Teaching Life as a Great Story

A Transformative Tool in Sustainability Education

"A coherent story of our origins — a powerful and true myth — can act as an effective intellectual vehicle ... in the building of a whole new legacy."
— Eric Chaisson

The dominant EuroAmerican narrative has told humans that they are separate from Nature, that Nature is corrupt and something to be controlled, a belief compounded by the post-industrial mechanistic way of understanding life processes (Bowers, 1997; Merchant, 1982). This "story" influences curriculum (and the hidden curriculum).

In contrast, the Great Story (Universe Story or Evolutionary Epic) is what Maria Montessori calls "a spectacular vision of the universe." The science of cosmogenesis and evolution connects humans to the universe, Earth and all life.

The Great Story provides humanity a common creation story, a narrative that "embraces yet transcends all scientific, religious, and cultural stories" (Dowd, 2002). "For the first time in human existence we have a cosmic story that is not tied to one cultural tradition ... but instead gathers every human group into its meanings" (Swimme, 1998).

In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.

— Carl Sagan

The Great Story serves as a superior way for students to make sense of the world, and offers a powerful integrating theme in education. Montessori presented "the whole of the universe as a framework for all the children's later knowledge" (Lillard, 1996, p. 55), and based her education on five "Great Lessons," starting with stories of the universe and the coming of life. Her method has been validated by research (Lillard, 2005).

Theologic historian Thomas Berry (1988) taught the Universe Story as the context for all human understanding. "Both education and religion need to ground themselves within the story of the universe.... Within this functional cosmology we can overcome our alienation and begin the renewal of life on a sustainable basis" (http://thegreatstory.org/).


Bowers, C. A. (1997). The culture of denial: Why the environmental movement needs a strategy for reforming universities and public schools. SUNY Press, Albany, NY

Berry, T. (1988). Dream of the Earth. Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, Quote accessed at http://www.thegreatstory.org/what_is.html

Dowd, M. (2002). What Is the Great Story? Accessed at http://www.thegreatstory.org/what_is.html

Lillard, A. (2005). Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius. Oxford University Press, New York

Lillard, P. (1996). Montessori Today: A Comprehensive Approach to Education from Birth to Adulthood. Schocken Books, New York

Merchant, C. (1982). The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution. Harper Collins, New York

Swimme, B. (1998). In Barlow, C. Part II: Classic Quotes. Epic of Evolution Quarterly. Spring: 2. Accessed at

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