An open letter to the children I will teach and the ones I won’t
Your future will be different to mine.
Well for one, you’re at least half my age. In the half you missed, incredible things have happened that seem normal to you and thus we see the world in different ways. This is some of what you missed:
AIDS was discovered in 1981 and PCs were invented; it’s hard to imagine a world without either of them now.
1985 was when we discovered a hole in the ozone layer; nobody talks about it anymore. I wonder if it fixed itself?
1987 was the first time a criminal was convicted using DNA; consider the enormity of this for a moment – there would be no CSI and unemployment in the acting profession would be sky-high.
1989 saw the Berlin wall fall, this was followed a year later by the freeing of Nelson Mandela and just one more year on from this and the USSR (look it up!)collapsed.
1989 also saw Tim Berners Lee invent the world wide web. It seems madness to consider a comparison between the above listed events and this one and yet you might consider which if these things will more significantly define and shape your lives…what does that say about us/you?
1994 saw women priests being ordained for the first time in the Church of England.
1997 was the year that scientists cloned a sheep and then the world decided that cloning should be illegal. It was also the year the Princess of Wales died and the world mourned one person in unity, in a way that it is hard to describe.
In 1999 two boys, both 18, went into their school and shot dead 13 people and then themselves. The Columbine shooting lead to a media witch-hunt against Goths, heavy metal music, violent computer games and movies, blaming them for desensitising children.
The release of Call of Duty and the Saw movies give you some indication as to the success of the media’s campaign.
For the first year in my teaching career I have taught students who were not alive in 2001, meaning that they are what might be called post 9/11 children. It’s hard to quantify how much the world changed after the attack on the Twin Towers in New York, but certainly for those that witnessed it, it will remain forever etched in their minds.
So whilst these are the highlights and lowlights of things that I know about and you missed, we obviously both missed a whole lot of other things that we will never fully understand. But we have also witnessed together a lot of things that have changed the world.
The way you live your lives is vastly different to how your parents and my parents lived theirs.
I didn’t get a mobile phone until I was 16. It was pretty neat and small, but it could only make calls and send text messages. When I upgraded it a year later I could make the screen flash one of five different colours when I received a call.
Now we can live our lives through the devices in our pockets. Although my parents would argue that the device is invariably in your hands and not in your pockets and that you should look where you’re going a little more often.
It is remarkable how quickly things changed, not to you of course because you know no different. I remember getting the internet for the first time and having a dial-up modem which meant that you couldn’t use the home phone and the internet at the same time. My older sister spent her teenage years hogging the phone line talking to her friends for hours on end. I spent my teenage years doing the same thing, only over MSN Messenger, revelling in the beauty of emoticons and ‘text language’ abbreviations.
You no longer have to sit at a terminal or by a phone line to do what we did. You can look at your friends while you speak to them across the other side of the world. You can send them pictures or videos of what you’re doing at this exact moment. You can let the whole world know where you are and what you’ve done. And the whole world might answer you back.
But as a result you also live in a world where you probably don’t have the patience to read to the end of this letter. You’d rather someone cut out the highlights and tweeted them to you. I know this because I feel myself having to constantly fight off the urge to become like you and receive everything in my life in bite-sized chunks of no more than 140 characters (including spaces).
If I teach you I will be able to do so in two languages; yours and my parents’.
Yours is one based in pop-culture and technology that changes at lightning speed. But as someone who is still relatively young and interested in your world and well-being, I find it quite easy to pick up your funny ways and using them to help you learn more effectively. The language of my parents is incredibly useful though because it helps highlight to you that there is more to the world than what you know of it. There are words and ways that are beyond you at the moment and this (old-fashioned?) language can draw you out of your comfort-zone and into a world which perhaps seems irrelevant to you, but may just shape your future. After all, in order to know where you’re going, you need to know where you came from.
If I teach you I hope to make your lives better in some small way.
It might be that I help you to pass an exam. I don’t mind doing this; in many ways you could argue that this is my job, but I’d rather teach you something that you won’t forget, something that will inspire you. And, if I can’t do that, I hope to help you understand things that you didn’t before and I hope more than anything to make you think for yourself, to find your voice and to find what it is that makes you happy.
Your future will be different to mine.
You will probably end up doing a job that doesn’t exist yet. You might be able to choose what size, shape and colour your children are and know that they will never get sick. You might end up having a pet robot before too long and you may well become part-robot yourself. No doubt you will live longer than any generation before you.
Whatever your future, there are certain skills that will always stand you in good stead. ‘Experts’ have dubbed some of them the ‘skills of the 21st Century,’ but actually they are skills for any life in any time.
Be thoughtful in its most literal sense. Don’t let one idea blind you from the opportunities of others.
Work with others. One great mind will always be great, but ten great minds could change the course of history forever. And the truth is that your mind doesn’t even have to be great. When you work with other people who care about solving the same problem as you, the chances are you will uncover a solution that you might never have dreamed of.
Be creative & unafraid. You can learn to be both of these things. People who tell you otherwise are wrong.
Learn the systems that you are a part of. If your future is immersed in technology, make sure you understand it – lead rather than follow and ensure that the ‘system’ is never more important than what you want it to do for you. That device in your pocket, or upon which you are reading this has more power and technology in it than the spaceship that landed on the moon. Imagine what you could do with it and whatever comes next if you chose to.
If I teach you, I hope to pass on these ideas. If I do not, find someone that will, or do it for yourself.
It is your future.