by Mary Pat Champeau, IHE’s Director of Education
One of the issues we ask our students to consider regards how much (difficult/horrific) information to share with students, and how and when to do so. We just addressed this question in our online course, Teaching for a Positive Future, so it has been living in me the past few days. It has prompted me to remember a time about eight or nine years ago when I began to worry that my own children, in their sheltered little alternative school, might grow up not understanding the realities of the world, and so I began showing them some important films. They were eight and ten at the time.
As a result of my campaign to open to their eyes (utterly prematurely) my daughter wrote a book called Why Are We So Stupid? about how the world would be better off without people and maybe we should kill them off (!); and my son became an insomniac because the images of animals being caught in traps and skinned for ear muffs (from the film The Witness) haunted his sleep. Needless to say, this was not the desired consequence. In addition, I happened to be at a school function where a mother forbade her son from having some lemonade because the only cups available were paper cups, and she told him they were not good for the environment. He replied (yelling): “I HATE the environment!”
Finally, I thought of an incident many years ago reading the lesson plan of one of our early humane education students (who has gone on to become a wonderful and dynamic educator/changemaker); but in this lesson plan she described “chaining” first-graders to their desks with (soft) ropes to simulate the experience of baby calves in veal crates! It was all I could do not to get on a plane to California and run an intervention. When I called her, of course, she understood my concern, and we’ve laughed about it since. Her heart was in the right place, as was mine with my children, and that mom with the paper cup: we wanted to raise awareness. But we did not do so in age-appropriate ways. I, in my efforts for example, awakened my children to terrible realities much too soon in ways that were inappropriate, and on top of everything else, I offered them no way to help, and therefore no hope or power. I just wanted them “to know.” I would never do that again. I would err on the side of caution and approach animal, human, and environmental issues from a point of reverence, stewardship, and responsibility. The “accurate information” I provided would be, perhaps, in the form of a story that left my children feeling empathetic and helpful, not angry and shocked.
I think, as humane educators, we can sometimes feel that the onus is on us to bring information forward that has been, basically, concealed from general view, and in fact, that’s true. We are educators, we should educate. It’s HOW and WHEN we bring this information out that requires a certain artistic discrimination. We do not want middle-school students running out of our classrooms sobbing, or acting out wildly because they cannot quite integrate certain disturbing information. We want information about the world to come to our students when the moment opens developmentally, and they are able to accept, understand and integrate what they are learning — and then to act in favor of the change they would like to see take place. We must take ourselves and our students into strict account when we plan our humane education lessons and activities! We must not, for example, show our six-year-old child or student Sea of Slaughter and expect her to come away feeling like part of the big, beautiful human family of creative changemakers. Chances are, she will come away feeling quite alienated from that human family and even, possibly, write a book called Why Are We So Stupid?
Image courtesy of sokabs via Creative Commons.
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