The trouble with history


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  • Mamasong

    First of all, I love studying history and always have. One thing I have come to understand through the years though, is that history is not always as “scientific” as we wish it to be. It is almost always written by the victors, the powerful, the well educated, etc. It can be tweaked, toyed with and certain facts can be omitted without any indication. It is anything but objective and yet is presented as if it was. Histories can be deliberately shaped to preserve myths or pursue agendas (thank you, Hegel 😕 ).

    How do y’all deal with this as your children get older and more analytical? Do you ever present them with parallel history studies from a different perspective (such as the history of the US labor movement in the late 1800’s from the viewpoint of a poor, working class family)? What about the history of American expansionism and “Manifest Destiny”, but from the perspective of the native american people? These are just examples that popped into my brain, but I’d love to hear how others address this difficult issue!



    I’ve been saying for years that it is a mistake to view history as “objective” or anything like it. I think it is critically important to teach children to view history in various ways, but also critically important to teach some basic principles and some basic source criticism, so that children are not overly swayed by things they read. I’m suspicious, for example, of Hegel, and while we’ll be studying him (not in a positive light!) in senior philosphy, we’re consciously skipping him for “history” 🙂 Sometimes histories are deliberately shaped, but more often our own worldviews “filter” the information we think is important and shape our resulting views and opinions, and even memories–this is not insidious or malignant in and of itself but is instead normal, as long as we realize what is happening.

    That said, I think the MOST important part of exposing kids to alternate views of history is FIRST very, very strong teaching in worldview and in critical thinking and evaluation of sources. I am a good example of this myself–I read a lot as a teen, a lot outside my normal school assignments, but lacking a good basis for thinking critically, and a coherent worldview, I got “sucked in” to “political-flavor-of-the-moment” thinking all too often. I don’t want my kids to have to go down that path; I hope rather to give them the critical worldview tools FIRST before turning them loose in the historical free-for-all. There is a good worldview-teaching thread going on on the forum at the moment, btw. Anyway, after I began my family and became a child of Christ, I had to go through and do some heavy thinking and decide on my own worldview and how it should inform my opinions. I want my kids to do that sooner, as I think it would have been easier to do before I was nursing at 2am. 🙂

    I still remember the trouble I had with a research project I did in college–I was doing some work on revisionism and source criticism, and tried to “objectively” determine how many people were killed in the Spanish Civil War of the 1930’s. I found wildy divergent sources, and had to really struggle with the concept of “truth” and how to find it. Marxist sources had HUGE death count numbers; fascist sources had tiny ones; there were a lot in the middle, and EVERYONE seemed to have an agenda. 🙂 And this is true for almost anything. But as Christians, we need to recognize that Truth does in fact exist, and our main effort is to try to align what we see with what we know. It’s an interesting intellectual exercise to discuss something from a labor movement perspective, but is it closer to the Truth that we know exists?

    Anyway. I could wander off for hours on this one, lol, but wanted to put in my plug for the primacy of worldview BEFORE revisionism, to avoid our children being “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine”.

    Michelle D

    We have always used a lot of original sources in our history studies mainly because with history there is always bias. I studied British and European history in college and that was my major. It was of course secular and heavily biased. I made it my mission to teach history with a Christian worldview, although we did not shy away from learning other viewpoints, and as I said we used original sources as much as possible. I have always had a mix of books, I don’t believe that my secular college years damaged me in anyway, I had a strong enough base to see all sides and as such I don’t censor anything in my teaching. I obviously do not bring into the home anything totally egregeous – but now that I have daughters in senior high, we open everything up to discussion. The girls have shown great maturity and wisdom in their learning, and it has worked very well for us. I have always told them that anyone who teaches them is coming at them with their own personal bias, including me when I teach them – they know that they must study and discern where the truth lies. I do not demand that they believe everything I say, I ask them to research things and come to their own conclusions and then we discuss them. Even when the girls were younger we used a lot of original sources, and then just explained it very simply to them. History is never black or white, there are many shades, and I think it is important to look at all sides and we often play a discussion game of what if – for example, what do you think would have happened if Hitler had prevailed? These discussions force us all to think outside the box and have been very stimulating. We value discussion along with our narrations and the girls are now well able to hold their own in any discussion about most subjects. My husband and I decided it was always important to look at both sides of the issue and the girls often research more than I ask just because it sparks an interest. I know that some may not be comfortable with some of the more unpleasant sides of history, but for older teens it can be a very valuable thing. I did not appreciate my completely secular history lessons in college, and I do not want to go the other way and put only the Christian view forward – I trust our daughters to discern the truth and so far the trust has been justified. Hope that helps a little. Blessings, Linda


    Thank you both for your thoughtful insights, I really appreciate them and feel that we could chat for hours on the subject! By the way, Michelle, did you ever reach a useful conclusion regarding the Spanish Civil War toll?

    Rachel 😀

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