Thoughts on teaching: the importance of a sense of time

How long is a period like 200 years? Is it a lot, or a little? On what scale should we think?

If you think of it in terms of encompassing the entirety of NZ or Australian Western history, it might seem like quite a long time. In the scope of the Roman empire, or the two and half thousand years since Pericles’ Athens, one or two hundred years might seem not so much.

I want to argue here that we tend “naturally” to think of periods periods longer than a current human lifetime as being rather large, and that part of training (education can be viewed as overcoming evolved tendencies, as much as imparting knowledge) should be to make it reflexive to think of such periods as miniscule, and of the whole of human history, in fact, as just a brief glance.

Why should children at school should be taught that 100 or 200 years is small? Because it will enable them to consider concepts such as freedom (1776?) as frail and young, and civilization itself (1000 BC, perhaps?) as a baby, in the very early stages of its effects.

Moreover, it is very easy to think that your country is already developed when in fact it is not (property for instance, is still being developed enormously fast in New Zealand). In addition, it switches people to think in terms of an “early adopter” profile, not a stable system attitude.

Imagine the difference in attitude to so many short-term decisions: like buying 5000 acres of land for an outrageous £5 an acre in 1960 in New Zealand if you think of that country as being well developed and stable versus at the beginning of a history that might last 100,000 years…

Or something rather more important for the race: considering whether to protest the loss of a freedom, or to embark on a thousand year project – such as space exploration.


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