Casey Lever, BHP Teacher
Queensland, Australia

Nothing is more interesting to young people than discussing the future. It’s a part of the Big History course that is often one of the most memorable for students. And yet, my own experience has taught me that this topic needs to be handled with purpose and structure if it is to be effective. Two pitfalls I have experienced when focusing on the future of humanity in the classroom is that it can lead to negativity and a sense of despair (exactly the opposite of what we want to achieve) or the putting forward of so many abstract and disparate ideas that the discussion ends up feeling pointless.

In his new book, Origin Story, David Christian provides us with a way to avoid these two pitfalls. By basing the discussion on a future where humans have successfully negotiated Threshold 9, our speculations are immediately optimistic. By putting forward a series of possible steps humanity might take in a post-Threshold 9 world, we have a structure around which to focus our discussion. These two characteristics give teachers confidence that their lessons will be both educationally worthwhile and beneficial to students’ well-being.

The first goal is to have students fully engage with these ideas in a way that deepens their understanding of it. One way to do this is using the excerpt from Origin Story, “Beyond Humans: Millennial and Cosmological Futures.” After reading the passage, have students focus further on the proposals made by considering how they came to be, that is, identify the links with already existing human characteristics or endeavors that could well lead to such outcomes. This activity asks students to think about both causality and collective learning by making connections between current and future human behavior. It also asks students to consider the implications of such behavior. The activity will help students realize that the questions Christian asks are not simple random imaginings, but are extrapolations from current human endeavors.

This could be achieved through having students complete a simple table (graphic organizer) like the one below:

What exists in society now that might lead to such a development? What possible future developments have been proposed by David Christian? What are the potential consequences of such developments?
Global governmental structure (beyond nation-states)
Widespread use of fusion power
Migration beyond Earth
Engineering of new life-forms
Intelligent machines
New humans (such as bionic or trans-human)
Global human mind

After completing the table, students could focus more thoroughly upon one of the scenarios posted by David Christian. In small groups of two or three, they could conduct a PMI (or “plus, minus, interesting”) on the development and then create a presentation for the rest of the class.

By lending optimism, purpose and structure to a discussion of the future through the use of the passage by David Christian, students will find their speculations to be worthwhile and interesting. By providing solid links to existing science and innovation, such a discussion reinforces the notions of collective learning and causality, which are at the heart of the Big History course.

Download a full chapter of Origin Story for free here

About the author: Casey teaches Big History at Ipswich Girls Grammar School in Queensland, Australia, where she is also the Head of Department of Humanities. This is her third year teaching BHP, which runs as a semester-long core history/science subject for students in years 9 and 10 at her school. She enjoys the opportunity BHP gives her to learn more about science alongside her students, as well as the course’s emphasis on the big issues confronting all humans.

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