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Leadership and Activism, Learning at its Best, Philosophical Meanderings

Making Our Children More Humane

For my blog post today, I’m sharing a recent post I wrote for, an online community for people passionate about creating a better world. Here’s an excerpt from Making Our Children More Humane:

In his book, Teacher and Child, Haim Ginott shares a letter provided to all the teachers in a school on the first day of class by their principal. It reads as follows:

Dear Teacher:

I am the survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness:
Gas chambers built by learned engineers.
Children poisoned by educated physicians.
Infants killed by trained nurses.
Women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates.
So I am suspicious of education. My request is: Help your students become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they were to make our children more humane.

As we ponder education reform, it is so important to ask ourselves, “What is the goal of schooling?” We at the Institute for Humane Education believe that it should be to foster the sort of humaneness this writer addresses; that we should educate our children so that they have the knowledge, skills and desire to be conscientious, compassionate choicemakers and changemakers for a healthy and humane world.

Read the complete post.

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

Image courtesy of downstairsdev via Creative Commons.


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.


12 thoughts on “Making Our Children More Humane

  1. Hi Zoe,

    I’m with you. Knowledge is not the same as wisdom. Cognitive knowing, though easily assessed is not my ultimate goal as a teacher, not by a long shot. I am enjoying your book, Above All Be Kind, right now. I really appreciate your explication of “the four elements” needed to help develop humane young people: 1.provide information 2. teach critical thinking 3. Instill, reverence, respect and responsibility and 4. offer positive choices. Right on! I like how you avoid the impulse to teach morality didactically, which never really works does it?

    At the AERO Conference this weekend, author and educator Ba Luvmour gave a terrific talk on teaching and parenting toward social justice using a strong child development lens. In some ways I see a lot of overlap in your work. His position, in a nutshell, is that a child whose development is nurtured by the proper nourishments at each developmental level, embedded in strong relationships, will be a just person and an advocate for justice. No direct teaching is necessary. Though, as you say as well, it is important to ask questions and be a sounding board and a respectful listener for the young person throughout his/her development.

    Anyway, don’t know if you’ve read Ba’s work. His daughter Amber Kara, will also be following the coop. Perhaps she’ll jump in?? Amber?

    Thanks for continually reminding us about what’s really important in education, Zoe.



    Posted by Paul Freedman | August 9, 2011, 12:21 am
    • Thanks Paul! I don’t know Ba’s work, but I will now check it out. Thank you!!

      Posted by Zoe Weil | August 10, 2011, 11:54 am
    • The Luvmoor’s work rocks, Zoe, and you should definitely check out their work.

      Ba’s book on Optimal Parenting is a great overview, and Josette is currently writing a book on the ways in which adults are influenced and shaped by interacting with children, a CRITICAL piece of the adult development puzzle that is almost never discussed in either the parenting or education literature (and yet is central to the experience of being a teacher and a parent!).

      I’m hoping the Luvmoors will do some writing for us here. I met them at the recent Holistic Education Conference on Orcas Island and they are visionary people and important theorists.

      In general, a developmental perspective is really mostly missing from how we talk about education, crazily yet truly.


      Posted by Kirsten | August 11, 2011, 12:09 pm
    • Thank you Paula and Kirsten for the kind words. Josette and I are joining and I will be a regular contributor. Having trouble figuring out just how to join, however, so that I am cleared to blog. Any help from anyone would be appreciated.

      Of course Zoe, I appreciate the stance in this blog. And I value your work highly and thank you and all of us for engagement in the issue of our times. For the last 30 years I have seen many educators, including homeschoolers, trying to implement similar values. These efforts are meaningful, of course, but too often they underestimate the challenges of being parented as our parents parented and taught as our teachers taught. In a word, conditioning is powerful. In another word, the misconception of separation–separation from self, from the world and from one another–pervades the culture. Fundamentally, social injustice is an outcome of this confusion.

      Josette and I, and those at Summa Institute, ( have taken an important and dramatic next step Appreciation of the child’s unfolding consciousness and its effect of adult self knowledge creates accessible and doable participation with children and families and one another that dissolves the confusion mentioned above and allows us to live in well being as our everyday reality.

      While terribly important to stay in touch with the many forms of injustice in our world it is the actualization of well being that transform people and society.

      I will write more about this on the Cooperative Catalyst website.

      Posted by Ba Luvmour | August 12, 2011, 11:31 am
      • Ba, check out this post about joining up. I’m looking forward to hearing more from you!

        When you want to proceed, you can contact me through email or DM me on Twitter.

        All the best,

        Posted by Chad Sansing | August 12, 2011, 11:41 am
      • Hooray, Ba! You made it here. Welcome!!

        I have been thinking a lot about the points of convergence and divergence in your and Zoe’s work. I love you both. And in many ways I see overlapping goals – wellness, health and healing for the individual, the family, and the human (and non-human) populations.

        Right now I am wondering about the title of this post, Zoe, as perhaps indicative of a point of divergence. Should we be aspiring to “make our children” anything? Is it more a question of how to nurture their “optimal development,” which will in turn, buoy their capacity for being HUMANE beings? This feels like a subtle but significant shift.

        I am delighted to see the two of you in direct dialogue, and am eager to see what emerges in future collaboration.

        Paul (not Paula)

        Posted by Paul Freedman | August 16, 2011, 10:09 am
  2. As I read the post, I thought about the need for collaboration and cooperation balanced with competition. How do we create a “community of learners” when we are forced-fit in to a Bell curve at the end of the day? I would love for us to revisit our total package – all of our structures, systems, decisions, etc. – with the questions of humanity and democracy at hand.

    Posted by beckyfisher73 | August 9, 2011, 9:24 pm
    • And yet, isn’t this exactly the opposite direction that our educational leaders are moving in? I too long for a day that the entire system is re-evaluated, and people from all levels of society are brought in to talk about what education should look like.

      Sadly, I feel like the business of education is far too entrenched for any of the major players to suggest this. Politicians, by and large, don’t trust teachers to do what’s right in their classrooms. Some teachers abuse the system by recycling lesson plans year after year after year. Parents see their kids being educated the same way that they were educated and think that all is well. Some administrators are so burdened by data and conflicting policies that they often can’t find the time to see that the way we do school could be so much more interesting and edifying. I want to believe!

      Posted by alanthefriesen | August 9, 2011, 9:35 pm
      • It is so easy to feel so discouraged, but the very fact that education is such a hot topic reminds us that we are, as a society, searching for better answers. We’re coming up with varying approaches and responses (look at the different lenses brought to education in two simultaneous huge education films – Waiting for Superman and Race to Nowhere). There are some amazing ideas and vision circulating (lots right here at Coop Catalyst). My own vision (in my TEDx talk, The World Becomes What You Teach is just one. Don’t lose hope. Yes, things are entrenched, but the day before the Berlin wall fell, did anyone imagine it would? This is true for so many shifts. We must work hard and strategically and with vision and perhaps we’ll see our work make a difference.

        Posted by Zoe Weil | August 10, 2011, 12:00 pm
    • Becky,

      I think there is healthy competition and unhealthy competition and a lot in between. This is such an important issue and challenging to find the balance that makes competition work in a positive way. Thanks for raising this issue.

      Posted by Zoe Weil | August 10, 2011, 11:56 am
  3. Thank you Kirsten and Paul for your heartfelt recommendations. It was a delight to meet each of you this last week at AERO and at Salmonberry School.

    For those who would like to know more about what Kirsten and Paul are talking about…you can view a video and audio on my work centering on Parenting and Adult Development…at…

    In essence, my work is all about demonstrating in concrete ways how adults develop in relationship with their children when they consciously attend to the child’s development. Moreover how teachers develop as adults in relationship to creating learning environments for their students that care for the students’ developmental needs. Please take a look and let me know your thoughts.
    Thank you for this good work,

    Posted by Josette Luvmour, PhD (@JosetteLuvmour) | August 12, 2011, 6:22 pm
  4. Thanks for your comments Ba and Paul. Ba, I love your book Everyone Wins. I am going to get to know more of your work Ba and Josette. And Paul, I so appreciate your thoughts about convergence/divergence and the comment about my title. I’m not crazy about that title myself.

    I come to my work as an educator and writer with the goal of creating a more humane, peaceful, and healthy world for all people, animals and the environment, and from my experience it’s quite a challenge to get there from here. As an educator I believe that we must provide kids (in age appropriate ways) with information/knowledge about the pressing global challenges we face. This is what we call element 1 of humane education. The other 3 elements include: fostering curiosity, creativity and critical thinking along with reverence, respect and responsibility and finally providing positive choices and the tools for problem-solving. We are all innately compassionate (except perhaps for the sociopaths who comprise such a small percentage of humanity), but what does that look like in practice in a world in which our daily choices can cause such unwitting harm and suffering? I suppose “making our children more humane” really means helping extend our children’s natural empathy and kindness and capacity for joy so that it has a far reach, and this often means teaching about the effects of our choices on others so that we can be conscientious choicemakers and engaged system-changers for a more peaceful world.

    Most people don’t know the effects of their choices on others. Certainly children don’t. They have no idea that the toy they desire may have been assembled with toxic materials by other children in an overseas sweatshop. Nor would they know that their grilled cheese or egg salad sandwich is responsible for unimaginable animal cruelty and suffering and environmental degradation. Nor do they realize that the systems that perpetuate these cruelties are pervasive but can be changed through their skill, motivation, and knowledge.

    Finding the balance between overexposure to atrocities and underexposure to the grave challenges of our time is the challenge of humane education. “Making” our children more humane (while not a great choice of words) simply means providing them with the knowledge, tools, and inspiration to turn their loving hearts and brilliant minds toward important and pressing challenges we face.

    Posted by Zoe Weil | August 16, 2011, 12:42 pm

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