Surely national history is sufficient! Why learn the history of ancient Rome, Europe, and Asia? In this modern era shouldn’t we solely focus on advancement of the future and disregard the unchangeable past? Surprisingly, what we discover amazes us. Time, location, dress, technology, ideology, and culture may alter, but character- the basic core of humanity, remains constant. Desires, impulses, tragedies, and reformations are common to people of every country, across every age. What made leaders magnanimous or tyrannical years ago are the exact reasons that polarize our leaders today! Besides, our world has gotten smaller and pulled closer those once faraway places. Neighbors, classmates, and colleagues span every latitude and longitude. We find that we are all related yet disconnected. Only knowledge bridges the chasms of ignorance and that is what calls us to return to the beginning.
Two ways are open to man: learn (bitterly) from experience or advance successfully with understanding the past. History is that instruction. There is every need to know of other countries. Are we not all one humanity? As the Apostle Paul said, “…He made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the surface of the earth, having determined appointed seasons, and the boundaries of their dwellings.” In the Sophomore class, we feel with the people of Hispania the blight of the inquisition and rejoice in the shift to democracy. We nod wisely at Confucius’s truth and lament when leaders have made poor decisions. We realize that we too are prone to the errors of the past. A right perspective of consequence will better guide our present decisions and fortify our future. Why should history repeat itself? If people scrutinized the past, oppression and conflict might cease since ignorance thwarts reason, peace, and tolerance. Every golden age is characterized by increased knowledge – the arts, sciences, writing, poetry, and history. How is it possible to circle back to this? The key lies in connecting with the past.
Charlotte Mason says that history is a vital part of education. “Perhaps the gravest defect in school curricula is that they fail to give a comprehensive intelligent, and interesting introduction to history…. we cannot live sanely unless we know that other peoples are as we are with a difference, that their history is as ours, with a difference, that they too have been represented by their poets and their artists, that they too have their literature and their national life.”
Our texts are archeological treasure troves! Reading letters that date to 224 BC, the Qin military soldiers become real to us. We identify with them. Their ancient writing is no different than an email we might send today. We follow the pattern of the dynasties, analyze their errors and successes, and these observations play a role in our present-day judgments. Plutarch’s writings have us witness a culture not dissimilar to ours, unprepared and oblivious to their own destruction. We read of wise and selfless rulers and those who governed by selfish passions. We explore the history of Iberia feeling Goya’s angst as a politically suppressed artist, of ancient China’s renaissance, revolt, and ideology from their perspective, and we realize that Charlotte Mason is correct, that their history is indeed ours, with only minor differences.
Students led to antiquity will be neither bored nor disappointed. They will see that people of all countries are quintessentially alike. Sometimes the best way to understand our political climate is to look to that of another. In that inspection, a clearer, objective perception arises. Miss Mason alludes to the “underfed Oxford graduate” who is allotted a shallow smattering of world history – a deficient sampling compared to an entrée! This, she says, leads to crudeness of opinion and rashness of action. A clearer oracle could not have been pronounced! With no understanding of context and the past, the present is incorrectly managed. Plutarch says his biographies of antiquated leaders are mirrors for us to investigate. What of them do we perceive in ourselves? Let us rectify the image before it is too late and make the changes that lead to redemption, hope, and peace.
Antiquity must have its place of respect and connect to our everyday lives. The strength of that link determines the future. To think justly of what is occurring today, it is fundamental to know what has gone before. Our expectation in Ambleside School of Ocala is that our students grow into mature individuals as they learn the history of their great country and that of other nations. Rather than be partially informed and blindsided with bias may they gain access to educated clarity. We trust that they will seek God’s greater wisdom for their own lives and subsequently influence family, community, country, and the world.