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Revisiting History

I admit it, I’m a math geek.  I loved studying math and sciences and got my degree in Engineering.

I’ve always loved to read, but I never particularly enjoyed writing papers about literature.  But when I was in school, I was not a history fan.  I thought history was quite boring.  Who cared about memorizing all those dates and battle locations. Blah. Blah. Blah.

In fact, when it came time to choose my high school senior classes, I took an easy history class instead of AP History.  Instead of having to write a detailed term paper which was the AP History requirement, in this class, I simply had to give a 10 minute speech on a 20th century history topic.  I’ve never been afraid of speaking, so it was an easy choice.

Pearl Harbor was the topic I chose.  I became fascinated.  Instead of talking for 10 minutes, I spoke for two class periods (yes – I was an over-achiever even back then).  I made a scaled map of Oahu that measured 6′ by 4′.  Then I bought several games of “Battleship*” and used all the ship pieces on my map.  I had all my classmates involved moving the individual battleships during the attack and showing the different attack runs of the Japanese fighter planes.  It was one of my favorite scholastic memories from high school.

More importantly, it marked a change in my appreciation of history.  History was no longer abstract and boring.  It was fascinating.

I’ve tried to instill that love of History* in my children.

With our homeschool, I stay as far away from textbooks as I possibly can.  Textbooks are boring.  Really, really boring.  I don’t care at all if my children can spit back textbook facts to me.  I want them to understand the big picture when it comes to history.

I often tell this story that sums up my education philosophy.  When Brett was four years old, she was already reading (not all my children learned to read that early – one child didn’t start reading until ten years old).  We started reading children’s books about Christopher Columbus*.  One day she mentioned to her cousin (who was 6 or 7 and had learned about Columbus in school) that she was “studying” Columbus.  I listened in on the conversation which went something like this:

Cousin: “Brett, when did Columbus sail to America?”

Brett: “I don’t know.”

Cousin: “1492. Brett, what were the names of Columbus’s ships?”

Brett: “I don’t know.”

Cousin: “The Nina, The Pinta, and the Santa Maria.  Brett, who did Columbus sail for?”

Brett: “I don’t know.”

Cousin: “Queen Isabella.  I thought you were studying Columbus?”

Brett: “I am. Do you know why Columbus sailed?”

Cousin: “Ummm, no.”

Brett: “Columbus thought that he could travel west to reach the Indies when everybody else was traveling east.  He thought he could get there because they didn’t know that America was even on the planet.  But instead of reaching the Indies, he bumped into America and he discovered it!”

I knew at that moment that I was on to something.  At four years old, Brett was actually excited and understood something many school children studying Columbus missed in favor of being able to regurgitate the facts.

Ever since that day, I have tried to excite my children about history.  I do this through various movies* and documentaries*.  I present the children with lots of historical fiction*.  When we’re traveling, we visit places of historical significance, and take the time to learn the history that took place.

The children have different historical periods that they love.  They’re thrilled with ancient Greece* and to a lesser extent ancient Rome*.  Fletcher is obsessed with World War II.  As a fourteen year old, he read a 1000+ page biography of Winston Churchill* and loved it.

We have been somewhat obsessed with the Broadway play Hamilton*.  The children have memorized the entire show (minus the curse words*) and we’ve had hundreds of discussions about the Revolutionary War, the American Constitution, and the development of our country*.

Grandma and Poppy are visiting and last night they took us all to see the movie, Dunkirk.

Afterwards we spent a lot of time discussing the details of the evacuation and how God was involved and how without the successful evacuation at Dunkirk*, the war may have had a different outcome.  We talked about strategy and bravery and sacrifice.

Without much effort, you can provide your children (and yourself) with a wonderful education just by learning about fascinating historical events.  Here are seven reasons why I want my children to recognize the value in spending time learning about history.

1. History enables us to learn from the past.  There is so much we can learn from people both for the good and for the bad.  We just learned about Benedict Arnold who was an ardent fighter for American Independence.  But after feeling himself wronged one too many times, he turned against America and became a traitor.  There are lessons there on how not to handle disappointments and why it is important to not become bitter when we feel ourselves wronged.  There are also hundreds of examples of people who sacrificed for what they believed in, such as Martin Luther King Jr.  Watching his “I have a dream” speech with the children was a powerful testimony that you can fight for change.  You may not see it in your lifetime, but you can be involved and be an inspiration.

2. History shows us that history often repeats itself.  If we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.  There are so many lessons that we can take from history about how to live and how to treat others.  While we can’t make our country as a whole follow these lessons, we can follow them ourselves and teach our children to learn from them to try to prevent the most painful episodes from repeating themselves.

3. History teaches us the importance of being active and involved citizens.  When you study everything the founding fathers of our country did and all that they sacrificed to win our independence, it is hard to ignore the responsibility to be involved.  And then when you consider all the soldiers who fought and died for our freedom, it makes it even more important to understand our government and political system and to be involved and at the very least, to vote.

4. History demonstrates that nothing happens in isolation.  A lot of young people are tempted to believe that they can take an action (whether positive or negative) and they are the only ones impacted.  This is simply not true.  Everything is connected and all actions have implications that you can’t see coming and that you often can only see through the benefit of hindsight.  By studying history, children can get a better understanding of how actions can have a ripple effect that can bring about major change.

5. History can help improve our decision making.  When you talk about historical events, it’s very easy to pick apart the decisions that past leaders made.  Good decisions are obvious, but bad decisions are glaringly obvious.  When you study what caused those poor decisions, it can help you to understand what criteria is involved in making a good decision.

6. History demonstrates viewpoints different than our own.I am always telling the children that, “The world is bigger than Goat Milk Stuff and Scottsburg, Indiana” (where we live).  It is easy to look at life based on the culture in which you live.  But there are many viewpoints out there that are radically different than our own.  I want the children to understand these other viewpoints.  I want them to know why they believe what they believe and to be able to defend their beliefs.  But I also want them to understand that where a person lives and how they grow up shapes those viewpoints and belief systems.  Studying history gives a lot of context into how belief systems came to be and where prejudice comes from and why it is wrong.  You can’t even begin to look at the Civil War without having a great many of these conversations.

7. History provides proof of what it truly means to sacrifice.  In our privileged world (you are reading this on a computer), very few of us truly understand what it means to sacrifice for what is right.  I want my children to know that the struggles they have are minor compared to the struggles men and women have faced throughout history.  They are very, very privileged.  They have a family who loves them.  They have freedom.  They have a roof over their heads and food security.  They’ve never been truly called on to sacrifice.  I want them to understand this and someday, if they ever have to be willing to sacrifice material gains to stand up for what is right, I want them to have thought about sacrifice, and be able to do it.

I do want to point out that you don’t have to homeschool to have these discussions.  The dinner table is a great place to talk about history even if your children are grown!

What’s your view on history – boring? or fascinating?




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