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Learning at its Best, Philosophical Meanderings

Returning to School: Education for a Livable Planet

For my blog post today, I’m sharing a recent post I wrote for Common Dreams, a progressive news site. Here’s an excerpt from “Returning to School: Education for a Livable Planet”:

“Students and teachers are returning to school. I know few in either group who are genuinely excited at the prospect. This is a travesty and a tragedy.

Humans are, by nature, passionate about learning. It is truly extraordinary that in a few thousand years our species has learned to create elaborate shelters and to heat and cool them so that the temperature is always comfortable. We have turned minerals and ores into metals that we’ve shaped for every possible purpose, creating the bicycle, the toaster, and the airplane. We have made televisions and computers that the great majority of us cannot actually comprehend, but which we can use effortlessly nonetheless. We have done these things and so much more because our curiosity and imaginations, coupled with our desire and capacity to learn, continually spark creative problem-solving to increase our pleasure, comfort, and freedom. True, we create destructive and unhealthy things too, but the seeds of all creation, good and bad, emerge from our ability and desire to learn.

Almost all of us can easily recount times when we have experienced profound joy and excitement while learning something new. Learning is deeply pleasurable, a source of energy and enthusiasm and the foundation for virtually all growth, innovation, and invention. And this is why it is a travesty and tragedy that so many students and teachers lack enthusiasm each September.”

Read the complete post.

For a humane world,

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDx talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach

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.


5 thoughts on “Returning to School: Education for a Livable Planet

  1. Hi Zoe,

    Thank you again for sharing your important perspective and pointing out how far off target we have gotten from the kind of education we all dream of.

    I would like to raise my hand as one of those few teachers who is still lovin’ it, and was excited to return. And I think the teachers and students at my school wouldn’t mind if I raised another few dozen hands on their behalf. I realize that I am in a very privileged position, but it is one that I have very actively helped to create. And I think it is possible for many other “solutionaries” to do the same – I know many of you are! Here’s an excerpt from a post I just added to my school’s website and a link to the full text if anyone’s interested.
    – – –

    This week, as I once again shook off some serious first-day jitters, now so familiar to me, (I figure this is my 39th “first day of school” 20 as a student (not counting graduate school) and 19 as a teacher. Yikes!) I remarked again and again to other teachers, on how sweet everything seemed, and they echoed this assessment. Reuniting with these kids and these adults in this place was magical. The children universally seemed to return to school with excitement, and an expectation and spirit of engagement, collaboration, support and trust. These children came ready to learn and hungry for adventure. Parents filled the classrooms, porches and grounds, also full of expectation and in no hurry at all to get on with the long-awaited Sept.1, “Independence Day.” The teachers fell immediately into the now-so-familiar roles of passionate instruction, loving nurture, and continuous reflection….. What an incredible canvas on which to begin the art of a year of growing and learning together.

    Full text:

    Here’s to a great year for all of you!


    Posted by Paul Freedman | September 5, 2011, 10:08 am
    • Thanks so much for sharing this Paul! I suspect that readers of Coop Catalyst will not be among the many who lack enthusiasm for returning to school, and nor will their students. I’m beginning to regret starting off my essay this way because I think that it fails to account for the many teachers still full of excitement and drive and the many students these teachers have the privilege and joy of teaching. Reading your post is a wonderful balm and a reminder that it is not so bleak as I sometimes paint it. Thank you.

      Posted by Zoe Weil | September 5, 2011, 3:33 pm
  2. Zoe, For something I was just writing, I went on to Flickr and searched, “First Day of School.” There are pics of tremulous preschoolers cowering in front of huge yellow buses, kids with (already) overfilled backpacks, lots of gelled hair. Few pics about adventuresome, exciting learning. Check it out.

    And here’s The Onion’s take! (When are we turning this into an all humor blog?)


    Nation’s Students To Give American Education System Yet Another Chance
    AUGUST 17, 2011 | ISSUE 47•33

    Posted by Kirsten | September 7, 2011, 11:37 am
  3. At the end of class today, a gaggle of boys crowded around an old tech shop circuit board and a set of Snap Circuits. In attempting to build a circuit that powered a speaker, one boy added too much stuff and, in the words of his pal, “shorted out the whole thing.”

    I have no doubt that learning can happen in schools as it can happen elsewhere, but the power and curiosity kids bring to us gets dissipated and resisted in all the stuff we cram inside the loop of learning and mastery. We want to bridge the sides of the learning circuit to create shortcuts for achievement. Instead we short out kids’ pleasure in learning and curiosity in exploring the natural world that taught us the rules we needed to create those planes.

    Schools need to clear out the stuff in the circuit and learn to follow it again – to follow kids on their paths of learning.

    How do we get back to allowing learning and innovation despite ourselves?

    Best regards,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | September 8, 2011, 7:06 pm

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