Saturday, February 27, 2010

Education: the Knowledge of Man-- History

This is a continuation of my narration notes on Chapter 5 of Susan Schaeffer Macaulay's book, _For the Children's Sake_. If you haven't read it yet, I highly encourage you to put down whatever other educational reading you are doing and read her book. She is the daughter of Francis Schaeffer and her children attended a PNEU school in England in the 20th Century. She articulates CM's ideas in a way extremely relevant to our era.

When Mr. Honey and I first began considering homeschooling twelve years ago, this was the first book given us to read, followed closely by the Clarksons' _Educating the Wholehearted Child_ and books by Raymond and Dorothy Moore. We were right on the edge of the explosion in homeschool publishing that took place in the mid- to late-90s, and so got the tail-end of "pioneer" encouragement, if you know what I mean. These books have served us well, and continue to provide guidance through the sea of choices, encouraging us to revel in the Christian liberty that homeschooling ought to celebrate.

On to the narration notes on history (my own comments on the reading are in brackets, Macaulay's own words are in quotation marks, and my paraphrase is written as the regular text):

Our aim in history, as in all subject areas, is honesty and the truth. An education in history ought not to focus on the teacher's own opinion or agenda, but present the ideas that have been acted upon in history, together with their consequences. In this way, we raise up citizens with the ability to discern properly the absolutes that ought to govern any people, and thus make wise decisions concerning government, both personal and civil.

"It is important for the young person to know that there is a great deal to be said on both sides."

[Several years back, my dad and I were having a discussion on the teaching of history. He was helping me to pick out some books for the kids. I will always remember his comment: "the best thing you can say about history is that it is interesting." He was making the point that history is not simple. There is a great deal to admire and deplore on both 'sides' of an issue.]

"A memory feat is not the first aim as we teach history. How do we awaken the child to the interest and fascination of this study?"

It is vital that the child read well-written books that give the flow of chronological history. Events do not happen in a vacuum, and a student needs to see what came before in order to understand what happened after.

The student must be allowed adequate leisure to immerse himself in an era of history, to experience the 'feel' of the time period. Let him read biographies of the great and small, and as much source material as you can. If the child cannot read well-written accounts himself, then read aloud to him. Discuss whether this person should have done what he did, what would have happened if he had done differently, and what happened next. These questions will most likely arise from the child himself.

Avoid cut-and-dried opinions on history as much as possible. Textbooks present dry facts and connect the dots so conveniently that the student's work is reduced to "swallow and regurgitate". Resist your temptation as teacher to 'become the textbook' in this way. Remember, we are not "oracles", but fellow pilgrims walking alongside on the journey. Allow the child to feel the tug of conscience that real people must have experienced in this or that conflict.

We must make use of the child's interest and what we find in the community around us as well as following a systematic study of history. Thus, a family living in the Philippines, or Ukraine, or other country, would make use of the culture around them to illustrate the truth that "other peoples are as we are, with a difference, that their history is as ours, with a difference, that they too have their literature and their national life." But even here in the States we have subcultures to explore.

A study of history ought to give the student a vision of the parade of people and events that has brought us to our current era. Have the child tell back a reading (what he got out of it), and then provide a book of time in which to write the names of people and events in order. Another great idea is to make a scroll of illustrations-- have the student draw one picture per reading. This gives the child an individual record of the book that has become a personal experience to him.

[I did this with one of my children with Pilgrim's Progress and Robinson Crusoe-- neither of which are actual histories, but both give a flavor of the time in which they were written. This particular child really loves drawing, while the other two tend more toward verbal expression. We still treasure her Robinson Crusoe pictures. I had forgotten about this type of timeline, and ought to use the idea again, even with my more 'writing-oriented' students.]


Conducting a study of history in this way will give the child a sense of man's place in history. The student will tend toward the view of history, literature, and geography, as ways in which man has put ideas into play, interacted with the world around him and with other people. Poetry, religious expression and scientific discovery will be set against the background of the historical moment. It will broaden his understanding in a way that facts-and-figures study simply cannot.

[As CM said, "Education is the science of relations." How does one event relate to another? How did an idea give rise to later ideas and actions? What were the consequences? Are we experiencing those consequences even today? Where do we fit in the flow of history?]

"Other aspects of human history will be seen in relationship to each other-- art, music, architecture, governmental forms, laws, social and economic history."

1 comment:

JILL O. MILES said...

Well stated and so true.