Noah Zeichner featured in Rethinking Schools’ Fall 2013 issue for his article “Rethinking Shit: Excrement and equity.”

Art By Erik Ruin
Erik Ruin

Noah Zeichner teaches the Global Leadership Class at Chief Sealth International High School, which was developed by Global Visionaries for students to have a safe environment to discuss the issues of our world today and what can be done about them. Zeichner often addresses global poverty in his class sessions, and his unit on rethinking shit has quickly become one of his favorites.

Approaching the topic of human waste is uncomfortable at best, especially in the classroom setting. However, Noah Zeichner has found a way to make a lasting impact on his students by approaching the world’s sanitation problem with an immersive perspective, by making his students delve into the topic of shit and how it affects our world. In the early moments of his class session, Zeichner shows his students a clip from the film Slumdog Millionaire of a boy delving through a latrine in Mumbai in order to meet a famous movie star. Zeichner comments, “The latrine scene is disgusting, and our natural reaction is often to laugh. It relaxes the students enough to be able to talk seriously about a seriously gross topic”.  Showing documentaries and film clips that show how truly horrific this problem is, he is able to trigger emotional reactions in his students to interest them and inspire them to learn more.

The spark of inspiration is as simple as learning key facts, such as the scary truth that 40 percent of all humans have nowhere to defecate. To those who have never had to worry about having a place to go to the bathroom besides waiting in a long line at a busy place, this fact may seem shocking and hard to hear; but for those who have to go to the bathroom in the same water they use to cook their food with, it’s all they know. However, Zeichner makes it clear that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Zeichner stresses the importance of looking at the causes and consequences of this global issue, and not just possible solutions that don’t address the root problem. Simply delivering toilets to those in need without educating them on the consequences (and benefits!) of their own human waste isn’t going to do enough. Addressing the imbalance of power and wealth within our world is a necessary step towards change. Altering our current economic policies that favor the wealthy is a crucial element to think about when discussing what can be done to help places in dire need. For Zeichner, change is a possibility through educating his students and inspiring them to educate their friends and families, to one day inspire change globally.

Here at Global Visionaries, we’re focused on the idea that youth leadership can inspire change throughout the globe, and we believe empowering today’s youth is the key to economic and social action. New and innovative ideas spread like wildfire through groups of young people who are truly inspired. We’ve found that one of the best ways to reach youth is by bringing these programs straight to their schools. To find out more about the Global Leadership Class, check out the description found on our website.

To read the full article featured in Rethinking Schools, you can subscribe via their website.


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