Learning History at St. Timothy's
In all our discussions of grammar, reading, composition, and language at St. Timothy's, sometimes our study of history is buried. And it shouldn't be. In grades five to eight, history occupies three periods a week - more than science, more than logic, and just one class less than Latin. In what follows I will give a short overview of our history curriculum, and then explore one of the reasons that we study it as we do. From grades one to six the students listen to and read a narrative from the earliest days of recorded history to the end of the 20th century and learn some Canadian history. In grades seven and eight the students start at the beginning again, but spend the bulk of the two years studying the Greek and Roman worlds in much more detail than they did in the early grades. At St. Tim's, particularly in the upper grades, we tie in our history curriculum to the Language Arts curriculum wherever we can. For instance, the fifth and sixth grades readAround the World in Eighty Days or Treasure Island at the same time as they study modern history; the seventh and eighth grades read Homer's Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid, and Shakespeare's Julius Caesar as they study Greek and Roman history. We also use the chronology of a historical narrative to teach the students about the orderly presentation of material in their own writing. But I believe history has a number of higher functions, and I want to focus on one in particular here. History teaches us humility. We have often heard that those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it. I believe this, but the statement needs a little unpacking. Many of us know history, and like to think that we won't repeat the mistakes of our forebears, but the trouble is that there is always that part of us that thinks, "Well, yes, something like this happened ten years ago," - or twenty years ago, or a hundred years ago - "but this time it's different - different enough that if we do the same thing again, the result will be different." We believe that we are different from all those who have gone before us. We believe we are wiser, more careful, more competent, and better informed. A study of history will show that we are not. There is a strong thread through the historical and prophetic books of the Bible which addresses exactly this issue - the rejection by the Israelites and their rulers of inherited knowledge, and too strong a reliance on their own judgement. Broadly speaking, history is our memory, and it reminds us, through its stories and patterns, that many before us have taken the same path, more or less, as the one we are taking. This in turn warns us to be careful not to think that we are unique in the history of the world, and not to believe that we are more clever than our ancestors. We have a collected wisdom to draw on which can at the very least point us in the right direction. History teaches us humility.
Dr. Michael Klaassen teaches Language Arts, Logic, Latin, and History to our students in grades 5 through 8.