“The future is an inherently good thing, and we move into it one winter at a time. Things get better one winter at a time.”
– Warren Ellis, Transmetropolitan
There is something called the Fermi Paradox that questions why no intelligent, extraterrestrial life has contacted Earth given the high probability that it both exists and is capable of doing so. One solution to this contradiction proposed by economist Robin Hanson is referred to as the “great filter,” a narrative that suggests any species which achieves the technology to explore the cosmos delivers its own extinction before doing so. A sober look at our world suggests that this might be the best explanation. We have only begun to seriously consider the possibility of off world colonies, but have already stockpiled many thousands more weapons than are necessary to destroy most life and have pushed the planet to the brink of a climatological genocide. For all of the very valid concerns of rising inequality and the return of fascism, it’s valid to ask whether we will even survive long enough to see the end of those terrible stories. If this were a planetary game of Russian roulette, then it seems we have already pulled the trigger several times.
How then do we look into the eyes of a new generation, our children and our students, and provide them with the wisdom to set down the gun and prove Hanson wrong?
This is the question that must inform the pedagogy of every teacher interested in their being a future for their students. Existing leaders and politics have failed on a radical degree and the solutions required are far larger than anyone with real power is willing to concede. If something is to be done, it will originate from those who are growing into the world today and for that to occur they must have teachers who can teach them how to do it.
Frederick Douglass said that, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” It is the role of the English teacher or, more broadly speaking, any teacher of communication, to help students make their demands. The ability to clearly see the world as it is, to effectively describe what is needed, and the will to transform those words into actions all stem from language.
Whether it is tomorrow or in several decades, the children who occupy our classrooms will recognize what has been done and just how great the cost for them is. They cannot be denied an education; it is simply a matter of when they will learn. Teachers cannot hide knowledge, but they can provide it much sooner. Given the problems that face our planet and how quickly they will escalate, that knowledge cannot be denied another day.
There is still hope for the future. Our children just have to learn what they can do.