Our New Dog: Lessons in Charting the MOGO Path

My husband is a veterinarian, and the clinic where he works is where the strays in our county are brought, and where they remain for two weeks in the hopes that their families will find them. Elsie was one such dog, and when her two weeks were up, she was ready to be sent to a local shelter to await a hoped for adoption.

Through a strange mix of events that had to do with a hurricane dashing our camping plans for the weekend and my husband’s forgetting to do something at work, he happened to be at the clinic at the moment when the shelter worker had come to pick up Elsie. But Elsie had already captured his heart in the few minutes he’d interacted with her as she ran around the treatment room, and he called to ask me if I wanted another dog. I really didn’t. We have three other dogs, one of whom has cancer. But I could tell by his voice that this was one special dog and he wanted to bring her home. I said we’d try her for the weekend.

Elsie is now part of our family, and I’m utterly smitten by her. I could go on and on about her exceptional attributes, but that’s not why you read this blog. What I want to write about is the ways in which adopting Elsie is both deeply joyful and also unsettling. And what I’m learning in the process.

I’m in love, and really all I want to do is play with Elsie. It’s as if the other dogs, as well as our cat -- who’s the king of our household and to whom I am passionately attached -- have faded. Imagine a photograph of our family of animals. There would be Elsie in sharp focus, and the others (Griffin, Sophie, Ruby and Sir Simon) would be blurry – as if the camera had room only to focus brightly on one. Ironically, Elsie’s black coat is actually shinier and brighter that the two other mostly-black dogs. So literally and figuratively, Elsie is outshining the household. How can this happen?

Before you write comments about how shallow I am, let me say that I adore all our animals. I’m giving them as much attention as always, albeit more intentionally rather than out of surfeit of desire. But oh, how fickle I can be falling in love with the new and exciting! And this is what has been unsettling. How can my feelings change for my other animals just because Elsie has entered our lives? What does this say about me?

I think what it says is as old as human history, and I think that my labile emotions are as common with new animal companions as they are with romantic relationships. Spouses leave their marriages after decades when they fall in love with someone new. Some of us are shocked; some are judgmental; some are deeply disturbed.

To me, what I learn from this is that my emotions are shapeshifters, and they are outside of my conscious control. My actions, however, are mine to choose. I can indulge my emotions and choose based on them. Or I can consciously show each of my animals the same love as always, knowing inside that Elsie is tugging harder at my heart, but refusing to indulge my desire to make her the supreme object of my affections.

In this way, I ground myself. I remain true to my values and commitments, even as I feel my heart flutter with adoration for Elsie. I deepen my understanding of the depth of love, for truly, what else is my passion for Elsie but a giant crush which, too, will deepen into something more enduring over time.

And so I’m in the midst of great joy and destabilizing confusion at the same time, trying to chart the MOGO path with my actions, if not my heart.

~ Zoe

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"Smart Choices" May Not Be So Smart for Your Family's Health

We're a bit late reporting on this one, but in case you haven't yet heard, there's a new "Smart Choices" food labeling campaign, sponsored by some of the U.S.'s largest food manufacturers, which aims to steer shoppers to "smarter" food and drink choices. The Smart Choices label -- a big green checkmark -- will appear on a variety of products, and companies pay to become part of the program. What's the problem? Isn't a system to help people choose better products a good thing?

Well, aside from the fact that a new study has revealed that most citizens don't even recognize labels that are meant to help them make healthier, more sustainable decisions, some of the items given the Smart Choices label seem less than smart choices. Mayonnaise, ice cream and sugary cereals (such as Froot Loops and Cocoa Puffs) are on the list, for example.

Critics say that the new labeling system is just a marketing ploy. According to a New York Times story, Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University, said, "The object of this is to make highly processed foods appear as healthful as unprocessed foods, which they are not."

There are nutrition guidelines in the criteria that products have to meet, but that doesn't necessarily make them healthy. Under the program cereals, for example, are allowed up to 12 grams of sugar per serving, which could be 40% or more of the cereal's calories per serving.

Check out some recent stories about the controversy here and here.

This issue not only demonstrates how important it is to think for ourselves and to investigate claims thoroughly, but it also offers an opportunity to teach kids about the value and importance of critical thinking and the power of marketing to frame how we see things.

~ 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.

More public schools adopting Waldorf-inspired vision of educationEdutopia (10/09)
“Along with integration of the arts and sensitivity to each student's development, relationships are considered crucial to success in Waldorf education philosophy. Teachers rely heavily on the bond that evolves between them and their students as they move together from the first grade until the students graduate from eighth grade. During this time, students and their families have to work through conflicts with the assigned teacher, and even though such problems inevitably arise, it's uncommon for students to switch to another teacher.”

Studies show South Africa running out of waterCape Times (9/28/09)
“Another study, reported in the SA Journal of Science this year, found that while 98 percent of surface water was allocated for use, 41 percent of the usable groundwater was also allocated. Also, the country had become 2 percent hotter and 6 percent drier since the 1970s and this would affect food security and hit poor people hardest.”

Studies show detrimental effects of TV on kids (op-ed) – Boston.com (9/27/09)
“The baleful effects of TV aren’t limited to education. The University of Michigan Health System notes on its extensive website that kids who watch TV are more likely to smoke, to be overweight, to suffer from sleep difficulties, and to have high cholesterol. If television came in a bottle, it would be illegal to sell it to children. Yet on any given day, 81 percent of 8- to 18-year-olds watch TV, and they watch it, on average, for more than three hours.”

Mawlynnong India’s “cleanest & greenest” village - BBC (9/25/09)
“Experts say Mawlynnong, like the rest of the state, has a very effective local governance system. The society is matrilineal - meaning that land is passed down through the female side of families - making women economically more powerful. Mawlynnong's reputation for being clean and green has been well documented, and its Khasi tribal inhabitants are known to be worshippers of nature.“
Thanks, Ode Magazine, for the heads up.

Is that tush cush worth wiping out virgin forest?Washington Post (9/24/09)
“Felling these trees removes a valuable scrubber of carbon dioxide, [environmentalists] say. If the trees come from ‘farms’ in places such as Brazil, Indonesia or the southeastern United States, natural forests are being displaced. If they come from Canada's forested north -- a major source of imported wood pulp -- ecosystems valuable to bears, caribou and migratory birds are being damaged.”
Thanks, Treehugger, for the heads up.

EPA examines chemicals in water for possible regulation Treehugger.com (9/24/09)
“Now [the EPA] is looking at what is in our drinking water, and considering regulating chemicals used in hormone replacement therapy and in birth control pills, where about 85% of the hormone is peed out into the waste water system. Some scientists believe that these hormones can affect children in the parts per trillion level, and are causing men to have smaller penises, low sperm count, bigger breasts, testicular cancer and even possibly fewer boys being born. Girls get obesity and early puberty.”

Group helps its community become more sustainableContra Costa Times (9/23/09)
“Now, environmentally conscious Contra Costa County residents have a one-stop shop to help guide them through the ‘green’ life — enter Sustainable Contra Costa, or SCOCO (sko-koe), as its members like to call it. Its mission — to provide education and inspiration to help create and maintain sustainable communities. Its vision — for local citizens, businesses and government to ‘live and operate in a way that sustains the health and well-being of our society, environment and economy,’ explained SCOCO co-founder Sheila Hill."

Your produce may be organic and/or local, but is it slave-free?Alternet (9/23/09)
“Turns out, what happens in Florida isn't unique. Sexual harassment and abuse, non-payment, being forced to drink water from irrigation ditches, having no access to the fresh food harvested for others' consumption, constant pesticide exposure, heat-related deaths, 12 to 14 hour work days and child labor are all routine in our agricultural system.”

Student claims homophobic harassment – by his teachersNewsweek (9/23/09)
“The case reflects a broader cultural paradox: at a time when same-sex relationships and gay culture have never been more mainstream, the classroom remains rife with homophobia. The percentage of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) middle and high-school students who report harassment has hovered above 80 percent since 1999, according to the New York-based Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, which conducts a biennial survey of school climates. Long after it has become taboo to publicly lampoon other minorities, homophobic humor still flies—even in a public school.”

“Coming out in middle school”New York Times (9/23/09)
“Though most adolescents who come out do so in high school, sex researchers and counselors say that middle-school students are increasingly coming out to friends or family or to an adult in school. Just how they’re faring in a world that wasn’t expecting them — and that isn’t so sure a 12-year-old can know if he’s gay — is a complicated question that defies simple geographical explanations.”

Survey shows shoppers oblivious to most “green” labelsGreenbiz.com (9/23/09)
“The most familiar labels are the Recycling symbol, the U.S. government's Energy Star label, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Organic label. Recycling and Energy Star are the most visible labels, with 89 percent and 87 percent recognition, respectively. The Organic label has 62 percent recognition, and the remaining labels fall off quickly from there.”

Report shows lack of education for girls costs world’s poorest countries billionsCBC News (9/22/09)
"’Study after study confirms that if young women are economically active, their country's economy grows and all members of their family benefit,’ said Rosemary McCarney, president and CEO of the Canadian arm of Plan International, which released the report. ‘Investing in girls delivers a higher return than any other investment made in a country's development, and yet this isn't happening. That's a huge loss for everyone.’"
Thanks, PEN, for the heads up.

Is “colorblindness” the new racism? Teaching Tolerance (Fall 2009)
“’I have never heard a teacher of color say ‘I don’t see color,’ Ross says. ‘There may be issues of cultural competence [among teachers of color], but colorblindness is not one of them. The core of ‘I don’t see color,’ is ‘I don’t see my own color, I don’t see difference because my race and culture is the center of the universe.’’….Failure to see and acknowledge racial differences makes it difficult to recognize the unconscious biases everyone has. Those biases can taint a teacher’s expectations of a student’s ability and negatively influence a student’s performance. Study after study has shown that low teacher expectations are harmful to students from socially stigmatized groups.”

“The 15 most toxic places to live”MNN.com (9/17/09)
A photo essay of the 15 most polluted places in the world.

Two congregations serve as model for Jewish-Muslim relations - MSNBC.com (9/17/09)
“He said one member of the mosque told him, ‘Next time I see a Jewish person I will not look at them the same.’ Rabbi Robert Nosanchuk, who leads the Reform congregation of about 500 families, said the relationship works both ways. ‘You really only get to know someone when you invite them into your home ... you learn to recognize their faces. You learn the names of their children,’ Nosanchuk said.”

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Witness to Genocide Ready to Speak to Your Students or Group

Reading about what's going on in the world -- especially when it's thousands of miles away -- may give us some sense of what's happening for those involved, but there's nothing like experiencing it for ourselves to really help us internalize and understand it. Since that's often not possible, connecting with those who have been directly involved is invaluable. Now your students or group have a chance to hear about genocide (and learn what they can do to stop it) from someone who witnessed it first-hand. Carl Wilkens was in Rwanda 15 years ago during the horrific genocide there. He was the only American who stayed after the genocide began, and he decided to do what he could to help those in need; he ended up helping save the lives of hundreds. Carl has spoken about his experiences to schools and other groups, and he was featured in the film Ghosts of Rwanda and in the American RadioWorks special The Few Who Stayed: Defying Genocide.

Now, with the genocide in Darfur, Wilkins, with his wife Teresa, has decided to bicycle across the U.S. to talk to students, citizens, activists and others about his experiences, about what's happening in Darfur, and about what "ordinary" people can do. Their campaign, Pedaling2Peace, recently began in Washington state.

The Wilkins' are looking for speaking engagements, so if you're interested in having them speak at your school, community event or house of worship, you can contact them. Here's their schedule so far.

~ Marsha

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We Need Knowledge AND Critical Thinking in Schools

Once again, an op-ed writer has created another false either/or about education. In “Critical Thinking? You need knowledge” Diane Ravitch argues against what she describes as faddish efforts to teach critical thinking and cooperative learning in schools. She writes: this “skill-centered, knowledge-free education has never worked.” Personally, after 25 years in education (and alternative education at that), I know no one who is promoting “knowledge-free” education.

At the Institute for Humane Education we’ve identified 4 elements that comprise quality humane education:
1. Providing accurate information about the pressing issues of our time
2. Fostering the 3 Cs of curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking
3. Instilling the 3 Rs of reverence, respect, and responsibility
4. Offering positive choices and the tools for problem-solving

The idea behind these elements is to give students the knowledge, tools, and motivation to become engaged solutionaries for a better world. You might notice that the first element is oriented toward the acquisition of knowledge. Like Ms. Ravitch, I agree that one cannot think critically in a vacuum. We must have something to think critically about. But the current educational trends and the assessment of students through standardized, multiple choice tests on memorized information isn’t all that successful at cultivating knowledge, especially because most students promptly forget so much of what they supposedly learned. Why? Because it’s often boring and irrelevant information that is neither contextualized nor made meaningful. Why, for example, did the AP U.S. History students have to memorize the names and dates of all the presidents before the first day of class this fall? How is this information useful? Wouldn’t it be far more useful to read five of the most important presidential speeches and write about their impact on the nation? But I digress.

You might also notice that providing information is simply the first element we believe is important. That information forms the basis for the subsequent elements, the combination of which helps us become better people, stronger thinkers, more engaged citizens, and, ideally, more successful contributors to a healthier world. What use is knowledge if not for improving ourselves and our society and living well, productively, generously, and conscientiously?

Of course students need to acquire knowledge, but the knowledge that they need grows daily, which is why it is impossible to give it all to them. But it is not impossible to provide them with core knowledge and tools for knowledge acquisition which will allow them to become lifelong learners. They must be able to read, to compute, to be technologically literature, and to have a basic understanding of and appreciation for history, literature, the sciences, the arts, and philosophy. But these basics only bring them to the starting gate. They must become critical and creative thinkers to thrive in our world, and more importantly, to contribute positively; and we must give them these tools in school.

I’m so tired of false either/ors that distract us from real solutions to real problems. I know that strong opinions make for publishable opinion pieces in newspapers, but a bit more critical thinking on Ravitch’s part would have been nice.

~ Zoe

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Mark Your Calendar: Upcoming Social Justice Education Conferences

Three upcoming social justice education conferences you'll want to check out if you're near the area:

The second annual Northwest Teaching for Social Justice Conference is Saturday, October 3, in Olympia, Washington (I'll be attending this one.) This year's theme is "Rethinking Our Classrooms, Organizing for Better Schools." The keynote speaker is Ira Shor, and there are a slew of workshops and a resource fair.

In San Francisco this year is the ninth annual Teachers 4 Social Justice Conference on Saturday, October 10. Dr. Pedro Noguera from New York University is the keynote, and the theme is "Teaching for Social Justice: Foundations for Change."

And, in Chicago, you can find the Teaching for Social Justice Curriculum Fair on Saturday, November 19.

These conferences aren't just for classroom teachers. You'll also find educators, parents, and concerned citizens at these conferences, all working to help create a more just world through education.

~ Marsha

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Jane Goodall: Helping Us "Thaw the Ice in Our Hearts"

On September 20, I had the opportunity to meet Jane Goodall. One of our M.Ed. students, Shawn Sweeney, who works for Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots program, organized the annual Roots and Shoots Day of Peace celebration and parade in New York and invited me to share some thoughts before Jane Goodall gave her presentation. We were speaking at Bowling Green Park in lower Manhattan. It’s a touristy area, near the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, so many tour buses were going by as Jane Goodall spoke. There were lots of people meandering along the streets, too, and one couple walked behind the platform where Dr. Goodall was speaking and turned to look at who was talking. Recognizing the famous person before her, the woman excitedly whispered to her partner, “Look, it’s Jane Goodall!” before stopping to listen to the rest of the speech.

Humbly and with such extraordinary commitment, Jane Goodall travels 300 days each year to speak to groups about protecting this beautiful planet and all who live here. Imagine that. Imagine traveling 6/7ths of each year in order to teach and inspire and protect. Imagine harnessing your love for people, animals, and the earth and dedicating your life to making such a difference. With little fanfare – despite her fame – Dr. Goodall, at 75 years old, perseveres.

I want to share a story Dr. Goodall shared with us. She spoke about being in Greenland where the ice is melting so quickly. An Inuit elder talked to her about the terrible and dangerous thaw of the icecaps and glaciers that those of us in warmer climates are causing, and he said that we must learn to thaw the ice in our hearts.

I find this metaphor compelling – it reminds me of one of the elements of humane education: fostering reverence, respect, and responsibility. What is the ice in our hearts? I think of it not just as our lack of compassion, but also as our lack of understanding -- our close-mindedness as well as our hard-heartedness. I think of it as the frozen ideas that need to thaw so that we can care about more than the latest fashions, trends, movies, and so on. There in New York City, mecca of fashion and trendiness, Jane Goodall invited us to thaw our hearts, and in so doing, work for real peace. What an inspiration she is and what amazing work her Roots and Shoots program – with chapters in over 100 countries – is doing.

~ Zoe

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How Not to Write About Africa

Looking for a tool to talk to your students or children or colleagues about stereotypes, generalizations, colonialism, race and privilege, the appropriation of culture, and similar topics -- or just want to enjoy a powerful piece of writing? Check out this short video, an essay by Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina, narrated by actor Djimon Hounsou:

If you're unable to view the video above, see it here.

~ Marsha

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Zoe Weil Interview on WRFR Radio - Listen Live!

IHE President Zoe Weil will be interviewed on Living a Good Life! with Terry Miller on WRFR radio in Rockland, Maine. The interview will be Monday, September 28, at noon (EDT). You can listen live!

If you know someone else who might like to tune in, please let them know!
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MOGO Tip: Become Your Own Garbage Hauler for a Few Days

Just how much waste do we generate? Americans generate 254 million tons of "municipal solid waste" per year (about 4.6 pounds per person per day).

And this New York Times article from May 2008 reveals that “Americans generate roughly 30 million tons of food waste each year, which is about 12 percent of the total waste stream.”

A lot of what we throw away is stuff we don’t really use (or need), or stuff that could be diverted elsewhere, whether reused, recycled, redirected (or refrained from using in the first place).

As part of our MOGO Online course, we asked participants to pay attention to their waste, and to keep track (for one day) of how much and what kind of waste they generated. It's surprising how much garbage we produce, even when we're striving to be conscious about it.

Challenge yourself for a day or a week: keep all your waste — everything that you would throw away, and store it somewhere, so that you can get a real sense of what your garbage footprint is. If you can’t keep it, then write down everything you toss and keep a list. Then look through your treasure of trash and notice what could be recycled, what could be reused, what could be redirected, and what you could have done without in the first place. Think about how you could have gotten what you needed without generating garbage. If you have kids, get them in on this little adventure; turn it into something fun.

Although I’m encouraging you to keep your waste for just a day or so, one guy decided to keep all his garbage and recycling for a YEAR, to see how much would accumulate, and how well he could do at reducing his waste impact. Dave kept a blog of his efforts, cataloging all the waste he generated and how he dealt with it.

As I've mentioned before, the blogger at Fake Plastic Fish, Beth Terry, keeps track of all the plastic she uses and works to eliminate plastic from her life. Both Dave and Beth have useful tips on their blogs to help you find additional ways to reduce your garbage footprint.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of fnavarro.

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We Can't Afford Politics Based on Silliness: Van Jones' Resignation From the Obama Administration

Just as John Mackey’s statements about health care reform in the Wall Street Journal caused a firestorm of criticism that sparked what I consider to be a misguided boycott of Whole Foods by many on the left (see my blog posts here and here), now the right has caused the resignation of Van Jones as a green jobs advisor to President Obama – a terrible loss instigated by what I consider irrelevant and misguided reasons.

Van Jones, a lawyer, civil rights activist, author of The Green Collar Economy, and environmental/social justice changemaker, was the perfect pick as a green jobs advisor to President Obama. Jones has been promoting a green collar economy that will simultaneously put people to work in well-paying green jobs while solving environmental challenges. The environmental movement has been blessed with a brilliant, forward-thinking solutionary whose ideas have the power to speed a lasting economic recovery while at the same time preventing further environmental degradation and creating a shift toward sustainable systems. Jones has been promoting one of the most important, reasonable, practical win-win answers of our time.

But because Jones signed a petition five years ago calling upon Congress to look into the possibility that members of the Bush administration had prior knowledge about 9/11 that they withheld, and because he has criticized Republicans, and because he has committed other “liberal faux pas,” Jones has been effectively castrated in his role. Although he apologized for signing the petition and making some past statements, in the end, he was ostensibly bullied into resigning, or else weaken the potential effectiveness he has worked so hard to realize.

I don’t believe there was any U.S. conspiracy behind 9/11, and I don’t believe that the Bush administration allowed the terrorist attacks to occur to justify a war against Iraq, and I was surprised that Van Jones signed the petition that he did (although I have probably signed many petitions that, on the surface, seemed aligned with my values -- doing so while I was rushing and not thorough in reading the petition carefully). But so what? What does his signing such a petition or criticizing Republicans have to do with advising the current administration on his area of expertise which could, if enacted, put U.S. citizens back to work in stable, well-paying jobs that bring about a healthier, cleaner, more sustainable, restored world?

Just as I couldn’t see a reasonable connection between John Mackey’s opinion on health care reform and a boycott of a grocery chain that offers healthier, more sustainable, and more humane foods and products, I cannot see a meaningful connection between Van Jones' past and possibly flippant comments about Republicans and his signing of a misguided petition with his work to create green jobs and better environmental systems.

It was a very sad day in this country when Van Jones resigned. We lost a rare advisor in politics: someone with remarkable vision who knows how to put that vision into practice in ways that help everyone and hurt no one. I am appalled by those who brought Jones down. They, we, and the environment all lose because of such silliness.

~ Zoe

Image courtesy Creative Commons: http://www.flickr.com/photos/edlabordems/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Two Films to Help Fight Human Trafficking

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” ~ Dr. Cornel West, scholar/philosopher

27 million. That’s the estimate for how many slaves there are in the world today. That’s more than at any other time in history. Many of those slaves are children. Many of those slaves are used for sex, or for war, or to grow our food, the clothes we wear. People have been working to abolish slavery almost since slavery began, but it still persists, and is growing. Organizations such as Free the Slaves and Not For Sale have been working hard to bring awareness to this issue and to abolish slavery around the world.

Here are two films that can help you in bringing awareness to issues o human trafficking:

Fatal Promises is a new film that has just been released. It uses the personal stories of victims and interviews with activists, politicians and others to explore human trafficking and to highlight the challenges in making significant legislative and policy progress. The film focuses primarily on the Ukraine as a "country of origin" for slaves and western Europe and the U.S. as "countries of destination. Some of the survivors interviewed include young women forced into prostitution or to work in agriculture, and boys and men forced to work on fishing boats.

If you haven't already seen it, Call + Response debuted last fall. The film is a “rockumentary” in which activists, educators, celebrities and musicians each take a part in sharing the story of slavery in the 21st century. One thing that’s unique about this documentary is that 100% of the profits will be used to fund projects to help end slavery.

The website offers a variety of ways to get involved, from contacting companies to let them know you want slavefree products, to submitting ideas for ending slavery, to connecting with other abolitionists in your area.

~ 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.

Depauw grad wins sustainability awardDepauw University (9/21/09)
“Orr co-founded the DePauw Environmental Club and led campus sustainability awareness initiatives focused topics such as composting, recycling, eco-feminism, and environmental justice. She also successfully petitioned DePauw President Brian W.Casey to sign the American College & Presidents Climate Commitment on September 15, 2008. Orr also worked with fellow students to develop an initiative to incorporate sustainability and environmental discussion into first-year orientation. As a Sustainability Intern, she also co-authored DePauw's first Sustainability Status Report.”

“Are animal torture videos free speech?”Chicago Tribune (9/20/09)
“Book publishers, moviemakers, photographers, artists and journalists have joined the case on the side of a Virginia man who was convicted of selling videos of dog fights. They argue that any new exception to the First Amendment -- no matter how laudable the goal -- poses a danger to free expression in this country. ‘The road to censorship is paved with good intentions,’ said Joan Bertin of the National Coalition Against Censorship. Animal-rights advocates say no one should be able to profit from the abuse and torture of animals for entertainment.”

China announces first-ever animal welfare lawsTelegraph (9/18/09)
“The laws address deliberate cruelty and several of the most serious issues…that have concerned the international animal welfare community for many years. It will be the first time in China’s history that the state is sending a clear message to every citizen: ‘the way we treat animals matters’.”

Pollution from factory farms a health & environmental threat - New York Times (9/18/09)
“Yet runoff from all but the largest farms is essentially unregulated by many of the federal laws intended to prevent pollution and protect drinking water sources. The Clean Water Act of 1972 largely regulates only chemicals or contaminants that move through pipes or ditches, which means it does not typically apply to waste that is sprayed on a field and seeps into groundwater.”

Ivory Coast citizens seek restitution for injuries from toxic waste - The Independent (9/17/09)
“The first the four million inhabitants of Abidjan knew of their role in Trafigura's project was after darkness on 19 August 2006. A fleet of 12 trucks hired by a local waste contractor, Compagnie Tommy, which had only received its operating licence weeks earlier, offloaded the sulphurous sludge from the cargo vessel and deposited the waste at 18 locations around the sprawling, over-crowded city. Hospital records showed that within hours thousands of patients were treated for complaints including nausea, breathlessness, headaches, skin reactions and a range of ear, nose, throat and pulmonary problems.”
Thanks, Global Sociology Blog, for the heads up.

Are you feeding Fido lead? Group finds toxic chemicals in range of goodsNew York Times (9/17/09)
“Yet Charlotte Brody, the national field director for Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a Washington group that lobbies for more regulation of toxic chemical manufacturers, said it was useful for the public to have the information. ‘The honest answer to this report is we do not know how big a deal it is,’ she said. ‘Every year we learn that what we had learned was a safe level of a chemical turns out not to be that safe. If people are telling you lead is safe, even in small amounts, it isn’t science. It is hubris.’”
Thanks, Common Dreams, for the heads up.

White House to seek LEED certification - MNN.com (9/15/09)
“Although the White House won’t be the first historic building to undergo a green renovation, it will likely be an extremely difficult project. The building will be retrofitted with energy efficiency upgrades, water efficiency upgrades, products with low or no VOCs, eco-friendly cleaning products and much more.”

France to consider well-being, sustainability in GDP -Financial Times.com (9/14/09)
“The commission suggested a series of improvements to the way GDP was measured. It proposed accounting for people’s well-being and the sustainability of a country’s economy and natural resources. ‘The world over, citizens think we are lying to them, that the figures are wrong, that they are manipulated,’ said the president. ‘And they have reasons to think like that.’”
Thanks, Ode Magazine, for the heads up.

Chicago urban farms offer green jobs, new startMNN.com (8/28/09)
“The vast majority of the farm’s trainees and employees are ex-convicts with the majority of those having served time in jail. Growing Home understands the importance of including these individuals in the green collar economy to support them in finding a pathway out of poverty.”

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IHE President Zoe Weil on MOGO Speaking Tour

IHE President, Zoe Weil, has several speaking engagements in the next few weeks, and we wanted to share her schedule with you.

Please spread the word to interested people who live around the various communities where Zoe will be presenting. We hope many of you will be able to attend an event!

Visit IHE's Events page to see all our upcoming events.

September 26: Maine - Common Ground Fair, Unity, Maine, Social and Political Action Tent, 9-10 a.m.
Zoe will give a talk, The World Becomes What You Teach, about the purpose of education.

September 29: Maine - Camden Library, Camden, Maine, 6:30 p.m.
MOGO talk and book signing.

October 6: Maine - Belfast Library, Belfast, Maine, 6:30 p.m.
MOGO talk and book signing.

October 9: Oregon - Two university talks on the MOGO (most good) principle:
October 10: Oregon – MOGO Workshop, Cascadia Cohousing Community Common House, Portland, Oregon, 1-5 p.m.
Zoe will offer a half day MOGO workshop for a donation of only $20 (which includes a copy of her book, Most Good, Least Harm). Please register for the MOGO Workshop here.

October 11: Oregon – Wordstock Festival, Portland, Oregon, 1 p.m.
Zoe will be offering a MOGO presentation at the Wordstock Literary Festival.
Day-long festival fee: $5.

October 16-17: Maine – Kindle Northern New England Bioneers, Portland, Maine.
IHE is partnering with Kindle to bring the Bioneers Conference to Portland, Maine for a 2-day, life-transforming event. Zoe will be a plenary speaker on October 16, and she and Khalif Williams, IHE’s executive director, will lead MOGO and Sowing Seeds workshops at the conference.
Conference sliding scale: $75-225.

October 31: Massachusetts - Boston Vegetarian Food Festival, Boston, Massachusetts.
Zoe will be speaking at the two-day festival on Saturday, October 31st in the afternoon. Exact time TBA.

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Conferences Focused on Education and Social Justice Seeking Proposals

Here are a couple of calls for proposals for upcoming conferences related to education and social justice. If you're a humane educator who can attend one of these conferences, then do consider submitting a proposal. Presenting at conferences is a great way to learn from others, as well as an important tool for increasing awareness about the power of humane education.

Educators Network for Social Justice (ENSJ) Seeking Proposals for Anti-racist, Anti-bias Conference

ENSJ is hosting its third annual one-day conference on Anti-racist, Anti-bias teaching, and they're accepting proposals for 50 or 75 minute presentations, workshops, critical dialogs or other formats. The presentations "must include hands-on treatment of the content and active engagement with the participants in the session." Presentations should also be "theoretically grounded" but include practical ideas for K-12 teachers.

The conference is Saturday, March 6, 2010 at the Indian Community School in Franklin, Wisconsin.

The submission deadline is December 1, 2009.

Find out more

AERO Calls for Proposals for 2010 Conference

The Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) is seeking proposals for its 7th annual conference, which will be June 24-27, 2010. The conference will focus on five tracks:
  • Introduction to Alternatives in Education
  • School Starting
  • Practical Skills & Application
  • Philosophy & Theory
  • Social Issues & Education
  • Beyond Education
Find out more.

IHE has given workshops at past AERO conferences (our Executive Director, Khalif Williams, has been a keynote speaker the last two years), and we've found the conference to be inspiring and relevant to shifting the conversation of what education is for.

~ Marsha

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To Bring About a Humane World, We Must Embrace & Celebrate Our Best Qualities

We’re in the midst of a month-long MOGO Online course at the Institute for Humane Education. There are 40 wonderful people in the course inquiring, introspecting, and attempting to live their lives with greater integrity. We have an Online Commons where we share our experiences of each day’s exercise. During the first week, one of the exercises is to answer the question, “What are your best qualities?” After examining the issues we care most about the previous day, the “best qualities” exercise is designed to help participants hone in on their skills, talents, and virtues so that they can bring these best qualities to bear on the issues that concern them.

While many people wrote in the Online Commons about what they cared most about, fewer than half as many wrote about their best qualities. It’s hard for many of us to introspect on our best qualities, and harder still to share them without feeling like we’re bragging. But false modesty is not what the world needs, and it is actually empowering and delightful to read people’s reflections on their best qualities. It personally brings me great hope knowing that others can and do embrace, and then utilize, their talents and skills and virtues for good.

Humility is a great virtue, but so is compassion, resilience, perseverance, kindness, courage, honesty, and wisdom. Modesty is admirable, but so is passion, intelligence, humor, leadership, and a commitment to work hard for a better world.

I believe that we must each look within not only to examine our impacts, make kinder choices, be better people, and do all those things that a MOGO life demands, but also to examine our gifts and celebrate our unique and positive attributes. The world so desperately needs this from us.

~ Zoe

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Observe the Day of Peace, & Then Make Every Day a Peace Day

Today is the International Day of Peace, a campaign to bring awareness to the importance of peace, to encourage positive acts of peace, and to offer a day of ceasefire and non-violence worldwide.

It is terrific that the Day of Peace is inspiring more acts of compassion and non-violence worldwide. Peace One Day reports about immunization programs, food deliveries, ceasefires, and other positive actions happening because of the Day of Peace on September 21. I applaud all these efforts. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, "We must make every effort for the promotion of peace and inner values."

But, as journalist and peace teacher Colman McCarthy says, "Why are we violent, but not illiterate? Because we are taught to read."

If we truly want a peaceful world, then each of us must live each day as a Day of Peace, and encourage others (and teach our children) to do the same. Every choice we make, every action we take has a consequence and an impact. If we want a peaceful world, then we have the power to choose one, by communicating compassionately; by paying attention to how our choices affect others (people, animals, the earth) and making choices that do the most good and least harm for all; by refusing to support violence and destruction, whether it manifests in our daily lives or as part of a system; by supporting and nurturing positive systems; by helping make it easier for other people to make peaceful choices; by connecting with others who also strive for a truly peaceful world for all; by supporting those with the power to create significant positive change.

As you're going through your day today, pay attention to the choices that you make. Are you choosing words and actions of peace? How might you manifest peace in your life more? How might you support the transformation of destructive systems into peaceful ones? What obstacles are preventing you from living the life of peace you seek, and how can you overcome or avoid or reframe those obstacles?

I'd love to hear your own ideas for creating a peaceful world for all.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of Elaine Vigneault via Creative Commons.

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Finding the Balance Between Productivity-Obsession and Pleasure-Seeking

An article in the September-October issue of Harvard Magazine begins, “For all the hand-wringing over their failure to amass savings, Americans may actually be too disciplined.” The article explores the research of Anat Keinan, a professor at Harvard Business School, which reveals that Americans are often too productivity-obsessed, “viewing pleasurable pastimes as wasteful, irresponsible, and even immoral.”

In the activist community, taking time for oneself is often suspect, viewed with criticism. There is, after all, so much work to be done. Years ago, when I was hired by a non-proft, changemaking organization, employees had to work 52 weeks in order to get a single week’s vacation. The message was clear.

There are activists I know for whom endless work brings great joy because it is the “antidote to despair” that I wrote about in a previous blog post, quoting Joan Baez. But for many others, the constant effort to create change, the burden of guilt for indulging in pleasurable activities that don’t “make the world a better place,” and the self-imposed pressure to do good all the time can lead to burnout and depression. I’ve known many activists who’ve simply abandoned changemaking efforts or who suffer from stress-related physical problems and illnesses. This doesn’t do anyone any good.

In my book, Most Good, Least Harm, I profile several people in the section, “Live your epitaph,” who are endeavoring to make the world a better place. One of them, Melissa Feldman, a humane educator and friend of mine, said she wanted her epitaph to read thus: “Melissa did some good and had some fun along the way.” So simple.

Finding the balance that allows us to be happy, joyful people who are full of life and love and who also strive hard to create a better world utilizing our best selves is a challenge, one in which a bit of healthy guilt may spur us to work harder, and a bit of healthy self love may spur us to take care of ourselves and celebrate the glorious miracle of our own existence. This is no either/or but an important both, and that’s worth our effort to cultivate consciously, responsibly, and joyfully.

~ Zoe

Image courtesy of hbp_pix via Creative Commons.

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Peaceable Kingdom Doc Helps Us Explore Our Relationships with Farmed Animals

Great documentaries like Super Size Me, Food, Inc., and others have sparked people to think more carefully about their food choices -- to seek out foods that are healthier, more local, organic, sustainable, and so on.

Tribe of Heart, the creators of the award-winning film The Witness, is about to release its newest film, Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home. It will debut at the Moondance International Film Festival in Boulder, Colorado, September 26-27.

Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home uses the lens of people who grew up in a traditional farming culture, and who now question that way of life, as a means to explore our connection to animals, looking at the "complex web of social, psychological and economic forces that have led them to their present dilemma."

The film also features the animal rescue work of a humane police officer and dives into the emotional lives and family bonds of the animals we most often raise to become dinner.

Here's the trailer:

Trailer for Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home from Tribe of Heart on Vimeo.

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

This film can serve as a great tool for exploring our food choices, for exploring our relationships with and perceptions of animals, for thinking critically about issues like tradition, culture and habit, and for connecting animal compassion with other issues surrounding food.

~ Marsha

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Labor Report Offers List of Goods Made With Child & Slave Labor

We hear about forced and child labor, reading about specific instances in the news, and we may wonder whether those shoes and bananas we bought last week, or the cellphone we're using, or the fireworks we used on the 4th of July (in the U.S.) is made with the hands of children or slaves; it can be hard to know for sure.

Recently the U.S. Department of Labor released a report focused on "a list of goods produced by child labor or forced labor" as a requirement of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Acts of 2005 and 2008.

According to the report, it contains a "list of 122 goods from 58 countries" that the DOL "has reason to believe are produced by forced labor or child labor in violations of international law."

You can read the complete 194-page report online, which provides details of how the data was gathered, what definitions of "forced labor" and "child labor" were used, why countries might have been included/excluded, and so on, but some of the highlights include:
  • More goods were found to be made with child labor than forced labor.
  • Agriculture is the largest category of child/forced labor, followed by manufactured goods and mined or quarried goods.
  • The most common goods listed include "cotton, sugarcane, tobacco, coffee, rice, and cocoa in agriculture; bricks, garments, carpets, and footwear in manufacturing; and gold and coal in mined or quarried goods."
The report emphasizes that a country's absence from the report doesn't mean that child/forced labor isn't occurring in that country (The U.S. isn't listed, for example.). The report also mentions the differences in interpretation of "forced" or "child" labor that some cultures may have.

If you want to reduce the number of products you buy that are made with slave or child labor, then this report is a good place to start. It offers lists both by country and type of item, so that you can see, for instance, that Christmas decorations from China are on the list, as are garments from India, cattle from Brazil, and gold from 17 different countries.

It's not always easy to find fair trade and socially just items (though strategies like thrift stores, clothing swaps, borrowing, sharing, making yourself, etc., are always an option), so even when there's no MOGO choice available for, say, your laptop computer or your bananas (except not to buy them), you can also choose to contact those with the power to change the systems and express your views and values. The more of us who do so, the more quickly lists like these will shrink until they are no longer necessary.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of v i p e z via Creative Commons.

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When You're Making Other Plans: My Night on a Small Maine Coast Island

Labor Day weekend was a beauty on the coast of Maine, and on Saturday morning I packed up some food and water, extra clothes, a sleeping bag and pad, my journal and some art supplies and loaded them into my kayak. I paddled out to a small island owned by a coastal trust. My goal was to have no goal, to be on this island for the night fully present and responsive to the moment. But it’s hard to shed habits, and I was immediately “planful,” bringing my bag of extra clothes, sleeping bag and pad to a grassy spot under an old birch near where I’d pulled my kayak ashore. This seemed like a perfect place to sleep. Next I carried my art supplies and journal as I walked around the island, ready to draw or write if the moment struck.

I realized the bag was heavy. It was literally weighing me down. I was still carrying all my plans and goals, along with my art supplies and journal. So I left the bag on the beach.

Then I found a better spot to sleep – on a rocky ledge on the western tip of the island where I could watch the sun set and be under the stars and moon instead of in the woods. This meant I would have to move my stuff. But fortunately, I paused. How many times might I move my stuff at the rate I was going? I stopped planning for later and just attended to the moment.

The tide was low, and the seals were gathered on a ledge. Should I swim on this warm afternoon? The water was cold, but the air temperature was going to be dropping soon. Now or never. More planning. More thinking. I got into my bathing suit. I waded out, further and further, waist deep through the channels between the rocky ledges, past the cormorants and gulls and loons and eider ducks, in view of the seals, but not so close as to disturb them. I never did swim. I just walked through the water. I had become, finally, present, and I realized I didn’t actually want to swim. I just wanted to walk through the water.

After exploring the ocean, I gathered my art supplies and sleeping stuff, scattered as they were around the island, and headed to the ledge. I painted goldenrods and lichen on rocks. Then I painted the sunset. I listened to the loons’ eerie calls. I watched Jupiter appear in the east, the full moon rise, and a meteor streak through a dark blue sky. A nighthawk swept down in front of me.

I slept fitfully, aware of the breeze, the quickly cooling temperature, the loons’ cries, the lapping waves as they crept up towards me at high tide. I woke at dawn to seals barking on the ledges, and the wind picking up, urging me to kayak home before the waves were too difficult to maneuver.

It had been many years since I went off on my own like this to listen to and observe the natural world. Way too many years.

Time to “plan” another such night.

~ Zoe

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Humane Education Activities: Becoming Humane Beings

Right at the start of the school year is a great time to spark students' thinking about the world they live in, the choices they make, what a humane world looks like, and the power they have to help bring such a world to reality. Here are a few of our free, downloadable activities (pdf) to help you do that:

What Does a Humane World Look Like?

Have students create their vision of a humane world and compare it to the world we live in now. What are the differences, and how can we make the world “as it is” become the humane world envisioned?
Recommended for grades 2 through 6.

Time: 15-30 minutes

What Does It Take to Change the World?

Empower students by using stories and activities to show them that one person can make a positive difference.
Recommended for grades 5 through 12.
Time: 30-60 minutes

What is a Humane Life?

What’s a typical Saturday look like in the life of someone striving to live a more humane life? Participants follow a “humane presenter” or a “humane wannabe” through a reenactment of their day to learn about the whats and whys of making humane choices every day.

Recommended for grades 5 and up.
Time: 90-120 minutes

What Makes a Humane Being?

What are the most desirable and undesirable qualities of humans? Use sample stories and pictures to help students identify our best (and worst) qualities and how we can encourage humane qualities in ourselves and others.

Recommended for grades 3 through 6.
Time: 30-60 minutes

What Would You Do?

What would you do if….? Help students think deeply and critically about the quandaries between balancing personal desires with kindness toward others by engaging them in discussing personal and global scenarios.

Recommended for grades 3 through 8.
Time: 60 minutes

~ 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 “floating wetlands classroom” ships off in Virginia
Virginian-Pilot (9/15/09)
“It looks like a giant floating garden - big, wide and gray - with marsh plants growing on its deck amid walkways and oyster shells. Among its features: solar panels, compost toilets, sun-powered lights shaped like little fish, recycled water spouts, and two wind turbines whirling on top. This quirky behemoth is called the Learning Barge, a $1.2 million vessel dedicated to environmental education and designed for a zero ecological footprint.”

Clean Water Act violations have high cost to people & planet - New York Times (9/13/09)
“Records analyzed by The Times indicate that the Clean Water Act has been violated more than 506,000 times since 2004, by more than 23,000 companies and other facilities, according to reports submitted by polluters themselves. Companies sometimes test what they are dumping only once a quarter, so the actual number of days when they broke the law is often far higher. And some companies illegally avoid reporting their emissions, say officials, so infractions go unrecorded.”

Teen strives for eco-friendly world, and beauty productsSF Gate (9/11/09)
“The 18-year-old - who moonlights as a model and was recently featured in Seventeen magazine - has testified before the California Legislature, helped found a national coalition called Teens Turning Green, and started an eco-friendly body care line now sold in Whole Foods stores nationwide. At the end of August, the ‘ultimate green girl,’ as she calls herself, was one of five teenagers from California honored for her activism and impact. She received $36,000, to be applied to college or to her activist work.”
Thanks, Lime.com, for the heads up.

Dept. of Labor releases report of child-, slave-made goodsHuman Trafficking.change.org (9/10/09)
“The most common goods which have significant incidence of forced and/or child labor are cotton, sugarcane, tobacco, coffee, rice, and cocoa in agriculture; bricks, garments, carpets, and footwear in manufacturing; and gold and coal in mined or quarried goods.”

U.S. poverty rate hits 11-year highCommon Dreams (9/10/09)
“Poverty was higher among blacks and Hispanics, the report showed. About 14.1 million children under the age of 18 lived in poverty last year, up from 13.3 million in 2007. ‘We project that with the continuing deterioration in the labor market, by 2009 a quarter of all children in this country will be living in poverty,’ said Heidi Shierholz, a labor market economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.”

Study reports that contraception “5 times less expensive than low-carbon technology” in addressing climate change - Treehugger.com (9/10/09)
“The report concludes that when taken purely as a method of reducing carbon emissions, family planning is far more cost-effective than the current leading low-carbon technologies. Between 2010 and 2050 each $7 spent on basic family planning can reduce emissions more than a ton; to achieve that same level of reduction using low-carbon tech would on average cost $32 per ton. For more specific comparison, wind power would cost $24/ton, solar $51/ton, carbon capture and storage $57-83/ton.”

Are you making your baby racist?Newsweek (9/5/09)
“For decades, it was assumed that children see race only when society points it out to them. However, child-development researchers have increasingly begun to question that presumption. They argue that children see racial differences as much as they see the difference between pink and blue—but we tell kids that ‘pink’ means for girls and ‘blue’ is for boys. ‘White’ and ‘black’ are mysteries we leave them to figure out on their own.”

Industry calls sugary cereals, mayonnaise “smart choices”New York Times (9/4/09)
“’The object of this is to make highly processed foods appear as healthful as unprocessed foods, which they are not,’ said Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University.”

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Learn to Grow Grounded Kids with Guide to Creating School Gardens

"Food is something we can all relate to, and challenging kids of any age to think about where their food comes from gets them into basic science/ecological concepts (living systems, water origin and use, soil, plant identification and categorization, etc.), economics, and much larger environmental issues (global warming, transportation, fuel, energy, etc.), and ultimately they come back and look at their own food choices (nutrition, toxins, calories/energy, cost, etc.)." ~ Becky Morgan, IHE M.Ed. student, humane educator, Executive Director of BUGS (Boise Urban Garden School)

Food is central to our lives, and learning about the details behind food and the growing, harvesting and eating of food provides numerous opportunities for learning. The Center for Ecoliteracy recognizes the essential role gardens play in educating us about our world and has now made available (in collaboration with Life Lab Science Program) a free, downloadable copy of their guide to starting a gardening program in schools. Getting Started: A Guide to Creating School Gardens as Outdoor Classrooms offers a basic guide to all the components necessary for a successful school garden program. It covers issues such as:
  • Engaging kids and nurturing their curiosity and reverence.
  • Connecting the garden to the school's curriculum.
  • Selecting and preparing the site.
  • Dealing with challenges such as funding, vandalism and holidays.
  • Involving the community.
As the guide says, if you have a 10' x 10' space, or even just a small space for containers or planter boxes, then you can have a school garden, and offer students a wonderful, kinesthetic, creative experience that also provides them with important lifeskills.

If you need more proof of the central role growing food can play in education, then read our interviews with two of our M.Ed. students/grads, Becky Morgan, Executive Director of BUGS (Boise Urban Garden School), and Holly Clark, of the Earth and Spirit Gardens Biodynamic Learning Cooperative. They have both found success integrating food, gardening and dynamic, relevant, interdisciplinary education.

~ Marsha

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"Who Benefits From My Silence?" - MOGO Challenges in Speaking Out

One of the Institute for Humane Education’s M.Ed. students, Sophia Erlsten, spent several weeks in Trinidad this summer, and recounted a challenging situation she faced. Her family had rented a house on the beach. On the night of their arrival, her father took her to where a leatherback turtle had arrived to lay her eggs. She had never seen this majestic process before and was so happy to be sharing this moment with the turtle and her father. The beach had no conservationists monitoring to protect the turtles from humans during their laying season, and as soon as the turtle started digging her hole, people started to crowd her and take pictures.

Instead of saying something, Sophia just stood back a bit and tried to set a good example for others to follow. Within a few minutes, she realized that her “modeling her message” approach was not working and she became angry at how people were treating the turtle. Because she could no longer enjoy the experience she returned to her beach house. She tossed and turned all night, worrying about the other turtles who would land on the beach and feeling so guilty about how she let another creature suffer while saying nothing.

The next morning she reflected on her inaction and asked herself, "Who benefited from my silence?" She certainly did not, nor did the turtle. The only ones who seemed to benefit were the people crowding the turtle, and she realized that some of them were simply ignorant about how to observe nesting sea turtles humanely and would feel bad knowing that they caused distress to an animal that they so admired. She came to believe that no one actually benefited because even those enjoying the close proximity to the turtle lost the opportunity to learn and make a MOGO choice.

This was a life-changing event in Sophia’s life, as it was the first time since she dedicated her life to being an agent of positive change in the world that she witnessed a wrong first-hand and failed to act against it. The following night she returned to the beach with her family, who shared her discontent, as another group of people began to approach a turtle with flashlights and lanterns ablaze. Gaining strength from her family’s solidarity and verbal encouragement, Sophia pretended to be a tour guide and began to give instructions to the newcomers about how to respectfully enjoy watching the turtle. Although she wasn’t as successful as she hoped to be and was disappointed in her own authoritative tone, Sophia found a way to communicate and protect the turtles, teaching others at the same time.

I so appreciated Sophia’s creative approach to the challenge she faced, and her courage and conviction in speaking out without shaming, blaming, or creating conflict and hostility. That Sophia is one true humane educator!

~ Zoe

Image courtesy of Paul Mannix via Creative Commons.

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Rethinking Education: Two Titles for Humane Educators

What’s the best way to get to the hospital? The “correct” answer, according to the standardized test, is “ambulance,” but if you’re an Alaska Native 300 miles away from the nearest hospital, the real answer is “airplane” (which, according to the test, is the “wrong” answer).

“Multicultural Education” calls forth visions of kids exploring countries and cultures – an introduction to the way “other” people live, certainly, but not an in-depth examination of how and why we think and behave with people who aren’t just like us, the ways in which differences are connected to power and views of “inferiority,” the kinds of literature and information and perspectives that are considered “normal” and “natural.” Rethinking Schools eschews the tamer, safer framework of traditional multicultural education and has created a new definition of in their book Rethinking Multicultural Education: Teaching for Racial and Cultural Justice (2009). As one educator defines it, multicultural education equips “students, parents and teachers with the tools needed to combat racism and ethnic discrimination, and to find ways to build a society that includes all people on an equal footing.” (10)

Edited by Wayne Au, the book offers interviews, essays and a sprinkling of teaching ideas focused on this new framework of multicultural education and exploring it via numerous issues, such as:
  • The influence of eugenics on government policy and education.
  • The effect of “high stakes testing” and fixed standards on multiculturalism.
  • An analysis of eight kids’ books on their portrayal of Columbus to exemplify the attitudes and perspectives that are considered “normal.”
  • The power and oppression behind “standard English.”
  • The prevalence of stereotypes and lack of understanding of cultural differences in schools.
  • The role of class in racial issues, such as the “model minority” stereotype.

Some of the most powerful aspects of the book are the heartbreaking and inspiring essays by individual teachers who share their experiences working with classes, with individual students, or their own encounters with education. One memorable essay is “And Then I Went to School” by Joe Suina, who speaks of the joys of living with his grandmother in the pueblo of his people, the Cochiti –- loving his home, his traditions, his family –- and learning to be a happy, confident Indian. “And then I went to school” at age six, he says.

I expected the book to follow the format of other Rethinking Schools books I’ve read, like Rethinking Globalization, and to be full of specific teaching ideas; I was disappointed at first to find it more essays and articles than anything. But, I actually discovered that the more “general” treatment of multicultural education through the variety of issues and lenses was actually more helpful, as it made me think more critically and comprehensively about education, schools, classrooms and teaching, rather than running the risk of adopting some new teaching ideas without integrating the larger context involved.

As with any collection of essays and articles, some are more interesting and useful than others, but as a whole the book is compelling, enlightening, disheartening and inspiring all at once. This book is for educators, activists, parents and concerned citizens who want schooling to go beyond “heroes and holidays” and who want to empower students and help them think critically about social, cultural and racial justice.

Book Cover: Rethinking Early Childhood EducationIf you’re an early educator, check out Rethinking Early Childhood Education (2008), edited by Ann Pelo. With so much pressure on Head Start programs, pre-schools, pre-kindergarten, pre-pre-schools, and other early childhood education programs to get kids “ready” for school and to focus on assessments and academics, it can be difficult for a kid to learn to be a kid, and for teachers to provide young children with the experiences that can help them become humane citizens. Filled with essays and articles, the book offers the expertise, insights and inspiration of educators, parents and scholars who work to expose young children to important issues (race, gender, creativity, sense of place, sense of self, family and community, etc.) in age-appropriate ways. (Note: You will find some of the same essays in both titles.)

~ Marsha

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Hero of the Day - Wendell Potter

I love stories about people who forego their privileges for a greater good, who are willing to risk their high status and river of lucre to do what is right. In a recent New York Times op-ed, Nicholas Kristof writes about Wendell Potter, a former executive in the health insurance business, who crafted the fear-mongering language that now perpetuates the terror and hostility toward health care reform.

Potter, who traveled frequently in corporate jets and limousines to block health care reform, attended a premiere of Michael Moore’s Sicko in 2007 in order to prepare an industry response to Moore’s scathing critique of health care in the U.S. But Potter found himself agreeing with much of Moore’s exposé. Then, a month later, in Tennessee, Potter attended a health charity in which long lines of people waited in the rain to receive health care in livestock stalls. He could no longer look in the mirror and live with himself.

So Potter resigned from his lucrative job and testified before Congress on behalf of health care reform, sealing his fate as a pariah in the industry he’d served for twenty years.

When I give talks, periodically someone will tell me that it’s just too challenging to make choices that do the most good and the least harm. I think I’ll start telling people about Wendell Potter. Potter gave up a lot to do what is right -- more than most people. If Potter can give up his massive salary and perks, the respect and friendship of his many peers and associates, and bear the force of hatred and rage directed towards him by those who perceive him as a turncoat, then surely each of us can figure out how we can live with greater integrity and make new choices that are right and good.

~ Zoe

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Humane Education in Action: Creating Compassionate Kids

A trip to the animal shelter more than 25 years ago started Caroline on her path to humane living and humane education. Now she works to teach kids about compassionate choices as Director of Education for the Humane Society of Broward County in Florida. Here's our interview with Caroline, one of our M.Ed. students:

Quick Facts:

Current hometown: Hollywood, Florida
IHE fan since: I started my Master's degree in 2008; that's when I stumbled on IHE’s website!
Current job: Director of Education, Humane Society of Broward County
Your hero:
My Mom...the most giving and unselfish human being I know.
Book/movie that changed your life: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. My Aunt who was 100% healthy is in a nursing home and cannot walk or talk. No doctor ever figured out what happened to her. After reading Silent Spring I'm convinced it was the toxic chemicals she was working with before she fell ill. I warn everybody now not to use pesticides, chemical cleaners and other such products.
Guilty pleasure: Almond Milk, holy yumminess!
Inspired by: Others who stop to notice, appreciate and care about the world around them.
Love about yourself: My silliness.
One of your strengths: Open and friendly.
Desired epitaph or tagline: “Believe in yourself and anything is possible.”

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

CC: One trip to the animal shelter over 25 years ago. That trip opened my eyes and my heart to what it truly means to have empathy and compassion for other living beings. Since then, I try to put myself in the shoes of others and think about how I would feel if I were wearing those shoes. When you look at it like that, it’s hard not to be compassionate.

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

CC: I am a very fortunate person in that I love what I do. I have been the Director of Education at the Humane Society of Broward County for fifteen years. I have had the benefit of creating my own programs, along with a wonderful staff, from the ground up. We have been very successful in finding clever ways to reach the masses. I think one of the most effective ways to make a lasting impact is to develop partnership programs; we have several. One partnership we developed is with the Girl Scouts of Broward County. Girls can earn their Humane Society patch by participating in 10-12 animal-related activities per year. For each level of Girl Scouting they earn a different colored bone for their vest. After four years in the program they become the experts. There are over 10,000 Girl Scouts in Broward County, so that’s a lot of outreach. Another great program that reaches children on a consistent basis is "Lopster's Kids Club." (Lopster is my dog.) The kids meet monthly and spend an hour and a half learning about being caring and humane citizens and interacting and working with the animals. We have more than 80 members in our Clubs. One-time visits to schools are great, and our department is always in the schools, but I truly believe we really start to make a difference when the kids are hearing the message over and over.

Caroline & students from the Pets R Us programA big success this summer has been our camp program. I was so excited to use some of the lessons I learned at IHE’s Residency and from IHE’s humane education courses. It was so rewarding to see the kids learn from what I recently learned. I was able to incorporate environmental education, which was a first time thing for me.

My main challenge in my position is that I have to keep my material as conservative as possible. The organization I work for leans more towards animal welfare than animal rights. I do try to incorporate as many aspects of Humane Education as I can in a way that is not offensive or upsetting to others. It makes it difficult, because I have to teach around the politics, and I feel very limited at times.

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

CC: I think there is power in numbers and power in compassion. How can anybody argue with being kind, respectful and thoughtful of the world and the life around us? If we continue to grow, teach and be positive examples for our future, our individual flames of passion can ignite and form a blazing fire of hope for all.

IHE: Any future plans, dreams or projects?

CC: I'm not sure what life has in store, but I feel like there are many doors of opportunity and possibility that have opened for me. I love working in the animal protection field, and it will always be my true passion. However, I feel as though I have expanded my sphere of knowledge and compassion to other areas of Humane Education and would like to use them productively. My Individual Learning Project for my M.Ed. degree includes writing two children's' books that focus on using your beauty within rather than focusing on your physical beauty. I would like to publish those books and send a message to young girls nationwide. I have also started doing research into opening a green consulting company.
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