Reformed Teaching of History


John Scales Avery – TRANSCEND Media Service

Today the world urgently needs a new global ethic, – an ethic where loyalty to family, community and nation will be supplemented by a strong sense of the brotherhood of all humans, regardless of race, religion or nationality.

Schiller expressed this feeling in his “Ode to Joy”, a part of which is the text of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Hearing Beethoven’s music and Schiller’s words, most of us experience an emotion of resonance and unity with the message: All humans are brothers and sisters – not just some – all! It is almost a national anthem of humanity. The feelings that the music and words provoke are similar to patriotism, but broader. It is this sense of a universal human family that we need to cultivate in education, in the mass media, and in religion.

We already appreciate music, art and literature from the entire world, and scientific achievements are shared by all, regardless of their country of origin. We need to develop this principle of universal humanism so that it will become the cornerstone of a new ethic.

Educational reforms are urgently needed, particularly in the teaching of history. As it is taught today, history is a chronicle of power struggles and war, told from a biased national standpoint. Our own race or religion is superior; our own country is always heroic and in the right.

We urgently need to replace this indoctrination in chauvinism by a reformed view of history, where the slow development of human culture is described, giving adequate credit to all who have contributed. Our modern civilization is built on the achievements of many ancient cultures. China, Japan, India, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, the Islamic world, Christian Europe, and the Jewish intellectual traditions all have contributed. Potatoes, corn, squash, vanilla, chocolate,  chili peppers, pineapples, quinine, etc. are gifts from the American Indians. Human culture, gradually built up over thousands of years by the patient work of millions of hands and minds, should be presented as a precious heritage – far too precious to be risked in a thermonuclear war.

The human race has a genius for cooperation. All of the great achievements of modern society are achievements of cooperation. We can fly, but no one builds an airplane alone. We can cure diseases, but only through the cooperative efforts of researchers, doctors and medicinal firms. We can photograph and understand distant galaxies, but the ability to do so is built on the efforts of many cooperating individuals. The comfort and well-being that we experience depends on far-away friendly hands and minds, since trade is global, and the exchange of ideas is also global.

The heritage of knowledge and culture, on which our complex civilization depends, is a monument to cooperation. Science and technology could not exist without the worldwide sharing of knowledge. Art, literature and music are the common heritage of humanity. We are who we are because of sharing.

All the peoples of the earth have contributed to the great treasure of human culture that we all share: Agriculture was invented independently in the Middle East, in Asia and in the New World, and from these places it spread throughout the earth. The art of writing and the first steps towards mathematics and astronomy had their beginnings in Mesopotamia and Egypt. India and Arabia gave us algebra and chemistry. The art of printing began in Asia, and further developed in Europe. Japanese art influenced European painters such as Degas, Gauguin and Van Gogh.

Today, the sharing of knowledge and culture is symbolized by the Internet, which binds us all together, no matter where we are living. The authors who contribute to Wikipedia do so from an unselfish wish to increase the sum of human knowledge. Their names do not even appear on their articles.

Let us use our almost miraculous modern communications media to bind humanity together. Let us eliminate the insanity and  immorality of war from our future, and let us replace it with a more noble goal – the development and sharing of the world’s cultural heritage.


John Scales Avery, Ph.D. is Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He received his training in theoretical physics and theoretical chemistry at M.I.T., the University of Chicago and the University of London. He is the author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent book is “Crisis 21: Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century.”


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 13 Aug 2012.

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