The Problem with U.S. History

This land, and this lake, have seen many people, and much history. Peace, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

In 20 years of homeschooling, we never did find the ultimate resource for teaching U.S. History.

We knew we didn’t want textbooks similar to what we had endured in our own public school childhoods: the end result of carrying around these tomes (to say that we “read” them would be a disservice to the verb) was a firm conviction that history is boring and irrelevant.

Which it was. Standard high school and college history textbooks numb the intellect, no matter how many cartoons, graphics, and multi-colored text boxes they spatter through the pages. You almost wonder if it isn’t a plan.

Our “Christian Nation”

At the same time, we knew we didn’t want a “Christian” textbook because, even though we are Christians — maybe especially because we are Christians — we eschew the myth that, “This is a Christian nation, by God, and the reason that we are great and rich and free is because of our CHRISTIAN heritage.” (It is more accurate to say that, “We are a nation with Christians in it” — as are many nations — as opposed to, “We are a nation of Christians”; and if we point, mainly, to our wealth as evidence of God’s blessing, we might want to review Deuteronomy 9.)

Benjamin Franklin, while a colorful character, was hardly the type to be welcomed into the arms of the evangelical community (neither am I, either, but for different reasons). More intriguing, from the standpoint of Christianity, was the association of many Founding Fathers with the Freemasons, an organization that doesn’t necessarily walk hand in hand with Christian truths. It may not bother you, but it was enough to bother us. (As an aside, flip over a $1 bill and figure out what the symbols on the back have to do with God.)

Believing What We Are Told

The point is this: what we know about the Founding Fathers, and all our subsequent leaders and politicos and financiers and movers and shakers — including those of today — is what we are told.

When I was a child, I thought and reasoned as a child. When I became and adult, I strove to keep my childlike heart with an adult’s ability to reason and analyze. Bold Innocence by Steve Henderson, licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

And if any of us get soothed into thinking that what we are told about powerful people — including those presently wielding the stick — is absolute truth, then we’re asleep, lulled into a sense of security that all is well with this world, and our benevolent leaders are only there for our protection and well being. Fruit matters more than words.

If history teaches us anything, it is this: people lie, steal, grab, and take the best for themselves. It doesn’t matter whether they’re wearing sheepskin or a three-piece suit, too many people seek, and achieve power for reasons that are less than benevolent.

We finally cobbled something together — texbook free — by assembling various well-written histories and historical fiction, filling out the skeletal outline we had provided based upon — what else? — war: The Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I and II, Korea, Vietnam, and the present wars that aren’t really wars, legally speaking.

Well Written Books Are a Treasure

John Jakes’ Kent Family Chronicles encapsulate our history in an entertaining way, and while this isn’t something you’d read to your third grader (it’s a little spicy in spots, but if your teenager interacts with other teenagers at all, I’m guessing they won’t be shocked), our older daughters tackled the series in 7th and 10th grades. The 7th grader, especially, enjoyed taking the first volume — The Bastard — to church and making sure that the title was prominent.

“This is my history book,” she said sweetly when anyone noticed.

Books are beautiful treasures, and the time we spend with them — reading by ourselves or with others — is a time of wonder and joy. Christmas Story, original oil painting by Steve Henderson

In the children’s younger years, we read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, which gives a honey-coated overview of the time, with the caveat that Mrs. Wilder did not like to write about unpleasant things, and didn’t. If you don’t recognize this, you’ll get the illusion that tough, stringy, old prairie chicken is delicious.

The Norwegian Artist is presently embroiled in The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest, which is an eye opener, as well, as to how nasty all human beings can be — “savage” or civilized. Christian nation or not, our government made treaty after treaty after treaty with Indian tribe after tribe after tribe; our leaders did not abide by their words; and too many good people did not hold them to those words. Wisdom doesn’t die when people do.

History Is Alive and Well, If We Respect It

History is a living, vibrant, earthy, joyful, gritty, exuberant thing — just like humanity — and you, or your kids, are not going to get a grasp of it by plowing through a textbook, Christian or secular. This is the equivalent to getting your idea of present events from a beloved commentator at CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, or Fox News. Seek out good books — fictionalized or not — and build a sense of our past by reading various authors and accounts.

Read. You, and your children — all sorts of book, all the time, and talk about what you read. Don’t accept everything simply because you are told it is true. The beauty of reading a lot is this: the more you read, the more you know, and the more you question and seek answers. True answers.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes, where I address Homeschoolingon Thursdays.

The more you write, the better you get. Grammar Despair addresses basic issues many people have about word choice, sentence structure, and the whole Him and Me question. At amazon.com.

The key to being educated, no matter what our age, is the ability to ask questions and the confidence to look for answers. The more you read — getting beyond pop culture pap is a good goal — the more you know.

Reading a lot, also, helps you in your writing, especially if you develop a taste for quality prose. As a writer, I advocate writing a lot as a means to improve the skill, and as a veteran homeschooler, I encourage you to look at my book, Grammar Despair. It’s a cute little thing that’s a fun, fast read, and it will get you over many of the basic challenges people face when they write. If you buy it for your older kids, they’ll be grateful for the time away from workbook pages. Digital and paperback at Amazon.com.

If you’re a Christian, interested in Christianity, or one of a number of people who have been hurt by what was wrongly presented as Christianity, I encourage you to join me at Commonsense Christianity, my blog at BeliefNet.

This article is linked to Live Laugh RoweThriving ThursdayJenni MullinixWe Are That FamilyKatherines CornerGraced SimplicityEnchanted Homeschooling MomLiving Well Spending LessA Peek into My ParadiseFamily Fun FridayChristian Mom BloggerOur Heritage of HealthFrom the Farm BlogHopThe Jenny EvolutionMemories by the MileTeaching What Is GoodGrowing Home, Tough Cookie MamaA Mamas StoryI Should Be Mopping the FloorMy Joy Filled LifeMoms the WordMama DianeThe Prairie HomesteadA Blossoming LifeAdorned from AboveA Wise WomanWalking RedeemedA Little R and RWholehearted Home, Raising HomemakersMama BZZZ,

 

 

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3 Responses to “The Problem with U.S. History”

  1. Stacie says:

    I really appreciate this post. I, too, share many of your concerns with presenting our nation as a Christian one and arguing that our founding fathers built this country solely on Christian principals. There are so many historical facts that say otherwise about their principals–more personally, slavery. As a descendant of slaves, it is difficult for me to present to my children the history of our country and call it Christian. And we, too, are Christians. I’d rather present them with the truth of the events of our nation’s past, all while showing them that we are all in need of a Savior.

    • It’s difficult for many people, Stacie, to separate their Christianity from their nationalism, but when they meld the two, they get an odd sort of idolatry. Also, I find that people who worship this country as a Christian nation spend too much time looking back to imaginary halcyon days and saying, “Oh, if we only were the way we were then!” And they focus all their time on chasing an illusion, as opposed to living their life now, in the present, as Christians.

      It’s intriguing reading some of the thoughts and comments of Christians back in the days of slavery in this nation. While some were thoughtful and spoke out against it as violating the principles of Christianity, others managed to fit it in just fine, and found all sorts of theoretically biblically based reasons for it. That’s scary — because when you can do that as a Christian in 1862, you can do that as a Christian in 2014.

      Part of the way we teach our children is through our own ancestry, since it’s real and human and extremely meaningful. It sounds like you are wisely and thoughtfully sharing your honorable background with your children — showing them the pain and injustice that your forebears suffered, along with the dignity and grace with which they lived out their lives. I wish you and your beautiful family many warm days of companionship, love, laughter, and joy. — Carolyn

  2. Jill says:

    This is thought provoking. Well written and you make a really good point.

    Thank you for stopping by the Thoughtful Spot Weekly Blog Hop this week. We hope to see you drop by our neck of the woods next week!

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