Our (Un)Certain Future

Twice a week, my middle schoolers and I sit down for a round-table discussion about current events. Sometimes we watch a short video clip or read an article; sometimes we discuss things they’ve heard at home or have come across during their research for school.

Today, I showed my students a brief video clip summarizing the activity of the People’s Climate March in New York City and highlighting the strong motivation of the protestors. Then we read an article written by a high school participant which denounced the flippant behavior of some of the protestors and claimed that much more than “another event for the sake of an event” would be needed to create real change. I asked my students for their perspectives.

Most of them agreed that raising awareness is good, but it is not enough. They doubted that a protest would convince government officials to make changes. One student suggested that the UN would have to create sanctions or limit accessibility to desired goods until countries began taking steps toward change. The ol’ hit-em-where-it-hurts tactic.

One student suggested that if we could just shut down the factories, we could solve the problem, but that was hard because there are so many things we need. To this, another student responded that we wouldn’t need so many new things if people would just recycle what they already had.

Since the article had specifically noted the ironically long lines for hot dogs, I put in my two cents about animal farming being a leading cause of environmental damage. We discussed cars, the dependence on oil, the benefits of composting, the difficulties with instituting effective recycling programs in cities, the irresponsibility of big businesses. We talked about a lot in a short period of time. Everyone had something to say.

My students made a lot of insightful points. The passion and concern in the room was tangible. At the end of discussion, one of my students raised her hand. We had run out of time, but I let her offer up her last thought, which was this:

“I think a lot of kids our age are more aware of things like composting and recycling. Everyone I know does it in their homes and they know how it works. Maybe in 10 or 12 years, when — you know — we’re running things, maybe we’ll be able to fix it.”

My co-teacher mocked shock — “You mean YOU’LL be running the world?!” But I looked at the girl and said from the bottom of my heart, “I can’t wait for you all to be in charge. I think you’re going to do a fantastic job.”

You often hear the phrase “children are our future,” and today, for the first time, I felt how imminently true that statement is.

I used to think it was a terrible cop-out, like “we failed at this, but the next generation will fix it.” But damn — we did fail at this. And okay, to be fair, my generation is not done making change. I know there will be more to come and I’m looking forward to hopefully watching it unfold. But the older I get the more I start to understand that you’ve got to fix the system from the inside. We need to raise a generation of kids who will take over crucial jobs, like scientists and writers and members of Congress, and who will attack their duties from a new perspective and with a new goal in mind. Not just one, not just a few — but many, the majority, all, if we can.

We must empower our children. We must engage them in these challenging conversations. We must give them the tools to think for themselves and to problem-solve way past where we have been able to. We must teach them the true value, and the cost, of peace; and then we must let go.

They can do so much more than we think. And I am hopeful one day they will do even more than we have.

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