SURRY — If an animal rights activist and an animal researcher can find lasting love, perhaps anything is possible, even overhauling the U.S. education system.
“When we started dating, not a person in the world thought we would make it,” said Zoe Weil, who is co-founder of the Institute for Humane Education. She was the animal rights activist some 30 years ago and the researcher was her husband, now a veterinarian, Dr. Edwin Barkdoll.
This summer, Weil published her latest book, “The World Becomes What We Teach: Educating a Generation of Solutionaries.”
The Institute for Humane Education is a nonprofit educational organization that provides training, including master’s degree and certificate programs, in humane education through affiliations with Valparaiso University and Saybrook University.
“My goal in writing [the book] is to help better and change our educational system,” Weil said.
In her new book, Weil touts the idea of a “solutionary congress.”
Students think of a problem they would like to solve and come up with possible solutions that don’t harm any of involved parties.
“It’s not about side-taking,” Weil said. “How do we solve these problems in a way that’s good for our stakeholders?”
“We are an incredibly ingenious species,” Weil said. “The problems are not impossible to solve, but we have to learn how to solve them.”
The book is being well received by the education community.
A number of school systems have ordered copies of the book in bulk, including the Princeton, N.J., district.
“Zoe’s book provides a vision and a structure for what education can and should be,” said Steve Cochrane, who is superintendent of Princeton Public Schools. “Moreover, Zoe understands that the book is a starting point. The lessons and examples are meant to be models that generate new ideas and iterations.
“We are excited to begin this work and look forward to learning from other schools that recognize that students learn the most when they are making a meaningful difference in their world.”
Cochrane said the mission of the Princeton schools is not just on preparing students to get into top colleges but preparing all students to lead lives of joy and purpose as knowledgeable, creative and compassionate citizens of a global society.
“I believe Zoe’s book provides the structure and the inspiration to help us fulfill that mission,” Cochrane said. “The book places students not only at the center of learning but of doing — of identifying and solving real life problems today — not at some distant point in the future.”
“It empowers them to ask powerful and probing questions, to engage in systems thinking and moral decision-making, to work cooperatively with others, and to reflect meaningfully on their efforts,” Cochrane said. “We are looking now at developing capstone projects at key grade levels that will use the concept of a solutionary congress as a way of structuring and sharing student learning. Our teachers still need to be trained in the work by the Institute for Humane Education, but we are hopeful that can happen in the coming year.”
Weil gets discouraged about educators having to teach to standardized tests.
Children are inquisitive, Weil said.
“How could we ever think that it’s OK to squelch that creativity and curiosity when these are the qualities we need to face the world’s challenges and solve them?” she asked.
She’s also discouraged that society doesn’t give educators much status.
“Some of the most creative people will never go into teaching and we need them there,” she said. “There’s no other profession that holds the future in its hands the way teachers do.”
The book is available online at humaneeducation.org.
Humane education, which dates back to the 1800s, was first concerned with the humane treatment of animals. It was from this movement that the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals sprung.