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Leadership and Activism, Learning at its Best, Philosophical Meanderings

My TED Talk: The World Becomes What You Teach

I’m delighted to share my TEDxDirigo talk, The World Becomes What You Teach:

If you enjoy it and think it’s valuable, please share it with others so that together we can educate a generation of solutionaries. I welcome your comments as well.

Zoe Weil, President of the  Institute for Humane Education


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.


17 thoughts on “My TED Talk: The World Becomes What You Teach

  1. Hi Zoe!

    Already shared this. Great talk! Love it! I agree that it is unfair to not teach like this with students. I believe that everyday I teach I have changed the course of my student forever. Providing knowledge is powerful. With knowledge that child is more equipped to make more responsible decisions. I keep this in mind as I teach. One year I had a college student pass away because he made the choice to get in a car with his drunk friend. I made the decision to share this with my high school students and have an open discussion about peer pressure and decision-making in the hopes the conversation would impact any future decisions they made. Daily we have to make choices as educators what we want to share with our students. We have the power to get into their minds and influence their lives. I hope everyday I have a positive impact on my students. I realize how powerful learning can be and I think if all educators understood the weight of their profession and taught with this weight then we would provide students with powerful learning. Thank you for your talk because it is talks like these that remind educators about the weight of our profession. We do change lives and it can be for the good or bad. Too many times I have heard students say I did this due to a teacher. Sometimes it is a good reflection, but often it is a bad reflection.

    Posted by Shelly | January 18, 2011, 6:09 pm
  2. Thanks so much Shelly! Your passion and commitment just shines through this comment and makes me feel so hopeful. Thank you for teaching!

    Posted by Zoe Weil | January 18, 2011, 6:27 pm
  3. Wow! Zoe, this was so meaningful to me after taking classes on theories of curriculum planning, and theories of learning…and after 23 years in my public school classrooms. I have shared it on Facebook and I’m thinking it would fit into my writing methods class for undergrads at a nearby teachers’ college. Thank you.

    Posted by Carol Mikoda | January 18, 2011, 6:50 pm
  4. I agree…..although I believe your coined ‘Solutionists’ is similar to yesterday’s ‘Constructivists’. Many of the issues you brought to light are topics of conversation and the creative process of Visual Arts Educators across the nation. I am MOST concerned about this type of learning happening at the elementary level…..this is where the foundation is laid. I find my youngest students have a natural instinct towards this type of learning and through the process of ‘schooling’, it is taught out of them. As their ‘culture’ becomes more important than its effect ON us as a culture. This generation of kids at the elementary age already know that they are going to have to clean-up after the current generation. But, for the first time in 40 years, my students understand the environmental issues and the human impact and are playing an active role in changing the attitudes of their own parents. It is an exciting time in education… much at stake and yet so much is transforming~

    Posted by Suzan R. Wallace, MFA | January 18, 2011, 7:22 pm
  5. Great to hear about your students Suzan. I’m using the term “solutionaries” and I hope we educate millions of them!

    Posted by Zoe Weil | January 19, 2011, 10:49 am
  6. Zoe, the solutionary school concept echoes resoundingly with my hope for community-embedded, project-based schools of lasting worth to their home communities. Thank you for sharing the video here with us.

    You’re right in that it’s not fair not to teach kids through choice, relevance, responsibility, and the freedom to pursue learning that goes with such responsibility. I worry about an inquiry gap between those students resourced enough to follow their passions and those told to suppress their passions in pursuit of diplomas. If we could give solutionary diplomas instead of sea-time ones, I would be overjoyed with our progress as a school system.

    It’s not our schools are treading water- we’re teaching backwards. We’re teaching students to be paralyzed without the ability to “choose” conveniently packaged goods. Case in point: when we talk about strong and weak classes now as they move between the grades, we reference standardized test pass rates, not evidence of useful work or student-made art or discoveries. Moreover, I can see in my own work how even the students who hate school are afraid to risk answers they cannot circle. We’re teaching students that they have nothing to say, only pre-packaged answers to circle, mindlessly or not, so long as they do what we want during the school day.

    I am in a fog bank of data and competing inferences, pressure, expectations, and ethics right now; your video suggests a few courses to try. Thanks again for it.

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | January 19, 2011, 8:45 pm
    • “even the students who hate school are afraid to risk answers they cannot circle. We’re teaching students that they have nothing to say, only pre-packaged answers to circle, mindlessly or not, so long as they do what we want during the school day.” – profound point Chad. I just got back from seeing Waiting for Superman. My mind is spinning about with myriad thoughts about that film. So much is true in it and yet much misses the mark and many assumptions are not addressed. The system is a mess in so many different ways. Thanks for your comments on my talk. I really appreciate it.

      Posted by Zoe Weil | January 19, 2011, 10:35 pm
  7. Love your talk Zoe!!

    I watched Sir Ken’s take on the subjects a while ago where he proposes doing away with subjects and study disciplines — areas that would go across subjects and integrate the knowledge of multiple subjects to move into a meaningful direction with the learning … while I understand the idea of disciplines your talk made me visualize what SKR refers to as disciplines and make is intuitively obvious how subjects are far inferior to them

    You solutionaries metaphor seems to also relate to the concept of local knowledge discussed in a new movie that I posted about in the comments of … the only problem I have with the solutionaries metaphor is that I find problem seeking rather than problem solving a more powerful skill for innovation, so focusing on learning that seeks to understand existing problems is going to be limiting if we can’t find a way to allow learning whose goal is to break things apart with the purpose of finding new problems

    Posted by kima | January 20, 2011, 4:56 am
    • Kima – Thanks for all this – I am going to check out these links! And interesting point re. problem-seeking v. problem-solving, but I would imagine our solutionaries would be problem-seeking as well as problem-solving because they would always be asking “how can we make the systems in our lives and careers humane, healthy and just?” To answer this, we must seek out knowledge and dig deep.

      Posted by Zoe Weil | January 21, 2011, 8:41 am
  8. absolutely love your talk.. love what you’re doing… no doubt. Zoe you rock. digging into your book..

    what if – as Kima suggests we push a little more.
    what if – the only agenda is – be you. make the world a better place by being you.
    what if we have nothing set, except how to learn. no yearly theme, no set project based curriculum, just, let’s find out who you are and what you want to be and learn.
    what if the only thing we focus on is a process of facilitating that (ie: notice the unlikely, dream boldly, connect to people and info, do what matters most.)

    check out Ewan McInstosh’s latest post on Sugata Mitra’s granny cloud:
    we have the resources to personalize to infinity, that means we can say our goal is… be you.

    true there are important problems to solve. i believe if we let kids work on the problems of the world, of our communitie, during school, we would have a completely different world.
    but there are problems we are missing and solutions we are missing and fulfillments we are missing if we manage that.

    what if we unleash kids today with their methods and desires during school… until they release the power they have in that. what if they started believing they could change the world. because they’re doing it.

    Posted by monika hardy | January 20, 2011, 12:11 pm
  9. Hi Monika,
    Lovely and interesting. I’ll ponder this. I sometimes feel like my vision, overarching as it is, doesn’t leave room for us not to really focus on these critical issues and I still do wonder if their is quite “fair” to kids. Yet, the global problems we face are so vast and potentially catastrophic that I don’t know that it is wise to avoid teaching very specifically about them and engaging the great minds and big hearts of our kids. Some day – when we have that Star Trek world I spoke about – I would love to see your vision the norm. But right now, I’m not sure. So much is at stake. Thank you for sharing this.

    Posted by Zoe Weil | January 21, 2011, 8:47 am
  10. Zoe – you write, ..I’m not sure. So much is at stake.

    i agree. i’m not sure either. and so much is at stake.
    i know so little Zoe. especially about people. i’m learning much every day, but really, i know so little. so please take all i’m suggesting and questioning in that vein.

    i’m into your book now. your examples are wonderful and an incredible resource. we certainly need to be spending more of our time on topics we often feel are inappropriate for “school.” we need to spend more time on topics that incite from within.

    my gut though (i know, highly sophisticated research) is saying 2 things in particular:
    1) solutions will come not only for the problems we currently perceive as a high stake situation, but for both the prevention of them as well as problems we may be missing at an even deeper, perhaps invisible level, if we unleash learners, during the 7 hours a day, 12+ years we’ve come to take as a given in the way we do life. (by this i’m suggesting.. how far are we from this vision being the norm. i think we quite possibly have no idea of the exponentiating power and force that can be a reality given the enormity of this amount of time daily and the amount of people we would be involving)
    2) while these are high stakes, and not to be taken lightly, i often have this heart wrenching feeling that in pursuit of solving extremely noble issues, we forgot to focus on our most valuable resource, people. i know this completely invalidates what i’m seeking to propose by saying it this way, but i truly believe that if we do all we can to free a learner from perceptions and current binding environments, to be themselves, because of the value of any given person, the world will naturally become a better a place.

    i’m onto you Zoe, love what you’re doing. so glad to have met here, looking forward to learning more from your work.

    Posted by monika hardy | January 23, 2011, 9:20 am
    • Hi again Monika. Thanks SO much for diving into these ideas and sharing them! I so appreciate learning from you in this way and grappling with these ideas more deeply myself. One of my fundamental beliefs is that there is no perfect way to teach/learn/school. While there are schooling systems most would agree are problematic (at best) and awful (at worst), there are many different approaches that are great – but none are great for every child. When I was pregnant I thought that the free school movement was my ideal and I imagined making sure that I lived in a place where I could send my son to such a school. But I later came to believe that for him, such a school would not have been ideal. I ended up sending him to a Waldorf inspired school. What I do believe is that humane education can infuse any and every school no matter what the style, philosophy or approach by using what we at the Institute for Humane Education ( call the 4 elements: 1) Providing accurate (and age-appropriate) information about the pressing issues of our time 2) Fostering the 3 Cs of curiosity, creativity and critical thinking 3) Instilling the 3 Rs of reverence, respect and responsibility, and 4) Offering positive choices and the tools for becoming a solutionary.
      Thanks again, so much, for your comments.

      Posted by Zoe Weil | January 24, 2011, 10:00 am
  11. Brilliant stuff, Zoe. You have realized what always seems to elude me when I talk about my work in educational alternatives: you have kept it simple, abundantly clear, and incredibly hopeful, even as you name the enormity of the problems we face in schooling.

    I talked with Khalif Williams at an AERO conference a couple of years ago after he introduced the “true cost” activity. And I have tried it a number of times since. Sometimes my young scholars (in elementary grades) have trouble ferreting out all the horrific practices that have gone into retail production and I don’t want to spoon feed them all the atrocities, so we have often simply practiced asking good questions about products, even if we can’t find answers to them all. One question that often comes up is “why is it so hard to find out how a product was made?” Asking this question has value in itself, I think.

    A parent of a child I work with sent me a link to a recent New York Times article that cited a study that claimed that testing for recall of facts is actually a very effective way to increase kids’ learning of said facts. The process of taking a test, itself cements the learning. That’s fine, I thought if the goal is simply to recall facts. But I deeply believe that fact recall and skill performance is the false idol in education today. The missing goal that should be the holy grail is nurturing wisdom. That is, what do we do with all these facts and skills? The skills should be in service to meaningful work that moves us toward a just and humane world. Therefore it is imperative that we infuse education with the goal of developing the capacities of empathy, creativity, community, caring, etc.

    Anyway, thank you so much for sharing this talk. I am passing it along to others.



    Posted by Paul Freedman | January 23, 2011, 11:42 am
    • Thanks so much Paul! I’m so glad you’ve been using True Price with your students! I will often ask students to visit several specific websites to get info, but they are always left with lots they don’t/can’t know. and are great for many products. Then I ask them to go to the website of the company itself and query them. I also ask them to google the product category (bottled water, cotton production, cell phone production and so on).

      I also read that NY Times article you mentioned. I believe that it shouldn’t be an either/or: to test or not to test. There is much that we need to memorize in order to learn, whether it’s memorizing vocabulary or photosynthesis. Testing doesn’t have to be conducted the way it normally is though. I remember in 4th grade geography we had a text that had “test” questions at the end of each chapter. The answers were in the margin by the inside spine, right next to the questions, and the text came with a perfectly sized book mark that covered the answers. After studying a chapter we’d test OURSELVES, answering each question on the right and sliding the bookmark down to see how we did. I LOVED THIS! I loved geography. So much of it was memorization, but that was fine. To know where places were around the globe and their climates and terrains, I had to memorize them. This was by no means all of what geography was about, but this piece of it was fun, too. We weren’t scared into memorizing or given pop quizzes and tests, we were invited to test ourselves and it DID cement the facts that formed the basis for learning and discussing more. Take home point, I believe that rather than an either/or around testing we need a both/and approach.

      Thanks so much for sharing my talk with others! I so appreciate that!

      Posted by Zoe Weil | January 24, 2011, 10:11 am
  12. love this Paul:
    But I deeply believe that fact recall and skill performance is the false idol in education today. The missing goal that should be the holy grail is nurturing wisdom.

    and Zoe, yes, your 4 elements. only a few pages left in your book. was it really so short, or was it just very resonating..

    Posted by monika hardy | January 24, 2011, 11:24 am

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