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
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
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
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
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
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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