vs. LCD TV. The point of the article was to show which items use less energy and emit fewer amounts of CO2. But, I immediately thought. Why are they telling me those are my only choices? I don’t own a stereo OR an mp3 player. I use a little portable boom-box that I’ve had for years (or my laptop). I don’t use cable or satellite; in fact, I don’t even have a television, so the plasma vs. LCD is a pointless comparison for me.

Why do we stop at the easy either/or answers? Why don’t we dig deeper, further for the more meaningful solution?

We can start simply, like: instead of paper or plastic, I can bring my own bag. Or, do without one completely. But, I can also dig deeper: Do I really need to go to the store to buy this thing in the first place? What can I do instead? Borrow, build, share, improvise, do without?

No Impact Man Colin Beavan has mentioned on his blog that he always takes his own cup to the coffee shop, rather than using one of their disposable ones — and people thank him for it. That's a laudable choice, but I would go even deeper and suggest going without the store-bought coffee at all (I think my husband and I are about the only two people here in Portland, OR who don’t drink coffee), or at least ensure that it’s organic, shade-grown, fair-trade, sustainable stuff.

I recently read another article in a magazine about when and how to replace leather shoes with vegan ones. What was one of the first suggestions? Payless. Yes, they have vegan shoes that are pretty economical. But, many of those shoes are also made with petroleum products and other chemicals and quite probably were produced in sweatshops in another country and shipped thousands of miles. An excellent opportunity for some third side thinking.

As you go throughout your day, pay attention to the choices that you’re offered – and the ones you offer yourself – and then take some time to think about and look for third, fourth and fifth choices. You’ll be amazed at how quickly they start appearing.

~ Marsha

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Resisting the Collective: Choosing MOGO When Desires & Values Conflict

This summer I was at an event, and I met a woman who was my age (late forties), but who looked at least a decade younger than I. I marveled at her wrinkle-free, perfect skin and flowing brown hair. She lives in Florida, land of sun damage, whereas I live in Maine, where we can’t even make Vitamin D six months out of the year because the sun is too low in the sky. What good genes she must have to have escaped the ravages of time and elements, I thought.

She was quick to inform me that she dyes her hair, Botoxes her wrinkles, and covers her skin with tanning cream and make up. I do none of these things. She was encouraging. I could look as young and good as she through such a regimen.

When she left, I turned to the woman next to me and said, “I want to look like that.”

“No you don’t, Zoe,” she replied.

“Yes, I do!” I insisted.

“If you did, you would,” she said; and of course, she was right.

But in fact, I do want to look younger; I just don’t want to succumb to the societal messages that insist I have to change myself to do so. I don’t want to buy into the idea that natural aging is bad and must be remedied. I have always wanted to grow older gracefully, at least in theory.

Plus, I’m busy. When I prioritize what’s important to me, regularly spending time in a hair salon or doctor’s office, or on a plastic surgery table (or recovering from surgery) isn’t high on the list. When I’m not working, I want to be outdoors, or with my family and friends, or practicing Aikido, or running up a mountain, or swimming in the ocean.

But I do feel that persistent tug, and I do know that my values and my desires are in conflict. I want so many things that contradict each other: a restored planet, but also the various technologies that pollute; a simple life, but also the many things – appliances, clothes, and multitude of stuff – that are pleasurable; a locally-based, MOGO lifestyle, but also to travel to new places.

So far, in the realm of personal grooming, I am largely able to resist my desires in favor of my values. But the tug is always there, always reminding me that making MOGO choices -- however we define them -- can be challenging, when what is most important to us is eclipsed by pressures that stem from a combination of wants, fear, society, peers, and systems that we didn’t create but which influence our lives and choices.

The Borg, a collective from the Star Trek universe that turns humanoids into machines, say that resistance is futile. It is not. The inner struggles we face and confront with conviction allow us to grow and choose consciously and conscientiously. And in this struggle, we define who we are and what is important to us. We also get to more more fully live our epitaph and define the meaning of our lives.

~ Zoe

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WebSpotlight: Understanding Prejudice

As much as we want to believe otherwise, prejudice is still a significant element of society. And many of us who would claim to be completely unprejudiced have biases that we may not even be aware of.

The website offers a wealth of information and resources for students, educators and others interested in exploring issues of prejudice and bias.

The website offers activities, links to websites, articles and other readings, as well as links to relevant organizations and experts. I also like that they include an exploration of speciesism as an element of prejudice.

One of the most compelling and useful aspects of the website are the interactive surveys, quizzes and tours on topics such as “Test Yourself for Hidden Bias,” “What’s Your Native IQ?” and “Where Do You Draw the Line?” (Note that most of the interactive elements require you to first register, but doing so allows you to track your responses over time.)

It’s amazing what you can discover about yourself from these quizzes and surveys. Check out the site and improve your knowledge while decreasing (hopefully) your hidden biases.

~ Marsha

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MOGO Quotes - John Robbins

I’m an enormous quotophile (I’m sure there’s an actual word for it.) I’m frequently collecting favorite quotes in a book. I strongly believe in the power of words to touch, influence and empower others, and quotes do that in few words. Here's one I wanted to share; it's on my fridge:

“Your life does matter. It always matters whether you reach out in friendship or lash out in anger. It always matters whether you live with compassion and awareness or whether you succumb to distractions and trivia. It always matters how you treat other people, how you treat animals, and how you treat yourself. It always matters what you do. It always matters what you say. And it always matters what you eat.

“When you choose to affirm the dignity inherent in life and to uphold the beauty, the magic, and the mystery of the living Earth, something happens. It happens whether or not anyone else recognizes your efforts, and it happens regardless of how wounded and flawed you are. What happens is you join the long lineage of human beings who have stood for and helped to bring about a future worthy of all the tears and prayers our species has known. Your life becomes a statement of human possibility. Your life becomes an instrument through which a healthier, more compassionate, and more sustainable future will come to be.”

~ John Robbins (from The Food Revolution)

~ Marsha

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Fiji Water Fad Yet Another Reason We Need Humane Education

In my talks and workshops I do an activity called True Price in which we examine a product, food, or article of clothing and ask a few questions about it. The questions include:

1. Is this product a want or a need? The purpose of this question isn’t to condemn the satisfaction of our desires but to become aware of what are wants and needs so that we make choices accordingly.
2. What are the effects, both positive and negative, from production, use, and disposal of this item on ourselves, other people, animals, and the environment?
3. What systems perpetuate the existence of this item?
4. What are MOGO alternatives to this item?

During my MOGO talks, I usually bring three items: a conventional cotton T-shirt, a fast food cheeseburger (well, a plastic version that can travel!), and a Fiji brand water bottle. Often I invite the audience to vote for the item they’d like to analyze, and often they pick the Fiji water bottle. I’ve gathered some statistics on bottled water in general (and Fiji in particular) which I share, encouraging the audience to seek out the validity of these statistics on their own.

This week, Mother Jones published an article on Fiji water written by Anna Lenzer.

I’m quite critical of bottled water in general, and Fiji water (transported halfway across the globe to get to Maine, where I live) in particular, and I think that bottled water is only a MOGO choice in certain situations (e.g., when traveling overseas where local water may be contaminated, during emergencies and power outages, etc.). So I was prepared to find this article reinforcing my already formed beliefs. Yet I was surprised by how much I hadn’t known and how much worse the situation is than I’d realized, and I urge readers of this blog to read the Mother Jones article.

What shocked me most was how deeply entrenched the Fiji brand has become -- how fully it has forged its celebrity status, and how easily we are all duped by greenwashing and promises of health and goodness. I remember feeling similarly when Ben and Jerry’s ice cream became a paragon of virtue simply because it was more socially responsible than other companies that were also producing frozen dessert. That an ice cream company, producing a high fat, high cholesterol, energy-intensive dessert that also contributes to animal suffering would ever receive such accolades and become the dessert of choice for every good cause and socially conscious consumer, dumbfounded me. Same with the Body Shop, which was lauded for not testing on animals and for using fair trade ingredients, while it produced more and more expensive and unnecessary personal care products (foot cream?) in small plastic containers that mostly wind up in landfills and incinerators. But I digress.

Fiji water, it seems, is the water of the stars, and the hype around it -- including that buying it helps the environment -- defies common sense. Meanwhile, actual Fijians don’t have access to their own aquifer that the American company uses exclusively to bottle expensive water that Fijians can’t afford. Instead, Fijians often lack clean, accessible water at all.

As always, I come back to humane education. We must raise a generation that can think. That can evaluate critically and not be so susceptible to advertising and hype. That relies on a combination of common sense, pursuit of knowledge, and an abiding value to do the most good and the least harm in relation to everyone.

I will continue to bring my Fiji water bottle to talks and schools, armed now with more information from this expose in Mother Jones, and I’ll continue to invite my audiences to become critical thinkers and creative solutionaries for a better world.

~ Zoe

Image courtesy of mariettaki via Creative Commons.

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Animals Overcoming Odds: A Sampling of Picture Books for Kids

This month marks the 4th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which not only devastated the lives of millions of people and wreaked havoc on the natural areas of Louisiana and other parts of the southern U.S. coast, but also affected millions of animals. In honor of those who have courageously endured and thrived despite such difficult circumstances, here is a small sampling of picture books for kids about animals overcoming odds.

Lemon the Duck by Laura Backman. 2008. (32 pgs) Gr. K-3.
A duck hatched for a class project is disabled, so the class works to help Lemon become the best duck that she can.

The Late Loon by Dean Bennett. 2006. (32 pgs) Gr. K-3.
A loon born too late to fly south for the winter must learn, with a little help from a beagle named Jasper, how to survive on his own.

A Home for Dakota by Jan Grover and Nancy Lane. 2008. (24 pgs) Gr. 2-5.
Dog #241 lives in a dark crate on a puppy mill, until she is rescued and learns to trust humans again. When the puppy (now named Dakota) meets a young girl who has been as traumatized as she, healing begins for both of them.

Owen and Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Isabella Hatkoff. 2006. (40 pgs) Gr. 2-5.
When a baby hippo is orphaned during a tsunami in Indonesia, he finds comfort and safety with a 130 year-old giant tortoise.

Molly the Pony by Pam Kaster. 2008. (32 pgs) Gr. K-3.
Molly survives Hurricane Katrina, but when a dog injures her leg, it must be amputated. With a prosthetic leg, Molly learns to walk again and finds a new life of friendship.

Jubela by Cristina Kessler. 2001. (32 pgs) Gr. K-2.
When a baby rhino’s mother is killed by a poacher, little Jubela struggles to survive on his own.

Two Bobbies by Kirby Larson & Mary Nethery. 2008. (32 pgs) Gr. K-3.
A dog and a blind cat abandoned during the Hurricane Katrina evacuations manage to stick together and survive until they are rescued and find a new home.

Note: If you’d like an inspiring book for older kids, share with them Pawprints of Katrina: Pets Saved and Lessons Learned by Cathy Scott (2008), which documents the efforts of Best Friends Animal Society to rescue animals lost or abandoned during Hurricane Katrina and reunite them with their families.

~ 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.

Speciesism isn’t the way to go - Psychology Today (opinion) (8/24/09)
“ It’s individuals who count when we consider how we treat other animals….’If A is to be treated differently from B, the justification must be in terms of A’s individual characteristics and B’s individual characteristics. Treating them differently cannot be justified by pointing out that one or the other is a member of some preferred group, not even the ‘group’ of human beings.’ According to this view, careful attention must be paid to individual variations in behavior within species. It is individuals who personally feel pain and suffer, not species.”

New Mali law giving women “equal marriage rights” sparks controversy - BBC (8/23/09)
"’We have to stick to the Koran,’ Ms Dembele told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme. ‘A man must protect his wife, a wife must obey her husband. It's a tiny minority of women here that wants this new law - the intellectuals. The poor and illiterate women of this country - the real Muslims - are against it,’ she added.”

“Getting real about the high price of cheap food”Time (8/21/09)
“With the exhaustion of the soil, the impact of global warming and the inevitably rising price of oil — which will affect everything from fertilizer to supermarket electricity bills — our industrial style of food production will end sooner or later….Unless Americans radically rethink the way they grow and consume food, they face a future of eroded farmland, hollowed-out countryside, scarier germs, higher health costs — and bland taste.”

Scientists uncover new ocean threat from plastics pollution - The Independent (8/20/09)
“Scientists have identified a new source of chemical pollution released by the huge amounts of plastic rubbish found floating in the oceans of the world. A study has found that as plastics break down in the sea they release potentially toxic substances not found in nature and which could affect the growth and development of marine organisms.”
Thanks, Common Dreams, for the heads up.

Fish tested in 291 freshwater streams all found to contain mercury - Reuters (8/19/09)
"’This study shows just how widespread mercury pollution has become in our air, watersheds, and many of our fish in freshwater streams,’ Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement.”
Thanks, Common Dreams, for the heads up.

“Man in a Van” offers outlet for sharing recession troubles - Washington Post (8/19/09)
“The Oregon native has spent the past six weeks driving across the country and asking people to write on his orange van stories of how the financial crisis has affected their lives. He provides the Sharpies; they spill their guts. ‘Lost my job. Became homeless. Been robbed, abused, discriminated, arrested, and neglected. There is no compassion in America,’ reads one tale scrawled on the side of his van, parked in downtown Washington on Wednesday.”
Thanks, Ode Magazine, for the heads up.

Want to save the world? Help women and girls - New York Times Magazine (8/17/09)
“There’s a growing recognition among everyone from the World Bank to the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to aid organizations like CARE that focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism. That’s why foreign aid is increasingly directed to women. The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution.”
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Humane Education: Re-Expanding the Circle of Compassion

The term “humane education” originated with the founders of the first humane societies and SPCAs who were also the founders of the first child protection organizations back in the late 19th century. Humane education taught kindness to both people and animals, and the leaders of the humane movement were humanitarians in the broadest sense.

During the 20th century, child protection laws were established in the U.S. and other industrialized countries, and child labor was largely (though, sadly, not completely) eradicated. Humane societies began to concentrate solely on the protection of dogs, cats, and occasionally on other companion animals, including horses. Humane education at these organizations began to focus exclusively on responsible care of companion animals, bite prevention, and spaying and neutering to eliminate the dog and cat overpopulation problem, which still persists. Since humane societies and SPCAs were the dumping ground for unwanted dogs and cats, it became essential to educate about pet overpopulation.

What this has meant is that humane education, once a broad term that encompassed all that it means to be humane, narrowed in many people’s eyes. For the past two decades I’ve been working with other humane educators to revitalize the term and re-establish its original meaning: to promote humane living that includes all people, all species and the ecosystems that sustain us all.

Any of us working to educate for a better world, whether we focus on specific issues like companion animals, child slavery, environmental sustainability, or a host of other issues, are humane educators. But let us remember that we are each part of a vital and comprehensive field, a circle of compassion that includes everyone and everything on this beautiful planet.

For a humane world for all,

~ Zoe

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Gain Inner & Outer Peace With Our MOGO Online Course!

Get in touch with your deepest values and learn to help transform the world -- use the exploration of inquiry, introspection and integrity to gain inner and outer peace: register now for our 30-day MOGO Online course!

There's still time to register for our September course (which begins September 1), but hurry, spaces are limited! The cost for individuals is only $89. (We have a special family rate of $89 for the first person and $25 for each additional family member.)

MOGO Online will educate and inspire you to do more good for yourself, other people, animals, and the environment.

Learn about the 7 Keys to MOGO and how to apply them to your own life.

As part of MOGO Online you'll have a chance to interact virtually with other participants through discussion boards, receive input from the course advisors (Zoe and Marsha) and connect with people who are passionate about empowering themselves and transforming the world. Participants will receive a copy of Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life by IHE President, Zoe Weil.

Download a couple sample exercises. (pdf)

“I found MOGO Online to be a life-altering experience on any number of levels. The simplest way I can think to express what I mean is that I emerged from MOGO Online feeling more conscious, more alive, more honest (with myself and others), more confident and more empowered.”
~ Stanley Weil

“This class was a truly inspiring experience. I think the exercises were thoughtfully designed to encourage deep introspection and were extremely valuable to me in my personal life.”

~ Tara Hodges

“It was one of the most rewarding "classroom" experiences I have had to date. The warmth, enthusiasm and insight that the other students and that our advisors shared made this more than just a learning experience -- it was a life experience. I feel privileged to have been part of this community.”
~ Anna Watkins
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Microglass: The Little Gift That Opened a Big Avenue for Reverence & Wonder

My husband has a high-powered magnifying glass which he’s put on a string to wear around his neck. Mostly, he forgets about it, and it’s come out quite seldom in the past few years. When we were heading to Newfoundland last month, I asked him to make sure to bring it. For some reason I always forget the term “magnifying glass,” and as I’ve struggled to recall it, I’ve begun referring to it as the “microglass.” I was the one who mostly wore the microglass in Newfoundland, and on my birthday in July, my husband handed me a small gift wrapped in a Newfoundland brochure. It was the microglass.

So now it’s mine, and I have a few things to say about it. First, this was a great gift, and choosing great gifts for people who don’t need any more things, who try to live by the MOGO principle, who don’t want to contribute to waste, etc., can be tricky. How perfect that my husband passed on something already part of our household that I loved so much.

Second, the microglass has opened up a new world for me, not just the world one would expect, of tiny flower pistils and bits of dew on spider webs and lichen swelling with moisture, but the world of pausing, observing, reveling in the present, in beauty, in mystery. The microglass is my ticket to being still and experiencing wonder and awe, key ingredients to reverence and joy and the unfolding of wise choices.

What a gift this little microglass is.

If you have an avenue for reverence and wonder, please use it, and share it.

~ Zoe

Image courtesy of Vik Nanda via Creative Commons.

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Humane Education in Action: Creating a Christian Ethic of Caring

IHE M.Ed. graduate Stephanie Muzekari first discovered humane education at one of our Sowing Seeds workshops. What Stephanie learned in our M.Ed. program helped her discover ways to combine her concern for the earth and its inhabitants with her strong Orthodox Christian faith in order to inspire and educate other people of faith to expand their circle of concern to include people, animals and the earth.

Quick Facts:

Current hometown: Lansdale, Pennsylvania
IHE fan since: 1997
Current work: Wife to Nick & mother to Jacob and Gabriel; blogger, business owner
Your hero: While I don't have one hero in particular, I am always inspired by others who demonstrate courage, creativity, and faith in times of adversity.
Book/movie that changed your life: Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words. Reading about Peace Pilgrim's journey was part of my inspiration to embark on a journey of simple living in which I could fit all of my personal belongings into my car. Now, with children, things are a lot different, but I still strive to live a life in which I continually reevaluate my needs/wants in relation to material things for my family.
Guilty pleasure: Chocolate
Inspired by: Spending time in the natural world, the lives of the saints, my children's innocent sense of wonder, and my husband's creativity.
Love about yourself: I adapt easily to change.
One of your strengths: Perseverance and diligence.

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

SM: For as long as I can remember, I have always had a heart for animals and the environment, and for the suffering of others. I became a vegetarian at a young age and had thought while growing up that I would eventually join the Peace Corps in Africa. Through a series of many twists of events, I actually ended up working in a cubicle as an accountant. I felt a serious disconnect there between who I was and what I was doing, so that didn't last very long. When I left that job, I embarked on a path of service and learning. It was during this time that I attended a Sowing Seeds workshop held by IHE at Farm Sanctuary in 1997. I felt incredibly inspired by their work and had a desire to start the program then, but did not feel quite ready. Several years later, out of the blue, I received a letter from IHE in the mail, and I knew the time was right for me to deepen my learning through IHE's M.Ed. program.

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

SM: This past fall, I started a blog called Everyday Synergy. I write about humane education issues from the perspective of an Orthodox Christian mother. Part of my desire to start a blog stemmed from wanting share with other Orthodox Christians that caring for animals and the environment are integral parts of our faith, and to share with non-Christians that true Christianity does not abandon creation. I also needed an outlet in which to grapple with issues that I deal with in my everyday life. There has been an ebb and a flow to my writing on the blog, as caring for my two young children is my first priority. However, I have had some positive feedback from others which encourages me to continue it. I have been blessed to connect with others exploring similar issues. It has been encouraging to know I am not "alone."

My husband and I have also been working toward the launching of our home-based business, Sacred Life Mosaics, slated to go live online by the end of August 2009. We will be selling 100% recycled note cards with photographs of the natural world combined with sayings from Orthodox Christian saints about the sacredness of creation, printed with soy and vegetable-based inks. We are also packaging the note cards in a more environmentally-responsible way than most note cards are packaged. Instead of using plastic shrink wrap and boxes, they will be bound together in tree-free seeded lotka paper and shipped in recycled mailing envelopes.

I initially struggled with starting a business that would be selling more "stuff" to people. But now I am excited about offering an alternative to the majority of Christian-related products that are currently on the market. One quick perusal through a Christian bookstore, and you will find that a great number of their offerings are either made in China and/or with virgin paper fibers. I feel this is a great opportunity not only for my husband and I to work toward our dream of having a home-based business and homeschooling our children, but also a possibility of encouraging others to follow our lead and offer products that hold true to a Christian ethic of caring for creation.

It was a struggle to decide upon the type of papers to use for our cards. We were initially going to choose 100% recycled, 100% post-consumer waste cards, but the nature of that paper did not seem to lend itself to printing high quality inspiring nature photographs. Instead, we chose 100% recycled, 50% post-consumer waste (pcw) paper for the cards, with the remaining 50% of the recycled fibers being from responsibly managed forests. While this is not the ideal we had hoped for, we have learned that there is no "perfect," and that the benefit of providing a more environmentally-responsible alternative to current Christian bookstore offerings outweighed the cost of not reaching our ideal. We also hope that over time, as demand for recycled papers increases, higher quality papers may become available for photo printing on 100% pcw papers. And we have plans to experiment with printing on the 100% pcw papers as we grow more capital to invest into the business.

Future product offerings we have in the development stages include nature photographs framed in reclaimed barn wood, and tree-free journals, all combined with Orthodox Christian sayings about creation. We are also working on a "water-inspired" note card, and 100% of the profits from this card will be donated to projects throughout the world which provide clean water to people.

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

SM: Often, people are either unaware of how their daily choices have such a ripple effect upon the world, or they feel one person cannot make a difference. Humane education shows us that there are so many simple ways in which each and every one of us can help to manifest a more compassionate world.

Much of our educational system expects students to repeat all of the "right" answers instead of inspiring them to think creatively. Humane education is definitely a great method to encourage critical thinking and out-of-the-box solutions to issues. There are so many different ways in which people can live a life that is kinder to other people, animals and the environment. There is no "right" or "wrong" answer, just a continual path of learning and growing. Humane living will most likely manifest itself in totally different ways for individual people, and I believe that is one of the things that makes this movement beautiful.

IHE: Any future plans, dreams or projects?

SM: My husband and I dream of purchasing a property on which to start a nature retreat center grounded in the Orthodox Christian faith. It would be a place where people could come for quiet reflection and prayer in the natural world. We would provide a healthy, vegan breakfast for our guests. And we would attempt to create a place which serves as an example of how one could live in an environmentally-responsible manner. There would also be an opportunity for guests to learn about the connections between our faith and the natural world and how they could make personal choices to live in greater harmony with Creation.

And, while my husband was not a student of IHE, I thought it would be worthwhile to mention one of his projects. He writes children's books and is working toward getting his first book published. His most recent book tells a wonderful story of animals coming into communion with a human being who draws them to himself through an Orthodox Christian life of prayer.

Note: for her thesis project, Stephanie created a booklet to address ways in which humane education can serve as a vehicle by which Christians can become aware of and respond to suffering and injustice in the world. You can download the booklet, Christianity and Care for Creation: Living Out Our Faith in our Daily Lives.

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10 Tips for Helping Create a Humane School Experience

Backpacks, bells and bus schedules are taking center stage as millions of kids, parents and teachers jump into a new school year. If you’re a parent, it’s a great time to integrate humane choices into your child’s school experience and to inspire others. If you’re a teacher, the fresh start of a new year provides an excellent opportunity to implement new habits, lessons and explorations into your classroom and school.

Here are 10 tips for helping create a more humane school experience:

  1. Invest in eco-friendly, healthy, humane products. There are numerous online stores for purchasing recycled or eco-friendly paper, pens and pencils, backpacks, crayons, etc. If you don’t know where to start looking for such items, there are a slew of blogs and news outlets that have recently covered green products and supplies. Try a web search for “eco-friendly school supplies” or “green back to school,” being sure to also think about the impact of those school supply choices on people and animals. (Many “big box” stores are also starting to carry more eco-friendly supplies.) Back-to-school clothes don't have to mean supporting sweatshops; thrift stores, clothing swaps and sweatshop-free products all offer alternative choices. You can also think beyond the classroom to the entire school and talk to teachers, administrators, the custodians and cafeteria workers about choosing humane and sustainable products. From paper towels to cleaners to napkins to staplers, there are plenty of opportunities to make positive choices.
  2. Develop relationships. No one wants to feel like they’re being told what to do or to feel defensive or judged. Get to know your child’s teachers/parents and other members of the school/family so that you can learn to know them as people, develop compassionate communication skills with them and to serve as a role model for healthy, humane practices. Find others concerned about the same issues and start working together and helping support each other.
  3. Introduce eco-friendly and humane practices into the classroom. If you’re the teacher, you have the power to adopt such practices yourself. If you’re a parent, talk with your child’s teacher and develop a positive relationship so that you can feel confident in offering positive suggestions. The opportunities are limitless, from starting recycling programs to sharing supplies to reducing waste to minimizing paper use to promoting healthier and more sustainable snacks to reducing various “prints” (carbon footprints, foodprints, waterprints, etc.).
  4. Integrate humane education activities into the curriculum. We have several ideas to get you started and to help spark your own creativity. You can also use/recommend books like The Power and Promise of Humane Education by Zoe Weil and Black Ants and Buddhists by Mary Cowhey (for elementary kids). If you’re a parent, recommend humane education activities to the teacher and offer to lead a lesson on a humane topic that supports the curriculum and is interesting to the kids.
  5. Suggest relevant resources. There are a plethora of books, websites, magazines and other resources available that focus on humane education and social change issues. Find ones that are pertinent to what your teacher/other teachers are doing and recommend them. If you leave any “agenda” behind, teachers and parents often appreciate learning about new and useful resources.
  6. Look for special opportunities to introduce humane concepts and issues; observances are one opportunity. Columbus Day coming up? Share resources about the experiences of indigenous people related to the “discovery of America.” (Rethinking Schools has a great book with teaching ideas, stories, poems and other resources called Rethinking Columbus.) Halloween? Host a costume swap and offer fair trade chocolate treats (along with a discussion of the connection between child slavery and chocolate). Bake sale? Bring tasty organic, local, fair trade, vegan treats. Class party? Provide/suggest sustainable supplies, activities and resources. Is the school planning a donkey basketball game or to hatch chicks? Bring awareness about these issues and suggest alternatives. There are plenty of opportunities for facilitating humane connections.
  7. Help implement healthy, sustainable, compassionate lunches in school. Schools all over the country are working on revamping school food programs. Check out resources such as waste-free lunches, healthy school lunch programs, organic gardening programs, farm to school programs and others for guidance and inspiration. If you’re sending your child to school with lunch, be sure to send healthy food and waste-free containers and diningware.
  8. Offer your expertise. If you’re a teacher, work with other teachers, parents and administrators to bring awareness to humane issues and suggest ways to implement positive actions. If you’re a parent, offer to volunteer in your child’s classroom, to give presentations (or arrange presentations) about social justice topics, or manifest your expertise in some other way.
  9. Suggest humane fundraising ideas. Instead of magazines, wrapping paper, junk food, or slave chocolate, choose creative projects that provide a good service or product while also benefiting people, animals and the planet.
  10. Help develop school-wide projects that benefit the community. How about organizing walk to school days? Cultivating school gardens and natural areas? Community tree planting? Initiating service learning based around humane issues? Conducting energy or water use audits? We frequently read in the news about the terrific projects schools are implementing to help create a better world.

Whether you're a parent, teacher, or concerned citizen, there are nearly unlimited ways to help your community's schools make choices that do the most good and least harm for all people, animals and the planet. Start with small steps, and soon you'll be working up to powerful changes.

~ Marsha

This is a repost from 9/5/08, but we like it so much we wanted to share it again :)

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Fun With Pronouns: Bringing "Aha" to Humane Education

Once a year at the Institute for Humane Education, our M.Ed. and Humane Education Certificate Program students come for a week to our beautiful facility in coastal Maine for the residency component of their otherwise distance-learning program. During residency week, the students each do a 15 minute presentation on a humane education topic of their choice. Two weeks ago, Chrissy Bevens brought the concept of language, and specifically, the pronouns we choose, to our attention in a way that was both funny and educational.

Chrissy began by exploring sexist language -- that is, the use of words, such as the pronoun “he,” to describe the gender of an undetermined human. Then she entertained us with a Mad Libs story that called upon us, her audience, to fill in a variety of words. In the context of her lesson, the most important word was naming an animal, and we chose “anteater.” At the end of the Mad Libs, the story unfolded (humorous as is always the case with Mad Libs), and nothing seemed amiss.

But then Chrissy asked us to change “anteater” to “humane educator,” and suddenly the story read very wrong because the humane educator was referred to as “it” in the beginning of a new sentence. When the story was about an anteater the word “it” didn’t seem wrong to most, even though anteaters are comprised of males and females and certainly are not things, but rather beings.

For years I’ve talked about sexist and speciesist language and have written in the margins of students’ papers when such language has been used -- raising the questions that Chrissy raised -- but without the “Aha” moment her excellent, fun, and amusing approach elicited.

Learning this way – through “Aha” moments and humor – sticks. I’ll be using Chrissy’s activity in the future.

~ Zoe

Image courtesy of di_the_huntress via Creative Commons.

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Teens Teach About Rape Culture

There are never a shortage of stories about rape in the news, and lately there has been special attention given to stories such as the "victim-blaming" case involving a Marriott hotel in Connecticut, and U.S. Secretary of State Clinton's call to end the prevalence of rape as a "weapon of war" in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But, in general, any focus on rape is often a focus on the individual tragedy, rather than on any system(s) that perpetuate and condone such violence.

Recently the Feministing blog pointed us to a new short video (about 8 minutes), created by a group of teens in Chicago, exploring the issue of rape culture. If you're not familiar with the concept of rape culture, here's how it's defined on Wikipedia:
"...describing a culture in which rape and other sexual violence (usually against women) are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media condone, normalize, excuse, or encourage sexualized violence. Within the paradigm, acts of sexism are commonly employed to validate and rationalize normative misogynistic practices; for instance, sexist jokes may be told to foster disrespect for women and an accompanying disregard for their well-being, which ultimately make their rape and abuse seem 'acceptable." Examples of behaviors said to typify rape culture include victim blaming, trivializing prison rape, and sexual objectification."
The documentary, called "Our Hidden Culture," was a project of teens at Hard Cover, a television program in Chicago that is completely created and produced by teens. The film examines the different aspects of rape culture, the kinds of sexual violence it encourages, and explores the stories of youth who have been affected by rape culture.

If you can't view the above video, see it here on YouTube.

Although sexual violence occurs predominantly against women, the film includes information about sexual violence against young males, too. Rape culture is definitely an essential issue for both genders to explore and address.

~ 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.

Would you like a little oppression with that Fiji water?Mother Jones (9-10/09)
“Nowhere in Fiji Water's glossy marketing materials will you find reference to the typhoid outbreaks that plague Fijians because of the island's faulty water supplies; the corporate entities that Fiji Water has—despite the owners' talk of financial transparency—set up in tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Luxembourg; or the fact that its signature bottle is made from Chinese plastic in a diesel-fueled plant and hauled thousands of miles to its ecoconscious consumers. And, of course, you won't find mention of the military junta for which Fiji Water is a major source of global recognition and legitimacy.”

“Do teachers need education degrees?” (room for debate segment) – New York Times (8/16/09)
“Should the public schools reduce the weight they give to education school credentials in pay and promotion decisions? Is this happening already, and, if so, what is replacing the traditional system for compensating teachers?”

Indigenous peoples at higher risk for swine fluNew York Times (8/15/09)
“But aboriginal people have much higher rates of complications. In Australia, Aborigines, who are only 2.5 percent of the population, are hospitalized and die from swine flue at five times the overall national rate. In the Canadian province of Manitoba, so many Indian and Inuit victims were hospitalized when swine flu first struck that provincial hospitals ran short of ventilators, which had to be flown in.”

New study indicates world population of 7 billion by (8/14/09)
“…a new study by the Population Reference Bureau shows that by 2011 world population will hit 7 billion people. That's just twelve years after it hit 6 billion, and 24 since it hit 5 billion….In particular, African population is growing most rapidly. The entire continent now has a human population of one billion, with the PRB predicting that in will double by 2050.”

Desire for diamonds, other metals & minerals, fuels violence in the CongoThe Daily Green (8/13/09)
"Since 1998, fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has killed an estimated 5.4 million people and resulted in some of the most horrific sexual violence the world has ever seen. Almost a million internally displaced people are still unable to return safely to their areas of origin. Despite the nine-year presence of the world’s largest United Nations peacekeeping operation, the Mission de l’Organisation des Nations-Unies au Congo — 18,422 personnel in 2008 at an annual cost of $1.2 billion — rebel forces continue to terrorize innocent citizens in this large central African nation, creating a dire humanitarian crisis that rivals the tragedies in Darfur and Myanmar."

New report says students with disabilities experience higher percentage of “corporal punishment” in schools (press release) – ACLU (8/10/09)
“Students with disabilities face corporal punishment in public schools at disproportionately high rates, says a report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch. The physical discipline, which often includes beatings, can worsen these students' medical conditions and undermine their education, says the report, which calls for an immediate moratorium on corporal punishment in U.S. public schools.”

Environmental groups leery about invoking Endangered Species Act to save mountains in AppalachiaNew York Times (8/10/09)
“According to the sources, the groups expressed fear that ongoing discussions about endangered species could hurt their cause by helping coal companies frame opponents of mountaintop removal mining as outsiders willing to sacrifice jobs in one of the country's poorest regions in order to protect mayflies and crayfish. The alleged trade-off between economic well-being and environmentalism is already a talking point in the mountaintop removal debate. A bumper sticker currently making rounds in the region reads: ‘Save a Coal Miner, Kill a Tree Hugger.’"
Thanks, Common Dreams, for the heads up.

U.S. upholds culture of misogyny (opinion) - New York Times (8/8/09)
“We have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that the barbaric treatment of women and girls has come to be more or less expected. We profess to being shocked at one or another of these outlandish crimes, but the shock wears off quickly in an environment in which the rape, murder and humiliation of females is not only a staple of the news, but an important cornerstone of the nation’s entertainment.”

Digital resources replacing textbooks? - New York Times (8/8/09)
“Textbooks have not gone the way of the scroll yet, but many educators say that it will not be long before they are replaced by digital versions — or supplanted altogether by lessons assembled from the wealth of free courseware, educational games, videos and projects on the Web.”

“Schools need teachers like me. I just can’t stay” (opinion) - Washington Post (8/7/09)
"Do my lawyer and consultant friends find themselves having to explain why they chose their professions? I doubt it. Everyone seems to know why they do what they do. When people ask me about teaching, however, what they really seem to mean is that it's unfathomable that anyone with real talent would want to stay in the classroom for long. Teaching is an admirable and, well, necessary profession, they say, but it's not for the ambitious. 'It's just so nice,' was the most recent version I heard, from a businesswoman sitting next to me on a plane."

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Human Overpopulation: The Taboo Topic

In a previous blog post, Desire ≠ Wisdom, Part 2, I mentioned the issue of people having more than two biological children. Before posting, I reconsidered. I worried that readers with more than two children might feel judged by me. Many of my friends have more than 2 biological children, so let me be clear: If you have more than 2 biological children, I don’t judge you! And I hope you won’t judge me for flying overseas for vacation, which I also mentioned in my post. I raised the issue to point out that there’s a slippery slope when we judge others and their choices; none of us is perfect, and the key is to try to make MOGO choices consciously and with integrity to the best of our ability.

But today I realized that if I refuse to speak about pressing issues like human overpopulation, and instead just use them as examples of personal choices, I run the risk of moral relativism at best, and participating, through silence, in potential environmental catastrophe at worst. So it's time for me to speak about this topic directly. But let me be clear again: I am speaking to my educated, largely privileged, computer-using audience. I am not speaking to parents who are unlikely to watch most of their babies grow into adults, or who need extra hands to plow barely fertile soil, or who have no access to contraception, or who are raped. Around the globe, 1 billion people have no access to clean water, let alone contraception. Many African women spend 5 hours each day obtaining water. Hundreds of millions of people are malnourished. There is overpopulation in these countries and not enough basic resources for the citizenry. Yet one can hardly blame a family for having 10 children when the likelihood of even a few reaching adulthood is in question.

On average, a child in the U.S. will consume as much as dozens of children in poor countries, proportionally causing far greater environmental harm and using a vastly greater share of the earth's limited resources. So, even though there is enough food and water in wealthy countries for the most part, overpopulation is an issue in rich nations, just as it is in many poor nations. This is no either/or. Some western European countries are urging their citizens to have more children because their populations are in decline, but surely these same countries could welcome more immigrants, and their citizens could adopt orphaned children -- maintaining their workforce but not bringing more people onto a finite and overcrowded planet.

But human overpopulation has become a taboo subject. When Sarah Palin was named John McCain’s Vice Presidential candidate, her many children were considered a plus. She was seen as a good, loving mom of five beautiful and patriotic children. When the news recently reported that a California woman gave birth to octuplets, no one dared to raise the question of whether it's ethical, seemingly through artificial insemination and technologies, to bring that many children into an overpopulated world, use that many disposable diapers, cause that much pollution, and use up that many resources.

I believe that a sustainable human population on planet earth requires far fewer than our current 6.5 billion people and growing. Yet, we don't talk about this critical subject. We thank God for the blessing of each baby, and despite millions of orphans, dare not suggest that perhaps families who want many kids stop at two biological children and adopt others who desperately need good and loving homes.

This taboo must end. We mustn't judge people for having more than two biological children, but we must have a spirited discussion and debate about this most pressing challenge and issue and provide the education and opportunities so that people can make wise, healthy family planning choices for themselves and the world.

I invite your comments.

~ Zoe

Zoe has been away on business, so this is a repost, originally posted 2/4/09.

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Humane Education Activities: Rainforest Rescue

With the recent focus on the consequences of deforestation, industrial agriculture production, commercial palm oil plantations, and other human-created hazards to rainforests and their inhabitants, the fate of rainforests around the world –- and their importance in our own survival -- has more frequently been in the news. Help your students understand more about the impacts of rainforest destruction and the power students have to make a positive difference with our free downloadable (pdf) activities Pedro Comes for a Visit (gr. K-4) and Vanishing Rainforests (middle school).

Pedro Comes for a Visit
Pedro the parrot comes to visit and shares his story with students, revealing how they have the power to help protect his rainforest home and his fellow neighbors.
Recommended for grades K through 4.
Time: 45 minutes to several days

Vanishing Rainforests
Humans are consuming rainforests at an alarming rate. Use this activity to help students practice their math skills while gaining a real sense of how much rainforest is being destroyed and brainstorming what they can do to avoid contributing to rainforest destruction.
Recommended for grades 6 through 8.
Time: 50-120 minutes

~ Marsha

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When It Comes to MOGO Choices, There is No Happiness Paradox

Recently I watched Barry Schwartz's talk at, "The Paradox of Choice" , in which he elucidated the surprising truth that, beyond a certain point, freedom of choice doesn’t make us happier. In fact, it makes us less happy. This isn’t big news, and the plethora of cartoons that Schwartz displayed that supported his central point attests to the fact that we actually all know this truth, even if marketers don’t. Excess choice leads to high expectations (bound to be dashed) and an overactive sense of responsibility for those dashed expectations.

But in the context of MOGO, choices are very important. In fact, the concept of MOGO is based on choice. The MOGO (most good) principle asks us to make choices that do the most good and the least harm for ourselves, other people, animals, and the environment. It places responsibility on the individual to consider the effects of one’s choices and to, wherever possible, make those that are MOGO. Where MOGO choices aren’t obvious or available, the principle asks us to work for their development by engaging in democracy and helping to change systems.

Is this principle – demanding so much choice of us – a recipe for dashed expectations and disappointment? Is the MOGO principle likely to decrease our happiness by laying on a burdensome mantle of responsibility?


The MOGO principle is empowering. It demands personal responsibility, but by taking responsibility, by doing good, by thoughtfully assessing our choices with MOGO in mind, we begin to make choices that are personally life-enhancing, contribute to a better world, help others, and create community. We tend to become less engaged with marketers’ overabundance of unimportant choices and more engaged with our own values, increasing our integrity and inner peace.

Choosing MOGO is liberating, not a recipe for disappointment.

~ Zoe

Zoe's been busy with IHE's student residency, so this is a repost, originally posted 1/14/09.

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MOGO-nomics: 12 Tips for Saving Money AND Making Humane Choices

With food and other prices climbing steadily and the U.S. economy ailing, more people are looking for ways to save money. For some, that connotes an either/or situation: I can help the environment, OR I can buy what I can afford. A Chicago Tribune article from a couple months ago noted that more people of various socio-economic levels are choosing to shop at “dollar” stores, which saves them money, but also means that they’re making choices that harm people, animals and the planet.

Our culture and media have created misperception, misunderstanding and a false either/or dichotomy about living well and doing good. “Organics are too expensive.” “Being eco-friendly is only for the rich.” “Shopping at discount stores is all I can afford.” This framework oversimplifies and underestimates what’s possible. Here are 12 tips for helping you make some both/and choices to help your wallet AND the world:

  1. Do without. Ask yourself if you really need it. Many times you probably don’t. Do you really need a new suit, or are you just bored with the old one? Will that bauble bring real joy and meaning to your life, or is it a passing attraction? Do you really need that gym membership, or can you team up with a friend and go hiking/biking/yogaing together? Is that morning latte really worth $80 or so bucks a month?
  2. Get it for free. If you practice your patience and apply your creative skills, you can often find what you want for free. Can you trade for it? Barter for it? Salvage it? Exchange volunteer time for a free ticket or two? Events like clothing swaps are becoming extremely popular, and there are other kinds of swaps, such as book swaps, which cost only the price of postage. Of course, there are also great sites like Freecycle, and more people are finding clever ways to get what they need, such as acquiring free construction materials by volunteering to help deconstruct a building. And, remember such tasty jewels as the public library, special free events in your community for music and arts, and so on
  3. Get it used. You’ve heard the axiom about one person’s trash being another person’s treasure. Our culture has trained us to think of used as somehow “second class.” We’ve even euphemized our language, preferring to talk about pre-owned cars, for example. The whole "used is yucky" is simply a mindset. Buying used is often a great way to get quality items while not directly contributing to sweatshops, environmental destruction and other ills. There are probably several great thrift stores and garage sales in your area, and Craigslist and similar sites have become a respectable and relevant source for finding what you need for a good price. Buying used is also a great way for people who have a hunger to shop or to hunt for bargains to fulfill that need while helping the planet and their pocketbooks. (Note: Be sure not to let your lust for a good bargain overshadow your good judgment about what's truly a good deal.)
  4. Make/Do it yourself. Our ancestors didn’t have superstores or personal assistants. If they needed something, they usually did without or made it themselves. The DIY movement has become popular again, and there are a plethora of books and websites that offer tips for making or doing it yourself. More communities are also starting to offer classes in the “home” arts, from preserving to building to sewing to gardening. IHE’s Executive Director, Khalif Williams, has designed and built his own house, installed solar panels and created other aspects of his family’s home, without having expert knowledge himself. But, he has done a lot of research, a lot of consulting, and has called upon his friends to help. You may not be ready for that level of DIY, but you can probably learn to do and make plenty of other items you need, which increases your skills, saves money and helps reduce your eco-footprint.
  5. Team up. Share whatever you can: meals, transportation, tools, ideas. You can save a lot of money this way, and reduce the amount of waste generated. If you need to chip up yard debris, maybe some of your neighbors do, too –- you could team up and share the cost to rent a chipper, while getting to know each other better. Teaming up can go even further, such as sharing a home with others, or working on home improvement projects together. You might be surprised how easy it is to adjust to new ways of living and doing.
  6. Do more with less. Can you use less than the recommended amount of shampoo/detergent/ketchup? Can you wear those jeans for 3 days instead of one before washing them? There are many opportunities to find ways to save by extending the use of what you already have.
  7. Keep it simple. Look for simpler solutions such as: Walk, not drive. Use the clothesline instead of a dryer. Make your own cleaning products. Eat a plant-based, whole foods, low-processed diet. Often the low-tech way is better for your bank account, as well as for others.
  8. Think creatively and mindfully. Awareness and creativity are two of the key strategies for MOGOnomics. If you’re paying attention and not limiting your options, then you’re going to be able to make better choices and take advantage of opportunities when they arise. Consider all options and find creative solutions. Can you rent out a room in your house to bring more income while providing a home for someone else? Can you house swap for your vacation? Can’t afford all organics? Then buy in bulk & look to organics for those items most heavily sprayed with pesticides. Try farmers markets or community-supported agriculture. Grow some of your own, or offer an urban farmer the use of your land in exchange for a cut of the crop. You may not be into thinking of 50 ways to use vinegar and 23 uses for that tin can, but there are still plenty of opportunities to flex your creative skills.
  9. Hang onto it. Got a rip in your jeans? Repair it. Tired of that shirt? Use your new sewing skills to turn it into something new. Upgrade your computer instead of replacing it. Keep that cell phone or mp3 player, even though it’s not the newest style. Find ways to keep what you have longer, and you’ll save all around. (Note: This isn't an excuse to fill your house with stuff you don't need; getting rid of clutter and keeping only what's useful/meaningful in your life is part of choosing MOGO.)
  10. Nickel and dime it. Look for small ways to save. They add up. Bring lunch instead of going out every day. Use coupons for MOGO products you need. Stock up when your staples are on sale. If you must see that movie on the big screen, find a second-run theater near you (better yet -- wait until it comes out on DVD and then have a few friends over). There are numerous books and websites focused on being "green and frugal" that have great suggestions for finding small ways to save big.
  11. Broaden your vision & plan ahead. Some things cost more up front but save you money (and help the planet) longer term (compact fluorescent light bulbs, weatherizing your house, etc.). Planning ahead can also reduce the amount of waste you generate (such as for food that doesn’t get eaten). Research products (and the companies who create/sell them) before you buy. Remember that those great bargains you might find at the discount store not only may not last long, but they come with added external costs to people, animals and the earth.
  12. Let others inspire you. You’re not alone in your desire to save money while making MOGO choices. There are plenty of books, blogs and other sources for ideas, tips and suggestions. Browse them for strategies that fit with your values and lifestyle. And don’t turn away too quickly from ideas that seem extreme to you (Humanure? Freeganism?); you may be able to adapt or customize in a way that works for you.
There are plenty of ways that we as individuals can make choices within our tightening budgets that are also compassionate, just and sustainable. Part of living a MOGO life is learning to approach challenges differently and learning to develop creative solutions that benefit all people, animals and the planet; and we don’t have to wait for society to show us the way: we can choose it for ourselves.

~ Marsha

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Cultivate Faith, Not Fear, in Humane Education

by Mary Pat Champeau, M.Ed. and HECP Programs Director

I attended Catholic schools for most of my life. We were taught at an early age in Catholic school to accept and respect authority without question. This included the authority of our teachers, parents, adults in general, our government, the Pope, the church, and God. The way we were taught to accept and respect this authority relied largely on fear. I entered kindergarten in 1962, so for most of my elementary school years corporal punishment was used as a tactic of first resort. Trust me, if you are a second grader and worried about being smacked by Sister Ernestine in front of the whole class, or having your desk toppled with your seat attached -- which will send you sprawling across the floor -- or being paddled behind closed doors by the school principal, your overriding temptation is to behave as well as you can, for as long as you can, on any given day, no matter what is going on in your head, heart or home. I myself received my last paddling when I was in eighth grade, already a teenager. I don’t remember the infraction, and I don’t think I was particularly fearful anymore, just embarrassed both for myself and for the principal who was required to mete out the punishment. I can’t help but think of the Dalai Lama’s instruction that if we see a man kicking a dog, we should feel compassion not just for the dog, but for the man as well. We were all part of a system in that school; we complied with rules not necessarily of our own making. By eighth grade, most of us had learned how to live with fear without letting it define our inner lives -- just our outward behavior.

Since then, I’ve had many experiences that leave me feeling grateful (fear-factor aside) for this education and upbringing. Catholicism gave me what I’ve come to think of as a “vocabulary of faith.” As a young teacher in Niger, West Africa, I was completely comfortable in a devout Muslim country. I understood (without even having to think about it) the ways in which daily prayer, fasting, devotion, self-sacrifice, charity, respect for elders, reverence for sacred places, and a strong ethic of right and wrong guided the lives of my students and their families. I had no trouble keeping Ramadan; it reminded me of Lent. I loved being awakened at dawn by the marabout; his call to prayer was like a hymn. I relished the sight of old women in the market thumbing their worry beads as my own grandmother had prayed the Rosary every day of her life. Later in my teaching career, I felt equally and instantly at home working in other countries and situations where religious life underpinned all else –- other forms of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Animism –- the religion itself didn’t matter to me. It was the kinship I appreciated, the ease with which a common ground could be found.

And so, it might come as no surprise that when I first discovered Humane Education thirteen years ago, I was immediately attracted not only to the subject matter but to the “missionary zeal” of its practitioners. My “vocabulary of faith” worked in my favor yet again as I meditated for the first time at a humane education symposium on what I wanted my epitaph to say. I soon implemented this meditation like a daily prayer. I loved the conscious thought brought to food choices –- not fasting exactly, but mindful choosing of food for the health of our bodies, all species and the planet. I felt drawn to the deep commitment of those around me to create positive, long-lasting change through education. The sacred place was the Earth, our elders the visionaries, and though we try to avoid the duality of “right and wrong” we know that somewhere in the realm of what’s “right” live the tenets of sustainability and compassion.

I quickly realized, after so many years as a teacher and teacher-trainer, that my own definition of education needed to take a step forward. It wasn’t enough for us and our students to “know” things -– we needed to learn how to use the things we knew in service of helping the planet and all her residents thrive. Shouldn’t this be the very purpose of education? And if so, then I propose that we have something to learn from faith-based education, and that something is: FAITH. As humane educators, we must cultivate a faith in the goodness of humankind to do the right thing once the right thing is clear; to act humanely once we know how; to desire the truth and seek it out. In my opinion, fear has no place is this vision. Although fear might make people comply in the short term, it does not breed passion, creativity, optimism or respect. I am aware of the ways in which we might subtly use fear to get a point across: “If we don’t do something about global climate change, we will all be underwater soon.” This is a flippant example of how fear can creep into our thinking, our living, our teaching. To my little Catholic schoolgirl ears, this is the same as “If you don’t go to Mass on Sunday, you will end up in Purgatory (or worse).” I might go to Mass, but only to avoid an unpleasant consequence. I would go because I was afraid not to. As soon as the rule is lifted, I will no longer go because I am no longer afraid. This is not to say that global climate change is not an immediate and complex problem that needs to be solved. It is to say that how we provide information and how we educate others to become stewards of the Earth should emanate from a powerful place of joy and excitement within us, not a powerless place of fear.

Humane Education has the chance to lead the way in the field of education with the great lights of curiosity, critical and creative thinking, reverence, respect and responsibility. I vote we do so, and we leave the fear in the dark where it belongs, where it won’t be given enough attention to survive into the next generation of learning.

Image courtesy of maveric2003 via Creative Commons.

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Hope is a Verb With Its Sleeves Rolled Up

David Orr, professor of environmental studies at Oberlin College once wrote, “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.” I love this quote. It reminds me of Joan Baez’ famous comment, “Action is the antidote to despair.” We don’t have the luxury or the time for despair and hopelessness.

Many will say that hope and despair are not only nouns, rather than verbs, they are also emotions, not actions. True enough. But we cultivate either hope or despair, either apathy or action, either myopia or wisdom by our behaviors. Commitment and motivation may come from internal resources that seem mysterious, but self-discipline is something we can practice, and we have the capacity to choose to roll up our sleeves and act. When we do, we discover that hope accompanies us, attached at the hip to our MOGO (Most Good) deeds.

MOGO choices feed our faith that we can succeed in creating a healthy and peaceful world, and enliven our spirits as we do the work it takes to solve our challenges.

So make some MOGO choices today. Get involved in changing systems while you take steps to maximize the good and minimize the harm your daily choices have on yourself and others.

~ Zoe

Zoe's been busy with IHE's student residency, so this is a repost, originally posted 10/29/08.

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"Crude" Doc Brings Attention to Human Cost of Addiction to Oil

With issues of peak oil, fossil fuels and global climate change in the news nearly every day now, it timely and relevant to explore the impact of our petroleum habit. One useful tool for doing so is the new documentary Crude: The Real Price of Oil. Crude explores the many-tiered and complex case of "Amazon Chernobyl": a lawsuit brought by 30,000 indigenous and colonial residents of the Ecuadorian rainforest against U.S. oil company Chevron (which now owns Texaco). The plantiffs assert that Texaco spent decades contaminating their home, polluting the air, water, and land, as well as creating a "death zone" the size of Rhode Island, in which there are high rates of cancer, birth defects and other ailments among residents. Chevron insists the allegations are false.

One of the unique elements of this film is that it explores a multiplicity of interconnected issues: environment, human rights, multinational corporations, global politics, and indigenous cultures, among others. Additionally, the film looks at the perspectives of a variety of stakeholders. As the website says, "Crude focuses on the human cost of our addiction to oil and the increasingly difficult task of holding a major corporation accountable for its past deeds."

This film would be a terrific resources for helping people explore the many impacts of multinational corporations and oil production, as well as for better understanding the different viewpoints of those involved in such struggles as this one (and perhaps finding ways to build bridges).

The film has been making the film festival circuit and will be released in some theaters this fall. Here's the trailer:

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

To enhance exploration of the case, look for news stories on the topic, such as the 60 Minutes segment.

~ 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.

Colleges expanding “green” courses, degreesNewsweek (8/12/09)
“Universities launched at least 27 sustainability-themed programs, degrees, or certificates in 2007, up from just three in 2005. And that's in addition to the scores of environment-related degrees, like environmental science or biology, that already existed. ‘Students are really interested in campus sustainability and thinking about the environment in terms of a future career,’ says Stephanie Pfirman, president of the Council of Environmental Deans and Directors. ‘It used to be jobs versus environment. Now it's jobs and environment.’"

Studies show dogs have “same developmental abilities” as human 2-year-oldsYahoo! News (8/10/09)
“More and more, scientists are realizing that dogs can think and solve problems in ways previously thought to belong only to humans and higher primates. Indeed, one recent study also found that dogs were like 24-month-old children, at least when it comes to figuring out where humans have hidden a treat.”

Rich countries buying up developing countries’ resources in “new colonialism”Independent (UK) (8/9/09)
“The extent of this new colonialism is vast. The buyers are wealthy countries that are unable to grow their own food. The Gulf states are at the forefront of new investments. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar – which between them control nearly 45 per cent of the world's oil – are snapping up agricultural land in fertile countries such as Brazil, Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Egypt. But they are also targeting the world's poorest countries, such as Ethiopia, Cameroon, Uganda, Zambia and Cambodia.”
Thanks, Common Dreams, for the heads up.

“Ecosavvy” kid wins award for eco-efforts - Cape Cod Online (8/9/09)
"’Teaching kids about what they can do’ is Colin's favorite aspect of running the Web site. ‘Kids like to listen and they like to learn, and if they listen to something they learn it. And they might tell their mom and dad.’"

Teachers spark recycling efforts in NYC schoolsPlanet Green (8/9/09)
“The education chancellor's regulations on school recycling were rewritten, and called for all principals to appoint a recycling coordinator in every school. The committee organized trainings for the coordinators and for custodians, and recycling is finally becoming a common practice around the city. Josi recalls that when she changed from her first job, none of the schools she had interviewed with had recycling; two years later, ‘every school I applied to had recycling programs.’"

“Is it now a crime to be poor?” (opinion) – New York Times (8/9/09)
“In defiance of all reason and compassion, the criminalization of poverty has actually been intensifying as the recession generates ever more poverty. So concludes a new study from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, which found that the number of ordinances against the publicly poor has been rising since 2006, along with ticketing and arrests for more ‘neutral’ infractions like jaywalking, littering or carrying an open container of alcohol.”

Youth activists engage other youth in projects to combat climate (8/7/09)
“The type of work these ‘solutionaries’ (as they call themselves) do can be hard to pin down, DenHerder-Thomas said, maybe because youth today are starting to see a range of progressive issues as more integrated than they’ve traditionally been imagined. ‘We definitely feel that the work we’re doing is environmental,’ he said. ‘But it’s also about economic recovery, and it’s also about energy security, and it’s also about creating social justice in the midst of a recession.’”

Mississippi schools to add civil & human rights education to (8/6/09)
“It is our intention that students gain the understanding from this and other courses in the framework that social change comes from people who are informed and inspired by the purest democratic ideas and traditions of our country. These people then act to empower the relatively voiceless and powerless in our community, to be full participants in and beneficiaries of our cherished democracy.”

Study reveals “climate change melting US glaciers at faster rate”The Guardian (UK) (8/6/09)
"’The observations show that the melt rate has definitely increased over the past 10 or 15 years,’ said Ed Josberger, a USGS scientist. ‘This certainly is a very strong indicator that climate change is occurring and its effects on glaciers are virtually worldwide.’ The survey also found that all three glaciers had begun melting at the same higher rate - although they are in different climate regimes and some 1,500 miles apart.”

Study says having kids has huge environmental impactUS News & World Report (8/3/09)
"’In discussions about climate change, we tend to focus on the carbon emissions of an individual over his or her lifetime,’ said study team member Paul Murtaugh. ‘Those are important issues and it's essential that they should be considered. But an added challenge facing us is continuing population growth and increasing global consumption of resources.’"

Lost dog leads to deeper discovery in Pakistan -Washington Post (7/27/09)
“But out in the city, word was spreading. Ahu's photograph was taped on market stalls and utility poles and taxi windows, and strangers started calling the number on the flier. Each time it turned out to be a false alarm, but each time I met someone who cared. In a bookshop window I saw a photo I thought was Ahu's, but it had been put up by a woman seeking a home for another stray. A man called to say he had found her, and he was cradling a similar little hound in his arms when I arrived. We had a long talk and parted feeling like kindred souls. My impression of Pakistani callousness toward animals began to soften.”

War is not an inevitable part of human culture - New Scientist (7/9/09)
“…Sussman believes the popular focus on violence and warfare is disproportionate. ‘Statistically, it is more common for humans to be cooperative and to attempt to get along than it is for them to be uncooperative and aggressive towards one another,’ he says. And he is not alone in this view. A growing number of experts are now arguing that the urge to wage war is not innate, and that humanity is already moving in a direction that could make war a thing of the past.”
Thanks, Ode Magazine, for the heads up.
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