Humanity needs a global origin story that works for all
We are living at a turning point in the history not only of humanity but of planet Earth. But modern education fails to help young people see the challenges they will face in their lifetimes or prepare for those challenges. A convincing solution to these problems is to provide students with a wide-angle view of a history of modern and scientific origin, the history of “great history”.
Over the past few decades, the scale of human activities and the power of human technologies have grown so rapidly that what we do over the next few decades will shape the history of the biosphere for millions of years. Planet Earth is under the management of a single species, and the challenge is to learn how to manage a planet well for the sake of future generations. It is the reward of the burgeoning literature on the Anthropocene era. As the Astronomer Royal Martin Rees says, “Our Earth is 45 million centuries old. But this is the first century in which a species – our own – can determine the fate of the biosphere. “
Young people need to develop a sense of global citizenship
Are we preparing young people for this new major challenge? I don’t think so, mainly because we appropriately teach a very different world. In the world of my youth, we had to learn how to become good citizens of our home country and prepare for a career. Disciplinary education systems have done this work fairly well, teaching particular skills and teaching a lot about the history and culture of a student’s home country.
But the challenge of managing a planet is quite different. This will require, first of all, a sense of global rather than national citizenship. The fundamental challenges that young people will face in the decades to come can no longer be solved at the national level, but will require a willingness to collaborate at the global level and a sense of commitment to a global community.
Second, these challenges will require, in addition to specialized knowledge, an ability to see the links and synergies between several disciplines. Managing a planet will require some understanding of economics, politics and management as well as climate science and technologies needed to build a more sustainable world.
Finally, these challenges will require a vision of society and history broad enough to help students see their own era in the context of the history of an entire planet and even an entire universe. Only then will it be possible to grasp the scale and significance of the challenges facing a young generation today. Preparing for this challenge will require a more interdisciplinary education, the educational equivalent of a “mountain top view” of modern knowledge.
A story of world origin should be included in educational curricula
The way to meet these challenges is to incorporate what I consider to be a modern origin story into all educational programs. It is a great unifying story that tells how everything came to be as it is, a story that can connect knowledge from many different fields with a cohesive understanding of the world today. All cultures have taught origin stories. They have provided the intellectual frameworks young people need to understand their place in the scheme of things and the challenges facing their generation. In today’s global world, we need a global origin story, a story that works for all of humanity. This history must be based on modern science, not only because of the power of modern science, but also because science is the only form of knowledge accepted and taught today in all countries of the world.
In recent decades, researchers from many disciplines, from history to cosmology, have begun to identify the general form of a modern, scientific origin story. We can tell this story now because of the emergence of new paradigms at the end of the 20th century in physics, cosmology, geology, genetics and biology. All of these paradigms have proven to be historic. They all recounted how things came to be as they are. When brought together, they tell a story of the evolution of complex structures over time, from stars to complex chemicals, from planets to life, and ultimately to our own strange species, which has had a revolutionary impact on the planet. Earth. This story looks like a story of the Universe. It can help us understand our place in space and time, and identify the challenges we face here and now.
The version of this story that I know best is known as the “Big Story”. The broad view of the Big Story can help young people see how unique this moment is, as we become a species that changes the planet. It can help them see the challenges they will face as adults, and it can help them see and explore the many connections between all disciplines that can help them take on the task of managing a planet.
Introducing great history lessons into existing educational programs shouldn’t be difficult. Great history courses are now offered in many universities and thousands of schools in many different countries. There is a rapidly growing literature in the field, and the materials needed to teach great history are readily available. Finally, a whole generation of teachers have shown that such courses are teachable and engaging and their students ‘responses show how these courses can transform students’ understanding by providing them with the kind of coaching stories that were present in the courses. traditional origin stories.
If this argument is on the right track, it suggests that teaching students some form of great history can help them see the challenges they will face at a turning point in planetary history. And it will help them prepare for these challenges by giving them insight into many types of knowledge. The main challenge will be to overcome the skepticism of most educators towards forms of education that are not shaped by the disciplines that dominate modern teaching and research around the world. This is the trickiest part!
This article was originally published on greattransition.org under the title “Big History for Big Learning” and under license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Republished here with a new title, courtesy. It was adapted from the author’s recent speech “Equipping our children to manage a planet” for the Frontiers Forum. For those new to Big History, recent introductions include David Christian, Origin Story: A Big History of Everything (New York: Little, Brown, & Co., 2018), and David Christian, “What is Big History?”, Journal of Big Story 1 (2017): 4-19. More information is available on The Big History Project and The International Big History Association.