The world has ended. You’re in charge. Go.

Kevin Joffre

The world has ended. You’re in charge. Go.

In light of the Hunger Games: Catching Fire coming out this week, and the overall fascination that our generation has with post-apocalyptic/dystopian storytelling, I’ve decided that GVSU should offer a class next year entitled “Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopian Studies.”

As I envision it, the class wouldn’t be restricted to literature, or even film. Instead, it would serve as an inter-disciplinary training course for surviving an event of apocalyptic proportions. It would ask students to consider the following scenario: “The world has ended, and you and your classmates are charged with surviving and forming a new society. What do you do?”

For the first step, the class would collaboratively research a variety of survival skills, including the methods for building and starting a fire (with a limited store of matches and lighters), hunting or gathering food (including plant an animal identification), constructing shelters from natural resources, and providing basic health care. These skills would not remain strictly theoretical, however; part of their grade would be a practicum that asks them to demonstrate some of these skills (in a safe and controlled environment. We don’t want to set the Ravines on fire).

The second part of the assignment requires students to construct a new society. Consequently, they have the ability to choose the extent to which their new society reflects our current one. Is democracy the best government style when faced with day-to-day doubts about survival? What sort of leadership emerges? What is the first priority for the leadership? What ethical codes and societal norms are acceptable in the new society? No doubt, students will find some topics contentious, even divisive. But in their exploration of these anthropological issues, they will be encouraged to engage in historical research to find out what past societies have done when faced with devastating events. They will constantly be asked to reflect on the state of their society by identifying its strengths and anticipating areas of conflict.

As a subset of the second part of the assignment, students will be asked to relate their major (or area of interest) to the culture that is being formed by answering the following question: “How can your major be useful while constructing this new society?” For example, a political science student may become a political advisor to the leadership, a physical education student may become a hunter or scout, and an English major may be charged with preserving the most important books of our culture. By answering this question, students will learn the historical roles of their major in a culture, as well as the flexibility and interconnectedness of their majors. Of course, no one is boxed-in by their major; a biology student is just as likely as a education student to task themselves with teaching future generations. As a result, students may recognize that their identity outside of their major can help them find the most rewarding role in society.

“Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopian Studies” would no doubt capture the imagination of students, but it would also have some practical applications. For example, it would help students develop skills such as leadership, critical thinking, and conflict resolution. It would also provide the imminent desire to study the patterns of history to see how past cultures have dealt with similar circumstances. Finally, it would allow students to reflect more deeply on our own contemporary society, especially the aspects that they currently take for granted.

And hey, if the world really did end, maybe they would be equipped to survive.