Some of you may have read what I said last week about administering reading comprehension quizzes to my oldest boy after he reads certain books. So far that’s worked out pretty well. However, while he’s able to give me correct answers, I wonder what goes through his head when he reads about, for example, ancient Rome. Little kids don’t have a developed sense of historical events. They can’t imagine a world that doesn’t, for example, have iPods, Nintendo and televisions. They also don’t know how to judge time. To them something that happened a month ago might as well have happened yesterday or even a year ago. That makes teaching history at this age somewhat pointless unless I choose do it with a lot of patience. My thinking is that we have to start somewhere, so we might as well start with Rome and work our way forwards and backwards from there. I believe if Neil can fix a point in his head and begin to understand something about how things worked at that point in history (even if the details in his head are somewhat disjointed), he will better understand something about the mechanical, social and political evolution of man. And that is, after all, the nature of history.
Hands on Learning and the Next Best Thing – Documentaries
The best way to learn about Rome, or any other physically accessible historical concept, is to go to the source. But, I’m not a rich home schooler; jumping on a plane for the Eternal City and hiring a guide is not going to happen anytime soon. Museums would be an interesting and cost effective solution; but oddly, museums seem to only have displays about ancient Greece, Egypt and Pre-Columbian civilizations. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a Roman exhibit. A museum won’t do it either then. This is where technology comes to the rescue! For a cursory introduction to Roman history there is a History Channel series called Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire. It’s a 4 disk series that is, in typical History Channel fashion, heavily visual and decently narrated. If any historical documentary is going to keep my kid’s attention, this is it.
According to Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development (not that a child psychologist is needed for me to know my own kid) Neil should have recently entered the Concrete Operational phase of his brain’s development, where his physical experiences have accumulated enough operational mass to allow him to conceptualize abstractly about his physical surroundings. He should be ready to begin placing objects and experiences outside his ego. That would mean he’s ready to not only empathize with his here and now, but also that he can learn history, which he couldn’t do if he was incapable of imagining a world without television. A younger kid’s mind probably wouldn’t know ancient Rome from Star Wars; one would be just as unreal as the other. Neil, I can tell, is ready to start thinking outside his little egotistical box.
I’m on a Mission:
My mission is to concentrate entirely on Rome and use it for a launching point to other bits of history. For instance, from AD 0, if we travel backwards in time, we won’t be so far removed from Ancient Greece and the major Pre-Christian influences of the Romans. If we move sideways we’ll learn about New Testament era geography and cultures, and the end of the age of Pharaohs in Egypt. Moving forward 500 years, to the end of the Roman Empire, runs us squarely into the Dark Ages in Europe and the enlightened era of the Muslims. And Russian history, as it relates at least to the Orthodox Church, is interwoven with Rome too (Side note: the term Czar comes from Caesar). Rome, it seems to me, is the Golden Milestone to much of our history; it’s the perfect place to start. And what boy wouldn’t love learning about the Roman conquests, Gladiators, Gauls and Cleopatra?
Is Roman history the right place to begin learning about history? I think so, but it remains to be seen. It’s my intention to dive headlong into it and go where it leads us. Some people think teaching little concepts about many civilizations is the right way to approach history. I disagree. I think it’s best to concentrate on one thing and learn it well, slowly zooming out once focus is established. We can’t understand the world around us by looking at the forest first; we have to first understand what the forest is made of and how it grows.