Home Forums Deep Time Journey Forum "Big Spiral History": in search of feedback


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    • #4722

      Hello, all! First-time poster — though I’m excited to say that I already know a number of you personally, and a few others through your work! 


      I’m developing a new model of K–12 social studies teaching, dubbed “Big Spiral History”. Though it’s mostly concerned with only the last three thousand years of human history (only!), it commences with an exploration of ultimate beginnings.


      We’re launching this curriculum at a school that a partner of mine has just opened: the Island Academy of Hilton Head, located off the coast of South Carolina. (Also, my wife is currently teaching the curriculum to our kindergarten-age son.)


      What does it look like, you ask? I’ll be putting up a “big picture” explanatory video shortly, but here’s the gist of the first few weeks.


      We’re starting with a handful of cultural accounts of creation (Norse, Ojibwe, Greek, Hebrew, Chinese, West African, Aboriginal, and Mayan), and then spending a week on the Big Bang account (reading Karen Fox’s Older than the Stars and Jennifer’s Born with a BangFrom Lava to Life, and Mammals Who Morph — hat tip to Connie Barlow and Michael Dowd for pointing me to them!) 


      Which is to say that right now, our school has a dozen kids (mixed ages) conducting a philosophical investigation into the power of cosmology and what constitutes good evidence for a claim. (With first through eighth graders! Teaching is fun.)


      I’d love to get all of our radically honest feedback on the idea. I’ve posted about the curriculum on the blog I run (schoolsforhumans.org, which is about our new kind of school — which have the goal of cultivating Renaissance people): the basic idea,  a four part series exploring its implications, and a taste of what it will look like for grade schoolers.


      But what I’d really love to know is: what are your thoughts? Any suggestions for books or online resources we can use? What questions would you like me (and my friend Lee, who’s running the school) to answer? (Amassing questions would be particularly helpful right now!) Any tweaks you see? What potential difficulties do you think we’ll run into? Anyone (or any projects) you think we should connect with?


      I don’t typically bare my throat like this when talking about educational ideas, but this is a community I trust. Thank you all for the work you do!

    • #4724
      Jennifer Morgan

      Wonderful to have you and your enthusiastic energy on the Network Brandon.  We’re thrilled to learn from your experiences with Big Spiral History and to have you be part of efforts around the world to explore approaches to education inside the context of the grand cosmic narrative. 


      There are lots of resources on the Network that you can search by topic and level by clicking on “Resources” on the menu bar.  As you come across resources that you’d recommend please do add them to the Resource Section.  This is one huge way we can help each other — by sharing resources we recommend.  There’s a video tutorial about how to do that on the home page.  


      One book you may want to read is Children of the Universe by Michael and D’Neil Duffy which covers the Montessori Cosmic Education Curriculum for the Elementary Level. Here’s the link to the listing for Children of the Universe in the Resource Section: https://dtnetwork.org/resource/children-of-the-universe-cosmic-education-in-the-montessori-elementary-classroom/ Also, you might take a look at the book that Laura Alary, a new member, just added to the resource section title Mira and the Big Story about different creation stories and the big new story that’s emerging in science.


      Professional development programs will start in January and with your experience your input will be extremely important.   You might scroll through the member list and invite particular Contributing Members to  participate in this discussion by asking them specific questions.   I’ll add a notice in the next News Feed to the Network. 


      Also, as we gain more experience with the technology, you may want to organize video conference calls with other teachers.  Let us know your suggestions.  It’s just the beginning and there’s so much we can do together.  Glad that Michael and Connie sent you to us! Jennifer  

    • #4728



      Nice to have your project going! I would recommend you check out Mircea Eliade’s books, especially The Sacred and the Profane and The Myth of the Eternal Return — though he wrote nearly 20, maybe more. He was one of those nearly unbelievable scholars, who created/invented the field of what most call “comparative religion” but he called “the history of religions.” It’s a great, and profound, understanding of the kinds of needs religions are trying to meet. Fully “demythologized,” but he can make that even more revealing and (again) profound. I think he read around 18 languages, had had his first article published in a scientific journal at age 13, by 17 had had 100 published, and so on. His History of Religious Ideas volumes are permanent reference works.


      The goal is to identify the deep needs and questions our species has, without worshiping any particular religion or set of gods. Those are like “brands” (Buick, Ford, etc.) where the subject (in this analogy) is with “Transportation”, independent of any particular brand of getting there.


      What you’re doing sounds similar to the Montessori approach. Do you see it that way? Where/how does it differ?


      Davidson Loehr

      • #4772


        First, my apologies for taking so long to reply: the life of the school-launcher is not a staid one!

        Let me respond directly to your excellent questions and pieces of advice:

        What you’re doing sounds similar to the Montessori approach. Do you see it that way? Where/how does it differ?

        I think there are three ways we most profoundly differ with the Montessori approach to Big History.

        1. We’re not just telling the one story (the real one, of the Big Bang and evolution) — we’re setting that narrative amidst eight others (the Norse, the Chinese…)
        2. We’re not just engaging the story of the beginning of the cosmos with sensorial engagement; we’re engaging it through stories. For this, we’re relying on Kieran Egan’s philosophy of education (dubbed “Imaginative Education”, though I don’t particularly think that’s a helpful term), which posits that even while kids are in what Montessori calls “the sensorial stage”, they’re beginning to master story-telling, which is powerful for making sense of the world. 
        3. Finally, we’re not just telling stories — we’re integrating the posing of big questions (like “how could we tell which, if any, of these stories really happened?”) through our practice of Philosophy for Children. A lot of education treats small children as deficient versions of adults (I’m lookin’ at you, Jean Piaget!). But kids regularly do all sorts of big-picture philosophizing. We’re embracing this possibility. (Note: how similar/dissimilar this is to what goes on in a Montessori classroom varies a lot by the school, and the classroom. My wife is a Montessori teacher, and she prompts big questions like this all the time, but her fellow teachers have often expressed surprise when they see it. Happy surprise, but surprise nonetheless!)

        Actually, I’ll respond to your other question (about Eliade) in a separate reply!

      • #4773

        Davidson, thanks again! You wrote:

        I would recommend you check out Mircea Eliade’s books, especially The Sacred and the Profane and The Myth of the Eternal Return — though he wrote nearly 20, maybe more. He was one of those nearly unbelievable scholars, who created/invented the field of what most call “comparative religion” but he called “the history of religions.” It’s a great, and profound, understanding of the kinds of needs religions are trying to meet.

        have read Eliade — and enjoyed him thoroughly! (One of my undergraduate degrees was in Religious Studies, where The Sacred and the Profane was required reading.) How do you think Eliade’s ideas could come into a Big History curriculum?


        I’ll admit that I’d be nervous about this (and please feel free to allay my nerves!). Or, at least I’d be nervous about bringing in an Eliade-type-approach in the early grades: we do have plans, however, to bring in deep discussions of what religion is about in the high school curriculum. (By that point, they’ll have heard about the history of Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Islam, Daoism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Yoruba traditions, and various indigenous traditions… three separate times!) 


        Anyone else who’s interested in spirituality, please lend your thoughts!

    • #4730
      Laura Hawkins


      This sounds like a wonderfully creative program. Last year I wanted to introduce a group of children at a Quaker Meeting/school to Creation stories. However, I didn’t start by telling them stories because I had a hunch that they would create their own story that would have elements similar to ones they would be hearing.

      They came into a room where a long blank scroll was laid across 2 tables and several baskets of crayons. To warm them up to what they would be drawing on the table I asked them to give examples of human-made creations. Then, where did the materials humans use for their creations come from? And then, what do those examples need to be alive and stay alive (one child actually said love!), or how did they come to exist? (we used their examples). If you were to create a planet earth, I asked, what would you need to create so that life could be there day by day and night by night? Draw or write your ideas on the scroll.

      This may not be the best way to ask the questions, but as suspected, these children pretty much came up with a Creation story similar to the one in Genesis. They created light, air, stars, oceans, water, etc. If a child drew a bird, for example, I asked what the bird needed to live, and on and on. The huge advantage to this approach showed up when they were asked if they would like to hear a story how life was created and if it was similar to theirs. They were very interested and engaged to see if it was as good as their own.

      Now that I’m learning more from DTJN I would ask the next BIG question. And where did the stars come from and what does the crayon in your hand have to do with them? Would you like to hear a story about that? A year from now I may have better questions!

      I would be very interested to know if your children would also write/draw a Creation story similar to the one in Genesis if they were asked to create the basic needs for life on their planet. I’m wondering what prompts they would need to draw stories from different cultures. Interesting that they created the one from Genesis.

      • #4775



        How fascinating that the kids approximated the Genesis 1 creation account, when prompted to write their own! I wonder if it’s because the Genesis account is one of the simplest? (Well, the Genesis 1 creation account is simple. The separate creation account, now lodged in Genesis ch. 2 & 3, is much more complicated.)


        My collaborator Lee (who runs The Island Academy of Hilton Head, where his kids are test-driving our Big Spiral History curriculum right now) has expressed some interest in having kids make their own creation stories. If they do this, I’ll let you know about it!

    • #4733
      Laura Hawkins

      Can’t seem to edit in the space between paragraphs. Next time with heed the two returns.

    • #4735
      Jennifer Morgan

      Davidson and Laura, fantastic suggestions.  I love the idea of having the students develop their own creation story first before hearing others. 


      Laura, you can go back in and edit your post to add more space between paragraphs.  It’s a frustrating glitch in this program that you have to hit return twice in order to get one space.  A bit maddening.  But there’s no way around it for the moment. 

    • #4736
      Jennifer Morgan



      I’m glad you brought in Mircea Eliade.  My grandmother was a huge fan of his.  Studying the needs of human and why/how we come up with creation stories is so important to understanding creation stories.  Please do add the book of his that you think is most important to the Resource Section.  His books are true classics.



    • #4738
      Imogene Drummond

      Dear Brandon, Laura, Davidson, and Jennifer,


      I think this is one of the most important issues facing us today, as educating children about diverse creation stories has deep ameliorative ramifications for the future.


      Your curriculum sounds fantastic, Brandon! I love the name “Big Spiral History,” and the way it conveys a non-linear concept that integrates growth, motion, and time. I’ll check out your blog.


      Imho, beginning where children are by facilitating their participation prior to giving them information is brilliant, Laura! It’s a great way to engage students, and also promotes them to think of themselves as proactive “creators” who can create creation stories.


      I agree, Davidson and Jennifer, you can’t go wrong w Mircea Eliade as well as Montessori Cosmic Education!


      I’m particularly excited by the work you and others on the Network are doing! As you, Brandon, asked for suggestions for projects with which to connect, I want to let you know about my creativity program that’s linked to an evolving universe. DIVINE SPARKS connects the creativity in the universe w the creativity within each of us. I’m currently teaching it to 5th graders at a visionary school for at-risk youth and seeing significantly positive results. Students are exhibiting increased self-esteem, as well as increased learning and social skills. As an artist and former psychotherapist, I’m interested in igniting empowerment through creativity and raising awareness that we are part of the universe. For more info, please see my website: http://www.divinesparks.com. You can view the film trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VCDr0Ej1_I


      I look forward to hearing more about your curriculum, Brandon, and others who are doing related work!

      All the best,


    • #4787



      On Eliade, I agree — that’s high school level. What he did that was so helpful was to see all religions as “languages,” dialects, ways of talking/framing life’s questions, rather than taking any of them literally. So it’s not that Biblical religions have God, it’s that they use that symbol as a way of framing life questions — unlike Buddhists, e.g. Just backing off that far from literalism can help students gain a much more fertile perspective.


      Where did you have your Religious Studies course? Sounds kind of Chicago-y. (My MA and PhD are both from the U of Chicago Divinity School, where Eliade taught for the last 30 years or so of his life.) When I was there, they had an MARS degree, meaning Master of Arts in Religious Studies — which is why I wonder if you were there, or had a professor who did his work there.



      • #4791



        I got my B.A. in Religious Studies at Arizona State — nothing so august as Chicago! (I thought about getting my master’s from there, but accidentally got stuck in Seattle.)


        See, this is all a great discussion that kids never get to have in school — what is religion, anyhow?


        Are religions mostly doing the same thing? Are they fundamentally different? I actually teach a high school class that chews over this — we read Huston Smith’s World Religions (which posits that all religions are fundamentally the same) against Stephen Prothero’s God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World, and Why Their Differences Matter


        So many possibilities in school. So many possibilities.

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