A Tale of Two Schools: Why History Makes All the Difference

November 22, 2020

This is the second installment of our two-part blog uncovering why it's so crucial for kids to receive a robust history education, and what that type of education can look like and do for our kids.

Click here to read Part 1, with observations from Veritas Head of School Ty Fischer on why we study history.

Our knowledge of history informs our appreciation for the present and our direction for the future.

As we gather to celebrate Thanksgiving, many of us will remember, in part, what drew the original settlers of America to give thanks for God's providence in bringing them through grueling seasons of tribulation and into peaceful seasons of provision.

And while our bitterly divided nation limps out of a vicious political season and hopes to move forward in a constructive way, we must have an honest understanding of both the triumphs and travesties that have brought our nation here.

If we are to raise children who are ready to go into the world appreciating our past and prepared for the future, they must have a firm grasp of history. Sadly, many students across our nation aren't getting that anymore, and the consequences are now stinging our culture.

Kristin Potteiger, Veritas 6th grade teacher, has seen first hand the differences between students who've had a solid history education and those who haven't - and how that affects their understanding of the important issues they'll face as they embark into young adulthood. Having spent 15 years teaching 7th grade American History in the public schools, her observations on the marked differences found in Classical Christian Education - and the fruit it bears in students - are eye opening and encouraging.

The problem in today’s schools

Kristin recalls a crucial issue she saw played out time and again during her tenure as a seventh grade American History teacher in a public school. The kids entering her class were woefully ignorant of the facts of history, because they weren’t fully taught history in elementary school.

The administration wanted these students to be able to do critical problem-solving in these classes, and of course they wanted the teachers to make it fun and engaging. Above all, they wanted teachers to avoid using fact-memorization to help the kids learn about history.

“In seventh grade, that was the first time that students were really getting into the meat of history,” Kristin says. “Early grades focus on math and reading, with science and then history almost as an afterthought.

“It makes for an interesting situation in which history is looked at from a humanistic point of view. Without any foundation in the facts, the students are asked to talk about human progress and suffering, but because teachers and students are open to pick and choose what equates to this progress or suffering, it allows history to be open to a narrative.”

The problem is, when you take out the facts, you take out any ability to discuss truth.

So, how can you talk about whether a situation was good or bad? Without a moral compass or an agreed-upon worldview, and without the full story of what happened, teachers and students are working blind. Sure, you might be able to do fun projects and explore other cultures, but there’s no depth in that learning.

“What happens, then, when you don’t memorize things early and a new fact comes at you, you don’t have anywhere to store that in your mind. So, now the kids have all these facts flying at them and there’s nothing to make sense out of it.”

The solutions found in Classical Christian Education

An Early Foundation in the Facts

“Compare this experience that to what I’ve seen in my son’s classes and with the older students here at Veritas,” Kristin continues.

“Here, in the Grammar years we focus on memorization and history chronologies and songs to help them learn, and that gives them a strong bedrock foundation that they can then build on. So, when they get to seventh grade and beyond, they can consider the questions of why something was done. They can think critically and speak wisely about the good and the bad, the horrendous and the beautiful things that people did. Because they have a foundation, they are ready by middle school to get into a hearty study of humanity. That’s what history is.”

Indeed, each year of Grammar school focuses on a different period of history, taking them chronologically through time from Creation through America and Western culture today. Each year picks up where the previous one left off, providing a sweeping, factual view of major world events that affect who we are today.

Putting the focus on memorization in the younger years is a hallmark of the Grammar Stage of Classical Christian Education. The reason? Younger students revel in fact memorization - through songs, chants, repetition, and interactive activities - and, like sponges, they soak it in. This is the time to teach the basic facts, because this is when it’s fun and it works. By the time they reach middle school, they need deeper discussion, not fact impartation.

Along with an early focus on memorization, Kristin notes two more things that makes history education so effective in Classical Christian Schools. One, the robust reading program in Grammar school that has students reading great books that complement their history period, giving them a vibrant picture of the past. The other is the Biblical worldview perspective through which history is discussed, which allows kids and teachers to be discerning as they examine situations.

It’s All About the Worldview

When history is taught from a Christian worldview, students are able to see the hand of God throughout the story of the world. They can see the sin of man, but they also see the Redeemer.

“So many of the national problems we’re seeing now stem from a major worldview disconnect,” Kristin notes. “As believers, we understand that we’re all sinful. But as a nation, when we spend so much time looking at the sins without knowing the Redeemer, it becomes a pointing game of who did what in the past and who was worse. We put redemption on our own shoulders and try to find ways to fix the past and it doesn’t work. It just breeds discord.”

In American history, studying our history through a biblical lens gives classes a fuller understanding of our country - both the glorious times and the horrendous times.

“We’ve just finished talking about the Cherokee Trail of Tears,” she says. “We can talk about the sin of greed and how that manifests itself, and we don’t have to sit here and cheer America on endlessly. We can be upset along with the Cherokees without losing complete sight of the things that still make this a great nation. The ability to have those deeper conversations is miles ahead of where we were in seventh grade in public school.

Going Beyond the Facts

Classical history education doesn’t stop with Grammar School memorization; it just gets better from there. Students get a chance to cycle back through each time period two more times throughout their education, in the Logic and Rhetoric years, and each time they get to peel back another layer to look deeper into the cultural paradigms that have shaped who we are today.

So, unlike the seventh graders that Kristin used to encounter, these middle and high schoolers are prepared with basic facts so that they can then take in more complex details and have more complete discussions.

Why Should We Bother Learning History?

“History is a moral proving ground.” That is why Kristin says it’s critical for our younger generations to learn it well.

“It’s an opportunity for people to understand ideas and humanity and to really see when we are at our best and when we are at our worst. When you take out that objective study of history, it’s all just ideas swirling around. And ideas have consequences.

Take communism, for instance. The idea of it seems great when you learn about the concepts on their own. But when you look at Mao and Stalin and so many other examples of horrendous situations that resulted from communism, it shows the real-world consequences of this idea.

“If we had a robust history education in all of our schools, these ideas that are being pushed would not have any feet on them,” Kristin muses.

As statues are torn down across America and anger bubbles over on all sides, Kristin warns that “when you don’t fully understand what’s happened in the past, it’s like walking around with amnesia, not knowing who you are or where you came from, and it can make you destructive to society.”

We desire to send out new generations of young adults and leaders who are constructive citizens, ready to engage the good and the bad parts of our culture with truth and clarity. People who know from whence they came, informing their vision of where we’re going. Christians who see God’s providence at work, recognize our collective need for His redemption, and seek to hold ideas to the litmus test of His word.

That is a generation that will be prepared to change their communities, their nation, and their world, for truth, beauty, and goodness.

If you're looking for a school that teaches your child how to think critically and instills a passion and joy of learning - one that dives into the truth of history and provides a rich and robust experience - then we invite you to check out Veritas Academy!

We would love to host you for a visit so you can experience our unique culture and education model in person. Click below to schedule a tour today!

About our Guests

Kylee Bowman

Director of Communications

Kylee Bowman

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