With all of the hate circulating the world today, it’s important to teach people how to love one another. One of the best ways to do that is through humane education. Though you may think of the word “humane” and automatically think of finding homes for dogs at the humane society, the term is so much more than that. Humane education is teaching people to nurture and respect all living things- humans and dogs (and any other living creature) alike. One of the leaders of this movement is Zoe Weil.
Zoe is president and co-founder of the Institute for Humane Education, an organization dedicated to “Creating a more just, humane, and sustainable world for people, animals, and the earth through education.” Having dedicated decades to her cause, Zoe has made an impact on the world. We were honored to have such an inspirational and impactful person answer a few questions for us. Check out her Q&A below:
What inspired you to become such a powerful force in humane education? Was it a single event?
When I was in graduate school I discovered a program that offered week-long summer courses to middle school students. I taught several humane education courses, including one on animal issues and one on environmental issues, and I watched in amazement as my students became activists because of what they were learning. One boy went home and made his own handwritten leaflets about product testing on animals, and the next day during lunch he stood on a Philadelphia street corner handing them out.
Several students from that class went on to form a Philadelphia-wide student group and won awards for their efforts. Decades later, one of them (now working for the major of New York City in HIV/AIDS work) told me that that course changed his life. It also changed my life. It’s when I dedicated myself to humane education and preparing people to be solutionaries who understand the interconnected issues of human rights, environmental preservation, and animal protection and have the skills and the will to solve the problems in our world.
There have been many moments, including the one mentioned above. Once, a graduate of our Master’s degree program, said to me during an international humane education conference that we were both part of organizing, “All these people are here because of you.” I didn’t agree (there were many people there who didn’t even know me), but she pressed her point saying that the conference wouldn’t have happened had it not been for my work in comprehensive humane education.
That meant a lot to me. I was also gratified to know that if I died tomorrow, the movement is spreading and growing and doesn’t need me to transform education and the world. With that said, I don’t plan to die tomorrow! I have much more work to do!
What has been one of the biggest challenges as a leader in the humane education movement?
The biggest challenge has been trying to ensure that people understand that humane education draws connections between people, animals, and the environment and isn’t solely, or primarily, focused on animals. Because humane education is associated with the work of humane societies, many people still have a limited understanding of this broad, powerful educational movement.
What do you think is the most important quality in a humane educator, and why?
The most important thing that a humane educator must do is model her message. This means modeling the following: integrity; critical-, creative-, strategic- and systems-thinking; compassion for all; and a solutionary mindset that seeks answers to problems that work for everyone (people, other species, and the environment).
If you had one word of advice for a teen looking to make social change, what would it be?
Ask yourself these questions:
1. What problem(s) in the world am I passionate about solving?
2. What am I good at?
3. What do I love to do?
When people find the place where the answers to these three questions meet, they’ve found their life purpose and the key to real joy and meaning. The next question is this: What do I need to learn to achieve my purpose? We can all ask ourselves these questions, and the world – and our own lives – will be better for it.
Where do you see the world 10 years from now, in terms of social change? What do you think will change for the better? For the worse?
I know that we can solve the problems we face in the world. We can develop sustainable, humane, and wise systems in agriculture, production, construction, energy, healthcare, economics, transportation, politics and other arenas. The question is: will we? The answer lies more with the system of education than any other system. That’s why we at the Institute for Humane Education, seek to transform this root, fundamental system.
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