Why is there such anger, hatred and fear in the world? Why do we feel separate from others? How can we cultivate love for ourselves when we feel deficient and unlovable? IHE student Kelle Kersten began our M.Ed. program as a means to grapple with these kinds of challenging questions and to find ways to live and teach that reflected her deepest values. Kelle has turned her passion for sustainable agriculture and for helping youth in need into developing an after-school program designed to nurture and empower teenage girls. Read Kelle's essay about her experiences:
"I have been experiencing the M. Ed. program in humane education both as an on-going dismantling of rigid beliefs about myself and the world and as a natural unfolding of my soul. Essentially the program became an integral part of my spiritual journey to find meaning and hope in a world torn apart by hatred, anger, and fear. I have come to realize that these strong emotions, which erupt into acts of violence perpetrated upon the environment, humans, and other animals, arise out of the misconception that each person is a separate entity who must protect herself or himself at all costs and compete with other separate entities in order to survive. My Independent Learning Project (ILP) focuses on developing an educational program that will liberate both educators and students from this misconception so that their inherent compassion will motivate them to participate in activities to make the world a place where all beings are able to thrive.
"In the years following my graduation with a Bachelor’s degree in Natural Resources (1990) two passions have sprouted and powerfully shaped the course of my life up to the present time. My love of growing and preparing my own organic food was kindled in part by my mother’s devotion to gardening and by the delicious meals she lovingly prepared from the fruits of her garden. As I became aware of the impact of conventional agriculture on health, the environment, and animals, I was no longer content with merely growing my own food and began to actively educate people, especially young people, about the atrocities of conventional agriculture and about sustainable and organic alternatives—including growing one’s own food. Sustainable agriculture education became the keystone of my efforts to address environmental, animal rights, and human rights issues.
"Although my compelling interest in helping children and youth whom society labels as “at risk” turn their lives around crystallized later than my interest in sustainable agriculture, the seeds of this passion were sown in my childhood. My struggles with painful shyness and anorexia throughout my childhood and adolescence—the roots of which trouble me to this day—invoked a fundamental question that remains alive in me: How does a person cultivate love for herself or himself when she or he feels deficient and unlovable? My eight years of experience supervising, parenting, mentoring, and teaching children and youth in a variety of settings, including at six different group homes, constituted an effort to answer this question. Unfortunately, it became clear to me that this essential question is largely ignored by child welfare professionals in their emphasis on compliant behavior at the expense of opening and healing the hearts of the young people. I now realize that many of the young people in my care may have been incapable of respecting and caring for other people and animals, plants, and the earth, because they did not feel cared for and respected themselves.
"My vision to develop an educational program that would integrate my two passions—sustainable agriculture and opening and healing the hearts of troubled young people—has been enhanced by the M. Ed. program beyond my highest expectations. I initially enrolled in the program because I wanted to expand my knowledge of the humane education issues and of how to present these issues to young people in such a way that the young people would become inspired to live more sustainable, peaceful, and compassionate lives. While I certainly have accomplished these learning goals, perhaps even more significantly, my black and white view of the world has become much grayer, and I am beginning to think more in terms of “both/and” rather than “either/or” in regards to the multifaceted humane education issues. Instead of strengthening my positions on the various issues and thereby widening the gap between my students and me, this program has started to open up my heart so that I can embrace and learn from different viewpoints. This is the open way of being in the world that I want to model to my students.
"In addition to planting seeds of openness in my heart, the M. Ed. program provided a learning environment that has supported my unique organic, passion-driven, and intrinsically motivated learning process. In the Animal Protection course I was intrigued by the argument that ill-treatment of animals is justified because animals are separate, inferior beings (or machines). I wondered how this idea of separation took hold in the dominant culture, because many indigenous societies embody connection to the earth and all beings. I was inspired to explore the roots of separation and realized that our separation from the earth and other beings is an illusion; this illusion makes it possible for us to hurt the earth and other beings, and our true nature is loving, joyful, peaceful, and compassionate.
"While I most likely would have eventually discovered the illusion of separation through my concurrent study of Buddhist teachings, the ILP provides an opportunity to translate this enlivening revelation into effective educational practice. I will be creating a handbook for establishing an after-school program for teenage girls that will nurture their compassion and care for themselves, for other people and animals, for plants, and for the earth through active involvement in meaningful environmental, animal rights, and/or human rights issues in their community and beyond. The program will strive to help teenage girls develop into healthy and whole women and at the same time address some of the most critical issues of our times. In the process of developing this handbook and eventually implementing the program at my local high school, I may finally find the answer to my fundamental question concerning self-love and, thereby, be able to dissolve the vestiges of my shyness and anorexia and the underlying self-hate and become an effective agent of change, exemplifying the qualities of a humane educator."
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