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Zoe Weil is the co-founder and president of the Institute for Humane Education (IHE). A humane educator since 1985, Zoe has been giving people the tools to make humane and sustainable choices and solve entrenched challenges through her classes, workshops, and training programs. She created the first humane education certificate program and Master of Education in Humane Education in the United States. These distance-learning programs attract students from around the world. The IHE M.Ed. program is offered through an affiliation with Cambridge College where Zoe serves on the faculty.
Zoe speaks widely on humane education and MOGO living, and leads MOGO and Sowing Seeds Humane Education workshops around the U.S. and Canada. She is recognized as a pioneer in comprehensive humane education.
Zoe is the author of Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times for Parents, The Power and Promise of Humane Education for Teachers, and Claude and Medea: The Hellburn Dogs, a children’s adventure book about 12-year-old activists.
Zoe received master’s degrees from Harvard Divinity School and the University of Pennsylvania and is certified in Psychosynthesis, a form of counseling that relies on individuals’ innate wisdom to promote health and well being.
Zoe lives with her husband, son, and rescued dogs and cat in coastal Maine.
TRANSCRIPTION PART I
Caryn: Hello I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Hello and thank you for joining me, we talk about lots of important things on this show. And I don’t think I’ve ever said this, but I think one of the reasons why I do this show and talk about the things that I do is simply to do my part to help the world be a better place. And I really believe that all of us in our lives can make a tremendous difference. And today we are going to be talking to Zoe Weil, who is a phenomenal human being, who is doing above and beyond to make this world a better place. I want to spell her name first, she has a website zoeweil.com. And that’s Z-O-E W-E-I-L.com. And she’s the co-founder and president of The Institute for Humane Education, I.H.E. And we’re going to be talking quite a bit about that. She’s also the author of six books including the Nautilus silver medal winner, Most Good, Least Harm: The simple principle for a better world and a meaningful life. And so speaking regularly at universities, conferences, schools, churches, and communities around the United States and Canada. And she has a Masters in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School and a masters from English Literature from the University or Pennsylvania. She is also certified in psychosynthesis, a form of counseling that relies on individuals’ innate wisdom to promote health and transformation. Welcome Zoe.
Zoe: Thank you so much Caryn.
Caryn: Gosh. Thank you. And you know, I was roaming around your website recently and reading up on you, and all the wonderful things
you have been doing, but, I’ve also read that you just lost someone very close to you.
Zoe: We did, we lost on of our dogs who was sixteen years old.
Caryn: I’m very sorry to hear that. And you wrote a lovely poem, and it was really a very beautiful story.
Zoe: Well thank you.
Caryn: I love to read things like that. I know a lot of people have great relationships with their dogs, but there are so many different animals out there that we share this planet with, that we don’t realize are such beautiful, sensitive, loving beings.
Zoe: That’s right and you know, it’s interesting how much we do love our own dogs and cats, and the other animals we share our homes with. And then sometimes
forget to extend that love and compassion toward other species who we don’t see every day, and don’t live in our homes. Similar to how we love our family and friends, and neighbors, but we don’t necessarily extend that compassion toward others who might be producing our food, and our clothes and living under terrible conditions. So we sometimes forget. And I think that’s the role of humane education, is to help people remember and find ways to live in compassion
and harmony with everyone.
Caryn: Well it’s funny that you just did that, because I think one of the things you are particularly skilled in, and what you do with humane education is to connect the dots. And show connectedness between things. You mention not relating well to the other species on this planet, and you bring it right to the focus of, we can’t even do it with our own fellow human beings.
Zoe: It’s tough and it’s not a surprise that it’s tough. If we were to hold in our minds, all the times, all of the suffering and harm that we are causing to our planet, to other people, to other species we couldn’t function. So there’s a reason why we focus on what’s in front of us. But in today’s globalized world where all of our choices are affecting everybody around the world, it’s so important to have those tools and cultivate that expansive compassion and care.
Caryn: I personally believe that one of the most important things that affect everyone on earth is food, and I know that your top priority focus that you believe will solve all the worlds problems is schooling and education. And we’re going to talk quite a bit about that. So let’s just jump right in to The Institute for Humane Education, what that is, and how it got it’s start.
Zoe: Great. Well The Institute for Humane Education really arose because I and another woman, who I cofounded the organization with Rae Sikora have been humane educators for many years, and I was teaching about ten thousand kids a year in the Philadelphia area, doing programs in schools, and assembly programs and classroom presentations, and after-school classes. And it had such an enormous impact on the students. And many of them became change makers and activists, and started school clubs, and really tried to make different choices to live more humanely and sustainably. And I thought, wow what would happen if we actually launched a movement of humane education and every teacher became a humane educator, and every school began offering
humane education courses.
Caryn: What is a humane educator and how is it that before you founded this institute you were doing humane education? Were there schools that encouraged this, and hired you specifically for that?
Zoe: Well that’s a great question. So the way that we define humane education, is that it’s education about the interconnected issues of human rights and animal protection, and environmental preservation; that aims to provide students with the knowledge and tools, and the motivation to be solutionaries for a better world. So that’s how we define it, and when I was in divinity school and looking for a summer job, I found a program that offered week long courses to middle school students. And I offered to teach several of them. So I ended up teaching a number of courses that were just a week long. One was on environmental issues, one was on animal issues, and one was on creative writing. And in the animal and environmental issue courses, I watched those students become transformed in a week, in one case literally over night. A boy learned about product testing on animals, and the next day he came back into class having made home-made leaflets the night before, that he handed out on Philadelphia street corners that day while the rest of us had lunch. And so I realized that this has tremendous power to inspire and enable students to really perceive themselves as responsible, and empowered agents of change for a better world.
So then in 1996, 15 years ago- we just celebrated our fifteenth anniversary- we cofounded The Institute for Humane Education primarily to bring people to do this important work, and to promote the field. And while I still do go into schools periodically and deliver humane education directly to people -and also to adults at this point, through work shops and online courses- most of our focus is on providing people with the skills to be humane educators and to bring it every possible venue. Whether it’s kindergarten through college level teaching, or whether it is in businesses, or through the arts, or writing, or film-making. So that’s what we do.
Caryn: I’m just imagining a world where children are, first empowered by knowing that, yes their individual actions can make a difference. That they don’t feel
that their actions are pointless, that no one’s listening to them. And if they felt that, all the great things which they could be focusing on at such a young age, with their creativity, and their imagination and their friends all getting together, doing great things. And also not spending all of that great energy wasting their time getting involved in really detrimental activity. The combination of the two would have such a profound impact on what this world can be.
Zoe: I know and that’s exactly what happens when kids are exposed to humane education. Kids of all ages, all of us yearn for meaning and purpose in life, and sometimes it’s really hard to see how the traditional curriculum is providing that meaning and purpose. You know, learning the names and dates of battles, all those things we learn in school, they can absolutely be turned toward relevancy and meaning in a greater way. But the way we’ve been doing schooling for a number of years, doesn’t lend itself to it, without a lot of work from the teachers adding that relevancy. And in a changing world like we live in, it’s very important that we start to do this. And the reason why I say that schooling has the power to change the world, is because I’ve seen it happen. One of the boys who was in that very first course I taught in 1987 that I was just refering to. I saw him just a couple of years ago when I was giving a talk with Jane Goodall with a Roots and Shoots event in New York City. He lives in New York, and he is still an activist to this day, he works on HIV/AIDS work for the mayor of New york. And I invited him to come, and after the talk was over I was introducing him to some friends and I introduced him as David who was in the first course I ever taught. And before I could even finish my sentence, he jumped in and said, “that course changed my life.” Now he was thirty five years old at this point, and I had taught him when he was twelve years old. And so imagine if humane education were part and parcel of everybody’s education at all levels. And so at The Institute for Humane Education-and people can find out about that at www.HumaneEducation.org – we train people in a host of ways. So we have online courses that are very simple for people to take all over the world. We have free downloadable resources. And we have the only masters degree programs in comprehensive humane education in the United states. And it’s distance learning, so we have people from all over the world who are being trained as humane educators, in this very deep and comprehensive way.
Caryn: I think all of that is great, and I want to get more in detail about that. But one thing, I’m remembering my own schooling and what teachers made an impact on me, and I was fortunate because I liked school. And even the things that I realized weren’t going to be useful to me, I thought that they were giving me skills that ultimately I could use in some other way. But there were teachers that were unforgetable to me, and changed my life. And they weren’t particularly teaching anything interesting, they were just wonderfully engaged people that made everything interesting. Ok so you have to admit that you are one of those people. You are very charismatic, and your eyes twinkle and you’re alive, and passionate about what you are talking about. And maybe the people who are attracted to humane education are a lot like that too, because they just want to go up a notch. But part of education today are the teachers aren’t involved. And some of them just aren’t good.
Zoe: Well first thank you very much for that very kind compliment. And you are right, some of them aren’t good, and I think that that’s a huge problem. And I think part of that problem arises, or perhaps most of the reason it arises, is that the profession of teaching is so undervalued, so underpaid. And it’s only getting worse nowadays, when teachers are being told to sacrifice their pension that they worked hard for. And teachers, particularly the good ones, they work so hard. So many people have no idea how hard teachers work, and what a challenge that job is, and particularly as their classes are getting bigger and there are more and more kids who are being influenced-as you were referring to earlier- by cultural factors that really impede their ability to learn in the classroom. It is a tough job, and it’s no wonder that some of the best teachers
are fleeing because they are being told they have to teach constantly to standardized test, and all their creativity has to be crushed in the process. And it’s a real problem. I remember many, many years ago when I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with my life I’d gone to college premed, and quickly abandoned that career. And I had a friend who was a medical student, and he said to me
that he thought being a physician was the most noble profession. I remember feeling a little bit tweaked by that. Partly because I had gone to college premed and was not following up on that. But Also I thought, is any profession really the most noble profession? That seemed sort of silly. And yet years later I find myself thinking that if pressed to name the most noble profession, I would probably say teaching. And the reason is because teaching forms the backbone of the future. We can either have a good, thriving, humane,sustainable, healthy, restorative future or not. And a lot of that is going to depend on teachers. An so I know that there are a lot of teachers that are not good out there, but there are also a lot of great teachers out there. And our goal should be to ensure that every teacher is a great teacher.
Caryn: Such a tall task, and I certainly would love to see it, because I really believe that education, especially starting really young is so important. And teachers feel so undervalued. It’s almost a catch-22, where so many of the students are so hard to teachers today, because of our culture, our society they have very little respect. And because of the food we’re feeding them, they have all kinds of attention disorders. It makes it so, so challenging. The parents are not engaged with their kids as I think they should be, and it’s all left on the teacher. I’ve had a few occasions to speak to middle school and high school students, for an hour maybe, and it was too much. To get their attention, most of them didn’t care, didn’t want to be there. It’s so challenging.
Zoe: It is really challenging. And it’s interesting, there’s sort of two tiers that are happening. You’re describing one, and the other is, all of these kids, and their parents are very involved. There’s the expression, “helicopter parenting”, parents who are involved in every little aspect of their kids lives, and they are over scheduled. They are going from soccer to ballet, to chess club, to math club. It’s kind of intense. There are two movies that came out in the last year, one was Race to Nowhere, the other was Waiting for Superman. And
they depicted the two extreme ends of our educational problems. So on the one hand you’re naming one. And on the other is these kids that are so pressured, and they have to succeed in all of these tests, and they are memorizing. They are succeeding, but at what expense. What is the downfall of that? All of these kids, their creativity, their passion for learning, their passion to make the world a better place is not being cultivated at either end. And that’s a huge problem. I found another thing that’s been going on, I’m still going to schools periodically, I used to do it everyday, most of the day. I was amazed at how humane education courses- even with rowdy kids who were very difficult to keep in their seats, even with them, how much they loved it, how much they
liked having a taste of meaning, and relevancy all of a sudden inserted into a relatively typical school day. And also how the things I would tell them, were often things they were never supposed to see. Things that were hidden behind the scenes, sometimes exposed to undercover investigations and they were fascinated. Now what I see is that a lot of those students are becoming cynical and apathetic. They already know some of these things, but they don’t care that much. They are saturated even at such a young age, about the ills of the world. And that is a real danger. How can we protect children when they are very young, so that their hearts stay open, and so they don’t become cynics, while still
exposing them to important issues that they can do something about? That’s really, really tough.
Caryn: I interviewed Sandra Steingraber recently, who wrote Raising Elijah, and it’s all about the environmental issues in the world today, her answer to that
was being open with her children about what is going on, not hiding all the scary things that are going on. But then talking about what she’s doing about them, and letting them know that it will be up to them to do their part to solve the problems. She was solving the problems of her day, and when they are older they will solve the problems of their day. And so it wasn’t to be afraid of them, just knowing that it was their purpose.
Zoe: Which is exactly the right approach, and if these kids, if they’re in school, if they’re in society they are exposed to mainstream media anyway.
They can get saturated, and it’s tough. And I think Joan Baez said it best when she said, “action is the antidote to despair”. And so those students who become
active, are the ones who come alive.
Caryn: We hear so many stories of people in prison, or difficult children when they are given an art class. How all of a sudden things start to come alive, and connect, and they are given an outlet for whatever it is they want to express. So that’s a form of action that’s important. I want to talk about what the curriculum is like in humane education. All those things that we are supposed to learn, math, and science, and history; they can be really boring and not make much sense. but we can also be taught a lot for those things if they are packaged in somewhat a different form. I remember reading Antonia Demas, of the Institute for Food Studies, you must know her.
Zoe: I don’t actually.
Caryn: Oh okay. She studied at Cornell under T. Collin Campbell, and she put out a book called Food is Elementary. And it was just about food and getting kids to like food. And what she did was, she had lessons, about 26 lessons to fit into a curriculum, where they would talk about different parts of the world, and geography, and people and stories. And in those stories would be the different food that they would eat. And they would make the recipe, and kids would get interested in the food. So education can be learning, but in not such an obvious way.
Zoe: Yes. And I think that it’s challenging for some teachers to figure out how to do this, but it really isn’t that hard. We find teachers who take our online class for example, all of a sudden are integrating humane education into their classrooms. If you are doing math, you can either follow the textbook, which is two trains leave two different stations going opposite directions, when are they going to meet? You know that kind of math problem. Well there are plenty of math problems that we could be providing students with that are about real life scenarios that are meaningful to their lives and to what we are facing. And the same thing with picking literature.
My son took an English course in high school this past year, in which the first book they read was Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun. Which is a phenomenal book, which came out a year or so ago. It was about a Syrian-American man who stayed behind during hurricane Katrina, and what happened to him. This is a humane education book. It launched so much thinking about our country, in terms of our history, and it launched a lot about racism, and assumptions. And it was a powerful book, and we could be choosing some of those books for students. And these could be the jumping off points in literature. So whether it’s math, or whether it’s literature, certainly science is completely open in terms of humane education. You know, how do we solve some of our environmental crises, well we need science to do that. And we need science for so much. So it’s a challenge, because the textbooks, are the textbooks, and the teachers are completely overburdened, and they’re required to make sure that students pass tests. It’s very prescribed, and yet the world of learning, and the world we are facing is going to require that we add this kind of richness and meaning to the curriculum. And it can be done, it just needs a creative, committed person who has some time to learn. Because that’s the other challenge. If you have been trained to be a math teacher, or science teacher, it doesn’t mean that you’ve also been exposed to human rights issues, environmental issues, and all these other huge social justice issues. So that’s a whole other learning that you need to have. You can only teach what you know. So that’s a challenge and that’s what we provide at The Institute for Humane Education. We provide people with that knowledge so that they can incorporate it into their curriculum.
Caryn: So someone studies your program, what are they going to cover?
Zoe: I have four courses. One is an introduction to humane education, which covers what humane education is, but also different types of pedagogies, different approaches to schooling and learning, and really asking and answering this fundamental question of what schooling is for. And then there are four content courses, one that’s on environmental preservation, one on animal protection, one on human right, and then one that we call culture and change. And it’s really about all the forces that go into our psychology, sociology, ways we think, why we think what we do, why we do what we do, media influences, advertising influences, and ultimately theories of changemaking. How do we create change, that’s the purpose of that course. And I need to say that in all of these courses, we are not dictating in any way whatsoever, the choices that people should make. We are basically exposing to people, what is happening in our world and inviting them to think as solutionaries, not to think in either-or terms; but to think, “ok how can we teach so that sstudents are very, very good critical and creative thinkers. That they have a large dose of what we call the three “R’s” of Reverance, Respect, and Responsibility. And that they are empowered to be solutionaries, as I mentioned before, and positive choice makers. So they need that core information, but then they need all these other elements. So people who are trained by us learn how to do that.
Caryn: Okay you mentioned one of these courses is on animal protection. Why is it part of human education, and how do your students respond to that?
Zoe: Well for us we think that how we treat animals is part and parcel of a humane world. It’s one of the things that makes The Institute for Humane Education unique. There are many training programs in environmental education, and there are many programs in social justice education. People can go to lots of places for those. But often they aren’t all integrated. We’re the biggest umbrella that we’ve found anyway, that creates a humane world for all. All people, all species and the environment. And what’s interesting is that we do have a lot of people who come to our program because they care about animals and we are this program that offers that core component but we also have plenty of teachers who come to our program because they’re interested in raising a generation of solutionaries too and they’re exposed to animal shoots for the first time and It’s been wonderful to watch everybody who comes to our program be exposed to something new because it’s not the common student who is deeply involved in human rights, animal protection and environmental preservation all at the same time
Caryn Hartglass: I’m just thinking about when I was young, and I don’t know how it’s changed with the very young students today in school but some of the little books that were read to us some of the things that I saw on television on Sesame street they all painted this picture with farm animals that is nowhere near the truth today and I’m just wondering how that is today. We started at a young time, not just not being encouraged to solve the world’s problems today but being brainwashed as to what the world was like when it really wasn’t like that
Zoe Weil: Oh that’s just as truth today with the exception that by the time kids are in middle school because of the greater awareness about whether it’s animal issues or sweatshop issues or rampant escalating global slavery, students do know about more then they knew about but at the elementary school level yes all of those images still exist
Caryn Hartglass | 1: 41
And is our program for all ages, for elementary school and up?
Zoe Weil |1:49
We train people to be humane educators no matter where they’re teaching so we have had preschool teachers do our program and college professors do our program and so it’s not geared toward one specific age. We don’t have a set curriculum for people to use in classrooms. What we do is we provide our students who are learning to become humane educators with all the tools they need and all the information they need to then bring that to whatever venue they’re going to bring it to. So people work at nonprofits and they become business people incorporating humane education and they become traditional teachers or they already are traditional teachers incorporating this. I’m not a big fan of set curriculums that everybody should follow. I think that it takes the creativity out of teaching. I think we can identify core elements that comprise a good education and we can provide people with lots and lots of materials and rules and lessons and activities that they can use but I like teachers have some flexibility with their own students, their own situation, their own local and bring humane education in positive ways to those students and I think as we elevate this procession and more and more people with creativity and passion for teaching enter the field then we will be able to watch them create so much for their students and those text book cookie-cutter formulas for teaching I just don’t think are the best approach.
Caryn Hartglass | 3:30
Do you advice or do you think there should be a different approach with young children versus older ones?
Zoe Weil |3:37
Oh absolutely. I don’t believe in exposing young children to the ills of the world. I think that that can be really damaging it can create more cynicism and apathy and sorrow when they’re just too young for that. And part of the way that we think about this is with those three R’s I mentioned, Reverence, Respect, and Responsibility. And reverence is an emotion, it’s akin a wonder, an awe and love that we want to cultivate in our young children. I believe that young children should be reverent toward other people and other species and toward the environment and there are many, many, ways to cultivate this reverence and if we do that well that reverence will sort of inevitably evolve into a sense of respect for others and then as they get a little bit older and they can take on the mantle of responsibility that will also follow inevitably.
Caryn Hartglass: Reverence, Respect, Responsibility, I love it! And I really would love to see that explode in all educational programs everywhere. We are going to take a little break and we will be back in a few minutes.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello I’m Caryn Hartglass and you are listening to It’s All About Food and I am speaking with Zoe Weil. Most specifically about humane education… Okay so I wanted to talk about, well you mentioned that people come to learn about humane education through your program and they’re not all necessarily teachers. There’s lots of different forms today about how to teach kids with home school and unschool and charter school and boarding school. I think we’re kind of waiting around in unsettled waters right now trying to figure out the best way and I don’t know that there is one necessarily one way that’s best to teach children but do you have people from all of these different types of school environments that want to know about humane education.
Zoe Weil: Oh absolutely and you know the people who come to our graduate programs run the gamut. I mean about half of them are teachers and half of them are wanting to bring humane education to the world in a different way than traditional classroom teaching and I think you’re absolutely right that there are so many different ways that we learn and there are different approaches that work for different people, again that’s why I’m not a big fan off cookie-cutter education. I think that different forms of doing work for different kids.
Caryn Hartglass: Do you have a vision of what schooling or education should be like? Now that we are in this arena where there’s no money for anything and schools are trying to figure out how they’re going to do it and is one program better than another if you were empress.
Zoe Weil: If I was empress, if I were secretary of education what would I do? Well the first thing that I think that we need to do, the fundamental underlying and most important question that we need to be asking at this point in history is what is schooling for? And we are not asking and answering that question as a society. I think that if you ask people what do you think is the purpose of schooling most of them are going to say something along these lines. That it’s to provide students with verbal, mathematical, and scientific literacy so that they can find jobs and compete in the global economy and I actually talk about this in my TEDx talk which people can watch by just going to our website humaneeducation.org and right on the website there is a link to the YouTube video. And without asking this fundamental question we are going to still be teaching as if verbal, mathematical, and scientific literacy and competing in the global economy is our goal and I don’t think in today’s world that that’s a big enough or important enough, goal.
I think it’s out-moded for a world that has such tremendous challenges. Glooming catastrophes really I mean we are losing more species than we had ever lost before comparable to what was happening when the dinosaurs became extinct .
Caryn Hartglass: So not just losing more but at a rate that we’ve never seen before.
Zoe Weil: That’s right. It is just a very frightening thing and we are approaching ‘peak oil’ we don’t know exactly when it’ showing to happen but when ‘peak oil’ happens demand outstrips supplies, what’s going to happen. I mean these are big, big, questions. Meanwhile we have a growing human population, we have a billion people who don’t have access to clean water and don’t eat enough calories every day in order to sustain themselves huge, huge questions, not to mention that there are one trillion animals that are brutally killed every year and most of those are sea animals and we have overfished the oceans and we have no idea what’s going to happen when those fisheries decline to an even greater degree than they’ve already declined and then we have tens of billions of land animals who are brutalize, now what do we do about all this? Is it really enough to educate students to compete in the global economy in the space of these problems, I don’t think so. So in answer to your question there is no one school, there is no one approach but there is a fundamental question that we must ask and answer and that is what is education for? What is schooling for? And I believe that it should be to graduate a generation of solutionaries who have the knowledge and the tools and the motivation to be problem solvers and change and choice makers for a better world. And if we were to adopt that goal for schooling then all of the other things would fall into place because we would be pursuing that goal, we would be educating student for that purpose. So that’s what I think we need to do at this point and that’s what I talk about in my TED talk and it would be wonderful if your listeners watched and spread that TED talk because it’s when teachers, and administrators, and policy makers in education really consider that, that we will begin to see the changes that we need to see and then we will begin to see a generation solve the problems….
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah I absolutely agree, I watched it and I do think that all teachers should watch it, just at the very least to get a flight list from what’s beating down on them in terms of frustration and what they’re not able to do and just changing our perspective on why you’re doing what you’re doing can make a tremendous difference in how you do things.
Zoe Weil: Right, and not just teachers but parents and policy makers and administrators because the teachers are going to be stymied In doing this if a larger policy issue hasn’t been addressed and if we’re still just teaching kids for standardized tests I mean the teachers are still going to have to deal with that and it’s not to say that students don’t need to be verbally, mathematically, and scientifically literate, of course they do but those are foundational tools for something else and competing in the global economy is just not a big enough purpose and using those tools and service to only that is simply going to result in our perpetuating and exacerbating the very problems that we need to be addressing.
Caryn Hartglass: And you think that the education can be effective no matter what the budget is to support the particular institution that is doing the teaching?
Zoe Weil: Well, money is an interesting issue around education as we all know, if you think about a homeschooling parents and the money that they are putting into their child’s education they might not be putting in ten thousand dollars into their child’s education but their child might be tremendously well educated. Money isn’t the only answer to this and I see new schools that have used a lot of money in their state of the art and they’re beautiful and they have big gyms and they have big theaters and that’s all well and good but if the teachers aren’t great the education won’t be great so I worry about throwing money at education before we have addressed these fundamental issues. Teachers need to be trained to be humane educators, all of them no matter what they teach and we need great teachers and we need great teachers who are committed to the field for a lifetime not for a two year program to go into the inner city schools and do their best which is wonderful but shouldn’t teachers be as well trained and well respected as doctors?
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely, It just boggles with my mind I don’t have any children but if I did would I want my children spending so many hours of their precious days with people that I didn’t respect as much as others, doctors and lawyers, that weren’t being paid a fair wage. I would want my children around amazing people all the time. I don’t want just baby sitters I mean even if I had a baby sitter I would still want that person to be amazing.
Zoe Weil: Well and those teachers who are amazing, think what they have to sacrifice, they could be doctors and lawyers, they could be making 250 thousand dollars a year and they’re choosing to make 40 to 50 thousand dollars a year
Caryn Hartglass: Well some of them are, it’s unfortunate because one of the teachers who had a tremendous impact on my life, I was in six grade and we’re friends today and he left, a everyone loved him as a teacher, he had an impact on so many kids but he did not stay in teaching he ended up selling textbooks because he had a family to raise and he needed to make more money.
Zoe Weil: Yup so that’s where I’d like to see the money go I mean I’m less concerned with the new gym than I am with teachers getting paid a really good salary and I remember a local school recently received an endowment gift and the first thing they did was redid the gym. And it shocked me just the way we valorize sports over other things that students should be learning it’s very interesting but of course that’s true in our society as well but it’s problematic. We have to decide what we value in our culture beyond just what the market values we have to decide what we value as teachers and as citizens not just as consumers. Some people might value a ticket to a World Series game much more highly that they would value a folk concert but I think we still need to decide as a society and as parents where we’re going to stand in that…
Caryn Hartglass: Well I think it comes back to what you said about what the purpose of education is. I had the opportunity recently to spend some time at a high school preparatory school and beautiful space kind of isolated from the real world, beautiful campus lots of trees and birds chirping and green grass and the children have a lot of exposure to teachers that care and give them a lot of time and there are some reasonably strict rules about what they can and can’t do and if they do step out of line they’re out of school and so things are really clear there but there’s a lot of money that goes into that school and all of the kids that I saw there seemed reasonably respectful and they’re getting a pretty good education but I think the important thing that is probably missing is that question are they educating to answer the right question and are these students being taught to become part of the global economy and make a lot of money so that they can buy stuff or are they really being taught to be solutionaries like you say.
Zoe Weil: And I think in many of those kinds of schools you have amazing teachers who are really teaching those kids to think about the structures in our society and how to make them more just and sustainable but you also have many parents who are sending their kids there and spending a lot of money because they want their kids to be able to get into an Ivy League college and do well and make money and you know live a certain standard of living. So sometimes those schools can do both but it’s challenging if the schools are catering to parents who are legitimately spending lots of money for that purpose but let’s imagine that there are lots of schools where there are different choices for parents on what they want to have their students study it still doesn’t change the fact that we haven’t asked and answered this fundamental question at a societal level.
Caryn Hartglass: I did watch your TED talk, and one of the things that I liked that you said because I’d heard it from one of my favorite teachers in college was don’t believe a word I say.
Zoe Weil: I’m so glad that somebody else said that when you were in college class, yeah I say it all the time. When I’m teaching a class sometimes it might be a single class and the last thing I want is for the students to just believe me because if they just believe me what’s going to stop them from just believing the next person who comes in who might be saying the exact opposite.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s just a simple statement but it is so powerful on so many levels.
Zoe Weil: Yeah. I mean that’s how we can begin to create critical thinkers and it just astounds me the things that people believe. We have people believing that global warming is a hoax. Almost half of the population as I understand it in some polls and that is horrifying. People who believe that the earth was really created in 6 thousand years and many, many, of them and they want that taught to students. It is a freighting world when we cannot think critically.
Caryn Hartglass: Some people believe that the world was made in seven days and at least they’ve grown to realize it took a little longer maybe but not long enough….
Zoe Weil: Many of those people think that it was made in seven days, that just happened six thousand years ago….. I think that we perpetuate this when we don’t ask our students to think critically about what they are being exposed to in school.
Caryn Hartglass: I am not a personal fan of religion and my apologies to those who find it very important in their lives because there are some good lessons that are taught but also there is this belief system that is created and some of it does affect critical thinking I believe and I remember in college this one professor who was teaching us engineering and scientific concepts and then he would give us all of these equations now don’t believe what I’m telling you, prove it to yourself. So this was in a different atmosphere where we were just learning scientific facts but still he wanted us to become critical thinkers and then fast forward I was working as an engineer and I had a boss who was a very devout Mormon and what was interesting to me was we would talk about different engineering issues, now this was anecdotal, this was one person and I’m not saying that all people are like this, but he just took something we read in an article for face value and I said to him how can you believe that you have to question it, we are not absolutely certain of it, where are the references? How can this person say this particular thing? I thought to myself he is just a believer no matter what he sees in front of him he believes and he wasn’t taught to be a critical thinker.
Zoe Weil: That’s right, and I don’t think that this is something that is only true of people who have religious beliefs by any means. I know so many, many, people who don’t subscribe to a specific faith but who believe all sorts of unfounded, unsubstantiated things. I mean just look through the new age movement of ideas and you’ll find tons of them, so this isn’t just an issue of people who have certain religious faith at all. This is true of human beings in general. Not necessarily using our critical thinking and reasoning faculties and you know I recommend to people, all the time to watch some of the YouTube videos of James Randi (R-A-N-D-I) and he debunks lots of those things and he also has a TED talk that I thought was great, and I think is very important that people challenge themselves to think critically and that this is not to bash religion at all, because there are fundamental issues of ethics and generosity, goodness, kindness, compassion, that underlie all religions and I think they are very important for many many many people and I just think that we still can be great critical thinkers at the same time.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, yeah it’s true that this lack of critical thinking affects all of us and even on this radio network, progressive radio network, we have all kinds of different people with shows presenting all kinds of alternative ideas that you don’t hear in the media but still I have heard some stuff on this network that I question and say ‘Really?’ and a lot of people think because it’s on this network and they’re thinking alternatively that it’s got to be true and everything we hear no matter where we hear it even if it’s from a place that you really respect you have to question everything.
Zoe Weil: Oh thank you so much for saying that, absolutely and people do it all the time with the media they like, okay so those people who gravitate toward what we might term right wing media and those people who gravitate toward what we may term left wing media you know they both can be guilty of the same thing whether is conspiracy theories on the left or its conspiracy theories on the right and I see it all the time and it frustrates me and it makes me ever more committed to educating a generation with good critical thinking skills.
Caryn Hartglass: I do want to say of course that anything I say is absolutely correct… just kidding … Alright now you have written a number of books and do you want to talk about some of those and why you wrote them.
Zoe Weil: Sure, my most recent book which you mentioned is Most Good Least Harm: A simple principle for a better world and meaningful life and it really gives people the tools to put their values into practice in concrete ways through all their daily choices what they eat what they wear what they buy as well as their participation in democracy and change making and activism and volunteerism and it’s a very easy read and I think that it’s helpful to people who want to really launch themselves on this journey of living a life that contributes more and is more meaningful at the same times its sort of the fundamental value system that underlies humane education and I wrote a book for parents Above All Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times and that really took all of my experiences as a humane educator and I offered it to parents and then I have a book for teachers called the Power and Promise of Humane Educations and then I have a couple of books for young people. My very favorite that I’ve written is called Claude and Madea and it’s about twelve year old activist in New York city they become activists through the influence of an eccentric substitute teacher at their school and they clandestinely solve problems in New York and it’s my favorite book and I hope to write more in the series and that one actually won the Moonbeam gold medal for juvenile fiction a couple of years ago.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh I want to read it, it sounds good, definitely going to have to grab that one. Okay just one more question and that is everyone is so overwhelmed, so busy, so much to do, bills to pay, unemployed and challenging children, are their like a couple of things you recommend just to get started on refocusing to a more humane path.
Zoe Weil: You know at the risk of selling our own programs and my own books I think that if anybody is listening and their thinking this makes sense to me we want to learn more we have months long and six week long online courses and we have them this fall. We have ‘a better world a meaningful life’ which is based on Most Good Least Harm, which is for the general public that wants to begin to examine their own life and their choices. We have a course called ‘teaching for a positive future’ for educators and then we have one called ‘raising a humane child’ for parents and people can find it about these courses on our websites humaneeducation.org and the courses are very simple to take it’s not a certain time that you have to get online it’s a daily activity in the case of the six week course it’s once every other day. The activity might take a half an hour or an hour. It might be learning something or it might be introspecting there are different kinds of activities and then there is an online community, a forum, where people grapple with the ideas and the changes, and the questions and people are telling us that these courses are absolutely transformative and life changing.
Caryn Hartglass: I love online courses and I really love the internet, there’s just so much out there and it’s making a tremendous difference in the world although I don’t know that I’m a believer that, oh I’m going to get silly now, but I’ve read that the laundry machine had more of an impact on today’s society than the internet and I think they’re both important.
Zoe Weil: It’s so funny when we have to compare things, isn’t it?
Caryn Hartglass: But I use it all the time and I know a lot of people do and in some ways it’s helping us connect with the whole world although in some ways it’s we’re disconnecting because we’re spending so much time in front of a screen rather than with each other.
Zoe Weil: We’ll our online courses are not spending so much time on the screen. They really are doing activities wherever they live and then just communicating with a global population of people taking that course and for those who don’t want to do that I think my books can be really helpful for them launching on the path
Caryn Hartglass: Sounds good, all very good, and I recommend definitely going to your website zoeweil.com and definitely watching that TED talk and you can see Zoe in action and see how beautifully brilliant and charismatic she is, and you are.
Zoe Weil: Well Caryn that’s very kind of you, thank you so much.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you so much for this hour, thank you for impacting so many people’s lives in such a positive way.
Zoe Weil: We’ll thank you for the work you’re doing as we’ll it makes such a difference.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay I’m Caryn Hartglass, you’ve been listening to Its All About Food thanks for joining me and have a delicious week.
Transcribed 12/18/2013 by Alma Zazueta