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What’s useful about studying history?

History for many children and teenagers is considered, at the very least, a dull enterprise. At the most, it is the stuff of nightmares to teach and listen to. It is also one of the more forgotten courses to teach. A busy homeschooling mother may be inclined to just teach math, English, and science. Afterall history is not inherently useful for the education of a child. Or is it?

I understand this dilemma. History takes skill to teach well. It takes passion and ability to bring the collection of dates, facts, and people from the past to life. In my undergrad days, I myself was subjected to the endless drone of information from a dull history professor. It took copious amounts of coffee to stay awake for those classes, especially as finals approached.

But in the end, history is very useful to teach. Speaking from personal experience it has helped me learn to analyze facts and information. You see, history is not just about rote memorization. History is much more about interpreting the facts that letters, pictures, books, artifacts, paintings, etc. tell us. History is like being Sherlock Holmes. We are given certain facts and we have to derive the story, the interconnections, the networks, from all those facts. History is not simply saying that Canada became a country in 1867. History is interested in finding out: What is Canada? Why did it become a country? Why did that happen in 1867? How did that happen? Who was all involved? How did that affect the British Empire? How did Canada work to become one unified country? How was Canada planning to defend its vast territory?

And so history is really about learning to ask questions. It is learning to ask good questions. It is about learning to develop critical thinking skills. It is learning to make strong arguments about why events happen. It is learning to recognize that there is a vast array of networks in the world. Indeed, this was probably one of the most valuable lessons I have learned from studying history. An event doesn’t just happen because of one circumstance. For example, the exile of the Acadians in 1756 was not simply about the British having a grudge against the French. The Acadian Exile was about loyalty to the monarch, empire defense, and Roman Catholicism vs. Protestantism. Indeed, the Acadian exile was prompted by the French building up their Atlantic fortress at Louisbourg and encouraging the Acadians to rise up in rebellion to their “cruel” British oppressors.

In addition, history helps develop imagination, creativity, and character.  I spent many days in my childhood running around in the backwoods pretending I was a British soldier squashing the American invasion of Canada in 1812. Other days, I was with David Thompson exploring and mapping the great plains of Rupert’s Land. Other days I was facing the difficulties of being a pioneer in a land hostile to European settlement. Aside from the fact that I almost had my eyes pocked out twice with sticks by two unnamed brothers, those adventures were very important in the development of character.

Finally, when I think of the importance of studying history, my mind almost immediately goes to Joshua 4.

And Joshua said unto them, Pass over before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of Jordan, and take ye up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel: That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones? Then ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.

The Lord commanded that the stones be put in the Jordan for a memorial, so that the lessons learned at the crossing of the Jordan would be passed down from generation to generation. We should teach children history so that they learn about God’s Law and God’s sovereign providence in history. Important historical events should not be forgotten. The crossing of the Jordan was especially important because it showed that God was fulfilling His promise to Abraham that God would give him the land of Canaan. Thus, the crossing of the Jordan not only displayed God’s sovereign power over the Jordan River, but it also showed that God was a faithful covenant God. Israel was to learn from those stones something of the character of God.

So it is with Christians today too. We should spend time teaching our children history and showing God’s sovereign providential care of His people throughout history. We should show through history that God is saving an elect people to Himself. We should show that He is preserving His church until He comes again on the clouds of glory to deliver His people from this sin-filled world. History can be a wonderful means by which the gospel can be preached. History is a platform to point out the sins and errors of the past and show the necessity of obedience to the Law of God. It is a platform to demonstrate the wonderful saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the sovereign Lord and Judge over this world.

And those are the reasons it is important to teach our children history.

 

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