If we are honest, we are often guilty of seeing ourselves, either individually or as part of a group, at the center of a world that turns around us. In renaissance times there was considerable discomfort in the corridors of power and authority when the "official" view of the celestial importance of the Earth was challenged by the heliocentric heresy. Great lives were sacrificed on the altar of unsubstantiated dogma. It was somehow too much to think that our own significance in the universe might be utterly trivial.
A week spent in China has served as a sobering reminder of how the distant and unfamiliar can assume a totally revised significance when experienced at close proximity. Both Beijing and and Shanghai have populations that are close to double the size of Switzerland. Hangzhou, less than an hour by high-speed train from Shanghai, has a population of over 10 million and a GDP that exceeds a good number of developing nations; and yet a massive majority of people outside China have never heard of it, and certainly could not place a pin on it on a map - and this despite having almost 2000 years of history. Growth rates in standards of living and economic development are dizzying by European standards, and the cosmopolitan city centres are modern, sophisticated and vibrant in ways that give little or no indication of repressive or authoritarian government. While this may be an unrepresentative tip of the iceberg, there is nonetheless a great deal of ice above the surface, given the vast size of this nation.
Significance seems to be in the eye of the beholder; and that means that unless we take the time and trouble to look around us, we may end up with a distorted sense of our own significance. The difficulty too often is that our view of the distant or less familiar is through the distorting lens - accidental, unwitting or otherwise - of media over which we exercise little autonomy. Furthermore, the opportunity to experience new environments first-hand is a privilege available to just a few.
In an educational context, all this points to the importance of the educator as a critical fellow-passenger on real and virtual voyages of discovery. Gone are the days of the teacher as peerless knowledge fountain, rote-learning instructor, dictator (literally) and unquestioned authority. The modern educator must elicit challenge to the status quo, foster the exploration of multiple perspectives, open eyes to behold, and defend against a world view based on a misplaced evaluation of our own significance.