Friday, April 30, 2010

Family History and homeschooling

My sister is quite into genealogical research. I tagged along with her at a recent presentation on Family History expecting to be mildly bored. It ending up being one of the most amazing events I've ever attended. The music brought me to tears. The keynote speaker, author David McCullough who wrote the biography of John Adams, was fabulous.

Because of security issues, we were not allowed to bring bags into the conference center. The whole time I was thinking, "I wish I had a notebook to write this down, I hope they are taping this, I want my kids to see this."

Here's some quotes by David McCullough in the local newspaper.

"I've never known much about the subjects I've written about when I started. Each book was a journey, a hunt, a detective story. That has been the joy of it, the compulsion of it," he said, noting that everyone can share in that joy.

"Curiosity is a wonderful thing. It is accelerative. The more you know, the more you want to know. It's what separates us from the cabbages."

McCullough talked of phrases that should be excised from our vocabulary, such as "self-made man" — "we are all shaped by other people," he said; "foreseeable future" — "there's no such thing. People back then had no more idea how things would turn out than we do." And, "living in the past" — no one lived in the past; they lived in their present and to understand them we have to understand their times."

And, he added, "we should never say 'gone, but not forgotten.' If they are not forgotten, they are not gone. They created the society, the values, the experiences we all live by. We must not lose sight of them."

McCullough talked of visiting Normandy with a Jewish couple, who placed pebbles on the grave of a Jewish soldier. "They said it was their way of staying in touch. That's what we all should be doing. History — whether you call it history or local history or family history — transcends time, transcends nationality, transcends geography. It reminds us that we are all part of the human family. We must stay in touch."

McCullough spoke at length about the "inadequate job of educating our children and grandchildren on the history of this country." He added that, "students are not being prepared for college, let alone for citizenship."

This presentation has got me thinking about how we study history in our homeschool. We are doing a lot of things right, like personally visiting historical places. But, there is more we could do to make it personal for our children.

For example, Henry was born in Alaska in 1961. I'm thinking about doing a unit study on Alaska history and then on what it was like in the years 1961-1964 (the years Henry lived in Alaska.)

Henry's parents and grandparents homesteaded in Alaska and our family could focus on that time frame too.

We could work our way down the family tree, state by state and year by year, country by country. We could put a name and even sometimes a face with our studies. [My mother's family has quite an extensive collection of family portraits going back to the 1850's.]

I'm excited to get home and get to work.


Here's a link to the opening segment of the event I attened.

Tags : homeschool , home education , public school , family history , parenting , education , David McCullough


Laura said...

A couple years ago on President's Day, David McCullough gave a talk to some high school students on George Washington and the use of primary source documents in learning about historical figures. It was wonderful! I printed copies of the source documents, and our kids were able to read them and follow along with Mr. McCullough as he spoke.

You can view the presentation here:

The bottom right-hand portion of the screen gives some info on the source documents. You should still be able to obtain copies from The Constitutional Sources Project.

Mr. McCullough is a wonderful spokesperson for the value of education beyond the receiving of a grade and for that reason (among many others) he is a role model of mine. (It also doesn't hurt that he looks like my grandfather. *grin*)

ChristineMM said...

Great post. Thanks for sharing the ideas McCullough talked about. Your study ideas sound great too. We have studied our state (where my DH and my roots are, one side going back for many generations) and the state my mother is from (Maine) more than any other state for this very reason.

Isa said...

We live in a bush village in Alaska homeschooling our 7 year old daughter. If you do end up doing a unit on Alaska we would be more then willing to send you some pictures, seal skin, musk-ox hair, etc. Let me know if you are interested.

Unknown said...

I'm a 20-year teaching veteran, and I've taught in private, public, and even homeschool classes since 1989. During my Homeschool Research-and-Report-Writing class, I incorporated many primary-document research skills into the syllabus. I was astounded at how little the kids knew about primary sources, not to mention our American legacy of freedom. You wouldn't believe the level of enthusiasm, knowledge, and expertise these same kids demonstrated at the end of my 12-week class. (I actually had a waiting list of students who wanted to attend subsequent classes.)

In the meantime, I began working with Sylvan Learning Center part-time (I also homeschool my own three kids). I encouraged Sylvan to reach out to the homeschool community by offering special classes, testing services, even consulting (nice for new homeschool parents who are just beginning this journey). Not only that, but Sylvan understands the concerns of homeschooling parents in our area (for example: having “like-minded” instructors; using curriculum that is written from a conservative perspective, etc) and has developed a really nice program that will be offered beginning in June 2010. I will personally be teaching many of the social science classes, and hand-selected the curriculum. One class, in particular, focuses almost exclusively on the Constitution and "political statesmanship". Our kids deserve to be taught real, relevant history. (For anyone intersted, go to for more details).

It is so encouraging to hear back from former students who took my classes, telling me how the knowledge they gained was critical when it came time to enter college. Thank God for people like David McCullough and others like him, who refuse to let the truth be buried under liberal drivel.

Sebastian said...

We've been doing genealogy in our family for a long time. One of my favorite vacations was a week dh and I spent without kids cruising from historical society to state library across Kansas and Nebraska on the trail of our various relatives.
You might look for the book Bringing Your Family History to Life through Social History. It is one of the best books I've read for putting the sometimes sparse information like name, date, location and profession into the wider context of culture and change. For example, rather than seeking just for more places where my great grandfather might have been in the newspaper, I started to read up on the iron foundry industry from 1900-1960, when my family ran a foundry. I have read through the same instructional handbooks that my grandfather would have used in his apprenticeship. That was very cool.

Janine Cate said...

Thanks for the links and the great suggestions.

sylvanhomeschool said...

Well done. The whole "It takes a village to raise a child" mentality has gotten completely out of hand.

Unknown said...

I'm a genealogy nut and I love how family history can make an era come to life in a way that is only possible with a personal connection. Between my husbands side and mine, i think its fair to say that we have many historical events covered in our personal family past!!!!
good for you for embarking on the journey to make history more alive and tangeable. I'm sure you and your kids will enjoy learning that much more!

Jennifer said...

I agree that our public schooled children are not being prepared for college or citizenship. I love your idea of integrating family history into US History. Very innovative!!!