Felice Clyne-Davis, a fifth grade gifted and talented teacher in New York City, has been a public school teacher for 24 years. Felice regularly infuses humane education into her teaching. She says: “I am proud that students in my class throughout the years have flourished as critical thinkers, readers, writers, creative problem solvers, and observers of the world in which we live. My students have learned there are no easy answers or solutions and that in order to attain success they must persevere and never give up. They are empowered to know that they can make a difference in making the world better and brighter.”
Felice also volunteers for a local animal rescue organization, Anjellicle Cats, and is also an administrator for Pets on Death Row-Urgent Death Row Cats, a “small dedicated group of ‘cat warriors’ who every night advocate on social media to promote felines in danger of being euthanized at the city shelters.”
Felice is also part of IHE’s Teacher Advisory Council and a new student in IHE’s graduate certificate program. We asked Felice to share about her humane education work and journey.
IHE: What led you to the path of humane education?
FCD: Remember that old soda jingle, “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony?” I am a product of 1970’s pop culture and was raised with the idealistic messages from that era: Everyone should be kind to one another and accept each other in spite of our differences. So I guess I have been on a mission to do the right thing since I was a kid. I have always shared songs and TV shows that contain positive social messages with my students, and we analyze them and include them in our yearly musical productions. We’ve used songs like Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” and Harold Melvin’s “Wake Up, Everybody,” which are all about how change begins with us.
I am also the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. Every year, my students learn about “man’s inhumanity to man” by reading and discussing young adult novels about the Holocaust and other books that explore how unfairly and inhumanely people are capable of treating each other. We do a shared reading of The Wave, a novel that shows what happens when young people don’t think for themselves. For me, it’s always been all about building empathy. But most importantly, it’s about teaching the dangers of apathy and what happens when people turn their backs on problems, hoping they go away, and discover that those problems can grow into something far worse than they ever imagined.
A few years ago, during a teacher sabbatical, I took a workshop co-sponsored by the Mayor’s Alliance and HEART. I was shocked to find out that even though humane education is mandated in New York State, most schools do not teach it. I absolutely loved the lessons we were introduced to; they reiterated all of the positive messages and values I’ve always tried to share with my kids.
At the workshop I met one of the kindest and most inspirational people ever—IHE graduate Kim Korona, who works for the local HEART chapter and who was able to come to our school for the next couple of years to work with our students. I also took the IHE online course Teaching for a Positive Future, and it was so cool to have the chance to meet like-minded educators and have the chance to participate in a forum with people who share the same core values and know that there is nothing more important than teaching kids to be empathetic towards all living things and to not be afraid to stand up for what is right.
IHE: Share one or two of the most meaningful ways that you’re currently manifesting humane education.
FCD: During the past three years, my students have been engaged in humane education and service learning activities that have enabled them to be more compassionate human beings and have empowered them to be the change that they want to see in the world. I have always felt that since my students are “gifted and talented,” they have an extra responsibility to do their parts to be productive citizens. Thanks to my Pollination Project grant, we were able to build our “humane ed” library in our classroom with wonderful resources. Not only do students conduct book clubs and reading partnerships where they engage in higher-order thinking discussions, but they also learn how young people can be empowered to make a difference in their world.
In February, my students helped raise nearly $1,000 for two local animal rescue organizations with our special musical presentation of Claude and Medea: My Life is My Message (based on the children’s novel by IHE president Zoe Weil). Our show promoted animal rights and the importance of spaying and neutering pets and encouraged people to “adopt not shop” when choosing furry new family members. It was a beautiful collaboration between my students and our school’s fabulous performing arts team; my students showcased their talents in drama, dance, singing, playing their instruments, and creating their own playbills and in their student-produced PowerPoint presentation that accompanied their show.
In addition, as a result of our involvement with Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots initiative, the HEART program, and my Pollination Project grant, my students have become compassionate and passionate empathetic problem solvers. They have published their own ecological magazine that includes articles all about human and animal rights, along with environmental issues. They were featured in a Roots & Shoots video, a Roots & Shoots blog post, and participated in Dr. Goodall’s 80th birthday celebration on Google. Please check out the “Compassionate Kids” websites my students built last year and this year.
IHE: Share a success story.
FCD: Following, our Claude and Medea presentation, I had the kids reflect on their experiences.
Eleven-year-old Alexis wrote, “The show opened up a new mind for me. Sometimes, my parents accidentally bought palm oil products and sometimes I accidentally threw water bottles into the trash. After the show, my parents and I have not thrown 1 bottle into the garbage including all cans. I have also eaten so many fewer things that contain palm oil.”
Phoebe C. wrote: “What is the point of reading and writing if we don’t learn to be kind to each other? Our show, Claude and Medea: My Life is My Message, taught young students that they are truly going to shape our future just like what Mrs. Rattlebee said, ‘Who better than you?’ I think that if students learn from a young age about how much difference we can actually make, then they will grow up to feel that they can make a difference. We wanted to make sure that students at such a tender age would grow up to care about our beautiful Earth. I want to be able to teach students that there is much more than in those books and that there are many ways to make people care.”
IHE: What are your future plans for your humane education work?
FCD: I want to continue to provide students with opportunities to find their voices as writers and to empower them to stand up for themselves and not be afraid to ask questions, share their ideas, and respect alternative perspectives. It is my duty to empower students to become compassionate and passionate young people — problem solvers who must do their part to make the world better and brighter.
In order to teach children to pursue their passions and to think for themselves, I must be a good role model by continuing to grow and develop my own personal passions, including my volunteer work in animal rescue, musical pursuits, and love of reading, writing, and popular culture. They don’t have to care about the same things that I do, but I want them to learn how to listen to the color of their dreams and do whatever it takes to make them happen while being kind to everyone and everything!
IHE: What would you say to others interested in IHE’s graduate programs/online courses?
FCD: There is really nothing more important that you can do for yourself or your students than to participate in programs that provide students with opportunities to empower themselves, ask questions, be able to examine different perspectives, and to not be afraid to advocate for themselves or others when they know injustice is taking place. There’s a wonderful picture book I share with my students called All the Cats in the World. In it, a little old lady receives a lot of taunting and criticism for feeding and taking care of several stray kitties down by a beach. We learn that while you can’t save every cat, you can certainly make a difference in the lives of the one, two, or the few whom you can help.
That is true of anything. So many animal-environmental-humanitarian issues seem overwhelming. We often feel disempowered and helpless. Poverty, pollution, global warming, animal abuse, child labor are HUGE mountains of problems that seem insurmountable. Sad sigh!
But as we know, each and every one of us can and must make a change—no matter how small. Get involved with IHE or your local chapter of HEART. You will be given powerful tools!