Kim Lochner, BHP Teacher
For thousands of years, storytelling formed the essence of our education system. Children would sit at the feet of their elders and learn life skills through emotive stories. These stories imparted practical skills that young people needed to survive in their world. But these stories weren’t simply about survival. Often, narratives began with origin stories whose characters embodied a moral code, one each generation was meant to internalize and pass down to the next generation.
The Industrial Revolution took education forever out of the hands of those village elders. A mechanized education system emerged to provide the uniformity that the Industrial Revolution required. This system, while efficient, squashed creativity and engagement. Storytelling was lost in the upgrade.
Big History weaves its narrative across 13.8 billion years. The stories are tools that reach into young hearts to connect them to the past. We all need that connection if we are to take the lesson of the story into the future.
Why are Harry Potter and Marvel heroes so popular? Because people want to escape into other worlds. But they want to escape into other worlds with meaning. Big History allows us to do that. It starts with an overriding concept, then dives deep, using narratives to take students on a journey. Look at Threshold 1, the Big Bang, for example. The stories of Copernicus and Galileo are used to understand how and why individuals change their minds, which is the driving question that propels that threshold. This is no longer a story about dead white men with beards. It’s a common narrative about using gut instinct, logic, and evidence to challenge authority and fight for what you believe in.
In my class, I invite students to reflect on how this plot has been played out throughout history. I ask them to challenge the notion of scientists as nerdy old men with white coats. Consider the people who built Stonehenge or the ancient Australian aboriginal tribes who laid stones to map the solstice, hundreds or even thousands of years ago. The lessons we learn and the stories we teach in Big History are repeated across time and throughout the cultures of our world. The art of storytelling, embedded in BHP, encourages deeper engagement and learning because of these powerful stories.
About the author: Kim Lochner began teaching Big History in 2016. She teaches the course as a year 9/10 elective over a two-year period, with students meeting twice a week for 70 minutes per class.
Cover image: Grandfather Telling a Story, by Albert Anker, 1884. Public domain.