Teaching the Language of Humane Education

An Interview with Stacy Hoult-Saros, Spanish Professor and Chair of IHE’s Board of Directors.

Stacy Hoult-Saros, Ph.D., is a Professor of World Languages and Cultures at Valparaiso University in Indiana. She graduated from IHE’s Graduate Certificate Program in 2015, joined IHE’s board of directors in 2016, and became IHE’s board chair in 2017. As a Spanish professor, Stacy is dedicated to bringing a humane approach to language education.

IHE: We’ve interviewed you for our blog before. Can you tell us how you’ve continued to develop and expand the integration of humane education into the courses you teach?

Stacy: I’ve tried to integrate humane education themes and a Solutionary approach to projects in my course on Latin American Civilization. How this works is, the students investigate a problem in its national context, evaluate different solutions that have been proposed or implemented, then advocate for the best solution based on their research. They also analyze and present on an organization active in at least one of the countries we study in the course, so they see a range of different approaches to addressing problems related to the humane education areas of concern.

IHE: Do students learn Spanish more enthusiastically and effectively because you’ve been infusing your language courses with humane education?

Stacy: Yes. Humane education informs not only my overall approach to teaching Spanish, but also my course and unit themes, selection of course materials, and the activities I design. Students have responded well to courses on nature, art, and the Latinx experience that incorporate elements of humane education. I am particularly excited to teach our course on Spanish for Service Professionals through a humane education lens the next time it comes up in our rotation.

IHE: Why do you think language-learning is such a good avenue for humane education?

Stacy: There’s a great deal of natural overlap between language teaching and learning and humane education. The focus on accessing accurate information links with language educators’ emphasis on information literacy. Humane educators strive to cultivate reverence, respect, and responsibility, all of which are important for developing cross-cultural competence. And so many topics within our areas of focus can be explored in the Spanish classroom in particular: human rights issues like exploitation of workers and human trafficking; cultural practices involving nonhuman animals, like bullfighting or trafficking in “exotic” species; and environmental issues such as the impact of free-trade agreements and the devastation of rainforests.

IHE: What are your goals as a Spanish teacher who’s a humane educator?

Stacy: I look forward to delivering more presentations at conferences, like this year’s annual meeting of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP), to continue raising the visibility of humane education among my peers. In addition to the Service Professionals course I mentioned, I’ll also be teaching a brand-new course in our curriculum, Latinx Studies, next spring. I plan to draw on my training as a humane educator to make that course as engaging and enlightening as possible, while fostering empathy and respect for rich, diverse Latinx cultures in the U.S.

And I’ll make certain that humane education is part of the continuing conversation on general education at my institution. Every university is looking to engage and excite students with high-impact practices in the classroom and beyond. I can’t think of a better way to achieve these goals than by implementing humane education at every level of schooling.

IHE: Do you have stories or successes that have been particularly meaningful to you?

Stacy: I had an amazing opportunity to co-facilitate a Faculty Learning Community (FLC) on “Creating a Compassionate Campus” with a fellow IHE alumna, Natalie Krivas, who just completed her first year in IHE’s affiliated Ph.D. program. The FLC ran through the 2016-17 academic year and continued to meet during the following year. We held regular teach-ins on topics like animals on campus, permaculture, treatment of staff, and Valparaiso’s controversial Crusader mascot. The one about animals was very exciting—we covered issues ranging from comfort and therapy animal, to rats and frogs in our science laboratories, and compassionate eating in the cafeteria. More recently, in my role as chair of a committee that is leading a revision of our general education requirements, I proposed a collaborative solutionary project as a suggested element of capstone courses in every major. I’ve always wanted to see something like what we’ve done with IHE’s Solutionary Summits implemented at the college level.

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