SS #60: History as a Center Cannot Hold (with Angelina Stanford!)
Our guest today is the lovely and delightfully controversial Angelina Stanford.
Angelina has an Honors Baccalaureate Degree and a Master’s Degree in English Literature from the University of Louisiana. For over twenty-five years, she has shared her passion and enthusiasm for literature with students in a variety of settings — everywhere from university classrooms to homeschool co-ops to homeschooling her own three children. You can find Angelina at angelinastanford.com where she teaches online literature classes for middle school through adult, as well as webinars and short term classes. She had a big summer, launching The Literary Life Podcast with her longtime friend Cindy Rollins, and in June she married her very own poet. Angelina lives quite happily in a honeymoon cottage in North Carolina, tracking down rare books and inspiring poetry.
In today’s episode, Brandy read Angelina a quote from herself on teaching history from last time she was on the show – she caused quite a ruckus with this one. Then, Brandy and Mystie asked her to defend herself. What resulted was a truly amazing conversation!
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Today’s Hosts and Source
teaches history in her homeschool using Ambleside Online’s reading plan with multiple streams of history.
teaches history in her homeschool on a three year cycle using good books and no curriculum.
Scholé Everyday: What We’re Reading
The institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin
Mystie is employing the classic strategy of assigning a book she has been wanting to read to her kids, and reading along with them.
Jane of Lantern Hill, L.M. Montgomery
This book reminds Brandy of Understood Betsy, another favorite, and she loves how Montgomery is so good at representing children as born persons.
Excellent Women, Barbara Pym
Angelina is consciously trying to read more fun books, because she reads so many heavy books for her job. This one was recommended by her husband, and she has been enjoying the modern Austen feel of it.
Can there be too much emphasis on history?
Neo-classical curriculums can tend to make history the unifying principle.
Dorothy Sayers famous essay was not her laying out of a systematic plan for education, it was some off the cuff observations and ideas. She throws some things out, and then encourages the reader to study the medievals and how they viewed education. And the medievals never viewed the trivium and quadrivium as stages.
Angelina loves history, but no subject should be taken out of proportion, history is just one of the muses, not the primary one.
The true need for an organizing principle
Modern mainstream education has become increasingly fragmented, we’re told math has no relation to history, or poetry, or theology, or anything else. And so the desire to have something unify the subjects is a right and good desire, because they do fit together, but giving that place to history is asking history to be something it isn’t.
Pitfalls of History as the Center
An organizing principle is a center, a thing that holds everything else together. And trying to connect everything to history can be difficult and lead to short-changing some of the other subjects. If you only have a half a year or a moth to devote to say 18th century music, because that’s when you’re studying that time period, you can miss a lot of it. For ancient time periods you’ll be scrambling to find enough art, and music, and literature, and for more modern time periods there will be way to much to cover well in the time allotted.
Another downside is that literature can start to be treated as a historical artifact, rather than like a piece of art. If all the Oddessy does is show us how Greeks of that time lived, we’re missing so much it has to offer. As Lewis says, literature should not be used, it should be received.
Classical educators can be tempted to feel like museum curators and like the guardians and preservers of dead things.
“The Medievals viewed the classical tradition not as this dead thing, but as a living soil from which new Christian culture could grow.”Angelina Stanford, episode #60
But is there a place for historical fiction?
Of course, but we should be considering factors like reading readiness and the best age to first read certain books, and not only pick books that fit in with the historical time period we’re currently studying. Choose the literature that best fits the age and stage your children are at, not just the literature that fits with this year’s history.
Even for adults, the pressure of having to read books in chronological order can prevent making valuable connections, and make reading the classics even more intimidating if you feel like you have to start with giants like the Aneid.
The Student should be making the connections
Don’t outline and make all the connections for your student, they need to be doing that themselves.
If Classical education really is a great conversation, we should be encouraging reading and learning across time periods to facilitate that conversation for our children, not shut it down by focusing on one period at a time.
Choosing Material that Fits the Child
If you’re not bound by choosing material that fits a certain time period, you can choose what you child actually needs where they are. Regardless of whether you’re studying the 1800s in history, your seven-year-old does not need to be reading the Romantics, they still need nursery rhymes, A.A. Milne, and nonsense poetry.
“The five year old needs fairy tales, not Dante put in a blender”
Children, especially young ones, need stories where good and evil are distinct, and evil is also shown as something that can be defeated.
-A quick bashing of unit studies- Unit studies can fall into the same ditches, when you’re trying to artificially cram thing together, and just feel really restricted as far as what you’re “allowed” to study or include in the lesson plan.
History is important, and the work that has been done to remind people of that is commendable.
History is More than Dates
The study of history is more than memorizing names and dates. And especially for the elementary years a narrative and biographical approach to history is better than a memorization heavy approach.
Myths and legends are important too. The stories peoples choose to tell about themselves shows us what they value and what kind of a culture they are.
It actually is freeing to be able to choose subjects and material based on what your child needs now, rather than being pressured into choosing something that fits the time period.