As we continue the slow, wonderful task of teaching our children the love of learning, we have to be aware that at some point they might call our bluff. "I'm supposed to love learning? Just like you don't, Pops?" If we never crack a book, or if our kids see our recreation time as little more than Facebook surfing (and they're always watching us), the game will be up sooner or later. If we want our kids to love learning, we've got to love learning, too. And that means knowing a wise thing or two about basic fields of study.
Recently, I mentioned a few fundamentals on the importance of Science, particularly as related to typical classical-Christian-school pitfalls. History is another core subject -- and even more foundational -- that we must have some love of, or respect for, if we want our children to engage the culture and redeem the time.
But frankly, this is tough. History, for today's generation, is a cultural weirdo. Uncool. Irrelevant, unless you're into that sort of thing. Sequestered. History is now over there for those people. (You like History, and I like my fries with cheese.) And those people either (at best) "read biographies" as a hobby, or (at worst), if they're an academic heavyweight, swing History around like a sledgehammer for the sake of pet political agendas.
But that's false history.
History is more than events and more than a subject in school. Studying it is more than just reading a novel that actually happened. Getting history into your bones is a lot like getting wisdom into your bones -- a task the Bible is constantly setting us to. "See him, son? Don't do that. See wisdom over there? Be like her." In short, history is a life-long study of wisdom for the wise. Here's why:
History tells great stories. There are few things more compelling than a good yarn or tale. But when those tales are actually real, their force is huge. It may be that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, but truth is always a better story. Fiction has appeal and vitality, but a story that’s true has the unstoppable power of reality. “Did that really happen? How is that possible? I can’t imagine doing that myself. I want to be like them.” History excites questions about real things. History inspires action. And that's the kind of inspiration we want for our students.
History involves real people. Poorly written textbooks that are strong on dates, controversies, and propaganda are pretty good at making historical figures look like figures and not people, but a true history, in all its romping, story-telling glory shows them as men. It shows them as women. They lived as we live. They thought the thoughts we think. They struggled with the same temptations. They ate, slept, went to the bathroom, and dressed. They had quirks and personalities. Of course they were great. Of course they were noble. Of course they were evil. This is why they are in books. But we forget that they were human as we are human, in every particular, and this should give us perspective, respect, wisdom, and inspiration. God died for them, too.
We are history’s actors. The present is now the past. History is not just about those people over there: it is also about us. Just as the men and the women of the past shaped events to bring us to now, so we are shaping now to make the future. This is our sobering and fantastic responsibility. We are called. We have roles to fulfill. And our children are watching us.
History is thankfulness, because it gives us an ability to honor our forbears. We owe everything to those who went before us. Our primary attitude should be, “How is it possible that we have so much?” and never “Why do we have so little?” Why should any of life be even remotely pleasant? Why are we free? Why can we choose our religion? Why can we have any beliefs we wish? Why financial well-being? Why any finances at all? Why are we educated? Unless we are content to forget origins and assume all these things are rights, history gives us reason to be thankful in everything. Those who went before us gave all of themselves to us.
History is thankfulness, because it gives us an ability to condemn our forbears and avoid their paths. History is full of not-so-good people. History is full of vice personified. Knowing history allows us to discriminate and condemn, which (done the right way) furthers the goal of humanity.
History is teleological, not cyclical. History has an end. It has a goal. It’s true that history repeats itself because of the changelessness of human nature, but this is not the overall character of history. History is driving toward something. It is intentional. From the dawn of time, through the rise and fall of many civilizations and religions, there has been progression. Knowledge has grown steadily. The stories of law, politics, philosophy, medicine, and religion have developed and matured. We're headed somewhere -- and that somewhere is that real (historical) future date when "the earth will be full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." (Hab. 2:14)