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IHE News & Announcements December 2010


 

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DIVE INTO THE DARKNESS TO UNCOVER THE LIGHT

by IHE President, Zoe Weil

Candle burning in the darknessI 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, 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!


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HUMANE EDUCATION IN ACTION: BRIDGING THE DISTANCE BETWEEN SCHOOLING AND A BETTER WORLD


Sally CarlSally Carlessess 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.


Sally Carless with studentIHE: 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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THE JOY OF GENEROSITY: 9 TITLES FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

 

Book Cover: Quiltmaker's GiftEvery 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.

 

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FEATURED RESOURCE: FACTORY FARM MAP

 

U.S. map of factory farms 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 & 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.

 

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WHAT ARE HUMAN RIGHTS?

 

Mother and childWhat 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 is 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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THE POWER OF ONE

by Marsha Rakestraw, IHE's Online Communities & Special Projects Manager

Single plant growing out of sidewalkIt’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."

Image courtesy of Maxime Joris via Creative Commons.


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6 TOOLS TO HELP YOU SUCCEED

by Marsha Rakestraw, IHE's Online Communities & Special Projects Manager

Toolbox with various toolsOne 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 door frame, 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.

 

Image courtesy of thiagofest via Creative Commons.

 

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