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Fear and Facing the Future

Originally appears in the Summer 2010 issue

“These are the times that try men’s souls,” wrote the American patriot Thomas Paine in the dark December of 1776 when it was uncertain whether the American Revolution would succeed. In J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings, Frodo expresses the same feeling:

Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

Gandalf: So do all that come to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

Each generation has to face the challenge of living in an imperfect world not of their making, and to face their fears about the future that will be left to their children. Yet in many ways, the near-future looms significantly in the lives of both students and teachers. We are confronted daily with stories about economic turmoil and the potential for widespread economic chaos, about the possibilities of pandemic disease, about increasingly unpredictable and even catastrophic weather, about species and habitat loss and extinctions. Of course, none of this is certain: we can’t know the future. But from one grim prognosis to another, the future appears to be risky, and we as educators need to be able to consider how we talk with our students about the world that they will inhabit.

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Dr. Richard Kool is an associate professor at Royal Roads University in Victoria BC. He is interested in the emotional work of environmental education and educators and struggles daily to have the courage to do what needs to be done.