Aikido & MOGO: The Art of Peace is the Art of Wise Response to Conflict

My Aikido sensei (teacher) was discussing Aikido with us after class last week, and he shared some thoughts on the translation of Aikido as “the art of peace.” Although some do translate Aikido this way, the literal definition is open to interpretation. The word breaks down this way: AI - harmony, KI - spirit, mind, or universal energy, DO - the Way.

My sensei pointed out that as a martial art, Aikido is based on the reality that life includes conflict. After all, we can only practice Aikido when someone initiates an attack of some kind. What makes Aikido unique among martial arts, however, is how the Aikidoist responds to conflict. Although an Aikidoist could easily harm an attacker by meeting conflict with force and aggression, those trained in Aikido choose to use the energy of the conflict to dispel it. The Aikidoist neither allows herself to be harmed nor harms her attacker. In my sensei’s interpretation, Aikido may be more accurately understood as the art of responding well and wisely to conflict rather than as the art of peace.

But if one translation of peace is the absence of conflict, and if the elimination of conflict is impossible, then peace must be understood as a perpetual process, not a static endpoint. We may strive for peace (both inner and outer), but conflicts continually arise. How we meet those conflicts ultimately determines whether or not we create peaceful outcomes.

Seen this way, Aikido can be viewed as the art of peace as long as we recognize that conflict underlies its existence and understand that Aikido is the art of creating the most peaceful, healthy, and kind response to that conflict. In my mind, Aikido is a MOGO martial art – a way to meet conflict by doing the most good and the least harm.

Like my sensei, I do not believe we can put an end to conflict. The MOGO principle, to do the most good and the least harm to ourselves, other people, animals and the environment, provides a philosophy replete with tools – like Aikido techniques – to create the greatest possibility for peaceful, harmonious, healthy, and humane outcomes over and over again.

And as with Aikido, we must practice to become adept at MOGO choicemaking. It takes many years and much commitment to practice to become a good Aikidoist, just as it takes a great effort and commitment to the MOGO principle to truly manifest its potential in our lives and the world.

~ Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education

Image courtesy of marius.zierold via Creative Commons.

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MOGO Bookshelf: The Help

I finished the bestseller, The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, this weekend and I recommend it wholeheartedly. A novel set in the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi, The Help tells the stories of black maids working for white families in the tempestuous shifts from segregation and Jim Crow to civil rights. It is riveting, heartbreaking, uplifting, redeeming, beautifully crafted, moving, elucidating and deeply satisfying as a novel. Read this book!

~ Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm

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Extend the Spirit of Buy Nothing Day to Every Day

For those who know that the path to a humane world isn't paved by consumerism, Buy Nothing Day, sponsored by Adbusters, is an opportunity to just say no to the popular American theme of materialism as meaning and consumption as the very reason we rise in the mornings. Held on "Black Friday"(the day after Thanksgiving) in the U.S., and on the following day in other countries, Buy Nothing Day strives to encourage citizens around the world to "opt out of consumer culture completely, even if only for 24 hours." In addition to encouraging us to buy nothing for a day, the campaign also promotes events around the world, from hosting credit card cut ups, to zombie walks to other ways of bringing attention to the impact of our consumer culture.

Buy Nothing Day exists to spotlight the unhealthy co-dependent relationship we've developed with our stuff and to encourage healthier choices. But, bringing our awareness to our spending habits one day a year isn't enough to truly make a difference. We can extend the spirit of Buy Nothing Day to every day, asking ourselves questions about the products that lure us with their siren songs (or those we buy unconsciously out of habit). We can consciously ask ourselves questions such as:
  • Is this a Want or a Need?
  • How much will I use it? How long will it last?
  • Could I borrow it ? Make it? Do without it?
  • Will having this add meaning to my life?
  • Is purchasing this item the best way to care for myself and the planet?
  • What is the true cost of this item to myself? Other cultures? Other people? Other species? Other animals? The environment?
  • What will happen to this item when I’m finished with it?
Give Buy Nothing Day a try, and then maintain that awareness of your consumption patterns each day. Making choices that do the most good and least harm isn’t actually about perfection, but when we start bringing awareness to the impact of our choices, and take a few seconds to think about questions like “Is this a want or a need?” then such questions become part of our new awareness and then become easier habits, and then grow into old easy ones, and our positive impact on the world continues to flourish, and we're only buying things that we truly need, or that bring us deep meaning and joy.

And before we know it, that humane world we want is happening.

~ Marsha

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Thanksgiving: Be Thankful for What You Can Do

Thanksgiving is always a bittersweet holiday to me. I love the whole idea of Thanksgiving – a time to reflect upon the gifts we’ve received and offer our thanks, but when I think about the origins of the holiday and the ways in which the European settlers committed genocide upon the Native peoples in the U.S., and the ways in which we have still failed to redress the suffering we caused and continue to perpetuate, I feel ashamed and full of sorrow. And when I think about the millions of turkeys raised for Thanksgiving meals in cruel factory farms, bred to be so big they cannot mate and can barely walk, debeaked, crowded in disgusting warehouses, slaughtered in the most inhumane of ways, I want to cry and shout at the same time.

It’s so important to give thanks, to introspect and embrace all our blessings on Thanksgiving. And when we do, let’s not forget to give thanks for our freedom, our voices, our hands and our hearts that enable us to fight wrongs and ease suffering and create justice. And after giving thanks for these gifts, let’s not forget to use them to forge a better, more humane, more peaceable world.

~ Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education

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Let's Expand What Media Literacy Means

Media literacy has gotten a fair amount of press lately. Experts have called for more formal media literacy instruction for youth in China and Britain. There are a slew of non-profit groups that focus on media, marketing and commercialization issues. But what exactly is meant by media literacy? Some define it as having the skills to access, understand and create media in a variety of contexts. Others focus on the messages that media offers, such as a recent CNN article outlining how some parents are dealing with the tween obsession over the New Moon movie and Twilight franchise (Bellaaaaaa!)

Having a good grasp of today's media technologies and being able to understand, synthesize and analyze media messages are both essential parts of media literacy. But, many media literacy programs stop at examining how we ourselves (or our kids or families) are affected by media; those that go beyond often focus on the roles that gender or race or other social constructs play and how that influences our larger society. Few dive deeper, looking at what suffering, exploitation or destruction is hidden from view or consciously promoted in the ad, TV show, movie, or whatever media is on tap.

For example, we can look beyond the typical media literacy questions about an advertised product -- What need/desire is the ad/product appealing to? Who's the intended audience? Who is excluded? How does it affect your desires, esteem, beliefs & choices?, etc. -- to the suffering and exploitation of people and animals, and the destruction to the environment that the product (or service) generates and the ad promotes (or hides). A class analyzing a milk chocolate bar might offer a whole list of responses to the "typical" questions above. But by digging deeper, that class can discover the connection of that chocolate bar to animal cruelty, slavery, child labor, toxic dyes, global warming, consumerism, obesity, waste, and other issues, and synthesize how their own choices play a role and what positive actions they can take to promote a humane world.

Media literacy is an essential skill for everyone to learn. In our goal to create a better world, let's broaden its definition and include as one of its primary goals, looking deeper at the suffering, exploitation and destruction of people, animals and the planet that are so easy to ignore, dismiss, or miss altogether.

~ 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.

Protecting forests can help reduce global warming - Time (11/30/09)
“The good news is that protecting forests ‘is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to take a big bite out of the apple when it comes to emissions,’ says Greenpeace spokesman Daniel Kessler. Ulu Masen will be one of the first forests to be protected under a pioneering U.N. program called REDD — Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries — that offers a powerful financial incentive to keep forests intact.”

Study reveals climate as major source of conflict in African countriesBBC (11/24/09)
“Previous research has shown an association between lack of rain and conflict, but this is thought to be the first clear evidence of a temperature link. The researchers used databases of temperatures across sub-Saharan Africa for the period between 1981 and 2002, and looked for correlations between above average warmth and civil conflict in the same country that left at least 1,000 people dead. Warm years increased the likelihood of conflict by about 50% - and food seems to be the reason why.”

Preschoolers may be watching TV for 1/3 of their time each dayAP (11/23/09)
''’In general, we still have a culture that sees television as benign,'’ said Rich, who is also an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard University. '’This is an area where we're learning more and more all the time.'’ He compared society's growing knowledge of the impact of TV on child development to the early days of seat belt use. Today's parents and child care providers grew up on TV, Rich said, so it's understandable that they do not recognize the problem.”

Largest animal sacrifice begins in Nepal – 200,000 animals AP (11/23/09)
“The Gadhimai festival is celebrated every five years. Participants believe sacrificing the animals for Gadhimai will end evil and bring prosperity. Many join the festival from the neighboring Indian state of Bihar, where animal sacrifices have been banned in some areas. Critics say the killings — carried out by slitting the animals' throats with swords — are barbaric and conducted in a cruel manner.”

India to ban elephants from country’s zoos, circuses - LA Times (11/23/09)
“The decision means that all elephants living in India's zoos and circuses -- an estimated 140 pachyderms in 26 zoos and 16 circuses -- will be moved to ‘elephant camps’ run by the nation's forestry department. (Those elephants currently employed in logging camps or living in Indian temples -- by all accounts, a larger number than those in zoos and circuses -- are unaffected by the decision.) In the camps, the elephants will be able to move freely in a large space and graze as they would in the wild. A group of mahouts will be employed to monitor their well-being.”

“Children’s rights still violated 20 years after convention”Voice of America (11/20/09)
"’So many things are happening to us that is against the rights and when the Convention on the Rights of the Child puts laws, most of these laws have been violated every day,’ [Fredrica] says. ‘So, many violence, cases of child trafficking… Every day things are going bad, bad, bad and bad. But, we just hope that things get better for all the children living in Sierra Leone and also in Africa.’"
Thanks, People’s News, for the heads up.

Key to better world is “understanding the human mind” - New York Times (11/19/09)
“Barriers include not knowing what actions to take, not understanding the benefits or having mistaken information -- for example, research has shown that the top reason parents do not want their kids to bike or walk to school is because they fear abductions, even though the number of abductions per year in Canada is often in the single digits….”

“Growing meat without animals”Live Science (11/19/09)
“To grow meat in labs from satellite cells, the researchers suggested current tissue-engineering techniques, where stem cells are often embedded in synthetic three-dimensional biodegradable matrixes that can present the chemical and physical environments that cells need to develop properly. Other key factors would involve electrically stimulating and mechanically stretching the muscles to exercise them, helping them mature properly, and perhaps growing other cells alongside the satellite cells to provide necessary molecular cues.”

“Countering the sexualization of your youth” (commentary) – Huffington Post (11/18/09)
“With the percentage of ads which sexualize youth increasing every year, we need to start countering the messaging - and aggressively at that. It's up to us, and not advertising, merchandising, or the media, to create an environment in which everyone can feel sexually healthy.”

USDA report outlines U.S. food insecurityGuardian (11/17/09)
“Food insecurity - defined by the USDA as when ‘food intake … was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food"’ - afflicted 14.6% of Americans in 2008. Ie, some 50 million people were too poor to guarantee being able to put food on the table.”

Middle school students learn about human rights at International DayPress-Citizen (11/17/09)
“In one session, students designed tactical maps, linking topics and the players in that area. One group, composed of eighth-grader Jenna Suckow of Oelwein and seventh-graders Enrique Aburto and Greig Duo of Muscatine, connected the issue of child labor, linking the topic with its players, including the actual enslavers to businesses and shoppers who buy the items produced by youth in sweatshops.”

What you eat is much more than a “personal choice” (commentary) – Washington Post (11/16/09)
“Now, if someone told you that a particular corporation was trashing the air, water and soil; causing more global warming than the transportation industry; consuming massive amounts of fossil fuel; unleashing the cruelest sort of suffering on innocent and sentient beings; failing to recycle its waste; and clogging our arteries in the process, how would you react? Would you say, ‘Hey, that's personal?’ Probably not. It's more likely that you'd frame the matter as a dire political issue in need of a dire political response.”

Scientist seeks to reduce, eliminate animal farming - Forbes - (11/12/09)
"’There's absolutely no possibility that 50 years from now this system will be operating as it does now,; says Brown. ‘One approach is to just wait, and either we'll deal with it or we'll be toast. I want to approach this as a solvable problem.’ Solution: ‘Eliminate animal farming on planet Earth.’"

Sesame Street to focus on caring for the earthNational Geographic (11/10/09)
"’Global warming and deforestation—those are really adult concepts, and it's just too scary for children,’ said Rosemarie Truglio, vice president of research and education at Sesame Workshop, the New York City-based nonprofit that produces Sesame Street. ‘The place we're coming from is, 'Let's love and care for the Earth, because it's so beautiful, and we appreciate its awe and wonder, and we're going to respect it.'’"

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Listen Live to Zoe on KBOO Radio - Wednesday, 11/25 at 11 am PST

IHE President Zoe Weil is being interviewed on Wednesday, November 25 on KBOO radio in Portland, Oregon at 11 am PST as a guest on Recovery Zone, with Stephanie Potter. Zoe will be talking about the MOGO Principle and creating a better life and a better world for all. Listen live!

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To Create a Humane World We Must Understand People

We humane educators and concerned citizens know that the challenges of the world -- poverty, cruelty, suffering, destruction, hatred, oppression, etc. -- are enormous, and can't be overcome by any one person or small group of people. It will take the voices and actions of many to change enough habits and transform enough systems. But, how do we encourage and inspire others to look beyond their own daily bubbles and start making choices that support and nurture and compassionate, sustainable, just world for all? The 4 elements of humane education are:

1. Providing accurate information
2. Fostering the 3 Cs of curiosity, creativity and critical thinking
3. Instilling the 3 Rs of reverence, respect and responsibility
4. Providing positive choices and tools for problem-solving

These are all necessary elements of positive social change. But a recent article in the New York Times highlights the necessity of understanding people and what motivates them to act (or not), and of eliminating the barriers to positive action.

As the article says, "...people's attitudes do not translate into action. But most environmental activism remains centered around the assumption that changing behavior starts with changing attitudes and knowledge." Psychology professor Doug McKenzie-Mohr notes that "To bridge the gap between attitudes and action, people must first address the barriers that stand in the way of action....Barriers include not knowing what actions to take, not understanding the benefits or having mistaken information...."

One key, note psychologists and activists, is cultivating connections and relationships. Personal interactions and social networks "have significant power to affect people's behaviors." An example given in the article is a community that wanted to reduce vehicle idling around schools, when parents wait to drop off or pick up their kids. When signs went up in the area, there was little change, but when someone went around and spoke to the waiting parents personally, "the frequency of idling dropped by 32 percent, while the average length of idling dropped by 72 percent."

McKenzie-Mohr also notes that it's important for advocates to get empirical data about what works and for communities and groups to share successful strategies.

A most important strategy, says, Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change, is vision: "I think we have become very, very good at describing that we're against. ... We're terrible at describing what we're for. We're against climate change, we're against biodiversity extinction, we're against land-use change, etc., we're against pesticides ... but what are we for?"

This article has important lessons for we humane educators and social changemakers. Sowing seeds of information and inspiration isn't enough. We must make personal connections and build relationships; we need to be creative about how we reach people and critical of the efficacy of our methods; we must offer a positive vision of the world we want and convenient, meaningful ways to get there; we need to eliminate any barriers preventing people from taking positive action; and we must continue to promote both personal and systemic change as solutions to creating a humane world.

Read the complete article.

~ Marsha

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Born to Run Revisited

In a recent blog post, I wrote about my response to an article on the evolution of distance running. A reader of my blog, Molly Suber Thorpe, posted a comment in which, among other things, she recommended the book Born to Run. I promptly purchased it (on my Kindle) and found it quite interesting. Although the jury is still out for me on whether distance running evolved for the purpose of hunting large ungulates, I was fascinated by the current shift toward barefoot running or running with shoes that serve only to protect the foot from cuts and scrapes rather than build support.

As a child my parents always had arch supports put in my Oxfords. Years later when I purchased all my son’s clothes -- including shoes -- from thrift shops, a friend said she wouldn’t get shoes at thrift shops because it was so important that they provide the proper support and thus be new. Something about this always perplexed me. Didn’t we evolve with feet? Haven’t we existed as a species for long enough that our feet would, theoretically, be well evolved? Haven’t we been running and jumping and climbing barefoot for an awfully long time? Why would extra support be necessary?

Interestingly, the book Born to Run shares studies and research that suggest that our extra-support running shoes may be responsible for more injuries rather than fewer. We run differently when we have lots of support and padding, and we land on our heels. Run barefoot and you quickly realize that you don’t land on your heels.

It’s funny how recommendations for what’s healthy and MOGO can reverse with the times. Another reminder to trust common sense, consider our origins and years of evolution, and be critical in our inquiries rather than trust whatever trends arise.

~ Zoe
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and Above All, Be Kind

Image courtesy of Linda W via Creative Commons.

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Practicing Third Side Thinking

One of the books our students often read as part of the first course, Introduction to Humane Education -- which focuses on education and communication -- is The Third Side by William Ury. Ury's book describes strategies (prevent, resolve, contain) and roles (provider, teacher, bridge-builder, etc.) for managing and solving conflict. He outlines a way of looking for resolutions outside the us vs. them, either/or paradigm that many of us have been taught.

One of our M.Ed. students, Nadia, wrote about two ways she has used the "third side" strategies in her own life, and we wanted to share her experiences with you:

"Provider: A few weeks ago, my mail carrier started delivering mail later and later every day. I could see that she was in a hurry. She would zoom into the cul-de-sac with her small truck, quickly open the mailboxes, quickly stuff them with mail and zoom out fast, sometimes leaving a few box lids hanging open. I did not mind receiving my mail late as long as I received it. But then, she started skipping on ringing the doorbell to deliver my registered mail. From where I work, I could see her come and go, and when I went out to fetch my mail I would find the “come and pick up your package from the post office” notice in my mailbox. I knew that mail carriers were required to attempt to deliver registered mail once before leaving a note for the recipient. Then one day, I received no mail, which had not happened before. Since I was expecting a particular piece of mail to be delivered that day, I was frustrated. The mail I was looking for did not show up in the following week either. I had to contact the sender and the post office to inquire about it. I was starting to feel angry towards my carrier. I thought about what I could do to resolve this problem and also prevent a potential confrontation with her. I ruled out talking to her directly. I thought that she was stressed and would possibly act defensively. I also ruled out talking to her boss as a first action, because I was afraid that she might get angry and not deliver some of my mail. Then, I wondered if she has a frustrated need that I can help with. She probably needed to feel recognized and appreciated, particularly now, when she is working harder. I decided to leave an early Christmas card in my mailbox for her with a “thank you” note and a gift card. It worked. A few days later, she saw me in the yard and stopped by to thank me. Now she knows me by name and delivers my mail to the door.

"Mediator: I am friendly with two of my neighbors, and they are also friendly with each other. At least that was the case until a conflict arose between them due to a porch light that one of them left on all night. This porch light bothered my other neighbor because it shined very brightly and directly towards her bedroom window, which forced her to keep her bedroom blinds closed all the time. I thought this might be an opportunity to practice my mediation skills and invited them both for tea. When they arrived, I told them that I wanted to practice mediation with them as a school assignment. First I asked the neighbor who left the light on to tell us why she does it. She said that she lives alone and she feels safer when she can see her front and back yards clearly at night. Then the other neighbor talked and explained that she likes to sleep with her bedroom window open, or at least a little bit cracked -- even in the middle of the winter. She said that she has slept that way for 80 years and that she feels suffocated if she cannot open her window. The bright light shining in was preventing her from opening the window. We discussed using a lower strength porch light. My neighbor agreed to use a 60-watt rather than a 100-watt bulb, but that was not going to be enough. Then I suggested installing a bulb socket that rotates/swivels so that the light could be made to shine in another direction than the bedroom. Both neighbors thought that this was a good idea, but the cost of having it installed was a problem. In the end, they decided to share the cost of the installation. We drank our teas with the satisfaction of resolution and rejuvenated friendship."

Nadia found great strategies for connecting, building bridges, negotiating, and solving problems while reducing conflict. Imaging how much better the world could be if our first instinct weren't often to criticize or to look for someone to blame during conflict, but to search for creative, meaningful, peaceful ways to resolve problems.

The next time you witness or experience conflict in your own life, look for creative ways to address the issues. And read Ury's book to gain insights into resolving conflict peacefully.

~ Marsha

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Claude and Medea: Mystery, Adventure and Youth Solutionaries

I’ve written six books. I don’t know if authors always have favorites among their books, but I do: Claude and Medea. I try not to shamelessly plug my books in my blog, but Claude and Medea – which won the Moonbeam gold medal for juvenile fiction last year – is languishing. Hardly anyone knows about it; it’s not in bookstores, and its sales are meager. This makes me sad, because when I wrote the first in what I hoped would be a series, I tried to create a great mystery and adventure that kids would love (they do!) and which would also inspire them to want to make a difference in the world.

In the first book, Claude and Medea: The Hellburn Dogs, the 7th grade protagonists solve the mystery of a rash of Manhattan dog thefts (I won’t tell you more, but there’s an evil vivisector, and intrigue and danger in the mix). I’m eager to write the next book, which will be about infiltrating a New York child slave operation in the garment district of Manhattan, but alas, the first needs to start selling better.

If you know of kids between 9-12, I hope you’ll consider sharing Claude and Medea with them. If you don’t want to purchase the book (you can buy it from Lantern Books, IHE,, and, among other places), the entire content can be read on the Lantern Books blog.

And if you like the book, please spread the word about it.


~ Zoe Weil

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"100 Heartbeats" Animal Conservation Special on MSNBC November 22

Occasionally, I learn about TV shows that really make me wish I owned a TV again, and "100 Heartbeats" is one of them. MSNBC is planning to air the two-hour special, focused on the plight and promise of endangered animals, on November 22 (8 pm EST).

The special is hosted by Jeff Corwin, who travels around the world -- to seven countries and four continents -- to highlight the devastating destruction and exploitation of endangered animals and their habitats, as well as to feature people and organizations working to protect these fragile animals. As Corwin says, every 20 minutes a species will go extinct, and 20,000 species will be lost this year alone (I'm assuming that's both plant and animal species.) You can see a preview clip and several brief clips from the show here (the brief clips are 1-2 minutes long, & you have to watch a short commercial first for some of them) and a brief interview with Jeff from MotherNatureNetwork.

Even if you don't have a TV, Jeff's experiences have been published in a 100 Heartbeats book, which is already available. I've already put a copy on hold at my local library.

~ Marsha

Thanks to Planetsave for the heads up.

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5 Tips for Teaching About American Indians

As a teacher or parent, you may love reading Native American folktales to your kids, or sharing your favorite books, like Little House on the Prairie or Brother Eagle, Sister Sky. It may be as normal to you as breathing to celebrate Columbus Day and Thanksgiving each year, and your child wants to dress up as “an Indian,” not out of any disrespect, but because she thinks they’re cool. But such inadvertent perpetuation of bias, misinformation and stereotypes can do a lot of harm.

All you have to do is glance at the media to know that racism, stereotypes and bias are alive and well in the U.S. And, while many ethnic groups endure these prejudices and indignities, there’s a special category of oppression for Native peoples of North America. This continent belonged to hundreds of nations before colonialists arrived and, bluntly, stole their lands, freedom, and often, lives from them. And, while there are derogatory terms used for most groups who are oppressed, American Indians are the only ones who still have mascots and sports teams named after them. Many people still dress up as an “Indian” for Halloween or other costumed-events. You’ll still find alphabet books in which “I” is for “Indian” – or that books about Native peoples tend to glom them all together into one mosaic of mishmashed culture. Children study Native peoples in school, but it’s usually a quick skimming through their past (“Each group will choose a tribe to research.”) or surrounding Columbus (who had a significant hand in the enslavement and genocide of Indians) and/or Thanksgiving.

Here are 5 tips to help increase your awareness and improve your teaching (or parenting) regarding the Indigenous peoples of North America:

  1. Do your homework. Before you begin teaching about Native peoples, research accurate, appropriate information and resources, so that you can be confident that what you’re sharing isn’t some dehumanized, romanticized or antiquated version of Native life and culture. There are numerous useful resources out there, many created and maintained by American Indians themselves. A couple of examples: the list of Native American websites by created Lisa Mitten, and the National Museum of the American Indian, which has online exhibitions, as well as resources for educators.

  2. Choose books, resources and materials that portray Native peoples accurately. There are a plethora of books, films and other materials that perpetuate negative and/or inaccurate stereotypes and biases about American Indians, and few that portray their lives, voices and cultures with accuracy. One important question to ask yourself is whether the work is from a Native writer or not. Some might think that Native American legends and folklore would be safe, but authors who “retell” these stories aren’t always careful, respectful, or cognizant of Native cultures. There are some good resources available to help you. For example, an article from School Library Journal offers an annotated list of books to choose from, and a longer list of suggested titles comes from the same author of the SLJ article, Debbie Reese, who is an Assistant Professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and who runs the blog American Indians in Children’s Literature (which is itself an excellent resource).

    I is for Inclusion: The Portrayal of Native Americans in Books for Young People,” (PDF) created by the American Indian Library Association, is another useful resource, which offers a brief overview of what to look for in books for young people, provides suggested resources, a few titles to avoid and several to look for.

    And, Oyate is a community-based Native organization that provides books, DVDs and other materials and resources about Native peoples.

  3. Watch out for stereotypes and biases. Films like Disney’s Pocahontas. Books like The Indian in the Cupboard. The Redskins. The Tomahawk chop. Halloween costumes. We’re surrounded by stereotypes about Native peoples. Many are less blatant than the above, and we in mainstream culture don’t even give them a second thought. But such biases are a detriment to the well-being of Native peoples and condone and nurture institutional racism on a large but largely unnoticed scale. Just one example: psychologists and justice advocates are supporting a group who is suing to end the Redskins NFL trademark because such perpetuated stereotypes have been shown to “depress the self-esteem and feelings of community worth and limit the aspirations of Native high school and college students.” Additionally, consider, when you’re teaching about whatever topic – science, history, literature, art – are American Indian voices and views represented? Remember that bias is also about who or what is not included. Look for resources such as “Erasing Native American Stereotypes” and the Unlearning Indian Stereotypes DVD from Rethinking Schools to help you with these challenges.

  4. Get out of the past. Many school children (and no few adults) think of Indians as something that existed in the past. When learning about Native peoples, it’s often from an historical perspective and not about their lives today. History is an important part of everyone’s culture, but so is the present. Look for resources and teaching ideas for exploring Native lives and cultures today. When people think about the atrocities perpetrated on American Indians, they also think of the past. But, Indians are still adversely affected by the choices of mainstream culture and government policies. But, avoid the mistake of portraying Native peoples as helpless victims. The hundreds of nations offer rich and varied lives, cultures, issues and leaders to explore.

  5. Dive deeper and broader into resources and issues. Much teaching about Native peoples centers around a cursory exploration as part of Columbus Day or Thanksgiving, or perhaps a “unit” exploring tribes as they lived in the past. Avoid these pitfalls, and look for richer, more meaningful teaching. But, if you are going to teach about Columbus, then use a resource such as Rethinking Schools’s book, Rethinking Columbus, which provides a broader and deeper exploration of the issues. If you are teaching about Thanksgiving, forego the standard “Indians and pilgrims” treatment and look to resources such as American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving and resources such as those suggested on Oyate and Debbie Reese’s blog. If you’re required to teach one of the books on the “biased” list, then pair that with an exploration of the stereotypes, biases and misrepresentations present in the book, and then choose an additional book that portrays Native peoples more accurately. And remember that American Indian children are one of many cultures and ethnicities potentially represented in your classroom. Have students learn more and share about their own cultures and traditions with their fellow students. Look at the common challenges they share. Celebrate changemakers and leaders from a variety of cultures, not just the traditional Western perspective.

    For additional ideas, check out resources such as:

    Debbie Reese’s essay “Teaching Young Children About Native Americans.”

    The article “The Voices of Power and the Power of Voices: Teaching with Native American Literature” (PDF) by Marlinda White-Kaulaity.
~ Marsha

Image courtesy of patrickmccully via Creative Commons.

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Is Mindful Choicemaking Burdensome or Liberating?

Some fear that if they look too closely at their choices and discover that those choices have harmful effects on other people, animals, and the environment, they will experience a number of negative emotions. They may worry they’ll feel overwhelmed, despondent, hopeless, conflicted, disempowered, and even bad about themselves if they continue to make choices they know cause suffering or harm. This is why people will sometimes tell me that they don’t want to know about the effects of a certain food or clothing brand or charity (see last blog post). Ignorance is bliss after all.

But ignorance only appears to be bliss. If the world becomes increasingly dangerous, polluted, hot, crowded, conflictual, unequal, susceptible to natural disasters, deforested, desertified, and dramatically loses biodiversity, the ignorant suffer just as much as the informed (and maybe more), as do their unprepared children and grandchildren.

But even though ignorance does not ultimately result in bliss, it can seem “safer” if we think we’ll avoid those potentially negative emotions mentioned above. But is this premise actually true? Is it true that those who expose themselves to knowledge and deeply inquire about the effects of their choices (including food, products, clothing, work, changemaking efforts, and participation in democracy) are less happy and more burdened than those who don’t?

I explore this question in my book Most Good, Least Harm, and from my profiles of people who consistently pursue knowledge to align their choices more deeply with their values, I find that the reverse is true. While these people may say that they occasionally feel overwhelmed, they also report that they feel more empowered and much happier to be living with integrity and creating a better future for themselves and others. In Daniel Goleman’s new book, Ecological Intelligence, he discovers the same thing. He quotes Raina Kelley, a journalist who became a freegan (someone who finds and consumes free and otherwise discarded foods and clothes and products to sustain themselves) as saying, “I really thought that being mindful of my impact on the Earth would drive me crazy but, in the end, it was the most valuable thing I did over the whole thirty days. The more you know about where your food, clothing, entertainment, and shelter comes from, the easier it is to make buying decisions in line with your conscience.” (p. 97)

Goleman’s book is a call for eco-transparency, because when we know, we all become empowered -- not just the consumer, but the producer as well. A new website,, is helping businesses choose suppliers that make more ecologically friendly and socially just choices. Since most of the things we produce have a huge supply chain attached to them, this is a critical component in creating more sustainable systems and products. Individuals who wish to know more and choose more consciously, can visit sites such as and

Knowledge allows us to align our choices more deeply with our values, and doing this feels both good and liberating. When we are true to values we are less susceptible to others’ directives, whether from society, peers, neighbors, advertisers, etc., and more wholly and fully ourselves.

~ Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, The Power and Promise of Humane Education and Above All, Be Kind

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Improve Your Advocacy Knowledge and Skills with HumaneSpot

Knowing about recent trends, acquiring accurate, credible information and honing skills are all important tools for effective humane educators. For those interested especially in animal and environmental protection issues, HumaneSpot is a useful resource. HumaneSpot, a project of the Humane Research Council, provides access to relevant and credible research, surveys, and other data, as well as information for becoming more effective advocates.

In order to get the most out of HumaneSpot, educators and activists can submit an application (free) that seeks to ensure that users of their research database are sincere about advocacy and animal/environmental protection. Approved applicants then have access to thousands of articles, surveys, studies and more, from a variety of sources.

Since I don't have a lot of time, I find their blog and regular e-news most helpful, as they summarize recent news and additions to the database, and I can pick and choose the ones most relevant to my needs and interests.

Connecting with people is an important part of creating a humane world, but so is being an informed and empowered educator. HumaneSpot offers information and resources to help you in offering accurate information about animal protection and environmental preservation issues, as well as in becoming a more-effective and compassionate advocate.

~ 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.

Quebec government contemplating banning food & paper waste from landfills - EcoWorldly (11/17/09)
“One of its key targets was to get 60% of the state’s waste food into composting by 2012 has had to be abandoned: the current figure is only 12% and the target just cannot be met. However, rather than just trying to fiddle with green taxes, the state government has gone straight for the jugular and announced plans to make it illegal to dump rubbish and food waste.”

Drug makers increasing drug pricesNew York Times (11/16/09)
“But this year’s price increases would effectively cancel out the savings from at least the first year of the Senate Finance agreement. And some critics say the surge in drug prices could change the dynamics of the entire 10-year deal. ‘It makes it much easier for the drug companies to pony up the $80 billion because they’ll be making more money,’ said Steven D. Findlay, senior health care analyst with the advocacy group Consumers Union.”

Boat of recycled plastic set to launchUSA Today (11/16/09)
"’Our project is a catalyst for a global conversation,’ he says. ‘People hear it's a kid from a wealthy European family with a beard who's an environmentalist (and think), 'Surely this must be a stunt.' But I'm not afraid of drawing fire. Our culture has slowly disassociated itself from nature. But that's a model that has failed us. We must rethink it.’"

“Kids aware of racism by age 9, study finds”Vancouver Sun (11/13/09)
“What’s more, the researchers found that once children understand racism, it affects their achievement. When black and Latino children were given a memory task and told it would measure their abilities, they did more poorly on it than others who were told it was simply a problem-solving exercise, which McKown says is the result of fear that they would live down to stereotypes about the lesser academic abilities of their race."
Thanks, Justice: The People’s News, for the heads up.

Study says investing in natural world now will save trillions in the futureCommon Dreams (11/13/09)
"’Recognising and rewarding the value delivered to society by the natural environment must become a policy priority,’ said Pavan Sukhdev, who headed The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) paper released in Brussels….An annual investment of some 45 billion dollars in expanding protected areas -- on land and at sea -- would secure benefits of the order of four or five trillion dollars per year over a period of decades, said Sukhdev.”

Students work together to bring awareness to child abuse - Wicked Local Amesbury (11/12/09)
“’Think Globally, Act Locally,’ is our theme,’ ASL Principal Donna Georges said, ‘and we have concentrated on two areas: environmental protection and child abuse prevention. The billboard project is devoted to the child abuse prevention component. Everybody participated in the research and the artwork for the billboard.’”

Organized crime sparking increase in illegal ivory trade - (11/12/09)
“The ETIS data shows that the surge in 2009 is the result of, "increased involvement of organized crime syndicates in the trade, connecting African source countries with Asian end-use markets.' Over the past decade these crime syndicates have only grown stronger.”

E-cycling under scrutiny - Truthdig (11/10/09)
“’We may think we are doing the right thing by giving our old electronics to a recycler or a free collection event,’ says Sarah Westerville, BAN’s e-Stewardship program director. ‘But many of those businesses calling themselves recyclers are little more than international waste distributors. They take your electronic items for free, or pocket your recycling fee, and then simply load them onto a sea-going container, and ship them to China, India or Nigeria.’”
Thanks, Good Human, for the heads up.

Kiva, other sites, confusing in where money actually goes - New York Times (11/9/09)
“’There’s a whole new generation of socially connected nonprofits that use the Internet to make the illusion of person-to-person contact much more believable,’ said Timothy Ogden, editor in chief of Philanthropy Action, an online journal for donors. ‘The problem is that they are no more connecting donors to people than the child sponsorship organizations of the past did.’”

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Making Compassion the Center of Our Lives

What if every thought, word and act, from every person on earth, arose from compassion? How might that change the world? How might that change us?

2008 TED winner and religious scholar Karen Armstrong believes that compassion should be the center of "religious, moral and political life." As part of her TED prize "wish" she has established the Charter for Compassion. As the Charter website says:
"Compassion is the principled determination to put ourselves in the shoes of the other, and lies at the heart of all religious and ethical systems. One of the most urgent tasks of our generation is to build a global community where men and women of all races, nations and ideologies can live together in peace. In our globalized world, everybody has become our neighbor, and the Golden Rule has become an urgent necessity."
The Charter website not only asks citizens of the earth to sign and affirm the charter, but it offers ways for those interested in a more compassionate world to connect, to share, and to act -- such as participating in special events or online actions, or sharing and reading acts of compassion.

Here is the text for the Charter for Compassion:

"The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

"It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

"We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

"We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible [sic] to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community."

If you want a truly compassionate, just, sustainable world for all, start by affirming the charter, and then strive to make your every thought, word and action flow from a center of compassion for all people, animals and the earth. Such a world is possible; we just have to make it so.

~ Marsha

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Before You Support Causes, Even Good Ones...

Last weekend I participated in a breast cancer walk-a-thon. What I appreciated so much about this particular walk-a-thon was the choice of charities to which we could contribute. For years I’ve been asked to support breast cancer walks, and I always ask what organization the money is going to. Often it’s an organization that supports animal experimentation, and I choose not to donate to these, not only because I have ethical concerns about such research, but also because I don’t think it’s the best way to confront the epidemic of breast cancer. I would rather see money go towards prevention, ethical human studies, and direct help to breast cancer patients.

When I walked last weekend, I chose to have my sponsor dollars go directly to financial help (in the form of gas cards and such) to poor women in my state with breast cancer. I was delighted to be able to help in this way.

Most of us want to help others, and we are eager to join causes, especially when it’s easy to do so. If we can buy one product that contributes a portion of profits to a cause like breast cancer, many of us are inclined to choose such a product. But is this always the MOGO choice?

Here’s a sobering blog post to consider that discusses the carcinogenicity of cosmetics whose parent companies promise a portion of profits from sales for breast cancer, a disease their products may actually contribute to. Take a look and consider researching this important question (and its validity) for yourself.

When giving, as with everything else, it’s so important to make our help as aligned with our values as possible. In this way, we truly reap the joy that comes in service and ensure that we contribute as meaningfully and fully as possible.

~ Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, The Power and Promise of Humane Education and Above All, Be Kind

Image courtesy of dbkfrog (Doug) via Creative Commons.

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Humane Educator's Toolbox: Unlearning Indian Stereotypes

Unlearning Indian Stereotypes by Council on Interracial Books for Children. Enhanced by Rethinking Schools. 2008.

“…books and movies tell lies about Native people.”

A group of children from several different Indian nations talks about their experiences as American Indians and expresses their anger, sadness and frustration about the stereotypes and misperceptions that abound regarding their cultures and traditions. Unlearning Indian Stereotypes is a DVD that has taken a filmstrip first created by the Council on Interracial Books for Children in 1977 and digitized it, updating some of the images (such as maps). The DVD now features a 12-minute slideshow in which the children talk about common stereotypes regarding Native dress, housing and other aspects of their culture – especially those found in children’s books. We also gain insight into Native history through the eyes of these children, including as they discuss issues such as the many treaties that have been broken and mention why they don’t celebrate observances such as Thanksgiving or Columbus Day.

In addition to the slideshow, the DVD offers a complete transcript, sample articles about teaching American Indian issues and literature in the classroom, and other suggested resources. It has also separated out the images from the slideshow into separate files for classroom use.

Since most of the images are from 1977, they feel a bit outdated, and there are a couple minor visual flaws (such as one child having a second set of eyes in one frame), but the real strength of this piece is in hearing the powerful voices of Native children themselves telling us how they feel about the stereotypes and bias they’re exposed to today, as well as the history of what has happened to their peoples.

While this is an important and relevant tool for teaching students of all ages about racism and the history of indigenous peoples of the U.S. – and for helping students think critically -- it’s disheartening that something more recent hasn’t been created to supersede this important work. Still, Rethinking Schools has provided an essential teaching tool useful for anyone interested in helping create a just world.

~ Marsha

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Mushrooms, Monsters, Gay Marriage & MOGO: Fear of New Things

A couple of summers ago a large mushroom grew on the path to the ocean by our house. My dog Ruby and I walk this path frequently, but she’s often prancing through the woods and not necessarily paying attention to everything on the actual path. On the particular day that this story takes place, the mushroom had grown rather enormous. Ruby was trotting along in front of me on our way back from the ocean when she saw it.

The monster.

She stopped dead in her tracks. Her fur stood on end and she crouched down. She barked at the mushroom. She shuffled backwards. She barked some more. She became paralyzed. Holding back my laughter, I urged her to come along beside me, but she wouldn’t budge. She was terrified. After more urging, she inched forward, sniffed the air, but then quickly retreated and ran a circuitous route to avoid the path.

Ah, Ruby. She doesn’t much like new things appearing on her path.

How many of us do?

Last week I wrote on my blog about the sad defeat of marriage equality in my state of Maine. Most people don’t seem to like new things in their path, and gay marriage is still too new for many. It’s scary. It seems huge and dangerous like the mushroom in Ruby’s path. I was quite dejected when I wrote last week’s post, but I feel a little buoyed by some statistics I’ve read since last Wednesday. At the University of Maine, a state school whose student body is comprised primarily of Mainers, the vote was overwhelmingly (more than 80%) in favor of gay marriage rights and against repealing the marriage equality law passed by Maine’s legislature earlier this year. For young people, gay marriage isn’t so scary. It isn’t so new. They have gay friends who, unlike previous generations, admit their sexual orientation. They have friends whose parents are the same gender. They’re just not afraid of two same-gender people making a life commitment to one another and having the same rights as heterosexuals. It’s no big deal. It’s fair and right.

I bet that if we had big mushrooms sprouting up on the path every day, Ruby wouldn’t be phased by them. She’d lose her fear. So, too, we lose our fear when we grow accustomed to things in our path.

The challenge is to hold our fear at bay when we confront what’s new; to keep our eyes and ears open and receptive to new ideas; to seek to understand and make determinations based on a commitment to do the most good and the least harm. Then perhaps we won’t bark so insistently, nor cower in the face of the unknown, but respond bravely and wisely instead.

~ Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and Above All, Be Kind

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Humane Education in Action: Cultivating Compassionate Children

Samantha Gentrup learned early in her business career that she wanted to contribute more to the world. Volunteering led to her decision to become a classroom teacher, where she worked with students to incorporate real world issues into lessons. The great response of her students led her to create a humane education course at her school, and then on to a career in humane education. Read our interview with Samantha.

Quick Facts:

Current hometown: Chicago, Illinois
IHE fan since: February 2008
Current job: Humane Education Teacher
Your hero: My grandparents
Book/movie that changed your life: The Velveteen Rabbit (when I was a kid), Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl (as an adult).
Guilty pleasure: Sleeping
Inspired by: Anyone who is willing to stand up for what they believe in.
Love about yourself: My passion and idealistic nature.
One of your strengths: I am determined and do what I say I’m going to do.

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

SG: Long story….my undergrad degree is in business and communication and an IT internship turned into a full-time position after graduating in 1999. As a software trainer, I enjoyed the nature of my work, the challenge, the travel, and the financial rewards, but something was missing. I started volunteering in my free time – reading to residents at a nursing home, and tutoring at-risk children. I thought this would be a way for me to give back, to help make the world a better place. It wasn’t enough, so I began researching alternate career paths. After exploring social work, school counseling, and teaching, I settled on becoming a teacher and enrolled in a graduate program and began teaching full time. I was teaching special education and reading/writing. In my classes, I incorporated real-world topics and lessons focusing on human rights, poverty, animal welfare, companion animals, climate change, recycling, etc., and called it my “compassion curriculum.” My students really responded (at-risk students, 91% poverty rate in our district at the time), and kept asking for more. Beyond the lessons, they began volunteering with me, and even started a humane teen club after volunteering at our local animal shelter. They made care packages for soldiers serving in Iraq, cards for residents at nursing homes, and read to younger students at the elementary schools in our district. One day in February 2008, I was teaching a lesson about service animals, and I was using an article from Best Friends magazine. I needed more information for the lesson, so I visited the Best Friends Animal Society website. While on their site, I came across the words “humane education,” and after reading about humane education, I realized that my compassion curriculum, and what I had been teaching my students, was actually called “humane education.” This led me to IHE, and another organization in New York City called HEART (Humane Education Advocates Reaching Teachers). As a result, I met with my principal and proposed that we offer a humane education class. The school approved the class unanimously, and during the 2008-2009 school year, more than 450 students took the 6-week course. After on-going communication with HEART in NYC, I decided to expand my reach and join HEART to help them gain momentum in Chicago. I am currently a humane education teacher in Chicago for HEART.

IHE: Tell us about your work with HEART. What are your challenges? Successes?

SG: As a humane education teacher for HEART, I teach humane education lessons in Chicago public schools. I am currently teaching in four different schools, reaching more than 440 students in grades 4-8. The lessons are interdisciplinary and tie directly to reading, writing, science, math, and social studies core content. The curriculum that I am using is a 10-lesson program that covers topics within the social justice realm, animal welfare, and environmental ethics. Each lesson also includes extension activities for the classroom teacher to use, as well as modifications and accommodations for students with special needs within a collaborative learning environment.

The challenges to this point have been having enough resources to reach the schools that are requesting our program. There has been an overwhelmingly positive response to the HEART humane education program here in Chicago, and teachers, as well as administrators, are continuously asking for our program. Another challenge that I’ve found involves networking and unifying the efforts of organizations. There are numerous non-profits in the area that are dedicated to making the world a better place and are seeking to empower young people, and I would love to find a way to unite these organizations so that if a school wants to focus on social justice issues, I can connect the school with the appropriate organization, and if the school wants to focus on companion animal issues, I can connect the school with the local shelter, or humane group. As a teacher, I can see the connections between everyday issues and learning opportunities in the classroom. I want to put this ability to good use to further advance the humane education movement and introduce humane education to as many students, teachers, and administrators as possible.

IHE: In order to get your Empowering Urban Youth class approved, you had to create a proposal and submit it to a team of teachers to approve. Can you talk about that process?

Samantha leading a humane education class with kids.SG: I mentioned that briefly above as I was explaining how I became introduced to humane education, but to add to that I would mention that when I talked to my principal in Covington, Kentucky, about HEART and the concept of humane education and the opportunity to teach humane education in New York City, he asked me if I could do that there, in Covington, at Two Rivers Middle School. I said that I would love to, that I didn’t know of a school that was doing something like that. He asked me to put together a proposal for the school’s Site Based Decision Making team for the following Wednesday (he and I met on Friday). I went to my reading class and told my students about the conversation with the principal. I told them that I would be presenting to the SBDM team at school and I asked them how they felt about it. My students were very excited at the possibility of having a humane education class as its own class, and they wanted to help me with the proposal. We put together a PowerPoint presentation, and four students and I presented to the SBDM team. The following morning, I learned from my principal that the humane education class had been approved unanimously.

At that point, I began creating the lessons for the 6-week humane education course, and began writing the curriculum map and class syllabus.

IHE: Any tips for other teachers who might want to start their own humane education class?

SG: Yes, start by integrating humane education lessons in their classes. Have students create writing pieces, write and perform plays, create marketing materials, etc., as part of the lessons and showcase this student work. Get students excited about the topics and about the possibility of being a part of changing the world. Seek out volunteer opportunities, or create volunteer opportunities for the students. Start small, with small, quick projects so that the students can feel successful, and constantly showcase these projects to the school, staff, administrators, parents, and community. As the momentum builds, the students will want more, and this could lead to an after-school club, and maybe even a class. The students are the most powerful voice, and any class proposal should involve them.

IHE: What are some of the curriculum materials that you chose to use for your course (books, websites, films, teaching ideas, etc.)?

SG: Here are some:
1. The Emotional Lives of Farm Animals (video)
2. Lost Futures: The Problem of Child Labor (video)
3. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson (book)
4. Best Friends magazine articles
5. The Meatrix (online video)
6. Recycle City (website)
7. A hula-hoop to represent the Circle of Compassion
8. Compassion in World Farming (video and handouts)
9. Share the World (video)
10. Their Future is in Your Hands (video)
11. HSUS (website)
12. Picture books depicting children that are part of child labor
13. Ready, Set, Green by Graham Hill & Meaghan O'Neill (book - for daily factoids)
14. Thanking the Monkey by Karen Dawn (book - for my own background knowledge)
15. The Everything Kids Environment Book by Sheri Amsel (book)
16. The Power and Promise of Humane Education by Zoe Weil (book)
17. Just Choices, Exploring Social Justice Today (video and materials)
18. (website)
19. United Streaming videos (a paid service from Discovery Education)
20. NRDC Green Squad (website)
21. Sustainable Table (website)
22. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (book)

IHE: You’ve mentioned that you’ve never had any “formal” humane education training. What have been the strengths and challenges of that? Have you found it to be a help or hindrance?

SG: Since I’ve been integrating humane education concepts long before I knew it was called “humane education,” it’s hard to say whether my lack of formal training is a help or a hindrance. I’m a very thorough person, and as most teachers do, I never really “leave” my job. This means that I’m always learning, and anytime I see something that’s interesting or that makes me stop and think, in my mind, I create a lesson for it, and then sometimes I actually take that mental lesson and turn it into a lesson to teach in the classroom. To do so, I do quite a bit of background research and as part of this background research, I read quite a bit of literature on various humane education concepts, as well as read magazine articles, publications, explore websites, and watch videos. So, I think I was getting the humane education training, but at my own pace, using anything I could get my hands on.

I feel comfortable with the topics that I am teaching as a humane education teacher, but I would like to take a formal class or at least be in a learning environment where I am working with other humane education teachers/students.

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

SG: I am dedicating my career to the advancement of humane education. I believe that all students should be exposed to these lessons and to this curriculum, as well as given the opportunity to explore further in the form of service learning and community outreach. I believe in the notion that awareness + action = change. As students become aware of these real-world, global issues and their connection with the issues, they feel empowered to act, and this leads to positive change. Humane education ties to all content areas, and can be integrated into any classroom, and is a core element of interdisciplinary units of study. Humane education is real-world learning. It’s now, it has an impact, and the students feel it, and as they learn, they realize their own individual potential for making the world a better place. I have personally witnessed the empowerment that results from these lessons and the corresponding service learning and community outreach. To see an inner-city student jumping for joy and shouting “We won, we won!” after a long day of holding signs on behalf of our local animal shelter on election day to urge voters to pass a levy to build a new shelter, and learning that the issue passed 55% to 45%, is a moment that all teachers can live for. I will never forget that day, when 10 of my inner-city sixth graders stood in the rain on their day off, to ask voters to approve a levy for the shelter -- a shelter my students had been volunteering at for six months -- and that levy passed. I was greeted at 7 a.m. the next morning at school with shouts of “We won, we won!”, and to see the hope and excitement in my students’ eyes as they realized that they personally had an impact on that levy, and that because of them, the homeless dogs and cats at the shelter would one day have a nice place to live, is why I believe wholeheartedly in humane education.

IHE: Any future plans, dreams or projects?

SG: I don’t know, maybe open as many humane education organizations as I can in cities around the country, open a charter school founded on humane education, work with state departments of education to incorporate humane education curriculum into core content classes, work with local universities to incorporate humane education training into teacher preparation programs, and anything else I can think of to introduce humane education to as many students, teachers, administrators, and parents as I can.

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Just a Little Nudge? There is No Compassion Through Coercion

What if we had the power to change people? What if we could compel them to act humanely? Would we use that power? Should we?

In some of my wild fantasies as humane educator, I dream of creating a huge Humane World Empire; I’ve joked with my husband and friends that the motto of this organization would be “compassion through coercion.”

The more we learn about all the suffering and injustice and destruction in the world, the more we want it to stop. Right now. And the more our desire can grow to hurry people up on their own journeys to a more humane lifestyle. It can become so easy to want to give people a little nudge onto the “right path.” To “help” them change their minds through sheer force of one’s own mental will, almost like a no-touch Vulcan mind meld. It’s appealing to wish for that divine touch – one little “doink” on their shoulder, and they see what you see; feel what you feel; believe what you believe. And the world becomes a better place….

There’s something really alluring about wanting to try on that cloak of power over others: you know in your heart that, unlike others, you wouldn’t succumb to the temptation to manipulate others—you know that your convictions are true and pure and for the betterment of the world.

But, Hitler thought his beliefs were for the betterment of the world. Slave owners and colonialists thought that they were doing the “poor savages” a favor by civilizing them and teaching them the value of hard work. Some of our government officials have the strongest of convictions that they are personally doing God’s will in ridding the world of terror and trees and trade restrictions. Though I might have the best of intentions in compelling everyone to act humanely – who could disagree with a world full of humane people? – my own view of right and wrong, good and evil, as manifested in the actions of others, might translate into destruction and violence.

Though the goal may seem good, trying to compel others to live humanely won’t work. One of humanity’s most treasured gifts is our power of choice and free will – to take that away would make us less. Additionally, though it seems like it would be nice to be able to blink my eyes or click my heels and have everyone immediately begin to make humane choices, we can’t create a humane world by forcing people to comply with something they haven’t freely chosen. We have daily evidence that compelled obedience doesn’t work: murder, rape, pollution, discrimination, child abuse, slave labor, drug use, corruption, speeding in a school zone – we have laws in the U.S. that prohibit all of these, yet they are still daily occurrences. If we ask everyone whether these behaviors are wrong, most people will say yes; that hasn’t stopped people from committing these acts anyway. Yet, for every act of violence or evil, there are many of us who have consciously made different choices. And that number is steadily growing.

Creating a humane world can only happen by increasing the number of people who choose to live humanely of their own free will. And that can only happen by our choice as humane educators to compassionately and joyfully inspire and educate others about humane issues, make them aware of the positive choices available…and then let them choose their own paths for themselves.

~ Marsha

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Kindle Versus Paper Books: A MOGO Choice

Last month I bought a Kindle. I decided to get a Kindle for several reasons, and below you’ll find the pertinent information that led to my decision:

1) I read about 100 books every year – most are from the library, but often the books I want to read aren’t at my library, and I have to order them through interlibrary loan. I can order up to five at a time, and when they arrive I usually only have two weeks before I have to return them. When five arrive, I feel under the gun to read them all quickly.
2) I buy books I want to refer to or reread, but it’s often difficult to know which books these will be unless I have an awfully long time in a bookstore to read a lengthy portion. And I can’t peruse them enough on to make a determination.
3) I also buy books in airports rather than bring a heavy library book on my trips that I’ll have to return home with. Since I fly a lot for work, this means I frequently buy paperbacks I’ll never reread just to have something for the journey.

I reasoned that a Kindle would be a great tool to have for several reasons:

1) I wouldn’t have to order so many books through interlibrary loan.
2) I could get samples of any Kindle book and determine whether I wanted to buy the book at my leisure.
3) I could save so much paper (forests), fuel for book transportation, and prevent toxic inks from entering the waste stream and dioxins used in paper bleaching from contaminating rivers.

In other words, I determined that a Kindle would be a MOGO choice. On the whole, it would do the most good and least harm to me, other people, animals, and the environment.

Then my husband and I got into a debate. He pointed out that I really didn’t know the product lifecycle for a Kindle, the toxins inside it, the costs to people, animals, and the environment from mining the component ores, the recycling protocol, the lifespan for an average Kindle, and the effects on booksellers, libraries, and community bookstores. How many paper books, for example, would it take to offset all the costs involved in a Kindle? Although I felt pretty confident a Kindle was MOGO, how did I really know?

Well it turns out someone has done some of this analysis. The Cleantech Group researched a few of these questions and concluded that E-readers are greener in terms of carbon emissions than paper books. You can read a synopsis of their analysis.

I’m relieved to know that what I thought was a MOGO choice turns out to be one, at least in terms of carbon emissions.

I really love my Kindle.

And three of my books are available on it, which makes me happy, too.

Good reading,

Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and Above All, Be Kind (both available on via Kindle)

Image courtesy of goXunuReviews via Creative Commons.

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