Learning Through "Edutainment"

Image courtesy Mickey Thurman via
Creative Commons.
Often, when we think of education, we think only of classrooms, where “formal” learning takes place. But there are many ways to educate and engage people, and classrooms are only one venue. While they are a perfect place to bring relevant global issues to students who are prepared – and often eager – to learn about them, the ways in which we learn are myriad. We learn in our homes, from news sources, within our religious and cultural traditions, from friends and colleagues, through books, from careful observation, at workshops, perusing the Internet, etc.

Most of us relish learning, not only as children but throughout our lives. Learning something new is often deeply satisfying and pleasurable. Learning may take some effort, but we enjoy it. Sometimes, though, we feel that learning takes work, and when we’re done “learning” for a period of time, we may want to take a break for “entertainment.”

Yet entertainment can be one of the very best venues for education. When I first saw the theatrical productions The Vagina Monologues and Crossing the Boulevard, I was struck by how brilliantly Eve Ensler and Warren Lehrer and Judith Sloan managed to entertain, while teaching their audiences about some of the great injustices and cruelties in the world. One watches those shows and learns much. I’m less certain whether these great pieces of theater inspire action and galvanize their audiences to become changemakers; but in recent years edutainment-into-action has become a commonplace endeavor, too.

Every week a new documentary comes along, created by activists determined to spur change. That Waiting for Superman and Race to Nowhere – two films about the generally "unsexy" topic of K-12 education – and Supersize Me, Forks Over Knives, Vegucated, and Food, Inc. – about our dietary habits and their effects – have become such big hits reminds us that we have entered the world of learning and doing. Waiting for Superman (a problematic film which I’ve written about here), left viewers texting at the end in order to stay involved. And how many people changed their dietary habits because of one of the slate of documentaries about diet and food production?

Comedy is also growing as a popular form of edutainment. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have built their careers on the marriage of serious news and comedy. And how many of us were moved to think more deeply about social injustice and destructive societal norms by George Carlin, one of America’s greatest comedians?

Which is why I’ve personally decided to try my hand at comedic edutainment. I've created a 1-woman show -- My Ongoing Problems with Kindness: Confessions of MOGO Girl -- which I'm performing around Canada and the U.S., including at Times Square in New York City as part of the United Solo theatre festival.

My hope is that while people are laughing they will also be learning and considering how they can live more deeply aligned with their values and make a difference in a world that needs them.

~ Zoe

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDxConejo talk: "Solutionaries"
My TEDxDirigo talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

Get tickets now for the October 13 NYC debut of my 1-woman show -- My Ongoing Problems with Kindness: Confessions of MOGO Girl -- at United Solo, the world's largest solo theatre festival.

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