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The Problem With Our Newest Educational Manifesto

Take a look at this Educational Manifesto, created by a group of educational reformers and leaders and published in The Washington Post.

As an educational reformer myself, I read this manifesto with great interest. There were parts I agreed with strongly. Such as this:

“It’s time for all of the adults — superintendents, educators, elected officials, labor unions and parents alike — to start acting like we are responsible for the future of our children. Because right now, across the country, kids are stuck in failing schools, just waiting for us to do something. So, where do we start? With the basics. As President Obama has emphasized, the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents’ income — it is the quality of their teacher.”

“The quality of their teacher.” Indeed.

“To start acting like we are responsible for the future of our children.” Indeed.

But interestingly, the paragraph that precedes these two reads as follows:

“But the transformative changes needed to truly prepare our kids for the 21st-century global economy simply will not happen unless we first shed some of the entrenched practices that have held back our education system, practices that have long favored adults, not children. These practices are wrong, and they have to end now.”

Note how this paragraph names the true goal of schooling according to these educational leaders: to truly prepare our kids for the 21st-century global economy.

Notice that the goal isn’t to truly prepare our children for their roles in solving global challenges, or creating a safe, humane, restorative world, or living successfully peaceful lives that contribute to a thriving planet; it’s to prepare them for the global economy. In other words it’s to make sure they can compete with China and Germany and Japan.

There is much in this manifesto that is true and important and worthy of our attention and energy, but until we address the goal of schooling with a purpose worthy of our children’s minds and hearts and truly relevant to the 21st century challenges we face – which are hardly limited to economic challenges – we will remain off course and irresponsible regarding our children’s future.

It’s time to take seriously and embrace a worthy definition schooling: to graduate a generation of solutionaries.

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and The Power and Promise of Humane Education

Want to get a taste of IHE’s humane education training programs & gain skills and support for inspiring your students to become leaders & change agents for a healthy, peaceful, sustainable world? Sign up for the next session of our 30-day online course, Teaching for a Positive Future (February 7-March 14, 2011). Special rates for groups of teachers.

About zoeweil

I'm the co-founder and President of the Institute for Humane Education (IHE). IHE works to create a world in which we all live humanely, sustainably, and peaceably. We do this by training people to be humane educators who teach about the pressing issues of our time and inspire people to work for change while making healthy, humane, and restorative choices in their daily lives. We also work to advance the field of humane education, and to provide tools and inspiration to people everywhere so that they can live examined, meaningful lives. I'm also a writer. So far I've written six books and several articles.


11 thoughts on “The Problem With Our Newest Educational Manifesto

  1. I definitely know that the biggest difference between “our” type of reform and the reform of those in charge is our goals. It’s like all anyone can think about is the economy, which is shameful given the state our world is in. How can these people be so blind?

    Posted by dwees | January 3, 2011, 10:58 am
  2. I think our leaders suffer under a great misapprehension of how the world “needs” to be. While everyone seems capable of lauding innovation, no one “in charge” seems to acknowledge how innovative it would be to have a country, economy, and/or world focused not on leading in wealth, but into increasingly urgently needed solutions to questions of poverty and planetary stewardship.

    We can have all the money in the world and not have any better wealth distribution than we have.

    We can have better wealth distribution and a world that’s falling apart.

    It’s difficult to enrich lives with just money, though in the society we’ve created it’s better to have than to have not because we’re set up to have and have not. School transformation and societal transformation have to somehow find ways to make sure that those locked out of our old and current economies benefit tangibly and immediately from new economies of education, opportunity, and fulfillment. How do we do this without falling prey to the superman/savior trap?

    I don’t know if I came anywhere near saying that right, and I’m positive I don’t live very well by what I said, but I give a lot of thought to this problem – because of the Coöp and Adam and Zoe’s work in particular. Keep problematizing things for me.


    Posted by Chad Sansing | January 3, 2011, 4:58 pm
  3. Zoe, Ironically, read today while waiting for a doctor’s appointment:

    “[The ideas underlying capitalism] transform self-interest into a public virtue, releasing citizens from the need to consider the whole of society and effectively shrinking everyone’s circle of accountability. These ideas, perhaps the most influential in the history of economics, may be the basis for the questionable modern notion that individuals need only assume responsibility for themselves in order to enjoy social well-being.”

    -David Bornstein and Susan Davis, SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP: What Everyone Needs To Know (Oxford, 2010).

    Posted by Kirsten | January 3, 2011, 5:04 pm
  4. Zoe,
    Thanks for this great highlight of what is misguided about so much of the debate on education reform. I think a great argument against this thought process is to point out that education reform and economic reform are allies. The only future of economic growth worth talking about is based in sustainable business practices that recognize universal human rights, ecological integrity and creative local solutions. We cannot shape education around easily dismissible economic practices of extractive and wasteful economies.

    In this light reform has to be allied with restoration, both human and environmental, not a continuance of the habits of mind and habitats of consciousness that make sense of our world through oppressive models of human ecology. When we restore the communities that support schools we will see reform, and cyclically, when we restore the schools that support communities we will see true reform.

    This is where I climb on your bandwagon Chad, I hope there’s room, and look to the work of schools in focusing curriculum on the much needed task of restoring poverty gripped cities, not through charity and service projects but through entrepreneurship and advocacy. Curriculum that is relevant is using working slow and designing the way forward for the restoration of the injustice that holds its community back from *eco-social flourishing in urban, suburban and rural communities.

    *Ecosocial Flourishing – Defined by Thomas Crowley as the mutual flourishing of both the human and the non-human world as one living system on the planet.
    Crowley, Thomas. “From “Natural” to Ecosocial Flourishing.” Ethics & the Environment 15.1 (2010): 69-92.

    Posted by Jeff Steele | January 3, 2011, 7:36 pm
  5. Zoe, isn’t it amazing what “we” reveal about ourselves as we pen what we consider a very noble endeavor. I bet that isn’t a line they thought twice about.

    One problem I have with many edreform talks, they talk about the changes that need to be made and immediately the language makes us all think “some day”. Here’s the thing, education has a sense of urgency, because we do have to get it right. Right now.

    Thank you for the reminder to consider our language, goals and noble endeavors in light of what they really mean. Thank you for the reminder that this is more than words.

    Posted by ktenkely | January 5, 2011, 12:40 am
    • Thanks. Although I’m guessing they did think very carefully about including “global economy” because it’s the phrase that gets a lot of people on board with educational initiatives, legislation, reform, etc. who might not otherwise give education much thought. It tweaks the competitor and we know how Americans hate to not be first in anything. But for those for whom this isn’t the primary goal it’s also easy to miss such a simple phrase embedded in something so lofty and important.

      Posted by Zoe Weil | January 7, 2011, 8:56 am
  6. As a parent, I am surprised education needs a manifesto in the first place! Maybe it is my background, but manifesto reminds me of Marx and the communist manifesto or several other similar manifesto’s referring to political and economical goals and plans. Even wikipedia says that “a manifesto is a public declaration of principles and intentions, often political in nature”.

    Education should not be an ideology — at least learning down to its purest form is not — even if it historically may have started as a way to support the industrial system.

    Instead of a manifesto, the education could benefit from a declaration of principles. But principles based on openness and sharing of knowledge and learning tools — Creative Commons comes to mind as a platform for implementing them. Principles based on inclusiveness of the student, the parents and the community in the learning. Principles based on human values, kindness and compassion. Principles with creativity, critical thinking and innovation into view!

    Posted by kima | January 6, 2011, 2:55 am
  7. Great point!

    Posted by Zoe Weil | January 7, 2011, 8:56 am

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