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Philosophical Meanderings

What would Fair Trade Education look like?

At the Cooperative Catalyst, we spend a lot of time talking about what we think the right kind of education looks like and more often what it doesn’t look like.

I just read this short article on a movement to create Fair Trade Oil Standards and it got me thinking of what fair trade education would look like.

The debate on standard in education is complex. It is easy to BE for standards of excellence, of quality, and of access, and still argue against standardization in the form of tests, curriculum or performance.

The article on Fair Trade got me wondering; are we arguing against standards or being given standards to follow?

What if the standard where not given to us from above, but instead collectively gathered and voluntarily agreed to be followed. We have tried to do this at the Cooperative Catalyst with our Pledge to Students and Learning. Is this enough?

While I cringe at schools and education being likened to businesses, educators are in a  “trade partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect” with students and their learning.

Can we as educators and schools pledge to a level of fairness and honesty? To principles and rights of the student and the educator? Can we collectively pledge and still allow for the unique local differences of each learning community?

Do we as society have the faith and trust to allow for this type of organic system of self regulation? If not, what would we need for this type of system to succeed?

Can we benefit by making our local pledges public, by labeling our teaching and our learning communities “Fair trade” or “Democratic” or “Holistic“?

I believe there is power in coming together around a basic premise and a set of ideas and holding ourselves and others to these types of standards.

Could this be a way to change the conversation that has been led by the “Superman Reformers” against teachers and schools? Could we bring the standards to the policy makers, and allow the self-0rganizing revolution to build to a fair trade education that is driven by the people, for the people and the planet?

How can we promote our pledge or one of the many great ones already written?

Declaration of Education Rights

The Earth Charter

Education 2000: A Holistic Perspective

and many more! add them below!



7 thoughts on “What would Fair Trade Education look like?

  1. Discussion of educating people falls apart with the use of standards. Standards, by definition, standardize. The word is used for product. ex Annual County Fair everyone brings their best produce of this season and judges determine which best fits agreed traits of that product. That then is used for Grade A, Blue Ribbon standard, to set the market pricing for product sales. In education, sometimes we judge buildings, or resources for equity of access but even then, the needs are different in different areas so the same school would not be a good goal. Judging students as if they are product can not be done humanely. They are not product created by the system, they are people to be served by the system. Even “Fair trade” controlled by the student requires they take the position of selling themselves. It precludes their developing giving themselves, sharing themselves, or being themselves. An educated person knows how to add value to their community. Not, an educated person knows how to take the most money from their community from sale of his/herself.

    Posted by Kay | January 17, 2011, 6:40 am
  2. I love this idea. I’ve honestly never considered it (and I typically try and make connections between ideas and movements and values). What are some of the practical decisions schools could make in being Fair Trade? On both a local and global level, what does this mean for the day-to-day operations of a school or a classroom?

    Posted by johntspencer | January 17, 2011, 8:14 am
  3. I think learning at its best is a gift economy, but so long as our leaders insist it is a transactional one, I’d like to subvert their system by giving time back to kids for their learning pursuits. While I’m not willing to dismiss my role as a guide entirely, I am willing to give students more power to set their own standards of excellent work so long as they show me the relevance of their work to their lives and the ways their standards reflect excellence in and require feedback from the field of their chosen work.

    Or at least that’s the ideal. More often than not, I struggle with how to package standardized curriculum in helpful ways and how to stay honest with students about that. I feel like we spend some of class time in the box and some of class time exploring ways to drill through it and/or leap out of it.

    When I can negotiate a customized product or process for demonstrating learning of standardized content, I feel pretty good, but I always feel that by letting go of more I could be doing better as a teacher.

    As your many cited examples suggest, David, the problem isn’t that we lack models of education that echo fair trade principles, it’s that we lack the structures to abide by them with any kind of fidelity in traditional public schools. Perversely, the measure of, say, a democratic public school would be how well it did on tests it wasn’t designed to address.

    How do we get school systems and leaders to negotiate fairly with teachers for deliverables apart from high-stakes testing scores? Nowhere does the basic premise of education seem to be about test scores except in practice. That problem – that dichotomy of stated and procedural intent – remains of vital interest to me. Is there no better way than to stand alone or apart from public education and ask for forgiveness – or not?

    I’d love to hear from parents and admin here –


    Posted by Chad Sansing | January 17, 2011, 11:11 am
  4. my thoughts of fair trade (and this could be wrong) lie in helping a culture to sustain by handing over to that culture ownership of their art, often by removing the middle man. respect and transparency and trust, that the people in the culture will create/design the best whatever that is in question. but most important, that the people in that culture become the viable operator/owner, much like what Kiva does.

    so for fair trade in school, i don’t see a standard curriculum like we know it today. i see individuals & their respective communities determining their game plan. which would include a means of determining their own success.
    i see the only commonality or standard being: are learners growing in the thought process that transcends/crosses-over all disciplines. i think at any point that we decide a content or curriculum for another, it’s no longer fair. and the trade is not only no longer sustainable, but it’s lost the potential to become thrivable.

    Posted by monika hardy | January 17, 2011, 8:11 pm
  5. Thanks everyone for adding to this discussion. I am happy how different the responses have been!

    I will try to reflect on all your ideas in the next day or so. I want to think for myself, how I would answers my own questions and yours!


    Posted by dloitz | January 17, 2011, 8:45 pm
    • I would like to support what Monika Hardy mentionned : “i see the only commonality or standard being: are learners growing in the thought process that transcends/crosses-over all disciplines.” Faithfully

      Posted by Etikland | March 11, 2011, 10:53 am


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