“Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived.”
It’s the Fourth of July in America, a fitting time to reflect on all things British, the country where the foundation of democracy was laid. We enjoy the freedom to homeschool here, derived from the ancient freedoms won in England. I have the great privilege of knowing some fine young adults, homeschooled as children. What, I asked them, had they learned about British history?
“Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived” recited one, remembering the hapless wives of Henry VIII. Others told me about Saints Margaret Clitherow, Edmund Campion and Thomas More. Still others spoke of Shakespeare, Dickens and Austen. (Poor old George III was down the list.)
Such vivid portraits are fascinating proof that good homeschooling indelibly engraves ideas in students in a way that state-approved, bland and puréed curriculums simply cannot. Exploring the days when monasteries anchored a whole civilization and feast days set the rhythm of public life throws present-day American secular ideas into high relief. Statesmen who kept their eye on Heaven despite the threat of execution contrasts with our contemporary weak-kneed politicians — especially Catholic ones — who seem unable to think past the next election.
There is much in English history to inspire children, so here are some tried-and-true techniques:
First, kids love castles – and there’s lots of teaching tools out there. There’s fantastically-detailed full color books with diagrams and cut-away illustrations, three dimensional computer programs which permit your student to wander around the inside of a castle and intricate cardboard cutout models with elaborate details sturdy enough to survive multiple curious siblings. (We had one monastery model which features miniature friars and animals — a great touch for young imaginations.)
Constructing a simple graham cracker castle with icing mortar is engaging for a 5 year-old. Huge, elaborate co-op projects will engage older students.
Second, combining food with lessons grabs kids’ attention. Constructing a simple graham cracker castle with icing mortar is engaging for a 5 year-old. Huge, elaborate co-op projects engage older students. (Hint: Pointy-ended ice cream cones make great turrets. Ditto for stained glass window cookies!)
Third, nothing beats dressing up as peasants, knights and ladies. Knights are especially cool, especially if you get to wear armor and a sword. Throw in a knight who was a saint and you have a win/win. And if that saint slew a dragon, you just scored a trifecta!
Finally, for older students, meeting the great British authors within the dynamics of a Catholic co-op is an excellent way to hone critical thinking skills. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, A Man for All Seasons and the works of Chesterton and Belloc come alive in peer discussions — with parents taking turns as facilitators, guiding the conversation through the eyes of faith. This is a great time for teens to hear adults other than their own parents reflect the same values and priorities that they are being taught at home. Their newly emerging logic and argumentation abilities will be challenged to grow and solidify, equipping them for a lifetime of discriminating thinking.
Contemplating the role that the Faith has played in England is especially relevant to homeschoolers, as we share not only a common language but also a common Catholic ancestry with the English people. Students learn about the sacrifice and service that led men to greatness – and the repercussions when vice triumphs over virtue, and culture inevitably begins to disintegrate.
As Americans, scrutinizing in the light of faith the footsteps that England has taken is both an inspiration and a warning, helping our children see past secular rhetoric and remain focused on the great call to follow Christ.