Our vision of tomorrow’s world deeply affects the world of tomorrow. Is destiny manifest or do we manifest destiny ? This is a question that author David Hicks and his colleagues in future studies are developing an answer to. In his book, Lessons for the Future : The missing dimension in education, the author develops a notion that is at once seemingly self-evident yet at the same time completely foreign to mainstream thinking.
The basic premise is that by thinking about the future and discussing the future, we as humans are better equipped to succeed in the future. Therefore, during the course of our education, we should engage and discuss the future as a topic in and of itself and not simply as an unalterable result of our present actions, a fait accompli by greater forces over which we have no control. In a world that is becoming rapidly polluted hence in which our present actions can have lasting effects that will endure long after the present generation has passed on (nuclear waste, deforestation, climate changes…), it is possibly now more than ever important to begin thinking about the future, in order to act today such that the future we hope for will indeed be the one we create. Lessons for the Future not only advances this concept but supplies thorough, and sound evidence in supporting the claim.
The book itself is a fastidious presentation of the merits of future studies in education, drawing from a wide variety of sources and specialists in the field. For future studies is indeed a field in academia, albeit little known and relatively new (as compared to the study of history for example). Although we may conjure up images of mad scientists and ostentatious think tanks engaged in the somewhat eccentric and cutting-edge art of predicting the future, the field of future studies strives not to predict but rather to influence. As David Hicks explains in a very scientific yet universal language, future studies can be as simple as talking to a group of children about their conception of tomorrow. Do you expect to succeed in life ? Is the world going to be a better place when you are older ?
It is the answers to these questions that give us the insight into the real power of this field and of this book. Hicks cites multiple surveys conducted in both the US and the UK that graph the expectations of the future by different age groups. Sadly, it would seem that at age 14 we reach our optimistic peek in life. The older we get, the less likely are we to believe in our ability to procure good jobs, and to do well in life. In parallel, the studies demonstrate that as we age we tend to believe that we will witness an increase in unemployment, crime and war. Interestingly enough, we are more optimistic about our own personal futures than we are about our collective and global futures.
Thus, perhaps the author has in part proved his hypothesis. For if there is any future that is discussed and treated as a subject at a young age, it is our personal futures, careers and personal wealth that is most often talked about. If we were to talk about the future in collective terms, students may very well end up expressing the will to reverse the pessimistic trends that they increasingly foresee with age, thus enriching their communities and prioritizing cooperation over individualist pursuits of wealth.
But the question remains as to how to integrate future studies into a lifetime of education ? As Wendell Bell states in the foreword “there is a glaring imbalance in educational institutions at every stage of learning and in every country.” This is however yet again a question tackled by Hicks. Beyond merely illuminating the usefulness of future studies, he proposes exercises and suggestions for curricula that can be used by primary, secondary and university educators. These exercises range from questionnaires and drawings to more complex game theory type modeling. The universal application of this system is evidenced through the statistics collected, mostly by other authors who are also experts in the field of futures or sociology.
The pedagogic usefulness of this book is without question. The middle chapters, the heart of the book, contain a value for all readers, teachers, parents and future thinking individuals alike. However, there are chapters in the beginning and in the end that the book could do without. The author provides an example of the importance of future studies drawing on his own personal history, his flirtations with activism, Buddhism, and different careers, and often engages in unnecessary preaching about his concerns for the future and what we can do to prevent these problems. Through personalizing this book, he unfortunately takes away from its merit as a true reference tool for those interested in the field of future studies. However, do not be discouraged, the book is well worth the read.
As a final note, beyond its universality, the richness of this book lies in the fact that it seeks to confirm the age old adage that “the future is whatever we make of it.” If, as the author claims, by simply engaging the future in a more cognizant manner we can in fact influence it such that it heads in a direction that we find more suitable, then studying the future should become akin to studying the past. We at Europe 2020, believe in the power of forward thinking. It is at the core of our hopes for the current phase of the European Construction. Let us put Hicks’ hypothesis to the test, and create a communal idea of what Europe should be in the next twenty years. If the author is correct, this simple exercise which costs us nothing today will be worth its weight in gold in the future. With David Hicks, let’s keep in mind what German philosopher Ernst Bloch wrote in his book ‘Principle of Hope’ : ‘the future is written in no other place than in the creative daydreams of all men’.