WebSpotlight: Brighter Green: A Wonderful Resource for Educators & Activists

Check out Brighter Green. Brighter Green is “a non-profit action tank that works to transform public policy and dialogue on the environment, animals, and sustainability, both globally and locally, with a particular focus on equity and rights.”

You will find important position papers and excellent research, writing, and resources for learning about, advocating for, and teaching about global challenges and solutions.

You can also read a 2009 interview we did with the executive director, Mia MacDonald.

Zoe Weil, author of Most Good, Least Harm

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What a Humane World Looks Like: Communicating Compassionately

At a Fur-free Friday march I attended several years ago, I witnessed some very angry young anti-fur protesters yelling at a couple of men who had been catcalling. Their argument became quite heated, with the men shouting profanities and phrases like “Animals are food! Animals are food! Animals are here for us to use!” and the protesters shouting very uplifting statements like “Why don’t you lose some weight, fat boy?” and “Why don’t you make me shut up, a**hole?!” Aaahh. We can see what a positive life changing experience occurred here.

One of the most difficult challenges for people feeling intense, negative emotions is not to spew those emotions—like a fire hose on full-blast—straight at whomever has sparked those emotions in us. My first split-second instinct on those rare occasions when my husband says something mean is to want to say something mean back; when I see/hear about anyone causing suffering or destruction, my initial reaction is still intense rage and despair. As much as it might make us feel temporarily better to vent our negative emotions at the “perpetrators,” if we really want to make positive changes for people, animals and the earth, we must learn not only to communicate with compassion, but to find our empathy and compassion for those causing the suffering and destruction.

One of the most important skills humane educators and activists can cultivate is compassionate, effective communication. We can speak kindly and politely, ask lots of questions, and use humor as compassionate, effective techniques. For those of us who have trouble with "instant responses," by practicing what to say in all sorts of situations, we can be prepared to respond calmly and compassionately, despite the gut reaction of anger, disgust and despair we may be feeling. In addition, knowing about the people we want to reach is also very important. If we know their needs, desires, and the way they think, we can use that knowledge to build bridges and find ways to connect with and inspire them. All forms of communication: letters to publications, to companies, to legislators, interactions with the media, public speeches, and casual conversations all need compassionate language and intent. It’s much more persuasive and helps build the kind of peaceful, loving world we say we want.

It's also important that we to live compassionate lives—for others and for ourselves. We need to remind ourselves that change takes time, that much depends on experience and context, that all of us have weaknesses that we need to address, and that almost no one wants to support evil or suffering or destruction. We have to seek out the good in everyone and focus on nurturing a connection with those parts of them. We can work to understand their motivations and underlying needs and build bridges toward helping them meet their needs in compassionate ways, but only if we're compassionate and non-judgmental ourselves.

One of the ways we can develop more compassion in our own lives is to surround ourselves with positive, uplifting things, and reduce or eliminate the things (profanity, movies, people, certain habits) that bring negative energy to us, especially if we find ourselves becoming more influenced by them. For example, I used to be a huge horror novel fan; as I became more aware of the negative energy I was absorbing from reading these novels—full of graphic violence, fear & profanity—I stopped reading them. As Eknath Easwaran says in Your Life is Your Message, “All of us can give a great gift to the world by looking at our life and gradually removing from it the things that are not simple and beautiful.”

Communication is a powerful way of modeling and offering compassion. As business woman and activist Davy Davidson says, “If we are to play a leadership role…we need to speak with our hearts.”

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of ganesha.isis via Creative Commons.

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Let's Have All Students Evaluate Their Teachers

In college, students finally get to evaluate their professors, but until then, there are few venues for a student to provide feedback on the teaching they receive. But long before college, students’ feedback would be useful, if we only sought it out. Unfortunately, there have been scant opportunities for students, even in high school, to evaluate their teachers.

A study reported in a New York Times article, “What Works in the Classroom? Ask the Students,” reveals an unsurprising truth.

The article begins by answering this question: “How useful are the views of public school students about their teachers?"

“Quite useful, according to preliminary results released on Friday from a $45 million research project that is intended to find new ways of distinguishing good teachers from bad.”

How amazing that we believed it was necessary to spend $45 million to discover what was surely a commonsensical answer.

I can think of many more ways to spend $45 million in education while simply beginning the practice of student evaluations in all schools starting in 5th grade.

Zoe Weil, President of the Institute for Humane Education
Author of The Power and Promise of Humane Education and Most Good, Least Harm

Image courtesy of Dominick Gwareck via Creative Commons.

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Humane Educator's Toolbox: Factory Farm Map

We've all heard the numbers. More than 10 billion land animals are killed for food each year in the U.S., and the majority of them come from factory farms (often called CAFOs, or confined animal feeding operations). That's a lot of animals and a lot of factory farms, but mere numbers on a page can't do justice to just what that means. The folks at Food and Water Watch have created a Factory Farm Map to help us as citizens and consumers to visualize the impact factory farms have on ourselves, other people, animals and the planet.

The map shows densities for factory farms across the country, and those can be customized by state, as well as by type of factory farm (for meat cows, dairy cows, pigs, etc.), though the data only includes selected species of farmed animals and their products. If you look closely, you’ll also see tiny blue dots; those show "meat plants" around the country, most of which appear in the Midwest and Southeast. The map offers factoids and data for each state (and the counties within each state), and you can find which states (and counties) rank highest for the different kinds of animal products.In addition to a visceral presentation of the raw data in visual form, the Factory Farm map also offers a great springboard for your students to compare the data with other types of information, such as the pollution of water sources from runoff; the ratio of factory farms to family farms; how property values are affected in the high density areas; the demographics and conditions for workers in these factory farms; an exploration of the conditions for farmed animals, and so on.

~ Marsha

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6 Tools to Help You Succeed in Creating a Better Life & a Better World

One of the most frequently spoken words around the New Year (besides “party” and “drinking”, perhaps) is “resolution.” Many of us look to the flip of the calendar as a way to start fresh and actually accomplish those same goals and intentions that we’ve been transferring from planner to planner year after year. But, as countless news stories confirm for us, many of those good intentions that stoke our commitment to positive change fizzle out after a few weeks. We want a better life for ourselves and a better world for all, but actually following through can be a true challenge. We have all those ingrained habits and mindsets to deal with. How to start? Use these 6 tools to help you.

  1. Find the bright spots.
    One of the techniques I love from the book Switch by brothers Chip & Dan Heath is the concept of the “bright spot.” It stems from solutions-focused therapy, and the gist is this: in relation to your goal, problem, challenge, etc., ask yourself, “What’s working right now, and how can we do more of it?” So, if your goal is to practice compassionate communication with people with whom you disagree, but you find yourself reacting negatively more than you’d like, you can start by looking at what happens when you are successfully able to communicate compassionately: What do you notice? What are the conditions in those situations? What’s happening in the moment when you’re successful? and find ways to replicate that.

  2. Make it as easy as possible.
    Don’t let anyone kid you that change isn’t challenging. We plow comfortable, familiar furrows of habits that become deep and secure, and it can be difficult and uncomfortable to climb out of them to create new habits; so it’s important to make it as easy as possible to establish the habit or create the change you want. For example, I know how important exercise is to my overall health, but there always seems to be something else clamoring for my attention. So, instead of continuing to fail at carving out a larger chunk of my day to exercise, I’m starting with small moments of exercise and working up. And, to make that as easy as possible, I’ve given myself some help. Every morning I have a 3 minute warm up I do while I’m waiting for my computer to boot up. I have a chin up bar on my bedroom doorframe, and every time I come out of the bathroom right across the hall (it’s a tiny house), I do a pull up or some stomach crunches. I’ve moved the exercise ball out of my closet (where I never used it) into the living room where I work, and when I get up to stretch, get a drink, etc., I hop over to the ball for 2 minutes to work on my stomach or back, etc. And so on. I’ve found that providing myself with these cues and in-my-face tools has helped me to establish more regular habits that will only continue to grow and improve.

  3. Make your intentions visible.
    If only you know inside your head what your goals are, it’s easy to let the day-to-day get in the way. Find ways to make your goals visible, whether it’s a giant collage on your bedroom wall, a mind map, checklists, or whatever tools work for you. My husband and I have put our goals on note cards and taped them to our closet doors, so we see them every day. I’ve found that if I have a visual reminder of my exercise goal near me while I’m working (even if it’s just the cover of an exercise DVD), I’m much more likely to exercise more that day. Put your bike helmet right by the door. Keep a reusable mug with your work stuff. Use those visual cues to help you remember (and honor) your intentions.

  4. Do your homework.
    Our best plans for success can crash right away when we don’t have the information we need to succeed; so it’s important that we do our homework. Let’s say we want to start using less single-use plastic. We need to know what our alternatives are and how to find and use them. If we want to stop relying on our car to get us to work, we can research which alternative methods will work best. Is public transit an option? Where are the nearest stops? How long does it take? Does it fit with my work schedule? Can I do part of the commute with my bike or by walking? What about those car-rental options or carpooling? Set yourself up for success by finding out what you need to be able to make the changes you want.

  5. Be flexible & creative.
    One pitfall that can block our way to success is “failure.” We try something; it doesn’t work; we give up. But failure is actually a great learning tool and just another way to say “Let’s try something else; let’s think outside the box.” Remember my challenge with exercise? I’ve failed countless times. But I know how important to me a healthy body is, so I keep experimenting -- I strive to remain flexible and creative, and now I’ve found some techniques that are working. Perhaps you’ve been wanting to eat more whole, plant-based foods, but your efforts to cook them on your own have repeatedly “failed.” How about taking a veg cooking class, or bartering skills you have for some cooking lessons from someone who’s a plant-based pro, or starting a support group of friends and learning together?

  6. Capitalize on support and peer pressure.
    Much of our culture in the U.S. is infused with the whole larger-than-life personification of rugged individualism and bootstraps, but the truth is that we don’t succeed in a vacuum; we rely on others for help. To succeed with your intentions, surround yourself with a web of supporters, so that they can offer advice, encouragement, feedback, and incentive. Contact a small group of your friends, colleagues, or acquaintances who share your interests, tell them what you want, and ask for their help. Be specific about your needs and goals and what you’d like their role to be, so that everyone is clear. Be sure also to use the tool of positive peer pressure to help you. Make your intentions public to your friends and family, so that others can help hold you accountable. And, use the peer pressure of a buddy. If you want to volunteer more, for example, find a friend who shares that passion and set a regular date to do so. You’re less likely to back out if someone else is relying on you.

~ Marsha

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To All People, But Especially Educators: Please Think Critically

About 17 years ago, I went to see a chiropractor who came highly recommended to help alleviate back pain I’d been experiencing. I was surprised when the chiropractor chose to use “applied kinesiology” with me rather than traditional spinal manipulation. I had never heard of applied kinesiology and was open to anything that might help me, but when this chiropractor had me raise my arm and resist the pressure he applied to it to “test” various things, and then told me what foods I should and shouldn’t eat and what people I should and shouldn’t avoid based on whether my arm went down or stayed rigid upon his application of pressure, I was stunned that he was serious. I never went back to this chiropractor and marveled that someone had really charged me $80 to do something so ridiculous.

About ten years passed and suddenly this “applied kinesiology” was everywhere and friends of mine swore by it. I’ve learned not to be surprised by such things any more. We people believe all sorts of unsubstantiated things, constantly suspending our critical thinking. Much of the time there is no real harm done, and because our minds and bodies are so intertwined, believing that a practitioner will help us increases the likelihood that we’ll be helped measurably. But I worry about a populace that so readily believes nonsense and passes it off as fact, and I feel strongly that educators must be among the best critical thinkers because, more than anyone, teachers shape the future.

There is a desperate need for good critical thinking among the generation poised to solve – or not solve – the complex challenges before us. So this is my plea to teachers: teach your students to be critical and creative thinkers above all else, and refuse to let yourself be duped. Model the critical thinking your students need to possess themselves.

(For those who want to see a demonstration that debunks applied kinesiology, take a look at this YouTube video.)

For a thinking populace,

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

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The Power of One

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we as individuals don’t have the power to change things. I remember conducting interviews for a class assignment about denial once, and many of the people I interviewed felt helpless and hopeless about their role in making a positive difference on a broader scale. We as educators and activists frequently hear people say “I’m just one person. What can I do?” or “I can’t change anything, so why should I try?” or “It’s too late. There’s no point.” These people have lost touch with their power. They’ve bought the message that ordinary people can’t change anything, that it takes heroes with super powers or people with lots of money to transform the world. But that’s not true. Gandhi was just an ordinary lawyer when he had a vision of a free India. Jane Goodall was just an ordinary young woman who loved the natural world. Craig Kielburger was just an ordinary young man who was inspired by the story of a former slave. The people we point to and say, “Wow, I wish I could be like them….” we can be. Rather, we can use the catalyst of our skills and our passion to tap into our own power and create positive change. It doesn’t require being extraordinary. It just requires taking action.

When I’m questioning my own power, I often resort to two resources to help renew my confidence and commitment:

The Earth Communications Office has produced a terrific minute-long video called the Power of One (“The power of one is the power to do something. Anything.”) You can view it here:

And, I remember the words of powerful, (extra)ordinary people like these:

“I am only one. But still, I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do.” ~ Helen Keller

“Every choice we make can be a celebration of the world we want.” ~ Frances Moore Lappe

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead

“Action is the antidote to despair.” ~ Joan Baez

If all else fails to inspire, remember this African proverb: "If you think you're too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito."

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of Maxime Joris via Creative Commons.

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Are We Moving Toward an Empathic Civilization?

Take a look at this (10 minute) YouTube video, narrated by Jeremy Rifkin, author of The Empathic Civilization:

Is such an expansion of our empathy a likely evolutionary outcome? It would be easy to point to examples of entrenchment and tribal-like attachment to our self-identified group. Genocide still persists across the globe; jingoism is commonplace; and to this day U.S. news reports consistently tell us how many Americans were killed in natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and plane crashes when they happen outside of our borders, as if American lives are more important than other lives; as if we Americans all care more about American lives.

As someone who has always found this news reporting bizarre, even as a child; who was just as dismayed by people starving in Ethiopia as by homeless people on the streets of New York where I grew up; and who could not understand why so many people thought it was fine to abuse (and then eat) pigs but not dogs and cows but not cats, Rifkin’s Empathic Civilization made perfect sense to me. I watched with that proverbial “aha” when someone articulates what has felt like an unspoken truth one has held for decades.

But I’m well aware that not everyone feels as I do. Will the empathic civilization be the direction we head, or will such potentially looming dangers as growing human population and limited food, water, and other necessary resources; peak oil; climate change refugees, and so on, cause us to become more identified with the “in group,” more tribal, more hostile to the perceived “other”?

At the same time as so many people in so many nations are expanding their empathy in an interconnected world; as racism, jingoism, sexism, classism, and homophobia diminish in pockets across the globe, we still talk about competing with other nations for power and still watch as age-old hatreds seem never to be resolved.

But I believe that we are indeed moving toward the empathic civilization Rifkin describes, and that one day we might actually create the Star Trek world I’ve yearned for every since I watched my first Star Trek episode at age 13 -- a world in which our nations are at peace, prejudices have vanished, and we are explorers rather than conquerors.

Zoe Weil, author of Most Good, Least Harm

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5 Ways Giving is Good for You

What's healthy, happy-making and good for everyone? No, it's not broccoli (though it could be). According to a recent blog post by the Greater Good Science Center, it's giving. Yes, we're more focused on the benefits of giving and generosity during the holidays, but these 5 ways giving is good for you are relevant any time of year. Why is it so good for you? According to the post, the science says that:
  1. Giving makes us feel happy.
    "[In a 2008 study, researchers discovered that] giving money to someone else lifted participants’ happiness more that spending it on themselves."

  2. Giving is good for our health.
    "...giving to others has been shown to increase health benefits in people with chronic illness, including HIV and multiple sclerosis."

  3. Giving promotes cooperation and social connection.
    “Being kind and generous leads you to perceive others more positively and more charitably...[and this] fosters a heightened sense of interdependence and cooperation in your social community.”

  4. Giving evokes gratitude.
    “When you express your gratitude in words or actions, you not only boost your own positivity but [other people’s] as well....And in the process you reinforce their kindness and strengthen your bond to one another.”

  5. Giving is contagious.
    “...each person in a network can influence dozens or even hundreds of people, some of whom he or she does not know and has not met.”
Who wouldn't find these a valuable part of our lives and the greater community?

Read the complete post.

~ Marsha

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Pondering Plastics: The TEDxGreatPacificGarbage Patch

The expansion of the TED talks to TEDx (regionally organized TED conferences, some of which focus on narrower topics or populations) has provided a great opportunity for more voices to explore more issues on a deeper level.

Ever since I heard about the TEDxGreatPacificGarbagePatch conference in November, I've been waiting for the videos to be available online, and now they are.

Rather than list them all here, I'm linking to the well-organized post over at plastic activist Beth Terry's blog, Fake Plastic Fish. Beth has organized the talks by topics and provided links. The topics include:
  • Plastic Pollution and Ocean Health
  • Plastic Pollution and Terrestrial Animals
  • Plastic Pollution and Environmental Justice
  • Plastic Pollution and Public Health
  • The Real Problem: Our Attitude
  • Awareness and Outreach: Leading By Example
  • Getting Business on Board
  • Global Policy Initiatives
  • Investing in the Future: Science, Research & Technology
  • Four Challenges to Humanity

You can see from the topic titles how one "little" issue affects people, animals and the earth. Plastic pollution, which is a global problem, makes a great framework for exploring a variety of interconnected issues across numerous subjects. And the videos don't just point out the problems, they offer specific solutions for a variety of stakeholders.

To whet your appetite for more, here's Beth Terry talking about her own awakening to the plastics problem:

I'm going to be perusing these videos during my holiday break. I hope you will, too.

~ Marsha

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Ethics Without Indoctrination

In an essay entitled “Ethics Without Indoctrination” in a now 20-year-old issue of Educational Leadership, Richard W. Paul writes:
“If we bring ethics into the curriculum – and we should – we must take pains to ensure that we do so in a morally unobjectionable manner. This requires us to distinguish clearly between espousing the universal, general principles of morality shared by people of good will everywhere, and the very different manner of defending any particular application of these principles to actual life situations as conceived from a particular standpoint (liberal, conservative, radical, theistic, nontheistic, American, Russian, and the like.”

This is such an important point, whether written 1,000 years ago, 20 years ago, or 20 years hence, and it represents such a fine line to walk as an educator. Every one of us has a bias. Even if our bias lands us squarely in the mainstream and is perceived as moderate, it is still a bias. None of us is immune to the culture that shapes us, the opinions we hold dear, and the particular ideologies that embody our values in day to day life. It may appear that we have no bias if we find ourselves in the proverbial middle, but this is false. This is why Richard Paul’s quote above is so well-articulated, and so important for educators in general, and for humane educators who teach about the interconnected issues of human rights, animal protection, and environmental preservation in particular.

The universal principles of morality that Paul mentions would include such values as generosity, kindness, compassion, integrity, honesty, courage, perseverance, and wisdom and would exclude such things as cruelty, corruption, exploitation and abuse of others, deception, and so on. But what one person considers cruel may be different from what another considers cruel; and one person’s perception of exploitation may be another person’s perception of opportunity. How can the humane educator – whose goal it is to explore ethical issues, invite positive change, and encourage innovative ideas for a healthy world – balance her own vision of what that world looks like with what a particular student’s differing vision might be? How can the humane educator teach about ethical issues while painstakingly avoiding indoctrination?

Here are some ideas:
  • Choose one of these two approaches: Either be honest about your biases and explain their origin and your thinking OR choose to remain utterly impartial in discussions and encourage students to think critically, whether they are articulating your own position or one that you do not share. My personal approach is to be up front about my biases. The truth is that I am choosing texts that provide a point of view, and not choosing other texts. I may try to “balance” the reading, but there is a bias in my choices. Invite your students to critique you and your choices.

  • Be stalwart in your commitment to require those who share your views to be vigilant in supporting their perspective. And be open, receptive, and ready to learn from good critical thinking that leads to different positions. Further, be willing to being persuaded. Be as ready to change and grow from what you learn from your students as you hope they will be open to changing and growing because of you.

  • Agree on fundamentals. Invite students to generate a list of humanity’s best qualities and narrow these down until your class is in agreement that these are indeed fundamentals. Bring back all discussions about systems to whether and how they uphold these fundamental values. Be prepared for complexity and apparent contradictions. Remember physicist Niels Bohr’s statement that the opposite of a great truth is often a great truth.

All education has the potential to veer into indoctrination, not simply education about ethics. Be vigilant. Our world needs more critical and creative thinkers, not more believers.

Zoe Weil, President of the Institute for Humane Education and author of The Power and Promise of Humane Education and Most Good, Least Harm

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Understanding Motivation, Choices & Change: 3 Books That Should Be on Your Must-Read List

As humane educators and citizen activists, if we want to inspire and motivate positive change, then it's important that we understand what motivates and drives people and what inspires or prevents them from forming new habits and/or making certain choices. It's also important that we look to sources of information and ideas outside our educational paradigm. We can find all sorts of helpful strategies in a variety of arenas, including business and marketing. There have been an overwhelming number of books published recently on topics such as behavioral economics, social psychology, and motivation that have useful ideas to apply to humane education and changemaking. Here are 3 we've found especially useful:

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath & Dan Heath (2010)
Explores the psychology of change, why some "simple" changes are so hard, and offers strategies for individuals, companies, organizations and changemakers in easing the way to positive change. (We've previously mentioned Switch here and here.)

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely (2010)
Many of us pride ourselves on our logic and analytical skills in making decisions. Economist Ariely offers a societal mirror to show us how (and how often) we make decisions based on emotions, social norms, expectations, and other "irrational" forces.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink (2009)
Using scientific studies and anecdotes, Pink offers an argument for rethinking what we've assumed about motivation and highlights the power of intrinsic motivation.

What other books about behavioral economics, social psychology, motivation, and similar topics have you found applicable to humane education and citizen activism?

~ 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.

California schools now required to provide school kids with access to fresh water (via Treehugger) (12/21/10)

"After years of refusal, U.S. endorses UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights" (via PlanetGreen) (12/20/10)

Researchers say young female chimps play with "dolls" (via Mother Jones) (12/20/10)

Study finds carcinogen in water of 31 of 35 cities tested (via USA Today) (12/20/10)

California passes cap & trade legislation (via Treehugger) (12/17/10)

"Be wary of corporate inroads into education" (commentary) (via Education Week) (12/17/10)

Reimagining how the world views animals - an interview (via Planet Green) (12/15/10)

ALDF releases U.S. state animal protection laws rankings for 2010 (via ALDF) (12/15/10)

Are kids losing their creativity? (via Wall Street Journal) (12/15/10)

"10 kids who showed us how to act in 2010" (via Good News Network) (12/14/10)

School uses high-tech tip line to combat bullying (via Boston.com) (12/12/10)

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Moving Our Students Out of Their Heads & Into the World With Activities

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

I attended Catholic school as a child and there was not a heavy focus on activities (with the exception of going to Mass every Friday morning and that sort of thing). I entered public high school in 1971 and noticed right away that there was some serious experimentation going on in terms of education -- we had a class called "Human Relations," and I could hardly believe it. We sat in a circle, called the teacher by his first name, and had assignments like "spend the day in a wheelchair" and "write one thing you love about everyone in this class, including yourself." What? I couldn't imagine what Sister Ernestine would think of this!

Therefore, I think it is safe to say that I was fourteen years old before I experienced my first "activity" in class (Human Relations), and I'll never forget it. Robert (the teacher) asked two students to leave the room, and he told them they were going to be anthropologists. Once they were gone, he gave us the "keys to our culture." The keys were simple: if the anthropologists smiled when they asked us a question, we should answer "YES." If they didn't smile, we should answer "NO." The two students returned, and Robert said they had 10 minutes to find out everything they could about us as a group, but they could only ask YES/NO questions. For the next ten minutes they fired questions at us and in the end, he asked them to write everything they learned about our culture on the board. The list was long and random and contained things like: They like food; they wear togas; they can marry many people at once; they are from Mars; they have no language; they have three babies at once, etc. After this, we told the anthropologists what our cultural rules were, had a good laugh, and then buckled down to a conversation about high school cliques, assumptions, and communication issues with parents.

I don't remember a single worksheet I ever did, nor any test I took, nor textbook I read. But I remember that activity, and other activities we did in my Human Relations class. They seemed to move us out of our heads and into our bodies for a short time in our high school day, and we responded to the world and each other quite differently as a result.

I encourage you to explore the dynamic, downloadable humane education activities we offer on our website, which may give you ideas and insights for moving your own students out of their heads and into the world.

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The Darkest Night: Solstice Reflections

All over the northern hemisphere, for thousands of years, people have been celebrating the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. Traditional religions have made some of their most important celebrations fall at the end of December. Jesus, for example, was historically thought to have been born in the spring, but the Christian church decided that his birth would be celebrated in the dark of winter – when pre-Christians were already celebrating, burning yule fires, and decorating trees.

There’s a reason why the darkest nights of the year, which fall at the end of December in the northern hemisphere, evoke celebration. Imagine life without electricity. Imagine as the shorter and colder days increase and all you have to stay warm and to see for hours each afternoon and evening is firelight. Imagine how important it would be to gather with loved ones, sing and dance, share the bounty you’ve painstakingly gathered in the warm months, and then to revel in the longer days that begin immediately upon the passing of the darkest night.

What I like about this time of year – even with central heating and electric lights – is the opportunity the dark, cold days provide to turn inward, to introspect, to slow down. It seems that the months of summer fly by, and I cannot find time to get together with friends, but when winter comes, suddenly I am gathering more often over candlelit dinners to talk, laugh, sing and play games. It is also a time to consider my hopes and goals for the coming year, to reflect upon what I want to bring to light.

This solstice, let us all imagine what light we might bring to a world that needs us. And then let’s put our imaginings into practice.

Go in light,

Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm

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The Joy of Generosity: 9 Titles for Younger Children

Every holiday season there's an almost schizophrenic conflicting focus on acquiring and sharing, getting and giving. Help bring the joy of generosity into clearer focus for younger kids with the help of these nine children's picture books.

The Quiltmaker's Gift by Jeff Brumbeau. 2000. (48 pgs) Gr. 1-5.
A seamstress makes beautiful quilts and gives them to the poor and needy. When the greedy king demands one of her quilts, she agrees to make him one – once he has given away all that he has.

Mama Panya’s Pancakes by Mary Chamberlin. 2006. (32 pgs) Gr. K-3.
Adika is so excited that his mother is going to make pancakes that he invites all his friends. Mama worries; will they have enough to feed everyone?

Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chinn. 1995. (32 pgs) Gr. 1-4.
It’s Chinese New Year and Sam is excited to spend his money in any way he wants. There are so many things to tempt him, but when he encounters a homeless man, Sam starts to gain a new insight about his “lucky” money.

Stone Soup by Heather Forest. 1998. (32 pgs) Gr. K-3.
A modernized retelling of the classic tale about travelers who declare they can make soup from a stone.

Brother Juniper by Diane Gibfried. 2006. (32 pgs) Gr. K-2.
When the friars return from a trip & discover that generous Brother Juniper has given away the entire church to those in need, they’re furious…until the true consequences are revealed.

The Present by Bob Gill. 2010. (32 pgs) Gr. K-3.
Arthur tries to guess what’s in the present hidden in the closet, until a visitor arrives & Arthur discovers the best gift of all.

When Stories Fell Like Shooting Stars by Valiska Gregory. 1996. (40 pgs) Gr. 1-3.
Two fables about resolving conflict, one focusing on the consequences of greed, the other exemplifying the benefits of generosity.

The Lady in the Box by Ann McGovern. 1997. (40 pgs) Gr. 2-5.
When two siblings discover a homeless woman living in their neighborhood, they discover how easy it can be to make a difference in someone’s life.

The Can Man by Laura Williams. 2010. (40 pgs) Gr. 1-4.
When Tim notices the homeless “Can Man” making money by redeeming cans, he decides to earn money for a skateboard, until he has a change of heart.

~ Marsha

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An Open Letter to Educators

Take a look at this YouTube video from Dan Brown: "An Open Letter to Educators":

Dan dropped out of college because, as he said, “my schooling was interfering with my education.” As he describes a typical college class and makes a passionate and positive plea for real education for the 21st century, do you find yourself in sympathy? I certainly do. When information is a click away, don’t we really need thinkers, innovators, visionaries, developers, creators and solutionaries far more than we need memorizers? And shouldn’t school foster and instill these critical qualities as it’s primary goal, rather than perpetuate the rote memorization approach to learning.

I’ve posted James Randi’s TED talk before, but it’s worth a look again. Graduating a generation who can spew out facts, but not think critically about them; who know information, but not how to tell if it’s accurate; who believe what they’re told and fail to take responsibility for the truth of those beliefs, is a potentially dangerous generation, especially at a time when critical and creative thinking are the keys to a safe and healthy future. Graduating a generation of solutionaries, however, ready and able to think deeply AND broadly, so that we can create a restored and humane world, is a worthy goal for schooling.

It’s nice to see Dan Brown thinking critically about his own education and taking responsibility for it.

Zoe Weil, President of the Institute for Humane Education
Author of The Power and Promise of Humane Education

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Humane Educator's Toolbox: 2 Resources for Supporting Gay Youth

Exploring controversial issues in our classrooms can often be, well, controversial. Discuss global warming or animal rights or religion or a plethora of other topics and someone is likely to object. LGBTQI issues have often fallen into that category, but educators can no longer ignore the terrible damage that students of all ages are experiencing from a culture that condones, if not actively promotes homophobia, bullying, and the flippant use of phrases like "That's so gay." The recent rash of teen suicides only highlights the importance of educators raising awareness, promoting empathy and understanding, and helping LGBTQI youth and their supporters build skills for coping with an often hostile culture.

Two resources we've recently come across can help.

Beyond Tolerance: A Resource Guide for Addressing LGBTQI Issues in Schools (pdf) was created by NYQueer, a working group of the New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCORE). The 35-page guide offers a slew of suggested resources for supporting educators in addressing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and intersex issues and themes, including:
  • Resource and Support Organizations (those that are NYC-based are marked as such).
  • Youth Focused Organizations
  • Days to Recognize in the Classroom (No Name Calling Week, Day of Silence, etc.)
  • Curricular Resources
  • Film and Video
  • Historical Events and Figures
  • Transgender and Intersex Support
  • Homophobia
  • Marriage Equality
  • Professional Resources
  • Booklists (by NYQueer and other organizations)
Each entry includes a summary of the resource and a key to what age groups (elementary, middle school, high school) would most benefit from the resource.

Whoever coined the whole "Sticks and stones" adage was deeply misinformed. We've all experienced the sting of unkind words, and when you're battered with it day after day, like some young people who are LGBTQI are, it can become depressing, if not life-threatening. The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has debuted a campaign to bring attention to the fact that words have significant consequences, and that saying things like "fag" and "That's so gay" are not only not cool; they're harmful. GLSEN's Think Before You Speak campaign offers resources and action ideas for students, parents and educators to help stop the verbal bullying that's commonplace in schools today. The site includes video and radio PSAs, downloadable web widgets, how-to's and more.

For educators there's a downloadable guide (pdf) with resources, activities and helpful tips.

What other helpful resources or strategies do you know about?

~ Marsha

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Subjective Compassion: Why Do We Cheer for "Brave" Animals & Exploit the Rest?

I came across a great blog post recently by JoAnne McArthur on subjective compassion. She's the creator of the We Animals project, which "documents animals in the human environment" in order to break down the barriers humans have raised against nonhuman animals, allowing us to treat them as objects, rather than as beings deserving respect and equal consideration.

In the post, McArthur uses a fairly recent incident of the escape of one lone bull to illustrate the strange compassion disconnect many of us humans have with animals. Jay the bull escaped a horrific fate when the truck he and 34 other cows were in (on their way to the slaughterhouse) crashed and caught fire. Jay was horribly burned (many of the other cows were burned alive; the "survivors" were captured and sent on to the slaughterhouse), but he managed to elude authorities until he was caught and taken to an animal shelter. He was lucky. And he was saved in part because many people spoke out on his behalf (presumably impressed with his courage and tenacity). But what about the billions of other animals we in the U.S. eat for food each year? Or those whose skins we wear? Or those we use for experiments or entertainment or deem pests? Why was Jay, and others like him, so lucky?

Part of it has to do with our inability to empathize with large numbers of others. As I've written about before, we connect with the one, not the many. But McArthur poses other potential motivations for our skewed justifications of whom we value and whom we don't:
"We should question our compassion for these animals. Or rather, we should question why our empathy begins and ends with those who have executed a dramatic escape. Aren't the more meek and fearful as equally deserving of their own lives? Why aren't those who have no opportunity for escape equally deserving of our pardon? What is it that we prize in these animals, really? Do we show these animals compassion because it gives us an outlet for the deep grieving we harbour for the harm we cause others but are afraid to admit? Does it makes us feel kinder than our consumer choices show us to be? Is it that we simply love a good story of courage, adventure and escape in which we can play a part by speaking up for the individual involved? Or is it that we understand that animals are sentient beings who can feel fear ( something with which we empathize ) and when they show us this emotion, our compassionate selves can't help but cry out in response to their needs? It seems we are compassionate towards other non-human beings who exhibit characteristics such as bravery simply because it is a characteristic we value in ourselves. It's a narrow, and typically human way of looking at things; valuing something or someone because it resembles us for a moment."

Read the complete post.

~ Marsha

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Dive Into Darkness to Uncover the Light

I love December. Amidst the festivities, the sparkling lights and candles to brighten the darkest month, the singing and celebrating, the craft fairs and concerts, the spirit of generosity (albeit too commercialized, but that's another blog post), the gatherings with friends and family, there is also another opportunity I relish: the opportunity to dive into myself and reflect upon the year that has passed and the new one before me.

At the Institute for Humane Education, January is when we offer our online course, A Better World, A Meaningful Life, based on my book Most Good, Least Harm. We offer this course in January because it’s a perfect way to begin a new year, providing, as it does, the opportunity to reflect upon one’s deepest values, build community with others who want to align their choices and lives more deeply with what is most important to them, and start the year by putting intentions into action. It takes New Year’s resolutions and grounds them in practice.

In the dark of winter, such a course is a wonderful opportunity to introspect, to inquire about what is most important to us and make our goals real in order to live with greater integrity and purpose. We know many people who not only decide to take this course themselves, but give it as a holiday gift to a friend or family member, creating the chance to share themselves, their values, their vision and their dreams with someone they love.

Here’s to the joyful, meaningful lives we can create for ourselves and the humane and healthy world we can build together. Happy holidays!

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life

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New York Teachers: Sign Up for a Humane Education Professional Development Course

Humane Education Advocates Reaching Teachers (HEART), in partnership with the United Federation of Teacher Humane Education Committee, is offering a 36-hour professional development course, "Promoting Success in Science and Literacy Through Humane Education," for K-5 New York teachers. Teachers will learn to "enhance student science and literacy skills while increasing knowledge of humane topics, including Jane Goodall and chimpanzees, companion animals, wildlife, farmed animals, humane literature, environmental issues and human rights" in six Saturday sessions, from March 5 - May 21.

According to HEART, this course has "the quality and rigor of a graduate level course" and qualifies toward a salary differential. The $125 fee includes curriculum packets and books for participants' classroom libraries.

Download the information flyer. (pdf)

~ Marsha

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Humane Educator's Toolbox: What Are Human Rights?

What are human rights? What do they provide? How were they formed? Why do some people have them and some don't? These can be heavy, important topics to discuss with young people. December 10 was Human Rights Day, but exploring human rights issues is relevant any time. How can you introduce such complex information in a manageable way? The organization United for Human Rights, which works toward the dissemination & adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights "at every level of society," offers a great short video, "The Story of Human Rights," that provides a brief overview and history of human rights. They also have PSAs, each about a minute long, for each of the 30 rights listed in the Universal Declaration. These videos are great tools for inspiring discussion about the rights few of us know much about and many of us take for granted.

Also check out our own humane education activities and other resources focused on human rights issues.

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Teachers & Community Educators: inspire your students to become leaders & solutionaries 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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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.

5 ways giving is good for you (via Greater Good) (12/13/10)

Study shows increased coverage of factory farming & animal welfare in U.S. has decreased demand for meat (via Treehugger) (12/13/10)

President signs child nutrition bill into law (via Huffington Post) (12/13/10)

U.S. government slow to act on regulating food safety of eggs (via Washington Post) (12/11/10)

Poll: adults blame mainly parents for problems with U.S. education (via NPR) (12/11/10)

Study: students know good teaching when they experience it (via NY Times) (12/10/10)

"School of One Revolutionizes Traditional Classroom Model" (via Mind/Shift) (12/8/10)

More lawyers using culture as component of criminal defense (via Salon.com) (12/8/10)

Lust for new gadgets creating mounds of high tech toxic trash (via Treehugger) (12/7/10)

"Think globally, teach locally" (via Education Update) (12/10)

Elementary schools encouraging students, parents to focus on college prep (via Education Week) (12/7/10)

"How we saved the climate (and ourselves)" (commentary) (via YES!) (12/6/10)

Teacher uses real-world problems to teach students math (via Philly.com) (12/6/10)

Parks, cities, schools look to "naming rights" to help close budget gaps (via Wall Street Journal) (12/6/10)

"Reframing the education debate" (commentary) (via The Nation) (12/2/10)

Study says nutrition in schools harmed by vending machines (via USA Today) (12/2/10)

Cattle industry creates Master of Beef Advocacy (MBA) program to train pro-beef advocates (via Mother Jones) (11-12/10)

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Humane Education in Action: Bridging the Distance Between Schooling & A Better World

Sally Carless brings a passion for creating a better world and more than 25 years experience with alternative education to her role as founding director and Chief Visionary Officer of Global Village School, which offers a K-12 distance learning curriculum focused on peace, justice, and diversity. Like IHE, Sally believes that education is a key component of social change. Sally graciously took time to share about her work with Global Village School (GVS) and her hope for a just, compassionate, sustainable world.

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

SC: I think I was born wanting to “change the world.” I have had a strong sense of justice (and injustice) since I was very young. I hated school from about 4th grade on. I think that my experiences deeply impacted the way that I teach and fueled my passion for creating an educational model that respects the uniqueness of each student and encourages them to speak out and follow their dreams. It took me a while to “find my niche” (actually to create my niche) in the education world. It was in the late 1990s that something “clicked” and I saw how to link my educational expertise with my deep concerns about what was happening in the world.

IHE: What made you decide to pursue your goal of creating a just and peaceful world by starting an international distance learning homeschool diploma program?

SC: I worked in the distance learning field for several years prior to starting Global Village, and that experience showed me what an effective model distance learning is for reaching kids in all kinds of places. A big concern at that time (and still very important to us) was providing a safe, supportive learning environment for students who were being harassed and bullied at school because of actual or perceived sexual orientation, religion, etc. If we had decided to open a traditional “brick and mortar” school, the types of students we could support would have been limited to those who either lived here or could afford to move here. Since the need for this kind of education is widespread, we went with the homeschooling model, enabling us to reach students around the world. We have served students all over the U.S., many of them in small conservative towns where the kids and their families were aching for schooling that was in line with their values. We have also worked with kids in many different countries, including Brazil, Bolivia, The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Turkey, The Philippines, South Africa, and Mexico.

IHE: Tell us some of the mechanics for how Global Village School works. How many students, how do you successfully maintain programs for K-8, high school and adults, etc.? Give us an overview of GVS.

SC: Global Village provides curriculum and teacher support for K-12 students around the world. We work in a very creative and flexible way, and our curriculum—while covering all the traditional academic areas—emphasizes peace, justice, diversity, and sustainability. Students can use our regular curriculum, or work with us to create a personalized curriculum for them based on their interests, needs, and learning styles, or a combination of both approaches. Our K-8 “Whole Child, Healthy Planet” curriculum guides are centered on the four core principles of the Earth Charter: (1) Respect and Care for the Community of Life; (2) Ecological Integrity; (3) Social and Economic Justice; and (4) Democracy, Nonviolence, Peace and Diversity. The guides cover all of the core academic subjects in a way that engages students through a sense of enchantment, awe, and wonder through incorporation of art, music, nature, imagination, and story.

Global Village also offers a high school diploma program that incorporates peace, justice, diversity, and sustainability education into the core curriculum. High school offerings include courses such as Planetary Stewardship, Global Spirituality and Activism, Reflections on Peacemaking, Literature of Diversity, International Human Rights, LGBT Literature, and the History of Civil Rights in the US.

Currently we have approximately 50 full-time students. We also have another dozen or so working with us through our partner school program (they attend other schools and we provide support such as transcripts, curriculum, etc.). We are able to successfully maintain programs for all those age levels partly because of a lot of hard work (especially in the early years) but also because the distance learning model allows us to keep our overhead lower than if we had to pay for a large building and employ a large number of full-time staff. We have a great staff -- really talented and dedicated people who are good at what they do, and who excel at accomplishing a lot within a limited budget.

IHE: What are the biggest challenges in running GVS?

SC: Finances and getting the word out are our two biggest challenges (and they are very much intertwined). We are a small non-profit organization. While we have received some generous donations over the years, the majority of our funding comes from tuition fees. These past two years have been very challenging for people; some of our families were not able to return due to economic difficulties. Thankfully, we are still doing well in spite of the economy. We have a big vision—there is much more we would like to do with our curriculum, for example. We want to add more to our K-8 curriculum, and we have ideas for several other high school courses. We would like to see our curriculum used not just by homeschooling families, but by private charter, and public schools as well. That process is beginning (several private and charter schools are using our curriculum now), and we are confident that it will accelerate over time, but we feel we have an important gift to offer the world and we are impatient to see it get “out there” in a bigger way.

That leads to the second challenge: publicity. While we have found that people who do hear about us are delighted to know we exist (I’ve been told by more than one mother that she started crying with relief when she read our website), there are so many more people who could benefit from what we offer who have never heard of us. There are many large corporations in the homeschooling business now (it is big business), and they have huge advertising budgets. We have to be very strategic and clever to maintain visibility in that world. We are fortunate to have a very creative and resourceful marketing team, as well as someone who works wonders with our Internet visibility.

IHE: Share with us one or two of your most memorable successes.

SC: Jesse Aizenstadt, class of 2004, really got “lit up” by Global Village’s Economics class. He went on to the University of San Diego to study political science and traveled in the Middle East, working as a journalist. Jesse lists his current occupation as “Intellectual Insurgent for Peace.” His book, Surfing the Middle East, is slated to be published as one of the first enhanced iPad Zbooks. He also has his own blog: Blogging the Casbah.

Michael Preston, another Global Village graduate, is honing his skills as a spokesman for the Winnemem Wintu Tribe while attending UC Berkeley. Mike co-produced a radio show on tribal issues; he has lobbied the state and federal governments for the protection of sacred sites and has written articles for publications such as Indian Country Today. Until attending GVS, Mike didn’t see the importance of school or getting his high school diploma. While at Global Village School he had his eyes opened to the value of gaining skills now in order to have options later. Mike says that “GVS gave me a platform to stand on and move on with my life and progress; to move forward and upward.”

IHE: What do you see happening in the world that gives you hope for a more just, compassionate, sustainable future?

SC: I see more and more youth that are passionate and articulate—young people that really “get it” that we need to make huge changes in the way that we treat the planet and each other. I am continually inspired by the students I get to work with, who often come to us already deeply concerned about the planet and yearning to make a difference. Many of them are already donating time to progressive causes. We are able to broaden their understanding of global issues and support them in their service learning projects, which encompass a wide range of activities, from conducting diversity trainings for other youth to working on political campaigns, to providing books for people who are incarcerated, doing biological stream assessments, and working for animal rescue organizations.

IHE: What are the biggest challenges in creating a humane world?

SC: I have always felt that lack of appropriate education is one of the biggest challenges, and that is the area where I have placed my emphasis. I truly believe that if, 1) people knew the truth (about the history of the US, the military-industrial complex, the corporate media, the difference between free trade and fair trade, etc.); and 2) they understood that their individual actions have an impact and that “ordinary” people have the capacity to make an extraordinary difference, most people would make different, more positive choices in their lives.

IHE: What advice do you have for aspiring changemakers?

SC: Stay true to yourself and what matters to you. Don’t let people tell you that it can’t be done, or that you shouldn’t care so much. Do the best you can to keep your heart open. Try to find practices that help you stay present, because it’s hard to feel everything—hard to take in all that’s going on around us.

Strive to find a balance in the way you focus your attention by seeking positive stories of people making a difference; don’t just immerse yourself in the “bad” news. My experience is that I am much more effective and healthy if I don’t allow myself to fall into a place of helplessness and outrage. (I know it’s easy to say…) I’m not saying to just look away. That’s what most people do, and it’s a big part of the problem. Joanna Macy talks about the importance of “sustaining the gaze” in spite of what often feels unbearable. She also teaches powerful practices for coping with the feelings this kind of work evokes.

Personally, practices such as yoga and mindfulness meditation have been very helpful. A long-time activist I know who publishes a progressive magazine and has been immersed in the problems of the planet for many years recently became a Laughter Yoga trainer and it has been a very helpful practice for him. Laughter is also a natural component of many Native American ceremonies I’ve attended. These are people dealing with immense hardships every day, and they laugh more than anyone else I know.

So, surround yourself with beauty, with people who inspire you and support you in the pursuit of things you care about. Take time to slow down, spend time in nature, listen deeply to that voice within, and don’t forget to laugh!

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A Must-Read List for Humane Educators & Citizen Activists

In a previous blog post I wrote about the prescribed reading and assignments for our M.Ed. and certificate program students at the Institute for Humane Education. For those of you wondering what might be considered core books for a humane educator (or someone interested in understanding the interconnected issues of human rights, animal protection, environmental preservation, culture and changemaking, and education), here’s a sample reading list of solutions-focused books. Maybe you’ll put some of these on your holiday wish list:

Healing Through the Dark Emotions by Miriam Greenspan – A book that makes it possible to get through all the others and to stay engaged and healthy through some tough reading.

Ending Slavery by Kevin Bales – A book to introduce the reader to escalating worldwide slavery and what to do about it.

Creating a World Without Poverty by Mohammad Yunus – A book of solutions, written by a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson – Education as a solution to poverty and oppression.

Creating a World that Works for All by Sharif Abdullah – The name says it all.

Capitalism 3.0 by Peter Barnes – A case for capitalism that is both economically sound and environmentally and culturally sustainable and positive.

Field Notes on the Compassionate Life by Marc Ian Barasch – What does goodness look like in the world?

Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart – An approach to solving environmental challenges through technology, invention, and innovation that does no harm.

Eaarth by Bill McKibben – A look at global warming with ideas for response.

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond – What has and hasn’t worked to protect the environments and societies where different cultures have chosen varying approaches.

Earth in Mind by David Orr – Educating for an ecologically literate generation.

Animal Liberation by Peter Singer – The book that launched the animal rights movement.

The Food Revolution by John Robbins – A detailed and accessible look at how our food choices affect our health, the environment and animals.

The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer – Written primarily for college professors, this book invites all of us to consider the teacher within and to teach for a better world.

Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life – At the risk of self-promotion, my own book connects all these subjects and offers an approach to living and changemaking for a better world and a meaningful life

Read on!

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education

P.S. Want to get a taste of our humane education training programs & gain skills and support for inspiring 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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Resisting the Holiday Hype: 13 Tips for Commercial-Free Holidays

Parenting offers no dearth of challenges, and the holidays -- with their focus on glitz and goodies -- can prove especially arduous. And when you're values urge you to raise your child in ways that don't reflect the mainstream morass, you can sometimes feel alone and helpless. Our friends at the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood (CCFC) have created a holiday guide to help parents bring more sanity and simplicity to your children's (and your own) holiday experience. The "CCFC Guide to Commercial-free Holidays"(pdf) offers 13 tips for resisting the holiday hype. The tips, suggested by parents, authors, media experts and advocates, include:

1. Put others' needs above our wants.
2. Give the gift of media literacy.
3. Give the gift of time.
4. Carve out time & space for commercial-free family traditions.
5. Give TV-free holidays.

Read the complete guide.

~ Marsha

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Get strategies & support for nurturing your children to be joyful, caring citizens in a humane sustainable world. Sign up for the next session of our 30-day online course, Raising a Humane Child (April 4-29, 2011).
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What Does It Mean to Be Well-Educated?, Part 2

In my last post, I wrote a response to an excellent post at Cooperative Catalyst titled, “What does it mean to be well-educated?”. As the creator of the first M.Ed. program in the U.S. focused on humane education, I’ve had to think about this question a lot, but in a very specific way. I’ve had to ask myself, “What does it mean to be a well-educated humane educator?”

Having completed two master’s degrees myself, I knew the typical liberal arts master’s degree format: take courses of interest from a variety of professors; write the (usually) two long (20+ pages) papers; do this for two years and receive a degree. One of my master’s degrees is in English Literature, and my husband can’t quite believe how many classics I've never read yet still received an M.A. I've never read Dickens, Melville, or Hawthorne, for example. Hard to believe. But I did read lots of Shakespeare (I took a whole course just on Hamlet), the Bloomsbury authors of England, lots of utopian and dystopian novels, and the Romantic poets. Still, there are huge gaps in my education because I took the courses that interested me. There was no body of knowledge I had to possess to be granted my degree.

When I was creating our M.Ed. program, I realized there was a body of knowledge I wanted each student to have. For our students to be well-educated humane educators, there were certain books and films and ideas with which I felt they needed to grapple. I read hundreds of books to narrow down our reading list to those I felt were key components to their education, and each year when I revised the curricula, I read another hundred. And so every student who enrolls in our program reads core books (with many others recommended) and completes many specific (short) assignments designed to help them to become the best humane educators they can be. Students can request a different book (if they’ve already read it or feel it isn’t of greatest value to them personally) or propose a different assignment (for the same reason), and these requests are usually granted. But there is a body of knowledge I want them to have and carefully crafted questions/assignments I want them to address and explore.

At times this seems so prescriptive, so different from the graduate programs I participated in. But to be well-educated and well-rounded as a humane educator, I have felt that there are key texts that will provide them with the right mix of knowledge, approach, and understanding for educating others to be solutionaries who understand the interconnected issues of human rights, animal protection, environmental preservation, and explorations of culture and change. I have taken a similar approach as any trade school – whether medical school or law school – an approach that says: in order to be successful at this profession, you need this particular set of knowledge and skills.

What does it mean to be well-educated? It depends upon what you are being educated for.

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of The Power and Promise of Humane Education

P.S. In Fall 2011, IHE will resume its M.Ed. in Humane Education program -- the only program of its kind in the U.S. -- with a new affiliate. To receive more information about the program and an application when this program is launched, please contact Amy Morley at Amy@HumaneEducation.org.

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