girls looking at plant and slug
Image via FEE International/Flickr.

 

by  Zoe Weil

The consequences of continuing to pursue our current educational path include more disengaged children, more demoralized teachers, and the likely escalation of grave global challenges because young people will graduate ill prepared to meet and address these challenges successfully.

In the beginning of [my new book I share] my belief that we can solve the challenges we face in the world. As we all know, however, we might fail to solve our problems and instead bequeath to future generations a bleak future in a less and less habitable world.

Tragically, it is indeed possible that we will avoid addressing climate change effectively, or in time to reverse its worst effects, and that half of all species on Earth will become extinct by the end of this century. It is possible that coral reefs, rainforests, and glaciers will continue to disappear, and that more and more environmental refugees will be forced to flee flooded or desertified countries. It is possible that the unrest caused by a growing human population, coupled with inequity, suffering, and lack of access to essential but scarce resources, will increase violence and warfare.

Should such a darker future be realized, the reason will be because we failed to transform how and what we teach children.

[Try this] thought experiment:

Imagine what our world will look like if schools shift from their current approaches and embrace a very different vision of schooling in which:

  • Each child’s interests and talents are fostered and celebrated.
  • Students become excellent researchers, and critical, creative, strategic, systems, scientific, and design thinking and collaboration are taught and practiced diligently.
  • Values such as kindness, integrity, perseverance, responsibility, and honesty are cultivated and modeled every day.
  • Real-world, viable solutions to problems provide an important and respected measure of learning, along with a true sense of meaningful accomplishment.
  • Self-reflective practices lead to better self-management and more positive communication, ethical choicemaking, deeper empathy, and more effective collaboration.
  • The arts are offered regularly and lead to greater creativity, innovation, and joy.
  • Physical education is a daily practice leading to better health and well being.
  • The goal of schooling is to graduate solutionaries who have learned to put their skills, knowledge, and talents in service of a more just, humane, and regenerative world through whatever careers and life choices they pursue.

When I imagine a generation of solutionaries, I can see the grave problems in the world being solved.

I can see our broken political systems, our imperfect economic systems, our unsustainable energy systems, our inhumane and destructive agricultural systems, our unjust and unhealthy production systems, our dysfunctional criminal justice systems, our costly health-care systems, and so many other unsustainable and unhealthy systems made more equitable, sustainable, and compassionate.

Further, I can see vibrant, joyful young people not only well prepared and positioned for the challenges they face in the present, but ready for whatever emerges in the future.

To be successful at changing our educational system and overcoming resistance, we must:

  • Empower and support teachers as they transition to becoming the transformational, solutionary leaders in society they are meant to be.
  • Develop and provide respectful, useful, and appropriate professional development for teachers and administrators and venues for sharing experiences to collaboratively and creatively learn from one another.
  • Launch a Solutionary School movement in which schools are designed around pedagogy, curricula, and practices that foster real-world accomplishments, interdisciplinary subject matter, differentiated learning, and solutionary thinking and action.
  • Demonstrate and document that students are capable of far more than the current system expects, and that children succeed best in highly experiential, cooperative, creative, purposeful learning environments.
  • Engage all constituencies in this endeavor – not just teachers, school administrators, parents and students. Schools exist in widely divergent communities and yet are often isolated from those communities. How children are educated will have lasting effects on the future of all on Earth, and therefore we are all stakeholders. We must participate in the system of schooling and transform it into a solutionary system by paying attention to what happens in the field of education; speaking out; contacting our elected officials and electing those legislators who will work for meaningful shifts in education; drafting and sharing policy ideas; writing op-ed pieces, letters to the editor, blogs posts, and articles; offering and/or attending presentations; and showing up for change.

The United States and many other countries mandate a free, appropriate, and accessible education for every child. This mandate is a great privilege and responsibility. It is something that many people in other countries still dream of. Let’s not squander this opportunity; rather, let’s embrace it with vigor and commitment so that we truly educate young people in ways that are most meaningful and relevant to their lives and futures.

For the sake of our children and our world, please become involved in this critical endeavor. After all, the world becomes what we teach.

Find out more in my forthcoming book (from which the above is excerpted), coming out March 2016, from Lantern Books.

Sunflower with quote and info about Zoe Weil book, The World Becomes What We Teach