I was excited to receive my Mater et Magistra last week but one thing or another kept me from reading it until this week. I confess I found myself disappointed to see it focused on History, firstly because history is not a subject I see as very helpful in kindergarten and secondly because, darn it, I just was never fond of History. But that certainly wasn’t going to deter me from reading it. In addition to the wonderful suggested book list near the back, I was especially grateful for an abridged piece from Dr. Rollin A. Lasseter titled Light to the Nations: Reclaiming the Catholic Historical Imagination. It is a simply wonderful piece on just what History means, why we study it and how we should study it and how modern educational systems are failing in every regard.
Like my mother’s now lost scrapbooks, the greater sense of our communal history as Catholic Christians is fading away with the last old people who knew its story. Our schools teach a secularized American civics and withhold both European and world history until the Ninth or Tenth grades of High School. Our textbooks are full-color, large type — pretty, but expensive scrapbooks of an inexplicable past. …
Unlike scrapbooks, History is stories. It has beginnings, middles, ends, and all its stories are events in the gathering action of one story, Sacred History, whose model is the Bible. The crisis of our times looms like nightmare over our hearts, and discouragement and despair seems to hang heavily on old and young alike. For the point of it all, the regathering of human life throughout history into the arms of God, seems to have been forgotten in the education of our children. If any one life, my life, is to have value, it must have story, and the romance of salvation. And it must have the support of its roots in the human story, its hope in the examples of sacred story. It is our age’s misfortune that storytelling, romance, and hope will have to be rediscovered and restored to our children. Our historical imagination, fading with the loss of our history, already needs re-forming in Christian faith, our love with the sympathy of the ages, our hope through the victories of our ancestors.
This is a perspective on History I have never heard before. Yes, I know about Salvation or Sacred History, but I had always filed that under “Theology,” not “History.” Lasseter contends that Salvation History and History are one and the same. There is only one History and that is the History of humanity from creation through redemption until now. Personally I have always struggled with liking the subject of History. I never could memorize dates or names well. I knew when things sounded familiar, but it always seemed like History was mostly a collected mural of names, dates, numbers, and plain boring facts. Now, Theology, I could always get behind. Looking at “the big picture?” I’m there! Lasseter has set before me a new way to view History and perhaps opened a critical distinction for me before I need to teach my children History.
Such a program would rely on many materials for teaching, not just textbooks of history or civics: poems, historical fictions, biographies, original documents, art works and visual aids. No commercial textbooks on the market today meet the needs of such a program. The element of storytelling on which the study of history depends has been ignored in favor of a spurious neutrality of factual narrative, deadly to read and deadlier to the imagination. New textbooks will be called for, and old textbooks and storybooks reclaimed, that draw students into history with the same power of imagination that the secular world uses to draw them away from their past and their Church. …
And poems, historical, patriotic, edifying and memorable, both to be recited and to be sung, are available at every level of a child’s ability. Virtue, both private and civic, becomes part of the permanent imagination through song and memory assignments. And verse enlivens the memory as much as pictures and visual aids. The teacher can bring the study of history alive with a thousand good books, or kill it by relying solely on one deadly scrapbook for a text.
I think, for me, History was all too often killed with a deadly scrapbook. I’m excited to explore just what History can be and how fun it might be to learn it all over again.
And if you haven’t read it, I HIGHLY recommend reading all of Lasseter’s work. It’s a winner.