Is Ignorance Bliss? Teaching about Chocolate Slavery on Day 1


 When students reflect on their time in Humanities I in Action, they frequently recall the first day of class. Grade nine students are incredibly open to new impressions on their first day of high school, so our teaching team has tried a new opening day lesson the last two years that is not only a valuable lesson on its own, but also represents in microcosm our approach to their learning and growth throughout the year.

For some years we have used the issue of slave-produced chocolate. Because many students are practically addicted to chocolate, this issue resonates with them. The shadow side of chocolate production encourages them to think more deeply about their consumption patterns. In moving this topic into the initial activity of the year, we designed an activity around a central question of our first semester of study, “Is ignorance bliss?” Continue reading

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“Inspired Choices” by Andrea Zavadszky about Humanities I in Action (South China Morning Post, August 4, 2014)

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 11.19.25 AMFollowing our TEDx talk in May a reporter from the South China Morning Post scheduled an interview with Mike and myself for an article, and now it has just been published. The article represents the course well. We are especially pleased that our two award winners from last year, Helena and Yash, spoke so articulately about their experience in Humanities I in Action last year. I’d also like to thank Andrea for taking such a personal and sustained interest in the topic. Continue reading

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For All Sentient Beings: Meeting a Bhutanese Monk

DSC_3455Ten years ago I took a National Endowment for the Humanities course on Himalayan Cultures in Worcester, Massachusetts. My focus of study was on Buddhism, and I learned a great deal during the summer. However, I remember one of my professors saying that the new generation of Tibetan monks was more likely to be watching TV or playing video games than doing meditation. I’ve also heard similar anecdotal comments that meditation has become a lost practice among Buddhists in Asian countries. As a religion teacher wanting to properly represent these faiths, I’ve often wondered about the spirituality of contemporary Buddhist monks in Asia. And as a Christian who has re-discovered contemplation in my own tradition, I’m also quite curious about the spiritual practices of contemporary followers in Asia. Continue reading

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Using Spiritual Practices to Teach for Happiness and Spiritual Growth in a World Religions Course: An Action Research Perspective

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The decisive question for man is: Is he related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question of his life.

- Carl Jung


For years I have focused on service learning as the path for social conscience education in my Humanities I in Action class. However, in the last few years, as I’ve started to teach World Religions, I’ve been intrigued to see if I can develop a religion curriculum that prompts inner awakening within students. In the last three years of exploration, I have come to believe that the most effective pedagogical strategy to develop personal growth in a religion course is by placing spiritual practices at the center of the course curriculum. A World Religions curriculum can not only give students a working knowledge of various world religions, but, more significantly, can also provide students with spiritual insights into their own lives through the use spiritual practices. Continue reading

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Whole People for a Whole Planet: In Search of Inspired Education

TEDx sideviewMike Kersten and I shared our vision for social conscience education at the TEDx “Inspired Education” on May 31st at the Sunbeam Theatre in North Point, Hong Kong. In this talk, we suggest that an inspired education needs to take into account two dual concerns: the stress that students are under and the assault upon the earth. In response, our remedy is “Humanities I in Action,” a course that aims to simultaneously provide meaning and purpose to students and to bring healing to the community. Continue reading

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Empowering Students in South India with the “I Can” Belief

DSC_3207For the third year in a row, HKIS students have led an empowerment workshop with students from two local schools in Ambur, India. Two years ago, the local Indian students identified child labor as a significant issue of concern. Through an awareness campaign that was launched following the workshop, 14 child laborers were freed, and allowed to return to school. Continue reading

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Health and Wholeness: Turning Points Two Years On

ImageTwo years ago this Easter I was deeply concerned about my health. Now two years later, I can look back and see that this was a turning point in not only my health, but also in how I approached some of my biggest life questions. 

One of the signs of my vastly improved health was that I was able to co-lead a trip to India this year – eight years after I had led a service trip to Kolkata in which my health was a major liability.

“But if body and soul are not separate, then to heal the body at the deepest level is a work of the soul, and to listen to and learn from the body is to become closer to one’s Self.”

- Charles Eisenstein, The Yoga of Eating, p. 10.


Two years ago during the Easter holiday I found myself in a rising panic. I had been sick since mid-January with a relentless, queasy-feeling stomach ailment that would run up from my gut and progress into my chest and head; then, some days later when I thought it had run its course, the queasiness would begin again. Despite seeing an array of Western and alternative practitioners, my chronic sickness seemed to be the culmination of ten years of frequent colds, flus and general poor health. Beneath the panic was a deep-seated fear that I might develop some serious disease that would lead to a shortened life. Continue reading

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