Thursday, October 03, 2019

The Future Is Theirs Anyway

Even the most bright-sided optimist has to admit that we human beings are far from figuring it all out. Yes certainly, if you look at it from just right perspective in just the right light, one can make the argument that we've managed make our collective lives in some ways better. At the same time, we often have to squint and rationalize to persuade ourselves it's so. We still fight bloody wars. People are still starving and sick. Bigotry and racism plague us. And we continue to fiddle as scientists urgently warn us that the earth is headed toward environmental disaster. Sure, you can say, "I'm not doing those things, but it's hard to argue that we aren't.

We educate our children. Many of us are choosing to do so in ways that differ from the way we were educated, but collectively we still rely on compulsory schooling, which has changed in many superficial ways, but fundamentally operates the ways schools have since there have been schools. We say that we educate children to prepare them for life, so that they can take their place in the project of making a better future for themselves and those around them. We arrogantly insist that we adults, people who have clearly not figured it all out, have the right, even the obligation, to tell the children what and how they should learn toward this end. We hope to prepare them to do better than the collective us, yet we send them daily to places where they are expected to do as they are told, learn what they are assigned, and jump through the hoops that are placed before them. The theory is that that this will somehow cause our children to be prepared for a future that none of us have figured out.

And as we self-righteously prepare our children for life, they are busy living it.

This is a great tragedy of not just modern childhood, but of humanity. We've doubled-down on schooling just as we need new ways of thinking, of doing, of seeing the world. We do not need more people thinking like the generations before them. We do not need more of the same. Those of us who work with young children spend our days around the greatest minds ever known. Those of us who refuse to tell them what and how to learn, who choose rather to create places where they can actually live their lives, rather than merely preparing for some theoretical future, tend to stand in awe. We cannot be among these fully formed human beings without becoming at least somewhat hopeful for the future, even as we know that most of them are destined for years of being "prepared," a process explicitly designed to shape them as replicas of what has come before rather than help them achieve their highest potential, which is as a free-thinking, free-doing, free-living human.

As the great John Dewey wrote over a decade ago, "Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself." We will, of course, never figure it all out, but doing the same thing over and over is certainly not the path forward. We need to stop this insane project of preparing our children and instead let them live. The future is theirs anyway.

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