So the doomsday clock has been moved closer to midnight, primarily in response to the election, inauguration, and first week of Donald Trump as president. Depending on one’s views on the situation, one may think it’s ticking faster than ever or one may think that’s an over-reaction prompted by a liberal media. I’m not going to take a position on that, and while I am going to become a bit more political than I like to in this blog, I’m trying to express this with the voice of an objective educator.
Before I begin, however, I have to acknowledge doing so is becoming harder. Personally, sometimes I can lean so far left that I could tip over at any time. However, I try hard not to let that seep too much into my work other than how I treat people. I don’t see a school’s job as dictating what someone should think about a particular topic. But we should be teaching the right way to approach topics and how to engage individually and collectively in a search for understanding that improves us.
That is why when I consider all the things which have so many people upset and anxious and angry and scared, I see a certain irony in the doomsday clock being moved forward when it comes to our children and their education. Yes, there are the oft-expressed concerns about what children may be learning and feeling. But I’m looking at this in more practical terms. It’s not just about the nomination of a person who seems amazingly unqualified to be Secretary of Education. It goes right to one primary purpose of education—preparing our children for the future and the world they will be entering.
That is where the irony comes in…although irony may not really be the right word. Right now it seems as if President Trump and his people want to “Make America Great Again” by turning back to clock to an earlier time. And it’s a notion which I don’t believe can happen except to America’s detriment. Like it or not, with remarkable acceleration the world has become a highly-interconnected, highly-interdependent single system, except for some notable outliers who choose to practice isolationism and suffer for it. The issue is more than an economic one. Thriving in such a world requires an empathetic openness to other cultures and people, one that leads to a sense of “we” rather than “us and them.” Countless studies have shown how cultures benefit from the intermingling of diverse perspectives. The moves we’ve seen thus far smack of a hubris which seems to assume the trajectory of the world will change because the United States wants it to.
But, despite whatever remains of our prominence, it won’t. History, short- and long-term, shows us that. Empires crumble; revolutions happen. Throughout the ages there have been doom criers. Yet the world continues to progress. Despite what we often think and feel, the reality is that it is less violent and moreaccepting place than ever. But recently we should be feeling true urgency. Perhaps now more so than ever, as educators we need to be thinking about how we help our students be a meaningful part of that forward march. Without engaging in extremism or proselytizing, we have to model the ideals and have the important conversations. Our students can be the ones who get that doomsday clock turned back. And that isn’t about liberalism or conservatism, Democrat or Republican, internationalism or jingoism. It’s about what should drive educators at any time: an optimistic belief in humanity.