As I stood at a podium recently, looking out at a room packed with 450 people, and began to speak, my voice cracked. I wasn’t expecting that. I hadn’t anticipated the flood of emotions I would experience when our humane education conference—Educating for a Just, Peaceful & Sustainable Future, a collaboration among the Institute for Humane Education, Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots and HEART—finally came to pass at New York University on Sept. 21, the International Day of Peace.
The conference had been a long time in the planning. We’d talked about it for a couple of years and organized it intensively for eight months. We secured a room for 250 people. By the early registration deadline, we’d sold out. So we booked a room nearly double the size. And sold out again.
We developed a program meant to inspire, educate and motivate, and all of our speakers donated their time, including Jane Goodall and Arun Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson. We made sure that our audience heard from youth: four young speakers shared the ways in which humane education transformed them, and one, Nikhil Goyal, explained his own work to transform education.
Audience members leapt from their seats when the Bronx-based Peace Poets finished their spoken word session, which entertained as it deeply moved and informed us.
Lightbulbs went off, sparking recognition, as humane educator Melissa Feldman presented provocative media literacy activities.
Before Arun Gandhi gave his powerful closing keynote, inviting us to use anger as a positive fuel rather than a weapon, we offered the audience a fast-paced session of what we called “lightning presentations.” Sixteen people shared their humane education work, which spanned the globe, demonstrating not only what is possible, but what is happening in every corner of the world.
And all I could think all day long was this:
Humane education’s time has come.
I’ve been a humane educator for more than 25 years. I co-founded the Institute for Humane Education to advance this movement and transform education. I believe in the power of humane education to change the world for the better and educate a generation to be solutionaries, ready and able to meet the challenges we face.
On Sept. 21, 450 people who believe it, too, joined us. There were few dry eyes in the auditorium, but not because they were sad. They were crying because they were inspired and full of joy, seeing that change really is possible, and that they are part of a movement that offers meaningful hope along with practical and viable methods to educate people to be the wise, dedicated, conscientious choicemakers and changemakers the world so desperately needs.
Here’s what just two of them told us when the conference ended:
- “This was the best conference I’ve ever attended.” (This, from a former state legislator and nonprofit employee who attends conferences all the time.)
- “I’ve won eight Emmys for my work, but nothing I’ve produced has been as astonishing as this day,” said an award-winning TV producer.
Humane education is the best hope we have for a just, peaceful and sustainable future, and on September 21, I believe we reached a tipping point. Wherever you are and whatever you do, know that you are joined by educators, parents, change agents and engaged citizens who are ensuring that we all have the tools and the knowledge to do the joyful, exciting and necessary work that this time in history demands.