Why study history?

History with Heart of Dakota:

I have some exciting news to share: this is the first blog post I’ve written for Heart of Dakota since I graduated with a Bachelor’s in History through Liberty Online. My academic journey that began in preschool so many years ago has finally run its course. Done. Finito. Wow!

This has been an extremely exciting time for me! As I look back on my education, I can say that I am extremely grateful to Heart of Dakota for giving me a solid foundation for entering academia out of high school. Also, as I reflect on my college journey, I can say with confidence that the study of history has made me a better person. In fact, I would argue that history has valuable life skills to impart to anyone who studies it.

History teaches communication skills.

First of all, studying history teaches us how to be better communicators. When it is boiled down to its essentials, history is ultimately the study of people. As we study history, we are constantly rubbing shoulders with them! Some of these are excellent communicators… others not so much. Nevertheless, as we study these past communicators, we cannot help but pick up on how the effective ones were able to successfully convey their points.

Yet communication is much more than simply getting a point across. As we study a vast array of people throughout history, we also learn key skills such as empathy and social understanding. These skills cannot be valued highly enough when it comes to communicating! Communication is a two way street: hearing/knowing other people and respectfully making ourselves known (often in that order). History does a phenomenal job in teaching both sides of the communication coin to us.

History builds critical thinking.

Let’s face it; history is hardly ever simple. The “good guys” aren’t always perfect and the “bad guys” sometimes display surprising glimmers of goodness. To cloud matters even further, different cultures have different definitions for who the heroes and villains are in historical events. For example, North and South Koreans view their shared history in very different lights.

History teaches us to remember that there is always another side to every story. This sort of big-picture thinking is a valuable skill that I believe everyone can benefit from. It teaches us to be more patient and less quick to make snap judgements when dealing with other people. And, when we eventually do need to make decisions, we will end up making wiser and more-informed decisions. This is a skill that applies to all of life!

History acquaints students with all other fields of study.

As I’ve mentioned before, history is the study of people. This means that as we study history, we’re not limiting ourselves to a narrow field of study. No, history is much grander than that! In history, we encounter all forms of people from all walks of life. Scientists, strategists, soldiers, doctors, lawyers, inventors, educators, kings, politicians, priests, pastors, musicians, mathematicians, artists, and entertainers – history acquaints us with them all. And as we interact with these diverse figures, we learn more about their fields of expertise. You see, the study of history is far more than a boring list of names and dates. It is a grand, ongoing dialogue with figures from all other fields of study!

Because of these reasons (and many more!) I remain an unabashed apologist for the study of history.

How do we at Heart of Dakota incorporate history into our guides?

Because history is such a foundational area of study, we include it in each of our guides. Starting with Little Hearts and going all the way through US History II, the left side of our daily plans is the “Learning Through History” section. This side of our daily plans features a unit study feel of topics that naturally fit with the history topic for that day’s lesson. While these are all united around a historical theme, these assignments cover a vast array of skills! Some examples of topics/assignments included in this section are…

  • Timeline projects
  • Topical research
  • Geography
  • Read-alouds
  • Audios
  • Student notebook entries
  • History projects
  • Written and oral narrations

Finally (and most importantly), these subjects are integrated with a Biblical worldview.

God belongs at the center of history.

Perhaps the best way I can illustrate the importance of keeping God at the center of history is demonstrating what history looks like without Him in the picture…

Without God, history is merely the study of a specific group of mammals who by some freak accident have become self-aware and who nonetheless die with an alarming amount of regularity. In their relatively short lifespans, these sentient mammals build empires and try to leave their mark on the world. But without God in the picture, to what end do they do this? If this world really is just a random rock spinning through the cosmos until it finally burns out, is anything accomplished on it really worthwhile? What good does it do to study the legacy of those who came before us if it is all meaningless anyway?

Put God in His rightful place in history, however, and suddenly the past becomes rife with meaning. If, as Christians like me believe, God created the world and that one day He is coming back again, then history has a point and a direction. God is both the Author of history and the Destination towards which it travels. Therefore, what people in history did in their time echoes into eternity. The same is true of our own actions. Therefore, as we study the legacy of the past, we end up gaining the wisdom needed to better shape our own legacies to the glory of God.

In conclusion, when the complexity of human history meets the unchanging truth of God’s Word, we are able to find the meaning amidst the madness. And this is something we pray our students will experience for themselves as they study history in our guides.

In Christ,

Cole Austin

Alexander the Great: Brilliance and Brutality

History with Heart of Dakota

Who was Alexander the Great? 

Conqueror, explorer, leader, and visionary. These are just a few of the words that describe Alexander the Great. Born the son of legendary warrior-king Philip II of Macedonia, Alexander went on to outshine his father.  Philip transformed Macedonia from an unremarkable country to a ruling power in Greece; Alexander made Macedonia the ruling power in the entire known world. His conquests would stretch the Macedonian empire from the mountains of his homeland, to the sands of Egypt, to the expanses of Persia, all the way to the banks of the River Beas in India.

Personality of a Genius 

Alexander was a genius in more ways than one. First, his grasp of military tactics was unequaled in his day. He perfected the use of the phalanx – a tactic which his father had introduced. The phalanx was an infantry formation where soldiers grouped tightly together with each man’s shield protecting himself and his neighbor. In addition to this, each man also carried an 18-20 foot pike which he would thrust outwards from the shield wall. (Wasson) In a time where armies usually fought in a haphazard manner depending on sheer force of numbers to win, the phalanx gave Alexander’s soldiers a huge advantage. Oftentimes, enemy soldiers would simply break off his phalanxes like water off a rock. In addition to this, Alexander had distinct knack for sensing his enemy’s weakest position and massing his men to exploit it. Therefore, when his phalanxes came crashing through there was usually no stopping them.

Second, Alexander was a genius when it came to leading his men. He routinely made a point of leading the charge in battle rather than staying back in safety. Initially, he also insisted on sharing his men’s hardships. For instance, while marching his troops through the desert, according to biographer Peter Green, “…when a helmetful [sic] of muddy water had been found for him in some nearby gully – but no more was to be had – he laughed, thanked the donor, and then tipped the water out into the sand. So extraordinary was the effect of this action that the water wasted by Alexander was as good as a drink from every man in the army.” (434) Alexander lead by example, as all great leaders do. When his men saw him facing and overcoming the same challenges they faced, it inspired greatness in them as well.

Fatal Flaws

Nonetheless, Alexander was far from perfect. “Like many brilliant men,” historian John Gunther writes, “he was unstable…he ran from one extreme to another…” (46) While he could be caring and understanding, he also could be irrational and violent. He had a burning temper which resulted in him murdering some of his most faithful soldiers, such as Clitus and Parmenion. Also, during his final years he firmly believed himself to be descended from the Greek god Zeus. Those who did not acknowledge this were executed. (Gunther 138-139) Sadly, with no god to serve except himself, Alexander – once great – ended his life in drunkenness and confusion.

Lasting Impressions

Even though Alexander’s life was dramatically short (he only lived to be 32!) what he accomplished in that time has had repercussions that affect us to this day. His use of soldiers as disciplined units formed the gold standard in military tactics for hundreds of years afterward. In addition, by bringing many different countries under one empire, he spread the use of a universal language – Greek. Many scholars believe this was instrumental in spreading the Gospel 400 years later. He also founded many different cities – some of which remain to this day. (Many of these he named Alexandria, after himself.) Ultimately, much like God had used prior civilizations and kings to carry out His purpose in history, God used Alexander the Great to mold the world according to His own plan.

Which HOD guides can you find Alexander the Great in? 

Alexander the Great can be encountered in several of Heart of Dakota’s guides! You can find him in Little Hearts, Preparing Hearts, Creation to Christ, World Geography, and World History. You can also find a more in-depth study of him in John Gunther’s book Alexander the Great, which students can read in the extension package for Creation to Christ.

Bibliography 

Green, P. Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C. (University of California Press, 2013).

Gunther, J. Alexander the Great. (Sterling Publishing, 2007).

Wasson, D.L. The Army of Alexander the Great. (Ancient History Encyclopedia, 2014). 

Why I Love Pride and Prejudice.

History with Heart of Dakota

What’s so special about Jane Austen?

When it comes to classic literature, Jane Austen’s books will always have a special place in my heart. What makes her easier to read than, say, Sir Walter Scott, is that her lively sense of humor transcends time periods and is still easily-understandable in today’s age. Where most authors of her time kowtow to the societal structures of the Regency Era, Jane enjoys poking fun at their foibles. As she says through the voice of Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, “For what do we live, but to make sport of our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?” (Austen 407)

Nonetheless, she is not so slap-happy with her sarcasm that she pokes fun at everything indiscriminately. She paints true virtues in positive tones and portrays wrongdoing without making light of it. As a rule, she respects what is respectable, detests what is detestable, and laughingly pokes fun at everything in between.

Another strength of Jane Austen’s literature is that her characters feel unshakably-real. Rather than being flat, the majority of them have relatable strengths or weaknesses. The way they think and act seems uncannily familiar – even to 21st century readers.

These qualities are all especially evident in Jane Austen’s magnum opus: Pride and Prejudice.

Historical backdrop

In today’s world of empowered women, it is difficult to imagine the different world that was the Regency Era. At that time, the options women of low social standing had were quite limited. While men were able to get an education at universities such as Cambridge, women were unable to attend such universities. Also, aside from employment as governesses, there were extremely restricted avenues for women to earn money through employment. (Even Jane Austen herself, though she earned some money through the sale of her novels, was very much the exception and not the norm.)

Finally, there was little-to-no chance of women being able to inherit an estate. (This would only be allowed in rare cases by privilege of nobility.) Therefore, in order to obtain financial security, women were expected to marry – and marry well. In the midst of all this – at a time where ladies were expected to be ornamental and materialistically-minded – Pride and Prejudice’s main character enters the scene.

Elizabeth Bennet

Elizabeth Bennet is easily one of my favorite protagonists of all time. While she generally stays within the boundaries of civility expected of her as a lady, she is teasingly-defiant of some of society’s sillier conventions. She is not so reverent of social politics that she is afraid to laugh at their inconsistencies. Rather, she is irreverently-unimpressed by the distinctions which title and rank alone could afford a person. She differs greatly from Regency Era expectations of women to be seen and not heard – even going so far as to tease some of the novel’s most formidable gentry!

Nonetheless, Elizabeth shows good sense and intelligence where it is necessary. Though she is a flawed character who has weaknesses like any other person, she readily admits where she was wrong and does not remain stubborn and unyielding for long. As a reader from modern times, I find Elizabeth Bennet to be a breath of fresh air from the traditional heroines of books from that era. Not so progressive as to be obnoxious, Elizabeth Bennet nevertheless exists in a manner that outclasses her times.

Timeless themes

Another reason Pride and Prejudice is so timeless is because its themes are still relevant in today’s culture. A key theme is to never judge someone based on your first impression. (Fun fact: Jane Austen originally titled the book “First Impressions” before settling on “Pride and Prejudice”.)

Another key theme is the wisdom of choosing who you marry carefully. This is especially relevant today! Many young people (myself included!) have questions about relationships on their minds. They want to see what a healthy relationship looks like. They want to see what character traits to look for in someone they might date/court. Tired of being hoodwinked by Hollywood, they  hunger to know what love really looks like.

This, my friends, is where Pride and Prejudice shines! It is far more than a manners and morality tale; it is an honest look at what character traits make a man or woman. In the novel, you see the good, the bad, and the ugly. You see stupidity, selfishness, and pride put on full display. But you also see character traits reminiscent of the Proverbs 31 woman and the Ephesians 5 man shining for all to see.

Ultimately, Pride and Prejudice perceptively demonstrates that while marriage is a huge blessing, rushing headlong into marriage often does more harm than good. “Marriage alone is not a virtue,” Jane Austen seems to counsel us. “It’s who you marry that makes or breaks your success.”

Where in HOD can you find Pride and Prejudice?

You can find Pride and Prejudice in the English credit section of our US History II high school curriculum. For those who want to dive deeper into the Pride and Prejudice experience, there is an option that includes an excellent BBC miniseries adaption starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. (Personally, I would highly-recommend seeing it; it’s true to the book and the acting is FANTASTIC!)

References:

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. (Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2004).

World War I and Missions to Modern Marvels

History with Heart of Dakota:

Setting the stage

Just over 100 years ago, World War I ended. To some, it was known as “The Great War.” To others, it was known as “the war to end all wars.” To some, its end represented a hope for increased world peace. To others, World War I was the death-knell for 20th century dreams of a utopia here on earth. Whether for good or ill, there is no doubt that this titanic struggle left its mark on humanity.

War like never before

World War I was humanity’s first truly global conflict. The theaters of war ranged from the muddy trenches and ruined villages of France, the shimmering sands of Arabia, the tumultuous coastline of Gallipoli, the brisk seas of the North Atlantic, the alpine fortresses of Italy, and the wintery steppes of Russia during the last days of the Tsars. For 4 long years, multinational soldiers belonging to the Allied Powers fought bitterly with Central Powers forces on each of these battlefronts.

World War I also marked a crossroads between tradition and innovation. Previous wars had been fought with an extremely infantry-centric mindset, with mounted cavalry and artillery giving support. When the war began in 1914, generals on both sides expected a war of quick maneuver. Indeed, many soldiers expected to be home by Christmas. But what no one had counted on was the rapid development of new technology that would forever change the face of warfare.

The war on the ground

The way that ground forces were employed during World War I were shaped by several new threats that soldiers in previous wars never had to deal with. At the top of this list of new hazards was the machine gun. Capable of firing several hundred rounds per minute, a well-placed machine gun nest crewed by two or three men could effectively gun down hundreds of advancing enemy soldiers. Since the average soldier was still equipped with a bolt-action rifle that needed to be cocked before each shot, he didn’t stand a chance out in the open.

This situation lead to a stalemate where neither foe could successfully advance against the other. So, each side constructed trench networks measuring hundreds of miles, so their soldiers could hold the line in relative safety. Relative safety, of course, was still dangerous. Artillery easily shelled soldiers hiding in the mud with shrapnel and something far more insidious…poison gas. Snipers and machine gunners made quick work of anyone foolish to poke their heads above the trenches. Finally, there was also the new threat of being strafed from the air by aircraft. Truly no place was safe for the infantry on the ground.

The war at sea

The war at sea, too, was distinctly different than in previous conflicts. Hitherto, fleets had relied on large surface warships to win battles on the high seas. With World War I came the advent of an entirely new class of naval vessel: the submarine. Submarines could slip through blockades with ease and attack enemy ships without warning. The Germans, especially, took this form of warfare to new levels. Suddenly, it was a very real possibility to have German U-boats lurking off the coastline of Great Britain…or even America.

The war in the air

World War I also marked the dawn of an entirely new theater of war: the skies. Only 11 years after the mankind’s first powered flight, aircraft had evolved to the point where they could be utilized by the military. Airplanes represented a paradox in military innovation. They were on the bleeding edge of military technology, yet still remarkably primitive by our standards. They were capable of flying miles behind enemy lines, yet they were extremely vulnerable to structural failures and accidents. In an hour-by-hour sense, aircraft pilots were safer than the soldiers hunkered down in the trenches, yet a new pilot’s life expectancy could fall to as low as 11 days. Nonetheless, many brave pioneers took to the skies in these aircraft that stood as much chance of killing them as they did their enemies.

Where in Missions to Modern Marvels is World War I covered? 

Since this pivotal war in history is often forgotten about, we want to ensure our students have a good grasp of how and why this war happened as it did. We highlight World War I in several of our guides, but for the sake of time, today I’ll only look at how we cover it in Missions to Modern Marvels. So, without further ado, here is a breakdown of books in this guide which cover World War I: 

  • All American History Volume II: touches on the causes of the war and the international effects.
  • The Story of the World Volume IV: takes a narrative look at the primary people and events of the war.
  • Great Events in American History: briefly outlines the defining characteristics of the war.
  • Book of Great American Speeches: includes President Woodrow Wilson’s full speech asking Congress to formally declare war on Germany.
  • Draw and Write Through History – the 20th Century: succinctly sets the stage and includes drawing lessons that teach students to draw a WW1 soldier, a submarine, and a biplane.
  • War Horse: takes readers on a journey through both sides of the fighting through the eyes of a fictional British war horse named Joey.
  • Angel on the Square: depicts the last days of the Tsars through the eyes of a fictional Russian girl named Katya living in the palace during the war.
  • Soldier Dog: offers a fictional (but distinctly-relatable) account of life in the trenches as a messenger dog handler during the war.

(We also cover World War I briefly in Preparing Hearts For His Glory and Hearts for Him Through High School: World History, as well as more extensively in Hearts for Him Through High School: US History II.)

In closing

In my opinion, understanding World War I is crucial to understanding modern history. It marked the fall of empires and the ascension of America as a global power. It redrew borders and altered the face of warfare forever. Nonetheless, as far-reaching as these consequences are, World War I’s effects are not limited to mere historical fact. It proved for all time that there is no hope for peace on earth based solely on mankind’s efforts. The 20th century began as mankind’s declaration that social perfection was in fact attainable. As early as 1914, those dreams were proved to be hollow. The sound of whistling shells replaced the hopeful songs of peace, and bullet casings replaced the pens of statesmen.

If hope rests not with mankind, where then is it to be found? The answer is the same today as it was in 1914, and as it was since the beginning of time: “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” – Isaiah 45:22

The legacy of World War I cries out that only in God is there hope for fallen humanity. Without Him, the best and brightest intentions still fall short, and peace cannot prevail. But with Him, there abides a true hope. A hope that cannot be extinguished even by the shock and flash of shells. Death claimed the lives of millions during that war just as death claimed the life of God’s own Son on the cross. Yet He emerged from the grave triumphant. Christ alone has overcome this world; so too shall we if we place our hope in Him.

In Christ,

Cole Austin

 

Gunner’s Run: Bringing World War II history to life

History with Heart of Dakota

Pilot to gunners. Keep your eyes open. We’re almost to target. By now every German fighter in the area knows where to find us.”

These are the opening sentences in one of my favorite living books ever: Gunner’s Run. Gunner’s Run tells the story of Jim Yoder, a fictional waist gunner for an American B-24 Liberator bomber during the Second World War. One day, during a fateful raid on the German shipyard at Kiel, Jim’s plane is struck by flak and he is forced to parachute out.

Upon landing, he is captured by the Germans, but soon manages to escape captivity. Following his successful escape, he quickly realizes that he is alone…and hundreds of miles deep into enemy territory. Undaunted, he sets out on a journey across Western Europe in an effort to reach England. Along the way, he comes into contact with members of the French resistance and learns how to evade detection in occupied Europe. Will he make it out? Will he be recaptured or – even worse – shot as a spy? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Why I love this book

First and foremost, Gunner’s Run is a Charlotte Mason-style living book. Better than most textbooks, it makes the history come to life and stays with you long after you turn the last page. It’s one thing to know the facts regarding the air war and the underground resistance during World War II. It’s entirely another thing (and much more memorable) to vicariously experience it for yourself!

Second, Gunner’s Run is historically-accurate. As both a history major in college and a lifelong World War 2 history buff, one of my pet peeves is to read books where the historical backdrop is portrayed incorrectly. Maybe it’s just me, but reading books that do this is like hearing the proverbial nails on the chalkboard. I have a really hard time enjoying those books! At the same time, I’ve also read countless books where the history is correct, but the books have no life in them. Reading those books is comparable to eating sawdust…something to be “gotten through” rather than enjoyed. Gunner’s Run falls into neither of these pitfalls. It is a book that accurately reflects the time period yet still is insanely-immersive to read.

Content notes

Content-wise, Gunner’s Run is very tasteful. For instance, while swearing and profanity were common enough in World War II bomber crews, the author makes reference to it but tactfully leaves it out of his characters’ dialogue.

With regard to violence, in my opinion the book takes an appropriate balance. Given that it is a story set during one of the most widespread wars in mankind’s history, combat violence is inescapable. Nonetheless, the main character does not relish in it. As a defensive gunner in a bomber aircraft, despite his elation at shooting down a German fighter bent on blasting them from the sky, he is relieved to see the pilot bail out successfully.

Also, while the author doesn’t shy away from mentioning war violence (such as the “bloodstained bodies” that were unloaded from bullet-torn bombers following each mission) he does not glorify the violence by describing it in minute, gory detail. Because of this, even young teenage readers can truly empathize with the hazards the main character faces without danger of becoming unduly traumatized.

Literary quality

Author Rick Barry isn’t afraid to use the correct names for things (Focke-Wulf 190, anyone?) but his penmanship carries readers through – even if they don’t necessarily know all of the period-correct lingo. This is no easy feat, but he pulls it off with flair. His style of writing naturally flows, making it easy to read without sounding choppy or “dumbed-down.” His main character, Jim Yoder, is relatable and genuinely likable. As the story progresses, Jim also grows in maturity. During his time behind enemy lines, Jim is not only portrayed as an Air Force gunner trying to survive his way through World War II, but also as a young man trying to make sense of where God is in all this.

Where in HOD can you find this book?

You can find Gunner’s Run in the Extension Package for Missions to Modern Marvels and the Living Library Packages for US History II.

References:

Barry, Rick. Gunner’s Run. (Bob Jones University Press, 2007).

PS: Want to learn a little more about the B-24 Liberator bomber (and its connection to actor Jimmy Stewart)? Check out this short 3 minute video!