What's Happening in Character?

What Graduates Really Need to Know

Posted by Zoe Weil on Thu, May 3, 2012 @ 12:05 PM

zoe weilThis excerpted blog article is reposted with permission from Zoe Weil, an honored and esteemed speaker at our upcoming National Forum on Character Education. It was originally posted here. Zoe was also recently featured in Forbes Magazine, discussing the heart of education.

In June, approximately three million students will graduate from public U.S. high schools, and even though they will have all passed their No Child Left Behind tests year after year, most will not be ready for what awaits them. While they may be verbally, mathematically, and technologically literate and successful at meeting the requirements of our educational system, even our highest-performing graduates will be unprepared for the important roles they must play in today’s world.

This generation of graduates will be confronted with escalating, interrelated, global problems, such as climate change, growing extinction rates, economic instability, a looming energy crisis, human trafficking, slavery, poverty, institutionalized systems of cruelty toward one trillion animals annually, and the oppression and abuse of women and girls across the globe, to name just some. Yet few will have learned in school how to approach and solve such systemic problems, and even though there are plenty of people already working on these and other issues, the systems in place that perpetuate them are entrenched. We need to create better, sustainable, and restorative systems in a host of arenas from food production and energy to transportation and financial markets.

To change these entrenched systems, we need people to have the knowledge, tools, and motivation to be conscientious, engaged, and wise choice makers and change makers. Where will such people come from? If we commit to changing just one of our most deeply entrenched systems — schooling — we can set the stage for the unfolding of timely systemic changes throughout a range of other systems. To do this, I believe that we must embrace a new and bigger purpose for education: to graduate a generation of solutionaries. This is the goal of humane education, which is both an approach to teaching and a body of knowledge. Humane education is founded upon the belief that human rights, environmental preservation, and animal protection are integral aspects of a just, peaceful, and healthy world and that we are all capable of and responsible for creating such a world.

Rather than offer unconnected academic disciplines, imagine if each year of high school covered a single overarching issue, such as sustenance, energy, production, or protection, all essential to our survival. Teachers with expertise in different subjects could provide students with the skills to conduct research into current systems and articulate new viewpoints, understand and use scientific and mathematical equations and methods to solve systemic problems, and draw upon history, politics, economics, psychology, sociology, and geography to analyze, assess, propose, and create new or improved systems. And the arts, relegated to the chopping block because of budget cuts, could find new life as vehicles for expression of visionary ideas.

What would children offered such an education grow up to do when they graduated? The same things graduates do today. They would be businesspeople, healthcare providers, lawyers and law enforcement officers, architects, engineers, plumbers, beauticians, and politicians. The difference would be that they would perceive themselves as responsible for ensuring that the systems within their professions were humane, healthy, and just for all. They would do this as a matter of course because this is what they would have learned to do in school.

AUTHOR ID: ZOE WEIL is the president of the Institute for Humane Education in Surry, Maine, which offers online graduate programs in humane education through an affiliation with Valparaiso University, online professional development courses, Summer Institutes for teachers, and free, downloadable activities and lesson plans at www.HumaneEducation.org. She is the author of The Power and Promise of Humane Education; Nautilus Silver Medal winner Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life; Above All, Be Kind; and Moonbeam Gold Medal winner for juvenile fiction, Claude and Medea.

Topics: Forum Speakers, Service learning, what works in education, no child left behind, graduation