But knowing that humane education can be integrated into your subject area and actually feeling confident about doing so while meeting standards, dealing with tests, and addressing potential concerns from administrators, parents, and others can be challenging. That's one reason we love highlighting how other educators are exploring important global issues in their classrooms.
The latest issue of Rethinking Schools offers two useful examples for science and social studies teachers.
High school science teacher Amy Lindahl writes about the cancer unit she always taught and how her own students' stories led to Amy to reenvision the unit to include a deeper and more complex exploration of the issues. She says:
"I needed my students to understand that cancer is a disease of societal inequity, genetic predisposition, and personal choice—albeit choices rooted in the nature of our society. My lessons needed to take a hard and direct look at the uncomfortable questions I had sidestepped. And the curriculum had to guide students to a place of hope and activism."
Amy ends her article with this important revelation:
"I realize that other science teachers may balk at the idea of trying to tackle so many social issues in a biology class. Believe me, I had the same misgivings. Each previous year, I had been lulled by the little voice that insisted, "Isn't teaching the health inequities in our society somebody else's responsibility? Aren't social studies teachers supposed to do that?" Overwhelmed with the science standards and skills I am responsible for teaching, I had made my excuses and walked away from the hardest questions my students ask. But, as I look back and face those questions more honestly, I see that our students need and deserve a new curriculum. As science teachers, we must guide and support them as they grapple with the difficult questions our lessons inspire. Our students are ready to look at the prejudice and inequities in our society straight on. They are waiting to be taught how to demand a better and healthier world. Let's help them do it."Read the complete article.
Social studies teacher Julie Treick O'Neill explores the positive and negative impacts of various forms of energy with her students. She says:
"I wanted students to look critically at our current energy system, which relies almost exclusively on fossil fuels and to begin to explore lower carbon options—everything from specific alternative energy sources such as nuclear, wind, and solar power to market-based initiatives such as cap and trade, carbon offsets, and efficiency incentives. I wanted students to understand that every energy source has trade-offs."In her Rethinking Schools essay, she recounts her students' experiences exploring the impact of natural gas that's acquired through fracking (hydraulic fracturing). Her students look at information shared by the natural gas industry and explore the validity of those claims. Then they do the same with the information given in the film Gasland.
One of Julie's students said, “When we watched Gasland I believe everyone became scared and felt that there was no hope. But what is better? Knowing the real-life scary facts, or just to be ignorant and easily persuaded?"
Read the complete article.
These units would be even richer and more relevant if they included the concerns of animals and the earth in their explorations; but both of these teachers are integrating essential elements of humane education into their curriculum: encouraging students to seek accurate information, think critically, and examine positive alternatives -- something nearly every teacher can find a way to do.
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