Russell Z. Springer
Newton Teachers' Association, Massachusetts
The Question of Control
Here in this land of beauty, on this day in the year 2001, we remember
events that shaped our present reality. We come here both to struggle
with the reality of the past and also to keep working towards creating
a better future. I have read that there was a terrible war and that
Nature was twisted and used for
the desire of men. I have heard that people experienced tremendous suffering and pain. I was not yet born at this time and did not experience these events, but here the truth of that past reality is fresh around me. When I leave here I will take that truth away with me and keep it forever. I think a great deal about
I am a caretaker of the future. I am a teacher and I take my work very seriously. My job is to help young people educate themselves so that they can succeed as individuals in a society. To this end, I instruct them in science and history. However, my true goal is to ensure the future survival and success of our species. My definition of success includes the ability to live in peace and to have compassion for one another. Our species must learn to problem-solve together and to cease brutal conflict. If we do not learn to do this, we will not survive. I believe that our entire planet's future will be the direct result of the education and development of our young.
As a science teacher, I believe that the students must take into account
the lessons of history as they practice this subject. Science is
both the understanding of and the manipulation of Nature. However,
we manipulate Nature at our peril. Nature has existed without humans
and may do so again. There is a belief
that Nature exists as a tool for humanity to use as we wish. This is not the case. We live as a part of Nature. It takes only a small sample of Nature's power, such as a flood or tidal wave, to remind us of our place.
Many people think that our science is supposed to help us tame nature
or control it and bend it to our will. If we could right now, would
we regulate the weather, have a day today that was warm enough and not
too hot? Perhaps a small touch of rain in the morning and clear skies
in the afternoon? Would we
consider the possible consequences of such weather control? What about the ability to stop an earthquake by pressing a button? Or should we create our children with green eyes by controlling their genetic attributes? Why not insert computer chips into our brains?
These scientific decisions may confront us. The future does not yet exist; so many amazing technological possibilities face us. When we try to look ahead at these future possibilities, our attempts are called science fiction or fantasy. This is an appropriate year to refer to a movie called 2001, A Space Odyssey
from the book of the same name. The author, Arthur C. Clark, is a scientist, famous for his invention of the communications satellite in 1945, a technology that has aided both the peaceful sharing of information and also made possible the movement of armed troops and missiles from a distant shore.
Please forgive me for talking about fiction and a work of entertainment
on such an occasion as this, one that warrants such a devotion to the truth.
My fellow countrymen perhaps overly value entertainment and so it has become
very important to our culture and perhaps even to our future. Some
of our young people
even get their first historical perceptions from it. I certainly remember the first time I ever saw the film, 2001, A Space Odyssey. The film begins with a tribe of early humans, still ape-like, fighting with another tribe for control of a resource--a watering hole. One of these creatures, barely able to stand upright,
discovers a terrible invention--a large bone which he uses for the first time as a club to kill another of the opposing tribe. He has utilized a part of Nature for his own brutal ends. In triumph he throws this new piece of technology into the air where it becomes a spacecraft, the symbol for the new technology of our
The ending of the film shows how humanity as a species is able to make the next leap to a higher state of consciousness. The movie ends with this new consciousness symbolized by a baby in space-- a star child. The author seems to have a hope that our species can advance beyond simple killing, or complicated technological killing, to achieve a higher state of being.
I believe that this is the challenge that now faces us as a species.
How are we to achieve this higher state of consciousness? In the
film, our evolution is brought about because of an alien, an external force.
It is a rather easy solution coming as it does from this work of fiction.
In reality we have no such benevolent
alien to force us to become a peaceful and nonviolent species. We must achieve this on our own.
History is filled with blood and violence. Like an ocean, the violence washes over our record of human events receding and then coming back to cover us again. Yesterday the Roman armies and the first World War, today Bosnia and the Middle East. It seems that violence is a part of our Human Nature.
Also part of our Human Nature is our desire to know and to create.
Science is considered our right, our way of bettering the world.
It comes from within us as our ideas and observations. However, does
science better us? Does it make us more human in an evolved sense?
Will it help to stop the tide of
bloodshed from engulfing us again? We build dams and defenses against the high waters, the tidal waves, the floods of our natural world. We try to predict and control these events. So also do we try to manipulate and predict the course of human activities. Are we successful? Will we be?
Our Human Nature may have within it the need for these violent urges.
Our social science strives to understand and control this, our own Nature,
We use civilization, social behavior, morality, rules, and religion as
tools to manipulate our sometimes hidden urges and drives. This raises
an important question:
if it is dangerous to tamper with the Natural world, then surely it must be equally hazardous to manipulate our own Human Nature. This concern troubles me most. However, it does not stop me from urging my students to use diplomacy to solve their conflicts rather than brute force.
The future of our species depends upon our ability to raise ourselves
to the next level of human development. Science will play a role
in this development. Our science must be used to further our peaceful
cooperation or we will destroy ourselves. Will we be able to control
ourselves and how will we do so? In the classroom, as in the world
outside, these questions underlie our daily routine. We still do
not have satisfactory answers.