My wife tells her senior students that without imagination there can be no progress. I agree with her. There can be no progress for us as individuals, or for us as a society or world, without imagining something better. So far as we know, humans are the only creatures on the planet who can imagine.
I have read that students who have a “future story” – a hopeful idea of what their future will be – tend to have better futures, even if those futures don’t match up with the exact details of their future story. And thinking about the future has benefits even in the short term…
It’s good for students to consider possibilities – even if it take them a while to get to something specific…
When students are able to write about their futures, possibilities open up. Many students these days (and many adults as well) have given into hopelessness. As the British background characters on Ted Lasso say, “It’s the hope that kills you.” But Ted and I don’t agree with that.
We need to give students chances to write about possible futures for themselves. It helps create better futures.
Write about what you’d like to be doing in 10 years. Write about your ideal future. What would you do with your life if money wasn’t an issue? What would you do if you had no fear?
All it takes is questions like that to open the floodgates of possibility. To many adults shut students down before they even begin to dream. Muhammad Ali had a teacher who told him he would never amount to anything. After he became the heavyweight champion of the world he took the trophy back to show her she’d been wrong.
We need to give students chance to imagine a better future for all of us. As much as I like science fiction, I sometimes worry we are drowning ourselves in dystopias. As the late Sir Ken Robinson pointed out, our schools are often forced to spend their time forcing students to get better at answer multiple choice questions when they should be learning skills of problem identification, creativity, and problem solving to help deal with any number of crisis our societies and our worlds are dealing with and will be dealing with in the future.
Write a story about a societal or world problem being solved creatively. Write a story about how a current problem is solved in the future. Write a story about how how a problem becomes and opportunity for change. Write an alternate history about the better world that would have resulted from one thing in the past being different.
Writing speculative fiction is more than fantasy and escapism. Writing the right kind of science fiction can change the world. Literally. And it can start when we give students the chance to explore possibilities, even if it’s just bell-ringer writing for the first ten minutes of class.
As I end this year of exploring the Benefits of Writing, I’d like to put forth a possibility. Currently, the system wants many of us who teach writing to ask students to write impersonally, objectively, about proscribed topics that do not interest them in order to meet the demands of a rubric that is designed to force them to pass a writing test.
I don’t know about you, but I do not find that purpose for writing to beneficial for my students. My students don’t see the benefit either.
But given some both topics that allow students to explore the world of ideas, and autonomy to do the exploring, students will discover that writing is so much more than a chore to be completed (or cheated on or chat-botted) to get a grade. They will see that writing can help them know themselves, discover the power of words, recall and deal with their own pasts, have fun, develop their thinking, develop their creativity, process what they learn in school, question the world around them, explore ideas and interests, inhabit different perspectives, make better decisions, and imagine better futures.
Those are not the only benefits of writing, but they are some of them. And until our students see that writing can offer more than points and grades, they won’t fully engage with it. More importantly, they will be going through the motions or avoiding writing, when they should be engaging with it. Writing is one of the best tools we have to develop ourselves as people, and as a people.
We need to believe in the power of writing. We need to help our students believe in it, feel it, and use it.
Have a great school year.
Images via www.mrfitz.com. Created by David Lee Finkle
How do you get students to think about their futures and all our futures? You can connect with me on Twitter @DLFinkle or engage on Facebook at facebook.com/movingwriters to continue the conversation.
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