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VALLEY WEEKEND | FOR THE KIDS

High Schools Helping Kids Prepare for Future

Educators say futurist curriculum aids Valley youth in gaining perspective on political, psychological and economic trends.

February 22, 1996|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Believe it or not, some school kids in the Valley are studying the future--in much the same way as they study history or current events.

Throughout the Valley, at Chaminade, Monroe, Cleveland and Oakwood high schools, adventurous teachers are assigning books such as "The Millenium Whole Earth Catalogue" and the classic film, "Things to Come."

At Oakwood High in North Hollywood, David Silverberg has been teaching a course in "Futurism" for six years. He says bluntly, "Adults don't like the future anymore. They feel a loss of control. But kids are open."

Clearly identifying himself with the kids, he says of the class reading and video viewing list: "We can arm ourselves. The course is directed toward achieving a greater understanding of possible societal and personal futures."

So kids wade through classic futurist writers such as George Orwell ("1984,") Alvin Toffler ("Powershift") as well as the popular futurists such as directors George Lucas ("THX 1138"), Fritz Lang (the silent movie classic "Metropolis") and even Woody Allen ("Sleeper") as a means of gaining perspective on political, psychological and economic trends.

Silverberg, though quite unusual and provocative, is not the only futurist teacher around. The Los Angeles Unified School District has devised a 10-week course called "Future Studies," which teachers have incorporated into traditional English, social studies or science courses, according to Barbara Golding of the Los Angeles Educational Partnership.

Talking about and researching future trends is important for many reasons, said Golding, not the least of which is to boost awareness of vocational and career options. Also, it helps kids develop the ability to project into the future and evaluate their present actions and their potential consequences.

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There's a nitty-gritty aspect as well. Because of the topic's inherent appeal, teachers can use it to hone kids' problem-solving skills--everything from vocabulary building to complex research. And it is interdisciplinary.

Vickie Decker, a math teacher at Portola Middle School in Tarzana, has her students do three months of research calculating ocean tidal patterns, which are charted and graphed as an algebra assignment. This also becomes a practical means of determining the exact day in May that the class will visit tide pools.

James Monroe High in North Hills offers a class called "The Search for Perfection," in which kids study Huxley's novel "Brave New World" and other classic speculations on what lies ahead, before they play the role of a crazy scientist. According to English teacher Nikki Siercks, "They make a 3-D model of an individual who is a member of their particular perfect society--what he looks like and what he'll be equipped with."

At Cleveland High in Reseda, philosophy teacher Ray Linn pushes the intellectual envelope a bit further. He is author of a forthcoming professional text, "A Teacher's Introduction to Post Modernism," to be published by the National Council of Teachers of English.

He admonishes his Valley students to "worry about what you create," which, he says, "seems to be so negative at first. But it turns out to be fun when they realize that the future is always open, and theirs to make."

DETAILS

* RESOURCES for teachers and parents who want to encourage forward-thinking, or "future oriented," kids:

* "Vision of the Future: Technology and American Society," a 16-page activity plan and teacher's guide, for fourth to eighth grades, free. Published in the Smithsonian Institution's education quarterly "Art to Zoo" edition of March/April 1995. Order by fax, (202) 357-2116.

* "Futurism" is a course overview with book and videocassette list developed by David Silverberg at Oakwood High School in North Hollywood--call him at (818) 752-4434 or e-mail at SpiderSam@AOL.com.

* "The Futurist" is the leading independent scholarly magazine in its field. An annual subscription is $35 and includes membership in the World Future Society. Call (800) 989-8274.

* SMITHSONIAN: You can whisk your kids right through the past, the present and into the future by attending "America's Smithsonian" at the Los Angeles Convention Center. This traveling exhibit, with more than 300 marvels from the institution's collection in Washington, D.C., continues through March 7. Open daily 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tickets are free at the site. Warning: Crowds are huge so get to the ticket booth early if you want to get in.

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