Gary North on Teaching Classical History to Christian High School Students

Gary North on Teaching Classical History to Christian High School Students

CLASSICAL-EDUCATION

Understanding history requires an understanding of facts. An event is understood in terms of lots of events immediately before the event you are studying. Facts do not stand alone.

There are lots of facts — oceans of facts. Not all of them have left written records. Others have left conflicting records. You must sort out true from false facts. Then you must sort out relevant true facts from irrelevant true facts.

You must remember these facts.

You must be ready to revise these facts.

You must be ready to revise your interpretation of these facts.

If there is agreement on facts, why is there no agreement on almost anything associated with the 9-11 terrorist attacks? These events left lots of records. How do we explain the following records? A few hours before the attacks, a series of 40 linked random numbers generators located all over the world began to generate non-random numbers in ever-greater numbers that moved up the chart in a pattern? This peaked an hour after the attacks. No one can explain them, so they are ignored.

The classical world left few historical records. These records represent fragments of what happened. Most of them are from Athens and Rome. They tend to be literary. There are broken fragments of pottery. There are remains of architecture.

The humanists who have used these fragments to teach generations of students the history of Greece have been careful not to translate the more salacious passages, mostly involving sex, much of this homosexual. Classical history is a deliberately whitewashed history — literally. The Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens was painted with bright colors, not the austere, seemingly rational white of today.

The classical Christian curriculum whitewashes this history even more. It is written so as not to reveal the deeply rooted conflict between Jerusalem and Athens: biblical religion and culture vs. classical religion and culture.

TEACHING HISTORY COVENANTALLY

Here is how I would teach American history, world history, all history: in terms of the five-point biblical covenant model. I teach the history of literature this way on the Ron Paul Curriculum. I teach government and economics this way.

1. Sovereignty: “Who’s in charge here?”
2. Authority: “To whom do I report?”
3. Law. “What are the rules?”
4. Sanctions: “What do I get if I obey? Disobey?”
5. Succession. “Does this outfit have a future?”

I would examine each institution at any point in history in terms of these five questions:

1. Who did they say was in charge?
2. To whom did they report?
3. What were the rules?
4. What did they get if they obeyed? Disobeyed?
5. Why did it fail? Or succeed?

These are simple to ask, but difficult to answer. They are never self-consciously asked by historians. The Christian historian must spend years trying to find the answers. So far, no one has. There is no history textbook structured by these questions.

I could have written it, but I have been busy writing 31 volumes of economic commentaries on the Bible, plus support books, plus several thousand articles. I was trained as an historian, but I never made a living as one.

I did write two books on history using this model: (1) Crossed Fingers: How the Liberals Captured the Presbyterian Church. It’s here. (2) Conspiracy in Philadelphia: Origins of the United States Constitution. It’shere.

PRIMARY SOURCES AND NARRATIVE

You would not trust a humanist to teach your child about the Bible if the humanist refused ever to assign passages from the Bible to your child. You would know better.

Why would you trust a humanist to teach anything about history without also providing primary sources that provide evidence that his narrative is true?

What applies to history courses designed by humanists also applies to history courses designed by Christians. A course that does not assign primary sources is automatically suspect.

The sources must support the narrative. They must be representative sources. You would not trust a textbook narrative of a Presidential election that supplied only extracts of speeches from third-party candidates who lost without getting a single vote in the Electoral College. Such extracts would not be representative.

High school history courses are usually 100% textbook narrative. Rare is a teacher who assigns primary sources. Even more rare is a teacher who teaches students how to evaluate the accuracy, perspective, and relevance of primary sources.

I guarantee you, the history courses that I produce for this site, or the courses that someone else produces, will not make this mistake. The courses will be a mix of covenantally structured narrative and primary sources documents carefully explained.

Hooray for the World Wide Web and search engines. There are more primary sources available than anyone could have dreamed in 1995. There is also Wikipedia and its imitators. History teachers are at risk at all times of getting corrected by students with Web access. This is healthy.

I teach two years on the history of Western literature in terms of this model. It matches two years of Western civilization taught by Tom Woods.

CONCLUSION

Teaching history is not easy. Designing a history curriculum is far more difficult than teaching classroom history.

There is so much to cover. This gets larger every second of every day. I would teach Western civilization by asking these questions:

1. In what ways was classical Greece evil and even perverse?
2. Why did it have any success at all?
3. What did classical Rome share with classical Greece?
4. Why was there a war between the Roman Empire and Christianity?
5. Why did Christianity win this battle?
6. In what ways was western civilization worse off because of classical antiquity?
7. In what ways was it better off?
8. How was this possible?

Still doubt me about Greece? Click here: http://www.garynorth.com/public/14403.cfm.

Still doubt me about Rome? Read R. J. Rushdoony’s book, The One and the Many (1971), chapter 4 (Greece) and 5 (Rome). It’s free. Download here.

For a more detailed examination, read Charles N. Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture (Oxford University Press, 1940). It has been republished by the Liberty Fund (2003).

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