Thursday, April 12, 2012

Thinking about the Future

Where do you think the United States, and the world, will be in 5 years? 20 years? 50 years? 2,000 years?

Thinking about the future is such an interesting, and yes, important exercise.

Yet while students often take some 8 years of required history courses, why don't we mandate the study of the future? Is it because we don't have concrete "material" as the focus of examination? Is it because we don't have a "theory" of the future?

I think a history course provides an excellent platform to engage students in a conversation about the future. Unfortunately, the future is not part of the standards, and students only learn about the future through disorganized and shallow attempts at application and relevance. 

It is time that social studies in K-12 education develop a more robust discipline of futurism. At the core of such a course, the following enduring understandings might be a useful starting place:

  • Nothing about the future is certain.
  • Projections about the future can influence present action; in part for this reason, they are almost always wrong. 
  • Patterns, trends, and data can point to likely scenarios in the future. 
  • When the future arrives, it becomes the present. It is thus always out of reach. 
A discipline of futurism would help students determine what kind of careers they might assume; how long term planning can be personally beneficial; how to evaluate hysterical and cynical claims about fate; and how individuals shape their own destinies. 

A study of the future would serve as a valuable interdisciplinary experience. History provides a sense of possibility and limitation of change and continuity; literature and art expand the imagination and show how people in the past imagined their future; math and science teach how to evaluate the past and present to predict and shape the future. 

Students need to dialogue to form the narrative of their personal concerns and ambitions. Talking about and studying the future might offer a very interesting way to accomplish this. 

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