This is an exercise that may help you (self-)evaluate your preparedness for social and ecological storms and investments in the house of modernity. Education 2048 is a thought experiment, or rather a head/heart experiment that was developed by the GTDF collective for a conference in Germany in August 2020. The topic of the conference was utopian visions of the future and we were invited to present what we imagined schools to look like in 2048.
Since education is much broader than schooling, we found that it was problematic to assume that education in 2048 would still happen through schools. We accepted the invitation, but proposed to engage conference participants in a different kind of future-focused activity other than the one that the conference organizers had imagined. We called it the Education 2048 head/heart experiment. Since the conference in Germany, we have used the exercise with several groups.
There are two parts to this head/heart experiment. In the first part, the experiment invites you to imagine a scenario, in the second part, you are invited to consider two sets of questions.
In the first part, the scenario places you on 10th December 2048, one hundred years from the date the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nation’s general assembly. You are in a 3D virtual reality world-skype call where people across the globe have gathered to decide the direction of education after a period of catastrophic events. These events have happened as a result of bad human choices followed by a period where humanity managed to be taught by the consequences of their actions and to co-exist in wiser and healthier ways. In the second part of the experiment, you are invited to consider questions about the scenario and questions related to your affective responses to the experiment itself.
If you accept the invitation to participate in this experiment, please read the whole text, even if it becomes temporarily uncomfortable: pause if and when necessary. Some people relate to this exercise through what Indigenous scholar Gregory Cajete calls the mind of reason (focusing on logical descriptions and accuracy), some relate to it through the mind of metaphor (focusing on the artistic license and movement of the imagination), some relate to it through the body (focusing on physical sensations and neurochemical responses), and some experience the exercise as a mixture of all three modes of relating.
We invite you to pay attention to what is happening in your body. Modern societies tend to suppress emotions and this is an exercise that tries to support you to expand your capacity for “holding space” to process and release them. Holding space means accepting (without endorsing) and being present to what is there, even if it is difficult, painful, irritating or overwhelming, without deflecting, turning away, feeling immobilized or demanding to be rescued from discomfort. We will need to learn to do this more generatively in order to face together the storms that are coming. We need to “grow down” (shed arrogance and perceived entitlements, be grounded and humble), in order to learn to “grow up” to become more accountable and responsible.
It may be useful to use the bus methodology during this exercise. This may be helpful in creating a space where you can see yourself responding to the experiment, one step removed. If resistance comes up, see it as your teacher and ask what could be behind it. Become an observer of your own responses, without investing emotionally in them.
Imagine today is 10 December 2048 and you are participating in a 3D virtual reality world-skype call with the intent to decide how we should educate our children and ourselves after the devastating impact of the events of the past 30 years, which were caused by human greed, arrogance, stubbornness and unwillingness to learn from wrongs, failures and mistakes. For our consultation, it is important that we remember: a) what education is for; b) what the past has taught us; c) what made a difference to get us out of the mess; d) what we know now; and e) what we are still being taught. We will review these together before starting our consultation. There are one billion people on this call, a third of the world’s total population today. We will start by recalling significant events that happened in the last three decades. What you will see next is the text of this presentation only, the associated images and videos are now being transferred to your body implants, please blink twice to accept the files.
Period between 2018 and 2027
The period between 2018 and 2027 was marked by an interruption of our dreams of prosperity-as-consumerism. This period started with school climate strikes, young people seemed to be aware that the path we had chosen was both violent and unsustainable, they already knew that their generation would not have the same opportunities for social mobility that their parents and grandparents enjoyed, nor the stability and well-being afforded by their class in relatively healthy ecosystems. In 2020 the Covid-19 global pandemic hit, followed by several outbreaks of different strains of the virus. Racial tensions and civil unrest also marked this period, especially in highly divided and volatile countries like Brazil, Hong Kong, UK and the USA.
From 2022 we had a mounting economic crisis, mass unemployment, mass homelessness, mass migration, localized famines, and the intensification of social and racial inequalities. Reactionary populist governments were democratically elected all over the world by harnessing the power of hyper-political polarization and fuelling antagonism and resentment. Extreme weather, flooding and catastrophic forest fires became routine. Pollinator populations collapsed globally in 2026. In 2019 we thought there was a silver lining to all this as we celebrated our collective efforts when we registered the smallest size of the hole in the ozone layer on record, but in 2020, the hole appeared deeper and larger than it was first discovered. For a few months of that same year, carbon emissions noticeably dropped in places where coronavirus lockdowns were observed. At the beginning of the pandemic there was much excitement that people’s attitudes towards fossil fuel travel had changed forever, but very soon emissions soared again. By the 2027 alpine skiing was only possible in the Himalayas.
In this 10-year period, schools became even more obvious sites of political and economic struggle. Governments in many countries, including the USA and the UK, forbade teachers to talk about racial privilege or the complexities of gender and sexual identities. Teachers were also prohibited to present anti-capitalist perspectives or perspectives that challenged accounts of history authorized by the state. However, despite political disputes, the protection of unrealistic economic interests was still prioritized in the curriculum: at large, schools were still teaching a learner centered, competencies based, technology and market-oriented curriculum driven by hyper-individualistic metropolitan consumerist values and principles. By this time, curriculum, examination and school social services had largely been outsourced to private companies. In 2026 a well-known corporation in the US that had been lobbying the government for decades offered a more cost-effective option for online global education and teacher training. They standardized a global curriculum powered by artificial intelligence, causing mass teacher unemployment. They saved trillions in tax dollars but could not re-invest in social services because the funds needed to be allocated to attempt to offset the historical level of debt created by the coronavirus stimulus packages. This shift in capital created the single greatest increase in wealth inequality in historical records, with the top 0.01% amassing the equivalent net worth of 90% of the world’s population.
Period between 2028 and 2037
The period between 2028 and 2037 was marked by the real threat of human extinction. By 2028 the Amazon forest was down to a third of its size; the remainder teetered on the edge of becoming a biologically inert desert, similar to the exhausted agricultural fields of the US corn-belt. Ironically, the market share of Jeff Bezos’ Amazon company was worth a third of the total global wealth. The average temperature rose 2.47 degrees Celsius across the globe, previous mitigation efforts had been too little too late. All permanent ice in the Arctic was lost. Children read about polar bears and many other arctic species in the new histories of extinction; sad companions to the images and stories of mammoths, saber-tooth tigers, and giant land sloths that filled children’s books in the late 20th Century.
All permafrost in Siberia melted, releasing methane and unleashing viruses and fungal strains that we were not immune to or prepared for. We had extensive desertification that led to massive crop failures that, in turn, caused the global food supply chain to break down. This resulted in the worst global famine ever experienced. There were also disastrous typhoons, hurricanes and tsunamis making large areas uninhabitable. Many people were displaced. Borders were closed and militarized because of mass migration. Most states failed to sustain their welfare safety net and many people were left without any government support for healthcare, sanitation, or waste management. Pensions and unemployment benefits also became a thing of the past as systems of wage-labor foundered, and mid-human-range, future forecasting had become impossible. Reactionary dictatorships were installed. Governments used mass surveillance and AI technology, wrapped in the rhetoric of “maintaining law and order”, to sweep away civil rights and freedoms and control citizen mobility. Torture and genocide against people and groups perceived as inconvenient increased at an alarming rate and became a normalized extension of police and military tactics. Nuclear and biological-weapons were unleashed in wars.
Five factors contributed to unparalleled loss of human life during this time: 1) unprecedented famines; 2) major viral and fungal outbreaks; 3) a global mental health crisis; 4) incurable new diseases caused by combined toxins and micro-plastics in food and water; 5) violent civil conflicts, including state sanctioned violence, terrorism and police brutality. Needless to say that Black, Indigenous and racialized populations were disproportionately targeted by state-sponsored violence and suffered the most in these events due to unparalleled levels of inequality. It is important to acknowledge that many of these people and communities had been experiencing these levels of trauma for generations, and had been sounding the alarm for ages, but most of us were indifferent and focused on trying to sustain our way of life in spite of all evidence that it was deadly.
Online schooling became unviable in 2033, and the corporation that had taken over global online learning went bankrupt in 2034, although the C-suite executives received very generous payouts, bonuses, and severance packages prior to dissolution. The global economy completely collapsed in 2036, a year after Elon Musk started a human colony on Mars.
Period between 2038 and 2047
In the period between 2038 and 2047, we finally accepted that we were part of the problem and that we needed to get our shit together, grow up and engage with our messy and painful reality to avoid being wiped out. The Mars colony tragically failed in 2038 destroying our hopes for life on another planet. In 2039, a massive event made us all suddenly realize that we had messed up big time. We realized that we were addicted to arrogance, consumption, unaccountable autonomy and control. We realized that we needed mass re-habilitation. We grasped the gravity of the fact that we were only 3 billion people left on the planet. We understood that we had caused the extinction of 70% of all species – and the extinction of all life in whole parts of the Earth – and we were extremely close to causing our own. We recognized that planet Earth is alive and we are part of its metabolism, not the center of the world, or a special species. We also worked out that humanity is capable of both horrendous and wonderful things. We started to face our own and others’ humanity in all its complexity and to be taught by the human wrongs we had inflicted upon each other, upon other beings and upon the planet.
Then we all had to learn quickly, collectively and without schools or moral manifestos:
- to heal intellectually, emotionally, relationally, economically, ecologically and politically;
- to abolish colonial and racial violence, inequality, hierarchies of worth and separations;
- to center the Earth and de-center our egos, identities, human narratives and projections;
- to age and to die in generative ways;
- to care for everything and everyone, rather than compete;
- to plant, to repurpose technology, to compost, to repair and to regenerate everything;
- to prioritize the common good for humans, non-humans and the planet;
- to use words and conversation carefully and wisely, with humility and maturity;
- to own up, to sober up, to clean up, to grow up, to show up and to exist differently.
So today, 10 December 2048, we convene to decide how to educate our children for human responsibility considering the needs of the next seven generations of humans and non-humans alike. We need our children to learn from human wrongs: from the violence and unsustainability caused by humanity, from our repeated mistakes of the past so that they can only make different mistakes in their future. From the day children are born, their education should prepare them to become healthy and wise elders and good ancestors for all relations. We cannot afford to repeat history. Today we decide how to do this together, as a planet-wide human and non-human family[i].
This is the end of the scenario. In the second part of this head/heart experiment, you are invited to engage with two sets of questions organized in two groups: .‘dipping-in’ questions that invite you to engage with the scenario itself, and ‘deeper-dive’ questions that invite you to engage with the way you engaged with the scenario.
- What do you think was the event that made us realize we needed another way to (co)exist?
- Recall a memorable moment in your own process of realization. What sensations are in your body? What did you grieve losing the most? · What was the rehab process like? For you and those around you? What did it entail? Was it painful? Uncomfortable? Difficult? What are you most grateful to have experienced?
- What motivated us to keep going on an unsustainable and violent path until 2039? How were policies, technologies and market economies used to support violence and unsustainability?
- What do you remember wanting most during that time? What sensations can you feel in your body when you recall this desire?
- How might your habits of seeking and/or demanding validation for your knowledge, work or positive self-image have been part of this motivation?
- What motivated us to keep going on a different path after 2039? What healthier and wiser forms of organization and economies emerged? How was technology used to support a different form of (co)existence? Had your own needs, dreams and desires changed?
- Who were the people who survived? Who perished? Why?
- Did you know the answer to the question above? How come you knew?
- What did we fail to learn up to 2018 that could have prevented the most harmful events of the next two decades?
- Knowing what you know in 2048, if you could go back to 2020, what advice would you give to the people who are about to face the events that unfolded? After giving general advice, choose one person and make a special message for them.
Diving deeper questions:
- What affective responses emerged during this exercise? Anxiety? Sadness? Resistance? Relief? Exhaustion? Excitement? Hope? Hopelessness? Anger? Frustration? Defensiveness? Loss? Grief?
- Did you manage to observe these responses without trying to interpret them and without investing emotionally?
- The collapse described in the scenario has already happened for many people and other species. In many cases, the “collapse” they face on a daily basis is what maintains the comforts, enjoyments, securities and conveniences of those of us who have so far been protected from it. How do you relate to your own complicity in violence and unsustainability? How does your body respond when you reflect on this?
- How did your body respond to the portrayal of humanity as arrogant, stubborn and unwilling to learn? Who would likely see humanity from this perspective? Did you witness a desire for humanity to be portrayed only as beautiful, brave, wise, loving and kind? Do you hope that alternative leaders, groups or movements will have the answers to our predicament? What could these desires and forms of hope prevent us from acknowledging, addressing and experiencing?
- Did you witness a desire for hope in the continuity of our current system and reassurance that everything would be ok? Who do you think could characterize this desire as a form of self-infantilization? Or as a form of harm?
- To what extent are you able to hold space for the aspects of yourself that you or other people would not consider pretty? How much time and energy do you invest in seeking and/or demanding validation for your knowledge, work or your positive self-image? Why is this important? What do you (and others) gain and/or lose with this? What insecurities could be driving this behavioral pattern? What sensations have arisen in your body when engaging with these questions?
- How prepared are you to hold space for difficult (painful, overwhelming, irritating) issues and conversations without wanting to be rescued/coddled or demanding quick fixes? How can you expand your capacity for that? From whom or what might you need to learn to do that?
- What affective work do you think will be necessary for people to choose a path of relational maturity, sobriety, humility and accountability where we can face storms together without hurting (or killing) each other or further harming (or fully destroying) the planet and other non-human beings? What do you feel is necessary now for this to start to happen?
- What realizations (if any) have you had with this exercise?
- As we presented this experiment in different educational contexts, we observed and mapped the four clusters of responses below. Which cluster or clusters best resonate with your responses? Why do you think this is the case?
Relief (with the articulation of catastrophe), anger (at our inability to see this already happening), excitement (that we are finally talking about it), scepticism (in relation to the awakening presented as a conclusion) [depth orientation]
Surprise (with the exercise), anxiety (with the unfolding catastrophe), hope (with the conclusion), concern (for the length of time it could take for solutions to be found) [breadth/solution orientation]
Resistance (to the exercise), opposition (to the existence of the exercise), fear (of hopelessness caused by the exercise), despair (with the scenario), overwhelm (with the complexity of the situation), denial (of being affected or complicit) [avoidance state]
Bewilderment (at the scale of the problem), disorientation (with your own priorities), un-ease (with leaving this open), feeling ill-equipped (to take next steps), exhaustion (“open heart surgery” feeling) [rupture state]
We strongly recommend the text and exercise “co-sensing with radical tenderness” as a way to wrap up the experiment in a generative way, especially for those who feel bewildered and dis-oriented.
This head/heart experiment heeds the Indigenous insight that amongst all other animals, humans are the youngest, and amongst all human cultures, the modern culture is the youngest and is caught up in a loop of immature, irresponsible and self-infantilizing behaviours. This experiment issues an invitation for all humans, but in particular, modern humans, to wake up, to smarten up, to step up, to own up, to clean up, to grow up and to show up differently as the planet and humanity within it face enormous challenges.
See also this UNESCO background paper for the Futures of Education initiative written by the Common Worlds Research collective “Learning to become with the world: Education for Future Survival” (2020)