Jonathan Harris, Ohio AATSP President-Elect
Spanish Teacher, St. Gabriel Consolidated School, Cincinnati

I attended the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP) national conference in San Diego this past July. Whereas this conference was inspiring and personally beneficial in so many ways, I would like to devote this article to our keynote speech. This speech, titled “The World Becomes What We Teach” was given by Zoe Weil. Weil’s most recent book has the same title. She is the co-founder and president of the Institute for Humane Education (IHE). Directly quoting IHE’s mission statement found on their website, “IHE works to create a peaceful, regentitive, and equitable world for all people, animals and the environment through education.” Weil is a TED-talk speaker and has won numerous awards for her work.

The main idea of Weil’s speech is to educate solutionaries. Weil has a multi-faceted definition for solutionary, but the one facet that sticks with me is the following: A person who brings knowledge and skills to bear on pressing and entrenched challenges in an effort to create positive changes that do not harm one group while helping another. I do believe that we, as World Language teachers, are in a unique position to carry out this definition and to educate our students to be solutionaries.

As I heard her speech, my first thought was that I have helped my students become solutionaries.  For example, I have had students read an article from Seth Holmes, originally found on an NPR broadcast and now found on the internet at https://www.pri.org/stories/2015-02-06/whats-it-be-migrant-farmworker-one-anthropologist-lived-and-worked-alongside-them. Holmes is a doctor and anthropologist, and he chose to live as a migrant worker. Holmes reports that this is a hard life. I generally assign comprehension and discussion questions for my students and we end this lesson with a class discussion. I find that my students are unaware of the struggles of being a migrant worker. Some become energized and express a desire to help migrants in our area.

However, in past years after this lesson, we fail to move onto a solutionary topic. In our discussion, there is no call for action, no discussion on what we—as a class—can do right now to help. My goal of simple awareness, while well-intentioned, falls short of Weil’s goal of making positive changes. In making students owners in their own solutionary development, I can ask them for ideas for the next step, i.e. the positive change. One possible option would include writing a letter to their local representative.

This keynote speech has gotten me to think about adding a solutionary aspect to my lessons. I included one such lesson, but there are more throughout the year. This speech has started a journey for me, one in which I’m thinking about how students can begin to affect positive change in the world. There is a plethora of challenges. Three of the many include the following: time, other topics to cover, and a general desire from school officials to refrain from controversial themes.  Since we, as World Language teachers, are continuously making our students culturally competent, we can add a solutionary aspect to our teaching.


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