I wonder how many homeschooling parents are met with questions like, “Did you used to be a teacher?” or “Are you interested in becoming a teacher?” (I’ve heard both of these in the last week!). If you’re like me, then your answer is probably “no” too. I’ll tell you that I went into college thinking that I would get a teaching degree, but it only took one educational philosophy class to cure me of it. While I still aced the class, it revealed the realities of a teaching career that I know would not fulfill me at the core of my being. Plus, I was far more interested in history and world religions than pedagogy.
I’m not approaching our journey from a teacher’s mindset at all. Instead, I’m here to simply bear witness to the artifacts I unearth as I break things apart to try and understand them for myself.
My deep love for Montessori education extends all the way back to my oldest son’s sixth month earthside, nine years ago, when I picked up that copy of Montessori from the Start at the library. From that time, it would be a long journey to truly understanding the philosophy and method but, as a Directress-friend of mine says, Montessori gets a hold of you and doesn’t let go.
Watching my children flourish in Montessori school, and years of confirmation that this method of education aligns with my philosophical beliefs, still didn’t prepare me for the mind-blowing discovery of the Cosmic Curriculum, an integral piece of Montessori education at the elementary level, but not entirely a Montessori invention. It’s been quite an adventure to unearth the concept of Cosmic Education through the Montessori method and dig even deeper, discovering roots that go so much farther than I imagined.
So, what is Cosmic Education?
Spend some time with a Montessori elementary teacher and get him/her to start talking about this idea of Cosmic Education. You’ll soon find that you can’t pinpoint exactly what subject or area of the classroom this belongs in. You might even discover that cosmic education is, in fact, the study of all things, and the relationships that connect them.
And to be clear, the teacher isn’t meant to point out the connections or relationships, but rather s/he guides children in discovering these connections for themselves after the story is told and the facts laid in front of them.
It doesn’t just fit into your science curriculum. Or history. Or even religious instruction. It’s about slowly identifying the single thread that unites it all. I have my own opinions about what this single thread actually is, but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on that one.
Let me get spiritual on you for just a sec.
From a birdseye view, I’d like to think it’s about allowing children to discover discernment and wisdom–yes, even from such an early age. In scripture, Wisdom is personified in female form as Sophia (Proverbs 1-9). Jesus also refers to her in Matthew 11. In the ancient near east, Sophia wasn’t seen as a divine being, but rather a representation of a divine attribute of the one called Yahweh.
In Sophia Wisdom traditions, there’s an acknowledgement that everyone is on a path towards individual knowing–of making connections between matter and energy and learning about oneself and the whole of the universe through that experiential knowledge–and that this is the path towards becoming fully human, of wholeness or Anthropos.
I see that very same spirit in this idea of the Cosmic Curriculum.
And what deep respect this philosophy has for the child–to understand that we are all on this path toward enlightened knowing, regardless of age, and to hold that process with such regard as to expose even a first-grader to the immensities and the subatomic realities of the universe at the very same time–and all that flows between.
What does Cosmic Education look like in practice?
Having an intellectual understanding of Cosmic Education is one thing; actually getting to see it play out in a child is quite another privilege. In our first weeks of homeschooling, Ronnie has begun exploring the subject of the First Great Lesson, called The Coming of the Universe. I decided that, contrary to Montessori tradition, I would have him complete all twenty history experiments on his own (with “you may” statements/direction from me) and independently explore resources relating to the birth of the universe, astrophysics, chemistry, and geology before I tell him the traditional mythopoetic, but scientific, origin story.
“Mom! This is so cool! How do they know this?” he exclaimed when he came across a section on Deep Future. He chowed down on the grilled cheese sandwich that he’d proudly made himself as he stared wondrously into the iPad screen, learning about predictions that the Milky Way and Andromeda may collide in 4 billion years, and that the sun may engulf the earth a billion years before or after that. It was a great opportunity for me to help him connect the dots between the history experiments he’s been working on, the engineering process he learned about at NASA, and the cosmology and astrophysics books and videos he’s engulfed himself in over the last three weeks.
I did my best to explain that scientists observe the universe, experiment to test their hypotheses, and create theories based on all of that data. These theories help them to predict what might happen in the future. Of course, these are still only theories and there’s always room for new discovery and new science to help us to better understand the universe and solve problems that come along with it.
This is one of the most important underlying principles of Cosmic Education: Everything that has come before us is a cosmic gift; your job is to discover your cosmic task and continue that trend. We need to be aware of our history as a species just as much as we need to be aware of our own individual histories; because they all shape our future. And speaking of the future, Ronnie has made a connection there, too: that when astronauts make it to Mars in 2039 (a fact he picked up somewhere in his research), he’ll be old enough to help them do it, maybe as an engineer.
His awe and wonder spurred by these ideas is the very thing that inspires him to recognize the need for human innovation and discovery. He’s full of questions about how the Earth will survive as the Sun changes and how we might colonize other planets or solar systems. These sci-fi ideas are leading to discussions about the life cycle of stars like our Sun, photosynthesis, atoms, molecules, civilization, etc. He’s giving in to his curiosity and discovering truths about the relationships between all matter and energy. He’s learning about himself and the whole of the universe. He’s becoming wise.
Cosmic education can also look like describing each element of the periodic table in a way that aligns both their formation (so far only through the life and death of stars) and also their pervasiveness in all matter in the universe, including in the very air we breathe and the composition of our bodies. This idea that simplistic particles self-organize into complex systems brings out a sense of wonder in anyone who’s introduced to the idea–hence the famous meme, “We are made of star stuff.” It’s not just inspirational; it’s legitimate science.
But it doesn’t just relate with science and cosmology.
It might also look like introducing a game of chess by revealing that, in ancient times, only the pharaohs and privileged educated nobles had the glory of strategy games, allowing the 8-year-old child to imagine themselves in a position of power and realizing that what was once limited to a few is now available to many–and that this is the way of progression in the arc of humanity. What today is only available to the elite and will one day permeate the masses and be taken for granted?
It looks like diagramming sentences and labeling verbs with a large red circle, a symbol that resembles the sun, because as the sun gives energy to our solar system, the verb gives energy to a sentence. In fact, each of the parts of speech get a special symbol, each with their own imbued meaning.
At the very least, it looks like always looking for the connection. Origins of letters and numbers reveal a closeness to primitive peoples we might not otherwise feel connected to. Contributions from the first souls to stumble upon revolutionary ideas, and the others who took those ideas and fleshed them out, might inspire us to continue that tradition in our own place and time. There’s always a connection and Cosmic Education is our best attempt at defining and drawing out the connections.
We’re all on a journey of lifelong cosmic learning.
As I guide my son toward making the connections that Cosmic Education empowers him to make, I find myself returning to the idea of being a teacher—or, rather, of not being a teacher. I’m alongside Ronnie on this journey rather than leading the way all the time.
Perhaps, by giving in to my curiosity, I’m showing my children how to also give in to theirs. In essence, I’m taking this opportunity to live into the principle of cosmic learning that I hope to instill in my child; I’m looking to scholars, experts, academics, scientists, philosophers, other homeschoolers, and even my son, for instruction.
We’re both students. We’re both learning and discovering as we go, and as he makes connections within the universe of the curriculum, I make connections about the universe of the curriculum. What a gift it has been to both of us to learn in this way.
And now I’d love to hear from you: how do you make connections in your homeschooling journey? Let me know in the comments.
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