On Teaching Kids in a Post-Factual World

Some say we live in a post-factual world. I think this is true, but that it’s not at all new. It’s as old as the belief that Earth is the center of the Universe — even older than that.

So why all the fuss in the wake of events between 2000 and 2016? Or changes that began as far back as the 1960s and 70s?

Power. Knowledge is power.

Those who have power use their knowledge to keep it. Those who don’t, use different knowledge. Most of the time, this different knowledge truly is different. This allows us to talk about it — reasonably, civilly, with open minds and open hearts.

Increasingly, however, the same knowledge — based on the same events, objects, actions, and conditions — may represent truth, partial truth, alternative truth, and falsehood — and carry with it the force of law.

This is tough for all of us because it’s tough for our sense-making, truth-seeking brains. It’s also the best reason I can think of to crank up our empathy and treat each other with more kindness, more patience, and more compassion.

Rather than a post-factual era, I believe we live in an era of factual complexity — and that we always will because we always have.

We perceive the world as being more complex today than it was once upon a time. But I think this is a fairy tale we tell ourselves to make us feel like there’s a safer world we could somehow get back to. Life has always been challenging regardless of era or circumstance.

We all need to feel safe. Yet another reason to treat each other better than we do right now — or ever have in the history of our species.

When it comes to educating our kids, we need to provide preparation that accounts for the complexity of the world they live in and the pace of complexity as it accelerates faster and faster.

Why the acceleration? Changes in technology and population, I think. There are more of us in the world and more ways for us to interact with each other — especially with those who are different from us.

One more reason, I think, to look differently upon each other than we do these days, to focus not on our differences but on our similarities.

When we teach kids about anything from here on out to as long as we last, we’ll do better by them if we keep in mind the powerful global forces people and technology.

I think kids would also benefit if we kept in our hearts something President Kennedy said at a time 50-some years ago when it seemed our world might come apart:

“In the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.”