Institute for Humane Education
Solutionary Program

Peace on Your Wings


During a summer program for middle school students in 1987, Zoe Weil taught one course on animal issues and another on environmental issues. “I watched in amazement as my students transformed themselves and became passionate change makers.” One student handed out handwritten leaflets about product testing on animals; others started an area-wide group for student activism. That’s what triggered Zoe’s mission to become a full-time humane educator.

“If we can provide students with the knowledge and motivation to become ‘solutionaries,’ I can see the grave problems in the world being solved. When we transform systems to make them just and sustainable, we all win. I believe we can create a world without poverty, slow the rates of extinction and restore ecosystems, and produce food, products, energy and more in ways that do no lasting harm.”

To that end, the organization Weil co-founded, the Institute for Humane Education, has created the Solutionary Program, in which middle and high school students work collaboratively to address a problem that concerns them and is related to their curriculum. They research the problem thoroughly; consult with experts; devise solutions; choose the most effective and feasible solution to explore thoroughly, and, with time, implement and assess; and present their solution at a Solutionary Summit comprised of other students as well as community members, legislators, investors, and journalists who can help the best ideas spread. Two rules: The solutions have to do the most good and least harm to people, animals, and the environment, and ideas must go to the root of a problem to solve it.

As Zoe Weil sees it, “Our goal isn’t simply to prepare students for global competitiveness—which is the current mission of the U.S. Department of Education—it’s to fully engage young people in real-world, relevant learning that prepares them to be proficient thinkers, people of great character, and effective problem-solvers for a more just and sustainable world.”

The full rollout of the program, which will happen in 2018, includes a menu of professional development for teachers, including a digital guidebook, online course, online M.Ed. program, learning modules, daylong workshop, summer institute, and free downloadable resources for teachers.

Weil is working with a number of schools—including in Hawai‘i—to fully integrate the Solutionary Program into their own ethos and curricula, and prepare teachers for the transition to real-world and solution-focused classrooms. The title of Zoe’s most recent book, The World Becomes What We Teach: Educating a Generation of Solutionaries, is both a plea and a plan for a better world.

Watch a video from the 2017 Schools of the Future Conference presentation.