“There’s a big front coming in this weekend. Expect temperatures to drop to well below freezing. There will be icy and dangerous conditions. Winds will be near gale force. Please take all necessary cautions to protect life and property.”
Sometimes being right is just as bad as being wrong. Just ask any weatherman or weatherperson. Nobody likes to hear the messenger when the news is bad. It’s no different when the news is about our own lives.
Today, we take a look ahead. That’s always a bit dangerous. Today’s world has so many complex variables that any predictions beyond the next few weeks seem far too tenuous to “bank on.” Who would have predicted interest rates would fall to record lows in 2011? Few would have predicted the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster, which set back the space program by years (and maybe put it out of business). The events following 9/11 changed many things in politics, economics and even tourism. The point here is simple; general timelines are easier to predict, high impact events are, well, unpredictable. We’ll have to exclude in this chapter those catastrophic events (sorry, even psychics get them wrong) and stick with the likely stream of events. Based on the trends so far, there are three possible trajectories. One is the nightmare, where all that can go bad, does. Another is the dream, where most important decisions and events are positive. And finally, there’s the most likely scenario of all. That I’ll leave to the end.
One plausible scenario is that of a society with decreasing enrichment for all ages. There would be widespread decreases in nutrition, quality of life, social interaction, safety, new experiences and overall learning. In this scenario we would see many changes. Included in those changes are the eight events listed below. To a degree, they are already happening:
Early childhood care… This would get ignored by federal and state agencies, becoming massively underfunded. Children would lack the access to pre-kindergarten resources needed to help them be ready for school. Only the wealthy would be able to afford it. The nightmare scenario is that programs of this type, the ones that have been marginally funded so far, disappear for lack of funding.
School testing narrows… In this scenario, schools would narrow the range of curriculum to be tested for. Policy-makers would increasingly narrow focus to math, reading and science. But that’s not the problem; the real problem is the stakes involved. Schools that fail established markers would lose their funding (by the thousands). In our worst-case scenario, the testing becomes even more restrictive, narrow minded and worst of all, putative.
Curriculum changes… We are seeing continued narrowing of the curriculum to meet the demands of high stakes testing. In fear of becoming labeled “unsatisfactory” many public schools have eliminated or reduced physical education, arts, electives and the vocational and career tracks. These types of programs are the very types, which have helped students, feel good about being in school. In our worst nightmare, these curriculum choices leave the public schools.
Breakdown of public schools in America… The society becomes increasingly fragmented. More and more schools are offering classes on-line. Soon, many students will have no perceived need for school. In twenty years, 95% of all secondary education could be on-line. There is less of a coherent, social-cultural glue. The social fabric that wove the strands of cooperation, support and familiarity is irreparably eroded. Social problems become more rampant. Charter schools are gaining in popularity because they can admit students preferentially, operate with less red tape, and have a different set of accountabilities. This makes them attractive to many entrepreneurs.
Impoverished or Helped by Technology… In many ways, technology could lead to an impoverished environment for humans. Instead of physically going somewhere, we travel, see friends, compete, play video games and shop all “virtual”. Why travel or shop around the world when you can have huge color plasma screens as big as a wall bringing you the world to your doorstep. Why learn a language when technology will be able to translate it for you? Why travel to meet people when you can teleconference with anyone in the world? In many ways, all this technology means less work for the brain. Less work means less enrichment. Or, could it lead us to a whole new world of amazing positive changes??
Managed health care rules… One of the biggest changes in society is that health care is being managed by corporations which opt to choose the cheapest (and most profitable) solution for any given problem. This does not mean the choice will be made for the safest choice, the best long-term choice or the most ecological choice. As an example, millions are given meds but are not given the training for the cognitive skills and lifestyle changes that would eliminate or support the changes needed.
The meds mean less effort on the subject’s part. The meds change the brain, but there’s no enrichment.
Quality of life… There are dozens of factors which determine our quality of life. They include good schools, healthcare and access to resources. But the quality of the physical environment continues to deteriorate. Pollution is increasing, so are the number of toxic waste sites, the volume of traffic flow, the amount of airborne particles from pesticides, pollen and dust. Food no longer has the nutrition it used to have. Along our beaches, more and more of them are closed for contamination and pollution. Countless fish are either too toxic to eat or are endangered species. In our worst case, the environment takes back seat to more pollution and lower quality of life.
Social Changes… Many factors are influencing the changes of the social fabric in America. We are seeing the gradual (over the last two generations) altering of moral, ethical, social and spiritual qualities. There is more violence in the media, more profanity used by youth, increasing drug usage, fewer social bonding activities (aside from college sports) and more virtual activities. The social institutions that foster connectedness are weaker and the society is different because of it. The use of technology has been a huge factor. Do you think the change is overall good, or does it remain to be seen?
“I have a dream,” Dr. Martin Luther King proclaimed.
Our dreams are essential for well-being. So many of us were both comforted and buoyed by Dr. King’s speeches. He helped all of us feel saner, more human, more fair and at the same time, hopeful of better days. We all have to carry dreams. Dreams give us a vector, an angle a direction for life. They propel us to higher ground. They give us a reason to struggle. They help us feel bigger than our sometimes petty selves. It is with that spirit, that the following dreams are offered. If we don’t at least consider them, the likelihood of them happening is pretty small.
Here are some of the same scenarios listed above, but with a more positive outcome to them.
Early childhood care strengthened… The best-case scenario would be that early childhood is treated as a “highly sensitive period” in life and that we allocate significant resources and expertise to strengthen available resources. As recommended in the Report to the Nation from the Commission on Children at Risk, we ought to empower service and organizations, philanthropists, scholars, families, seniors and state and federal governments to implement to create a climate where educational assets and mental and social health is optimized for the next generation.
School testing gets smarter… The types of both national and state testing violate most of what we know about what makes for success in life. Qualities like perseverance, optimism and emotional intelligence prove to be just as critical indicators of likely future success as a single test score. We ought to include more humane assessments that value integrity, concern for sustainable environments, teamwork, social conscience, creativity and love of learning. These are just as valuable as the ability to read. Nobel Laureate Archer Martin said it was his love of learning that kept him going; that ensured that his dyslexia never held him back.
Positive Curriculum changes… In a better world, school slow down the on-line components and retain the “in-person” social climate needed for real life. At school we would see physical education, more life skills, more career options offered and better arts curriculum. This would lead to more student satisfaction and eventually better support of public schools in America.
Managed health care evolves… In a positive scenario, many new options are introduced that empower the patient. Ideally, patients work with “health coaches” who provide on-going life style support. Offering them drugs is not empowering; it’s a temporary solution. Long-term, something’s got to change internally, because the brain will adapt to the drug and it will lose its effectiveness. Better in-person support will help change lives.
Widespread support for change in prisons rehab… As you saw earlier, many prisons are becoming aware of the rehab necessary for the real world. But to get the results done in the timely way, the programs have to be enriched. Ideally, we make the nationwide commitment to enrich the ex-cons to get them up to speed.
Greater positive changes in elder care homes… This is another area where changes are on the way. With good, visionary planning, more and more care centers and homes for elderly become resources to the community. Digital technology and a wealth of experience can bring out a lifetime of positive resources and use them in a fast-moving society.
We can all have dreams; and it doesn’t make them invalid if they are low in probability. That’s actually what makes them so sexy—they’re the winning numbers on the Powerball lottery or the perfect mate at e-harmony.com. But instead of it being an artificial game, real lives are at stake. The lives to consider are those of you, your family and the next generation.
Dream on and do your part. The dream may be wild, but it’s still worth pursuing.
The Most Likely Scenario
You might have guessed it: the most likely scenario is somewhere in between the nightmare and the dream. Why? It’s difficult to gain consensus on policies that seem more extreme, whether they’re long-term beneficial or not. But the important thing about these scenarios is that they’re not decided yet—no one has cast these in stone.
You can influence the decision-makers. In fact, any leaning towards a positive scenario may be dependent on it. Without your overt support, we may find ourselves falling precipitously towards the negative worst-case scenario.