Amy Halpern-Laff

Jesse Hagopian on bringing Black Lives Matter into schools

We speak with Jesse Hagopian, an editor for ReThinking Schools and a long-time teacher in the Seattle Public Schools. He is a co-editor of the book Teaching for Black Lives. Jesse discusses the groundbreaking annual National Week of Action in February that makes four demands of schools: replace zero tolerance discipline with restorative justice, implement ethnic studies in all schools, hire more black teachers, and fund counselors (rather than police) in all schools. About teachers who “don’t want to get involved” in social justice issues, Jesse quotes Howard Zinn, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” NYC’s UFT is one of the few unions that hasn’t endorsed the Week of Action.

Jesse Hagopian on bringing Black Lives Matter into schools

 
 
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Find more about Jesse and his work on blacklivesmatteratschool.com, iamaneducator.com and rethinkingschools.org

Credit: Kuow Photo/Joshua McNichols

Melissa Rivers on Community-Based Education in Rural Alaska

We speak with Melissa Rivers, Principal of the Scammon Bay School in Alaska’s Lower Yukon, a mile from the Bering Sea. The isolated, tight-knit Yupik Eskimo community is subsistence-based, harvesting moose and salmon. Students are artistic and learn by making things, but also must prepare for standardized tests designed for very different environments. For the past several years, Scammon Bay has participated in a cross-cultural exchange program run by the Alaska Humanities Forum to promote understanding among Alaska’s urban and rural communities.

Ethical College and Career Decisions

John Dewey, arguably America’s greatest 20th century philosopher and educator, stressed the importance of teaching habits of rigorous ethical inquiry in the classroom and in the larger society. He argued that students should learn to consider the impacts of their individual and collective social, economic, and political choices. Fortunately, many schools and youth programs encourage students to consider how their actions impact humans, animals (other than human), and the planet. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine a meaningful SEL (social and emotional learning) program that doesn’t incorporate ethical decision-making.

Why, then, when it comes time to discuss college and career, do high schools typically encourage students to go to the “best” schools they can get into and to “follow [their] passions”? Why does most college counseling omit the ethical implications of choosing a particular school, and why do most career counselors minimize the potential impact on the well-being of humans and animals (other than human) of choosing one career over others?  

In many middle- and upper-income communities, the college application process is fiercely competitive. As Michael Crow, Arizona State University’s president observed, “The race to get into elite colleges is a full-blown hysteria.” The recent college admissions scandal shed light on some parents’ willingness to engage in (and model) grossly unethical behavior to ensure their children were admitted to exclusive colleges, whether or not they qualified. Between 2011 and 2018, wealthy parents, among them CEOs and celebrities, collectively paied more than $25 million to Rick Singer, a college coach and consultant who used some of the funds to bribe test proctors, coaches, and college officials.   

In March, Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project released “Turning the Tide II: How Parents and High Schools Can Cultivate Ethical Character and Reduce Distress in The College Admissions Process.” The report calls on the adults in the process to promote “greater ethical engagement among high school students, level the playing field for economically disadvantaged students, and reduce excessive achievement pressure” and includes a joint statement signed by 140 public and private college admissions officers endorsing the report’s goals.

Although most parents don’t engage in bribery schemes to get their children into college, many compromise their own and their children’s integrity.  Some of the wealthiest families make large donations to colleges. Others co-write their children’s college essays or look away when hired tutors write the essays. “Tide II” encourages parents to use the admissions process as an opportunity to explore values rather than pressure their students to get into highly competitive colleges at any cost. When parents, consciously or not, view their children’s college acceptances as measures of their own status or success, their children may experience overwhelming stress, shame (especially if their interests or grades don’t coincide with their parents’ aspirations), or envy.

The report suggests that in addition to setting clear expectations for parents, high schools can promote healthier and more equitable college application practices. Counselors and teachers should create opportunities for sustained and meaningful community service that doesn’t require expensive travel. Many teenagers are unable to participate in community service outside the home because they have obligations to their families. They may need to contribute income or babysit for younger siblings. Counselors and teachers can reinforce the value of these contributions and encourage students to report them on their college applications.

SEL initiatives such as New York State’s new Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Framework envision “students who have a critical lens through which they challenge inequitable systems of access, power, and privilege.” Teachers can initiate discussions on the vast differences in access to resources in the admissions process and ask student what a more equitable system might look like. Finally, culturally competent counselors can help families navigate the complicated college and scholarship application process.

Career choices as well have ethical dimensions. Although many high school and college students want to “change the world” or “give back,” they rarely have the tools or data to determine how they can be most impactful. Effective altruism is a field of research that uses evidence and analysis to help people determine how to spend their time and money so as to do the most good. Good is loosely defined as the well-being of humans and animals (other than human) over time. 

Naturally, many students work on problems with which they’re already familiar. They know about the problems their friends and their communities face. Some gravitate to “helping professions” – medicine, social work, teaching, or animal rescue, for example – that directly impact lives. Others are drawn to high-profile nonprofit organizations. Few, however, take a more systematic approach to seeing how they can do the most good (and the least harm). Career seekers who aren’t committed to particular professions might be encouraged identify those causes to which their added efforts can make the biggest long-term difference at the margin. 

80,000 Hours is a nonprofit organization that helps students and recent graduates figure out how most impactfully to use their careers to help solve the world’s most pressing problems. 80,000 approximates the number of hours a person spends working over the course of a career. More than any other factor, the causes young people choose are most determinative of their lifetime career impact. Young people might want to look at lesser-known yet critical causes where there seem to be prospects for progress. 

Schools can encourage students to explore several career paths until they find a good fit. Talents and interests may change over time. Those aspiring altruists who aren’t able to work on causes that intrigue them right away – for logistical or financial reasons, for example – might want to acquire skills they can use later on.

Even students who haven’t explicitly committed to improving the world may choose not to embark on careers if their involvement could lead to an increase in human or animal (other than human) suffering. A graphic design major, for example, might avoid working with a company that promotes potentially unhealthy or unsustainable products. 

By the time they’re ready to make college and career choices, students in ethics-centered schools have had plenty of practice in choosing options that, as Zoe Weil of the Institute of Human Education articulates so succinctly, “do the most good and the least harm.” 

John Dewey asserted that individuals and organizations should revisit and, if necessary, revise their decisions from time to time in light of socio-economic developments and scientific advances. Counselors can help students plan when and how they’ll revisit their life choices.

Thoughtful, informed decision-making is critical to building ethical institutions and dismantling systems of oppression. Without it, the planet and its inhabitants are doomed.

Amy Halpern-Laff is an educator, organizer, and collaborator. In addition to her work with Ethics in Education Network, she is Director, Strategic Partnerships with Factory Farming Awareness Coalition. Amy co-hosts the Ethical Schools Podcast!

Leo Ackley on teaching in Finland’s consistently superior schools

Amy interviews Leo Ackley, who emigrated to Finland in the 1972. He taught art, history of architecture, design, and engineering in Finnish schools for 37 years. We discuss the Finnish system. Teachers have autonomy to develop their own curricula. Finnish administrators are answerable to teachers rather than the other way around. Homework is rare and standardized testing limited to a single exam towards the end of senior year. Finland is consistently in the top five in PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) rankings.  

Leo Ackley on teaching in Finland’s consistently superior schools

 
 
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Photo by Baptiste Valthier

Anna Allanbrook on Brooklyn New School: centering children, marginalizing tests

We speak with Anna Allanbrook, longtime principal of Brooklyn New School (BNS). Learning at BNS is inquiry-based and cross-disciplinary. As well, BNS is known as the “opt-out school” because 95% of families opt out of standardized testing. The school offers no test preparation.

Anna Allanbrook on Brooklyn New School: centering children, marginalizing tests

 
 
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Find more about the Brooklyn New School on bns146.org

Norman Fruchter on the pioneering alternative high school he and colleagues built in Newark in the 1970s

We speak with Norm Fruchter, long-time educational activist and thought leader, about Independence School, an experimental high school where the ideal was that someone walking into a classroom couldn’t tell the teacher from the students. We discuss lessons learned – and perhaps forgotten – about supporting students whose original schools failed them. Among the school’s strengths were authentic, enduring relationships among teachers and students, teaching strategies that enabled illiterate students to learn to read without embarrassment, month-long internship breaks, and curriculum that referenced students’ life experiences.

Norman Fruchter on the pioneering alternative high school he and colleagues built in Newark in the 1970s

 
 
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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

David C. Bloomfield on why we need a revolution in attitude to see education as a social good rather than an individual property right

We speak with Dr. David C. Bloomfield, Professor of Education Leadership. Law & Policy at Brooklyn College. David Bloomfield condemns the social Darwinism and “hoarding” mentality of our education systemsHe explains how school resource allocation exacerbates segregation and inequality, a process deliberately abetted by the proliferation of school districts around the country Education policy and financing reinforce an us against them view of schools. Until we start thinking of the nation’s children as our collective responsibility,  we will continue to seek todeprive “other people’s” children in order to benefit “ours,”  thereby impoverishing all of us.

David C. Bloomfield on why we need a revolution in attitude to see education as a social good rather than an individual property right

 
 
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Find more about David on davidcbloomfield.com

Scarlett Lewis on the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement: A Sandy Hook parent’s SEL program

“Nurturing, Healing Love” was the message that Scarlett Lewis found on her kitchen chalkboard shortly before her son, Jesse, was murdered in his first-grade classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In order to become part of the solution to the violence, Scarlett founded The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement with a mission to ensure that all children have access to Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in their classrooms. We talk about post-traumatic growth and how the program educates and encourages students to choose love over anger.

Scarlett Lewis on the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement: A Sandy Hook parent’s SEL program

 
 
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Find more about Scarlett and the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Program on jesselewischooselove.org

Kids learn through relationships: a conversation with Pedro Noguera about building a culture conducive to teaching and learning

We talk with Dr. Pedro Noguera about public school models that work for students, parents and teachers, and how to build a social movement for a progressive education agenda. He talks about the social dimensions to learning and the mismatch between students’ needs and teachers’ skills. He argues that an obstacle to making change in schools is that we deal with education as individuals rather than collectively. Pedro Noguera is a Distinguished Professor of Education at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and Faculty Director for the Center for the Transformation of Schools at UCLA. He is a critically acclaimed scholar, a dynamic speaker and a committed activist. His work focuses on a broad range of issues related to education, social justice and public policy. He is the author of several best-selling books and is a highly sought-after public speaker and international consultant.

Kids learn through relationships: a conversation with Pedro Noguera about building a culture conducive to teaching and learning

 
 
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Find more about Pedro Noguera on pedronoguera.com and transformschools.ucla.edu.

Stephanie Carnes on Post-traumatic Growth and Resilience: cultural competence and creating safe environments for Central American immigrant children in today’s U.S.

We talk with Stephanie Carnes, a trauma-focused bilingual school social worker in a large public high school in New York’s Hudson Valley. Stephanie worked as the lead clinician in a federally-funded shelter program for unaccompanied children from Central America and as a consultant she challenges the districts and agencies with whom she works to re-envision the meaning of an inclusive community. We talk about the necessity to normalize mental health care, how to create safe environments for immigrant children in American schools, and the power of their resilience.

Stephanie Carnes on Post-traumatic Growth and Resilience: cultural competence and creating safe environments for Central American immigrant children in today’s U.S.

 
 
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Find more about Stephanie on createculturalcompetence.com

Zoe Weil on humane education: the world becomes what we teach

We talk with Zoe Weil, the co-founder and president of the Institute for Humane Education. She talks about providing young people with the knowledge, tools, and motivation to address our pressing challenges in order to transform unsustainable and unjust systems into ones that are humane, healthy, and peaceful.

Zoe Weil on humane education: the world becomes what we teach

 
 
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Find more about Zoe and the Institute for Humane Education on humaneeducation.org

Shirley Edwards on EBC High School: Building an educational community in Bushwick

Shirley Edwards on EBC High School: Building an educational community in Bushwick

 
 
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We talk with Shirley Edwards about EBC High School for Public Service and the creation of an intentional educational community of students, teachers, parents, and East Brooklyn Congregations. Shirley Edwards was the founding principal. She came with a background as a teacher and a parent coordinator, and responded to parents’ desperation for a high school that would lead their children to success.

 

Shirley also wrote an article for Ethical Schools! Click here to read “The school that Bushwick built: the story of EBC High School for Public Service”

Ethical Dining at School

Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself. – John Dewey

John Dewey (1859-1952) was arguably the most consequential educational thinker of the twentieth century. According to Dewey, education should consist of meaningful activity in learning and participation in classroom democracy. Curriculum should be relevant to students’ lives as well as prepare them to contribute effectively to democratic society later on.

Dewey stressed the importance of imparting habits of ethical inquiry, encouraging students to discover solutions that create the best outcomes for the most people under a given set of circumstances. He argued that students should learn to consider the impacts each option is likely to have on different socioeconomic and ethnic groups. Schools should be diverse and inclusive so as to facilitate communication and understanding among youth of different backgrounds. Ethical inquiry is ongoing, in the classroom and in larger society; conduct is always subject to revision in light of social and scientific developments.

Whether or not educators treat them as such, school meals are daily exercises in experiential learning, opportunities for ethical inquiry and deliberation. Unfortunately, students are rarely given enough information about the impacts of competing food options to make informed choices.

How do students decide what to eat for lunch or, more broadly, how to live their lives? Dewey identified three categories of human conduct: instinct, habit, and reflective action. They differ from one another mainly in the degree to which thought plays a role. Children are born with instincts, the ability to perform sometimes complex movements without a basis in learning or prior experience. An infant contemplates neither the means (sucking) nor the end (milk) of her actions. Over time, her actions become more intentional. She deliberately grabs a toy or pets a dog. As she becomes more observant and reflective, she begins to adopt behavior she is taught as well as those she observes in the people around her.

Over time, these behaviors solidify into habits. She develops tastes for certain foods at certain times — cereal in the morning and a sandwich at lunchtime, for example. Cow’s milk (“milk”) on cereal, for example, or pig’s flesh (“ham”) between two pieces of bread. The child doesn’t think about the implications of choosing these foods over others. She simply chooses what appeals to her taste buds from the options she is offered. Typically, these foods were popularized in a different era and under vastly different circumstances.

Every society devises means to satisfy people’s basic needs at a particular point in time. These customs, the shared habits of a group, are passed down to one generation after another through socialization. People continue to follow them long after the circumstances that gave birth to them have changed.

This is especially true of eating habits. Fifty or sixty years ago, there may have been rationale for people to consume animals’ bodies or their secretions. At that time, animals were raised mostly on family farms; it wasn’t until the early 1970’s that the first giant animal factories appeared. The involvement of greenhouse gases in climate change was largely unknown.

But two generations later, we know eating animals, especially the 99% of animals used for food that are produced in factory farms, is unhealthy, environmentally unsustainable, and socially irresponsible. As well, we now know with certainty that animals have sentience. They feel pain, fear, loneliness, and depression.

So how can we change these self-perpetuating habits? How can we urge people to make more deliberate and democratic choices?

Dewey theorized that while adults’ habits were already entrenched and there was little chance of changing them, children could be taught to reflect critically on the consequences of each possible action. And although Dewey focused on the consequences to humans, he emphasized the need for flexibility in light of scientific discoveries and social changes.

Scientific and social developments subsequent to Dewey’s lifetime have changed the ethical landscape entirely. First, there is consensus that the earth’s climate is warming and that human activities, including animal agriculture, are primary drivers of climate change. We know environmental toxins have devastating impacts on human health. And farms have become vast factories where sentient animals are treated as mere pieces of machinery.

Students should be encouraged to consider the effects of their choices not only on humans but also on the environment and animals-other-than-humans.

Humans

The people most directly impacted by industrial agriculture are workers in factory farms and slaughterhouses. Slaughterhouse employees endure some of the most dangerous working conditions in the country. Amputations of fingers, hands, and arms are common and the furious pace of the work causes repetitive stress injuries and musculoskeletal disorders. Despite these dangerous working conditions, most workers don’t have health insurance or the protection of a union. Often companies recruit people who are undocumented because they won’t be able to speak out against these conditions.

In addition to being physically dangerous, slaughterhouse work is psychologically traumatic. Workers are forced to kill animals who have done them no harm over and over again. Many workers develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from causing so much suffering and death. These employees don’t have access to basic health care, let alone mental health care, so often they self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Rates of addiction and domestic violence are significantly higher than in other industries.

Neighboring communities, which are overwhelmingly Black and/or poor, have to contend year-round with the stench of animal feces and urine. The waste is collected in vast open-air pits known as lagoons. Runoff from the lagoons makes its way into rivers and streams, drastically raising nitrate levels, which are linked to autoimmune diseases and birth defects. The lagoons are periodically pumped out and the waste sprayed as fertilizer onto fields surrounding the factory farms, forcing local residents to stay inside and keep their windows shut. People living in the vicinity of these factories experience significantly higher rates of asthmas, high blood pressure, eye irritation, and depression than those in surrounding areas.

The Planet

Farmed animals are a major source of climate change. They emit more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector. Animals, especially cows, directly emit greenhouse gasses. Cows burp methane, which is 20 times worse for the climate than carbon dioxide, and their poop emits nitrous oxide, which is up to 300 times worse. So we dramatically reduce our carbon footprint by reducing or eliminating our consumption of meat and dairy products.

Eating animals is extremely wasteful of limited natural resources. For every 100 calories of corn and soy we feed a farmed animal, we get 40 calories of milk, 12 calories of chicken, or 3 calories of beef. And all this corn and soy requires tremendous amounts of land and water. Eating more efficiently is critical. World population has grown from 2.5 billion in 1950 to 7.5 billion in 2017, and is projected to be 9.1 billion people by 2050. Unless we change course, there simply won’t be enough food for everyone.

Animals-Other-Than-Humans

Today, in the US alone, nine billion land animals are bred in factory farms each year. They live in deplorable conditions and die in horrific ways. Breeding sows spend their lives in crates so small they can’t turn around, let alone nestle their babies. Dairy cows are inseminated year after year, their calves taken from them within days of their birth. The dairy cows cry inconsolably, typically for days, and the calves search in vain for their mothers. When they no longer produce enough milk to be valuable, they’re slaughtered. And according to government estimates, over 10,000 broiler (meat) chickens are boiled alive every single day. So anytime we eat chicken, we have no way of knowing whether that chicken was one of the millions boiled alive every year.

Dewey contended that the primary purpose of education is to build students’ capacity to conduct intelligent moral inquiry. He argued that schools should be reconstructed so as to promote “experimental intelligence” and “wider sympathies.” The food choices that schools and students make every day are too important to be left out of the ethical decision-making rubric.

As ethical institutions, schools should ensure that the foods they procure or prepare have minimal impact on the planet, humans, and animals-other-than-humans. Students can participate in planning lunch menus, putting habits of moral inquiry into practice.

As well, the impacts of individual and, more importantly, institutional food choices are integral to any serious study of the environment, climate change, human rights, workers’ rights, and rights of animals-other-than-humans. An ethical education prepares students to participate in democratic society. It is through their ethically-based activism and advocacy that society has the possibility of becoming more open-minded, compassionate, and just to all earthlings and to the earth itself.

Bibliography

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/dewey-moral/
https://ffacoalition.org
https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/cesspools.pdf

 

Amy Halpern-Laff was a Deweyan before she knew about Dewey. A lawyer by training, she is Director, New York Region and Director, Strategic Partnerships, Factory Farming Awareness Coalition, a national nonprofit committed to educating people on the impacts of their food choices. FFAC provides free presentations for students, educators, and activists. Contact Amy at amy@ffacoalition.org.

Guidelines for submissions

Note from the editors to our readers and colleagues:

We accept articles for our newsletter on any topic related to secular (preferably Deweyan) educational ethics. As you might expect, we have to pass on some articles, but we will let you know whether and when your article will run in the newsletter.

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