Posted on May 26, 2007 by zoeweil
I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which we humans seem to gravitate towards “either/or” choices. Either we protect Northern Spotted Owls or people’s logging jobs. Either we invade Iraq or not. Either we pull the troops out or stay. There are more. Either we trust our minds or hearts. Either we are Christian or Muslim. Either we are Republican or Democrat.
Yes, there are people who want to protect owls and jobs, think beyond
either/ors and work creatively to come up with the wisest choices in Iraq, trust both their minds and hearts, see the connections between all religions, and consider themselves Independents. But it seems to me such people are the minority.
Among activists, the either/ors are sometimes cast starkly: either someone (or some company or industry) is good or evil. The CEO of Altria (formerly Philip Morris), of Exxon-Mobil, of Monsanto – they must be evil, while the CEO of Working Assets must be good.
It’s just not this simple. But complexity is, well, complex. Commitment to seeing both-ands instead of either/ors demands more from us. It may at first even appear wishy-washy, as if you’ve lost your passion and your commitment if you don’t immediately “take sides.” It shouldn’t. Instead, a commitment to both-and is a commitment to problem-solving at the deepest level. A realization that people have the capacity for dangerous, unwise, unhealthy choices, as well as compassionate, kind, and brilliant choices means that we can try to influence the former, rather than call people names
and divide the population into us and thems.
There will be many times when taking sides is exactly what you need to do, but let’s not let side-taking become a knee-jerk reaction to everything that is presented to us in either/or terms. You’ll find either/ors everywhere. Listen for them. And then see if you can determine a more nuanced both-and…and a solution that works for all.
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Posted on May 17, 2007 by zoeweil
My son goes to an alternative, K-8, Waldorf-inspired school in rural Maine. Each year the 8th graders choose a project to complete over the course of the year, find a mentor to help them achieve it, and, about one month before school ends, present their project to the school. This past week the students have been doing their presentations, and I’ve been attending them each morning. Over the past week one girl produced an hour-long radio show; one wrote a beautiful cookbook; one learned to fly a plane; one made intricate glass beads, and one trained a puppy for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. One boy studied body language (and embarrassed his classmates by analyzing their poses in their class photos from second grade and eighth grade); another build a wooden kayak, and tomorrow we’re going to watch one juggle and another play his original jazz piano compositions.
I think that it’s fabulous that my son will have the opportunity to choose a project next year when he’s in the 8th grade and persevere in its completion. I’m thrilled that he’ll get to learn something that he’s chosen for himself, not that’s been chosen for him by our culture or by his parents and teachers. I’m excited that he’ll find a mentor to teach him what he sets his mind on learning.
So it must be with humane education. While there’s a body of knowledge humane educators want our students to know (what is happening in this world to people, animals, and the environment; what people are doing to make a difference; why we must care, and what tools are available for problem-solving), we need to invite and allow our students to choose what matters most to them and to pursue positive change and healthy choices with their own hearts, minds, and hands.
Let’s give our students the opportunity to make their lives a succession of eighth grade projects, one building upon another, always knowing that they are free to look within themselves to uncover their passions and to find mentors to achieve their visions and dreams for more meaningful lives as well as for a better world.
– Zoe Weil, IHE President
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