MOGO Hero: Lynn Henning

I’m going to start a new theme in my blog posts – MOGO Hero. Periodically, I’ll highlight a modern-day, ordinary hero whose efforts do the most good (MOGO). Today, I’m beginning with Lynn Henning, a Michigan woman who just won the 2010 Goldman Environmental Prize for North America for her work to fight CAFOs in her region.

Take a look at this short video:

Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life and Above All, Be Kind

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Child Changemaker: Adora Svitak

An avid writer and speaker, young Adora Svitak speaks around the U.S. as "an advocate for literacy." Recently she spoke at a TED conference about the need for adults to develop a more reciprocal relationship with youth and to pay attention to what adults can learn from children.

Check out her TED talk (about 8 minutes):

~ Marsha

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Two Wolves, Two Pictures: Which Do you Feed?

Note: I'm short on blogging time this week, so this is a repost of a popular post from 2/4/09.

There’s an old story usually attributed as a Cherokee legend. I haven’t been able to determine its origin, and it has been shared and changed countless times, but I still think it has great value. This particular version comes from Zoe Weil’s book, Most Good, Least Harm:

“There is an old Cherokee story about a grandfather who is teaching his grandson about life. He says to his grandson, ‘A fight is going on inside me. It is a terrible fight between two wolves. One is evil; he is anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, and superiority. The other is good; he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, generosity, and compassion. This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too.’

The grandson thinks about this for a minute and then asks his grandfather, ‘Which wolf will win?’

The old Cherokee simply replies, ‘The one we feed.’”

Likewise, there’s an activity that a graduate of IHE, Kimberly Korona, created, and which I use when I give presentations on compassionate activism. The gist of the activity, called Human Picture, is to have two sets of words describing emotions written on pieces of paper. The first set have words like hatred, anger, despair, hopelessness, fear, and self-righteousness. The second set have words like loving, compassionate, joyful, hopeful, empowered, and understanding.

For the activity, I have volunteers take one of the first sets of words, go up to the front and strike a pose, becoming a frozen statue that reflects the emotion of that word. When everyone in the first set is posed, they form a human picture of anger, despair, hatred, etc. I then have a second set of volunteers do the same thing — this time with the other set of words, so that they end up forming a human picture of hope, joy, compassion, etc.

I ask the audience to give their reaction to each picture and to talk about how they felt about each one. Obviously, everyone prefers the second human picture. I tell everyone that the point of the activity is to help us remember that what we feel on the inside reflects on the outside. So, if we’re full of hatred and anger and despair and fear and hopelessness, that will reflect in our lives and our choices….just as in the Cherokee story, the wolf that we feed will be the wolf that wins.

In a world so full of violence, destruction, suffering, and cruelty, it’s so easy to wrap ourselves in a bubble of those same kinds of emotions. It’s hard to be patient with those making choices that harm others. It’s challenging to feel compassion instead of to judge. It’s excruciating sometimes, to feel love instead of anger and hatred. But, if we truly want a compassionate, joyful, just, sustainable world, then we must live that human picture and feed that wolf.

~ Marsha

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Merit Pay for Great Teachers - Good or Bad Idea?

I subscribe to Dan Pink’s newsletter. Dan is the author of the excellent book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, and in his newsletter he sometimes responds to one of the myriad questions he receives about how to apply Drive to different realms of life. In his most recent newsletter he responds to the following question, one that is very pertinent to those of us who are trying to transform schooling. I found his response both thought-provoking and important, and I wanted to share it with readers of my blog.

Q: Dan, there's been a lot of talk lately about "merit pay" for schoolteachers - that is, tying teacher salaries to student performance, especially on standardized tests. What do you think of this approach?

A: A few years ago, I thought this was a great idea. Incentivize teachers and then pay the outstanding ones more? What could be wrong with that? It's logical, straightforward, and fair. However, after looking at 50 years of research on human motivation for DRIVE, I've changed my mind. I think that this approach, despite is surface appeal, has more flaws than strengths - and that there's a simpler, more effective alternative.

Here's my reasoning:

For starters, most proposals for "merit pay" (sorry, I can't use the term without quotation marks) tie teacher compensation to student scores on standardized tests. That's a disaster. It focuses teachers almost single-mindedly on training their students to pencil in correct answers on multiple choice tests - and turns classrooms into test prep academies. (What's more, it can encourage cheating, as Georgia's experience shows.) So let's knock out this approach to merit pay.

A second option is for school principals to decide who gets performance bonuses. Again, there's a certain theoretical appeal to this method. But I've yet to meet a teacher who considers it fair, let alone motivating. Teachers worry that principals don't have sufficient information to make such decisions and that "merit pay" would be based too heavily on who's best at playing politics and currying favor. So let's kibosh this method, too.

A third approach is to use a variety metrics to determine who gets a bonus. You could measure teacher performance using: standardized scores for that teacher's students; evaluations of the teacher's peers, students, parents, and principal; a teacher's contribution to overall school performance; time devoted to professional development; how much the teachers' students improved over the previous year; and so on. This isn't necessarily a bad idea. But it has a huge downside: It would force resource-strapped schools to spend enormous amounts of time, talent, and brainpower measuring teachers rather than educating students. Schools have enough to do already. And the costs of establishing and maintaining elaborate measurement systems would likely outweigh the benefits.

In short, I can't see a way to construct a merit pay scheme that is both simple and fair. What's more, it strikes me as slightly delusional to think that people who've intentionally chosen to pursue a career for public-spirited, rather than economic, reasons will suddenly work harder because they're offered a few hundred extra dollars. Truth be told, most teachers work pretty damn hard already.

Fortunately, I think there's an easier and more elegant solution - one that's also supported by the science of human motivation.

First, we should raise the base pay of teachers. Too many talented people opt out of this career because they're concerned about supporting their families. For prospective teachers, raising base salaries would remove an obstacle to entering the profession. For existing teachers, it's a way to recognize the importance of their jobs without resorting to behavior-distorting carrots and sticks. The science reveals a paradox about money and motivation: In most cases, the best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table. Raising base salaries would help take the issue of money off the table. Instead of fretting about paying their bills on an insufficient salary or scheming to get a small bonus, teachers could focus on the work they love.

At the same time, we have to make it easier to get rid of bad teachers. Teaching, like any profession, has its share of duds. Showing these folks the door, which now is quite difficult, is the right thing to do. It's better for students, of course. But it's also better for the teachers who remain. Just as it's very motivating to have great colleagues, it's incredibly de-motivating to have lazy or incompetent ones.

So . . . if I could wave a magic wand, I'd dispense with elaborate and complicated "merit pay" schemes for teachers. Instead, I'd raise teachers' base pay and make it easier to get rid of bad teachers. That solution is simpler, fairer, and much more consistent with what truly motivates high performance.

For more information about Dan Pink and his work, visit:

What are your thoughts on merit pay for good teachers? Please share them!

Zoe Weil
Author of The Power and Promise of Humane Education and Most Good, Least Harm

Image courtesy of JMRosenfeld via Creative Commons.

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WebSpotlight: DIY Guides

The DIY (do it yourself) movement has awakened from its decades-long hibernation and, thanks to economics, more concern about the environment and peak whatever, and a resurrection of interest in acquiring more skills, it is growing in communities almost everywhere.

There are plenty of more traditional DIY sites that focus on typical home repair and renovation, but here are a couple that can help you become more handy with repairs and stretch your creativity.

ifixit is the "free repair manual you can edit," aiming to be a one-stop shop for helping you diagnose what's wrong with your item, get expert tips if you need them, and repair it yourself. You can even buy parts for certain items from the site (which is how they're funding their work). Just in its natal stages, the site only has a few guides so far. The site encourages contributions from those who are handy at answering techy repair questions or who want to submit their own repair guide (or edit someone else's). One of the motivations behind the site (besides wanting to encourage people to do more for themselves) is to decrease the amount of e-waste that ends up in incinerators and landfills.

Instructables is a DIY site that allows people to submit, rate, comment on, and use others' instructions for building, making, crafting, creating, repairing and hacking all sorts of projects and products. From making your own rainbarrel to crocheting a squid hat (yes, you read that right), to finding ways to upcycle your junk, the site has good and bad suggestions and directions. Some include video as well as instructions and photos.

~ 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.

"People's conference" calls for systemic changes to global warming action (via Grist) (4/25/10)

U.S. reexamines opposition to UN declaration for indigenous rights (via Alternet) (4/24/10)

Students take on plastics problem (via AZ Central) (4/23/10)

New book confirms "fish feel pain" (via Psychology Today) (4/23/10)

"The problem with factory farms" - interview w/ Animal Factories author (via Time) (4/23/10)

Americans still eating food laced with chemicals banned "decades ago" (via Alternet) (4/22/10)

More schools urging parents to leave kids in school for "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day" (via AP) (4/22/10)

Some U.S. states moving to legalize horse slaughter for human consumption (via Audubon) (4/21/10)

Supreme Court rules against ban on depictions of animal cruelty (via Christian Science Monitor) (4/20/10)

"How not to raise a bully: the early roots of empathy" (via Time) (4/17/10)

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"Your Tax Dollars at Work": Exploring the Federal Budget

With the economy hiding out underground like a cranky groundhog, and a majority of Americans worried about their paychecks (or lack thereof), most people are firmly focused on their own pocketbooks. Even when people aren't obsessing about the R word (recession), few pay much attention to the national piggy bank – unless what happens there affects them in a direct and tangible way.

Understanding how more than 3 trillion dollars is spent can cause most anyone a bit of brain paralysis. And, even though we have little direct control over how current budgets are spent, our tax dollars still serve as “votes” for the kind of world we want. So, understanding how those “votes” are distributed is an important step in creating a more humane world. And, if we don’t like how our local, state and national governments are voting on our behalf, then we can take positive action.

Here are a couple tools that might help you (or your students) make some sense of where our federal tax dollars go, and that can spark discussion about whether or not those dollars are being spent to do the most good and least harm:

The National Priorities Project is a “research organization that analyzes and clarifies federal data so that people can understand and influence how their tax dollars are spent.” Graphic tools include an Income Tax Chart that shows how your federal taxes were spent in the last year; a “cost of war” counter; and, a database that shows how much money is spent on certain defense programs, and what that money might cover instead (such as health insurance, education, affordable housing, etc.). For example, in Oregon, where I live, taxpayers will pay $142.3 million for nuclear weapons in FY2010 (projected). For that same amount of money, we could provide 28,952 people with health care for one year, or 133,768 homes with renewable electricity for one year, or 881 affordable housing units, etc. The site also provides quick reports by state on poverty, energy and hunger.

If you want a really graphic look at how the U.S. federal discretionary budget divides up tax dollars, check out Death and Taxes, a “large representational graph and post of the federal budget.” The graph “contains over 500 programs and departments and almost every program that receives over $200 million dollars annually.” It’s a fascinating and visceral snapshot of how our money is divided. This poster includes the 2011 (proposed) federal budget, and lists the percentages by which particular budgets have been increased or decreased. You can browse online (click on the poster to zoom in – give it a few seconds to focus – and then click and drag around the poster), or buy a copy.

Imagine having students develop their own federal budget, or lobby to reallocate funds from one category to another. What if students did research to find out more about how the money in certain categories is actually spent, and what spending that money means in "real life" terms? What if students were challenged to create a balanced budget and reduce/eliminate the giant deficit. Who would be helped and who harmed? There is no shortage of great opportunities to explore important and complex issues using the two tools suggested above.

~ Marsha

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Moving Forward Toward a Sustainable World

Among some environmentalists, there is a strong anti-civilization movement and the belief that the only hope for a sustainable world entails a return to a veritable Stone Age, a time when humans had neither the capacity, the desire, nor the wherewithal to create havoc within ecosystems, cause the extinction of myriad species, and utterly despoil our environment.

Whenever I have seen or heard this position put forth as a viable solution to the situation in which we find ourselves in the 21st century, I’ve thought it both ludicrous and misanthropic: ludicrous because it simply will not happen that billions of people will willingly return to a pre-technological era, and misanthropic because such a return would necessitate the death of much of humanity.

But until I read the current issue of The Sun magazine and the interview with “environmental optimist” and founder of, Alex Steffen, I’d never seen a critique of such a position so well articulated. Steffen argues that the return to a Stone Age way of life would cause catastrophic human suffering, saying:
“We know that way of life can’t support a population in the billions, so trying to go back to it would require the death of most of the world’s people. Beyond that, I think it’s obvious that nature is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Humanity, Inc. We have the capacity to take it down with us if we choose, and people are put into desperate situations will do just that. There’s this sort of college-town anarchist idea that if we let it all fall apart, out of the ruins will come something clean and noncommercial and egalitarian and more in touch with nature, but that’s just crazy. Hungry people don’t think about the future. As my colleague Allan AtKisson says, a world of starving people will be a world without panda bears, dolphins, or rain forests. By the time we got back to the Stone Age, we wouldn’t have the same world we had during the Stone Age. We can’t go back; there’s no ‘back’ to go back to.”
Steffen insists that it’s equally deluded to believe that technology will “magically find a way to let us continue living wasteful, suburban lives based on throwaway consumption.” To me, this means we need to find a way to move forward, and that will happen when we don’t romanticize the past as a perfect template for a viable future and we don’t cling to the present as an ideal to spread across the globe, but rather begin to envision a world in which we are all able to live joyful, healthy, meaningful lives which meet our physical and emotional needs peaceably and sustainably. Yes, this is indeed hard to imagine. For some, it may seem unimaginable. But what else should we do than make the effort to imagine such a world and put legs on our vision?

In the same interview, Steffen is asked, “How do you look at all these problems and stay optimistic?” He responds:
“Optimism is a political act. Those who benefit from the status quo are perfectly happy for us to think nothing is going to get any better. In fact, these days, cynicism is obedience. What’s really radical is being willing to look right at the problems we face and still insist that we can solve them."
I don’t pretend to know how to solve all our problems or how to change the many systems (economic, political, energy, agricultural, legal, commercial, etc.) that perpetuate them. I do know, however, that there is one system whose transformation will lead to changes in all the other systems. That system is education. If we as a society redefine the purpose of schooling and provide all students with the knowledge, tools, and inspiration to themselves envision a sustainable and peaceful world, then these young people will bring that knowledge, those tools, and their enthusiasm into all the professions they enter, transforming each in turn.

While we don’t need to know all the answers, we need to believe that those answers are obtainable, both by us today, and by our children tomorrow. We must not abdicate our responsibility to harness our own creativity and critical thinking skills and to insist that our children’s curiosity, creativity and critical thinking capacities be cultivated and encouraged with the goal of a peaceful, sustainable world as their grail. This is the way forward.

Zoe Weil
Author of Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times and Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life

Image courtesy of sardinelly via Creative Commons.

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Monday MOGO Tip: Write Right Now for a Better World

I have a friend who has written to legislators, corporations, and other leaders and officials since she was in high school, and she has kept a big binder of all the letters she’s written – and any responses she has received. That’s not the only citizen activism in which she has engaged, but she has certainly made sure that her voice and her views have been heard by hundreds, if not thousands, of people in power.

I’ve discovered through some of my own letter-writing to officials that issues (and better solutions to problems) that I assumed they would already know about are frequently unknown to them. I’ve learned not to make assumptions about what people at any level of authority know and to do what I can to help educate, inspire and empower them…and to offer positive suggestions and praise as often as I express my concerns and complaints.

Whenever we take the time and courage to speak our piece about a MOGO world to others – including those in major decision-making roles – we help create that just, compassionate, sustainable world we seek.

Try to make it a habit to regularly write letters and emails to legislators, officials, editors and others who can help enact decisions that can bring about positive systemic change.

If the thought of writing a letter or email makes your palms all sweaty, just use your favorite web search engine to look for "letter writing tips activists" (or something similar), and you'll find some good advice from a variety of non-profit groups.

Letter-writing is a great skill to teach young people, too. It's important that they know the power their words and views have to create a just, compassionate, sustainable world.

Let your voice be heard: Write right now! It only takes a few minutes!

~ Marsha

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Dyeing One's Hair...Gray?

When I was younger I was certain I would never dye my hair when I began to gray. After all, I already eschewed shaving and managed to stand tall (well, as tall as I could at 5’1”) even in a bathing suit surrounded by women who shaved every bit of hair they were told to through our culture. But it wasn’t easy. And eventually, I reluctantly decided to shave when I worried that my appearance might interfere with my message as a humane educator. If students found my hairy legs disgusting, they might reject my message out of hand, or so I concluded. Ironically, years later, one of my students told me that she was really inspired by the fact that I didn’t shave my legs and that it empowered her to make her own choices in life, based on her own values, rather than to succumb to peer and societal pressures. (Take a look at this recent New York Times article about celebrities who aren’t shaving and the flack they’re receiving.)

Now back to gray hair. As my hair began to gray, I girded myself with all my will to resist the pressure to dye it. For the most part I’ve resisted successfully, although I occasionally put henna in it, which rinses out after about a month. I get all sorts of compliments on my graying hair, but I always think they’re backhanded compliments, and that what the person who’s praising my hair is really thinking is something like, “Wow, you are courageous to not dye your hair! And it’s not so bad-looking either! Sure, you’d look a lot younger if you dyed it, but good for you!” I may be wrong about this, or just paranoid, but it’s hard to believe that people actually mean it when they say they like my gray hair. I always joke and say that I think my gray looks like highlights.

Well, guess what? Young celebrities are now highlighting their hair ... gray. Here’s an article from the New York Times for your viewing pleasure, with photos of young women with dyed gray hair.

Most dyes aren’t good for our bodies. We absorb them into our skin through our scalp. Many of them are tested on animals, force-fed to rabbits, mice, guinea pigs, and so on in quantities that kill and put into the eyes of bunnies who receive no pain relief or anesthesia. They create waste, some of which is toxic, in every portion of their brief lifecycle. Dyeing our hair is a costly and time-consuming habit. Yet I understand why so many women believe that it’s MOGO (most good) to dye their hair. I sympathize. As women age, we become more and more invisible within a culture that so valorizes youth, so dyeing one’s hair feels like an easy way to gain visibility and maintain attention, not to mention self-esteem.

But perhaps now we middle aged and elderly women can let our gray hair shine. After all, young women are paying lots of money to look like us.

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

Image courtesy of kevindooley via Creative Commons.

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Humane Education Activity: Whale's Stomach

With news about the great garbage patches in our oceans, and efforts by changemakers like photographer Chris Jordan, whose images of marine bird bodies on Midway Atoll filled with bits of plastic, the public is becoming more conscious about the impact of plastic and trash on people, animals and the earth.

Now there are reports of the numerous bits of plastic and other garbage found inside a gray whale who was stranded and died on a beach in Seattle, Washington. Although the waste probably wasn't the cause of death for this whale, scientists found more than 20 plastic bags, a pair of sweatpants, a golfball, duct tape, surgical gloves, towels, and a variety of plastic pieces in the whale's stomach.

We at IHE have a great (free, downloadable) humane education activity appropriate for grades 4 and up that helps students learn about the impacts of our "throwaway" society and that connects directly to these recent stories. In Whale's Stomach, the presenter starts by dumping a plastic bag full of trash and plastics onto the floor in front of students and asking what they have in common. Students discover that the contents of the bag represent the stomach contents of a dying, 28-foot female sperm whale found on a beach in North Carolina in 1992. Veterinarians concluded that the garbage was a significant contributing factor to, if not the sole cause for, the whale's death.

Students then spend time examining the items and asking questions such as:
  • Is this item recyclable or reusable so that it could have been kept out of the waste
  • stream?
  • What creative ideas can we come up with to reuse the item?
  • How could people have prevented these items from winding up in the ocean?
Students then discuss how we humans can generate less trash and keep it out of our oceans and other natural areas.

~ Marsha

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Treehuggers: Children's Picture Books Honoring Trees

Trees are mythical, magical and mysterious. We depend upon them for everything from the air we breathe to the inspiration for bad poetry to a source for the very materials that make our lives possible. Kids love trees. They love to climb them, trounce around their leaves, notice who lives in them, eat their fruits (and nuts and seeds), and play in their shade. Earth Month is a great time to celebrate trees, and in their honor, we have a sample list of suggested picture books that humane educators, concerned citizens and parents will want to add to your teaching libraries.

Book Cover: Aani & the Tree Huggers align=Aani and the Tree Huggers by Jeannine Atkins. 1995. (32 pgs) Gr. 1-4.
Aani and her community rely on the trees in their forest for their survival. When men come and start cutting down the trees, Aani takes drastic action to save the trees…and her village.
Citizen activism. Conservation. Courage. India. Trees.

Book Cover: Gus is a TreeGus is a Tree by Claire Babin. 2008. (32 pgs) Gr. Pre-K – 2
Gus falls asleep under a tree and dreams of becoming one of them, experiencing life through the lens of a tree. Great for building reverence.
Empathy. Forests. Reverence. Trees.

Book Cover: The Great Kapok TreeThe Great Kapok Tree
by Lynne Cherry. 2000. (40 pgs) Gr. PreK-3.
A man who walks into the Amazon rainforest, planning to cut down a tree, is visited by animals who plead with him to save their home.
Conservation. Ecology. Habitats. Nature. Rainforests. Wildlife.

Book cover: What Planet Are You From, Clarice Bean?What Planet Are You From, Clarice Bean?
by Lauren Child. 2002. (32 pgs) Gr. 1-4.
When Clarice's brother decides to save their neighborhood tree from being chopped down, the whole family gets involved, and Clarice's school project gets more complicated.
Citizen activism. Environmental protection. Nature. Trees.

Book Cover: This Tree CountsThis Tree Counts! By Alison Formento. 2010. (32 pgs) Gr. Pre-K-2.“Trees sure can do a lot!” Mr. Tate takes his class behind the school to plant more trees, but before they do, he has students listen to the tale of the lone tree who lives there.
Conservation. Counting.Trees.

Book Cover: The TreeThe Tree by Dana Lyons. 2002. (32 pgs). Gr. Pre-K-3.
This song turned into a rhyming story tells of an 800 year old tree that reflects on its life as bulldozers come to cut it down. What will happen?
Citizen activism. Conservation. Trees.

Book Cover: We Planted a TreeWe Planted a Tree by Diane Muldrow. 2010 (40 pgs) Gr. K-3.Simple poetic text shares the benefits of planting a tree.
Ecology. Environmental protection.Trees.

Book Cover: Big Bear HugBig Bear Hug by Nicholas Oldland. 2009. (32 pgs) Gr. K-2.A bear is so filled with love and happiness that he hugs everyone he meets -- including the trees. When he meets a man with an ax, though, he has to decide whether he can stay true to himself while protecting the trees he loves.
Bears. Environmental protection. Kindness. Trees.

Book Cover: The LoraxThe Lorax by Dr. Seuss. 1971. (72 pgs) Gr. Pre-K – 3.
As the Once-lers happily chop down Truffula Trees to make into items, the Lorax, who speaks for the trees, warns the people what will happen if they don’t stop. Will it be too late?
Citizen activism. Forests. Morality plays. Nature. Trees.

Book Cover: Planting the Trees of KenyaPlanting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai
by Claire A. Nivola. 2008. (32pgs) Gr. K-6.
Tells the story of Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, and her creation of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya to help the health and well-being of her fellow citizens (especially women).
Changemakers. Conservation. Trees. Politics. Women’s issues.

~ Marsha

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Eco-tours, Labels, and the Power of Sleuthing

Several years ago, following a conference in Florida where I was the keynote speaker talking about humane education, I was invited to participate in an eco-tour through the Everglades. Since the conference organizers planned the eco-tour and were humane educators themselves, I felt confident that our tour would be, as described, ecologically friendly.

Sadly, it was not. We zoomed through the Everglades in an air boat, and while there is no risk of harming manatees or other wildlife from the blades of the motor in such a boat, that is where its ecological friendliness ends. Air boats still use lots of energy, and they are deafeningly noisy, disturbing the peace of the Everglades in the extreme.

At our destination in the middle of the Everglades, our guide hand-fed a wild alligator, and while it was cool to see an alligator so close, one wonders at the ecological friendliness of feeding wild animals, especially potentially dangerous ones. Back in the van, our guide then asked us what we wanted to eat at the lunch stop – a non-organic, meat and potatoes establishment at which we were offered alligator nuggets.

This was a reminder to me that I need to do research before I blindly trust a label, whether it’s eco-tourism or organic (which doesn’t mean local or sustainably grown or even produced without cruelty to animals), free-range (which doesn’t mean non-intensive or non-crowded or outdoors), made-in-America (which doesn’t mean not made in a U.S. territory which doesn’t adhere to U.S. labor standards), or not tested on animals (which doesn’t mean the ingredients weren’t tested on animals). Much of the time the label belies a hidden, unsustainable and/or inhumane reality.

While it would be so nice to be able to trust labels, if we want to make MOGO (most good) choices, we need to be vigilant about doing our own research. This may seem burdensome, but it’s liberating to embrace the power of inquiry, and it’s actually fun to become a sleuth. And the Internet makes it easy to do this. And then you don’t wind up in situations like I did in the Everglades, wondering how your values ever got so terribly compromised.

Good sleuthing to you,

Zoe Weil
Author of Claude and Medea (a children’s mystery book about youth sleuthers!)

Image courtesy of via Creative Commons.

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Everyday Heroes: Goldman Environmental Prize Winners

Some people say that one person can’t change the world. Those people haven’t met the Goldman Prize winners. Each year the Goldman Environmental Prize, which is the world’s largest prize honoring grassroots environmentalists, recognizes 6 activists from around the world (one for each of the 6 inhabited continental regions) who have shown significant leadership in helping the environment and their communities. Here are the 2010 winners:

Thuli Makama, Swaziland: Thuli, Swaziland's only public interest environmental attorney, won a landmark case which helps local communities gain a voice in conservation decisions.

Thuy Sereivathana, Cambodia: Thuy has introduced innovative, low-cost tools for helping farmers and communities deal peacefully with human-elephant conflicts and has helped renew in communities a passion to help protect elephants and a desire to live in harmony with the natural world.

Malgorzata Gorska, Poland: Malgorzata helped stop a controversial highway project and was instrumental in the protection of the Rospuda Valley, "one of Europe's last true wilderness areas."

Humberto Rios Labrada, Cuba
: Humberto has helped Cuba's farmers become more sustainable and profitable in their practices.

Lynn Henning, USA: Lynn, a farmer, brought attention to the "egregious polluting practices of livestock factory farms" in Michigan, leading to "hundreds of citations" for water quality violations.

Randall Arauz, Costa Rica: Randall has led a campaign to stop the practice of shark finning, both in his country and worldwide.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of the Goldman Environmental Prize.

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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.

Polls find majority of Americans want "clean energy reform" (via Treehugger) (4/20/10)

Environmental science teacher inspires students, wins award (via Seattle Times) (4/19/10)

12-year-old girl teaches village children what she learns at school (via GOOD) (4/19/10)

"How the top 5 supermarkets waste food" (via Alternet) (4/18/10)

"Alternate path for teacher education gains ground" (via NY Times) (4/18/10)

Former USDA official calls for ban on livestock antibiotics used for "nontherapeutic use" (via NY Times) (4/17/10)

Amazon deforestation"down 51% from this time last year" (via Treehugger) (4/17/10)

More young designers using fur (via Audubon) (4/17/10)

EU to improve regulations for "lab animal welfare" (via BBC) (4/16/10)

Insurance companies own billions in fast food and tobacco stocks (via ABC) (4/16/10)

School brings philosophical discussions to 2nd graders (via NY Times) (4/8/10)

Online courses gaining ground (via NY Times) (4/8/10)

TV shows integrating "behavior placement" to encourage earth-friendly choices (via Wall Street Journal) (4/7/10)

60% of Malaysian shoppers "embrace ethical shopping" (via Business Times) (3/24/10)

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The Power and Pitfall of One

What if someone, a child, were drowning, right in front of you. Would you walk on by, intent on your business? Or, would you stop and help save the child? Most of us say, “Well, of course, I would stop and save the child!” Ethicist Peter Singer, in his book The Life You Can Save, asserts that we’re each faced with that situation every day: there are millions around the world in desperate poverty who need our help, but do we help them by donating as much money as we can (or helping in other ways), or do we continue to stop by the coffeehouse for our daily latte on our drive to work?

We humane educators know about the power of one person to make a positive difference. Apparently, that power of one holds true for motivating people to take action or make a donation, too. We know the dire state of the world: more than 25 billion land animals killed for food each year; millions killed in Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo; 27 million human slaves worldwide; enormous numbers of homeless, of those living in poverty, of animals abused and oppressed, of species going extinct, of victims of violence. Those numbers add up to a lot of suffering. So, what's keeps us from doing more? Why don't we give more money and take more positive action to help?

According to researchers, it's because of the numbers. People are willing to do more and give more when they can identify with a single or small number of victims. Researchers Small, Lowenstein and Slovic conducted several studies (pdf) comparing people's willingness to give and discovered that:
"When donating to charitable causes, people do not value lives consistently. Money is often concentrated on a single victim even though more people would be helped if resources were dispersed or spent protecting future victims."
What does this mean for Humane Education? I think it reaffirms the importance of personal connection. We protect what we love, and we love what we know. We can tell people all we want about the numbers and watch their eyes glaze over and their attention wander. Or, we can share the stories of individuals. We can help them get to know Drussa the boy sold into slavery to work a cocoa bean plantation so that we can have our chocolate bar; Freedom the cow, who became a friend instead of food; Luna the tree has lived for hundreds of years and helped nurture an ecosystem and raised consciousness about the preciousness of the natural world (and the power of a few to make a positive difference). We can inspire people to care by showing them how we're all connected, one relationship at a time, and help them get the "warm glow" that many people crave for doing good by showing them the positive effects their actions create.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of royryap via Creative Commons.

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The Heroic Trend Bodes Well for Our Future

Take a look at this video:

What’s happening here?

In a cynical and angry era, with the specter of terrorism, the rise of neo-Nazis and other hate-based groups, greed-induced corruption in business, and extremist media personalities spewing more and more venom, there’s a youth heroism movement that’s gaining momentum, and I believe it will be sweeping the country in the coming years. This is evidenced by the unprecedented success of a children’s series about heroic youth (Harry Potter), the incredible growth of such organizations as Craig Kielburger’s Free The Children, and the emergence of programs like Matt Langdon’s Hero Construction Company, and Phil Zimbardo’s Heroic Imagination Project (on whose board of advisors I sit), which is launching a curriculum to promote heroism in schools.

By and large, kids are not taking the fear-mongering, rage-producing bait being offered to them in the media, and even violent crime in the biggest U.S. cities has been dropping significantly over the last decade. Kids routinely participate in community service and consider it a part of what’s expected from them. They reject homophobia and other prejudices. They are less likely to be “angry activists” and more likely to be successful “changemakers.”

Even as Congress is increasingly polarized and as talk radio and TV create the perception of greater hostility and intractable conflict, youth persist in working together, making a difference, solving problems, and creating a groundswell of grassroots goodness that is slowly but surely creating positive change in communities across the world.

Please share this good news and do what you can to provide youth with the knowledge, tools, and motivation to be young heroes, conscientious choicemakers, and engaged changemakers for a better world. Thankfully, these kids and this heroic movement represent our future.

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

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Monday MOGO Tip: Add Something Good to Your Life

To many, making MOGO choices can seem like a lot of “giving up” something — certain foods and clothes, transportation options, stuff, personal products, etc. Living a MOGO life isn’t about deprivation or sacrifice; it is about making choices that do the most good and least harm, which can sometimes mean making a different choice that involves going without something we used to do or have. And sometimes, we become overly-focused on getting rid of destructive products and choices and on “giving up” more harmful habits.

In living a healthy, balanced MOGO life, it’s also important to ADD positive things to our lives — things that bring us balance and joy and meaning. Whether that means spending more time in nature, taking time to pursue a hobby, connecting more with friends and loved ones, pursuing a spiritual practice, volunteering for worthy causes, or sharing what we’ve learned with others, focusing on adding good to our lives is just as important a part of MOGO than ridding ourselves of harmful habits.

My husband and I have been more focused on adding “good” to our lives – to doing more that’s positive, healthy, and restorative, and less that’s stressful, lacking in meaning and not aligned with our values. One strategy that we use to help us is something we call 10/30: we choose one positive thing that we want to add to our lives and do it every day for 30 days for at least 10 minutes a day.

The first month we tried this strategy, my husband, John, chose drawing, something that he loved to do when he was younger and has longed to begin again. I chose practicing my guitar, something I’ve managed to alternately pursue briefly and neglect excessively for many years. In adding activities like these, both of us found a great deal of joy and fulfillment, and we're slowly whittling away the clutter and adding more good stuff.

Of course, there are a lot of ways to add something new and MOGO to your life, so consider what healthy, sustainable, restorative, positive, life-affirming MOGO action you could take. You could try the 10/30 experiment, or something else that better resonates with you.

~ Marsha

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Moral Behavior Doesn't Depend on Religion: Sam Harris's "Science Can Answer Moral Questions"

I just watched a new TED talk given by author Sam Harris, titled, “Science Can Answer Moral Questions." I recommend watching it and considering his (to my mind reasonable, to others quite provocative) perspective.

When I was a freshman in college, a friend of a friend had gone off to travel the world. He wound up at the Western Wall in Jerusalem where he was befriended by an Orthodox Jew who invited him to a Yeshiva to study Judaism. Having grown up as a secular Jew, he was compelled to learn about the religion of his ancestors. And he became an Orthodox Jew himself. He returned to our college for a visit, and I had the opportunity to meet him. Because I was Jewish (and secular) he was eager to proselytize, so he spent many hours with me talking about Judaism in particular and religion in general.

One of his arguments for religion was this: if there is no God, there is no reason why he shouldn’t rape or murder. I found this reasoning utterly preposterous. Moral behavior need have nothing at all to do with religion, as evidenced by all the atheists and agnostics in the world (me among them) who strive with great effort and commitment to lead lives that do the most good and the least harm. And science can lead us toward moral behavior even as religion sometimes leads us away from it.

What I appreciated about Sam Harris’ TED talk was how eloquently and unapologetically he reinforces this point. I welcome your thoughts after viewing Harris’ presentation.

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

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Humane Education in Action: The Play's the Thing

If all the world's a stage, then IHE M.Ed. student, Kerri Twigg, is using that stage to teach children to think critically and creatively and to bring humane issues to the public conversation through theater. Kerri works to integrate issues of human rights, animal protection, environmental preservation and media, culture & consumerism into her work teaching drama to children and in her playwriting. Read our interview with Kerri about her successes and challenges:

Quick Facts:

Current hometown: Winnipeg, Manitoba (Canada)
IHE fan since: 2008
Current job: Many! Mom - currently on maternity leave from Youth Programs Coordinator position at the Winnipeg Art Gallery; freelance drama teacher.
Book/movie that changed your life: End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones
Guilty pleasure: Video games - especially role playing games.
Inspired by: children, nature, art
Love about yourself: positive, approachable, kind
One of your strengths: perseverance

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

KT: I actually read a review that Zoe (IHE's president) had written about Amanda Soule's book, The Creative Family. I searched the Institute for Humane Education (IHE), and it was the greatest educational idea I had heard. I had never planned on doing a masters degree before but seeing the program changed my mind. I had been teaching and looking for a way to make my teaching more valuable, to take it further. I was teaching creative drama and repeatedly telling parents and other teachers that I wasn't teaching drama to train actors; I was teaching drama to help develop confident and creative people. What I have discovered though my M.Ed. studies is that I was slightly incorporating humane education into my classes beforehand. IHE's program has given me the confidence to take it further more confidently.

IHE: You’ve been involved in drama and theater for many years. What drew you to the stage, and to teaching kids about acting and drama?

KW: I have been in the drama classroom for 13 years. After a successful high school internship I was hired to be a school registrar at a local theatre school; part of the job required me to be a teacher's assistant. I enjoyed assisting in the classroom and started to learn how to teach drama. I moved up to team teaching and then developed and taught my own classes.

I love live theatre because it is an intangible moment. So much of our world is about getting and collecting stuff; theatre offers an experience. You cannot relive theatre, even if you see the same play with the exact same cast the next day -- it will have changed. It is an experience that demands (if it is good theatre) your attention and makes you sit down and focus on the story being told. You can't really multi-task theatre.

I teach drama because it is something I am naturally good at and because I believe it helps develop the part of humans that I most admire. I am saddened when children are asked "If you could have any super power in the world, what would it be?" and the answer is Batman, Spider-man, or Powerpuff Girls. Many children are so immersed in consumer culture that their play features reenactments of the last movie they saw. If children cannot confidently create and express their own ideas, from their very own imaginations, I am concerned about the types of adults they will turn into.

IHE: Since pursuing your M.Ed. in Humane Education, you’ve been integrating humane education issues and concepts into your work teaching drama to youth. In what ways do you integrate those issues, and what has been the response by kids, their parents, and the audiences who see their work?

KW: I teach a class callled "Mrs. Twigg's Surprising Suitcase" for children ages 6-8. At the first class, the students enter the classroom with my assistant and do attendance. I am hiding in a large train trunk in the classroom. After attendance, I make a ruckus in the trunk and come out. All the students are told is that I was locked in the trunk by someone who didn't like that I was helping others. That is all we both know and from there we create a story. First they decided as a group where it happened; in this case they chose a planet they named Ahioterme pttb. The next class was dedicated to the environment; they decided what the air was like, vegetation, if there was garbage, how was stuff made. The next class we explored the animals -- how are they treated, do they get eaten, do they work, are the animals in charge of themselves or is another being in charge of them? On another class we explored the conditions of the other planetary inhabitants and their history and culture. We built an entire world based on their ideas. The result of the most recent class ended with a play about a factory that was manufacturing oil feathers that poisoned the planet and the animals. The factory workers were young girls and an attempt was made by the animals and other children to rescue them, which ended in a court hearing. We managed to cover child labour and social justice, and it was fun.

At the end of the term the children performed their favorite parts of the story for an audience of about 100 people. Before the performance, I explained the storymaking process to the audience. When I announced that the play was about slave workers and social justice, the audience laughed. The children received positive feedback on the play itself. Some of the children plan on taking the class again, because the story will change based on the participants. Many parents remarked that their child had fun in class but never spoke to me about the content.

IHE: What have been your successes and challenges in combining drama and humane education?

KT: In my experience, children want to explore humane education. They hear about global warming and animals being hurt -- no one is talking to them about it and it can be scary and confusing. Drama is a way of working through some of these touchy areas creatively. Drama allows the students to confront a situation fictionally and try out different problem solving solutions safely.

The limitations of my current work are that parents did not sign their kids up for a "humane" drama class, so humane issues cannot be my focus. Also, on the day we did the child factory workers, I played the role of the factory owner. At the end, as I was being led away to jail I asked, "How do you stop children from being forced to work on your planet?", and the children were shocked. They insisted that it did not happen on earth. We talked about how they could prevent it on earth, and what they could do about it if they found out it did happen on earth. But, I did not push it further with them, because firstly, they simply didn't seem prepared to hear it, and secondly, it was not what their parents had signed them up for.

I would really like to offer humane drama classes, and I am trying to find the right wording and venue for such a course. I think parents do want their kids to be educated and explore every subject in humane education, but how do I market such a course as meaningful, inspiring and fun?

IHE: Last year you wrote a play specifically focused on humane education issues for a playwriting contest that was part of the Carol Shields Festival of New Work and won first prize in the professional division. Tell us about that experience and what the play is about. What are your plans for the play?

KW: The experience was rewarding, and the award helped me pay tuition! Previous to writing the play I had been keeping what I was learning in the humane education courses separate from any of my creative work. Humane issues were linked to my teaching practice and that was it. But, as I sat down to write a play, all the issues I had been exploring in the courses kept popping up in my head and out of the characters' mouths. I realized that playwriting was another way I could educate.

The contest was to write a play in 90 minutes, and it had to contain certain phrases and places, One of them was Paris Hilton's birthday. The play is a one-act play about a couple who decide to live inside their apartment for one year -- no internet, radio, television or going out -- after they are disgusted by all the coverage of Paris Hilton's birthday. The only contact they have is with Brian, a friend who delivers their food to them once a week. The play touches on animal rights: the couple is vegan and Brian is not -- he has a lot to learn; on culture: is it socially responsible to bubble yourself off? How far do we have to go to keep marketing out of our lives?; on environment: consuming less, becoming aware of one's garbage (Brian will only take one small bag of garbage down a week, and they have nowhere else to store garbage.)

One of the plus sides to their experiment is that the male character learns to listen. As the months go on and tension rises between the couple, he ends up sleeping on the living room floor. Desperate for new interaction he hears his neighbor speaking from the other side of the wall; she reads aloud, and this becomes his nightly entertainment. Every night he sets his pillows and blanket up against the wall and gives a light knock, and then she begins to speak. On the final night of their one year experiment, he sets his pillow and blanket up beside the wall for the last story and hears her choking. He is unable to rescue her (no phone, no keys), but she manages to die with notice and a friend.

The play is still in its first draft, and I have a bit of editing to do. I am going to submit the play to a few theatres and see if any of them are interested in workshopping or producing it. If not, we have a popular local fringe festival where I have self-produced work before. I also intend to format it into a screen format, because I think it could make a nice short film. My husband is a video artist, and since the story is set in one apartment, it would be easy to shoot ourselves.

IHE: For your M.Ed. thesis, you’re writing a play about activism for young people. Tell us about that experience. What’s your goal for the play?

KT: I am finding it challenging to create a play on a specific theme. My previous plays have started off as a basic premise and evolved from there, and this play has limits and a specific agenda. I am not interested in writing a traditional educational play; I am hoping to sneak information into the play, without the audience feeling the play has an agenda. My goal for the play is to create a piece of engaging theatre that motivates youth to take action. In addition to the play, I am also creating a five-day drama workshop that accompanies the performance. Some people are motivated by watching and others are motivated by doing.

IHE: What advice would you give to others who might want to integrate humane education into their passion for theater?

KT: I don't know if I can give advice on this yet, as I am just beginning to do this myself. The arts are an ideal place to integrate humane education, since most of the arts explore the human condition already. It is important to keep your audience in mind. The reason my play won was not because it was edgy or controversial; it was because it was well written and touched on issues people think about often, and it didn't answer all the questions. It showed human imperfection, and it did not point fingers. I have seen plays that are "issues" plays, and I found them boring and insulting. Entertain first. Also, a single play cannot give all the information in all the areas of humane education, so pick one or two to touch on. If you are successful, your audience will follow and hear about other issues in your next work.

IHE: Any future plans, dreams or projects?

KT: Right now, I am focusing on getting my thesis written and watching my new baby grow up too fast! I want to get better at marketing my playwriting work and create humane drama workshops locally.

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What a Humane World Looks Like: "We've Got Time to Help"

People are dealing with the economic downturn in a lot of ways. Some people who’ve been laid off are sitting at home playing video games on the computer much of every day, and others are making use of their free time and skills to help others. There's a group I know of here in Portland, Oregon, (and I’ll bet there are similar groups out there) called We’ve Got Time to Help. The group (as they say, “not affiliated with any group other than humanity”) is made up of doctors, roofers and others who are (mostly) unemployed and have extra time on their hands — which they’re using to identify and help people in need in the Portland metro community. Their blog serves as a waystation for posting about projects that need volunteers and tracking progress. Some of their projects have included helping a family with plumbing and electrical repairs, moving furniture for a non-profit, building a fence, helping with a community garden, and helping a closing business clear out of their building.

Got some extra time on your hands? (It's the final season of Lost, so that should help.) There are plenty of people and organizations that need volunteers. You can browse local sites for opportunities, or peruse websites such as Volunteer Match, the HandsOn Network, and Idealist. If you’re looking for a way to help your community while making your heart sing, check sites like these out.

~ Marsha

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Practical Wisdom aka Common Sense

Take a look at this TED talk by Barry Schwartz on our loss of wisdom:

It’s hard to know where to begin blogging about a talk that covers so much ground, and which offers great examples, stories, and humor about why we so desperately need to engage our practical wisdom (and cultivate it among our children) if we want to be able to actually embody all the other good qualities that are necessary for a healthier world.

Barry Schwartz tells one story that I hope will spark your interest in watching the whole talk. A father has taken his son to an event, and his son wants some lemonade. The father goes to get it, and the only lemonade available is “hard lemonade.” The father has no idea that this is alcoholic lemonade (it’s easy not to know if you don’t watch TV and are of an “older” generation), and brings it to his child. A security person sees the child, calls the police, and an ambulance whisks the boy to the emergency room of a hospital where he is found to have no measurable alcohol in his blood. Nonetheless, the department of health and human services puts the boy in foster care for three days, and when he returns home a judge requires that the father move into a motel. Schwartz bemoans the lack of practical wisdom evident in this example. Some would simply call it a lack of common sense.

The talk is especially important for teachers/humane educators. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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

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What We Do Matters: Reflections on the Holocaust: By a Survivor & a Student, Part 2

One of the required assignments for our students is to connect with someone who has suffered human rights abuses, to learn more about their lives and the challenges they faced, and to reflect on how the students can integrate that new knowledge into their own lives. One of our students, Daniella Schmidt, who currently lives in Germany, talked to a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust for her assignment. We wanted to share excerpts of his story (as written by Daniella), and Daniella’s own revelations about what she learned. Yesterday we shared Gary's story. Below is Daniella's response to what she learned.

Daniella’s Response:

This field trip to interview a survivor of human rights abuses provided an amazingly rich and personal experience for me to connect with Gary and to the Holocaust, whose horrors continue to echo today.

My own family history, learned through family stories, came alive with threads of Gary’s story. I contemplated Jenny Borisov, my great-grandmother, who was forbidden to go to school in Kiev, Russia, only because she was Jewish. And a generation later, just before World War II, my Czechoslovakian Grandfather, Alois Svoboda, and his brother, fled Prague in 1938 to the U.S. in the early days of Nazi occupation. Alois earned his U.S. citizenship by joining the U.S. military to fight for the Allies.

Even though these family connections to anti-Semitism and WWII are very personal, I still understood them in a very distant way. Since my experience interviewing Gary, this distance has disappeared. I look at pictures of emaciated concentration camp inmates, and I see Gary. I think about the long roots of anti-Semitism that motivated Hitler, and I think about my great-grandmother, Jenny. I think about my grandfather, Alois, driven from his home country, and then almost sent back to spy on the very military forces that he fled from. Through Gary’s experience, not only has his life – and the terrible times of Nazi German -- become illuminated, but my own family history has become much more personal to me.

Living in Germany naturally brings up the topic of Nazism more than living in other countries. I regularly talk with my German friends about WWII and have continued to be impressed with the honesty of Germans in speaking about this dark chapter in their history. I believe this maturity has come with the passage of time, accurate education and discussion about Nazism in schools, and a brave humility to take responsibility for the atrocities of the mass genocide of many different groups. Germany continues to make reconciliatory efforts to make peace with its European neighbors and to Jews around the world. I continue to be humbled by my German friends for their candid willingness to talk about Nazi times.

In 2008 my husband and I participated in a peaceful counter-demonstration to a neo-Nazi march in Bochum. Much to my surprise, in a country that has taken so much responsibility for the atrocities of Nazism, people who follow the Nazi doctrine still exist in Germany and worldwide and demonstrate regularly. During the event, I found myself visually assessing the other participants and wondering which ones were the “Nazis.” After a while, I had a realization: Nazis do not look a certain way, because intolerance and hatred have no face. Because these traits dwell in the heart, searching for Nazism in the faces, body language and clothes of the other participants could not possibly reveal what true motivations lie beneath the surface. And most importantly, decent, ordinary people made up the bulk of those who participated in mass murder after being brainwashed with Nazi propaganda over years, and they returned to being decent, ordinary people after the fall of the Third Reich. Making assumptions based on my idea of what a Nazi looked like only made clear my own prejudices and stereotypes and falsely served to assure myself of my own differences from Nazis. I need only to look back to playground situations as a child to know that I have participated in bullying or to my ignorance as to where my clothes were produced to know that I have participated in sweatshop slavery.

If Nazism is an extreme example of the evil that a society can become, we all must acknowledge the multiple examples of our own dark history in the United States: from the decimation of Native American First Peoples and the robbing of their lands, to the slavery of imported Africans, to the suppression of women’s rights, to the negative effects of globalization and the exportation of American culture, which destroys so much, each and every day.

Becoming intimately familiar with Gary’s personal experience growing up in Nazi Germany has been the most powerful lesson in history I have ever experienced. The Holocaust remains infamous in history, but tragically, the practice of genocide is still alive. The crimes extend beyond our species, but all are caused by our species. A holocaust in our factory farms claims the lives of millions of sentient creatures each hour, treating them as no more than food machines. Twenty-seven million modern-day slaves around the world still are forced into labor each day, though slavery is illegal everywhere. Our earth bears the scars of deforestation, pollution, species extinction, and some are still not convinced that we should try to combat global climate change.

Each of us can be ordinary and possibly extraordinary heroes by challenging today’s corrupt systems that enslave other people, other animals, and the planet. Each of us can embody the best of humanity, beginning with our everyday personal actions of tolerance, basic respect, inclusion and a commitment to protect all species. We all have the choice to embrace the truth, even when the truth is ugly, as Gary wishes his neighbors in Oberwesel had done. His former neighbors were the first Holocaust deniers. But what modern day holocausts do each of us choose to ignore each day? We have a conscience, but do we use it only when convenient? Universal compassion needs to become humanity’s common religion for humans to survive, and so many at our mercy are quietly waiting for us to realize this.

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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.

Anti-government "patriot" groups on the rise (via Newsweek) (4/13/10)

Images from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (via Daily Green) (4/13/10)

Lawsuit accuses U.S. egg industry of price-fixing (via ABC) (4/12/10)

"Gombe 50" anniversary interview with Jane Goodall (via Mongabay) (4/12/10)

Poll shows "environmental activism declining" (via Treehugger) (4/12/10)

Hawaii factory fish farming to increase by 900% (via Treehugger) (4/11/10)

Report on Ohio factory farming ballot initiative (via CNN) (4/10/10)

Green design reaching affordable housing (via LA Times) (4/10/10)

EU "eco-friendly" certified paper actually causing deforestation, extinction, harm to indigenous peoples (via Treehugger) (4/10/10)

"Fighting Sioux nickname to be retired in North Dakota (via Huffington Post) (4/9/10)

Group's new study says avoid antibacterial products (via MNN) (4/9/10)

"Global chronic hunger rises above 1 billion" (via Worldwatch) (4/8/10)

"Finland's education success" (video) (via BBC) (4/6/10)

"1/4 of Rocky Gray Wolves Killed in First Hunting Season in Decades" (via Treehugger) (4/5/10)

U.S. eats more packaged/processed foods than people in other countries (via NY Times) (4/3/10)

"Maryland launches Genuine Progress Indicator" (via Yes!) (4/2/10)

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