You might be curious about why I think it is so necessary to introduce humane education into China. I am here to tell you my story of growing up, and answer your questions.
Thank you for being a caring person and being interested in Humaneness 101.
I am Ivy, a current student at Reed College in Portland, Oregon and the founder of this program. As an international student from China, I've experienced very different educational practices during my time at Reed. For a long time I have been looking for a way to use my skills and passion to contribute to the causes I care about. In education, I am excited to find a very effective and phenomenal path to raise awareness and empower people to take actions regarding important social issues.
I decided to start this project last November, when I attended a workshop taught by a non-profit humane education institution, Humane Education Advocates Reaching Teachers (HEART). The program coordinator Claire taught students how to respect the rights of one another, animals and the natural world. She also introduced how ethics should be reflected in curriculum and incorporated into the classroom. The workshop inspired me to bring humane education, as well as other necessary education elements, into China.
Chinese education for students at all ages is test-oriented. My hometown, Hefei, lacks advantages in city development, so students go through strict education with fewer opportunities than other more prosperous cities. I attended a relatively poor elementary school. There were about eighty students in my class. Not even 10% of my classmates continued to experience high-quality secondary education. My peers have helped me to see the direct influence of education on youth's development.
My higher education experience, which was almost the best education one can get in Hefei, still lacked discussion of critical thinking and social responsibility. A student is usually discouraged to reflect on his/her own identity, characteristics, interests or ambitions as an individual. They spend ninety percent of their time awake studying and spend the rest on entertainment without thinking outside the box. Teachers generally expect students to focus on the test without taking risks or trying new things, and most students follow the paths set out for them. Students unconsciously become indifferent and and don’t gain the capacity to learn and grow in a more conscientious way. There is no easy way to remove the restrictions imposed on them by society, but we can introduce to them other ways of thinking and expose them to important concepts and skills neglected in their education.
As China is quickly developing as a state, many social problems emerge in various aspects.
- Animals: Local animal shelters face the problems of poor management, low funding and lack of public attention. Exploitation and mistreatment of animals is also pervasive. Many people take this kind of exploitation for granted without even a second thought;
- Environment: Air pollution has recently grabbed people’s attention because we can see the influences it has on everyone’s health, but there is still a plethora of environmental problems unknown to citizens and not tackled by industries and government. Students without scientific knowledge will be affected by the public and media easily. They also do not know how to take responsibility for their choices.
- Gender and Sex: Domestic violence is severe and many female infants are murdered. Men rarely recognize women’s equality, including that of their partners, mothers, and co-workers. Moreover, students never learn how to directly and properly approach biological differences and sexual relationships. This failure of education leads to tragedies in relationships and families after the students grow up. For example, among all the operations of birth control conducted in China in 2012, only 0.9% cases were operated on male, and 35.3% were abortion according to the Annual Statistics of National Health and Family Planning Commission of PRC;
- Human beings: Hefei does not have religious and ethnic diversity. . The lack of understanding of human equality and diversity, and the compassion for each other, is the cause for students’ exploitative, condescending, even abusive and violent behavior.
Elie Wiesel once said, "The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death". I believe that what we should do is not escaping from problems because of the false belief that our power is too small to make a difference. On the contrary, it is because people don't care that we need to make them care and raise their awareness of the problems that we all face. We are looking for serious thinking instead of a consensus of opinion.
I've been doing internship with HEART since the winter of 2015. Seeing how the kids, even the teachers, were changed by humane education reinforced my belief in education and humanity. "Education is teaching our children to desire the right things" (Plato). I am very grateful for the support and positive feedback I have received during the start-up stage of this program. I have confidence in my team and in humane education.
Chang (Ivy) He
Founder of Humaneness 101