Children and the Future

What is your vision of the future? My personal vision of the future is one with compact high-tech cities surrounded by lush wilderness and farmland on Earth with human settlements across the solar system including on a terraformed Mars and Venus, an ecologically integrated interplanetary civilization. I do not know if we will have that future, but it is the one that I aim for and is the vision around which I organize my goals and what sort of movements or organizations I support or join. How you imagine the future will determine the future even if you do not actually attain it if you work towards it.

Adults tend to become jaded and distracted by the cares of life, ancient or modern. It is often the children whose wonder guides them to new ideas and new possibilities for the future. I am not idealizing children, just pointing out the way that children and youthful idealism are necessary, though not sufficient, for any kind of progress.

How can inquisitive children become inquisitive adults that change the world for the better if they are not given the resources necessary to get out of poverty? Lifting people in general and children in particular out of poverty is the key to a community being able to prosper and flourish.

How does one truly free another person from poverty, however? It is done by giving them hope. We need to not give children the impression that they are helpless or dependent on us. We need to show children, especially impoverished children, that they have a role to play in creating a better future for everyone, that their being lifted out of poverty means that the world can be lifted out of the poverty in which it is embedded as well. We need to show children a future that they can be part of and for which they can strive. Nonetheless, this vison of the future cannot just be our desired future. It needs to be one that they choose for themselves.

In the global north, our vision of the future tends towards materialism, focused on accumulation of ever more commodities, more wealth, more “stuff.” This vision of the future has not been good either for our souls or for the environment. It would not be good for us simply to impart this flawed vision of the future to children living in poverty. If people in the poorest countries free themselves from physical poverty just to become as dissatisfied and wasteful as first world industrialized countries, that is not true progress. That is just exchanging one kind of poverty for another.

How can we show children the potential future that they can be part of without imposing our own visions of the future on them? How can we help them cultivate their own hopeful vision of the future that is truly free of poverty?

When we talk about science and technology, we tend to talk about how to use it to solve the problems that we want to solve, reducing transit time, increasing energy efficiency for an average household, etc. It is possible that the problems that we want to solve with science and technology are not the problems that they want to solve. In fact, they may want to solve problems that we have but that we have not even thought of as problems because of our cultural filters. Thus, one way to ensure that we are not imposing our desired future on children in need is to give them the skills to develop science and technology but then leave the problem-solving to them. They probably have a better idea of what their problems are and what they need to do to solve them than someone from outside their cultural context. In this way, their use of science and technology will be shaped by their needs and contexts rather than ours. This will create a future diversity of approaches to science and technology which may help us avoid the mistakes that our global civilization has made since the industrial revolution. In this way, these formerly impoverished children will save us from an impoverished future.


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