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Young Readers
Overview of Western Civilization

Young Readers Teacher's Guide—Printable Version

The Young Readers Classical Curriculum was created to provide a broad overview of the great characters, events, and literature of Western Civilization to grammar school students. It includes many of the shortest and easiest to read selections from all of Heritage History’s libraries.

Because the Young Readers Curriculum is intended as a survey rather than an in depth study, the Historical Divisions that we have defined for it are extremely broad. In most of the other Heritage curriculums, the subject civilization is divided into narrowly focused historical eras, and each division is considered in depth. The Historical Divisions of the Young Readers Curriculum, however, provide only a rough overview, appropriate for novice students who are wholey unfamiliar with world history. Furthermore, they are presented in reverse-chronological order, with the most recent civilization of concern—that is American—presented first, and the oldest civilizations last.

The historical divisions of the Young Readers library are:

These divisions are intended to provide a framework for understanding how the books included in the Young Readers library fit into the broad panorama of Western Civilization. A brief introduction to these historical eras follows. Short descriptions of a few famous characters and events from each era that are likely to have children’s stories associated with them are provided on other pages. By the time a student has read a few of the recommended books from each category, he should have been introduced to many of the famous characters and incidents from these lists.

American History

The American History division of the Young Readers collection focuses mainly on the early history of the United States, but also includes stories of discovery of the New World that were undertaken by Spanish and French explorers.

There are many stories of American history that are of terrific interest to students, but the ones most appealing to young readers are those of explorers, inventors, pioneers, and military heroes rather than statesmen. In most cases, the lives of the Founding Fathers are introduced to young students through personal anecdotes that emphasize character rather than a discussion of their role in government.

It is important to introduce the idea of a constitution and bill of rights to younger students, but they are unlikely to understand their significance until they have studied much more history. We recommend emphasizing American liberties and the right of electing leaders, but leaving a discussion of the American form of government to older students.

American history will likely be of great interest to young students because it is their own country. It should be pointed out, however, that the entire course of American history takes place in only a few hundred years—whereas the recorded history of some Ancient and European civilizations lasted over a thousand years. America also has a relatively peaceful and prosperous history, with few wars, famines, plagues, or military coups. This gives United States history more of an optimistic character than histories of other periods, which also makes it attractive to younger students.

The Heritage Classical Curriculum, because it draws on history books written prior to 1923, only deals with American History until the close of World War I. This is, however, a suitable break point, since the progressive, secular, liberalism that transformed the American system into our modern government did not gain a substantial foothold until the early twentieth century.

Virtually all of the American histories included in the Heritage collection were written from a traditional, patriotic viewpoint that celebrated American freedoms and individualism. This "simplistic" viewpoint, whatever its flaws, is at least comprehensible and attractive to young students and holds their interest in American history, whereas more "critical" modern accounts tend to bore and repel novice readers.

European History

The European History division of the Young Readers Curriculum includes dozens of stories from European history ranging in time from the fall of the Roman Empire to the First World War. Since European history is such a large topic and since the fates of various nations of Europe diverge significantly, the Heritage Classical Curriculum breaks the History of Europe into five different divisions: British Middle Ages, British Empire, Spanish Empire, Christian Europe, and Modern Europe. All of these divisions are grouped together in the Young Readers collection for the sake of simplicity.

European history is the most complex of the three major divisions covered in the Young Readers collection and most topics related to recent history are best left until high school. The European middle ages, with its monasteries, knights and chivalry, crusades, guilds, exploration, art, and architecture are easy enough to romanticize in such a way that they are of interest to very young students. It is more difficult to simplify modern themes, such as the reformation, the enlightenment, colonialism, and rise of secular democracies in such a way that they are perceptible to younger students. The most effective way to introduce them is simply to expose students to stories about the major characters of the age, and if appropriate, encourage them to identify the era. Just being able to recognized events, characters, and eras is plenty for younger students, who are not old enough to comprehend the political and philosophical dimensions of recent events.

European history is an enormously rich field for studying the impact of Christianity on Western Civilization and the evolution of modern society. Many important topics such as modern capitalism and world trade, republican political systems, secularism, and technological innovation have their roots in European culture. Such topics, however, are best left until students are old enough to comprehend them. The object of young readers should be to become familiar with a broad range of European characters, folklore, literature, nationalities, eras, and events. These topics need only to be introduced at a young age—they can be better organized and understood at a later date.

Ancient History

The Ancient History division of the Young Readers collection focuses primarily on Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. It also encompasses other non-Biblical ancient civilizations such as Persia, Phoenicia, Babylon and Egypt, but in the Young Readers collection, Greece and Rome are the dominant civilizations.

Ancient history is especially attractive to young students, partly because it is so rich in mythology, and partly because it has an exceptionally interesting military history that is quite appealing, especially to boys. Both Greece and Rome rose on the strength of their exceptionally well organizing fighting forces, and both declined precipitously when their militaries became weak and corrupt. Their histories therefore, are full of the most fascinating kind of military adventures, which can easily be appreciated by younger students.

In terms of mythology, the attractions of ancient history are even greater. Few modern superheroes can compare with Hercules, Theseus, or Odysseus, and few modern villains are as interesting as ancient monsters such as Medusa, Cyclopes, the Minotaur and the Hydra. The creativity and variety of the ancient Greek storytellers is impressive by any measure, and many of the their tales are of eternal interest, seeing as they deal fundamental dilemmas of human existence. Even the stock stories and petty squabbles associated with the Greek gods—once they have been "cleaned up" for children—are both amusing and full of insight into human foibles.

Once students are ready to start learning comprehensive history, we recommend they begin with Greek history. Not only is Greek history attractive to younger students, but along with the Biblical stories of Israel, it is truly the foundation of Western Civilization. It is important for older students to revisit Ancient History once they are able to fully appreciate the genius of the great authors—Herodotus, Aristophanes, Plato, Plutarch, Virgil, and others—but even younger students should understand overall timeline of history and the rich contribution of the ancients to the western way of life.

Bible and Saint Stories

Biblical history is unique in that it purports to provide more than a simple record of events in the history of the nation of Israel. As history, the Bible is as accurate as any contemporaneous text. Its unusual position rests on its claim to interpret God’s will and to show how God’s providence works through individuals. For Christians, the Bible is "moral" history as well as a chronological history of the nation of Israel.

To those who believe that the God of Israel is the Creator of the Universe, the Bible is a sacred text. But even those who are skeptical of such claims should recognize the unique place of the Bible and the Christian Church in the history of Western Civilization. To teach western history without reference to them is a gross distortion and to dismiss them as irrelevant to modern life is willful ignorance.

The Judeo-Christian view of man is that he is both a spiritual and a physical creature and that material comforts can satisfy his physical needs, but only obedience to the will of his creator can satisfy man’s spiritual needs. This is a philosophical proposition that is easily understood by young readers, and the stories of the Bible can be effectively simplified for younger children.

The stories of saints and Christian heroes are included in this category because they tend to emphasize spiritual rather than political history. Like the stories of the Bible, the stories of saints emphasize the manner in which God continues to work in the lives of his people.

Bible stories rewritten for children are always a favorite of elementary school students, and many are so well done that a solid understanding of both the Old Testament and New Testament is accessible even to very young children. Younger students are surprisingly adept at picking up ironic, moral, or humorous anecdotes. One only needs to read Aesop’s fables to a kindergartener to realize how sensitive youngsters are to moral lessons. This is why Bible Stories are so well suited to Young Readers.

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