Our education is designed for domestication. We all know this. And, as designed, it successfully transforms many of our audacious, curious, and playful young people into students that are paralyzed by perfectionism, tentative about taking the initiative and unwilling to throw themselves and their work into the real world out of fear of failure. Yet, our economy is placing more and more emphasis on creativity, adaptability, and global consciousness. So, how do we get our students to shed their submissiveness, rediscover their uniqueness, and share their vision of the world with the rest of us?

Rewilding is designed to get our students to:

  • Remember the audacity of their childhood
  • Recognize the system of expectations in which they are submerged
  • Reignite their agency and take responsibility for their own freedom

The Rewilding classroom is a place of extreme student autonomy, authority and responsibility. The classroom is no longer structured around the teacher’s relative expertise. It is structured around a project – a big project, a world-changing project.

Rewilding requires different skills from the teacher and her students. The role of the teacher is transformed. She becomes a mentor, coach, and counselor. She nudges, cajoles, encourages, and makes deep investments in building loving trusting relationships with her students.  And, more importantly, as she collaborates with her students she becomes a student of her students. Students choose their own objectives, set goals, design their own programs, and learn in their own way. They take on their fears, reconsider their histories, rewrite their narratives, and challenge their internal commentary of self-doubt.

The major principles of Rewilding include:

  • Agency: Rewilding cultivates confidence in one’s own voice and identity. It reminds both teacher and students that the world as we know it is not fixed. It is malleable. They are subjects in the world. And, they are fonts of change.
  • Solidarity: Sustainable social change takes solidarity. Solidarity amongst the students. Solidarity amongst the students and their teacher. And, solidarity among the students, teacher and communities they work with outside their classroom.
  • Integrity: The change that students and their teacher wish to see in themselves and the world around them does not come easy. It is repetitive work. It is incremental work. It takes patience, persistence, and endurance. It takes a work ethic.

The essential elements of Rewilding include:

  • Community: The project is too big to be done alone. It can only be accomplished if the teacher and her students successfully build a trusting loving community of change-making individuals.
  • Culture: The teacher and her students must articulate a set of promises that influence their actions and shape the dialogue they have within themselves, with each other, and with the communities they work with around the world.
  • Commitment: The teacher and her students must commit to do the work.  The success of the project is the result of an interdependent process. One person’s choice to do or not do work has ramifications for the entire tribe. Commitment is everything.
  • Action: The teacher and her students must take action; that is, leave the classroom, enter into the world, implement their project, and allow reality to judge the worthiness of their work.

My name is Shawn Humphrey. I’m a social innovator and an Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Mary Washington. Rewilding is a pedagogy I’ve been developing for over a decade with my students. By following its principles and implementing its elements, my students and I launched a national social movement, a change-making organization and constructed international platforms to take on complex global challenges. As evidenced by the mark we have left on the world (and on one another), I think it’s fair to say that Rewilding is an intriguing pedagogy. I invite you to:

I am always looking for feedback. So, please reach out to share your thoughts. Thanks. – shawn