I started this post earlier on in the week but didn't get to it until today. In my sophomore class, we were doing a wrap-up of Mark Twain's essay "The Lowest Animal", an extremely ironic essay in which he uses biting humor to point out that, because of man's terrible habits, he should actually be listed as the lowest animal, not the highest. We did a quick run-down of what Twain writes about humans: They're greedy, war-mongering, cruel, the only ones who enslave, the only creature that blushes (or needs to, he points out), hypocritical patriots, narrow-minded of other religions. So I asked the class, Is he right? Are we still this way? Without hesitating, they all said yes. This prompted a follow-up: Can we change this? Is there any hope for humanity?
These kids, at fifteen, resoundingly answered No in my one class. No, they did not think there was hope for humanity; no, they did not think we could change. When I asked why, they responded that things had just become really bad and that they'd simply continue in this way because that had become the way of the world. A few still held out hope, pointing out good deeds and suggestions of small movements that could and did turn into larger ones. I mentioned the Greek story of Pandora, where while she let out all the bad in the world, hope still remained.
What got me most upset--and I told them this-- was that in their fifteen years on earth, those who came before them had given them this sort of mindset; we have apparently handed our youth a world full of despair and cruelty, and they don't see it getting any better. I urgently told them they had to because if they didn't see a vision of a better world, it wouldn't happen. I said they made me even more determined to do what I could to change their vision. I want to bring up something hopeful every day to these kids to prove them wrong. God, I hope I can prove them wrong.
My other class took a more hopeful view, with one student even saying that he believes we all have the ability to make the world a better place--we just have to choose to. This is a student who rarely speaks up in class and seems fairly frustrated with school (as only a fifteen year-old boy can be), so I found it deeply heartening to hear him say this. Some did think humanity was destined for apocalypse, but others pointed out that Twain was looking at the world from his perspective and had seen different things than today's youth had--the students in my classroom simply hadn't had the life experience that Twain had, and perhaps Twain had a darker perspective on the world. They did recognize that all great and good movements start with a small group of dedicated individuals...as do the terrible movements. So it can go both ways.
I realize a lot of the discussion could have come from the fact that it's winter. It was 7:30 in the morning and they weren't quite awake, but were tired and resentful of being at school so early. They're teenagers and prone to melodrama. But it made me think--we of generations past have to help create a world that fifteen year-olds see some good in. At least, I think so. If that makes me naive, so be it. So I leave you with a pretty cool, palindrome-like poem. It gives me hope, and I hope it does for you, too. Do try to read it with the audio to get the full gist.
On a final note, here's a link to various ways you can help those in Haiti: