Looking Ahead

By Jess Hill

January 2021

“Human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability ...” 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

It is difficult to examine our flaws. To linger and really take in the shadows of our character. We have witnessed a dark chapter of the American Experiment this month. We cannot rationalize the acts of violence that led to a loss of life and that defy the values we uphold as a school community. 

At times like these, we may be tempted to move too quickly to something less disturbing and painful. We understand that we are living in a historic time, but we would much rather see it in the rearview mirror. Professor Hasan Kwame Jeffries suggests that our study of history should not follow the narrative of a Disney movie, however. He warns against making it neat and tidy, such as a timeline where “Villains are easily spotted, suffering never lasts long, heroes invariably prevail, and life always gets better.”

In reality, human progress has many fits and starts, long dry spells, and sharp turns. If our story was only one of the past or present, I am not sure how we would inspire and innovate and learn new things. The word hope may have been buried long ago. Thankfully, humans are predisposed to look ahead and plan for the future. According to scientists, “Our brains are wired to be predictive.”

And therein lies the rub. It is difficult to see the big picture as we have simultaneously lost our ballast of normal time during a pandemic. So much has changed on every front, not to mention within our own lives. We stay at home to stay safe, faced with the uncertainty outside our door. We cannot prepare for each new twist, which works against our biological instincts to survive. As one scientist described, “our ingrained nature counts survival as action, prediction, and planning.” 

But our story is much more than what has happened and what is happening. In the business of education, our commodity is futures. We work to predict and create a different tomorrow. Even in the midst of this tumultuous time, every day and year we teach and learn and lay each stone for a better future. It will take years to build it. We won’t have it wrapped up nicely by the end of a Disney movie. We are in this thing for the long haul. 

As we contemplate our flaws while also cultivating the inspiration to heal the wounds, our hope for progress becomes profound. We no longer rely on the “wheels of inevitability” referenced by Dr. Martin Luther King. With a focus on the long journey ahead, I am reminded of Teaching Tolerance editor Julia Delacroix’s thoughts on our past. “Progress is undeniable,” she writes. "But it wasn’t inevitable. It certainly wasn’t continuous." We have to work hard and do hard things. 

As a school, we will continue to send the message that we are here for each other, and we belong to each other in this time and every time. If the greatest darkness comes before the light, then that light is focused on our students as they enter the world, flaws and all. And I predict their work will be to build a better future. And the world will be the better for it. 

“Midnight is a confusing hour when it is difficult to be faithful. … Our eternal message of hope is that dawn will come.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.