Robert Siegel

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Philomath, OR

Interests: 21st Century Learning,...

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K-8 Soc.Science for 21st Century - Part 6

K-8 Social Science Curriculum for the 21st Century - Part 6

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. This post's topic is "The Oneness of Humankind".

            The concept of the oneness of humankind undoubtedly “implies an organic change in the structure of present day society, a change such as the world has not yet experienced.” (Effendi 1955, p. 43).  Such an organic change infers a deep change, a mature attitude, a true paradigm shift in understanding, something which must take its time to happen, but nevertheless must happen if we are to truly thrive on living in a global society.  If we continue to think (as some nations insist) that independence and sovereignty is the goal, we cannot enter the reality of interdependence. This was a noble goal for humankind in the past, and probably was one of the major reasons for the expansion of life on the planet. But now there is no more planet on which to expand! We have reached our physical limits. All the signs indicate that we must take the leap to interdependence, since every culture has a piece to offer and no culture or nation will allow for its existence to be supplanted (and they increasingly have the wherewithal to defend it).  Even nationalistic economic sovereignty has succumbed to interdependence and the global system of wealth. (Toffler 1990, p. 56).  But this takes a leap of maturity.  Stephen Covey  indicates that for the individual’s relationship to others, interdependence is “a far more advanced concept” and “a choice only independent people can make.”  (Covey 1989, p. 51) It seems that collectively, it may apply to humankind as well.  In order to make that choice, it requires a paradigm shift in thinking and in values.

            In their under-recognized brilliant work on educational reform, Education on the Edge of Possibility, Caine and Caine (1997) discuss the need that children have for the “opportunity to explore ultimate questions and larger purposes.”  (p. 95).  They frame “the purposes of education in terms of what sort of person one needs to be to develop sustainable communities and thrive within the new paradigm” of becoming “the Possible Human”.  In line with the aforementioned premise of our ever-wider sense of being part of a global society and “the development of more complex and integrated people”,  Caine and Caine (p. 97) summarize the attributes of such a people as having:

  • an inner appreciation of interconnectedness
  • a strong identity and sense of being
  • a sufficiently large vision and imagination to see how specifics relate to each other
  • the capacity to flow and deal with paradox and uncertainty
  • a capacity to build community and live in relationship with others

Akin to the notion of the Possible Human are Leon Eisenberg’s words concerning the ultimate potential or humankind’s reaching a state of maturity, when he states that one whose “concerns extend beyond family and beyond nation to mankind has become fully human.” (Eisenberg 1972, pp. 123-128)

            Taking the next leap toward a global society, and what some would term a “more complex and integrated people” is not a new phenomena, as explained above through the ever-widening social groupings that have distinguished human organization throughout history.  We might even say it is a common trait of human nature and has characterized its survival as a species.  In fact, recent brain research has debunked what is prevalent thinking about the competitive nature of the human race since “much of our brain’s capability is tied up in processing activities that are chiefly social and cooperative.” A reason we tend to disagree is  “probably because the mass media focus on such events as wars, competitive crimes, business acquisitions, and sports victories.  The mass media focus on the dramatically unusual, not on the norm in human behavior...The human race wouldn’t have survived if it were principally and violently competitive.”  (Sylwester 1995, p. 117). 

            Beyond such a misnomer, what are the further barriers that prevent adopting such a paradigm and why is there pain and resistance? Among systems thinkers, Ervin Laszlo suggests that we search for solutions to the problems facing humankind on what he terms “outer” or “physical” limits of blame such as limited fossil fuels, food production capacity, climatic stability, increased population, and accommodation of urban demographics. Yet, claiming that these are symptoms and not causes, he postulates that “truly decisive limits are inner, not outer” and that “the root causes even of physical and ecological problems are the inner constraints on our vision and values,” the lens through which we see all things, the base against which we compare. He goes on to offer a diagnosis of our “serious case of culture lag” (Laszlo 1989, p. 26) since “modernism has become obsolete” as it “no longer serves the genuine interests of human beings” owing to the fact that we are “badly in need of a global partnership.” (p. 39 and 104). Such a partnership requires more than what we are teaching in schools under the guise of tolerance education or even co-existence among differences. It might be termed, as Laszlo says, “interexistence” (p. 109), which implies a sort of symbiotic relationship among the peoples of the world.  In fact, such a relationship and conscious sense of global community might even lead one to likening all of humankind as one body, with many interconnected and interdependent parts in order to produce the whole - a whole whose potential is synergistically far greater than even the sum of its component parts.

            As opposed to the concept-cliché of a world melting pot, more transcendent than the Gaia principal - “the idea that the planet Earth as a whole is a living, self-organizing system” (Capra 1996, p. 100), and even more profound than what some educator pundits of a multicultural curriculum term as the need for education for “cultural pluralism - people living side-by-side from different backgrounds”, (Glatthorn 1995, p. 239) it would foster differentiation along with integration, thereby creating unity with diversity, a sort of “crazy-quilt pattern of evanescent life styles”  (Toffler 1970, p. 302).  On the one hand we have a colorful display of uniqueness while on the other the rich potential far beyond what each of its component parts would ever be capable of alone.  One way this combination of apparent opposites can be achieved is through the development of a sense of empathy in order to understand and feel connected to others. Educator Alfie Kohn uses a strategy that he describes as “a twofold attitude toward the ‘other’.  On the one hand, we appreciate, as it were, the other’s otherness; on the other hand, we appreciate the humanness that we have in common.” (Kohn 1990, p. 99).  This is not to be confused with simple association or membership in a societal group, where individuality dissipates into conformity.  But rather “when shared humanness and individual uniqueness can be emphasized over group membership, this would be much to the good.” (Kohn 1990, p. 149).  Again, here we see the promotion of instilling the concept of unity in diversity.

            Systems thinker Fritzof Capra explains that we have based much of our western scientific thought on the “belief that in every complex system the behavior of the whole can be understood entirely from the properties of its parts”.  This Cartesian paradigm, according to Capra, is no longer valid in a post modern and systems-thinking world. On the contrary, “the properties of the parts can be understood only from the organization of the whole.” (Capra 1996, p. 29). In his ground-breaking work The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge illustrates that systems thinking leads to thinking in “wholes” rather than “parts” and that “at the level of essences, the disciplines start to converge. There is a common sensibility uniting the disciplines - the sensibility of being learners in an intrinsically interdependent world.” (Senge 1990, p. 375).  Unless we make such a leap in world view, Senge feels we are living in the ills of and suffering from the pains of our own creation - that “the unhealthiness of our world today is in direct proportion to our inability to see it as a whole.” (Senge 1990, p. 68). He also explores the fine line between “commonality of purpose (shared vision) and alignment (team learning).” which again addresses the issue of unity in diversity.  This contextual thinking process will be discussed further under “Outside In: More Than Global Education” later on in this blog series, but it is included here to further illustrate the need for a shift towards a more systemic, holistic and global approach for understanding the importance of education for transition towards a global society.

Caine, Renate Nummela and Geoffrey Caine (1997). Education on the Edge of Possibility. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Capra, Fritzof (1996). The Web of Life. New York: Bantam-Doubleday.

Covey, Stephen (1989). The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Simon and Schuster.

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

Eisenber, Leon (1972). The Human Nature of Human Nature. “Science” magazine, 14 April 1972.

Glatthorn, Allan, ed. (1995). Content of the Curriculum, 2nd edition. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Kohn, Alfie (1990). The Brighter Side of Human Nature. New York: BasicBooks (Division of HarperCollins)

Laszlo, Ervin (1989). The Inner Limits of Mankind. London: One World Publishers.

Senge, Peter (1990). The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. New York: Doubleday Currency.

Sylwester, Robert (1995). A Celebration of Neurons: An Educator’s Guide to the Human Brain. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Toffler, Alvin (1970). Future Shock. New York: Bantam Books.

Toffler, Alvin (1990). Powershift. New York: Bantam Books.

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