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We’re in the midst of the American Civil War, the littles and I. It’s a nasty, ugly milestone in history that feels even more poignant in this particular space in time, not to mention place. The last time I tackled the subject in our little homeschool, we lived in far-removed Washington, and my children had never heard friends, in passing, refer to The War of Northern Aggression, or The War for Southern Independence. It was the Civil War, or maybe The War Between the States. There were no Confederate battle flags flying on the route to the grocery store, no markers by the sides of the road memorializing the garrisoning of troops. The whole thing felt less personal, though no less tragic.
Still, I was grateful that it was my voice narrating the whole sad affair. Our library haul was dreadfully uneven in its handling of the entire period, and entirely void of God. Either the north was populated entirely by sainted, racially sensitive peoples (spoiler: it wasn’t) and the south was exclusively full of ruthless, profit-driven jerks (also not true), or the issue was really only state’s rights/slavery, to the exclusion of other causes (as if it’s possible to have a one-note conflict). No matter how carefully I selected my sources, there was not only a lingering whiff of bias, but the rank smell of propaganda run rampant. I felt safest with our Sonlight readings; we all cried through the anguish of Across Five Aprils, and came to know more fact through fiction than I had ever thought possible, in truth. Still, every book, every resource ran up against a series of questions we found ourselves asking again and again: Were both sides represented here? Their good, and their bad? And what does God’s Word say about the actions of each?
And of course, that wasn’t the end of the really hard stuff. As the years have passed, I have been privileged to lead my older children through both World Wars, through 9/11, through crime rings, deceitful politicians, the nuances of the English Empire, through the gory details of how one might have come to fight in a gladiatorial ring in Ancient Rome. Right now, as a matter of fact, Jack’s history readings are centering on the somewhat delicate topic of the incredible scholar, preacher, pastor, and theologian Jonathan Edwards’s missionary efforts among the Mohawk and the doors it opened to questionable practices like isolating converts in “Praying Villages.” Obviously, an entire year spent dissecting the history of the church is rife with crushingly hard moments. And here I am, still… burdened with the unimaginably precious gift of helping my children come to grips with some of the hardest scenes history has to offer.
I feel an immense weight in giving voice to the past for my children. I feel it’s my job not just as their teacher but as their parent to help them understand that there are painfully few well and truly noble causes in the world, and even then, the vast majority of them have been polluted by the sin of man. To me, this is one of the most profound responsibilities of homeschooling. As Paul asserts in Romans 3:10: “as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one.'” Presenting a simplistic view of history clouds God’s story, and detracts from His sovereignty. After all, He used Nero, of all people, to give rise to a blossoming of the Christian church. Butchery and persecution led to conversions by the hundreds. What does that tell me? That a black and white presentation can only be incomplete.
It’s my job, as a homeschooler, to seek to illustrate the truth in our lessons. It’s my job to give a firm foundation in faith, to point to the Word of God, and to lead my children in owning for themselves the utter depravity of themselves and the world at large. It’s also my job to shed the light on God’s footprints in those hard places, to guide the eyes of my children to the bigger story always being written. By being the voice that introduces my children to the ugliest parts of history, I have a greater chance of doing that, and doing it well.