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Heritage Classical Curriculum
Frequently Asked Questions

This set of FAQs pertains to general questions about the History Classical Curriculum. For questions about copyrights and using electronic texts, see our e-Text FAQs.

•  Shouldn't American History be emphasized more?
•  My eight-year-old reads very well. Can she start the program early?
•  How will I know what my student is learning without any tests?
•  Most curriculums combine Greece and Rome into a single unit? Why doesn't yours?
•  You recommend three hours per week. Shouldn't strong readers read more?
•  Why does your Curriculum emphasize British, rather than European history?
•  Your Curriculum focuses mostly on Western Civilization? What about other cultures?
•  My teenager is not a strong reader. Is this a good program for him?
•  Can my student's elective reading be historical fiction?

Shouldn't American History be emphasized more in the Heritage Classical Curriculum?

Heritage History features a great many books that deal with early American history but we do not have access to books that deal with more recent events. The United States is a relatively young country and its fascinating history deserves much attention, but it is impossible for us to provide comprehensive history that covers events from the Depression era to modern times because of copyright restrictions. The Early America library, however, does include many excellent books that feature invention and exploration, Indian history, military history, and American biographies, as well as comprehensive histories that cover events from colonial times to the early 20th century.

American history is featured prominently in our Young Readers program but it is true that in our Recommended Sequence we spend the middle school years studying Ancient and British history and promote American history as a high school subject. During grade school we emphasize famous stories and personalities of American history rather than civics or political theory. When we return to the subject in high school, we do it at a much more sophisticated level.

We do this because we believe that the classical education that we feature during middle school years—that is the study of Ancient and British history,—is the best possible preparation for studying American history. What some curriculums that emphasize the ideals and activities of the founding fathers fail to communicate is that is that the framers of the American republic were themselves schooled primarily in Ancient and British history. That is, they followed a curriculum in their youth similar to that provided by the Heritage Classical Curriculum. There is no better way to lay the groundwork for a true understanding of the principles of American government than by studying classical history. Students can study the lives of the founders but if they don't have a good grounding in classical history, they will never fully understand their subjects.

My eight-year-old already reads very well. Can she start the program early?

Any student that reads at a "chapter book" level is ready to start reading books that interest them from our Young Readers collection. This program, which consists of free-reading from a selection of introductory, traditional history stories is intended to maximize flexibility during the early years of learning, while providing a strong foundation for later studies.

The Young Readers curriculum contains over eighty easy-to-read books, and can be used for one, two or three years, depending on how quickly a student progresses. Children vary a great deal in their abilities and interests during the grammar school years, and our introductory curriculum helps every student progress at their own pace. Once a student has "out-grown" the Young Reader collection, they are ready to tackle more systematic history from one of the civilization-based curriculum units.

It is important to let younger students make selections that appeal to them and to keep history light and entertaining. We avoid comprehensive histories at this age and stick to legends, Bible stories, hero stories, and light historical fiction. Many students find selections from the Young Readers collection to be just as interesting as children's fiction, but if your daughter does not enjoy "real" history at such an early age, there is no need to press the issue. In the early grades it is more important to build strong reading skills than it is to learn specific facts of history. Your student will let you know when they're ready by their degree of interest in the material.

How will I know what my student is learning without any tests?

The easiest way to find out how much your student is learning is simply to ask him questions. Oral review improves retention and helps develop good communication skills so it is an excellent way to evaluate a student's progress. We also recommend that students keep careful track of the amount of time they spend reading history and the number of books they complete. These are "objective" metrics that are easily measurable and are accepted by most schools as evidence of learning. The facts of history are important of course, but so are personalities and impressions, and these are hard to quantify.

The Heritage Curriculum calls for students to read history stories from at least two sources and reading the same material more than once will also help with retention. It is undoubtedly true that some students will read much faster, and retain more information than others. But you can be confident that if your student is interested in the material he has selected, and is reading at an appropriate level, he will be learning to the best of his abilities.

Most curriculums combine Greece and Rome into a single unit. Why doesn't yours?

There are several reasons that we put more emphasis on Ancient history than other curriculums. First, Greek and Roman History, well told, are simply fascinating, and most younger students really enjoy them. The ancients were quite sophisticated and many of the great themes of Western History were already evident in the classical world. The reason that the study of Greek and Rome forms the basis for our "classical" history curriculum is because that is what all educated persons in the west studied from mediaeval times until the mid 20th century. You can read biographies of Washington, Cromwell, Madame Roland, or Dante, but you won't understand their thinking without some idea of the education which formed them, and by and large, this was dominated by the study of Ancient History.

Second, we introduce Ancient History in early middle school, and younger students are not capable of absorbing as much information as high school students. We want students to have a strong foundation in Ancient history, so we take the time to go into some depth rather than touching only on the major points. Also, our program provides for elective as well as assigned reading, so we necessarily take longer to cover the essential materials. For these reasons we prefer a leisurely stroll through Ancient history to a forced march. A motivated student could of course, cover the core material for both Greece and Rome in a single year, but that need not be the norm.

You recommend three hours per week. Should strong readers read more?

We're aware that some kids are sensational readers, and have no doubt that a motivated reader can read more than three hours per week. We are against turning history into a chore, however, so our approach would be to use incentives or rewards for additional history reading, but not to overdo the weekly requirements. Parents know best how to motivate individual students, and children that are excellent readers are usually pretty easy to incentivize. But to as great an extent as possible, we'd like students to view history as an agreeable pursuit rather than an onerous task.

Why does your Curriculum emphasize British, rather than European history?

The Heritage curriculum includes two units on British history as part of our recommended sequence for middle school age students. The British Middle Ages curriculum follows British history from the Roman era to end of the Stuart dynasty. The British Empire curriculum follows British history from the Hanoverian era to World War I.

There are a number of reasons why we believe that British history is of particular importance and we develop these ideas in the Recommended Sequence section of the Curriculum User Guide. In short, however, we believe that understanding the unique characteristics of British history is critical for anyone living in the "Anglosphere"—that is, all those regions of the globe that were colonized by Britain and now share in her legacy of liberty, civil society, and limited government.

Britain did, of course, arise in the context of Christian Europe, and the British Middle Ages unit does emphasize many themes common to all of Mediaeval Europe. It is undeniable, however, that from the 18th century onward, the political, religious, military, and commercial organization of Britain diverged from that of continental Europe, and that by the 19th century she was the dominant force in world-wide exploration, invention, industry, science, trade, international finance, and political economy. Whether or not one approves of all of her contributions, her significance in world affairs up to the First World War is unparalleled.

For these reasons, we recommend teaching both mediaeval, and colonial history from a British viewpoint. Our British Middle Ages unit does cover all the major developments of the middle ages, including barbarian invasions, Christian conversion, feudalism, the Crusades, the Renaissance and the Reformation, but it focuses mainly on their specific effects on England. Likewise, the British Empire unit is essentially a 'world history' course told from a British viewpoint. We do offer two units on European history, Christian Europe, which covers Western Europe from the fall of Rome to the "Enlightenment", and Modern Europe which covers the 18th and 19th centuries. However, we believe that both of these libraries are of most benefit to mature, rather than younger students, and we recommend that they be studied after a complete course in British history.

Your curriculum focuses mostly on Western Civilization. What about other cultures?

The modern trend in teaching world history is to present students with a multi-cultural smorgasbord, and consider all civilizations and belief systems on an equal footing. We subscribe to a completely different philosophy that explicitly gives western history a pre-eminent place. This is exactly what we mean when we refer to our curriculum as "classical". The whole purpose of a classical western education, including history, is to inculcate western values, which are distinct from those of other cultures. A detailed essay on why the history of Western Civilization is paramount among all of world history is available on the Heritage History website. But in summary, we believe that—like western technology, and western philosophy—western history is unparalleled in depth and complexity, and it is the ideals and values associated with traditional Western Civilization that we wish to pass on to our children.

That said, we are enthusiastic advocates of the study of non-western history, and have many fascinating accounts of African, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and Moslem histories on our website. A few selected books relating to these societies are part of our core curriculum and are featured in our British Empire Study Guide. The history of indigenous Americans is dealt with in both the Early America and Spanish Empire libraries, and all three libraries include volumes related to world exploration that tell the stories of European explorers first encounters with indigenous populations. Most of these older stories, based on original sources, rather than multicultural propaganda, give fascinating insights into native populations before they were influenced by Western ideas and technology.

The fact is, western ideas and commerce have become so thoroughly dominant in the current century that the course of modern history is inescapably tied up with the fate of western culture. A great many modern leaders of foreign countries were provided with a western education and most governed by adapting some western methods (with varying degrees of success) to their own countries. The transformation of Japan in two generations from a feudal society to a modern nation is the most dramatic example, but foreign leaders from Peter the Great to Lenin, from Sun-Yat-Sen, to Ho-Chi-Minh, from Tipu Sultan to Mahatma Gandhi were either educated in the west or adopted forms and technologies from their western allies.

My teenager is not a strong reader. Is the Heritage program appropriate for him?

It is a fact of life that students vary quite a bit in ability, enthusiasm, and interest in terms of their reading habits. The Heritage Curriculum was designed to accommodate both exceptional readers and stragglers. We have intentionally kept age and grade recommendations vague, because so many of the books that we designate for "young readers" could be of great interest to older students who don't have a strong background in history. Our first suggestion, therefore is to make sure that his reading selections are ability-appropriate. No real benefit can come from "struggling" with history. He should select books that are at or below his reading level.

Sometimes, however, actual reading ability is less of a factor that interest and enthusiasm. Many students can read more challenging works, but just don't want to. The problem of motivation is a more complex one to address than ability. We do however, have a few suggestions for "motivating reluctant readers" that are developed more fully in an essay on the Heritage website. In summary 1) minimize video and internet distractions, 2) assign books below your student's reading level, 3) assign "high octane" books (pirates, soldiers, explorers, instead of statesmen and scholars), 4) if you find an author or series your student enjoys, assign other books from the set.

There is no magic formula for motivating all students. The Heritage curriculum provides a broad set of tools, but it can't supply a universal remedy for all situations. Keep in mind though, that teenagers are often pre-occupied with here-and-now issues, so it is sometimes easier to establish a genuine interest in history at an earlier, or a later age.

Can my student's elective reading be historical fiction, or does it have to be "real" history?

The problem with making sweeping generalizations about historical fiction is that the quality and historical seriousness of the genre varies drastically. Some historical fiction is excellent, and some is quite poor. It is really up to the parent or instructor to decide whether to allow historical fiction to count for elective reading, but in general, well-done, story-based history is preferable to most historical fiction.

Most of the historical fiction currently in the Heritage History library is directed towards young readers. Historical fiction can be a very useful transition between chapter books and real history, and several of the series we support for younger students are very high quality.

For older students, the Heritage library does include some historical fiction written by authors who are well known as serious historians. Alfred J. Church and Edwin Sabin, for example, were excellent writers who produced many volumes of first-rate history. Their historical fiction is meticulously researched and the plots are contrived to maximize the communication of detailed true-life anecdotes. Overall, however, we don't promote historical fiction just because it is such a broad category. We are not opposed to historical fiction, but we are not knowledgeable enough about specific works and authors to promote it effectively.

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