The Importance of Teaching History.

Every person has an obligation to seek the truth and speak it.  One of the most important areas for doing this is in teaching our children where they come from; their history. Sadly I have to concur with Chesterton who wrote  in 1913 “Our historians lie much more than our journalists.”

Baring this in mind a home educating mother like me has to tread with care through the historical books recommended on many curricula sites to ensure I don’t impart black legend or serious mistakes to my children. They have the right to the truth and I want to make sure that to the best of my ability they get it.

The minefield of history books and stories is a difficult one to navigate. Old books can be just as bad or worse than newer ones and I am constantly trying to be sure that what I might expose the children to in the way of ‘living fiction’ or ‘living books’ of a more factual basis are in fact true to the history they are telling.

The fact is that as Chesterton and his friend Belloc commented on at the beginning of the 20th century that there is far too much anti-Catholicism in the retelling of history. Black legend is told as though it actually happened.  Huge chunks of what actally happened, much of it fascinating and useful to know, gets left out of the books. Fortunately there are writers who have tried to redress the balance and there are many non-Catholic writers who have done a better job of it that some Catholic ones (ironically). The minefield is made more difficult in that some Catholic writers in a reaction to the black legends have whitewashed the truth at times.

So I have to navigate the many books and the different voices of history to work out what to teach my children. I feel like I have to have read ahead and in depth to spot the pitfalls of writer’s dishonesty and prejudice. It is patently absurd that people like Henry VIII and his mass murdering daughter Elizabeth I can come out the the books as shiny bright people while the unpleasant but nowhere near as bad as either her father or half sister Mary Tudor gets called ‘bloody’. I have seen those who deny the evidence that many of those Mary had put to death had indeed committed treason in trying to keep her from her throne, while at the same time imputing treason quite dishonestly on St Edmund Campion, one of the greatest of the English martyrs.

I want my children to learn how the medieval monasteries were the leaders in great inventions that helped the world such as the water wheel and made breakthroughs in medicine, not least in the proper care of the sick that eradicated leprosy in England.

I want them to learn about the Guilds and the beekeepers as well as the famous figures of the time. I agree with Chesterton’s observation that too many popular histories don’t seem to mention the population at all.

I am having a good and careful look at what is around for the children; but I want them to have the whole story not just part of it and certainly not dishonest parts.

What’s a home ed mother to do I wonder.


5 responses to “The Importance of Teaching History.

  1. thanks for the info. I always enjoy your blog posts; i find them very helpful!


  2. Please share with the rest if us when you find out! Present them with as much first hand, primary source material as possible and drum into them that nothing (apart from God’s word) is infallible, to read everything with a pinch of salt and a questioning attitude. We’re coming across this loads with J’s dinosaur books atm, I keep trying to remind him that all these ‘facts’ are just educated guesswork, and not to believe everything he reads.

    Your children look beautiful btw!

  3. Great post. I know what you mean about history – it’s so sad that usually conquerors write the history books.

    Phillipa Gregory treats Mary Tudor quite well in her fiction, particularly in her novel The Queen’s Fool. But, basically, I never realised how anti-Catholicism a lot of history is.

    Thanks for the new knowledge. I’m really enjoying your blog.

  4. I’m just wondering if you wouldn’t be better visiting a known recusant house and perhaps dipping into a good novel set in the period.

    Stonor Park may put on a sympathetic tour for you if you could get a small party together. Also in Oxfordshire is Hendred House and whilst it isn’t open to the public, its chapel houses a relic of St Thomas Moore and is one of only 3 in the country that has been in continuous use since before the reformation. Again, it may be worth a letter…seeing things like that in the flesh is better than any text book. There may be others closer to where you live.

    A sympathetic novel is “After Mary” by Katherine MacMahon, is is quite readable by a young teen and deals with recusant Catholics around the time of the gunpowder plot. It is less gory than “Come Rack, Come Rope”, but seems to capture Catholic life quite well.

    I’ve also just got my copy of “Portsmouth People” the magazine for the Diocese, it lists many of the artefacts recovered from the Mary Rose, surprisingly the ships carpenter’s rosary has survived, more remarkable is the fact the carpenter on Henry VIIIs flagship had a rosary, there are many other artefacts that suggest everyday devotion at the time of Henry was quite Catholic in nature.

    I don’t envy your task…..many of the books around are bunkum. Short of dissecting manageable snippets out of Duffy’s “Stripping of the Altars”….

    Hang on, if you haven’t got them already I’ve got the Marjorie and C.H.B Quenells “History of Everyday things in England 1066-1499 and 1500-1799” first published in 1918. They’re OK, they do cover everyday things and they are well illustrated. If you are interested I’ll send them to you, I’ve still got your address…just let me know, they are of no use to me now.

  5. Antonia- thank you 🙂

    Tales from: LOL if I ever find out I’ll bottle it! I think the only answer is plenty of prayer and reading and watching out for what honest assessments are made of other writings.
    I get irritated by a lot of dinosaur and other prehistoric books and TV programmes because they really do insist in treating as fact things that at best are theory and at times are pure conjecture. What’s wrong with being honest and saying; possibly this but we don’t know.

    Danae- I didn’t realise until I started reading more indepth and realised so much that is aimed at children simply doesn’t address so much that happened or paints a dreadful picture of it. It was only in the last few years that I realised just how rich the culture of medieval Europe was; amazingly rich in art, science literature and faith. Who’d-a-guessed it?

    Rita: We have Harvington Hall complete with priest holes and my own family were servants to the great recusant Throckmortan family right from their arrival here.
    Duffy’s book is excellent. I read Come Rack Come Rope to Iona a few years ago and we have the Cobbet book too.
    I’ve not come across the Quenells: I would be really interested.
    From the living fiction side of things I am new at choosing books for the younger ones but for Iona the Ellis Peters Brother Cadfael books are actually well researched and her trilogy about Maud and Steven’s war is also excellent.
    I’ve got one or two other novels via Sophia and Ignatius Press.
    All things Louis de Wohl.
    Then when it comes to the Baldwin Project books it’s time tread cautiously for the little ones again- but we’ll see how it goes.
    Thank you 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s