Robert Siegel

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Philomath, OR

Interests: 21st Century Learning,...

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K-8 Soc.Science for 21st Century-Part 5

K-8 Social Science Curriculum for the 21st Century - Part 5

This is a series of posts on the topic of how we might re-think the social sciences as we move tumultuously toward humankind's evolution becoming one common family on this interconnected and interdependent planet. Today's topic is "The Need for a Paradigm Shift: The Age of Transition Toward a Global Society". Don't be fooled by the reference date in the following quote. It is quite a currently valid statement by Toffler.

“Here lies the great challenge to contemporary social science: creating and transmitting the knowledge for understanding and coping with a future that remains largely unknown.” (Toffler  1974, p. 76)

            Our embracing of life in a global society takes courage.  It takes courage because we cannot imagine the outcome and far-reaching ramifications of humankind’s evolution as a unified planetary species because it hasn’t happened yet. When the outcome is uncertain, and we tread the areas of the unknown, there is logically an element of fear. Logically “there is both terror and exhilaration in being on the existential edge.  The shift in our view of the world from a mechanistic to a holistic perspective is like living on that edge.” (Davis 1987, p. 221-222).  We can only respond to its descriptive dimensions based on what is known and visualize our response compared to similar reactions to societal change to ever-enlarging social groupings in the past. We are a product of history while a player of the future at the same time.

            One might look at this evolutionary process as natural, “grown from the condition of single families into tribes, then emerged into city-states and nations and now the world has reached the state of what is known as a ‘global village’ where all the nations and the peoples of the world have become highly interdependent.  ....  It is not the invention of anyone or any nation.” (Sefidvash 1998).  Yet all natural evolutionary processes, through selective need, will infer the giving up of something in order to obtain a greater benefit.  This willing sacrifice seems to obey to humankind’s necessary quest for an ever-advancing civilization, whatever the interpretation of the term advancing might be.  In the case of humankind as a species, this involves temporary discomfort as a result of breaking down traditions and structures that were for many ages considered not only adequate but necessary.  For a city-state to be formed, the benefits of union far outweighed the individual needs of the tribes, families and clans.  The nation-state was a necessary outcry for the greater good and economic progress of a group of cities of unified thinking. Each step brought together those who recognized that sacrificing a measure of independence brought forth benefits to all. The same can be said today, but on a global scale.

            As a result, we witness what could be termed a “dual phenomenon.  The first signalizes the death-pangs of an order” where social and political structures cannot hold up to the requirements of living in an interdependent age while “the second proclaims the birth-pangs” of a new “embryonic civilization, incomparable and world-embracing...”  It is easy, and ironically more comfortable, to fall into pessimism and only respond to the outcry and fury of increasing social injustice and violence that the media shows us about world affairs, but as educators it seems we have a moral imperative to accept the challenge to empower future generations and realize that our destiny impels us to positive and ever-greater heights.  Looking at these two processes of the breakdown of an old order and the building of a new one, we see “the one is being rolled up, and is crashing in oppression, bloodshed, and ruin.  The other opens up vistas of a justice, a unity, a peace, a culture, such as no age has ever seen.” (Effendi 1661, p. 16). 

            As far as the socio-political characteristics of its organization are concerned,  this global society is described as “humanity’s coming of age” by Oxford scholar Shoghi Effendi. “The emergence of a world community, the consciousness of world citizenship, the founding of a world civilization and culture...should, by their very nature, be regarded, as far as this planetary life is concerned, as the furthermost limits in the organization of human society...” (Effendi 1955, p. 163). As opposed to Kant’s concept of a temporary “federation of peoples”, Shoghi Effendi’s vision embraces the concept of a “world commonwealth in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are closely and permanently united,” while at the same time “the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely and completely safeguarded.” (Effendi 1955, p. 203)

            In the realm of the transcendent, Robert Muller, ex-Chancellor of the University for Peace in Costa Rica goes so far as to term this next stage as “our entry into a moral global age - the global age of love - and a global spiritual age - the cosmic age.”  (Muller 1993, p. 100).  During his address in Philadelphia, upon receiving the Liberty Medal in 1994, Czech President Vaclav Havel also commented on humankind’s collective “need for transcendence in the postmodern world”.  He describes as far back as 1994 this new age upon which we are embarking as a “multicultural era, a signal that an amalgamation of cultures is taking place....proof that something is happening, something is being born, that we are in a phase when one age is succeeding another, when everything is possible because our civilization does not have its own unified style, its own spirit, its own aesthetic.” (Havel 1994). This may well lead us to contemplate the Greek concept of the paidea or “educational matrix created by the whole of Athenian culture” when we think of ourselves as gathering our “collective wisdom, from the past and from the whole planet.” (Fergusson 1980, p. 306-307).

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Davis, Stanley M. (1987). Future Perfect. New York: Addison-Wesley.

Effendi, Shoghi (1955). The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh. Wilmette: National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States.

Effendi, Shoghi (1961). The Promised Day is Come. Wilmette: National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States.

Ferguson, Marilyn (1980). The Aquarian Conspiracy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Havel, Vaclav (1994). The Need for Transcendence in the Postmodern World. Speech delivered in Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA on July 4, 1994 after having received the Liberty Medal.

Muller, Robert (1993). New Genesis: Shaping Global Spirituality. Anacortes, WA: World Happiness and Cooperation.

Sevidvash, Farhang  (1998). The Concept of Globalization. Porto Alegre, Brazil: The Research Center for Global Governance.

Toffler, Alvin, ed. (1974). Learning for Tomorrow: The Role of the Future in Education.. New York: Vintage Books.

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