Education Matters: Young minds make the call

Glendale News Press

Editor's Note: Numerous instances of plagiarism have been discovered in Dan Kimber’s “Education Matters” column, which ran in the News- Press from September 2003 to September 2011. In those columns where plagiarism has been found, a For the Record specifying the details will be appended to the piece.

In one of my cabinets at school I'll soon be asked to vacate is an entire shelf of notes for something I call, "Human Survival."

It's an end-of-the-year activity that I do with my students after all of the testing is over, and it is my very favorite week of the entire year.

I've written about it before in previous columns, and with the volume of notes I've saved from this activity, I've thought of one day writing a book about 35 years of young adults struggling to create a new world when their old world (Earth) has been destroyed.

It's what we in the education biz call "a simulation activity" that gets the kids to role play and put themselves into a situation rather than just reading about it. This simulation begins with the aftermath of a thermo-nuclear war that has extinguished all life on our planet with the exception of each of my classes.

They have become passengers on a space ship that escaped the final holocaust and are about to land on an Earth-like planet with the chance to start life anew.

How will they govern themselves? What rights will they insist on having? What seeds will they plant to start life over for themselves and create a better life for generations to come?

Some of you reading this might be wondering why I would offer up the deliberations of a bunch of 17-year-olds on such weighty subjects.

Compared with we older and wiser folk, these teenagers lack the understanding, the depth of learning, the logical thought process — I mean, really, who cares what they think?

After more than three decades of teaching that age group, I think I have an answer to that question: It is precisely because they don't "know" a lot of things that they bear listening to. Their minds aren't yet "made up" and hence more open to possibilities. Their uncertainties outweigh their certainties, their questions outnumber their answers.

They have not yet decided how the world and all the people in it are. They will soon learn that that is the domain of older people who are more practiced at sounding authoritative and self-satisfied in having figured out what life is all about.

What underlies this assignment is the notion that the human experiment on Earth was a dismal failure, and my students are asked to rethink their most basic assumptions about how governments work, how people interrelate, the role of religion, the importance of family, the value of education, the need for money, the ownership of guns etc.

All of their rules and customs and habits and beliefs were in for a rethinking as well. The kids found themselves caught between embracing and wanting to maintain the good that they brought with them from Earth, while at the same time laboring to rid themselves of some of the bad baggage they carried as well.

And so the question, "What to discard and what to keep," became paramount. What to do with the other space ship coming from another part of Earth and scheduled to arrive after a year that their colony has managed to situate itself?

Will the newcomers be required to abide by the rules of the people who came first, or will the "natives" need to widen their definition of family and include the newcomers and adjust to the changes they bring?

What will they do with people who refuse to work; with people who will not abide by the rules; with people who lose interest in the process of making the rules? What will they do differently to avoid the fate of Earth?

This year's juniors have come up with some incredible suggestions, things I've never heard before in literally hundreds of simulations I've observed. That will be the topic of next Friday's column, and I think you'll find it quite interesting.

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