Homeschoolers take many different approaches to teaching history. Some use traditional texts and some homeschool curriculum books. Others choose a unit study approach, honing in on a particular person, a series of events or a specific part of the world.
There is the matter of world-view to consider when buying history resources, too, since authors each impart their own understanding and bias into their writing. It isn’t always easy to select materials, leaving homeschooling moms and dads to preview and select those that offer history in the way they think it should be taught.
Often, the way we teach history is the way we learned it ourselves.
Looking back, I now think that perhaps most important thing when teaching history is being sure that our students understand that history does not happen in a bubble. In fact, historical events do not take place all by themselves. They happen simultaneously all around the world. Plus, events influence one another, too.
The number one goal of any history course must be to make sure that students understand that history did not only happen in one place while the rest of the world stood still.
Though young children aren’t ready yet, students from approximately 5th/6th grade on are able to understand that historical events are sometimes linked together. Kids at that age can find cause and effect relationships. Questioning what they read, this is the age when children can begin developing the logic and thinking skills needed to see history as something that evolves over time – rather than random, independent events that have nothing to do with one another.
A problem with traditional history texts is that they tend to provide both an explanation of events as well as their outcomes. This leaves little to a child’s imagination, and nothing for them to think about afterwards, as the effects (again, seen from the author’s perspective) already appear in the text. That is, the critical thinking is already done for the student, so that the child has nothing left to question or deduce on his own.
Further compounding the problem, traditional texts tend to be written for “American” history courses, “World” history courses, or some other subset of history deemed convenient for traditional classrooms full of many students to study at once. These boundaries draw imaginary lines for students which seem to convey that the events in the text stand alone, while nothing else in history takes place anywhere else in time.
Classical educators have compensated for this problem by studying time periods in history, in all parts of the world, instead of specific historical figures and events. For this reason, these folks tend to avoid traditional history texts altogether. Instead, these clever teachers opt for creating timelines, using good history encyclopedias, and assigning an ever-changing supply of library books and online resources for each new time period and topic being studied.
Knowing that historical events may be depicted slightly differently in each resource, children who learn this way are taught to study multiple sources of information and pull all of the pieces together on their own. This is really the only way that a student can understand all of the variables that may have contributed to events in history and to be able to intelligently discuss the relationships between them all, sometime later on in high school and college. Plus, instead of focusing only on topics within the imaginary boundary, students will learn to see the inter-relationships between them and understand that events in time took place simultaneously in different parts of the world.
It took me a while to understand the importance of learning history in this way. So obvious to me now, I never thought about it much until I began teaching my own children in homeschool. Having studied history in public schools using traditional texts, I grew up looking at history as many of you probably did – as a series of unrelated bits of information that have nothing to do with each another. I learned dates and facts, but never saw the relationship between any of them. I have never fully recovered from the effects of this approach and wanted to make sure that my children were better able to understand history than I was.
To read more about the classical approach to education and teaching history, you should read The Well-Trained Mind, Classical Conversations, this article by Dorothy Sayers, and read any other books and web sites you find on your own. Then, think about your own approach to teaching history at home and whether you feel that your students will graduate with an understanding of the correlation between world events or the limited, cookie-cutter level of mastery as I did.
As with everything homeschooling, do what is right for your and your family. I just wanted you to know my thoughts on this subject.
[Photo: Free Digital]