It seems peculiar that I should feel the need to write something in defense of spending so much time with history. There has been such a push in education, however, in recent times to concentrate almost exclusively on “necessary” academic subjects, the three Rs, that is reading, writing and arithmetic. Even science and foreign language take priority over history, cursive and art, which seem relegated to extras, or even worse.
For us, however, history seems to be at the heart of our academic day. And I don’t mean the memorization of dates, quotes and people, but the love, deference and analysis that we give to the study . I do not pretend to know enough to speak intelligently about educational philosophies, although I researched them heavily before beginning our home education. If pressed into explaining what I am attempting to do with my guys I guess I would say we are definitely eclectic, influenced most by unit studies and Charlotte Mason. As you can see in the blurry photo above, we happily make use of Susan Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World and supplement periodically, trying to find “living books,” which fit best into our current study. Although Bauer is closely associated with classical education, her history works well with narration and my own ideas about literature-based learning. I am not necessarily concerned that my children remember every important detail, but more that I am able to point the way for them to educate themselves, not merely while they are “of school age,” but far beyond. I want to teach them to teach themselves, to learn how to learn, and to love learning.
The question is not, -how much does the youth know when he has finished his education- but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and therefore, how full is the life he has before him?
Charlotte Mason in School Education
What follows are a few simple reasons we find history significant to our studies:
1. It is a means of incorporating multiple disciplines, such as reading, narration, writing, and geography, as well as developing other skills like note taking.
2. It is easier to appreciate art and literature through the ages as it relates to major historical events and shifts in thought. Not convinced art is significant in and of itself? Some argue it is what defines us as human.
3. It is a built-in venue for teaching writing and thinking. Beginning with narration (or retelling stories) we can make use of historical events as a natural springboard for writing summaries, analyses and eventually drawing important connections.
4. Closely tied to number three, the careful study of history teaches us to think. There are no obvious or objective answers in history. We glean from it what we will. A proper study of history forces us to be critical in our view of world events. Learning how events are interconnected, or how one event may precipitate another, is an important exercise for growing minds. Particularly important for middle schoolers who are naturally black-and-white in their thinking, history provides a way for us to discuss the morality, meaning and potential consequences of major decisions, thoughts and events.
5. It helps us appreciate where others have been and where we are all going. It is difficult to understand the present, and project appropriately about the future, if we do not have a grasp on the past.
6. It helps us to appreciate different cultures, foods, languages and peoples. Training our children to accept others begins early. History is a natural way to cultivate this.
In spending our days looking through books on the Vikings, Napoleon or what precipitated the Great War, we are not merely looking up a date or a concise list to satisfy the requirements of an essay question. Rather, we are the ones asking the questions. We are drawing pictures and maps. We are questioning who we are, and are learning to express it.
*Does your family enjoy history? Is there a beloved subject you and your family find yourself defending?*