The 1981 United States Convention of Catholic Education and Librarians asked me for my views on the theme: Catholic Education, A World of Difference. The statement I made could be equally valid for any denomination of the Christian faith, and it could be rewritten and adapted to every major faith of this planet. What lessons we would derive from such an exercise! What progress we would make towards a global spiritual understanding and teaching of our prodigious journey in the vast, mysterious universe!


Not being an educator, I have thought a lot of how I would make a useful contribution to your convention. I have come to the conclusion that I might tell you how I would educate the children of this world on the basis of my thirty-three years of experience at the United Nations and as a Catholic Christian. I will offer you a world core curriculum aimed at all grades, levels and forms of education, including adult education.

The starting point is that every hour 6,000 of our brothers and sisters die and 15,000 children are born on this planet. The newcomers must be educated so that they can benefit from the acquired knowledge and skills of a living of humanity, enjoy happy and fulfilled lives, and contribute in turn to the continuance, maintenance and further ascent of humanity on a well-preserved planet.

Alas, many newly born will never reach school age. One out of ten will die before reaching the age of one and another four per cent will die before the age of five.

There is a second prior problem: we must try by every possible means to prevent children from reaching school age with handicaps. It is estimated that ten per cent of all the world's children have a handicap of a physical, sensory or mental nature by the time they reach school age. In the developing countries, an unforgivable major cause is still malnutrition. I am glad to note that your convention has a special workshop on education of the handicapped. This is most timely, since the United Nations has proclaimed 1981 as International Year of Disabled Persons to draw the world's attention to its 450 million disabled people.

Thirdly, my ideal curriculum presupposes that there are schools for all the children of the world. Alas, this is not the case. There are still 814 million illiterates on this planet Humanity has done wonders in educating its people: we have reduced the percentage of illiterates of the world adult population from 32.4 per cent to 28.9 per cent between 1970 and 1980, a period of phenomenal population growth. But between now and the year 2000, 1.6 billion more people will be added to this planet and we are likely to reach a total of 6.1 billion people in that year. Ninety percent of the increase will be in the developing countries where the problem of education is most severe. As a result, the total number of illiterates could climb to 950 million by the Bimillenium

Education for all remains, therefore, a first priority on this planet, as every Catholic missionary can tell you. This is why UNESCO has rightly adopted a World Literacy plan for the year 2000.

With all these miseries and limitations still with us, it remains important, nevertheless, to lift one's sight and to begin thinking of a world core curriculum since Catholicism, as the name indicates, is universal. The great merit of being a Catholic is to be more than a member of a nation, or a race, of a culture, of a language, of a profession. It is to be a member of the entire human family, a member of a heavenly, universal family ruled by divine precepts. Catholic education is therefore far ahead of purely earthbound, civilian education lacking a spiritual, universal dimension. This is true of all affairs of this world. After my many years of world service, I can say unequivocally that only a spiritual approach or divine consciousness will permit us to solve our earthly problems This is what all great religious prophets, visionaries and heavenly emissaries have told as proclaimed by Vatican II and I would hope that educators of all the major religions would put their heads together and show a confused and not very happy world the tremendous benefits to be derived from a global, spiritual education.

Several decades will still pass before nations admit the necessity of a curriculum which would encompass all national educational systems. But it will come. The new global circumstances and concerns of our planet make it imperative that we begin considering it. Today's planetary sciences and technology will unify the world in the same way as road and bridge building made the Roman Empire, and railroads unified the United States as well as Russia. The challenge to Catholic education is therefore to integrate fully the advanced results of our scientific, technological and social knowledge into its universal, spiritual vision of human life and destiny in the universe and in time.

My curriculum aims at providing a simple synthesis of all the complex knowledge acquired in the last few centuries, especially during the last three decades. One of the main objectives of education is to put sense and order into things and to give the children a correct view of the planet and of the circumstances in which they will live. I outlined the need for a new educational approach a few years ago in an essay, the Need for global Education- which has played a part inducing several governments, enducing that of the United States, to give consideration to a new type of world education.

As I do in the United Nations, where all human knowledge, concerns, efforts and aspirations converge, I would organize the fundamental lifelong objectives of education around four categories:

I. Our planetary home and place in the universe

II. The human family

III. Our place in time

IV. The miracle of individual human life



I. Our Planetary Home and
Place in the Universe

The first major segment of the curriculum should deal with our prodigious knowledge of planet Earth. Humanity has been able, of late, to produce a magnificent picture of our planet and of its place in the universe.

From the infinitely large to the infinitely small, everything fits today into a very simple and clear pattern. The list of subjects in this first segment should be as follows, as we use it in the United Nations:


The infinitely large:

• The Universe, the stars and outer space

• Our relations with the Sun

• The Earth's physics

• The Earth's climate

• The atmosphere

• The biosphere

• The seas and oceans

• The polar caps

•The Earth's land masses

• The Earth's arable lands

• The deserts

• The mountains

• The Earth's water

• Plant life

• Animal life

• Human life

• The Earth's energy

• The Earth's crust and depths

• The Earth's minerals



The infinitely small:


• Genetics

• Chemistry

Nuclear physics


At each of these levels humanity has made incredible progress and knows an enormous amount. Astrophysicists tell us how stars and planets are born and die. We know the physics, atmospheres and even soils of other planets. Thanks to man-made satellites, we have a total view of our globe, of our atmosphere, of our seas and oceans and land masses. We know our complicated climate through a new science called climatology We know our polar caps. For the first lime ever, we possess a soil and land map for the entire planet. We know our mountains. We know our total water resources. We know our deserts. We know our flora and fauna. We know part of the crust of our earth. Our knowledge reaches far down into the microbial, genetic and cellular worlds, into the realm of the atom and its particles and sub particles We have an incredible, beautiful, vast picture of our place in the universe. If a teacher wishes to give children a glimpse of the tremendous expanse of our knowledge, all he or she has to do is to have them visit on the same day an astronomical observatory and an atomic bubble chamber!

All this knowledge culminates in the United Nations or in one of its specialized agencies or world conferences. For each of the above items, I could give vivid examples of intensive world cooperation: e.g. on astrophysics and outer space, the UN has convened two world conferences; on the climate, the World Meteorological Organization has a Global Atmospheric Research Program and convened in 1979 a first World Climate Conference: on air space and aviation, we have the International Civil Aviation Organization; on the seas and oceans, there is the UN's Conference on the Law of the Sea; the ozonosphere and the entire biosphere are of concern to the UN Environment Program. I could go on and on, down to world cooperation in genetics and microbiology in UNESCO and in the World Health Organization, and in nuclear physics in the International Atomic Energy Agency. As a matter of fact, it is absolutely essential and in our enlightened self interest to teach the children about this international cooperation so that they can see that humanity is beginning to work together and that there is good hope for a better world. There is a dire need for a good textbook on the UN and on international cooperation for Catholic schools.

The above framework allows us to present our planetary and universal knowledge to all people and particularly to children in a simple, beautiful manner. Humanity has discovered and pierced piecemeal the reality that surrounds us, and now this knowledge falls into a magnificent total pattern which must be taught to humans from childhood on. They wish to be told about their correct place in the universe. The Greeks and Pascal's genial view of the infinitely large and the infinitely small has been filled in by science and provides the framework for much of today's international cooperation and daily lives of peoples. We can now give children a breathtaking view of the beauty and teeming, endless richness of creation as has never been possible before in human evolution. It should make them glad to be alive and to be human. It should also prepare them with excitement for a vast number of professions and make them better and more responsible members of the human race, henceforth the caretaker of our planet.

What special contributions can a Catholic Christian or spiritual education add to these 'civilian' results, which are mostly the products of the scientific and rational age by which the world has now been ruled for several centuries? There are many of them, but let me mention four principal ones:

First, the scientists have now come to the end of their wisdom. Humans are simply incapable of grasping the vastness of creation and all its mysteries. We cannot understand the notions of the infinitely large, or the infinitely small and of eternity. Even the notions of matter and energy, of objectivity and subjectivity are being challenged today. Beyond the elation of our discoveries, there is a certain despair at our incapacity to comprehend the totality. This is where spirituality or religion comes in. Science in my view is part of the spiritual process; it is a transcendence and elevation of the human race into an ever vaster knowledge and consciousness of the universe and of its unfathomable divine character.

Secondly, our wonder of the magnificence of creation is today greater than ever. What a beautiful picture of the universe we can present to our children! We should describe it with at least as much as love, poetry, exaltation and ecstasy as did the writers of the Bible. Teachers have a wonderful story to tell, stones of endless miracles from a galaxy to the genetic factory contained a cell, from the courses of the planets to the life of a flower and the whirling of electrons in an atom. Spiritual and religious awe, endless respect for the magnificence of the universe and for the greatness of the Creator will ensue.

Thirdly, we can elicit pride at being humans, at being able, above all species, to go so far in the comprehension of the universe. We can show children and people that there is something divine, miraculous and tremendous in being human, that God must have a special design for us, that our evolution makes more and more sense, that it will continue at ever higher levels until this planet has finally become a showcase in the universe, a planet of God. This will give children a sense of participation in the building of the earth, of becoming artisans of the will of God and thus co-creators with Him.

Fourthly, as vividly described in the story of the Tree of Knowledge, having decided to become like God through knowledge and our attempt to understand the heavens and the earth, we have also become masters in deciding between good and bad; every invention of ours can be used for good and bad all along the above Copernican tapestry of our knowledge: outer space technology can be used for peace or for killer satellites, aviation for transportation or for dropping bombs, the atom for energy or for nuclear destruction, etc.

This gives Catholic, Christian and all spiritual educators a marvelous opportunity to teach a new morality and ethics all along the scale and thus to prepare responsible citizens, workers, scientists, geneticists, physicists and scores of other professionals, including a new badly needed category: world managers and caretakers.


II. The Human Family

There is a second segment on which humanity has also made tremendous progress of late: not only have we taken cognizance of our planet and of our place in the universe, but we have also taken stock of ourselves! This is of momentous importance, for henceforth our story in the universe is basically that of ourselves and of our planet. For a proper unfolding of that story, we had to know its two main elements well: the planet and ourselves. This has been accomplished since World War II.

When the UN was founded no one knew what the world population was. A UN Population Commission was created, sample surveys were conducted and agreements reached on the worldwide collection of population statistics and the holding of world censuses. We thus learned in 1951 that we were two and a half billion people. Today we are four and a half billion! A population explosion which could have gone unnoticed was detected. The necessary global warnings were given and humanity is now responding with slower birth rates to the lowering of death rates.

We have learned so much about humanity since the end of World War II: we now know how many we are; where we live; how long we live; how many males, females, youths and elderly there are. This knowledge is being constantly improved and refined. We have a quantitative knowledge of our human family which we never had before at any time in history. We know ourselves also qualitatively: our levels of living, of nutrition, of health, of literacy, of employment, etc. We also have records of our progress: we know how many literates are being added to this planet each year; we know that by eradicating smallpox the number of the blind in the world was reduced by half, etc. Incidentally, it was no small achievement to have accommodated 2 billion more people on this planet within a short period of thirty years!

The human family has looked at itself in a series of major conferences on population, human settlements, women, youth, races, economic development, etc. After the International Year of the Child, we had the International Year of Disabled Persons, and in 1982 we will hold a World Assembly on Aging. As a result of so many efforts, we have an unprecedented inventory and knowledge of humanity. That fundamental, up-to-date knowledge must be conveyed to all the children of the world.

There is a further major aspect of the human family on which we have made substantial progress during the last decades, namely, our society and its man-made groupings. We are indeed a species that likes to congregate and subdivide itself into any conceivable group based on physical, geographic, qualitative or ideological aspects: races, sexes, age groups, nations, provinces, cities, rich and poor, religions, languages, social systems, forms of government, corporations, professions, institutions, associations, etc. Many of these are inherited from the past: thus we enter the global age with more than 150 nations, 5,000 languages, scores of religions, etc. Other entities are new, such as world organizations, multinational corporations and transnational associations.

All these groups are being studied and heard in the United Nations and its agencies. What this all means is as yet little understood. Formation of entities or the social biology of the human species, from the world society to the individual, is still a rather primitive science.

The first task of the United Nations is to build bridges, peace and harmony between these groups, to listen to their views and perceptions, to prevent them from blowing each other up and endangering the entire planet, to seek what each group has to contribute, to understand their legitimate concerns, values, denominators and objectives, and to~p the meaning of the vast and complex functioning of life from the largest to the most minute, from the total society to the individual, from human unity to an endless, more refined diversity.

It is a vast, unprecedented, mind-boggling challenge but it would help if our second great segment of the world core curriculum were organized as follows:

Quantitative Characteristics

• The total world population and its changes

• Human geography and migrations

• Human longevity

• Races

• Sexes

• Children

• Youth

• Adults

• The elderly

• The handicapped


Qualitative Characteristics

• Our levels of nutrition

• Our levels of health

• Our standards of life (rich and poor)

• Our skills and employment

• Our levels of education

• Our moral levels

• Our spiritual levels


Human Groupings

• The family

• Human settlements

• Professions

• Corporations

• Institutions

• Nations

• Regions

• Religions

• Multinational business

• Transnational networks

• World organizations


What will be important in such a curriculum is the dynamic aspect of the relations between humanity and our planet: We now have good inventories; we know the elements of the great evolutionary problems confronting us, but we barely stand at the beginning of the planetary management phase of human history: demographic options, resources management, environmental protection, conflict resolution, the management of peace, justice and progress for all, the optimization of human life in space and in time. The United Nations and its specialized agencies offer the first examples of attempts at global management in all these fields and must therefore occupy a prominent and necessary place in the world's curricula. The earlier we do this, the better it will be for our survival and fulfillment..

Again, what an immense contribution Catholic and Christian education can bring to a better understanding and teaching of the human family and its components: a proper population policy which respects the right to life; the equality of races; Christ's teachings and the Church's long experience with children, youth, the family, adults, the elderly; the equality of sexes, peace, justice, reverence for life; help to the poor, the downtrodden and the handicapped. The social experience of the Church vastly surpasses that of the young United Nations and its agencies. This is why the Holy See has become so dose to the United Nations, offering its vision, help and experience in the solution of most difficult world problems. When I read documents emanating from the Holy See dealing with social issues, I sometimes have the impression that I am reading United Nations documents. What marvelous opportunities the UN, its agencies and its world conferences offer Catholics to participate in the making of a better world! The Holy See has fully understood it and maintains important missions at the seats of all the UN agencies. His Holiness is always ready to help the United Nations in its endeavors, the last example being his appeal for the world's handicapped on January 1, 1981, the opening day of the IYDP.

More importantly, all the teachings of Catholicism and Christianity derive from a spiritual, divine or cosmic understanding of the unity of the human race under God, of the sanctity of life and the consequent abhorrence and condemnation of war, violence, terrorism, armaments, injustices, poverty, discrimination, hatred and untruthfulness. Popes Paul VI and John Paul II in their historical visits to the United Nations and their yearly messages on the Day of Peace have articulated a full doctrine of peace and right human relations for our planet. These texts should be used in the teaching of this vital segment of the world curriculum. They go far beyond the rational and "interest" language of the political world and add a much-needed spiritual, altruistic dimension to human efforts. They dare to speak of love for our planet, for the heavens and for all our brothers and sisters, a word very little used in the contemporary political world. What beautiful teachings can unfold in Catholic schools around these concepts: concern for the environment as an act of love for our planet; concern for the poor as an act of love for all our human brothers and sisters; turning to God as a guide for our behavior, etc. What a deep truth and tremendous vision Christ has given us! No wonder He has survived all political regimes and ideologies, and He offers us today as correct universal answers to humanity's problems as ever. As a matter of fact, this is the great hour for a spiritual world renaissance. The supreme reality of the human family, universal and interdependent, as seen by Christ and by all great religious leaders must now become the world's major political objective. The time has come for the implementation of a spiritual vision of world affairs. The entire planet must elevate itself again into the spiritual, cosmic throbbing of the universe.

III. Our Place In Time

In the same way as humanity is taking cognizance of its correct place in the universe, it is now also forced to look at its correct place in time or eternity.

When I joined the United Nations in 1948 there was very little time perspective. The word 'futurology' did not even exist. Some nations who had five-year economic plans were derided, because it was believed that no one on this planet could plan for five years ahead! How the world has changed since then! Today every nation is planning for at least twenty years ahead. At the world level, the UN has adopted a world economic development strategy for the 1980's; the Food and Agriculture Organization has a World Food Plan 2000, the World Health Organization a World Health Plan 2000, UNESCO a World Literacy Plan 2000; UN demographers provide us with population projections for the next hundred years and the World Meteorological Organization tries to forecast our climate for the next several hundred years.

Something similar is happening with regard to the past. Today we know that our planet is more than 45 billion years old and we have developed a vast knowledge of our paleontological and archaeological past. Astrophysicists tell us that our sun - a star of stabilized light hydrogen explosions - will remain in existence for another 6 to 8 billion years before we vanish again into the universe to become other stars and planets.

Thus humanity is forced to expand its time dimension tremendously into the past and into the future: we must preserve the natural elements inherited from the past and necessary for our life and survival (air, water, soils, energy, animals, fauna, flora, genetic materials). We also want to preserve our cultural heritage, the landmarks of our own evolution and history, in order to see the unfolding and magnitude of our cosmic journey. At the same time we must think and plan far ahead into the future in order to hand over to succeeding generations a well preserved and better managed planet. What does this mean for a world curriculum? It means that we must add a time dimension to the above layers, each of which has a past, a present and a future:

The Universe: (past, present, future)

• Our sun:

• Our globe

• Our biosphere

(etc., down to the cell, genes and the atom)


Taken together, our present knowledge and responsibilities on our miraculous little planet are of awesome complexity and magnitude. It will take great vision and honesty to achieve the harmony and fulfillment of our journey in the universe and in time. The time has come to look again at the totality and to be what we were always meant to be: universal, total, spiritual beings. The hour for this vast synthesis, for a new encyclopedia of all our knowledge and the formulation of the agenda for our cosmic future has struck Like the human eye which receives millions of bits of information at every glance, we must see the total picture and beauty of our planet, of the universe and of our lives.

Here again, science and rationalism have arrived at an impasse while religions have always seen the time dimension of our journey. What lessons religions can give geneticists, evolutionists and futurologists: the belief that our good deeds will be recorded and will contribute to a better humanity and a better future life (the genetic recording of the biologists); the belief that we are coming from somewhere and that we are going somewhere (evolutionists); the belief in a millennium, in a better, more peaceful world inspired and ruled by divine or cosmic laws, the belief that in us humans there are divine, cosmic elements which will flower to the point that we will become conscious of the total universe and that the universe will become conscious in ourselves (futurologists). As Catholics would say: the incarnated God, or Christ, is in all of us and for all of us to manifest.

What a formidable force it will be when all 45 billion humans on this planet have become spiritual beings in the eternal stream of time, conscious of the long-term consequences of their lives and actions and no longer prone to sacrifice these for puny, short-term interests and profit

Here again an immense and beautiful responsibility behooves all Christian and religious teachers: it is no less than to prepare universal beings ready to flower and to fulfill their divine lives or cosmic destinies, as proclaimed by all the great prophets for eons of time.

IV. The Miracle of Individual Human Life

It is becoming increasingly clear in our debates on human rights that the individual is the alpha and omega of all our efforts. Individual human life is the highest form of universal or divine consciousness on our planet. Institutions, concepts, factories, systems, states, ideologies, theories have no consciousness. They are all servants, instruments, means for better lives and for the increase of individual human consciousness. We are faced today with the full-fledged centrality, divinity, dignity and miracle of individual human life as proclaimed relentlessly by Jesus, irrespective of race, sex, status, age, nation, physical or mental capacity: the divine nature of the human person.

Education of the newcomers is basically the teaching of the art of living and of human fulfillment within the immense knowledge of space and time acquired by humanity. It is to make each child feel like a king in the universe, an expanded being aggrandized by the vastness of our knowledge, which now reaches far into the infinitely large and the infinitely small, the distant past and the future. It is to make him feel proud to be a member of a transformed species whose eyesight, hearing, hands, legs, brain and heart have been multiplied a thousand times. Like the early Christians, the task is to help to maturity beings who exude a resplendent joy of living, who are witnesses to the beauty and majesty of creation. Knowledge, peace, happiness, goodness, love and meaningful lives --these must be the objectives of education.

And here I would complete my core curriculum for the individual with the four segments so dear to former Secretary-General U Thant:

Good Physical Lives:

• Knowledge and care of the body

• Teaching to see, to hear, to speak, to write, to observe,
to create, to do, to use well all senses
and physical capacities

Good Mental Lives:


• Teaching to raise questions, to think, to analyze, to synthesize
to conclude, to communicate teaching to focus from the
infinitely large to the infinitely small, from the
distant past to the present and the future

Good Moral Lives:

• Teaching to love

• Teaching truth, understanding, humility, liberty,
reverence for life, compassion,
altruism and service


Good Spiritual Lives:

• Spiritual exercises of interiority, meditation,
prayer and communion with God,
the universe and eternity.

Here I have not much to say, for your knowledge and experience in these fields are far superior to mine. I tried in my book, Most of All They Taught Me Happiness, to summarize all I have learned on the subject. Its starting point is this simple sentence by Norman Cousins in the Preface, which I would like to see pondered by all humans of this planet:

"The tragedy of life is not death, but what we let die inside of us while we live."

Its epilogue is as follows:


In all four segments of my proposed world curriculum, the spiritual visions of Christianity and other religions are truer, deeper and more enriching than any purely rational, scientific, pragmatic, civilian education. Our lives and planet and human family advance in time as a huge living ball of changes, interdependencies, dreams and aspirations, the full significance and mystery of which will probably forever escape us. But Christ gave us hope, faith and light. He gave us his two great commandments: love the Father in heaven and love each other with all your strength, all your mind, all your heart and all your soul. His 'holistic' and divinely simple teachings do in many ways enrich the marvelous discoveries of science, reason, analysis and experimentation. But the latter are not all. There is more in the heavens and on earth than in our discoveries. The unique challenge to universal spiritual education is to integrate our vast scientific knowledge, our social knowledge, our knowledge of time and of the art of living into a shining, divine, blissful vision of our miraculous journey in the unfathomable universe.

Modern Christian and spiritual teachers could well say:

"Give me your children, and I will give them the heavens, happiness, the earth and immortality."