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,