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Loving History in our Homeschool

December 17, 2014

We started homeschooling for many reasons, and with many hopes for how it would benefit our children. We knew we could teach them worldview and science from a Christian perspective, speed them on subjects in which they excelled, and give extra time whenever that was needed for full mastery of their subjects. We knew we could protect them from some corrupting influences from public school peers. And we knew we could enrich their learning with travel to some of the places about which they’d learned. All of those things have been true blessings even beyond what we expected they would be.

The biggest surprise benefit we’ve found from homeschooling is the love of history that all of our kids (and even my wife and I) have developed. It happened naturally, not with any special focus on our part. Looking back now though I do see several key reasons for it…

We taught the kids history together

My wife taught them all the same lessons together (with different work assignments afterward for different ages). This made their study of history a journey they were taking together, listening to a book read aloud and doing projects and writing about the same period of time as all their siblings.

They could talk about interesting aspects of what they were learning with each other – and with their mom and dad.

We taught them history chronologically

This was a shockingly simple but powerful approach. Beginning with Creation and progressing chronologically shows the continuity and context of history – how it has “unfolded” through time.

We all understand intuitively that what happens in life often depends a lot on what has come before, and everything that happens has an impact on what will come later. It has absolutely helped make history connected and unified as an exploration of God’s providential work in the world.

We used biographies and inspirational stories

Our curriculum included biographies and stories about the lifestyles of people living at different times and in different places. This helped the kids understand how some things are similar to our lives and how some things have been dramatically different.

This is one of the areas I was able to help most as a father, saving the family read-aloud stories for evening time.

Why is history not taught this way in school?

Nearly all school programs break up history into subjects divided geographically rather than by time period. So students often learn U.S. history before ancient history, then jump to their state’s history the next year – disconnecting everything from what came before and after, and what else was going on elsewhere in the world at the same time.

My wife and I both disliked history in school because it was too dry – focused on the memorization of dates, places and names. I don’t recall ever being inspired or thinking that anything I had learned in history could be instructive to me in living my life in the present. Some of this is because a school has to teach subjects in a way that can be tested en masse – this no doubt explains a lot of the focus on dates, places and names.

Not only that, but the specific dates, places and names have been carefully chosen to align to the historical narrative the government schools want to plant in children’s minds. For example, why are we taught that George Washington was the first president of our country? Did you ever stop to wonder who led our country in the thirteen years between the Declaration of Independence and Washington’s inauguration in 1789? In fact there were 16 presidents of the United States of America prior to George Washington, but because these presidents served under the Articles of Confederation, the original structure of our republic, they were significantly weaker than Washington and all subsequent presidents under the Constitution. It cannot be coincidence that I’ve never met anyone educated in public school who was ever taught a single thing about any of these earlier presidents, or even made aware that they existed. In this and many similar instances, our true history has been taken from us by being kept from the minds of the next generation.

Why wouldn’t schools want our students to have an empowering grasp of history?

Practical considerations for testing cannot explain why history is taught in government schools in a way that mixes up time periods and disconnects all context. And there is no rationale that properly explains the utterly bizarre choices of historical episodes included vs. excluded in textbooks.

I think the reason for this approach goes far deeper, to the very purpose that government schools see for themselves – to produce stable productive citizens.

I believe that the school is primarily a social institution. Education being a social process, the school is simply that form of community life in which all those agencies are concentrated that will be most effective in bringing the child to share in the inherited resources of the race, and to use his own powers for social ends. — John Dewey

Obviously, a particular society is stabilized most when citizens focus on finding their place in it, more than on changing it. This is an insidious idea which did not need a widespread conspiracy involving everyone who taught in a classroom or anything approaching that. It needed only that the key decisions about our approach to education would be made with this goal – in the case of the United States, to model our educational institution after that found in Prussia.

A small number of passionate ideological leaders visited Prussia in the first half of the 19th Century, fell in love with the order, obedience, and efficiency of its educational system and campaigned relentlessly thereafter to bring the Prussian vision to our shores. To do that, children would have to be removed from their parents and inappropriate cultural influences. — John Taylor Gatto, The Underground History of American Education

…and History, above all other subjects, had to be contorted and stripped of its power in order to fit this model.

A people without a heritage are easily persuaded. — Karl Marx

Most teachers pursue that career because they have a desire to invest in children and try to light in them a spark of knowledge and intellect. I am convinced that many teachers do not realize that these are the stated goals of the high elite founders of their craft (e.g. John Dewey, Horace Mann), which are now the hidden underpinnings of the system to which they have dedicated their life.

Sadly, the structure of the institution itself insures that even the most well-meaning of teachers, focused on instilling in their students the strongest appreciation of history they possibly can, can never hope for real success. At best they can create interest in a specific time period, which will likely get diluted the next year when the students are jumped forward or backward in time or to study another part of the world, with little or no reference to what they learned that previous year.

This is no doubt part of the reason that teaching is consistently listed as one of the most depressing professions in America.

Homeschooling enables History to come to Life

Homeschoolers, we must take full advantage of the freedom to enliven history and to teach it chronologically. Let’s forget about what will be easy to test and instead teach what will inspire our children. Let them see how history flows together, and yes, make sure they know that great men and women have changed its course many times through their providential actions and statements. Let’s take them to the places where great events have occurred – let them see that they are all around us.

Our world sorely needs our next generation to be capable of finding a better course and leading the world toward it. A love and an understanding of History is not sufficient in itself, but it is a wonderful, and surprising, seed of this potential.

The march of Providence is so slow, and our desires so impatient; the work of progress is so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope. — Robert E. Lee

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One Comment
  1. Dianna Roberts permalink

    Great article

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