Teaching futurism to children and teens
“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” Plato (BC 427-BC 347) Greek philosopher.
Of course, children are the future. Some children are planned, their parents very much wanted them. Their parents wanted to see what their loved one would look like combined with their own genes, they wanted to create their own offspring: love, care for them and guide them—be proud as they grow. Some children are accidents, their parents weren’t ready or something went wrong in their lives and they must let others care for their children. In any case, that child ends up being raised—sometimes by loving grandparents, aunts or uncles, sometimes friends that can adopt them, sometimes a loving adoptive couple or sometimes a successive string of foster care and modern orphanages. Humans, with the longest period of infancy and growth into maturity of any species, create babies that must be cared for for years and even guided throughout life in some ways after they become adults.
For the most part the education systems of the industrialized nations are functional in that they cover the basics: reading, writing, science, and arithmetic. There is systematic guidance in the form of counselors in schools once a child becomes an adolescent and help is given for the child to develop into their adult career.
Guardians want the best for their children, for them to be happy and successful as they become adults, for them to give back to society through their contributions. Guardians love their children very much, but at some point as that baby grows—the child first adores their guardian then the child looks to its peers, and its society’s ‘popular culture’ as to how they should style their life. Guardians/parents/loved ones do what they can to show what they think the right way in life is, and in the end the child internalizes bits and pieces from all they have read, studied, learned and observed—and they decide what kind of life they want to lead, what kind of person they want to be.
Sometimes they choose the religion, social status or business of the loved ones who raised them. Sometimes they build radically different lives, as they become themselves. No matter what, they become the future.
What is a futurist to do to inspire the next generation? An adult who believes that someday humans will end aging, that nano-technology and free energy will alleviate some of humanities inequality and suffering wants to share these things with children to inspire them—how can they do that? An adult who is a transhumanist, an extropian, a cryonicist, someone who spends their time thinking about the extreme far future, and how to help humans get there wants children to grow up to care about the same things. These futurists feel passionately that their children, or children they know—should feel the same excitement about the future. Just as if you strongly believe in the truth of a religion, or the excellence of a business, or the love of a country or place—you share what you know.
Children thrive on the truth. When you tell a child what to believe, and give negative consequences for not believing what you say ‘using force’—that child internalizes that you are not nice, don’t care about them—and are ‘mean’. When you share what you believe with a child, that engenders trust on their part and lets them open up and share what they in turn believe. When you share what you believe, and your own excitement with what you think could happen in the future—it opens the child’s imagination, it stimulates their own hopes and lets them express their fears. Children want to be listened to, each wants to feel that they are important–that they have genius, that they are special. The adult that educates them, in the classroom or the home, must remember that each child has genius and that the way to acknowledge that so the child feels it—is to encourage them in their interests.
A futurist can share sci-fi books such as Stephen Hawking’s new book for children “George’s Secret Key to the Universe”, or a transhumanist adventure based on what is seen as possible by scientists now –like my book “21st Century Kids”, but they still must encourage the child’s own loves, even if they are radically different. The important thing is to give them the ideas, read to them about the vast amount of time we know of in history and in the future. What will happen in a million years? What happened a million years ago? What do you think would happen to you if cryonics worked? What could you do with a robotic body? Do you think aging should be ended? You can guide them, debate with them, and share your own views—but realize that they will be developing their own, and all of us humans have differences.
There is no age that is too young to engage in a conversation about the future—to have Earth history time-line posters on the wall, to have charts showing the size of the universe, to broaden a child’s outlook—make them realize they might have a chance to see the far future. It is one more balanced way of educating them, along with the language they are being raised in, the history of their culture, basics in math and science—to give them the out-look of the extreme far future. When that baby has passed through the wonder of childhood, and is a teen struggling with coming to terms with being themselves and an adult, you can still engage them in conversations about things you read in the news from the transhumanists, life extensionists, artificial intelligence sites—it is a wonderful way to transcend the popular culture that teens live in, the culture of now-–of fame and beauty. Engaging in conversation with them, listening to their responses, their views, makes them feel like they have genius. Talking about the future, and what experts now see as possible, helps the developing teen to keep in mind something bigger than their current problems. Talking about the future, inspires young children, stimulates their imagination—and then as they grow and become young adults, they’ll still have that foundation within to call on as they must make important and sometimes painful life decisions.
If you are raising children or you know young children, share with them what you think about the future and ask them their views, find their genius and they’ll always have that with them in their life.
Feedback on this article is encouraged at the Immortality Institute forum.