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Me. You. Us

By Leona Sepulveda, HEART in Chicago Educator
As I write this, Chicago’s public school students are currently taking the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT). The testing began on March 2nd and will end on March 12th.  According to the CPS website, students are tested in math, reading, writing, and science and ISAT results are used for state and district accountability systems and a portion of the test is also used for individual student accountability, like promotion to the next grade level.
What these tests do not measure, however, is empathy, compassion, reverence, and responsibility–a few traits belonging to the humane individual. Through my work as a humane educator with HEART, I meet hundreds of students every year. I hope that during our time together (approximately ten, 45 minute sessions) what they learn will impact them for a lifetime to come. My number one goal is to teach them that their everyday choices matter and that they have the power to make choices that result in more good and less harm–not just for themselves, but for other people, animals, and the planet itself.
But I’m aware, and sometimes guilty, of the I-me-mine condition that can inhibit humane choice making. Maybe you, like me, have found it difficult to strike a balance between compassion for others and self-contentment. But does there need to be a division? The simple answer is, no. We can do for others and by doing so we do for ourselves–and we needn’t be Mother Theresa or Gandhi.
Just recently, I was reminded of this after delivering, to a class of fifth graders, a lesson on the importance of educating young, impoverished girls. Students learned that out of the world’s 130 million out-of-school youth, 70 percent are girls. But they also learned that these girls are uniquely capable of creating a better future for themselves because evidence shows that investing in these girls has a ripple effect that pays off for them, their future children, and society as a whole (Free the Children, The Power of A Girl).
The lesson ends with students learning about three different charitable organizations that help girls in developing countries by getting others to invest in them. Students aren’t asked to actually donate money to any of the charities; the goal is to simply kick-start the concept of investing in others.
One student, Olaf, took this concept to heart. When we met the following week he had something for me, it was a ten dollar bill. He asked me to make sure it got to Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project, an organization that educates orphaned girls in two free primary schools and Olaf’s $10 donation will provide school supplies for several students. When I asked him why he had chosen to donate this money when he could have used it on himself he explained, “If I can go to school and have books and supplies then they should too.”
As the testing season continues, and long after it ends, students like Olaf will serves as a reminder that there are some parts of us that can’t be measured via a standardized test. He also serves as a reminder that our world does not have to be the I-me-mine mindset but rather the me-you-us.

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