I love standing in the history section of the library and scanning the titles that line the shelves. Historical narratives tell true stories that are far more captivating than fictional stories. That’s why I head for that section of the library most often. Here are a few history narratives I’ve read recently.
- City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas by Roger Crowley
- The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan by Russell Shorto
- Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World by Margaret MacMillan
These and other well-written historical narratives grip my attention as well as providing analysis and insight on the past. As a history enthusiast, I’m tempted to share these books with my daughters as soon as they’re capable of reading at that level. The founding and development of Dutch Manhattan is fascinating, but most textbooks only give it one or two paragraphs!
Can’t children just skip the history textbooks and get straight to these gripping stories?
I don’t believe they should. History textbooks play a vital role in children learning about the past. There are two reasons I want my girls to learn about history through textbooks before they read books like the ones I listed above.
The first reason is related to helping children learn about history the best way—through organized units of information that are balanced and chronological. History textbook authors put information into digestible portions, making it easier for children to master. But the real key is balance when it comes to historical figures and events. That way, children begin to grasp the comparative significance, for example, of the Teapot Dome Scandal and the Great Depression. The textbook also provides clarity on sequence in a narrative form.
As you can see from the titles I’ve mentioned, if my daughters’ history education focused on my favorite historical narratives (or even their favorites) it could create problems in their understanding of the past. They might be confused about the order of certain events. Their knowledge of the past would skew towards my interests. Just as a building’s framework provides structural form and support to everything that comes next, a historical framework (provided by history textbooks) will provide form and support for my daughters’ understanding of the past.
The second reason I want to use history textbooks relates to the worldview I want to teach my children. History is not just an account of events, actors, and places. It is an interpretation of the historical data. And all historians have a perspective that shapes their interpretation of the past.
Take for example Nixon and Mao, a fascinating account of skirmishes on the Russia-China border, ping-pong diplomacy, and Kissinger’s trip to China—a trip so secret that even the State Department didn’t know about it. MacMillan’s book would interest anyone intrigued by the Cold War. But her book isn’t without worldview implications. She makes this point in The Uses and Abuses of History, another one of her books on writing history:
In a secular world, which is what most of us in Europe and North America live in, history takes on the role of showing us good and evil, virtues and vices. Religion no longer plays as important a part as it once did in setting moral standards and transmitting values.
In Margaret MacMillian’s assessment, religion no longer gives us our worldview—history does. I enjoy this author’s work, but I don’t want her works of history to shape my children’s worldview. Instead, my family uses a tool that provides an organized and biblical worldview of the past. That tool is a BJU Press Heritage Studies textbook written from a biblical worldview.
One day, I want my daughters to enjoy learning about Nixon’s Chinese diplomacy and other historical narratives. But before they learn about these places and events, I want them to have a framework for these events. And that framework needs to be constructed on the foundation of a biblical worldview. After that framework is in place, my daughters can learn about the past from varied historians and correctly evaluate the worldview of those historians.