To clarify, I am speaking about futurism in the modern sense of the word – e.g., space elevators, Dyson spheres, artificial intelligence, etc. I am not speaking of the pre-fascist Futurist movement (which I will write about in my next article). I want to address futurism in education, and more specifically how to teach a spirit of curiosity and creativity in which science becomes a tool to an end rather than an end in itself.
Futurism engages you. It challenges you to crack a problem, to solve a riddle so that humanity may pass through the gates to its next level. At the same time, it captivates your imagination so that you might start envisioning other potentialities. Best represented visually, futurism is as much a result of an artistic sentiment as it is scientific knowledge. It desires to turn an artist into a scientist and the other way around. Isn’t this the tool we should use to draw students toward the sciences and put a focus to their studies?
Presently, we teach science like we are programming a computer. There’s no concern for the spirit of the learner. We define the terminology, introduce the scientists who discovered the rules, then teach the data and rules themselves. It can be quite complex at times, and yet we rely on this raw material to captivate the student. It is difficult for him to know what the material might be used for, and thus learning Man’s greatest accomplishments becomes tedious and boring.
When I suggest Futurism as a solution to this problem, I’m not just speaking of a teaching method for an individual teacher – this is too transparent. The students may appreciate the extra efforts, but they know that the end goal is to teach them the rules of science. Rather, I am talking about a country teaching its youth the dreams and aspirations of its elders – a government curriculum in which the current generation communicates a vision of the country that it hopes the next generation might build in the future.
But why aren’t we teaching these technological visions and goals now?
Do we lack the leadership to present the youth with our goals for the future? In fact, we don’t. We’ve been working on one goal in education for decades upon decades: to make everyone equal in each other’s eyes. We seek to give every culture its fair share of study: there’s Social Studies, then there are the English books that read like Social Studies books – there are even Math books with story problems that sound like Social Studies books. Then there’s anti-stereotyping education…But where is the striving for greatness? If we’re focused on equality, is mediocrity our actual aspiration?
Unfortunately, despite all the curricular sacrifices we’ve made, our educational efforts to create social harmony are undone in politics. Untrue is the myth that democracy is a public debate in which intelligent arguments are heard by an open minded public who listens to both sides and makes informed decisions. In practice, politicians don’t debate in order to win people over and unify opinion, they debate in order to define themselves. In doing so they choose voting blocks the way children would select players for a soccer team. When a politician talks about abortion, he’s not trying to shed new light on the issue, he’s saying “I’ll take the Christians and you take the progressives.” And these divisive issues become the focus of the nation. They symbolize society’s fabric coming apart.
On the other hand, a national vision of the future is a sign of health. It is not only the result of a unified culture, it is also a unifying force in the culture.
But we mustn’t be dogmatic. The futurist usually never sees his vision of the future come to fruition. The future is more complicated than even the most intelligent minds can handle. One only has the past as a reference point. At the 1900 World’s Fair it was predicted that we would domesticate whales and harness them for transportation like we had done with horses. It seems silly now but at that time horse-pulled carriages lined the streets, why not whale-pulled boats? Which leads me to my point: it’s the spirit of futurism we must teach rather than the specifics. It’s the striving and the enthusiasm that are what we want.
The avoidance of dogmatic futurism could be achieved by presenting more than one vision of the future. This will let learners feel free to explore different possibilities. The future, after all, is theirs.
The way we teach science now is a spirit in direct opposition to the spirit of science – knowledge from authority. It states: if you study hard and learn these facts that compose my expertise, you can be knowledgeable like me. It’s a spirit of egoism that, if taken too seriously, stifles scientific progress by tempting the academic community to scoff at alternate views. Nietzsche identified three metamorphoses in one’s development: the camel who bears the burden of learning those who came before him; the lion who has his own opinions and can attack others’ ideas; and the child who has freed himself from his own ideas and wants to truly know and interact with the world. A spirit of egoism prevents passage into the third metamorphosis.
We shouldn’t forget that this modern wave of scientific discovery was born out of a spirit of religious curiosity, a desire to know God through His creation. Futurism adds another avenue of inquiry to this divine interaction: What is humanity’s ultimate place in the universe? How far can we go? The spirit of futurism along with the quest to “know the mind of God” should be leading us forward in scientific education. The spirit of creativity and curiosity respectively.