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by Catherine Frakas 15 Mar 2002

Homeschooling History QUESTION from Andrea March 25, 2000 From your introduction I read but also of the Catholic world view, which is critical in properly understanding history. How how do we do it? On a Catholic Homeschool listserv we have been discussing exactly what a Catholic world view means and how to implement it in teaching history. To date there are several reprinted Catholic school history textbooks, but do they present the salient Catholic WV that is needed in todays society? I don't think so. Some of them sound contrived or over glorify Catholics when that isn't always and accurate portrayal. Next year I will be using a protestant program with a Biblical world view to teach history (there are no similar Catholic programs-- it is set up for multiple grades.) I am working through the program now attempting to change the view and of course will be using a Catholic base text and supplementing with Catholic views. But the bigger picture of how to teach history with a Catholic world view--I don't think I have the bigger picture myself. Any thoughts would be appreciated.
ANSWER by Mrs. Suzanne Fortin, B.A. on March 28, 2000 Dear Andrea
I confess that I don't have any experiencing homeschooling children, but I can offer you some of my opinions on how to transmit the Catholic worldview.
Transmitting the Catholic worldview should not mean passing on information which is distorted or incorrect in any way, for any reason. An acquaintance of mine, some time back, told me about the kinds of Church history books her mother had when she was in primary school, long ago in French Canada, about 50 years ago or so (Church history was an obligatory subject). The book depicted the Jesuit missionaries in Canada and the Indians as villains-- as savages, to be precise. I would not hesitate to reject such a book. While the work of the missionaries should be glorified and praised, there's no need to implant prejudice in the young minds. I would sooner use a contemporary Protestant book, if its tone was conservative and not anti-Catholic.
Transmitting the Catholic world view means that you combine a zeal for Truth with the proper respect for the Faith-- not as something to be compartmentalize, as a form of knowledge not worthy to be considered as true as other forms of knowledge. God's existence and his Providence are as true as the theory of gravity. They must be treated as equal.
The Catholic world view must be taught with the greatest regard for critical thinking and logic. This is of the utmost importance. History cannot be written from documents alone. It must be sorted out using logic-- comparing facts with one another, discerning motives, and discarding alternative explanations through a process of elimination. One of the things which has really hurt the image of Christianity in the United States is the fact that many Protestant Fundamentalists are devoid of critical thought. And this way Christianity becomes associated with lacking critical thought. We cannot allow this to happen. In order to raise good Catholics capable of defending the Faith, and spreading it, we must instill in our children respect for critical thought, all the while fostering their Faith, because if the latter is not done, you will only be making them into atheists. If you give children the gift of critical thought, they will be able to discern for themselves what is true and false in history. They will know not to trust writers who obviously are unacquainted with either Catholicism or Catholic History. This can be done through exercises. Present them documents-- like a letter or a diary and ask them-- how can you know if this person is trustworthy or not? Mind you, it depends on the age of the children, but certainly this is not too difficult by the time they are in high school.
The Catholic world view also has to do with the content of history and the reason for presenting it. There are some things a Catholic should know about the history of his Church and Faith-- the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Persecutions in the Roman Empire, etc. There's no need to bypass the history of the institutional Church, as some would, because it's about the elite. The elite were important and had great influence on the masses. The reason some would bypass all that is that they think that hierarchies are wrong, and that real history involves the masses. Myself, I think there is a lot to be said for teaching socio-religious history-- that is the history of how the masses lived out their faith in the various periods. It does help debunk many myths. For instance, it is often asserted that Europe in the period right before the Reformation, was spiritually in decline. It feeds the idea that the Reformation was an answer to that hunger, a cure, so to speak. But certain prominent historians, such as Pierre Chaunu, a Protestant, and Euan Cameron, do not hold this to be true, and I suspect the same. Knowing this is a means of fostering the idea that the Reformation really was wrong, and that's it's mainly spread by propaganda. Another good reason to teach socio-religious history is to foster a religious identity. This is a real sad thing to say, but for much of my life, I did not have a good sense of Catholic identity. I am a Vatican II Catholic, born in 1973, and until the age of 15, I was the product of the spirit of type teachings. I didn't know anything about devotions or doctrines. I knew the Gospel, a little bit about Mary and the Sacraments, and that was about it. The institutional Church had no place in my life, and neither did any real pious practices, like the rosary. I fell into the esoteric and New Age, and it was only because I had one really good religion teacher in high school, that I was saved from spiritual emptiness. It's only in the last five years, in my surfing the net, that I've really discovered the richness of Catholic practices, and what my religious roots are. When you learn about the history of the Church in the past, you are confronted with all sorts of ways of living out your Catholicism, and you learn that yes, you can use the whole supernatural apparatus-- you can devote yourself to Mary, the saints, and of course to Jesus in many ways. You learn about feasts, and processions, and relics, and miracles, and all that cool stuff that most Catholics have nothing to do with these days. And since these things are often not visible in our modern world, the only introduction children may get is through history.
As for secular history-- particularly American history, I think there's a lot more room to play with. From what I gather, American Catholics are anxious to underscore the role they played in their country's history. My perception is that American Catholics feel the need to affirm their Americanness by showing that they've played a role, and thus, that they make up part of the American landscape. The reason for this is that there seems to be the widespread prejudice that being a devout Catholic is somehow unAmerican. Personally, I think it is unnecessary to do this, if we're talking about secular history (of course, if you want to show the history of Catholics in America, that's another story). I think that secular events should be evaluated using a Catholic sense of judgment. Take for instance, the fact that the Founding Fathers did not abolish slavery. Not being well-acquainted with all the facts, I could not give you a judgment-- but I know what questions I would ask. For instance-- was it reasonable to expect them to do so? And if yes, then why didn't they, and are those reasons justifiable in the light of the times and in light of Church teaching today? It is not popular in our day and age to comment on the morality of a certain historical situation. Some historians do it, but feel the need to defend this practice. It is implicitly understood among historians that they are not there to pass judgment on those they study, merely to understand them. That's fine when you're at a historians' convention and your audience is composed of people with many belief systems. You do not want to get bogged down defending your particular belief system-- that would defeat the purpose of the gathering, which is to share historical findings. But when you know the audience is composed entirely of Catholics, there's no reason not to comment. In fact, it might be a form of negligence.
I hope that some of my opinions have helped you gained a better grasp of teaching history. I'm sorry they could not have been more practical tips.
I thank you for your question.
God Bless, Suzanne Fortin
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