History textbooks can be an easy way to teach history, but they can be rather dry and boring and each comes with its own slant or bias. I want my children to have a broad understanding of the world and how our society became what it is today. I want them to know about their own country, but I also want them to have an understanding of other people and other cultures. After all, how can we expect our future leaders to work towards peace with others if they can’t understand, at more than a superficial level, the others’ point-of-view? And who will become our future leaders other than the children we are raising today?
In my children’s elementary years, we treated history as stories. I read a lot of history to and with them, so they have at least a basic understanding of major civilizations, events, time periods, trends, and so on. Now that they are in high school, I didn’t want to simply rehash the same material nor have them memorize more detailed trivia. As a child who grew up traveling across a few different countries and continents, I remember being astonished once I started school in the U.S., at how little American schools studied any history that wasn’t directly related to our own. As an adult I see this as a major factor in a lot of political problems across the world stage–a lack of understanding of one another.
So what would be the focus of our study of world history in high school? Point-of-view. To me, this begins with using a variety of resources. So we’ve used a few different textbooks including “The History of the Ancient World” by Susan Wise Bauer, “The Western Heritage” by Kagan, Ozment and Turner, and “Prentice Hall World History: Connections to Today” to gather various author’s perspectives. But these all tell history from a Western and a Judeo-Christian perspective. So we’ve added books such as “Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes” to gain some understanding of another version of world history, along with a memoir “Guests of the Sheik: An Ethnography” to gain insight into another culture from the not-so-distant past. We’ve read a few short books on Chinese history but I haven’t yet found something appropriate that might give more of an overview of their take on history. We’ve watched an old documentary on the Kon-Tiki for an alternate version of how people groups may have spread throughout the world and plan to eventually read through some of “1421: The Year China Discovered America” for a version of history that uses an old sailor’s knowledge to see a very different possible narrative of some events in history from those posited by landlubbers. We won’t read through all of most of these works, as that would be too much, but I want my children to consider some other viewpoints. Note this doesn’t mean that they have to accept them as true, but we’ll analyze them, discuss them, and hopefully come to understand a few of the many ways the story of humankind can be told.
We’ve also taken advantage of events that are happening around us to make learning history relevant. We used some of the recent election to study how the American political system works and have discussed some of the history that brought our country to this point. We participated in a mock election and the kids have been preparing for a debate on whether the Electoral College system should be abolished (a topic that was chosen a few weeks before the recent election was done). They’ll participate in a Mock Trial, too, with others in our homeschool support group.
Together, all of these will provide a not-so-typical world history class. One that should be more interesting than that gained through a single textbook told from the same point-of-view that they’ve always heard. Isn’t that one of the great things about homeschooling–that you can tackle subjects from a different angle than most and work to make them more interesting and relevant?