Big History and the Building of Cathedrals

A couple of ideas that I have been turning over in my head collided recently. Not into a neat little package, but rather, into more questions.

It started when I got to Germany. My wife and I are not religious people, but we love the architecture of cathedrals, churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, shrines, and other religious institutions. They are so well crafted, with love, and filled with symbolism and a sense of mystery (for us, as outsiders to that world).

It is amazing to read about some of the grand cathedrals of Europe, and the story of their construction. The people who designed the overall plan and laid the foundation knew that they would never see the finish product. They knew that these buildings would take much longer than their life to complete. Yet, they still applied their craft as best as they could (possibly because they needed the work, or possibly for more romantic reasons). They also adapted to changes in the world around them and changed the plans for their buildings, letting them grow with the times, rather than just following the original blueprint blindly.

Then, the other night I was watching this TED talk on something called Big History. This is looking at the whole span of life in the universe, from the big bang until the present through a interdisciplinary lens; finding the patterns, searching for the threshold points, and using that to see into the future. It is way of making the complexity more visible and understandable, and finding the place of ourselves in this much larger scale.

I wonder how much of our education system is focused on the present (or the past) and how much if it is focused on Big History? How much of teaching is like the cathedrals, something that will be visible long after we are gone? Are we comfortable with that thought? Should we be focused on the now? The past? The future? All of the above? Should we, as educators, have a sense of the Big History of education (or possibly the universe), where it started, where it has gone, and where it might go?


  1. Hi Craig

    I hope you get to Barcelona to see the Sagrada Familia (comparatively modern cathedral). I went there once with girlfriends and HAD to return to bring the kids. It's a building where architecture, art, and nature collide (spirituality is there too, of course). You'll love it. I never knew how much math was in nature. The cathedral was inspired by patterns and math patterns found in nature. Designed by Gaudi. It's amazing. Make sure you do the audio guide :) .



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