#71 Educating Solutionaries

Any teacher can sense the moment when students become 100% involved. It doesn’t matter whether the scene is absorbed silence or a fair bit of creative chaos. You can see it in their eyes and their body language. They’re not struggling, bored or uncertain. They’re excited. Their eyes shine. They’re eager.

I’m sure the students and teachers Zoe Weil teaches are buzzing the whole time she’s with them. She’s the co-founder and president of the Institute for Humane Education. Her TED talk (below) is about how to train “solutionaries”. She believes, “The world becomes what you teach”. So she trains educators to pose important questions and leave the path open for students to come up with solutions.

In the TED talk she holds up a red t-shirt and asks the true price of the object “on ourselves as individuals, on other people, and on the environment.” On the negative side are toxic pesticides sprayed on cotton, animal testing of the pesticides, child slavery in the cotton fields, dye toxins in our water, sweat shop garment factories, and fossil-fuel transportation. On the positive side are jobs, inexpensive clothing, and wearing pleasure.

Once students have sorted out the pluses and minuses in a true-price exercise, humane education asks them to come up with alternatives. Weil asks, “What alternatives would do more good and less harm than this conventional product, and what are the systems that would need to be transformed in order to make those alternatives ubiquitous?”

Weil envisions schools in which any object, any theme could be a course that “would be relevant to our students’ lives, and their future, and their health, and the health of their planet.” All of the basics—math, science, social studies, history, economics, language, political science—would be the skills that allowed students to come up with solutions that would lead to a just, humane, peaceful world.

Solutionaries. Think what that would mean. Students would graduate from school ready to tackle whatever problems that met them, not because they would have all the answers but because they would know how to find them.

That sounds like a reason for hope.

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About the author

Cathryn Wellner

Writer, storyteller, foodie, enviro, animal lover, photo enthusiast, traveler - opinionated but open. I wake up eager to start the day.

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2 comments
Zoe Weil - December 30, 2011

How nice to see this! I’m glad my talk and work give you hope. I hope your readers will visit our website, http://www.HumaneEducation.org, where they’ll find loads of resources to put the ideas in my talk into action, including an award-winning resource center with a hundred free downloadable activities. Thanks very much for sharing my talk! Happy New Year.

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    admin - December 30, 2011

    I thought of my own school years as I watched your talk, Zoe, and how much I’d have loved humane education. I was fortunate to have a mother whose approach to parenting had a similar foundation, but I’d like to see approaches like yours be at the heart of education everywhere.

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