Liberate Knowledge

…to democratize power in all its forms.

Category Archives: Democratic education

“What if instead of debate teams we had solutionary teams?”

Ever since I first listened to this TEDx talk, “The World Becomes What You Teach,” I’ve repeatedly returned to a question the presenter – Zoe Weil of the Institute for Humane Education – brings up:

“What if instead of having debate teams we had solutionary teams?”

What if, indeed.

I don’t see eye to eye with every argument Weil makes in her presentation (more on this below), but I feel that this one particular point is of significant importance and should be drawn out further. Hierarchal education – in schools, universities, and other settings (workshops, trainings, etc.) – is in many ways a replication of our economic structure. It is based off the philosophy of extreme competition, where there are winners (straight A students; CEOs and bosses) and losers (those who flunk out; workers making minimum wage and who have no rights) as well as everyone in between. Extreme competition is exercised in classrooms formally through debates and informally/indirectly through tests and grades (where some succeed and some fail). On a slightly more macro level, most schools have one or a few valedictorians who are recognised as “the best of the best” by their institutions.  And, just like with capital, the higher GPA you have, the easier it will be for you to get into the university/college of your choice and then, consequently, the job/career path of your dreams.

And, of course, many of our society’s classically classist tropes also exist within the education system, e.g. people from disadvantaged backgrounds only need to “pull themselves up by their boot straps” (by working hard; by studying hard) and they will “make it” in school and then life – even though it’s long been established that students from disadvantaged backgrounds often face seemingly insurmountable odds in their educational careers.

Extreme competition-based education therefore replicates an exploitative economic system that only has an interest in promoting individualistic (and corporate) desires, rather than cultivating the ability of learners to make an impact in their communities and world. In education and in life,  a few come out on top while the rest are fodder for the system (or “good foot soldiers in the economy”).

That’s why this idea of “solutionary teams” that Weil has proposed strikes me as so interesting. It’s by no means a revolutionary discovery, but it is certainly a uniquely framed concept within the larger community-based education movement. Instead of pitting students against each other formally and informally when thinking about problems, why don’t we put them in situations where they collaboratively work to improve each others’ lives?

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