Transcript of the episode “Creative problem solving: Developing solutionary thinkers”

Amy H-L: [00:00:15] I’m Amy Halpern-Laff.

Jon M: [00:00:17] And I’m Jon Moscow. Welcome to Ethical Schools. We’re pleased to have Zoe Weil back on the podcast. Zoe is co-founder and president of the Institute for Humane Education, IHE. We also have Laura Trongard,  who teaches AP world history and AP United States government and politics, economics, and mentoring at Oceanside High School on Long Island, New York. Welcome Zoe and Laura.

Zoe W: [00:00:38] Wonderful to be here. Thank you for having me back on.

Laura T: [00:00:42] Yes, thank you for having me.

Amy H-L: [00:00:44] So tell us about the concept of Solutionaries and IHE’sgraduate programs. 

Zoe W: [00:00:50] So when we think about what education can and must be, I think it’s really important to consider the world that we’re educating young people for. As  we know, there are so many challenges that we face in the world. And we also know that human beings have overcome many challenges and that many things have gotten better. But when we look at something like climate change and we look at human population increasing around the globe and all that that will mean for the environment, for people, for other species, it’s so important that we think about schooling in a different way, that we recognize that young people are going to both inherit and shape the future. And if that’s the case, what is the most important thing that we can educate young people to be and to do? And I believe that it’s to be Solutionaries who have the thinking capacities, the motivation, the disposition to address and solve challenges in their communities and in the world and do so in a way that reduces unintended negative consequences toward any beings, toward people, toward animals and toward the environment. And that is the very definition of what it means to be a Solutionary, and I believe that’s what should be educating young people to be. So the Institute for Humane Education has an affiliation with Antioch University, which is the leader in progressive education. And we offer online graduate programs an MEd, an MA, a graduate certificate, and a doctoral program ,an EdD that specialize in humane education, that look at the interconnected issues of social justice and human rights, environmental sustainability, and animal protection. So that the people who go through our graduate programs are able to educate about these interrelated intersectional issues and educate whomever their audience may be to be Solutionaries.

And sometimes when people hear online graduate programs, they think that they’re siloed, there’s no community, but that is not the case with our program. There’s an incredible community. Students come together for salons where they get to talk about the issues that they’re learning about and build that community of learners. And they get to do it in this very flexible way so that they can be working full time, and in an affordable way. So we hope that people will check out our graduate programs on our website,, and learn more about them.

Jon M: [00:03:52] Laura, you’ve had the opportunity to work with the Solutionary program in your classes. I understand the program is implemented district-wide in Oceanside. What does that look like?

Laura T: [00:04:02] So I have been able to start it with my 10th graders. I teach AP world history, and after reading Zoe’s book, The World Becomes What We Teach, I was so inspired and it just, everything made so much sense to go in that direction. In fact, I would argue that even the AP tests and curriculum are moving in this direction of being a lot more skill-based than just content, because, I think it was in those books, she said, you know, the information’s at our fingertips right now and they can access and look something up right away. What’s more important than knowing the answer is what you do with it and what that means to you and how we find these solutions.

So I really started working with my AP world students on looking at these global problems and what our role is. Andhow they were created by man and how man can also have the power to fix it. So really it’s cool to see on so many levels, not only that they’re developing these wonderful research and creative skills of problem solving, but they work together on it. So we’ve, we’ve worked through AP world first. It’s also in my government curriculum now, which on New York State level, they’re rolling out a civic readiness program going forward, which this also fits right in with, and in our district, we’ve actually brought it to the elementary level. Just last year, we hosted a World We Want fair where my 10th graders prepared, based on UN sustainable development goals, kind of an introduction to some issues within the world to let fifth graders be aware of these, kind of find what issues they’re passionate about in particular, and then show them that they can start taking action. They can start finding out more. There’s ways that they can get involved. Even though they might only be in fifth grade and 10 years old doesn’t mean that you don’t have power in the world or that you’re not part of the solution. So that kind of kicked off bringing this actually starting at an elementary level, which I’m super excited about because it will give them more time to develop over the years, work on these projects, and really focus in on a problem that they care about, whether it be local or global, and start taking action and start collaborating with others and having that community and making a difference in their world. Because I think the impact of that is so far reaching. And as a teacher, I love to see that. 

Jon M: [00:06:14] Could you give a specific example of what that might look like for a particular problem that, you know, some students might take on, what would it look like? If a teacher were  listening and were to say, “Oh, okay.” What would it be?

Laura T: [00:06:27] So there’s actually a lot of student choice within this because that makes it more authentic.

Kids are going to, you know, really want to keep pursuing it. And so what I’ve actually done when I’ve done this is introduced different world issues and let students pick what one really has meaning to them what they want to work on. And then I’ll often group students together by interest so that they can work together and provide them with tools from Zoe, from the humane Institute of thinking kind of systems thinking, asking why, getting to the root causes of problems. And, you know, it takes time. It’s not going to be one lesson where all of a sudden you’re, you know, understand the problem and solve it. But I think it’s all the more important for them to go through the steps, looking at the underlying issues and things like the iceberg model, where they have to look at root causes, have really kind of helped and then start developing solutions that affect some of those deeper issues, not to put a bandaid on the problem and think that it would be fixed. 

Jon M: [00:07:25] So what would be, like say a group of students that pick one topic, what might that be and how would they follow through on it?

 So in particular, a lot of students tend to pick climate. They’re really passionate about it. They want to do their part. It looks different each year, depending on, you know, what solutions they’re coming up with, but as far as the beginning, it’s really first understanding the problem. Look at what systems are causing this, what are the causes? And as they do that, if you have different groups working on different issues, somebody picked climate, somebody is doing something with animals, and if somebody is doing something with inequality or education, they can have the same assignment for understanding the problem and kind of researching it.

And as you move into the project, it might take different directions as they look into maybe contacting others, finding out more, and then essentially offering solutions.

Amy H-L: [00:08:16] Laura, do teachers in your department or your school, or even outside your school in the wider district, do they work together on some of this programming?

Laura T: [00:08:28] So I, in particular, I work with an English partner. I teach AP world in an integrated program, which would mean that our students are shared between an English teacher and I have one period, each English, social studies, we flip, and then we have a conference period that conference period can be used for many things. And it has been a great place to really implement this curriculum where we can actually co-teach it and go from there. But as I said, we’ve moved to elementary. So we’ve been collaborating with fifth grade teachers in particular starting the end of last year. Unfortunately, with COVID things didn’t take off as planned. Not that they’re not going to, but you know, this year was a little bit of dealing with the moment of COVID and that sort of thing. And some other things got a little bit put off, but it’s going to move into sixth grade, seventh, and yes, we’re going to work as a group. We run professional development classes on it. We collaborate on ideas and that way, where we’re hoping to really spread this, you know, to more teachers involved firsthand with using this curriculum.

Amy H-L: [00:09:28] So we at Ethical Schools often speak about expanding our universe of obligation. So those to whom we feel responsible. Does Solutionary thinking address questions of responsibility to other humans, to animals other than human, and to the planet?

Zoe W: [00:09:49] Absolutely. And the issue of responsibility is an interesting one because the term itself feels, to many people, really heavy,  just like somebody just put a sandbag on your shoulders. And often we hear it in our minds as something we remember from childhood. You know, when  our parents may have said take responsibility, or our teachers may have said take responsibility. And it sounds punitive as opposed to liberating. And I would argue that taking responsibility for our choices is one of the most liberating things we can do.

And I’m going to circle around to a social psychology experiment to explain why I think this is so, so many people have heard of the Milgram experiments that were conducted in the 1960s, in which ordinary citizens responded to an ad that was in the newspapers in  New Haven. And they came to Yale to be part of a study in which they thought that they were participating in a study of learning and memory. What they didn’t know is that when they met up with the other participant in the study, that other participant was an actor and that their obedience to authority was what was really being studied. So Stanley Milgram dressed in a white lab coat as a professor and a scientist at Yale, he took these two participants. One of whom was the actor was then put into a room and connected to electrodes and was seated. And the other person, the real person who was the test subject, who answered the ad, was in another room in front of a console. With these buttons, these levers that indicated voltage from 15 volts to I believe it was 450 volts. And they were told to ask a question to the learner in the other room. If the learner got the question wrong, they were to administer an electric shock and go up in voltage each time. Well, Prior to the experiment being done, psychologists, psychology students, doctoral students at Yale were asked to consider what percentage might go all the way up to the end. And psychologists thought, well only one or 2% would ever go up to the end because the end was marked with XXX, extreme shock danger. And the thinking was only sociopaths would go all the way up to the end. Now, meanwhile, as the person who was being tested in this was pressing the voltage, they could hear the actor in the other room, vocalizing complaining about their heart condition, asking for the experiments to stop. And when they expressed concern about that Stanley Milgram would say, please continue. The experiment requires that you continue.

And then finally, and this gets back to your question. We take full responsibility; please continue. Well, what was most shocking, pun intended, about this experiment was that two-thirds of people went all the way up to the end, thinking that they were potentially killing this person in another room. And by the time they got toward the final levers, that person was no longer vocalizing. So they went from screaming to nothing. Meaning you had to think they were unconscious or potentially dead. I mean, it’s really stunning that this happened and all of them went up to 350 volts. So what does this have to do with what you asked? Well, afterwards, these participants were asked how they felt about having participated in this study. Now most were happy that they’d participated and one person, whose quote I read, he was a Vietnam veteran and he felt that what he learned from this was that he had been willing to do something against his own values because he had been so obedient to authority that he wasn’t willing to take responsibility for his own actions.

So a really long winded way of getting to your question that taking responsibility means that in a host of ways, you don’t have to keep up with the Joneses. You don’t have to follow what every system around you tells you to do. If that system is unjust and unsustainable and inhumane, you can make choices, including the most important choice of all, which is work to transform those systems.

So there are many ways in which we can take responsibility for what we eat or what we wear or what we buy. But in many aspects we can’t take full responsibility because we are so deeply embedded in systems that are cruel and disruptive and inequitable. And so by becoming a Solutionary, we embrace this incredible concept of being responsible, this incredible opportunity to make a difference. And in so doing not only are we liberated, we also have the chance through collaboration, through learning through action, to feel really transformative joy. So I like to go into all of those details, even though it is a little bit long-winded response, simply because when we transform the concept of responsibility, we open up the door to a better future for ourselves and others.

Amy H-L: [00:15:37] I’m wondering whether the concept of being a Solutionary entails research. And the reason I ask is because we know, for example, you know, some of the impacts of our behaviors or our decision-making, if we choose to eat the product from an animal, we know that it’s, it’s very likely that that animal suffered that the production of that animal, caused harm to the environment, and that marginalized humans were further exploited in getting that animal ready for distribution and consumption. However, we often don’t know all the implications of our decisions. Does Solutionary thinking entail looking at the bigger picture?

Zoe W: [00:16:31] Absolutely. And in fact, you can’t be a Solutionary without learning to be an investigator and a solid researcher, as I’m sure Laura will attest to that. And in today’s world, it’s really challenging because there is so much misinformation and disinformation in the world. So one of the most important foundational pieces of becoming a Solutionary is becoming a critical thinker and investigator who is able to evaluate information ascertain factfulness, and be able to distinguish facts from opinion and misinformation and disinformation.

Jon M: [00:17:17] How, and this, I guess is for either of you, how does Solutionary thinking address conflicts where they’re very different worldviews such as between people who believe that the 2020 election was rigged and the attack on the Capitol was justified and people who don’t? I mean, so if Laura, I guess, how would you deal with this in your classroom?

Laura T: [00:17:40] Believe it or not. I think Solutionary thinking is the answer. I have dealt with a lot of controversial issues this year. I teach AP politics, government politics, and we had, you know, a controversial election and that’s our curriculum. I taught through current events and, you know, everything else that happened this year and using Solutionary thinking has actually been a great way to have conversations between people of different points of view, because without it, you tend to get these surface level, yeah. Insults or comments where there’s, you know, not going into kind of a deeper understanding or hearing each other or, you know, maybe even understanding of the issue. So by approaching it from a Solutionary stance and having them look at causes of the issue and that sort of thing, I’ve actually been able to have people with opposing viewpoints having much better respectful conversations to kind of understand where they’re coming from and also learn about the issue more. And you might change your opinion. You might not, but I think it’s so important to not just hear the buzzwords and, you know, maybe the headlines on that issue and one student’s following this source of media and another one’s following that source. You were mentioning there are so many different things out there that may or may not be true on the internet in the media. So it’s so important for them to be critical consumers of information and learn how to decipher what’s real and what’s not. And that’s all part of the Solutionary work, really learning to be a critical thinker, learning to compare and look at different sources. So I actually think having this framework in the classroom has helped them deal with issues of inequality, the racial things going on in our country right now, the election. I’m happy that they have these skills, because I think we’ve actually had more meaningful conversations, more respectful conversations than we would have should we have not been doing this work.

Jon M: [00:19:23] So, can you talk a little bit about what that actually looked like, say either the 2020 election or the attack on the Capitol? So if you had students who started out with different views of it, how did you use the Solutionary strategies to get them to at least be talking in the same reality?

Laura T: [00:19:42] So I’ve been teaching, you know, looking at root causes. And with that, I actually started on an individual level where students have an easier time understanding it. When they look at the root causes of an issue, they’re having, be it a cold or be it, um, mental health issues. We’ve actually used Solutionary work a lot for mental health this year within the school, and also on an individual level to help students understand what’s causing issues and struggles and then address it. And then I transition and  approach about the same way. So if the issue is, let’s say racism. Students can agree, you know, to some degree they’ll have different opinions that there is a racist problem in this country. And then they’ll start looking at different causes and debating them and talking in through the lens of this is feeding into it, or this could be a solution why it would work, why it wouldn’t work. So they’re not just coming at it from saying you’re racist. You’re not, or you know, that sort of thing. They’re coming at it from a deeper level and looking at how do we fix this? Because students will agree everybody wants, should be treated fairly and equally. And although they might have different opinions of how that happens, they can find points of agreement.

Amy H-L: [00:20:50] You’re sure that students do agree that there should be equality?

Laura T: [00:20:59] So there’s varying viewpoints. I have not had a student that said I should be treated better than others out loud. I know there’s for sure our differences of opinion and whether solutions like affirmative actions are reverse racism, whether they’re not. But…

Amy H-L: [00:21:15] So I guess what I was referring to in a more general sense is that there’s a lot of unearned privilege in the world, right. So the people who own, for example, the oligopolies that run our industrial farming system. I mean, there is quite a bit of unearned privilege. Are students aware of that and how do they propose to deal with that?

Laura T: [00:21:42] So this is a tricky topic to talk about. Some students will be more quiet too. I know they feel a little bit uncomfortable talking about it, but kind of coming at it by asking questions about it is a good entry point so that they don’t have to give an answer, but instead of maybe they get to ask questions and understand it more, they’re a lot more comfortable putting out what does privilege mean, what does it look like? Instead of saying, am I privileged and looking at it from that standpoint. It gives them a comfort level. And I’m not saying it’s an easy topic. I do think it’s an important one to talk about, and classrooms are the place for students to learn respectful discourse and to learn to be Solutionaries and to have, Zoe was speaking about responsibility. In the world, what is their role? And from there, I can tell you, I have students with that responsibility. They a hundred percent feel inspired and empowered because they want to know what can I do? And what’s next? I was just talking to students who said they’re pursuing this in college, that they wrote some college essays about work done in my class. And how one in particular wants to go into business, but her focus is sustainability and she wrote her college essays on this and wants to continue this work beyond high school. And it really kind of gives them that opportunity to step up and say like, Oh, okay. You know, I can make a difference. Not just… I, in particular, as with the World We Want fair and other things like to take it outside of my classroom walls. So giving them those opportunities allows them to have a comfort level or expectation. Like I can have this voice, I can do something with it. In what better forum that might look like. You know, different students will go in different directions, but I think it has to start with them thinking they can make a difference and  getting a comfort level to talk and asking questions. I’m all about questions. 

Jon M: [00:23:30] I guess following up on that and on this whole question of conflicts, like the Public Religion Research Institute argues that a lot of what’s going on in the country is that whites and Christians are at some point going to be, or white Christians are going to be, a minority or are losing the hegemony over the society. And so that there’s a lot of resistance to what people see as loss of power, loss of status, whatever. And so for example, that a lot of these proposed laws, like in Georgia, the legislation to limit voting rights, is out of fear that they’re gonna lose power. So how does Solutionary approaches deal with these issues of power? And going back to some of what Amy was asking about, you know, that there are inequalities of wealth that benefit some people at the expense of others. So, I mean, the process seems very exciting and I’m just trying to get a sense of when you get down to these really difficult issues of people wanting to hold on to something that they have at someone else’s advantage, how do you manage to break through that?

Zoe W: [00:24:42] So, one of the things that’s important to hone in on is what the Solutionary process entails. So Solutionary thinking is comprised of many forms of thinking, but primarily critical thinking systems thinking, strategic thinking, and creative thinking. When somebody becomes a Solutionary, it means that they bring a Solutionary lens to problems. And by that, I mean that they perceive that problems can be solved. They understand that it’s important to take in the perspectives, a variety of stakeholders. And that includes stakeholders who are benefiting from the systems that perpetuate the problem and that they bring this lens of doing the most good and the least harm. It’s a non- judgmental approach to thinking and action. And by ensuring that as Solutionary training is reaching out to all stakeholders, including beneficiaries, not just those who are suffering from a problem or the systems that perpetuate it, there is a way in which they will come to recognize the many beneficiaries, of which they may be one.

So to get to your question, Solutionaries can be anybody. And if a Solutionary in training is somebody who is a current beneficiary of many, many systems, as opposed to being exploited by many of those systems, they will come to recognize that. And together by collaborating with stakeholders and really striving to devise solutions that will do the most good and least harm for all, their whole attitude and approach is going to be less conflictual and less oriented toward who’s right and who’s wrong, less oriented toward either/or thinking, less oriented toward polarization in general. And I think that that’s part of what makes the whole Solutionary approach so exciting and such a corrective to the polarization that we see, and that is growing. 

And I think that the Solutionary training of deep critical thinking will help people to really recognize whether some thought of theirs, some feeling of theirs, is actually an opinion or it’s based in fact. And Laura referred to this earlier, when she was responding to one of your questions, when she said they may still have the same opinions, but if they can understand that what they have is an opinion and isn’t a fact, that in itself is progress, because being able to recognize you have an opinion, other people have different opinions, but here are the facts. And if our goal is solving the problem, we can collaborate while we still hold differing opinions.

Jon M: [00:28:40] Laura, did you want to add to that?

Laura T: [00:28:42] I definitely agree with that. And I think it’s number one, we have to drop labels and not go into it with I’m this, you’re that, you know, in this polarized place that we are in are in, these labels that we give each other. I think you have to create the environment for collaboration, to drop the idea that someone’s going to win, somebody’s going to lose. But we can do way more  when we work together. Also, that there isn’t one answer. Because Solutionary thinking is, I see it as lifelong. You’re always trying to think and put together and come up with the best solution. So we’re not going to have just one answer, but in getting to that, the background and understanding the systems is looking at multiple perspectives. And understand that may not be your perspective, but this problem from this standpoint, people feel this way it’s affecting these people or whoever the stakeholder might be in that way, kind of going through and understanding is eyeopening in the first place to say, okay. And the idea that we can work together to come to some sort of solution and that it’s not necessarily going to be I win, it’s my answer. You win. But ideally, we went in and we make a positive impact together in a way that we can work out. And it’s really the conversations all along. And when you take out, you know, like it was hard with the election or things where people are thinking it’s one or the other and that’s it. And there’s no in-between. So everybody on this side must be all of these things. Everybody on that side is all of that. Talk to people. Find out. Maybe they even have views on different sides, and get to know them and get to know why he gets to know what life experiences have led them to those perspectives. And you really just change the vibe and the climate, right. And really get to a place of collaboration and working together where it’s for everybody’s benefit. And it’s not, you kind of lose that. Oh, I might, I might lose in this situation, feeling because we can all come out better by having the conversations by trying to brainstorm and potentially coming up with real solutions.

Jon M: [00:30:39] Laura, you started to address this, but could you talk a little bit more about some of what you’ve seen from your students about what kind of impact their Solutionary experience has had on their approach to problems as they move on to other grades or to college?

Laura T: [00:30:55] Yes. And I actually just asked, I love having student voice. I’m always pulling them and giving them little feedback forms. So I know what’s working on their end or what are they getting out. Not just, what do I think they’re getting out of it, but I can tell you, students always say how it has shaped them. Not just content wise, maybe for my class, but as a person in feeling inspired to do something and realizing that they can make a difference. Or that it’s a great approach to their problems, whether or not it’s a world problem, or as I was saying with mental health or a problem between friends, kind of looking at it, and why is this happening to me right now. They have naturally carried that sort of thinking into their personal life and into believing that they can do things they’re more likely to speak up or especially some of the work I’ve done.

They work with elementary students or other classes, and being put in that leadership role in this, and I’ll call it leadership. They’re all leaders, not just one. But given that opportunity and saying, okay, you know, I believe you can do this, has really made an impact personally on them and their mental health and wellbeing sort of thing, and their feeling of empowerment.

And I’ve actually, I have a number of students who want to pursue in college, maybe the issue that they picked that they’d been like following all along. I can see out when I’ve done 10th grade work. I do get some students back in 12th grade to AP classes. World is in 10th grade and gov is in 12th, and I see their current events. They’re still following that issue or they’re passionate about it and they, you know, want to continue to learn about it. And it’s not a project that has an end date. I hope it never ends. They continue to do this and it’s not like, okay, I got my grade it’s over with. It’s really a way of thinking and feeling in the world.

Amy H-L: [00:32:36] So the Institute for Humane Education just launched a new micro-credential program. Would you  tell us about it?

Zoe W: [00:32:43] Sure. Yeah. So we launched a Solutionary micro-credential program. It’s a 30 hour program that is divided into three modules and it’s online, and people can enroll, the first Tuesday of every month there’s a new session that begins. And the first module covers the Solutionary concept. The second module covers the Solutionary process, where the teachers who enroll in the program actually get to go through the Solutionary process and practice it and become proficient. And then the third module focuses on Solutionary application, where the teacher will take what they’ve learned and then they will create their own plan for introducing this work into their classroom, their curriculum. And I keep saying teachers. It is a program that is designed for teachers, but we do have other educators, parents, people who are changemakers and want to bring this to other groups who are doing this as well. And the other thing I’ll say about it is that while there’s a price point connected with it to cover the expenses of it, through a donor, we are able to offer a variety of reduction in that price all the way down to zero, so no teacher and no school will have a barrier to participating in this program if they want to do it. They can take the program free of charge.

Jon M: [00:34:18] Zoe, you just mentioned that it’s not only teachers. Have you done this with youth programs, with afterschool programs, for example? And do you see it as something that would work well with an afterschool program?

Zoe W: [00:34:31] The Solutionary micro-credential program, which just launched, is for educators. However, all the Solutionary work, like what Laura is describing to you that she does with her students, can absolutely be done in after-school programs. And in fact, there are different teachers and mentors who are bringing this into afterschool or community settings. So there’s no one venue for learning how to become a Solutionary. In fact, there’s every venue that we can learn how to become a Solutionary.

So one of the things that we offer people is we have a free Solutionary guidebook for teachers.  It’s called the Solutionary Guidebook and we have a companion version, How to be a Solutionary, right, for students and activists and changemakers, anybody who wants to become a Solutionary. And people can just go to our website,, and they can download either one or both of those guidebooks as well as loads of free downloadable resources.

And for those who are thinking, well, the guidebook is too much. I’m not ready for a whole guidebook and they just want to know how does this Solutionary process work? If they go to the teacher resources section of our Solutionary hub on our website, they’ll find a link to the 14 Step Solutionary Process in just a Google doc and they can go read it, download it and start practicing it.

Amy H-L: [00:36:02] And for our listeners, I’m looking forward to experiencing the micro-credential program. And I will certainly report back to you.

Zoe W: [00:36:11] Excellent.

Amy H-L: [00:36:13] So, this has been a big year for the Institute for Humane Education. The fifth anniversary edition of your classic, The World Becomes What We Teach, is due out, I understand, in June. Is there new content in this edition?

Zoe W: [00:36:27] There is,. You know, a lot’s happened in five years. There’s a lot more about racial justice and teaching about equity. There are some case studies, including Oceanside school district and what Laura is doing in her classroom. And there’s also some information that’s new based on the pandemic and what that has taught us. So, yes, it’s a new edition.. I’m really excited about its publication in June.

Jon M: [00:37:02] What are some of the changes that are in the new edition based on things such as the pandemic and George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter movement and so forth?

Zoe W: [00:37:15] So it’s not as if there’s wholesale change to the book. It’s really bringing a deeper lens to those issues. It’s bringing equity and the issues that have been revealed through the pandemic to all the different sections of the book, as opposed to creating, you know, new sections. I would say that the new additions are the case studies.

The examples that we have seen since the first book came out five years ago, including the fact that there’s an entire county, San Mateo County, California, which has adopted this book in their training for teachers in the County. And when I say the county, that county is comprised of 23 school districts and there are 113,000 students who are being reached in that school district. And they have been using this book. They have trained hundreds of teachers who have produced Solutionary units for their classrooms, which they have implemented. And now they’re offering Solutionary fairs and they had one scheduled last year for March 15th. 113 teams of students had registered their solutions that they had come up with through their Solutionary units. Now COVID hit and the fair was canceled, which was very disappointing, but they’re going to have an online fair this year on May 22nd, where students will get to share their solutions. And having had the opportunity to attend capstone events for the teaching fellows, there were a hundred teachers this year who implemented Solutionary work in their classrooms and just watching a handful of those was really exciting. Seeing what these teachers are producing for their classrooms was really exciting.

So that’s in the book. And the other section that I added to the book was a small section on teachers going through this process themselves, really practicing the Solutionary process. Because teachers don’t teach math if they don’t know math, they don’t teach history if they don’t know history. And we’re asking teachers to teach their students to be Solutionaries when teachers haven’t been taught that. So this book offers a pathway to that.

And that’s what the micro-credential program is meant to do for teachers. It gives them a short, manageable way to, uh, learn how to become a Solutionary, to get a Solutionary credential, earn a Solutionary badge, earn continuing education units if they want or need them.

And all it’s very short program that is really flexible and it’s self paced, exciting, 

Amy H-L: [00:40:16] Laura. So is there anything we haven’t asked, but should have?

Zoe W: [00:40:21] I have one thing. And it’s not that you should have asked it it’s really that it’s something I want to share. And that is that a better world as possible.

And often we feel hopeless, whether we are teachers or students. And as an example of that, a couple of years ago, I was doing a teacher workshop for teachers and curriculum developers. And I started with a prompt. That asks this question: in 50 years, I want to be blank. And I asked them to fill in the blank. And the first person to raise their hand, when I called on her, she said, still here. And then I asked the others in the room, how many felt similarly and most raised their hands. So that’s the level of hopelessness and despair that many teachers have. Well, it’s not just teachers. About five years ago. I was presenting to a group of fifth and sixth graders in a school in Connecticut. And I asked the students to tell me what they thought were the biggest problems in the world. And they filled up a whiteboard with problems. And I asked them to raise their hands if they could imagine us solving the problems that they’d listed on the whiteboard. And of the 45 children in the classroom, only five raised their hands, that they could even imagine us solving the problems that they had listed. And that is alarming. Now I did a guided visualization with them that shifted that for them, so that almost all of them raised their hands later, that they could imagine us solving the problem. In a classroom in Guadalajara, Mexico, when I was also speaking to fifth graders and asking them if they thought we could solve the problems in the world, every hand went up in the air and the real difference was between the teachers.

So the teacher in that fifth grade classroom was teaching those fifth graders in age appropriate ways about problems in the world, primarily environmental problems, but these kids were active in solving them. They had participated in solar panels on their school and a compost system in their school and things outside of their school as well. So they knew problems could be solved because they had participated in them. And I think it is so essential that young people and teachers understand a better world is possible. And we are on the way there. When I think about what life was like when I was born in 1961 and half of all people on earth lived in extreme poverty.

And that number is now 10%. That percentage is 10%. 10% is still way too high, but if we could get from 50% to 10% in my lifetime, we can get from 10% to zero. When I was born, it was illegal for Black and white people in many States in the United States to get married. Well, it was also even, not even in the realm of comprehension that gays and lesbians would even want to, or even be considered for getting married. Look, what’s changed in that period of time. You know, the issue of gay marriage was not on the radar until the 1980s, and now it is law of the land. So, while we have terrible inequities, terrible injustices, terrible cruelty, and a lot of environmental destruction, with climate change as an existential threat, we need to recognize that things have gotten better, we’ll get better. And that if we can solve other problems that we’ve faced, we can solve the most pressing problems that we face in our communities and world. 

Amy H-L: [00:44:03] Thank you, Zoe Weil, of Institute for Humane Education and Laura Trongard of Oceanside High School. 

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