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.

"Senate passes overhaul of food safety regulations" (via NY Times) (11/30/10)

Specialists say bullies and bullied both need intervention, support (via (11/29/10)

"How do you teach kids to live sustainably on an island?" (via Treehugger) (11/29/10)

Report says a billion people may lose their homes to climate change by end of this century (via The Guardian) (11/28/10)

College student designs coat to help homeless (via (11/28/10)

Study indicates gender "preferences" are learned (via Boston Globe) (11/28/10)

Portland program has great success rate helping at-risk kids (via Oregonian) (11/27/10)

"Winning the class war" (commentary) (via NY Times) (11/26/10)

U.S. govt. designates "critical habitat" for polar bears (via Grist) (11/24/10)

Reforging our relationship with farms with Crop Mobs (via YES!) (11/24/10)

Lesson plan ideas: comparing stories of the First Thanksgiving (via NY Times) (11/23/10)

North Sea fishermen throw away up to 50% of fish they catch (via The Guardian) (11/18/10)

Pittsburgh takes stand, bans natural gas drilling (via YES!) (11/16/10)

Is there a world of trouble in your pizza? (via Men's Health) (11/8/10)

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Humane Education Activity: Four Corners

We've all done it. We've seen someone driving by in their Hummer and grumbled under our breath at them. We've rolled our eyes at the teen girls obsessively cruising the make-up aisles. We've shaken our heads at the shoppers blithely tossing clothes quite likely made in sweatshops into their carts. We've tsked at the overweight family walking into a fast food restaurant. Even with the best of intentions we judge others based on their choices; sometimes a little feeling of superiority on our part also inadvertently slips in. It's easy to do. But it's important as humane educators and citizen activists that we focus on our common ground with others and remember our own frailties.

Whenever I lead a workshop about compassionate, effective activism, I always include an activity called 4 Corners (thanks to fellow IHE graduate, Cari Micala, for introducing us to this one way back during student residency; as you can see, Carrie, it has made an impression). Here's how it works:

Around the room, in the 4 corners, I tape up signs that say: "Always," "Mostly," "Sometimes," and "Seldom/Never." I explain to the group that I'm going to give them a series of statements, and for each one I want them to stand under the sign with the word that most accurately reflects their response to the statement at this time. I also encourage them to be aware of the ebb and flow of how the crowd shifts according to the different statements. Here are examples of the statements I've used:
  • I take public transit (or alternative transportation).
  • I eat only plant-based foods.
  • I shop at big-box stores.
  • I buy only sweatshop-free items.
  • I buy water in plastic bottles.
  • I think critically about the media I'm exposed to.
  • I buy nothing more than what I need.
  • I make choices that reflect my deepest values.
The participants are always fascinated to see where people stand and how that shifts according to the topic.

I use this activity to help us remember two important tenets as educators and activists:

1. We're all on a path to humane living (what I call the compassion continuum); we're just in different places on that path in different areas of our lives, and that's okay. Sometimes we're ahead of the crowd; sometimes we have farther to go.

2. We're more than just the pieces of ourselves. If I stop and judge people based on those parts of them that disturb me (the woman wearing a fur coat; the fact that my brother used to work in a slaughterhouse; the friends who have to buy the latest stuff), then I'm missing out on so much: the big picture of who they are; the chance to find common ground and connect; the opportunity to learn. I certainly don't want people judging me by the bits that get on their nerves; I hope they see beyond that to the whole.

This is a great icebreaker for sparking discussion about choices, challenges, the compassion continuum, issues of the "other," judgment, perspective, and so on. It can also be adapted to a variety of situations -- even serving as an icebreaker to get to know people better through simple, non-threatening statements. You can also dispense with the categories (always, sometimes, etc.), and create your own categories to fit the statement. ("I most love dogs, cats, birds or fish as animal companions.")

~ Marsha

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The Ongoing Gift of Gratitude

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, “Thank You. No, Thank You,” we learn that giving thanks is good for you. Not a big surprise, but post-Thanksgiving, it’s nice to be reminded that cultivating appreciation and thankfulness is a win-win all year round. While this article reveals what most of us already know from our life experience (and common sense), it’s interesting that actual studies demonstrate that when we experience gratitude we’re healthier, happier, sleep better (and even earn more money). Cultivating gratitude is good for kids and teens, too; not exactly a surprise, but something we might want to help our adolescents, in particular, to experience. In our family, we have made it a ritual to hold hands before dinner and each say something we're grateful for. Unfortunately, too often, the answers have became rote, but I have insisted on the ritual nonetheless. I think it’s important.

On Thanksgiving morning before anyone else in the family awoke, I spent some time reflecting upon what I was grateful for. I composed an email to the staff of the Institute for Humane Education where I work, because my gratitude to them felt so deep I had to express it. And it felt so good to compose this expression of thanks. Then I took my dogs for a walk along the ocean and continued thinking about all that I was grateful for, and I noticed that I was smiling as I walked. Indeed, gratitude feels great.

So, post-Thanksgiving, remember to reflect upon your own gratitude each day. It will help make your life, and the world, a better place.

With thanks to those of you who read my blog :)

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

Image courtesy of cheerytomato via Creative Commons.

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The Art of Believing

by Mary Pat Champeau, IHE's Director of Educational Programs

Long ago, as a new teacher in Niger, West Africa, I had three young boys in one of my over-sized classes who had purchased eyeglasses in the village market. They had promptly removed the prescription lenses from these glasses, and they kept the frames tucked in their shirt pockets. Whenever it was time to read from the textbooks which they all shared, they would remove their “eyeglasses” from their pockets, put the glasses on, and peer studiously at the small text of the book. When reading time was over, they would carefully remove these glasses and tuck them back into their shirt pockets. At first, I was so amused by this. The students, while often rowdy and hard to manage as a teacher, generally had a great sense of humor and fun. When the boys first showed me the glasses, I asked what good they were (imagine my ignorance). They were shocked that I would ask such a thing. Glasses are beautiful, and they help you be intelligent, they explained. Many, in fact most, intelligent people they knew of wore glasses. I appreciated the aspiration to be beautiful and intelligent, so I just admired the glasses and never mentioned it again.

As the months wore on, I noticed some of my other students also began wearing “glasses” they had purchased in the market. In fact, one extremely hot afternoon I remember looking out over my class of 50 students and noticing a wide variety of eyeglasses – every kind of style. It had become the mode in my class and I loved what it represented. I was not so na├»ve as to believe my students actually thought the glasses made them intelligent; in fact they were far too intelligent already for such an idea. But there was a growing seriousness about learning new things that was blossoming in these 10- and 11-year-old students, and the glasses expressed this new growth with style and prestige. I should mention that at the time, there was not an eye doctor in the country, not even in the capital city as far as I know, and the eyeglasses in the market had been donated by the Lions Club for people who needed them. In a strict sense, we could say that my students were wasting the efforts of the Lions Club donors, popping out the lenses and wearing the glasses for “style.” But let’s not be so strict. The vision these eyeglass frames gave my students was a vision of themselves in their next stage of life – a vision of how education could help make them beautiful and intelligent. Wearing their special glasses, they saw themselves a few steps ahead of where they stood and gave themselves an attractive image to grow into. I was a teacher in that village school for two years and I can tell you that the glasses worked.

I think of my bespectacled students often when I see people (full adults, including myself!) struggling to imagine how their lives might change if they tried to really live by what they knew, if they made choices based on their best intentions and highest desires for themselves, their families and the planet. We have something to learn from my young, beautiful, intelligent students, and that is the art of believing. As Virgil said long ago, “They were able because they believed they were able.” This applies to us as people striving to create a more peaceful and compassionate world through education: we must believe we are able. Sometimes, a little prop is needed – a little magic. When we are facing down a seemingly intractable issue, I recommend that we remove our own version of the market-glasses from our pockets, place them on our noses, hunker down with friends, and look at the problem again. Not everything that works can be explained to or by the rational mind. Art, fun, theater, style – these things appeal to our emotions and often, what we remember emotionally, we remember for good. I vote that we practice the art of believing, no matter how disbelieving we might feel, and that we never leave our love of life, learning and fun behind while doing so.

Image courtesy of Biscarotte via Creative Commons.

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Black Friday/Buy Nothing Day: What We Buy Matters

Today is Black Friday. We’re told it is the biggest shopping day of the year. You’ll find massive sales to jump start your holiday shopping, and you can start very early in the morning. In fact, here’s a website that posts the hours for a bunch of chain stores. Why, you can start shopping at Ralph Loren or Old Navy at midnight, just moments after Thanksgiving ends!

Apparently, we’re willing to go along with this selling frenzy even though it means long lines in crowded stores. We go along because we’ve been told to. It’s Black Friday after all.

Adbusters Magazine launched Buy Nothing Day in response to Black Friday. It’s a campaign to get us to reexamine our shopping habits, and it has gained some traction. Lots of people respond to Black Friday by buying nothing in honor of Buy Nothing Day.

My own shopping habits have never been any different on the Friday following Thanksgiving than any other day of the year, and I personally reject both the call to shop and the call to buy nothing. Both feel like gimmicks to make me change my behavior for a day. What I want is for people to examine their shopping 365 days of the year.

What we buy matters. In the most democratic manner of all, it is a vote. When you spend money you are voting for the things you buy. Money is a reward that says to the recipient, “Good job, do it again!” So what do you want to vote for? That’s a tough question. Most economists, politicians, and employees in stores will tell you to vote with your money as much as possible. The more you spend, the better the economy, the more people will be employed, the sooner we’ll be able to pay off the deficit, the brighter the future will be. But it’s not so simple. Most environmentalists will remind you that the more you drive to malls and spend your money in stores the more carbon is released into the atmosphere, the more resources are depleted, and the faster we trash our planet. Most human rights advocates will want you to realize that the more you spend on cheap chain store products produced overseas the more you’ll be contributing to sweatshop and slave labor. Most animal advocates will wish that you would reconsider the fur, down, wool, and leather you buy in clothing stores and the myriad personal care products tested on animals in the cruelest of ways.

We need to consider what is worth voting for, which foods, which clothes, which electronics, which toys, and so on. I would be happy to attend a local crafts fair on Black Friday and support the many cottage industries in my county by buying homemade jams, artwork, pottery, and so on. I would do so consciously and enthusiastically, choosing holiday gifts with care and love, helping my community while choosing special gifts for loved ones.

What you buy matters. Today, on Black Friday/Buy Nothing Day, I hope people will commit to shopping consciously and conscientiously.

Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principal for a Better World and Meaningful Life

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Cultivating Gratitude With Naikan

It's Thanksgiving here in the U.S., and people have gathered to reflect on what they're thankful for: friends, family, food, shelter, safety. On this single day, when everyone is focused on giving thanks, it's pretty easy to cultivate gratitude. But, in the hustle-bustle of our days, we often take the many blessings of our lives for granted. The amazing (clean water on demand, plentiful food) becomes mundane; and we find it easier to grumble at the little struggles rather than to be grateful for all that we have.

One tool that we at IHE have incorporated into many of our courses (and use ourselves) is Naikan, a Japanese form of self-reflection (that we learned about from our friends at the ToDo Institute) in which we ask ourselves three questions:

1. What have I received from ____________?
2. What have I given ___________________?
3. What harm have I caused ____________?

When we fill in those blanks with all that we can think of -- such as what we've received from the soil, air, water, family, friends, co-workers, the clerk at the store, the stranger, the animals who inspire and ground us, the workers who grew our produce, etc. -- we see just how much we can be thankful for and how much we can give to others. Naikan also helps us become more mindful of the harm we've caused to other people, animals and the earth, so that we can strive to make choices that do more good.

Try adding Naikan to your day. Gratitude is a great gift to give yourself and others.

~ Marsha

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Teaching for America? Teaching for the World!

Tom Friedman’s op-ed in the New York Times, “Teaching for America,” is yet another cry for major reform of our education system, but this time with a twist: for the sake of national security. As Friedman writes: “When I came to Washington in 1988, the cold war was ending and the hot beat was national security and the State Department. If I were a cub reporter today, I’d still want to be covering the epicenter of national security – but that would be the Education Department.”

Why national security? Because, as President Obama says, whoever “out-educates us today is going to out-compete us tomorrow.” But not only do we need to reform education for economic national security, apparently we also need to reform education for military national security. Friedman quotes Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who said, “One of the more unusual and sobering press conferences I participated in last year was the release of a report by a group of top retired generals and admirals. Here was the stunning conclusion of their report: 75 percent of young Americans, between the ages of 17 to 24, are unable to enlist in the military today because they have failed to graduate from high school, have a criminal record, or are physically unfit.” Later in the essay, Friedman quotes Duncan again when he points out that in South Korea “they refer to their teachers as ‘nation builders.’”

Another expert Friedman quotes is Tony Wagner, author of “The Global Achievement Gap,” who explains it this way. “There are three basic skills that students need if they want to thrive in a knowledge economy: the ability to do critical thinking and problem-solving; the ability to communicate effectively; and the ability to collaborate.”

I basically agree with this last statement, though I wouldn’t limit those three skills as essentials for thriving in the “knowledge economy.” To me they are essentials in the most important work each one of us needs to embrace: contributing to innovative solutions for a world in crisis. These skills must be taught in part to enable the next generation to thrive in the knowledge economy, but more importantly to be solutionaries for a healthy, just and thriving world.

I was with Wagner until Friedman quoted him again. Apparently Wagner thinks we should create a West Point for teachers: “We need a new National Education Academy, modeled after our military academies, to raise the status of the profession and to support the R.& D. that is essential for reinventing teaching, learning and assessment in the 21st century.”

The military analogy threw me, because the grave threats we face are global, not national. Our economies are inextricably entwined. Our environments are interconnected and interdependent. “Nation-building” and “competing for jobs” are ultimately going to be outmoded schemas in a world in which collaboration and mutual problem-solving are required to avert catastrophes. A military analogy is exactly the wrong one for our educational crisis. Nation-building is a 20th, not a 21st century vision for educational goals.

But Friedman is right when he focuses much of his essay on teachers. It is teachers who will prepare a generation of solutionaries, or not. It is teachers who will instill critical and creative thinking skills among their students, or not. It is teachers who will find ways to infuse their curricula with meaning, importance, and relevancy (despite the standardized tests their students must pass that largely lack these attributes), or not. And Arne Duncan is right to seek to emulate those countries whose teachers were all in the top third of their colleges and who are paid good salaries for their high-status professions. This, more than anything, will help.

But until we decide what we’re educating the next generation for, we will still flounder. Are we educating a generation simply to compete in the global economy or to build our nation? Or are we educating a generation of solutionaries who collaborate, communicate, and think critically and creatively to solve the grave challenges of our world?

Let’s not just cover the new and exciting “education beat.” Let’s define what it’s for.

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

Image courtesy of marcokalmann via Creative Commons.

Teachers & Community Educators: inspire your students to become leaders & change agents for a healthy, peaceful, sustainable world. Sign up for the next session of our 30-day online course, Teaching for a Positive Future (February 7-March 14, 2011). Special rates for groups of teachers.

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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 themes 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. This year's theme, "Carnivalesque Rebellion Week," encourages us to "live without dead time for a week," breaking from our routines and doing a little adventurous rabble-rousing.

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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Give the Gift of a Better World & A More Meaningful Life

It's the middle of November and already the holiday shopping frenzy has blanketed the country like a snowstorm. The day after Thanksgiving is lauded as the biggest shopping day of the year (it's also Buy Nothing Day, by the way), but we know from experience that the stuff that surrounds our holidays doesn't bring lasting joy, and it very often can cause harm to people, animals and the earth.

This holiday season give yourself and your loved ones a gift that will bring real meaning to your life and contribute to a just, compassionate, healthy world for all. Our 30-day online course, A Better World, A Meaningful Life, which runs January 3-28, helps participants connect their deepest values with their actions and become more effective leaders for positive social change.

Imagine the delight of your loved ones when you give them an experience that is truly life-changing. Course participants join looking for insights, support and strategies for putting their vision of a better world and a more mindful, joyful life into practice. Thirty days later, they're inspired, empowered, and already making meaningful changes in their habits and choices.

Past participant Susan Morgan said, "What I've gotten from this class is immeasurable. I've gotten a sense of peace, of backing away from a massive sense of responsibility, ...and from the feeling of hopelessness about where to start. I now feel excitement because you all helped show me that I can change the world in small, simple, and concrete ways starting right here at home."

Parent Melissa Norwood noted the impact of taking the course on her entire family: "I am changed because I will never again not think. Food, clothes, cars, building materials, banks we use, companies we support. I refuse to live in the dark, and I do so, so happily. It is exciting to know one person, one family is going to make a difference."

Take advantage of our early bird and family special rates.

To give A Better World, A Meaningful Life as a gift for yourself, just sign up! To give it to someone else, register for the course and then email to give her the details for each recipient.

We'll send each recipient a gift-wrapped copy of the course book, Most Good, Least Harm, and a note telling them about their gift. (Or, we can send the book and card to you to give to them yourself.)

Find out more about the course.
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Humane Issues in the News...

Each week we post links to news about humane education & humane living, and items connected to humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media, consumerism and culture.

"New York City gets serious about local, sustainable food" (via Treehugger) (11/23/10)

What food says about class in America (via Newsweek) (11/22/10)

First lady Michelle Obama launches initiative for 6,000 salad bars in U.S. schools (via Palm Beach Post News) (11/22/10)

Coal exports causing controversy (via New York Times) (11/22/10)

Disney dumping princesses for "cooler" and "hotter" fare (via LA Times) (11/21/10)

Is "ready to learn" a euphemism for "easier to educate" using traditional instruction? (commentary) (via Huffington Post) (11/18/10)

Research explores "pig talk" (via Animals & Society) (11/18/10)

"The power of community spirit" (via Common Dreams) (11/17/10)

"When teachers highlight gender, kids pick up on stereotypes" (via FOX News) (11/16/10)

"Why gratitude is good" (via Greater Good) (11/16/10)

Whole Foods to debut its animal welfare rating system (via Chicago Tribune) (11/15/10)

Interview with changemaker Ocean Robbins (via Planet Green) (11/15/10)

Are phone books free speech? (via Treehugger) (11/15/10)

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Giving In to "Bad Guys": The Parental Struggle of Making Choices That Support Our Values

by Mary Pat Champeau, IHE's Director of Educational Programs

"Conflict is the gadfly of thought. It stirs us to observation and memory. It instigates us to invention. It shocks us out of sheeplike passivity, and sets us at noting and contriving." ~ John Dewey

"Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony." ~ Mahatma Gandhi

"I hate the environment!" ~ second grader at a school function whose mother would not let him have lemonade in a paper cup because it's bad for the environment (overheard by big-ears Mary Pat Champeau).

How many decisions do we make that either compromise or reinforce our deepest needs, desires, values and wishes as parents? Are there any decisions that don't fall into this category?

When my son was very young he was crazy about action figures, or "guys" as he called them. We lived in a tiny apartment with no outdoor space (here comes the rationalization); my husband and I worked full time; his daycare provider's son had a pantheon of guys that Liam was not allowed to touch or play with; I had four brothers who seemed like fairly functional normal men and they'd played what whatever they wanted to when they were boys; the only toy I ever remember loving as a child was a gift I received at a birthday party: a fake holster with a pearl-handled pistol tucked into it that shot caps. (I bring up the gun because most action figures come equipped with a weapon of one kind or another, which was part of my objection -- no war toys! said I.) Well, the line in the sand got crossed at some point, and I agreed that he could have guys, as long as they were GOOD GUYS. No bad guys. He began collecting good guys by the boatload, every birthday, Christmas, visit from grandparents or aunts or uncles, trips to the dentist; there was really no occasion that did not call for a new good guy.

As you can imagine, we ran through the good guys pretty quickly and had every incarnation of Superman, Batman, Spider-man, X-Men, and on and on. One day, just as I was totally wishing he would outgrow the whole "guy" thing, because I rejected everything about them, and perhaps more importantly at the time, I found it embarrassing when certain friends came over who did not allow their children to play with such heinous items -- and they seemed like superior parents to me because they stood their ground and had more control in general -- we were standing in a toy aisle at some huge store in New Jersey, and he was carefully examining every single action figure and begging for a bad guy. He had birthday money burning a hole in his pocket, and let me just say, we'd barely finished eating the junky birthday cake before I was standing in a big box store looking at the many faces of action-figure evil (How did this happen? How did I get here? Where did I go wrong?) and he was practically on his knees. No, I kept saying, no. You know the rule. No. Finally, with a look of sheer panic and exasperation on his face, he said: "But I NEED bad guys! Without bad guys, the good guys have nothing to do!"

I am a sucker for a good argument, so I said: "They could all build something together." "Build something? They have super powers -- they don't build things!" And it continued like this for a while as I tried to come up with worthwhile tasks that good guys could do if there were no bad guys around. It began to feel like a conversation about "good guys on vacation" where, I thought, maybe they could just relax, sit around and talk, scuba dive in the bathtub, that sort of thing. You can see that we have drifted from the sublime to the ridiculous here, and I left that big box store in New Jersey with one happy five year old, and the bad guy of his choice. That was the end of that. I admitted defeat without really putting up all that much of a fight. A happy child is part of the equation for me; not the whole equation, but part. I consoled myself that the one bad guy would be sorely outnumbered by the numerous underemployed good guys that awaited him at home. Thin consolation, you are thinking! And you are right. A few years later, we sold the whole bucket of heinous action figures at a yard sale to benefit a cause we believed in.

I tell this story not as a good example of how to parent one's bad-guy-loving kindergartner but to say that this is one example that stands out for me because it was really the first time I completely caved (bit by bit, but caving nonetheless) and did something I did not believe in because it made my child happy. I like a happy household; I'll admit it. And I often disguise supervision as support. But in this case, there was really no way around it: I went against all my best judgment and knowledge and chalked it up to weak character and moved on. But, all is not lost. Because now I can use myself as a bad example -- looking for the silver lining here!

This experience granted me a huge dose of humility, and also compassion for other parents whom I had, perhaps secretly, been judging for the way they seemed to give in to their children all the time. We are all in the same boat, doing our best, hoping for ideas, encouragement, support and not harsh judgments as we try to bring our values into alignment with our actions.

How have you struggled with making choices that didn't support your values as a parent?

Image courtesy of mikecs83 via Creative Commons.

Want to gain skills and support in guiding your children and help your kids become more conscientious, compassionate citizens? Sign up for the next session of our 30-day online course, Raising a Humane Child, April 4-29, 2011.

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Bill McKibben's Eaarth

I just finished Bill McKibben's Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. McKibben, a journalist and prolific author who has focused on environmental issues in general, and global warming in particular, for more than 20 years, is well known not only for his efforts to educate through his writing, but also to motivate. He spearheaded the movement to engage people across the globe in taking action to compel a reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, a number largely thought to be the sweet spot for maintaining a stable climate.

But as McKibben tells us, it’s too late to maintain a stable climate. We didn’t heed the warnings when we needed to; we plowed ahead with unabated growth on the back of fossil fuels, and we have arrived at planet Eaarth, recognizable as our home planet, but already different.

But while Eaarth is a sobering read, it is not a hopeless one. Unlike some authors who advocate for an end to civilization to “save our planet,” McKibben’s prescription is really not all that radical, though it will be challenging. McKibben takes us on a journey to understand our planetary situation and advocates living in a decentralized manner. Nothing we haven't done for 99+% of our history, but something that now seems unimaginable, globalized as our economy is. McKibben is no Luddite, though. And the manner in which he embraces our globalized information system – through the Internet – is a reminder that we can lead “sophisticated” lives as 21st century citizens, without unduly trashing our planet, and while slowing the inevitable continued rise in temperatures which pose grave, frightening threats we’ve already begun to experience, and which will certainly escalate.

What I appreciated about McKibben’s book is that it’s not the end of the story. His advocacy for decentralized living is not so hard to achieve, but it is just the first step. We have no idea what ideas will emerge and what possibilities lie ahead, and nothing that McKibben suggests will prevent the creativity of humanity from discovering and developing other solutions to our problems. His advocacy for common sense living does not preclude new ideas, ones I fervently believe will be generated by young people if we would embrace a bigger vision of schooling: to educate a generation of solutionaries.

Eaarth is, I believe, verging on essential reading; heeding its call is also essential, and cultivating your own creativity for solutions the true hope.

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

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The World Becomes What You Teach: Transforming Our Education Systems to Graduate Solutionaries for a Better World

What is schooling for? Why aren't we taking advantage of the power of education as a preventative tool? Why are our schools full of debate teams and clubs, but no "solutionary" teams to inspire and empower students to work to solve real-world challenges in and out of school? Why do we continue to educate our students only to become verbally, mathematically and technologically literate, so that they continue to perpetuate unhealthy, destructive and inhumane systems?

These are some of the questions that IHE President, Zoe Weil, explores in her latest essay, published in the Fall/Winter 2010 issue of Green Horizons. Here are a couple of excerpts:

"Too many of us are spending our lives desperately trying to put out the fires of destruction, oppression and cruelty, but what if we were to invest a bit more of our time on prevention? Education is prevention. Education is the key to understanding the connections between our personal, career, and civic choices and their multitude of effects. Education is the avenue by which we become informed, passionate lifelong learners able to solve complex problems. Education is also the way in which we dispel our self-righteousness and cultivate our humility in the face of uncertainty."

"...What if our curricula revolved around overarching themes, such as food, shelter, energy, protection, or transportation -- all necessary components of life and all largely produced or carried out in unsustainable, unhealthy, and inhumane ways? What if core competencies in language arts, social studies, math, and science focused on these themes, and students brought their new skills and learning to bear on relevant issues of our time to come up with ideas that would make such systems healthy and just?"

"...I believe that as a society we are not striving for worthy enough goals for our children. We are not meeting their great potential with meaningful enough education. We are failing them, not only because they are not all learning to read, write, and do arithmetic, but also because they are not learning to apply these foundational tools toward critical purposes. The truth is that we may well be preparing them for a future that is more degraded, dangerous, and unhealthy than our own."

Read the complete essay (pdf).

~ Marsha

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Humane Education in Action: "Plastic State of Mind"

We've happened upon several powerful, useful videos recently, and here's another. From Green Sangha, an organization based in California focused on "spiritual practice and environmental work," comes the parody music video "Plastic State of Mind." It's a fun & clever way to increase attention to our relationship with single-use disposable plastics (especially plastic bags). And we definitely need more positive examples of how we can educate others about important issues. Enjoy!

~ Marsha

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Do You Tune Out or Tune in To Atrocities?

I’ve always been struck by people saying that they don’t want to know about a particular atrocity or cruelty or problem in the world. It’s not uncommon to hear this from adults (though rarely from youth). I think the motivation to avoid new knowledge stems from people’s desire to live with integrity. That might sound like an odd statement, but if you learn something that calls into question choices you make, and you really don’t want to change, then you’ll be faced with the unpleasant experience of living without integrity. Better not to know. Ignorance is bliss after all.

But I’m struck by this head-in-the-sand behavior because it’s foreign to me. I’ve always wanted to know. Even if I am unready or unwilling to make a different choice, I’d rather know and live with my discomfort than not know. I’d rather have the opportunity to live more closely aligned with my values.

Over time, though, I’m beginning to understand the disinclination to know. I do get tired of all the bad news, of learning about more problems, of facing my own lack of integrity. This fatigue is helping me understand those people who say, “Don’t tell me about _______. I don’t want to know.” And understanding is a good thing. It helps me build bridges and offer smaller invitations. It helps me teach more wisely and carefully and inspire baby steps toward knowing. It keeps me from being self-righteous, and helps me maintain some humility.

Still, even when I get tired, I know there’s no other path for me. Maybe I’ll take a brief respite from the myriad books and videos that expose me to the grave and horrible problems in the world, but not for long. There’s work to do, and I don’t know how else to live with myself or to live in this imperfect world that needs our good work.

What about you?

Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm

Image courtesy of Identity Photogr@phy via Creative Commons.

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Kids' Books You Can Be Thankful For

(Note: I originally wrote this post in November 2008 & thought I'd share it again, w/ the addition of one title, for those who might need some suggestions.)

In the U.S., November often brings tales of pilgrims, Indians, turkeys for dinner and the “First Thanksgiving” to children in schools and library storytimes. If you want to celebrate the season with kids, but prefer stories reflecting more compassionate food choices and/or want a more accurate portrayal of the relationship between colonialists and natives, look to titles like these to share:

Derek Anderson's Over the River: A Turkey's Tale, provides some new twists to the traditional song, as a turkey family is traveling to Grandma's and must outsmart a young hunter on the way.

In A Turkey for Thanksgiving by Eve Bunting, Mrs. Moose asks her husband to bring home a turkey for Thanksgiving, but what they turkey doesn’t understand is that they want him to join them FOR dinner, not BE the dinner.

‘Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving by Dav Pilkey follows what happens when a group of school children visit a turkey farm and decide that the turkeys shouldn’t become anyone’s Thanksgiving dinner.

You can also look for books that are about harvest or that focus on particular fall foods, such as pumpkins.

There are a slew of “First Thanksgiving” children’s books available, but most of them are from a “colonialist” perspective. Judy Dow and Beverly Slapin have written an article deconstructing myths about “The First Thanksgiving.”

They also offer recommendations of books by Native authors to use during Thanksgiving time, including:

Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving by Joseph Bruchac, which tells the tale more accurately from Squanto’s viewpoint.

1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine Grace O’Neill and Margaret M. Bruchac, which provides a view of the “first thanksgiving” from a Wampanoag perspective.

Dow and Slapin also recommend other books that focus on Native thanksgiving and harvest, such as:

Four Seasons of Corn: A Winnebago Tradition by Sally Hunter, which follows a young Winnebago boy through the year as he learns about his people’s relationship with corn.

The Sacred Harvest: Ojibway Wild Rice Gathering by Gordon Reqquinti, which follows an Ojibway wild rice harvest.

Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Jake Swamp, which offers up a message of thanksgiving to Mother Earth.

Ininatig’s Gift of Sugar: Traditional Native Sugarmaking by Laura Waterman Wittstock, which follows a young boy who learns the traditions of tapping trees to make sugar.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of justjennifer.
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Changemakers: 25 Visionaries for a Better World

Need a little inspirational fix amidst the hustle bustle of your day and the gloomy proclamations popping up around you from the media? Take a bit of time to enjoy UTNE Reader's lineup of "25 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World," a who's who of those who have taken action to manifest their visionary thinking into positive social change for the world. From the WikiLeaks faceman to documentary filmmakers, educators, community organizers, scientists, artists and entrepreneurs, this is a list of ordinary heroes who are successfully putting their ideas for a better world into practice. You may not recognize a lot of the names, and that's great. Because that's just more evidence that you or I or any of us with passion and the motivation to enact it can make a significant positive difference.

Read the complete article.

~ Marsha

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Are You Really Seeing Your Children, Your Students, Others?

by Mary Pat Champeau, IHE's Director of Educational Programs

My son's kindergarten teacher told me once that every night before she went to sleep, she held the face of each kindergartner in her mind for a few moments and tried to really see that child. There is an African greeting: "I see you," and the response is "I am here." Another translation of the response is "I am seen." I think it's easy, especially for a new teacher, to forget about her students -- not to see them.

When I was a brand new teacher, I was so busy preparing the best lessons I could, being so creative and engaging and thorough, that I made my lessons student-proof. I did not take my students into account! This is not uncommon for inexperienced and/or nervous teachers. There was a moment, standing before my class of 50 middle-school-aged students, with a lesson that had been a work of art the night before when I planned it, that I realized not a single pair of eyes was watching me, not a single pair of ears was listening to me, not a single heart cared what I had to say. I had to admit: 50 students cannot be wrong! I had to learn from them how to teach. I had to put down my desire to be the BEST MOST PERFECT teacher I could be and start teaching THEM. I remember, before I came to this realization, that I would often think to myself, "I would be such a great teacher if it weren't for my students!" Honestly. And I have felt this way as a parent too: "I have so many great ideas and could be such a great mom, if only my kids didn't thwart me!"

In any case, when my son's kindergarten teacher (an extremely experienced educator and person who was dealing with a teenage daughter who'd recently become quadriplegic in a high school car accident) told me about her nightly meditation on the faces of her little students, I felt so amazed and humbled. She said their faces fed her, made her a better educator, taught her how to teach THEM. I began doing the same meditation at night with my own children's faces. I did exactly as she told me: I held each child's face in my mind for a few moments and just let it be there. This soon expanded to nieces and nephews, my children's friends, all kinds of little faces popped up. I understood what the kindergarten teacher meant. I loved the company of these children before I went to sleep. I began to know them a little differently. When one was having a terrible problem, I felt more capable of helping when I could distance myself from what I wanted to give, and focused on what they wanted to receive. It just naturally occurred as I held their faces in my mind, they revealed themselves for who they were apart from me.

This has been EXTREMELY helpful in raising my children. They are at very different stages of life and they have a lot to add to my understanding of them, of myself, of humans, and of life, when I am able to see past the veil of my own agenda. I am so grateful to that kindergarten teacher who was building ramps on her house for her newly-paralyzed daughter after school and holding the face of my child in her mind at night. I have told her this many times. To me, she embodies one of my favorite quotes of all time, the Buddha's last instruction: "Make of yourself a light."

Image courtesy of chefranden via Creative Commons.

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Be the Campfire, Not the Forest Fire

There’s a metaphor I like to use when talking to fellow activists. I ask them to imagine two fires. The first is a campfire in an opening in the woods. The fire is warm and bright and draws people toward it. They are eager to find a place around the fire, and their beautiful faces glow in the reflected light. They feel good. There is nowhere they’d rather be. The second is a forest fire. It blazes hot and out of control, everyone – people and animals alike – flees.

Each of us has a fire inside of us. It is the fire of our passions and our beliefs, and all of us who are activists know it well. It is the fire that spurs us to learn about what is happening on our planet -- to people, animals, and the environment -- and it is the fire that spurs us to action to solve the crises we face and challenge the atrocities that still pervade our world. It is often a blazing hot fire. And sometimes, when we have burned out, it is a barely glowing ember. (There is a reason for the term “burned out” after all.)

As change agents, we have a choice about what sort of fire we will be. Will we be the warm campfire that draws people towards us so that we can share what we know and inspire others to make a difference, or will we be the forest fire that rages too hot, causing people to run from us? This is one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves because the fire we cultivate makes an enormous difference in our effectiveness as changemakers.

But as we know, fire is not static, so whatever fire you have been or are today is subject to change. Fires die out if we don’t add fuel, and the sparks that fly off of them can ignite infernos if we add too much fuel too quickly. As change agents, we must seek that perfect balance, adding enough fuel in the form of knowledge and resources to burn just hot enough to ignite change without igniting a conflagration. We will know if our fire needs more fuel if we are not doing the work that must be done and aren't inspiring others to join us, and we will know if we need to let up on the fuel if people avoid us. If we’ve been activists for a long time, we may have noticed that our fiery youth has diminished too much. If we are new to changemaking, we may need to take great care in cultivating our fire so it doesn’t burn too hot.

Tend your fire carefully. The world needs you to burn just right.

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

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Changemaker Leo Babauta: Going Car-Free

Simplicity guru Leo Babauta has a nice post on his Zen Habits blog sharing his family's choice (he, his wife and 6 kids) to go car-free since their move to the San Francisco area. One of the most useful elements of the post (since there have been plenty of posts & books about living a car-free life) is Babauta's reframing as strengths the issues many people see as limitations (and thus as justification for keeping our cars). He outlines the strengths in dealing with the weather, the longer commute time, the potential inconvenience, the need to access essentials like groceries, and the challenge in "doing stuff that's not close."

Certainly a car-free lifestyle isn't possible for everyone, but all of us can find wisdom and inspiration here in reducing our reliance on cars.

~ Marsha

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Students Speaking Out: "Love Letter to Albuquerque Public Schools"

I know we just posted a video clip featuring high school students rocking spoken word poetry, but I recently came across another terrific clip that's education-specific. It's a "Love Letter to Albuquerque Public Schools," a 2-minute performance by 4 students, and it's an amazing, visceral punch in the stomach to traditional education. It's a clarion cry for reform from passionate, talented, insightful students who are tired of being trapped in a broken system. Just a couple excerpts:

"No need for creativity here. Just fill in bubbles.....Regurgitate everything you've learned onto the answer sheet."

"When we're finally allowed to break away from our designated seats, we stretch our limbs in all directions. Our fists feeling FREE. Tuck that F-word into your file folder."

Check it out:

~ 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.

An interview with Jane Goodall (via NY Times) (11/15/10)

Lead found in some reusable grocery bags (via USA Today) (11/15/10)

"Class turns social consciousness into business plan" (via (11/14/10)

Change in political party in power means setbacks for animal welfare in Britain (via The Independent) (11/13/10)

Elementary students take on cafeteria waste (via Treehugger) (11/12/10)

Fast food companies to help write UK health policy (via The Guardian) (11/12/10)

Nearly 1,000 pigs starve to death after being abandoned on PA farm (via Public Opinion) (11/11/10)

Blood diamonds still abound; stronger measures needed (commentary) (via Project Syndicate) (11/11/10)

Assessment shows threat to millions from toxic pollutants (via Common Dreams) (11/11/10)

"Teaching war" (blog) (via Edutopia) (11/11/10)

More nations adopting U.S.-style of eating are finding increase in obesity (via Treehugger) (11/11/10)

"A girl, a school & a hope" (commentary) (via NY Times) (11/10/10)

"Matching kids with adults who live their dream" (via Christian Science Monitor) (11/8/10)

"The turf war for tots" - TV marketers vie for the attention & loyalty of preschoolers (via Wall Street Journal) (11/8/10)

Keep up with more humane issues in the news via our Facebook or Twitter pages.

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Humane Educator's Toolbox: The Otesha Book

Visualize a hoard of young people bicycling around Canada, the UK and Australia, bringing the message of sustainable living and the power of our choices to people in a positive, interactive way, and you have a snapshot of The Otesha Project. The Otesha Project tours around dozens of communities each year, giving presentations and workshops to thousands of people. They’ve also created a book for youth and a teacher's guide for educators to help bring a deeper level of humane living exploration to the classroom.

The Otesha Book: From Junk to Funk (pdf) is divided into chapters analyzing issues about water, clothing, media, coffee, food and transport. Each chapter offers the following section headings:

  • Removing the Blinders gives a brief overview and some facts regarding the topic and debunks a few myths.
  • Mirror shares someone’s personal story connected to the topic, so that readers can reflect on their choices.
  • Empowerment mentions the positive actions that other people or organizations have taken.
  • Action offers a couple of positive actions that youth might want to try.
  • The Action Addict shows several ways that someone is taking positive action with their own personal choices.
  • Go Further provides additional books and websites to consult.
The book helps young people pay attention to the impact of their choices and explore ways of living that do more good and less harm.

The Otesha Teacher Menu (pdf) is a companion book to The Otesha Book and is full of activity and lesson ideas for exploring the issues raised in The Otesha Book. The teacher’s guide also includes curriculum alignment information.

The book is divided into “meals,” following the same issues covered in the youth book. Each meal is divided into the following:
  • Hors d’oeuvres, which are ice breaker-type activities.
  • Entrees, which offer lesson plan ideas.
  • Desserts, which are post-class assignments and activities.
The "meals" include discussion, interactivity, pro/con debates, collaborations and other types of learning strategies.

You can download PDFs of both books for free. The content is also appropriate for adapting to other educational situations, such as church groups or community youth clubs.

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Spare Time

The other night my husband and I watched an episode of Modern Family called “Unplugged.” Like the title implies, the storyline followed one family’s challenges to unplug from all electronic devices for a week. It wasn’t very successful. I could relate. I’ve become so addicted to checking email that I can’t even stop at a red light without pulling out my phone to see if anything has arrived in the fifteen minutes since I last checked.

Which is why I relish the hikes my husband, Edwin, and I take each week, living as we do near Acadia National Park and lots of coastline and woods. Away from my computer, I notice the world, move my body, marvel at the beauty surrounding me, and, fairly often, wind up having somewhat odd, and frequently silly exchanges with Edwin. We’ve created our aphorism riddles (see examples here, here, here & here) and Edwin has made up some pretty clever jokes.

During our last venture up a mountain in Acadia Edwin, who loves words, thought it would be interesting to come up with a sentence using words with the ending “iginous.” There aren't many of them, so you can imagine our dismay when we found out that “litiginous” isn’t actually a word, even though people say it a lot.

Here’s the sentence we came up with:
Vertiginous Virgil vanished from the serpiginous sluiceway on the caliginous coast leaving his lover, litigious Lucy, sobbing and ready to sue.
Now, some might think this isn’t the best use of time. Perhaps we ought to be discussing ways to imbue curricula with humane education and create solutionary teams in schools, but on my breaks from work, it feels just right to play word games and laugh at our strange verbal creations. At least we’re not reading Facebook pages or incessantly checking email.

Zoe Weil, author of Most Good, Least Harm

Image courtesy of gsilva.

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Humane Education in Action: Pedaling Toward a New Vision of Our Future

Meghan wearing a living hatMeghan Kelly is passionate about our power to create a just, compassionate, sustainable world for all, and she's pedaling across Canada to inspire others to positive action. Meghan grew up in Ontario and, as she says, is into "voluntary simplicity, sharing-based economies and recreating visions of success in the modern world." We first met Meghan when she participated in a session of our online course, A Better World, A Meaningful Life. We found her discussions and insights so intriguing and inspiring that we wanted to know more and to share her work.

Quick Facts:

Current hometown: Bicycle nomad and organic farms by summer, Quebec City by winter.
IHE fan since: Sowing Seeds workshop in Guelph, Ontario in 2005.
Current job: This year I chose to be job-free for a few months to take opportunities to learn and develop skills that will help me live more sustainably. I consider this an investment in ecological education, figuring that skills such as biking and agriculture may also reduce my need to work in the future through increasing my level of self-sufficiency. I've been doing WWOOFing, work exchanges, and occasional odd-jobs that fit with my ethics, meeting many of my needs through a sharing-based economy rather than a monetary economy.
Book/movie that changed your life: Animal Liberation by Peter Singer; La Belle Verte / The Green Beautiful by Colline Serreau.
Guilty pleasure: Fair trade chocolate.
Inspired by: Life, forests, and the potential to bring beauty and ecological diversity back to this earth.
Interesting fact: I practice "extreme gardening" as a hobby, growing plants in implausible places.

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

MK: The desire to become a well rounded eco-citizen and move toward a lifestyle that is in line with my ethics. I regularly attend talks and conferences about the environment and veganism, as well as doing research and watching videos to deepen my knowledge. I take eco-citizenship courses in Quebec City, where we participate in workshops offered by fellow students and local experts. By striving to become better informed and applying environmentalism in my daily life, I've organically grown into a role of running workshops, writing articles, doing outreach, and organizing clubs and events that will help others learn about humane living.

IHE: Last spring you spent two months bicycling around Canada as part of the Otesha Project, giving workshops and theatrical performances to young people to teach them about responsible, ecological living and to encourage them to take an active role in creating a better world. Tell us about that experience.

MK: With a group of 19 people I biked 2,000 kilometers across Ontario, living car-free in a nomadic eco-community as we rode from town to town to perform a play about sustainable living. The group of bicyclists included a range of exceptional individuals: foodies, farmies, vegetarians, altruists, poets, and activists. We were traveling as the “Ferocious Farm Tour,” visiting small-scale and organic farms along our route to learn more about the Canadian foodscape.

The bike tour was organized by Otesha, a youth-led charity that was started by two Canadian women in 2003. Otesha does humane education in Canada, the U.K., and Australia, encouraging people to make responsible lifestyle choices. They spread this message through workshops, through their book and teacher's manual From Junk to Funk, as well through organizing several theatrical bike tours each year. Their humane education is based on four steps: removing the blinders to have greater awareness of the problems afflicting the world; holding up the mirror to recognize our own role in these problems; empowerment through realizing our own ability to create positive change; and action through taking positive actions in our daily lives to create a better world.

On our Otesha bike tour, we performed the play "Reason to Dream" for more than 2,000 students, as well as several community performances for the public. The play focuses on a high school student who is trying to decide what to do with his life. During a dream sequence, the student learns about organic agriculture, fair trade, factory farming, sweatshops, unequal distribution of resources, and suburban sprawl. Upon waking, he comes up with solutions to integrate environmental living in his school and daily life, like having sweatshop-free gym clothes and going to the farmers' market. I enjoyed the play, because it introduces the students to a wide variety of issues, and to solutions that are accessible.

IHE: What has been the reaction of your audiences to your message? What has been most inspiring about working with young people?

A performance of the Otesha groupMK: At many schools we did a follow-up after the play, where we asked the students to contribute ideas about how to build a more ecological society. It was particularly inspiring when we were at primary schools and could see that even the youngest students had an understanding of the problems and ideas for practical solutions. We also had the chance to meet high school students who were part of environmental clubs and eco-education programs. These encounters were especially uplifting, to meet teenagers who are so knowledgeable and committed to positive change.

IHE: Because you were traveling to all these communities by bicycle, that meant little gear and no props, costumes, A/V equipment, etc., for all your workshops and productions. How did you compensate?

MK: We had an abundance of human props. In our performance, I played the role of a chair, a water pump, a factory-farmed cow, a bird killed by pesticides, and a turbomatic smoothinator. We generally had 15 or 16 actors on stage, many of whom were playing props and creating soundscapes. The week before we started biking, we had a training week where we learned about projecting our voices, and how to create humour and visual impact without any resources. Every venue was different, and we tried our best to work with whatever situation we found ourselves in.

IHE: On your blog, you talk about the importance of upcycling ourselves, “turning from agents of pollution into agents of environmental change.” Say more about what you envision.

Meghan with her bicycle, sporting fender gardensMK: I envision a world where individuals move intentionally and steadily toward genuine sustainability and an ethic of earthcare. In recent years, humans have invented a plethora of new ways to be environmentally damaging. From the moment I was born, from plastic diapers to sweatshop clothing to food produced by multinational corporations, I was raised in a society where environmental destruction from our day-to-day activities is the norm, and where environmentally-responsible behaviors need to be actively sought out and learned.

So, I view us as default "agents of pollution," well-intentioned people who are born into a world that functions in an unsustainable way, contributing (somewhat unwittingly) to clear-cutting, strip mining, landfills, water pollution, and so on. There are some changes for the better that are happening at a societal level and governmental level, though I don't believe that simple gestures like recycling are going to be enough to find a balance. To move toward a world that will meet the needs of ourselves, future generations, and the animals and plants with whom we share the earth, I believe we need to generate an attitude of embracing the transition, being open and motivated to making significant positive changes in lifestyle, and to becoming agents of environmental change within our communities.

I'm trying to start with myself, by greening my own mode of living, feeling that we can best share what we practice. My blog follows my experiments, thoughts, and observations as I attempt to optimistically embrace the post-carbon era. Some of these experiments are practical in nature, such as learning to travel long distances without fossil fuels. Others are somewhat ridiculous in nature, such as installing edible micro-gardens all over my bicycle. I figure that environmentalism should be enjoyable, so let's have fun with it.

IHE: Much of your humane education work, from filmmaking to teaching workshops, is focused around food. What draws you to use food as a catalyst for positive change?

MK: Food is necessary for living. We consume it every day. For almost all other forms of consumption--gasoline, electronics, energy, clothing, Christmas gifts--I would advocate minimal consumption, plain and simple, with responsible consumerism being secondary to reducing our consumption. With food, we're daily consumers, and while we often eat for necessity or pleasure without considering the source of our food, it is frequently produced in a way that causes animal suffering, rainforest destruction, loss of biodiversity, river contamination, human exploitation, and topsoil loss. So, this is an area where conscientious consumerism can lead to great improvements!

I became vegan when I was 19, which I think is the most significant step we can take for animals and the environment, though I still lived on a diet of imported, packaged food. Later, after learning about the impacts of industrialized food production, I made a solid effort to seek out local, organic and unpackaged food sources. I started growing some of my own food using vegan-organic growing techniques, and sharing this knowledge with others through It may take some time to find (or create!) these alternatives in our communities, though as daily consumers, I think this is one of the areas in which we can make the greatest impact, and be co-creators of sustainable bioregional food systems.

IHE: Any future plans, dreams or projects?

MK: At any given time, I generally undertake one or two large projects in positive lifestyle change, to focus on gaining new skills with a decent level of ease and competence, such as eating local, learning to garden, and learning to preserve food for the winter. This year I've been focused on the physical feat of traveling long distances without fossil fuels, and have some hopes of continuing to cycle in my region through the upcoming Canadian winter. In future years, I hope to commit myself to forest gardening and permaculture design, because I envision thriving food forests whenever I see a monoculture, and feel these are the most comprehensive and positive ways that I can steward a little piece of the earth.

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Enter to Win an IHE Course & Help Create a Better World

I’m not in the habit of using our blog as a venue for fundraising, but this is annual appeal time at the Institute for Humane Education (IHE), and IHE is offering 5 vouchers for its popular month-long online courses in 2011.

Anyone donating $20 or more before December 11 will be automatically entered to win one of the vouchers.

People consistently describe these courses as life-changing, whether they are individuals taking A Better World, A Meaningful Life, teachers taking Teaching for a Positive Future, or parents taking Raising a Humane Child.

Here’s the 2011 schedule for our online courses. I hope you’ll want to help IHE and enter to win a free course!

2011 Online Course Schedule:

A Better World, A Meaningful Life
Jan. 3-28
Sept. 12-Oct. 7
Put your vision for a better world & a more joyful, examined life into practice.

Teaching for a Positive Future:
Feb. 7-March 4
July 11-Aug. 5
Oct. 17-Nov. 11
Inspire your students to become leaders & changemakers for a healthy, peaceful, sustainable world for all.

Raising a Humane Child:
April 4-29
Learn the strategies & skills you need to parent more mindfully and intentionally & help your child be a joyful, caring citizen in a humane world.

Please help IHE create a more humane, peaceful and sustainable world. DONATE NOW.

Thanks for your support,

Zoe Weil, President
Institute for Humane Education
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The Story of Electronics

Annie Leonard and Free Range Studios are back with another video about the story of our stuff. This one focuses on electronics. Check it out (about 7 minutes):

We've written about electronics before. Check out some of our previous posts, including:
If you're fortunate, like I am, to live in a community that offers electronics recycling, then making more responsible choices about your electronics becomes easier. But even if you don't, there are other opportunities available. Several non-profits take back electronics to help with fundraising (see the Story of Electronics site for examples). And, recently, I discovered a couple of online companies that take back certain kinds of electronics -- and they'll even pay you a little bit for them. I've used both Gazelle and YouRenew to recycle an old camera and an old cell phone. I only made a total of $16 between the two, but I didn't have to pay anything to send the products to the companies, and they reuse or recycle them.

~ Marsha

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