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Thursday, October 28, 2010

What is an education worth if we aren’t learning?

I gave a talk this week at San Jose State University about food justice (i.e., all of the issues that Food Empowerment Project encompasses). San Jose State (SJSU) is a wonderful university with a great activist tradition.

The class was incredibly attentive and had some wonderful questions.

Most of the students commented that they did not know about the chocolate slavery issue, and one woman who was a vegetarian said that when she lived in Orange County she was able to buy food pretty easily, but where she lives now, she has to take two buses to get to a Whole Foods Market.

They were also unfamiliar with environmental racism, and what resonated with one student was the power of corporations in all of the issues I discussed.

The professor said he was surprised that many of the students did not know anything about these issues; why, he asked, are they not learning at school what is happening in the world? Why wasn’t much of this being discussed both in and out of the classroom?

His question is a good one. Why aren’t students shown how they can make an impact on the world around them? True, it’s important to learn history and gain skills for a particular job. But an education is incomplete if it fails to address the world’s injustices – and how students can take a stand against them.

When I went to college and learned more about the civil rights movement, U.S. prisons, etc., I was amazed at how much was not covered in high school. Since then I have continued to learn about issues and injustices that, much to my surprise, are not even touched upon in many college classrooms. Ironically, some I have learned from listening to music and others through movies.

I have educated myself about amazing, inspiring people around the globe who have risked their lives to fight oppression and who have strived to improve the world – not by increasing their bank accounts, but by speaking out for those less fortunate. To some extent I am sure this is true for many people of color who learn about our heroes in places other than in our history classes.

Somehow the truth of what occurs in the real world is either diluted or skipped altogether. For example, when I was in school, we learned about Anne Frank – and rightly so.

But it was not until much later in life that I learned about the Uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto and the resistance during World War II. Why would we not learn about the part of history in which people rose up to fight against an injustice? To fight for their lives? The true heroes in a despicable part of history?

Could it be that history is told to us to make us tamer, more controlled, maybe even more passive?

While this does not have anything to do with food, what I speak of are the injustices few students – or anyone else, for that matter – seem to learn about, which is an issue the Food Empowerment Project seeks to bring to light.

I was joined in my SJSU talk by a pagan woman who tried to tie my topic to her religion. She stated that many people sit down for dinner and thank God, but that when she and her family sit down at the table to eat, they thank the cow. Umm … the cow. I am always shocked that anyone would do this.

The professor kindly asked me for a response as he saw me emphatically shaking my head.

"Why would anyone thank the cow?" I asked. The cow – or any animal killed for food – has no say, no option, and no choice. Their lives are taken from them. This type of thinking is simply a way to placate someone’s guilt about taking a life. An innocent life.

Again, to my mind, what we should be talking about, we aren’t.

If nothing else, I know these students' minds were opened and many of them truly want to figure out ways in which they can help make a difference.

Imagine if we had every student learning about the injustices in the world and how each one could make a difference. How many more people like Cesar Chavez, Steven Biko, Alice Paul, Dolores Huerta, Elizabeth Katy Stanton, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X (and others who have fought for what they believe in) would we have?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this, lauren. Sadly, it's not a surprise for us at the Institute for Humane Education (IHE). Once when Zoe (our president & cofounder) did a humane education activity at a national honor society banquet that asked the audience to think about the positive and negative impacts of their product choices (in this case, a T-shirt) on themselves, other people, other animals, and the earth, one of the students came up afterward, very angry, and said "We should have been learning this since kindergarten!"

    Students are hungry for learning that is meaningful and relevant to their lives, and there's nothing more relevant or meaningful than learning to think critically and creatively about the global challenges of our time and how to become positive changemakers for a just, compassionate, sustainable world for all beings.

    There are teachers out there bringing these issues to their students, but we need to help more teachers do so. Doing great presentations like yours is just one way of sparking curiosity about these important issues.

    Thanks, lauren!


    Online Communities & Special Projects Manager
    Institute for Humane Education