rainforest in the classroom

Why We Need Humane Education: Students Need to Be Solutionaries

by Amanda Schmidt

In 1995 when I was eight years old, we moved from Palmdale, California, across the country to Buffalo, New York, where I still currently live. Some of my best memories are from living in California. My early experiences there laid the foundation that has led me to humane education.

Palmdale is a desert; and while most people think about rain forests and oceans teeming with life, I know from my childhood the amazing and abundant plants and other critters making their homes on that dry earth. My house was right in the middle of the desert, and my parents exposed me to the amazing animals who lived there.

My father regularly took me out in the evenings to explore. I remember giant ant hills that seemed to be bursting with the tiny six-legged creatures, and jack rabbits jumping amongst rolling tumbleweeds. We’d catch giant centipedes and lizards. We even had a black widow nest in our front yard, and one year there was an egg in it. My mother had no fear; she loves spiders and told me that when the egg hatched hundreds of little babies would crawl out!  I was raised by animal lovers who never differentiated one species as being more desirable than another.

Third grade was the first full year of school I attended in New York, and it brought one of the most memorable educational moments in my life.

My teacher told us we would be learning about the rain forests. I was so excited! What could be better than learning about a habitat I’d never seen and all the new amazing animals who lived there? My favorite by far was the ocelot, but toucans, pythons, piranhas, and spider monkeys were all introduced to me as well. My teacher did a great job of creating wonder and a deep passion for this habitat and its inhabitants.

Then came the film on sugarcane. I wish I could remember the exact statistic, but I learned that trees were being cut down at an alarming rate to plant sugarcane fields. Other reasons for deforestation were noted, but sugarcane was the focus. I also learned that by the time I was 50 all of the rain forests would probably be gone. I was devastated. I went home that day, crying. Why was this happening? How could adults willingly destroy these beautiful, life-giving forests? How could they think it acceptable to kill all the amazing and unique animals who lived there?

We talked in class about recycling, then moved on to study monarch butterflies, but I never moved on from the destruction of the rain forests. They were being cut down; animals were dying right then, and all I could do was recycle a few cans?

I was left to assume that that was just the way of the world. I was a child, and there was little I could do. The clearing of the rain forests for sugarcane was an adult business, and an adult problem. Perhaps one day I’d go off to college and learn how to fix it then.

Fortunately I have found my way to the Institute for Humane Education. I am learning to become a role model for living lightly on the planet, and best of all, I am gaining the skills and knowledge to be able to teach students how to become solutionaries.

“You are important!”
“You can have an impact!”
“You can save the rain forests!”
“These are some things you can do; what are your ideas for what else could be implemented?”
“Let’s have a discussion.”
“Let’s get together and make a game of it!”
“Let’s get out there together and try some things.”
“Let’s educate our friends, family, school, and community about this topic.”

These are the encouragements of a humane educator. These statements are what I was desperate to hear when I was in third grade and beside myself trying to deal with what seemed like a hopeless problem. Those periods as I grew older of feeling depressed and forlorn, and eventually becoming cynical and hating humanity, could have been avoided had my teacher been trained and knowledgeable about humane education topics and ideas.

I was desperate to become a solutionary my whole life; I just didn’t know there was such a concept until now. Maybe one day I’ll be teaching my own third grade class, and I’ll include a unit on the rain forests. I will create wonder and a deep passion for the habitat and its inhabitants, as my third grade teacher instilled in me. I will also show them in an age-appropriate way the perils that this important and amazing ecosystem is facing. And afterwards, I won’t bring up recycling and move on to the next topic; instead I’ll look at my students and ask, “What would YOU like to do about this?”

Image via Lars Hammar/Flickr.

Amanda SchmitIHE guest blogger Amanda Schmit is an IHE M.Ed. student. She says, “Through IHE I am hopeful that I will get to share my passion for the Earth and all its creatures with future students, and motivate them to live lightly on the Earth, care for other creatures, and share humane lifestyle ideas with others.”