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How Do We Prepare The Young?

Ahmed Afzaal

For the last fourteen years, I have taught at a small liberal arts college in the American Midwest. Ever since my “awakening” to the scale and scope of our global predicament in the summer of 2012, I have wondered about the meaning of my vocation in a time like this. Specifically, I have been experiencing the following dilemma: On the one hand, I want my students to know the full catastrophe of what is going on in the world so they are not caught off guard when the inevitable happens. On the other hand, I find myself deliberately holding back much of what I know, mainly because I don’t believe I can provide the emotional support they are going to need after I have lifted the curtain all the way up. As I see it, the dilemma results from my assumption that I have to do everything by myself, even though this task—educating the young about the scale of the predicament and taking care of their emotional needs—is clearly a communal responsibility. In a college setting, the responsibility can only be met through a collaborative, multi-disciplinary effort, preferably with the full support of administrators.

I read Jem Bendell’s Deep Adaptation paper when it was first released in July 2018. The paper confirmed what I already knew, but it did more than that. It provided a vocabulary for talking about our predicament in a way that does not lead to the despair of inaction. The Deep Adaptation approach offers a way forward in an otherwise hopeless situation, and I am immensely grateful that someone had the wisdom to develop and share this perspective.

Given the dilemma I have described above, and given the new approach that Deep Adaptation suggests, the question that is front and center for me is as follows: How do we prepare the younger generation so as to maximize their welfare and well-being? In other words, how do we create the conditions in which they can look into the abyss without falling into it? In more practical terms, how do we bring the Deep Adaptation into our institutions of learning, or, alternatively, how do we bring our students into the Deep Adaptation network? Since I teach 18–22 year olds, this is the demographic whose welfare and well-being I am most interested in, even though students younger than 18 are also in need of appropriate guidance.

Being acutely aware of the fact that no one can do any of this alone, I am inviting college and university professors from any and all disciplines to get together and engage with the issue of Deep Adaptation as it relates to preparing the younger generation. I know that much of what is being currently taught in our institutions is rapidly losing its real-world value, and that it is imperative that we re-examine our curriculums and pedagogies and bring them into alignment with the likely needs of our students in the coming years and decades. At this point, however, all I am suggesting is merely a direction, not a specific destination. The invitation is to come together in the spirit of inquiry and curiosity, to explore the needs and possibilities in a collaborative manner, and to do the preliminary work necessary for figuring out specific goals, strategies, and tactics. Working together, we may be able to create a new path in this wilderness.

My invitation is primarily addressed to those who teach at the college or university level (aka the post-secondary or third-stage education), but it also extends to anyone who is associated with higher education in any capacity. If you are interested, please respond to this invitation by commenting on this blog post, in the Deep Adaptation Forum, or in the Deep Adaptation Facebook group. You can also contact me directly at

Author Bio:

Ahmed Afzaal is an associate professor in the Religion department at Concordia College, Moorhead, MN.




deep adaptation, education, educators, resilience, students, young adults

Comments (2)

  • Ahmed: I believe the most important support we can provide (especially to the demographic you’re teaching) is to listen to them, rather than tell them; that’s likely to be the best way to create a safe place to voice their fears, explore their uncertainties, and feel they’re not alone. In a given class, as I’m sure you know, there is going to be a wide range of knowledge and fears. Thanks for your blog–as well as your feelings of wanting to protect the young. Even much younger children often know much more than we adults give them credit for—and their imaginations and feelings they are unique often make them feel alone.

  • Beautiful questions and invitations, Ahmed.
    As a follower and practitioner of the methods recommended in Parker Palmer’s books (including “Courage to Teach”), I know that integrity and authenticity are the essentials. Students know when teachers don’t believe what they are saying and deserve to know what their teachers struggle with. And administrators must support updating curriculum in a way that acknowledges the transformation of the world.

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