November 9, 2022
I hope that this message finds you well. Have you ever stopped to consider what your life might be like in 2050? Today, I would like to invite you to dream about the future with me. Some people do not like to think about the future, but growing up as a Christian and in poverty, the future was always a place of promise for me as a child. However, my tendency to dream of a good future has been put to the test since arriving in the U.S. When I first came to the U.S., I learned that I was a “Person of Color”. In Jamaica, I knew that I was Black, but it seemed more relevant that I was poor. In the U.S., I came to understand that my Blackness firmly rooted me in this category of People of Color. In the 20 years that have elapsed, I learned the joys and pains that come with my membership in this community. These lessons have convinced me that, given my identity in the U.S., to choose to expect a good future as a Person of Color is an act of survival, defiance, rebellion, and self-love.
About four years ago, I saw an infographic that showed global population growth over time. The graph predicted peak human population of around 10 billion people in 2050, following which the total human population would start to decline. I am not quite sure why but it captured my attention, and it has stayed with me ever since. In 2050, I will be close to retirement age, and my students will be gaining increased power in the professional arena. What about you? Where might you be on your life’s journey? In which group will you find your sense of belonging and what will be the outlook for that group? How will your current school have changed? Will your school be looking at a future of increased possibilities or one of diminished options?
Consider this possibility for a moment. You made it to 2050! You visit your current school, and but for some new technology and perhaps a new building or two, your school’s culture, demographics, and traditions are exactly the same as they are today. What emotion might you feel at that moment? Would you be happy?
Since starting to think about the future in this more concrete way, I have been asking my students to imagine their lives 10 years into the future. I ask them to picture themselves being successful in something that really matters to them and has a big impact on the world. Because I would love for you to take a moment to do a similar exercise with me, here are two questions to consider:
- What is the most important project that you are working on at this point in your life?
- What is the most important change that you are working to make in your school/community today?
Let’s imagine that by 2050, you have succeeded beyond your wildest dreams in accomplishing these two goals. The community in which you live and your school have changed in the ways that you wanted. You have also had time to see how people respond to the changes, and you are living with the consequences of those changes. Now that you have succeeded, here are some additional questions: Whose lives have you improved? Who does not benefit from these changes? Are you happy with the results of your work? Are you still proud to claim the changes that you have made possible? Are you happy to be publicly identified with that work wherever you go? What does the younger generation think of your life’s work?
Many schools are places of proud legacies and long histories. At the same time, schools want to distance themselves from shameful periods in their history. How do you measure the distance between the past, the present, and the future? Moreover, how much of your past is still relevant to your future? Some days, the past feels like bedrock that gives me a firm foundation on which to build. On other days, the past feels like a five-hundred-ton anchor pulling me down in a riptide. I can experience both of these emotions standing in the same spot on the campuses of any of the schools that I have called my academic or professional home. How can I not stand in awe of the accomplishment of institutional survival for over a century, and, in some cases, two centuries? And how can I not be moved to sorrow when I also consider the generations of young people rejected, sidelined, maligned, and ignored by these same institutions for the same length of time? It is with this sensibility that I consider the future and the plans that we, our schools, and our communities are making for that future. I believe that all the atrocities and omissions of the past are possible, and perhaps even likely, in the future. While so much has changed since the founding days of many of the institutions in which we educate our kids, a lot of the core power dynamics remain unchanged. So, I ask you this question. How do you know that you and your school community are building a legacy today that will be better than the most shameful chapters of your history?
For evidence, do not just offer me the beautiful poetry of your mottos, hymns, mission statements, portraits of a graduate, or strategic plans. Those are beautiful promises, and my mother always told me that a promise is a comfort to a fool. Show me also the receipts for the battles for justice that you have fought. Name the budget line items that you have committed to building the cultural competency of your people. What percentage of your faculty possess a developmentally appropriate understanding of children and young adults? Tell me how you teach your students to identify, build, and sustain inclusive communities in an increasingly diverse world. Tell me the ugly truths about your history that you are ready to face. I imagine that you, like me, find inspiration in the triumphs of past generations of your schools. I am also of the opinion that this inspiration needs a tether to the reality of history to avoid the hubris of thinking that we are the first ones to imagine a grand future.
The world of 2050 will be different in some material ways from the world of 2022; however, the substance and key contours of life for many of us might remain unchanged from what they are today. In Witness To The Truth, Cleo Scott Brown takes readers through one hundred years of her family’s attempts to navigate America’s laws and traditions. Scott Brown is African American and the daughter of 1960s voting rights activist Reverend John H. Scott. Reverend Scott was raised by his grandparents, who grew up during slavery. Stopping Rev. Scott and his fellow Black community members from voting in Lake Providence, Louisiana, in the 1960s was one of the most important projects of the White power brokers in that town and many other towns and cities throughout the U.S. Every school that I attended and worked at was around during that period, but I have found very few acts of institutional bravery to confront the abuses from that era. Rev. Scott and his family faced death threats, murder attempts, economic strangulation, jail time, and legal harassment to help build a more just America. I am under no illusions about what it might take to build the type of future in which all of our students can thrive.
Are we as educators and schools prepared to lead the charge today to create a world in which all of our students can grow up to have a fulfilling life? The history of independent schools, of which I am now a part, gives me good reasons to doubt the strength of their commitment to being pioneers in this work. As a member of the independent school community, I am under the impression that this collection of schools did not lead the calls to end slavery. They did not take the lead in ending Jim Crow laws, fighting for integration, or introducing co-education, and they did not lead on civil rights. Nevertheless, I think it is time to end this pattern of missed opportunities to lead the call for justice. History has shown that schools can succeed in transmitting academic information from one generation to the next, even as they participate in the subjugation of particular groups in society. Therefore, if we want to avoid the most shameful chapters of our past, it cannot be enough to just be a school that gets its students into great colleges or well-paid careers. We must see, name, and counter the injustices that try to stifle the light of so many of our students.
2050 will bring more advanced technology and more sophisticated computing power. I dream of a 2050 that ushers in a society in which all of our students can live, love, create, and serve their communities without rejection and violence simply for being human beings that are true to themselves.
You may also be interested in reading more articles written by Norman Kim-Senior for Intrepid Ed News.