Among global education models, it's common for thinkers to include the idea that effective and powerful teaching and learning about the world should include an orientation toward the future and the development of personal agency (the belief that I can make a difference, either on my own or by working with others). When you put these two ideas together, you move toward the development of both individual and institutional optimism: the belief thatwe can make a better and more peaceful world.
Sometimes teachers and other members of the educational community grow concerned that if we discuss ‘world issues' or ‘global problems,' we will burden students (especially young children) with gloomy predictions and troubling situations that are developmentally-inappropriate or even frightening and perhaps ultimately harmful. Others worry that we induce misplaced guilt from the next generation for the bad decisions made by their elders, or that we short-circuit the likelihood of meaningful adult civic participation, enabling a kind of ‘disaster fatigue' that focuses on problems that are too big for young people to understand or act upon.
These are real concerns. It's possible, though, in our concern for students, that we discard the unique optimism and hope for the future that young people bring as gifts to the human family. Youthful optimism is one of Time Magazine's Ten ideas that will change the world. Young people's vitality and energy-and the hope for the future which they embody for their parents, teachers and wider communities-has often led to dramatic change. Some of this change is happening before our very eyes, as countries whose populations are just beginning to move toward the demographic transition are leading significant political transitions in Egypt and the Middle East.
This might be a sign of important good news. Consider this summary of the state of the world:
Falling mortality at a time of rising populations worldwide suggests even more good news: the global breakdown of the so-called Malthusian trap,which predicts that rising population will lead to increased poverty, famine and even war as limited resources are spread among ever more people. Instead, famines have become increasingly rare. Wealth has been spreading so much that global poverty has been more than halved since 1990. And the recent past has seen a considerable downtick in violence: there were 24 wars going on in the world in 1984, but by 2008 that number had dropped to five.
The spread of global democracy, better health, more education, lessviolence - it all adds up to a much better world. And that suggests the biggest new idea of all: it's time to abandon our usual pessimism about the state of the planet and the course of history.
Maybe we are even ‘hard-wired' to believe that future will be better than the past- another Time Magazine article explores the possibility that humans have an evolutionary bias toward optimism. Whether or not that conclusion will stand the test of time, it's important when we consider world challenges that we believe we can meet them.
Consider Hans Rosling's 200 Countries, 200 Years- from the Joy of Stats on BBC4. He visually communicates 120,000 numbers in four minutes to show that it is actually possible to make a better world. Sure, we should critically examine his data and question his presuppositions. For example, some have charged the presentation with being misleading with regard to life expectancy, since infant mortality figures can distort life-span statistics; others have challenged the sustainability of economic growth and the (implied) endorsement of exploitative global capitalism that might underpin the move toward ‘healthy wealthy' countries. (You can develop your own graphic analysis of data using gapminder.org).
Still, might it not be possible that ‘aid, trade, green technology and peace' will honestly make the future better?
Is this kind of optimism justified? What do you think?