We live in uncertain times. OK, so that’s an understatement.
Recent political upheaval in the United States, and globally, has called into question many of the social and political norms to which we’ve become accustomed.
The overwhelming pace of technological change has transformed how we communicate with each other and even how our economies function.
Fear of terrorism, nuclear conflict, and climate change have been ongoing concerns for as long as many of us can remember. But today, those risks seem more constant.
Across the country, public schools—in many cases, the cultural and social epicenters of local communities—are rethinking the ways in which they teach and talk about these subjects in schools.
At the center of this dramatic change, students are beginning to ask some pretty existential questions, writes Ariel Sacks, a middle school language arts teacher, in her Education Week blog, Teaching for the Whole Story.
This year, after reviving an old assignment that challenged students to create poetry inspired by questions they have about the future, Sacks encountered something wholly unexpected:
“What caught my attention…was a new category of questions I had not seen before—questions about humankind in general, and its future…The number of students who asked questions along these lines stunned me. Students are markedly more worried about the future of us all than they were just a few years ago. Maybe it’s all the dystopian fiction; maybe it’s the growing reality of climate change; maybe it’s the impending threat of nuclear warfare. I shouldn’t be surprised. I am more worried too, but somehow seeing these concerns reflected in—and shouldered by—the next generation makes it more real and troubling.”
Here’s just a few of the questions Sacks’ students asked:
- Will there ever be true happiness in the world?
- What does the future have in store for us?
- Will our old customs still be alive?
- Will the world end?
- Will mankind still be alive?
For a generation that has been criticized for being self-involved, such questions reveal a sense of awareness and deep concern that is not lost on Sacks and other classroom leaders.
As summer break approaches, school leaders might use these questions to think about how they can engage young people around critical issues, and spark dialogue intended to help put some of these existential concerns in perspective.
As the school year draws to a close, what questions are your students asking about the future? What steps are you taking to help them understand the changes happening around them? Tell us in the comments.