Thinking across Cultures

By Donald M. Topping; Doris C. Crowell et al. | Go to book overview

35
Thinking About Time: Helping Children Gain A Sense of History

Carole J. Slattery Newton Public Schools

James J. Slattery Lesley College

This paper arises from the confluence of concerns of the two authors. One was exasperated to discover a few years ago that college freshmen often have only the vaguest idea of the length, the flow, the richness, and the sequence of human history. The other, a school librarian, was part of a special integrated arts program funded by the Newton Massachusetts school system. The present project is both an attempt to see that at least some students of the next generation come to college with a better sense of history, and a device for the integration of the achievements of human art around an historical core.

Time is so intimate and pervasive a part of human thought that thinking about it is nearly self-contradictory. When we say we are thinking about time we usually mean that we are thinking about an amount of time or about what time it is, or about how much something might take of time. Consideration of time boils down to our having what we call a sense of its passage, an ability to make accurate analogs with regard to time and thus to be able to place ourselves within an understood environment of time which corresponds to our understanding of the place we inhabit in space. At higher intellectual levels we embody the idea of being able to think about time as having a sense of history. By this we mean an understanding of the sum of human experience, a participation in the life story of humanity, its history, its religion, its myth, its art, its science, and everything else that has formed our present state. Even a substantial part of such an understanding is unattainable. A great deal of human endeavor is devoted, in our universities and research institutions, in our literature and our laboratories, to adding small amounts to that understanding. Nevertheless, a sense of history is a necessary basis to that realm of thinking, which, though least understood, is most important to our ability to use wisely the great power that human beings now wield.

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