Are we being good ancestors? This thought-provoking question strikes at the heart of what it means to design for the future. What can school leaders do right now, in the present, to ensure that long-term thinking is a pervasive, prominent practice in our schools? How can we overcome the daily short-term pressures of educational settings to take a future-focused approach to teaching, learning, planning, and innovating? And what would schools look like if we modeled seventh-generation leadership in everything we do?
In many ways, school leadership is immediate, present-focused work. Leaders must respond to constantly changing daily circumstances, external pressures, and influences. Never has this immediacy been more clear than the past 18 months, when school leaders have had to constantly adapt and react with real urgency to shifting guidelines, precautions, and safety concerns while continuing to provide a valuable educational experience. But all this quick, reactive decision-making can lead us to neglect long-term thinking—the kind of deliberative planning and forecasting that allows us to create sustainable, nurturing systems that will serve not just today’s students, but the students of the future.
In this episode—in the temporary absence of co-host Tim Fish—Lisa Kay Solomon sits down with Roman Krznaric to dig deeply into the concept of being a “good ancestor.” Roman, a public philosopher, bestselling author, and founder of the world’s first empathy museum, explains how the good ancestor framework can be a foundational guiding principle for school leaders. Starting from the place of asking what legacy our present-day decisions will leave for future generations, Roman traces good ancestor thinking from indigenous cultures to present-day innovations in Canada and Japan. He shares how grounding futures thinking in a deep understanding of empathy can lead people to make radically different choices than they would make under other conditions. And he makes the argument that the way we approach strategic planning may not actually be very future-focused at all.
Roman challenges us to make the future both real and felt by bringing future generations into the room. He examines embodied practices like role play and costuming as ways to envision the future as part of our present communities. Roman also raises the question of approaching long-term thinking as community-building: Why are we able to expand our ideas about impact to people who live at a geographic distance from us, but not to people who will live in our own locations years from now? How will we be remembered by those future residents, and how can our current decision-making have a positive impact on their lives? Roman makes the case that schools are already inherently a long-term setting, providing educational foundations that will serve students 10 or 20 years down the road. But what innovations might we create if we started to think farther into the future, beyond 20 years, and design our schools for generations ahead? And what potential might we unlock in our students right now by starting to teach them to look up from the instant gratification of their curated worlds, and think about the worlds they want their children to inhabit?
Some of the key questions Lisa explores in this interview include:
In This Episode:
About Our Guest:
Roman Krznaric is a public philosopher who writes about the power of ideas to change society. His latest book is The Good Ancestor: How to Think Long Term in a Short Term World. His previous international bestsellers, including Empathy, The Wonderbox and Carpe Diem Regained, have been published in more than 20 languages.
After growing up in Sydney and Hong Kong, Roman studied at the universities of Oxford, London, and Essex, where he gained his Ph.D. in political sociology. He is founder of the world’s first Empathy Museum and is currently a research fellow of the Long Now Foundation.
Roman has been named by The Observer as one of Britain’s leading popular philosophers. His writings have been widely influential amongst political and ecological campaigners, education reformers, social entrepreneurs, and designers. An acclaimed public speaker, his talks and workshops have taken him from a London prison to the TED global stage.
Roman has previously been an academic, a gardener, and worked on human rights issues in Guatemala. He is also a fanatical player of the medieval sport of “real tennis” and has a passion for making furniture.
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