I enrolled in the M.Ed program at the Institute for Humane Education (IHE) in 2002 after attending a presentation by Zoe Weil at a conference in Washington D.C. At the time, I thought it would be a relatively simple task for me to go through the program. I had been a vegan for about seven years and an animal rights activist for approximately two years. I had helped create a nonprofit animal sanctuary for rescued chickens, turkeys, and ducks, through which my wife and I focused on educating the public on factory farming; another couple handled the care of the animals. I felt I had the whole idea of living a sustainable, compassionate lifestyle well in hand.
It did not take long to realize that I had much to learn. While I was attempting to make compassionate choices, and had some knowledge of animal and environmental issues, my limited knowledge of human rights, cultural issues, and how all social justice issues are interrelated soon revealed how little I knew. I was, and remain today, thoroughly impressed by the IHE curriculum and the energy and ideas offered by the IHE staff and students. Every person involved with the programs has unique and valuable experiences and ideas to offer.
By the time I finished the program in 2004, my wife, Annie (who is fortunately equally passionate about humane education) and I began implementing our current humane education teachings. We formed another nonprofit organization, the Compassionate Living Project, to offer humane education services.
The Compassionate Living Project produces a public access television program, Animal Matters, which currently airs in over half of Connecticut, as well as in select areas in Massachusetts, Texas, Ohio, and Hawaii. The program has covered a variety of issues, including numerous discussions on factory farming, China’s bear farms, the true price of beef, the health benefits of vegetarian diets, animals used in circuses, religious perspectives on the use of animals, and the environmental impact of animal agriculture. Shows have featured distinguished speakers including IHE’s own Zoe Weil, Lois Gibbs (of the Love Canal Homeowner’s Association), Howard Lyman, Gene Baur, Carol Adams, bodybuilder Kenneth Williams, triathlete Ruth Heidrich, and Harold Brown. We have also produced videos for national organizations — such as Farm Sanctuary and United Poultry Concerns — videotaping speakers at their national conferences, so that their messages may extend beyond those who attend the conference.
We also provide classroom presentations. We have spoken to classes from fourth grade through college level on a variety of humane education issues. We are most often requested to discuss animal rights and the relationship between animal rights and human rights. Simply the fact that schools are seeking educators to discuss animal rights, a topic that never came up when I was in school, is representative of the growing awareness of the interrelatedness of social justice issues.
Our humane education extends beyond the classroom and into the political arena. We have spent time educating local legislators in support of various bills, including the incorporation of humane education into the Connecticut state educational curriculum.
One of the objectives of the Compassionate Living Project is to act as a bridge between different social justice groups. We have worked with Peace and Justice groups, and have presented at GLBT conferences to illustrate how all forms of oppression are similar, and how people working toward one social justice issue can take simple steps to simultaneously help other social justice issues.
I can easily say that the IHE program was one of the most defining periods of my life. This is predominantly due to the people I have met through the program — both the staff and classmates who were in the program when I was a student and those I have had the good fortune to meet since graduating. They have been a constant source of inspiration, sharing ideas and resources. At times, when the problems we face seem overwhelming, it is comforting to know that there is a growing number of humane educators working to create a sustainable and peaceful world.
When I visited IHE in Maine as a student, Zoe asked us to visualize a world of the future in which all wars have ended, abuse towards other people and animals was nonexistent, and the environment was no longer polluted. While envisioning that world, we are asked by a young child what we did to help create that world. Thanks to IHE, I now have an answer.