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Leadership and Activism, Learning at its Best

Ruby and Coral: The Best Kinds of Activists & a Tribute to Humane Education

This past winter, two high school seniors, Ruby Treyball and Coral O’Brian, asked if they could do their Independent Study Project (IS) with me. Having watched my TEDx talk, they wanted to experience humane education and learn about human rights, animal protection, and environmental preservation. I put together a two week curricula that included five books, a dozen films, and a bunch of websites. I gave them questions to discuss for each day, and actions to do to so that their education wouldn’t be divorced from changemaking efforts. And on every day I was in town, I met with them.

Truthfully, I was a bit anxious about taking on the mentorship of an IS project. My schedule was already too packed, and I was going to be traveling for five days of the two weeks. While we stretched the two into three weeks, using some of the girls’ February break, I still wasn’t sure I really had time for all this. Just putting together a solid syllabus took the better part of a day. But I loved these two girls, whom I’ve known for years, and there was no way I was going to say no. Thank goodness I didn’t!

Those few weeks were a joy, and what’s happened since has been one of the most rewarding and heartening experiences I’ve had as an educator. Our one hour meetings the days I was in town extended for several hours, and then to weekend dinners. The girls were so committed to learning and then acting upon what they learned, and watching their transformation into kind but persistent activists was amazing. At the end of the IS project they had both decided to become vegan; they started a school activity group for the remainder of the year, during which they taught their fellow students; they spoke at their school’s Parents Association gathering; they hosted a film and discussion and helped develop a discussion guide for the soon-to-be-released film Vegucated; and they committed to being interns at the Institute for Humane Education for our Summer Institute and our 15th Anniversary Crystal Ball celebration on July 2.

And every step of the way they have avoided the pitfalls to which so many activists have succumbed. Despite ribbing at school and irritating comments in the cafeteria about their vegan diet, they have remained poised and respectful. Those who have dismissed their concerns have only strengthened their resolve. They could not be better, warmer, more measured, more thoughtful advocates for the voiceless, even if they had trained for such activism for a decade.

I am so proud to know Ruby and Coral, and I’m so grateful to count them as friends. They are a reminder to each of us of the power of humane education. In just a couple of weeks, these two young women dove into their education with gusto and took what they learned and began to make a difference. Imagine what would happen if humane education were part of every student’s education.

For a humane world,

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDx talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach

About zoeweil

I'm the co-founder and President of the Institute for Humane Education (IHE). IHE works to create a world in which we all live humanely, sustainably, and peaceably. We do this by training people to be humane educators who teach about the pressing issues of our time and inspire people to work for change while making healthy, humane, and restorative choices in their daily lives. We also work to advance the field of humane education, and to provide tools and inspiration to people everywhere so that they can live examined, meaningful lives. I'm also a writer. So far I've written six books and several articles.


7 thoughts on “Ruby and Coral: The Best Kinds of Activists & a Tribute to Humane Education

  1. Zoe, how do you think teachers and learners can best work together to help kids develop those senses of identity and resolve in healthy ways? Kids are amazingly resilient. How do we help them make use of that in holding fast to themselves? In persisting with difficult areas of inquiry until they have found or changed a belief?

    Another way to ask the same questions: what’s getting in the way of school being like this IS for kids?


    Posted by Chad Sansing | June 10, 2011, 8:15 am
    • Hi Chad,
      I’ve passed your question directly to Ruby and Coral and await their replies which I’ll post here. I think they’d do the best job of asking this most important question!

      Posted by Zoe Weil | June 10, 2011, 11:48 am
    • Hi Chad,

      Here’s Coral’s response:

      I would say school has now become another system designed to produce children with the qualifications for their eventual job of choice and has lessened it’s focus on actual learning. It seems that schools are more intent on testing and qualifications instead of knowledge that can be applied to larger issues that affect each one of our lifestyles. i would agree that children are very resilient and believe that once they learn the truth and urgency of issues such as these their determinedness rises to the surface. It is their future they must take control over and when they realize that our current lifestyle can’t continue to be upheld past another lifetime they will be bursting to take action. Schools need to iincorporate these topics that relate so very closely to our lives into the curriculum so children become educated in these topics. The greatest problem is simply how unaware the average child (or even adult) is of these issues.

      Posted by Zoe Weil | June 14, 2011, 8:14 am
  2. I am going to ask a very tough question. How can I help teachers who want to do this in a meth-infested, de-culturalized, rural backwater that is failing every child in its charge? I despair at times in the face of this and treat my teaching like bread on the water–with hope but no expectation. That is a hard way to live as a teacher and even harder as a learner.

    Posted by tellio | June 10, 2011, 6:57 pm
    • There’s no easy answer to this question and I have no simple response. It certainly isn’t easy, and I felt so much appreciation for what you are trying to do and so much empathy given the circumstances you face. In some sense I believe that the answer to your question begins with teachers loving their students, believing in them, and connecting with them despite all the obstacles, of which there are so many. And then when this foundation is laid, there is, as you say, hope, which I think is enough. It’s funny because I spent some time last week starting a blog post on hope and hopelessness. Remaining hopeful – especially as a teacher in the conditions you describe – is almost an act of will, but it underlies all the possibilities for teaching and learning and growing and achieving one’s dreams as both a teacher and a student.

      I would also say that we find that teachers who incorporate humane education into their curriculum become more energized and hopeful, and that their students (like Ruby and Coral) do too. And this leads to more learning, action, achievement and empowerment. At the risk of sounding like an advertisement, I would encourage you to check our our website and offerings at the Institute for Humane Education ( There are lots of free downloadable activities, but the real help we provide is in our training and workshops and online courses. Our 6 week online course, Teaching for a Positive Future, provides teachers with the opportunity to explore how to incorporate h.ed. into their required curricula, to ask and answer the question you posed above in a community of other teachers, and to dive into their purpose in schooling and the passion that brought them into the field. It’s a hopeful, energizing, and powerful course for educators that is not expensive or time-consuming. Our Summer Institute – for those who are able to attend – does this too, even more deeply. So, enough “selling” of our programs! If you would like to talk about this question and these issues, I’m happy to. You can email me directly at and we can set up a time. Good luck. What you do matters so much and I so admire you for your work as a teacher in these conditions.

      Posted by Zoe Weil | June 13, 2011, 8:19 am
  3. Powerful question Tellio. Thank you.


    Posted by Kirsten | June 12, 2011, 10:01 pm

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