How will the future judge us?

How will the future judge us?

October 16, 2017

In the field of education, the past, present, and future are all critically important aspects of purposeful and relevant learning. Through learning, we seek to understand our past, to live in the present, while preparing to act in the future. To that end, we often speak of education as the preparation of the young to undertake jobs that do not exist, using knowledge and technologies that we do not yet possess, to solve problems of which we are not yet aware. This is indeed a daunting challenge.

There is another element of this future-focus that is perhaps underemphasized at times. While living in the moment, we tend to carry a smug sense of superiority about the past. We now know what our forebears did not. The exponential growth of human knowledge has spawned many technological enhancements, enjoyed by many around the world, making possible lifestyles that were the stuff of speculative fiction in the past. We also look with a highly critical 'modern' eye at the manifest ignorance and misjudgments of previous generations: how could they have thought and acted in such ways? But what of our own shortcomings and short-sightedness? How might future generations judge our actions and inaction in a world that will inherit our mistakes?

There are tests that we can apply to our current actions and attitudes that might assist in anticipating how we might be judged in the future. In 2010, Emeritus Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah, a British-born, Cambridge-educated philosopher of Ghanaian heritage asked what our descendants might condemn us for in future years (Appiah, 2010). Citing compelling evidence from history, he pointed to three key signs that might suggest we are on the path towards a harsh judgement:

  1. We already know something is wrong, having heard reasoned arguments against a particular practice or attitude;
  2. We offer counterarguments that invoke tradition, human nature, or practical necessity; and
  3. We engage in strategic ignorance, by avoiding uncomfortable truths that might force us to change our habits or lifestyles.


These arguments all suggest the pervasive presence of a form of moral inertia that may delay or impede taking appropriate action until it is either imperative for survival or forced upon us by changing circumstances.

Adopting a future-orientated perspective to teaching and learning is considered to be indispensable for schools in the 21st century. If our hindsight serves any useful purpose at all, it should be to teach us to avoid the largely self-evident logical and moral fallacies embedded in the attitudes described by Professor Appiah. Doing the 'right' thing, with the future in mind, requires vision, willpower, and effort. The challenge is to ensure that our children and their descendants are beneficiaries of our foresight, not judges of our folly.

Dr. Malcolm Pritchard
Head of School


Appiah, K. A. (2010, 26 September). What Will Future Generations Condemn Us For? The Washington Post. Retrieved from

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