Big History Teacher, 9th Grade
Many of you are about to embark on an incredible journey with your students this fall as you begin teaching the Big History course. One challenging issue you might face will be answering questions from both students and parents about how the historical and scientific facts presented in the course correlate with the teachings of the Bible. Most of you probably teach at public schools where technically you can quite easily present the Big History story without referencing faith; however, many of your students will probably struggle with these issues. Some students will voice their opinions and frustrations while others will remain silent, and many teachers will try to avoid answering these questions because they fear that the topic might be too controversial or because they might offend someone’s faith. Students should be taught that science, history, and faith do not have to be at war with each other and, in fact, these disciplines can have a harmonious relationship. Craig Benjamin echoed this sentiment when he wrote about his own experiences teaching Big History in 2009.
I am ignoring my obligation to these students if I ignore their faith, if I try and pretend that it isn’t the elephant sitting in the room. If I am genuinely committed to the task of fusing intellectual development with character and ethical development, surely a central goal of the great liberal education tradition of the United States, I need to concentrate on all of the functions in my students and help them make the connections. And a core function for most of them is their faith.
As a teacher at a Catholic high school in the South where over 80% of our student body population identify as Catholic, it is my duty to present the Big History story from a Catholic perspective, while also helping those students who aren’t Catholic make sense of the story in their own ways. If the Big History course is taught in a faith-based setting then you have at your disposal numerous resources from St. Augustine to Pope Benedict XVI to use in the classroom in order to illustrate the complimentary relationship between history, faith, and science.
In fact, these disciplines along with many others should compliment one another in the Big History course, as one of the core learning objectives is the focus on the interdisciplinary nature of telling the history of the Universe. David Christian comments upon this in the video What Is Big History? when he explains how scholars from a variety of disciplines have asked questions about the origins of the Universe and the nature of humans, but what this course attempts to do is synthesize the work of all of these disciplines in order to create a modern scientific origin story. The aim and purpose of the course is for students to see the Universe as a whole and not divided into what appears to be distinct and unrelated disciplines. It is for students to understand the connections between specialized fields of study by using all available scientific, historical, and philosophical research to create as complete of a story as we can form with all available knowledge.