Joann E. Wilson
Gothenburg, NE 69138 USA
Creation of new ideas, products, or services; Volunteer contributions of time and energy; Educational benefits
Supporting Documentation (contact author for more information):
In 1990 Norwegian author, Odd de Presno, envisioned a global kids’ dialog about the future of our planet. His original KIDS-91 project evolved over three years to become KIDLINK. It is a free, grass-roots service, accessible by Internet and associated networks, which has grown to include many electronic mail discussion lists and projects coordinated by adult volunteers. To participate in KIDLINK, a student must be 10-15 years old, and must post an introduction message responding to the four KIDLINK questions: 1) Who am I? 2) What do I want to be when I grow up? 3) How do I want the world to be better when I grow up? and 4) What can I do now to make this happen?
In the fall of 1992, reading KIDLINK introductions from all over the world with her twelve rural school students, Joann Wilson of Gothenburg, Nebraska, noted the repeated theme of environmental concern. KIDLINK’s newest discussion group, KIDFORUM, had just been created to enable teachers to have whole classes participate in KIDLINK. It was to serve as an outlet for works by kids on topics related to the four KIDLINK questions. She worked with another volunteer, the KIDFORUM Coordinator, Lara Stefansdottir of Iceland, to develop a KIDFORUM topic entitled “Environment-2093.”
“Environment-2093″ opened the first day of 1993 and ran for seven weeks. To start this idea exchange between classrooms, students wrote short science fiction works describing the environmental picture they imagined in their respective communities 100 years into the future. One hundred fifty students in 14 schools from Denmark, Iceland, Germany and USA participated.
In the final week of Environment-2093 Lauren Fox, an 11 year old from Ohio, wrote, It…it was interesting to learn what other children think about our planet, Earth…Some of (the messages) made me think of how precious our world is to future generations…I didn’t like the fact that some children thought that the world wouldn’t have a pleasant outcome.”
Moderator Wilson expected some pessimistic forecasts, for in the topic introduction students had been asked if they imagined a picture of doom or a picture of hope. The topic was structured to draw out differing world views. Over the run of the topic, 45% of science fiction works had themes of doom; 55% of the works were hopeful.
However, in light of the fact that KIDLlNK fosters positive thinking and encourages kids to focus on building a better world, Stefansdottir and Wilson became alarmed at the discouraging tone of hopelessness evident in many of the works. They opened that concern for discussion late in January on an adult KIDLINK forum entitled Kidleader.
Kidleader subscribers examined factors influencing the disturbing sense of futility in the student works. While acknowledging that art imitates reality, that sensational news media reports adversely affect student sentiment, and that science fiction often deals in unappealing outcomes, kidleaders, many of them teachers, analyzed *their* part in robbing students of youthful idealism. The discussion resulted in a set of ways to teach students environmental responsibility without generating notions of powerlessness and hopeless inevitability. Suggestions included brainstorming about technological advances and designing curriculum projects to focus on student empowerment such as the “Get Involved” ecological science term project shared by New York educator, Jim Kuhl.
The students who wrote science fiction works for “Environment-2093” with hopeful themes expressed confidence in human potential for making the world better. They envisioned marvelous inventions including elevated smog free platforms, water driven engines, programmable bicycles, and the pollution eating “VacSucker,” as well as responsible environmental policies and personal stewardship, especially through recycling.
In this they were very much like the adult KIDLINKers who participated in the Kidleader discussion. Even in the face of unpleasant reality, both groups wrote of creative solutions and positive, responsible action. Here’s to the next 100 years of global connections and to the future of our planet!