Future Tense

It used to be that the future was exciting.  Of course, that was in the past. Now, in the present, yesterday’s future, we fear the future. Whether it’s: terrorism, nuclear obliteration, the next super-bug, or super-storm; climate change, crushing debt, or no more jobs; politicians who don’t stand for us, corporations who speak over us, horse meat and hormones, or unriching education, we are growing increasingly more tense about the future.

We have ample evidence today that we have many issues to tackle.  Even more disconcerting, is the rationale against tackling issues. We see how seemingly intractable so many problems have become. People across the political spectrum have dug in their heels, and have been most concerned with ideological purity and political power. Instead of climbing mountains, or even seeing that shining city on a hill, we’re staring down fiscal cliffs. Cynics have divided us into makers and takers (although I’m not sure everyone would agree who’s who). Hope and change became nope and same. Everyone is disgusted and fearful.

Despite the reality upon which our fears are based, we are becoming blinded by the fear. When teaching History to high school students, I remind them of other periods when the world seemed like it was about to end, or at least had turned very dark. When they can imagine their grandparents’ world, and that life continued, and the future included their lives, they can begin to shift their perspectives.

History is a great teacher. So too are the arts. The combination is most effective in conveying ways in which humans have confronted issues and experienced difficulties and forged new ways to shape lives and communities. I encourage teachers to include paintings and music, as well as dance and theatre in their History classes. I also encourage a fusion of History with Math and Science, and of course integrating the arts in those classes as well. Perspective is important in each subject (and in life), and is easily exemplified in the arts. Students in Language Arts classes learn perspective (person) in grammar and literature (through character and voice). Education is not merely the accumulation of facts. It is in fact to enrich (not unrich) our lives; to broaden our perspectives.

As a nation, we have been struggling with accountability in education. Students are assessed; teachers are assessed; and schools are assessed. I’m not sure that our assessments are  actually geared toward improving education, despite the good intentions. Moreover, the focus on those assessments as the determiners of future status for students, teachers, and schools, has created greater tension and a more limited education.

Given the many challenges that we must meet in our schools, our communities, our politics, and in all aspects of our lives, it is easy to be cynical and fearful. When we are fearful, we shut down possibilities. When we nurture our creative instincts, we begin to think in the future tense, creating possibilities and improving  what was started.

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