Posted on January 4th, 2016
This should not be a problem.
I’ve been reading history since I was pH’s age and never stopped. It was my major. Although it kills me to cut back, limited space in the home office means I’m constantly having to prioritize what I can keep (electronic books help–but there is no substitute to pulling something off the shelf–the proper way!–and finding a tabbed, highlighted passage, in my opinion).
I have a teeny room that holds two desks, a standing desk, a chair-and-half, and some books. They’re almost all history.
There are more in the hall. There are some downstairs, although that’s mostly where the fiction and the non-fiction-that-is-not-history lives.
This is where hausfrau-me should blush and say sorry for the mess…but this is the neat version. This is the part where would-be-scholar-me cringes and think of all the books I sold back to Powell’s or donated over the years, because it’s no working library by my family’s standards. It’s a child’s room.
But history. I have a bunch of it in my head. I have more of it on my shelves and on the internet and downstairs and on my wishlist on Amazon.
I consult it daily. It’s what I do. I read history and I write and I read more history and I write more.
I’ve purchased a stack of textbooks for pH to use.
I’ll be damned, though, if I can find a book or set of books that I think do a decent job for children, especially bright children. (And the Common Core starts “Social Studies”–if ever a term deserved to be put in ironic quotes, it’s that one–early, so while they’re learning about George Washington and Paul Revere and Harriet Tubman they are missing a LOT, if not most, of the necessary context.)
I should point out: she has a lot of books, for children, about history. They just don’t quite do what I wish they would. If you wonder what this feels like, imagine the Schoolhouse Rock song “Elbow Room” and cringe along with me. There’s the historical fiction–the Johnny Tremains and Yearlings. That helps.
There are classical education books aimed at homeschooled children, but even as this atheist races with her husband to see who can say the Apostles’ Creed faster and who took her child to a Christmas pageant last month, I find them too biased.
I want her to understand how religion plays a part in history and shapes it, not to think that it was all divinely inspired.
I spent twenty minutes today debating about getting her a textbook by Eric Foner. I’m pretty sure she could understand the majority of it, and could understand most of the questions posed.
Then I thought, WTF are you doing? Your eight-year-old is not going to read Eric Foner. One of my resolutions is to read my way through the entire Oxford history of the United States…and thought, well, maybe I can excerpt bits for her. And again, I thought, WTF. She’s not reading Howe or Ferling or Wood or Mittlekrauff, either. (I’d love for her to read Alan Taylor, but as artfully as he writes, it’s not for an eight year old.)
During the day, when she’s not doing academic work or complaining (about something, anything), pH reads. Fiction, yes, but mostly myths and non-fiction. She memorizes statistics for animals I have never heard of. She has almost no interest in history, except she has discovered that her Social Studies modules are really easy and she zips through them. I tried to make some of it more relevant: “And then your cousin George Washington…” And failed. I went through Geni and showed her how she was related to every single president (even Kennedy and Van Buren, to my surprise). And failed. I tried to put it in the context of place. “And that happened right where we were visiting…” And failed.
After giving up on the Foner idea, I considered writing a book specifically for her age group, that specifically discussed religion in a way that was relevant to the time and place but without all the sneaky moral lessons or bits about Moses being a real dude who lived hundreds of years. Then I thought, WTF are you thinking? You do not have the time to write a textbook for your child. (Although it tempts me.)
Her father and I debate history all the time in front of her. She likes Vikings, so I dragged out all the Viking books I could find and put them out where she could find them. This is my not-really-subtle technique to get her to develop an interest in them–purchase books that are attractive, fact-filled, and leave them on the ottoman. Eventually she will discover and read them, and to certain extent, she has.
She loves it when I’m wrong, and it is one of my sneaky ways to teach her things. A deck of Presidential flashcards turned into a game where she would show me the official portrait of various presidents and I’d have to guess them. THIS IS HARD. Sometimes I’d talk her into giving me the number and I’d work it out that way. But I made her read facts about each one in the process.
This was so hard and she thought it was so hilarious at the guessing–and she has one of those infectious laughs, just like her father–that we had an entire waiting room, plus the doctor my husband was seeing, a couple of other faculty, and my husband all trying to guess Calvin Coolidge. It was a sad day for American scholarship and Silent Cal.
Truth: Crash Course World History, actually, has been the best way of engaging her. She has a huge crush on John Green. Huge. Getting the Mongol Patreon postcard pretty much made her year.
(She learned the state mottos, capitols, etc. by quizzing us. Okay, I got it, the Coyote state is…uh…South Dakota! When I saw a Montana license plate I got very excited and took a picture because ZOMG it actually says Treasure State!)
But she is all about prehistoric creatures, and I suppose that’s history, too, if I stretch things a bit. I just wish for every 15 minutes I have to hear about a short-faced bear or hyenodon that she’d listen to me talk about Free Trade and Sailor’s Rights.
In all…it won’t break my heart if she doesn’t love history as her father and I do (although I suspect she will). And, well, I’d prefer for her to pick a profession that allows her to support me in style in my old age.