For many students – and their parents – history is a boring exercise in memorization. This is no surprise. In many history classes, long lists of dates and facts succeed one another without reason or rhyme. After the year is over, students are left without a sense of why the world works as it does, with none of the critical thinking skills needed to make their way in it.
Classical Historian was founded to provide an inspiring alternative to modern history education. We engage and challenge students by empowering them to debate about history. The ‘Classical’ in our name refers to our use of the Socratic discussion format, which arose in the Classical world of Greece and Rome. A Classical education trains students to be independent thinkers and lifelong learners who seek the truth in all things – not just history.
As an American company, we draw on the rich heritage of Western Civilization to promote the ideals of honest scholarship and responsible citizenship. We believe that a mature understanding of America’s cultural history leads to an appreciation for liberty, law, and morality.
Our Classical approach to teaching history has been used in both classroom and homeschool environments for 17 years. Our texts and courses impart critical thinking and research skills that enable students to differentiate between fact and opinion and formulate evidence-based arguments. After teaching them the ‘tools of the historian,’ we introduce open-ended questions that compel students to take a stand on major events and figures of the past. Once they are able to discover the truth about the past, students are better prepared to find it in the present.
Since history is open to differing interpretations, open and respectful dialog is a key part of Classical Historian’s method. Our students learn to defend their positions, to listen to alternative points of view, and to amend their conclusions when presented with compelling evidence. We hope that you and your students become a part of the conversation.
Liberty and The United States of America The Classical Historian is devoted to teaching the story of liberty throughout history. While this tale is as old as the human race, the great majority of people have been unfree for much of our world’s history, including today. Only recently, within the last few hundred years, a minority of the world’s population has enjoyed a great deal of freedom. The uniqueness of this circumstance is one of the key lessons of history.
Ever since the Enlightenment, most Westerners have claimed that liberty is needed for individuals to achieve their potential. Yet there is widespread disagreement about what ‘liberty’ really means. We follow a strong tradition of Western political philosophy in teaching that liberty means ‘freedom from external restraint.’ However, liberty on its own is not enough for the good life. People must choose to do good, freely, for liberty’s promise to be fulfilled.
The United States of America has played an exceptional role in the story of liberty. In the midst of monarchy and mercantilism, its founders proclaimed it self-evident that, “all men are created equal…endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” In the Constitution, they sought to institute a limited “government of laws, not of men,” with the express intent of protecting citizens from the arbitrary use of power. While this does not mean that they succeeded in transcending long-standing abuses such as slavery and corruption, it does mean that our current ideal of universal rights may not have taken form without their contribution.
A historian we admire, Daniel McClay, writes that “all human beings are flawed, as are all human enterprises. To believe otherwise is to be naive, and much of what passes for cynicism in our time is little more than naivete in deep disguise.” The best way to correct naivete is to study history.
We believe that the reason why many American students – and their parents – do not recognize the meaning of the founding is simple: they have not taken a good history class, yet. Very few K-12 publishers have created materials that teach the history of America in light of man’s long struggle for liberty. Classical Historian strives to answer this call.
Virtue and the Socratic Discussion Any observer of American politics will note the absence of civil discourse in our society. Classical Historian is dedicated to promoting respectful and honest discourse in which students learn both historical content, and moral virtues. Teachers are called to nurture virtue in many ways. By smiling at each student and welcoming them to class individually, teachers and homeschool educators can create an open and welcoming environment. During Socratic discussions, students must express their ideas, listen to opposing viewpoints, and respond intelligently. The search for truth requires students to cultivate the moral habits that sustain civil discourse.
A Detailed Look at Our Method Classical Historian uses an age-appropriate approach to teaching history. As Dorothy Sayers wrote in the 1940s, a student's educational life can be separated into three phases: Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. In the Grammar stage of history, students from ages 3-11 encounter and memorize facts such as dates, events, and biographies. In the Logic stage, ages 12 to 14, students learn the tools of the historian: how to analyze history and the basics of writing and speaking. In the Rhetoric stage, 14 and older, students work on perfecting oral and written expression.
For young students, Classical Historian teaches basic facts through fun and educational games. Between the ages of 3-11, children love to memorize and play games. They also love repetition, and are most comfortable when their lessons rely on games with clear rules. Older students, between the ages of 12-18, enjoy debate, like to form their own analysis, and are eager to express themselves. Classical Historian uses these natural inclinations to promote the academic study of history. We empower students to understand the meaning of complex historical events.
Classical Historian uses a five-step program to teach history. The first step is the “Grammar of History.” Steps two through five are the “Dialectic and Rhetoric of History.”
1. The Grammar of History 2. The Tools of the Historian 3. Research 4. The Socratic Discussion 5. Analytical Essays
The Grammar of History The grammar of history refers to the basic facts of an historical event – the “who, what, when, and where.” Though it is essential for historians to know the grammar of history, critical thinking is not required. Children from pre-k through fifth grade can handle this stage. Students at this stage (from ages 3-11) are eager to memorize, parrot, and recite. Even so, learning the grammar of history never stops. Adults continuously acquire historical knowledge through reading, lectures, visits to museums, and discussions.
Many pediatricians argue that 90% of a child’s intellectual capacity is gained through the age of five (Sears, M.D.). That is why it is most critical that before age 5, children spend their time doing active things, such as kicking a ball, singing songs, learning poems, and playing simple games. Classical Historian Memory Games are excellent for children ages 3 and up. Requiring no reading skills, they build cognitive abilities of visual and spatial memory. Once a child learns how to read, Classical Historian Go Fish Games test historical knowledge, chronology, and geography. Both games are visually beautiful and stimulate the mind. Children love to play them together, or with their teacher or parent.
The Dialectic and Rhetoric of History The Dialectic and Rhetoric of History refer to the thinking, speaking, and writing tools essential for analysis and expression. They also include the ability to research various sources, engage in Socratic discussion, and write analytical essays.
Below is a list of tools we teach through our Teaching the Socratic Discussion DVD program and the Take a Stand! series. The DVD program features John De Gree teaching the tools of the historian to two students, ages 15 and 11. The Take a Stand! books provide lessons that students complete with the guidance of their teacher.
1. Fact or Opinion? 2. Judgment 3. Supporting Evidence 4. Primary or Secondary Source Analysis 5. Using Quotes 6. Paraphrasing 7. Researching Various Sources 8. The Socratic Discussion in History 9. Making a Counterargument 10. Understanding Cause and Effect 11. Understanding Compare and Contrast 12. Understanding Bias 13. Using Evidence and Not Emotion to Form Judgement 14. Writing a Thesis Statement for an Analytical History Essay 15. Writing an Outline for an Analytical History Essay 16. Writing a Rough Draft for an Analytical History Essay 17. Revising an Analytical History Essay 18. Citing Sources in the Text of an Analytical History Essay 19. Writing a Works Cited Page
Forces that Influence History While not strictly tools as the preceding list, knowledge of the following help a historian analyze and teach history. In our Take a Stand! books, we challenge the young historian to analyze the past based on the following forces: a. Technology b. Social forces c. Institutional factors d. Revolution e. Individual in history f. Ideas g. Power h. International organizations i. Causation j. Loyalty
Research into Open-Ended Questions Behind every good historian is the research he conducts to form his analysis. The beginning historian, 11 or 12 years old, shouldn't be expected to begin with a long list of resources, unless he is ready to tackle many different viewpoints. We think that a sixth grader will have enough to do when reading one or two sources for each question. As the child ages, he should use as many primary source documents and conflicting sources as he can get his hands on.
Once students master the tools of the historian, they are ready to conduct self-directed research. Open-ended questions provide the best way for students to sharpen their research skills because they are open to competing interpretations. Without exposure to differing points of view, students are left unprepared to analyze conflicting viewpoints. As a result, our Socratic discussions revolve around open-ended questions that are impossible to answer with a simple yes or no, but require explanation.
Some of the questions that we challenge our students with include:
What caused the Roman Empire to change from persecuting Christians to adopting Christianity as the state religion?
How did technology change American society from 1950 to 1990?
What caused the fall of the Soviet Union?
Compare and contrast the Incas with the Aztecs.
Compare and contrast the reasons Martin Luther and King Henry VIII founded new religions.
In their discussions, students will learn that it is possible to look at history from varying vantage points. This exercise trains the mind to be open to, and critical of, differing interpretations in the search for truth.
Questions Most upper-level history questions involve complicated concepts and relationships, including the following:
a. Change Over Time b. Cause and Effect c. Compare and Contrast d. Define and Identify e. Statement/Reaction f. Evaluation g. Analyzing Viewpoints
Teaching the Socratic Discussion in History While Socrates used questions to pursue the truth in philosophy, we use questions to pursue the truth in history. Often, teachers feel unequipped to lead Socratic discussions about history. However, Socrates noted that the best teacher and most intelligent philosopher is one who knows what he does not know. To be a great teacher, expertise in world history is not necessary. What is essential is the adoption of certain habits of thought and of questioning.
Once an interpretive question is chosen and the student has researched and formed a perspective, the teacher needs to ask appropriate questions. Beyond the introductory level of “Who, what, where, when, why, how?” however, the educator must ask, “What evidence do you have that supports this?” This is the ultimate question in any discussion in history. If the evidence is weak, then the student’s judgment will be weak as well. How can there be a strong conclusion with weak evidence?
The teacher’s primary role is to be the questioner, so he does not need to be an expert in history. Instead of telling the student what to think, the teacher should question and challenge the student’s conclusions, forcing the student to continually clarify and defend their position with historical evidence and sound judgment. If other students are present, the teacher can encourage students to debate each other’s ideas, with the intention of arriving at the best possible conclusion together. If there are not other students available, the teacher should encourage the student to be able to present a perspective that is contrary to their own conclusions. In doing so, the student attempts to view what the opposing side may see. The teacher’s goal is to create a scholarly atmosphere where students are free to express their ideas but careful to cite the historical evidence that supports their thesis statement. Classical Historian DVD Training Seminar andTake a Stand! curriculum teach the Socratic discussion in history.
Analytical Essays In analytical history essays, substance takes precedence over style. The student needs to take a perspective that he can defend with evidence, on an issue where an opposing viewpoint is possible. Writing a narrative which only explains the major points of the Renaissance is not an analytical task. Writing that Leonardo da Vinci was the most influential artist of the Renaissance, and using evidence to defend this point, is analytical, because somebody may argue that Michelangelo was more influential than da Vinci.
The Take a Stand! series provides questions that compel the student to write analytically. Each essay assignment is crafted so that the student must take a stand on an issue that can be answered from a variety of perspectives. The prewriting activities provided in our Take a Stand! series gives students the necessary guidance to find evidence that will support or refute their thesis. And, simple to read but effective lessons on how to write all pieces of the writing process guide the student to create strong essays. The Classical Historian DVD and Take a Stand! curriculum teach the Socratic discussion in history.
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CLASSICAL HISTORIAN MISSION Classical Historian educates and inspires youth to seek the truth in history and to champion individual liberty and virtue. ...more