IHE grad Betsy Messenger and a bunny

I Am a Humane Educator: Betsy Farrell-Messenger

Betsy Farrell-Messenger, IHE certificate graduate, sees the possibilities for the growth of kindness and responsibility. She has been teaching for 21 years. Her focus is the natural sciences, with an emphasis on environmental issues and the connections to humans and animals.

Currently Betsy lives in New York and serves her school as a 6th grade science teacher, an advisor for ten 6th and 7th grade students, an enrichment teacher (Solutionary Congress and social entrepreneurship seminar), a STEM consultant, and co-facilitator of the Community Outreach Crew.

Betsy loves the outdoors and spends time on the Hudson River kayaking with her partner. She also is the volunteer coordinator at a parrot rescue, and shares her home with four rabbits, five birds, and one cat.

We asked Betsy to share about her humane education work.

IHE: What led you to the path of humane education?

BFM: Growing up with a family that spent a lot of time being in the outdoors hiking, gardening, and quietly observing the natural world, I developed reverence for our environment at a very young age.

Early in my education career I was an environmental educator/naturalist, encouraging students to develop their own respect and love for the environment; but it felt like something was missing.

During those years we’d collect living beings to be displayed in tanks, and conduct pond studies by collecting organisms to observe. These actions disturbed me. It bothered me to intrude in and dismantle their homes. Yet in the outdoor education field those were and still are acceptable behaviors.

I tried to model other ways of observing individual beings in nature, such as looking at the melted snow where a deer may have bedded down the night before. (My hope is that environmental education centers will evolve their mindsets to consider the needs and interests of animals as individuals and to respect their homes.)

Later, while working at a farmed animal sanctuary, I was introduced to IHE by attending their student residency. This was a life-changing experience.

Before attending residency, I spent time reading, absorbing, and connecting with Zoe Weil’s book Most Good Least Harm; there I found my calling and purpose. After residency, I wanted to continue my humane education training, and I participated in the online courses Teaching for a Positive Future I and II.

I found my courage and applied to IHE’s graduate program. It was the most important and fulfilling decision I made. My life has purpose: to be the most humane within my means and to educate mindfully with kindness. Everyday I wake and try my best to humanely bring awareness and solutions to my students.

IHE: Share how you’re currently manifesting humane education.

BFM: I’m currently co-facilitating a seminar on social activism and entrepreneurship. The goal of the first year was a study and simulation for the students to identify a problem our world faces and to create an organization or social business to solve the problem, and to present their project to the school.

The goal of our second year is for the students to work with an organization that is solving a social, environmental, or animal protection issue by writing grant proposals to support the organization’s work. When the students were first introduced to the idea of writing grants they were worried that they were “just kids” and couldn’t do it; but after having a discussion about the skills they do have to conduct such important work, their confidence grew. Our goal is to submit the grants by spring 2016.

We are also piloting a Solutionary Congress during our Rotations class at school. The class is a total of eight hours within nine weeks; this framework provides the opportunity for all students to experience SC. The time frame is short, but the passion the students have is strong.

We’ve just finished this first Rotation. The environmental sustainability group presented about the issue of recyclables in our school. Many of the stakeholders were present, and after the presentation a meaningful discussion evolved. The students created a list of concerns and created a “next steps” plan for moving forward. Though the short timeframe didn’t give students the time they needed to complete their project, this experience gave them an introduction to solutionary thinking. The new rotation began November 12, and individuals in that group will continue the project by working to put the solution into place.

Betsy with a cow friendIHE: Share a success story.

BFM: One of my greatest accomplishments was when I co-developed and taught Camp Kindness at a farmed animal sanctuary. Camp Kindness is a day camp focusing on: compassion toward nonhuman individuals — especially farmed animals; factory farming issues; gardening; vegan meal planning; and creating solutions the students could apply in their daily lives.

Children who attended Camp Kindness completed the week thinking about the world more mindfully, and with greater kindness toward individuals and an appreciation for how their food is grown. Parents were very gratified, because their children became more aware of their world and developed critical thinking skills. I hope to have an opportunity to develop a camp like this again in the near future.

IHE: What are some of the biggest challenges in infusing humane education into classroom teaching?

BFM: One of the biggest challenges I’ve encountered is the fear and resistance individuals may have of students learning about the problems our world faces and becoming problem solvers.

Some administrators are focused on pressuring faculty to have students pass the standardized tests, or are worried about competition, or the compartmentalizing of subjects.

Schooling needs to be transformed to reflect a more inclusive approach, with a goal of providing authentic learning and problem solving to help prepare students for our world’s future. I believe most caregivers would want their children to be problem solvers and to live in a peaceful, just, and healthy environment.

IHE: What are your future humane education plans?

BFM: My goal is to make humane education an integral part of everyday life—mine and the people I encounter on a daily basis. I want to extend my goal further by encouraging others to practice humane education, and I hope to accomplish this evolving milestone by reaching out to children and adults.

My future plan is to develop humane education programming to offer to schools, colleges, and organizations within the Capital District area — being the connector to help others move toward a compassionate solutionary way of being. By teaching individuals to make mindful choices, we teach the entire world to be better humans.

IHE: What would you say to others interested in IHE’s graduate programs?

BFM: Dive in and enjoy the journey! The depth and breadth of the IHE graduate programs will open your eyes and provide a lens to view the world with compassion and with the motivation to create humane, just, and peaceful solutions. The support system IHE provides is exceptional. You have a family you can count on during your journey.