A Holistic Education | G. Nelson


The Gist of the Conversation

We have a problem as a society, as a people. That problem is death. Now I realize that’s quite a negative way to start a piece on utopia, but I feel like it is the correct place to start; at the end of sorts. Death is a problem because when people die, they die and much of their experience, their knowledge and their skills are lost. By contrast, in the Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky; people can pass on their knowledge genetically to their children. This avoids this issue of death. Each generation becomes smarter than the previous as knowledge is accumulated from generation to generation. However, we can’t do that because we’re human and unfortunately genetics has not seen fit to give us that ability so, instead, we teach. Whilst lots of organisms teach their young, we do it on an industrial scale. In teaching our children, what we are essentially doing is we are catching them up on what they’ve missed. It’s like when you’ve been having a conversation for a while and someone new joins you, what you do is you catch the person up on what has happened in the conversation; not everything that’s been said, but enough that they’ve got the gist of it; so they understand the context and what is going on. 

Currently, we’re failing at that. Children leaving their education, do not know how much we’ve done, how far we’ve come and how singular a people we are. Because at the end of the day we’re all humans and people too often focus on our conflicts, on our arguments, on our wars and on our differences, than we do on our similarities and the fact that we are all one people. And I believe that is because they do not understand how close we really are. When your history goes back 100 years the difference between you and someone on the other side of the planet to you is massive, it is an enormous, untraversable distance. But if your history goes back 12,000 years then you start to realize that we’re not so different after all. And if you go back a hundred thousand years, to around the time of The Human Migration, then you will realize that we are the same. When you see how similar we are and how the only real differences between us is the challenges we face due to our environment. We are the same people, but we don’t recognise that anymore we lose track of how similar as we divide ourselves by nationality rather than by species. 

Lost Life Skills 

The other thing education fails to do is it fails to actually give people life skills. As someone newly graduated from secondary school I have way too much experience of this; the number of times that I have had to call home (or message home our generation don’t call) a to find out how to do very seemingly basic things such as set up bank accounts, understand contracts, and finance, is ridiculous. These are things that you really need to know how to do and we’re not taught in schools. Potentially if you take a specific A level or GCSE course that particularly studies that thing then maybe you’ve got some experience, but the vast majority of people come out of education with what is at the end of the day useless knowledge. Useless knowledge has a great place because ‘useless knowledge’ is the stuff that in 20 years turns out to be really really useful, or turns out to be the spark of that idea that changed the world. However, what we currently have is an education system built on the examination of useless knowledge, and that is part of the problem. If all you care about is the examination you have missed the point of having the knowledge in the first place. 

A quote that has stuck with me for years, and I believe is attributed to CGP Grey, is: “the education system is basically a babysitting service obsessed with an endless game of trivial pursuit”. This, unfortunately, is very accurate. The problem we come out of education without the skills to partake in the great human conversation and without the knowledge of how the great human conversation got to where it is today. Thus, I believe that we are very ill suited to taking part in it. 

The Solution: Part 1

The solution is not an easy one, as my solution would require completely revamping secondary school education; tearing down decades of established practice and replacing it. Something that’s never been done in our country and I’m not sure whether they’ve ever been done in any country (barring potentially the aftermath of a violent coup). What I would propose is to take the education system that we are all a product of and tear it to the ground. 

Granted, A levels would stay unchanged, as these tend to be vocational training for employment. Rather, what I am proposing is tearing down the GCSE. Tearing down key stage three and the end of key stage two. For those of you not in the know, that is effectively reworking Years 5 through 11. For those who prefer ages, that’s from the age of about 9 to the age of about 16. So up until Year 5 we don’t need to change because up till Year 4 at the end of the day what you do is you learn to read, do basic numeracy, and basic literacy. However, come Year 5, the change I propose is drastic as this is when we start a story that is going to take 7 years to tell. 

One Enormous Story – The Human Story

Now, how do you tell a story over seven years? Well TV has shown us that well enough already; you serialise it. You break it up into manageable parts and tell little pieces. Where should we start? I propose The Human Migration. We should tell the story of Human Migration as best as we know it. It doesn’t have to be exactly perfect, but it has to lay out how we grew as one people and took over the whole world. 

Figure 1: A map showing the migration of humans across the world from 100,000 years ago [Photo Credit

The reason I want to start here is because it is the beginning of all humanity and when you start here what you tell these children is that we are all of the same people. Regardless of the fact that their ancestors may not have met in generations, we are the same people and that is a very important lesson to teach very early.

I suggest that in Year 5 and 6 the students should cover the human migration and the Neolithic period, up until the agricultural revolution about 12,000 years ago. I realise that this a huge period of time, but there is less information and less happening during this period so I believe that it is plausible.

This will have to go through revision after revision after revision to get the timing right, to get what years are covered when and what information is covered. And I realise that it may make more sense to begin this course in Year 7, but I believe Year 5 is old enough that children can understand the basic gist of the story and the lessons that it tells. 

The Studies

In this early phase of their education I suggest that the children are taught about early humans in all their forms. You should cover everything from their art, culture, and religion, to their technology and lives. This should be taught in one subject called culture. 

I would say that this would be best taught through activities where the students take part in living history activities from all over the world. Creating art from Neolithic Europe, building Indonesian rafts or a whole host of other things.  For those who want to know about this fascinating era, I’d recommend watching The Incredible Human Journey by Dr Alice Roberts This course of studies will help to foster a strong interest and knowledge of our history and culture. Besides, what 10-year-old do you know that doesn’t love fun activities?

By the end of these 2 years this period in history should be covered in reasonable depth. Your average student should vaguely know what’s going on in any part of the world at that point in history. You don’t have to cover every event in every culture because like I say this is only catching them up in the conversation not telling them everything that happened. 

As they progress through the course the students will progress through history. And as the speed of human progress increases each period of time studied will get shorter as we achieve more as a society.  This is shown by the graphs below plotting the human population (as a stand-in for progress) broken down into years in which that era is studied. 

Figure 2: Graph depicting the whole course of study


Figure 3: Copy of above focusing on years 7 to 11 for clarity

As I have said this would need people far smarter than me to arrange but my first draft course would be broken down like this:

Year 5 and 6: Human Migration and Neolithic up to the agricultural revolution.

Year 7: Ancient Cultures (Egypt, Indus Valley) from about 12,000 years ago to about -800BC.

Year 8: Later Ancient Cultures (Rome, Greece) from about -800BC to about 900AC.

Year 9: Medieval Era 900AC to 1300AC.

Year 10: Renaissance Era 1300AC to 1800.

Year 11: Modern Era 1800 to Current Day.

It should be kept in mind that this is a very Eurocentric curriculum; this is why I would suggest that this is only taken as a rough first draft. However, as my world history is very lacking, I am forced to rely on what I know. 

The Teaching

The education in this course should follow history; as subjects are created then students will begin to study those subjects. In doing so, what students learn is matched with when we learned it as a species. This is the most human method of learning, all discoveries are built upon the previous ones, which provides a comprehensive understanding of cultural characteristics and their influences on  each other.

Figure 4: Example of how subjects differentiate and separate over time

This way whilst learning about roman history in one lesson you will then go and learn about their literature and music in another one. Then the following weeks you may go to learn about China in the same period.  And by about Year 9 you will effectively have the same subjects as in the old curriculum, but rather than them being unrelated students will go from studying Greek philosophers to Pythagoras theorem in maths. This should foster a comprehensive understanding of how we got here, whilst also providing strong education in all of human endeavour. Also, as this course covers all recent discoveries, it will not limit the education of our students or limit their ability to progress into further education. 

The Solution: Part 2

The other issue that I have identified is the lack of practical knowledge about how the world works today. Contracts, navigating the everyday bureaucracy of the world and the like, are foreign to many leavers of secondary school. 

To solve this problem what I propose is a secondary course of studies that teach students how the world works. This would cover everyday things like finances, contracts, insurance, scam awareness, common laws, etc. This can probably be taught in a Year long course in Year 11. 

Whilst this may be a very unpopular course for those students who know parts of it, it will provide those who don’t know parts or all of these things valuable education and make them more aware of how to navigate this world. In addition, with rising youth mental health problems, many of which associated with stress, this may help to mitigate this. 

The Exams 

For this course I propose standard style exams for the stem fields, and coursework-based examination for other subjects. This I believe would provide the best retention of information. However, this like many other parts is something for review by professionals. 

The Benefits

After all that, you might be wondering why I think that it’s worth going to all this effort. One word: context. This is the key thing that all students of our current education system lack, context of our current situation, how we got here, and why we are where we are.

My father once told me a story of his English teacher at school, who would make all her students read 3 books for each of the allocated texts. The reason she did this is so that her students had context for each of their examined texts. What I am proposing would provide that context for all of human history, all of our art, literature, music, science, technology and culture. 

The World I Hope to Create

In doing this, I believe that you will create a better world for all. So many of our problems are a result of short-sightedness in our problem solving, and I believe that this is a product of our lack of context. In a world where everyone knows our long and storied history, and how every decision made throughout it has led to where we are, people will have longer memories and far better foresight for how our decisions today will affect tomorrow.

Imagine a world where everyone has an inherent understanding of how singular a people we are, the distance between each of us will be far smaller and empathy will come far easier. When you go back 100,000 years the differences between us become so small and our shared challenges become so much clearer.  When taking part in the great human conversation people will know far more of our shared culture and understand the everyday references in everyone’s work. You can appreciate the influences on all our art, music, and literature. And understand how far we have come as a people, from humble beginnings on the plains of Africa to spacefaring, world dominating, world changing people.

If more people are united by species, rather than believing themselves small national groups, I think that we would have a greater world and solve the problems facing us as a people. If humanity working as one for a better world is not the beginnings of a utopia, I don’t know what is. 


Photo Credit.

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