The Gregory Jay Blog

Building an History Curriculum

I have just started the arduous task of creating an history curriculum for my Son's second cycle through world history. Somehow I feel that writing through the ideas and experience so far in this planning stage may be useful or at the very least cathartic and so this blog post is really written more for me than for anyone who I very much doubt would be reading it. However, just in case anyone is reading this I should explain a little first. We homeschool. That much, I hope, should be obvious. We use a classical style for most of our homeschooling with a heavy focus on ancient languages and literature (think Latin and Greek mythology.) Our history curriculum follows the neoclassical 4 year cycle approach to discovering history. All that is to say that we study a year of ancient history, a year of medieval, renaissance and then modern history. After the four years we start again back at the ancients.

Those familiar with this approach will be aware that it was popularised by Susan Wise Bauer in her book The Well Trained Mind and that she produced a set of four books to take elementary students through their first four year cycle. After writing said books she produced a set aimed at high school students to accompany them through their third cycle. We are soon to be starting our second cycle. I'm sure you can now see the problem I am facing. Susan's advice is to buy the famously out-of-print Kingfisher's Encyclopedia of World History and to essentially 'go through' it, stopping at interesting points in history, supplementing with relevant books to aid the student in delving deeper into those points than a 600 page encyclopedia is able.

The issue that I am facing is not that the damn book is out of print or that second hand copies for sale are almost unheard of given the book's almost mystical status in the home education world. Their are other similar encyclopedias whose printing houses are able to keep in print, DK for example has a few at 200+ 400+ and 600+ pages as does Usborne and other publishing houses. No, the book is not the problem. Neither is the idea of reading through such a book, stopping to do deeper reading at the important or interesting moments that occurred in the last seventy centuries. Even the idea of swapping our four history books of the last four years for a stack of book each of the next four doesn't phase me, I know Brandon will get through them and that the cost will be worth it. The problem is how on earth do I choose?

Believe me, I am not someone that is scarred to put a value judgement on countries, or cultures or even individuals for fear of being called some pejorative by a snowflake leftist. My problem with choosing which cultures or events to study is not because I think that everything is of equal value or that I shouldn't leave any culture out for fear my child will turn into a racist. Or that it would be bigoted to concentrate on the country I am from or to focus on the achievements of white males or some other such neomarxist accusation. No, this curriculum will certainly be heavy with Rome, Greece and Western Civilisation (though other culture and civilisations will not be ignored.)

So here is my problem with choosing. First I need to choose an encyclopedia 'spine' to use as our guide through the winding path of world history. The DK one mentioned above seems fine, I'm sure the pictures will be a hit with my son. However, I do get the feeling, looking at the previews, that there is very little in the way of sustained prose with mainly small captions of information (I do realise that, in an encyclopedia this is to be expected) but I don't think I want the main vessel of our curriculum, the Sherpa chosen to help us navigate the written record of time to be a mere book of pictures and dry facts. This point is punctuated by the fact that our previous curriculum was literally called The Story Of The World.

But the spine for the curriculum while important is really just one decision, I'll do some research and find the best and most suitable book I can and that is what we will use. It is not going to bring the design of the whole curriculum to a standstill. It is the next two parts of this curriculum design that have effectively stopped me in my tracks and even when I do start to make some progress, the black hole of 'internet research' soon sucks me in. Decision fatigue is real! Of these great civilisations, these battles and wars, artistic triumphs and scientific achievements, heroes and villains, of the plagues and rebirths, the building up and tearings down, how does one choose on what to concentrate and what to cull? Even when one does know a certain topic to be included such as Roman literature, do we choose Caesar, Livy, Cicero, Virgil, etc? And when we do settle on an author such as Virgil, do we go Aeneid or Georgics? Then we have to decide on a translation!

Trying to do this across seventy centuries and various different cultures more often than not ends up with opening a new tab and scrolling YouTube for some light relief, especially after a long day, when the coffee has long since worn off!

But trudge on we must!

Once those decisions have been made and the course has been fleshed out I will post it here for no other reason than to stop me forgetting it.

Greg is a true Sinophile, fluent in Chinese and proficient in Tibetan he is a homeschooling Dad that also consults on the side. You'll often find him cigar in mouth, book in hand, waiting for someone to finish their work or for the coffee to brew.