At a recent TEDx, I encountered Zoe Weil (pronounced Zo While). She is a pioneer in what she calls “humane education” and “solutioning.” You can find more info on her Institute for Humane Education web site. She describes being a Humane Educator as somebody who teaches about the interconnected issues between human rights, environmental preservation, and animal protection. She was introduced to this field in 1987 through a course taught to middle-school kids in Philadelphia.
Zoe’s teaching work reached a tipping point as a result of her TEDx talk in 2011 in Brunswick, Maine. She gave a talk entitled, “The World Becomes What You Teach,” in which she spoke about the “Star Trek vision” of a healthy planet, with peace and prosperity—a planetary population that lives in peaceful coexistence with the populations of its planetary neighbors. Star Trek stories are full of adventures in which people explore and learn; not conquer, she said. She contrasted that vision with the current world full of conflict, human and animal abuse, climate change, and unsustainable practices. And then she offered her solution:
“There’s one system we need to tweak a little bit and if we do that we can solve every problem in the world. That key system is schooling.… We provide every student with the knowledge, the tools, and the motivation to be conscientious choice-makers, and engaged change-makers for a restored, and healthy and humane world for all. Or, another way of putting it: I believe that we need to graduate a generation of solutionaries…there’s no doubt in my mind that they could solve every single problem that we face.”
~ Zoe Weil, TEDx Talk, 2011
Last week, Zoe talked about all the wonderful attention and momentum she has achieved since her TEDx talk in 2011:
“The problem was that there were only a handful of us who were teaching about the interconnected problems of human oppression, rampant consumerism, animal abuse, and environmental destruction… I had the solution to all the world's problems: address the system of education, students can be solutionaries.”
~ Zoe Weil, November 9, 2014
Zoe then went onto describe some of the many things she has accomplished in furthering this movement, including teaching many workshops to kids and teachers, starting a program for graduate students, and:
“Last year, we created the first solutionary school in the pre-K through 12th grade. The curriculum is open source and shareable throughout the world.”
I found myself thinking about the powerful conversations I had had the same week with two graduates of URDT schools—institutions that are located halfway around the world, in rural Uganda. One of the conversations was with Catherine Namwezi, an alumna of the URDT Girls School (K-13); the second, Godliver Businge, is an alumna of both the African Rural University and the URDT Vocational Institute. These young women embody the knowledge, talent, skill, and motivation that Zoe described. Their education was obtained on a campus five hours west of Kampala on dirt roads, in the midst of striking rural poverty. They are part of this new generation of change-makers that Zoe passionately yearns for.
For 25 years, the Uganda Rural Development and Training programme (URDT) has been teaching local women and men, children, and young adults not to solve complex problems, but to create the world they want to live in. URDT’s founder, Mwalimu Musheshe, would probably agree with much of what Zoe Weil teaches and practices, but he would emphasize a creative orientation, rather than a problem-solving orientation.
“URDT provides transformational education to create effective change agents and change-makers within an African development context. URDT applies theoretical learning, innovative instruction, and field practice, so that its graduates can create conditions for rural people to improve their lives, transform their communities, awaken inherent leadership, and increase their capacity for self- generating and sustainable change.
The curriculum promotes visionary leadership, systems thinking, and sustainable development as its core pillars. It aims to give students a life-transforming experience by directly using principles of the creative process in their lives, in families, and in whole communities to create their own desired circumstances."
There are actually three educational institutions on the URDT campus that share this common curriculum: a Girls School (ages 10-18), a Vocational Institute, and a University for women, African Rural University (ARU). Yesterday, ARU was mentioned on Melinda Gates’ blog, Better By Half, in a post by Harvard Professor Calestous Juma, who is a big fan of ARU’s education and the hope it provides for African women.
Is there a connection between human rights and animal rights in the URDT education as there is in the Humane Institute’s curriculum? Absolutely. There is an animal preserve on the URDT campus as well as a sustainable organic farm. Is there an appetite to teach 10 year olds how to envision a better world and to equip them with the tools they need to achieve that better world? Absolutely!
Educating Change Makers to Create a Sustainable Planet
If you’re interested in Zoe Weil’s message about the need to “tweak” the education system in order to “solve” all the problems in the world, let me introduce you to some of the graduates of URDT’s educational institutions. Meet this new generation of change makers—the ones who will create the sustainable world we all want to live in.
Educating a Generation of Change-Makers
Meet Some Graduates of URDT’s Breakthrough Curriculum
By Patricia B. Seybold, CEO, Patricia Seybold Group, November 14, 2014
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