One does not have to look far to find an article about the declining historical knowledge of American students or a poll which exposes citizens’ widespread ignorance of basic history or civics. On the other hand, almost everyone seems to be familiar with a quotation or two about the importance of history (“Those who don’t know history…”). We seem to know that the study of history needs rescuing, that the importance of history must be justified to a new generation.
In her book on classical education, The Well-Trained Mind, Susan Wise Bauer quotes Ken Burns’ justification of the study of history: “History is the study of everything that has happened until now. Unless you plan to live entirely in the present moment, the study of history is inevitable.” Bauer continues the thought:
“History, in other words, is not a subject. History is the subject. It is the record of human experience, both personal and communal. It is the story of the unfolding of human achievement in every area—science, literature, art, music, and politics. A grasp of historical facts is essential to the rest of the classical curriculum.”1
At St. Jerome, we also think that the study of history is essential. In fact, the history cycle which is part of our humanities core class is the backbone of our change to a classical model. Beginning in kindergarten, each grade focuses on a segment of history, cycling through the timeline twice in grades K-8. Our history division (below) is inspired by the St. Jerome Educational Plan (of St. Jerome School in Hyattsville, MD).
Kindergarten: Cradle of Civilization
1st grade: The Greek Year
2nd grade: The Roman Year
3rd grade: The Medieval Year
4th grade. The Modern Year
5th grade. The American Year
6th grade. The Ancient Year
7th grade. The Christendom Year
8th grade. The New World Year
A fifth-grader shows off a timeline of American history.
This chronological cycle by grade means that the study of history unifies and links our grades in a coherent progression. Furthermore, each grade is able to bring its time-period to life by studying literature, art, and religion related to it. Many classes have also been memorizing a timeline of their grade’s historical period—usually put to a catchy song or chant—so that they have a framework in which to file further historical learning. Once the timeline is memorized, further historical knowledge is more easily acquired because students have “hooks” on which to hang new facts.
With the historical focus of each grade level, St. Jerome’s emphasis on history is readily apparent. We look to the past to illuminate the present and help us navigate the future.
Stay tuned for next week’s post where we will explore our approach to history.
Bauer, Susan Wise and Jessie Wise. The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (New York: Books and Sheep, Inc., 2016), 135-136.