I am convinced that in any given homeschool, there are subjects that are given more than their share of attention, and then there are those that sometimes get a bit, well, neglected, for one simple reason: Mom and/or Dad’s interest and enthusiasm about that particular topic. I constantly meet parents who talk in terms of tears associated with studying math—tears from both parent and student, mind you. Calculus is a curse word in these homes, and no cursing is allowed. Similarly, those who struggle to draw a straight line with a ruler might shy away from art studies. Personally, I would be a much better science teacher if my household were common enough to have all those “common household items” without me having to make emergency trips to the store or reschedule/ cancel those experiments altogether.
Some subjects require more than we have available—naturally or otherwise– to teach. But there is also another reason that I believe we shun certain topics, especially relating to history and literature: these issues are psychologically/ emotionally difficult for us, and we conclude that our kids would be better off not knowing about them. At least, we conclude that we would be better off not teaching these issues. The perfectly logical explanation of how well off our kids’ education would be with these omissions comes later.
The Crusades. Slavery (historical American slavery or modern-day slavery). The Holocaust. The Trail of Tears. Japanese-American internment camps. Segregation and Apartheid. September 11, 2001 and its aftermath. These are just a few of many dark moments in history. The most revisionist curriculums do not even touch upon these areas, as if ignoring them somehow masks their existence. Dare we introduce these troublesome topics to our children, and if so, how? Here are some thoughts on teaching tougher topics:
Be prepared for tough questions. More importantly, be prepared to learn together. “Why, mom (or dad)?” This might be the toughest question you hear, in large part because some events are beyond our understanding. Few of us can fathom being Adolf Hitler or Idi Amin, and we need not try to explain that which we do not understand. With the click of a few buttons, you can research together the motivations behind history’s most horrid acts. Besides, what better way to role model discipleship (from the Latin ‘student’) than to allow your children to see you trying to learn?
Remember to share perspective. Reminding our children of what was billed as “common knowledge” or what was socially acceptable is also important to share when teaching tough topics. Slavery has been a part of man’s existence since the beginning of time; what was unique about American slavery, barring the inclusion of indentured servitude, was its basis in racial differences. Just a few days before this writing, our daughter was reading a biography of Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. His thoughts regarding Martin Luther King, Jr., 20 years his junior, were astounding to me reading this book in 2014: ‘He [Marshall] was especially critical of the idea that nonviolent protest could be used to end school segregation, remarking once that desegregation was men’s work and should not be entrusted to children. Like other top executives at the NAACP, he regarded King…as an “opportunist” and a “first-rate rabble rouser.” ‘ (Haskins, 1992) In 2014, it can be difficult for a child to grasp why Japanese-Americans were placed in internment camps here in America—the land of the free—during World War II. Explaining the sheer power of unchecked fear, anger, and hatred, and shedding light on these emotions via God’s Word, is a powerful lesson in why we must stay before the Father and not in front of the television and the radio.
Use non-historical illustrations to teach historical concepts. As I have mentioned perhaps too many times before, our son dances—ballet, tap, jazz, and lyrical. For many years, he was the lone boy at our local dance center. Most girls wanted little to do with him; a boy who danced—in most cases, better than they did—was not a part of what they considered normal. I could not count the number of times that a loud-mouthed pre-teen would use an adjective similar to “weird,” not realizing that I was standing close by. Now, as a tall and handsome teen, I can only wish girls still thought of him as weird! If I can effectively use his moments of being different, however, and the consequential treatment, I can teach him history. Are you in the midst of a significant historical moment during similar times in your life? Maybe, or maybe not. Yet, if we can tap into those feelings and share honestly, we can use these awkward times to help our children understand why people behave as they do.
Help your children understand that happy endings are for fairy tales. Just as the Master Teacher tells us clearly that in this world, we will have tribulation (John 16:33), we need to prepare our children for life’s realities, which include the good, bad, and the ugly. The good news—indeed, the Good News—is that, with Jesus Christ, we win. The not-so-good news is that sometimes winning does not look at all as we would have crafted the story. Remember that it was in the year that King Uzziah died (not-so-good news) that Isaiah saw the Lord (good news–see Isaiah 6).
Teach with a goal of healing, not hatred. I teach history from one perspective, and one perspective only: Romans 8:28. I believe that God had a plan. Though His plan is NOTHING like the way I would have done it, I realize that relative to Him, I am arrogant and ignorant if I think that I would have had better results. I also know that the nature of God is not always reflected in the actions of man (Proverbs 16:1-2). Indeed, I wrote my whole curriculum based upon this premise. If I did not teach that God had a plan, it would be easy to teach hurt, anger, low self-esteem, and bitterness. Regardless of race, we have a choice: we can recognize the sins of our ancestors, repent, and set about doing something different (see Nehemiah 1), or we can belligerently dwell in the aftermath.
Never has there been more of a need for teaching that aligns EVERYTHING with God’s Word. Never has there been a time when TRUTH is more required in light of what is happening in our world. Teachers, like Esther, we are anointed for such a time as this. Let us, above all, approach the tough areas with an eye, an ear, and a heart that is keen on lifting up Jesus through it all.
Haskins, J. (1992). Thurgood Marshall: A Life for Justice. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company.