The kids and I have been delving into Greek mythology of late; reading many versions of the traditional, reading the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. It's been great fodder for moral conversations as well as imaginary play for the kids. It is interesting to watch them see similarities in other modern day stories and movies that originated from some of these ancient myths.
Personally, I have been reading the book, Religious Literacy by Stephen Prothero. While I have not finished the entire book, the beginning chapters stress the need to be literate in Christian literature, particularly the Bible, whether or not one is a practicing Christian. His premise is that our country, while theoretically practicing separation of church and state, was founded and is led today by Christians. While we legally try, for the most part, to separate the governance from the worship, it is impossible for individuals to separate themselves in such a manner from their religious/spiritual beliefs. Prothero writes that in order to understand our history, the basis of our leaders' decisions, the choices voters make at the poles, we should all be familiar with, literate in, Christian literature and the history of Christianity.
References in war to David and Goliath, in discussions of morality to Sodom and Gomorrah , in media coverage of natural disasters to Revelations. These are all common references that those with some level of Christian literacy have at least some inkling to the meaning. But Prothero warns us to study the history of Christianity as well as the stories of the Bible. The decisions made by historical leaders in the name of Christianity influence the leaders of our country today.
My interpretation of his writing is not that it is a plug for Christianity, nor is it a smear of the religion. Rather, it is an opinion that we all are inextricably linked to our spirituality and by all that includes the leaders of our household, communities, and nation. Good decisions or bad, they are linked to the moral compass of that person. Whether we are of the same belief system or not, understanding the basic set of mores that have shaped our country and leaders will help us better understand these decisions.
But I believe that his advice is too focused on one country and one religion.
In the years I have been homeschooling, I have learned so much more world history than I remember as a kid. As I look at the mythology of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman gods and the religious systems of Syria and Mesopotamia, I am struck by how much Prothero's advice makes sense on a larger, more global scale. As I read about Jewish History and the common interest in Jerusalem of Muslims, Christians, and Jews, it makes world events today make more sense. As I read about the Crusades, I am struck by the similarities in modern day crusades by many religions.
In many U.S. public schools, we begin teaching our children their place in the world by having them map their own bedroom or house. From there we move to the street or neighborhood, then the community, and on to the county, region, state, country, continent, hemisphere, and THEN we get to the world in high school or college. What kind of population are we creating that looks at themselves first? What if we looked at the world, maybe even the universe, first? What if we learned in reverse order?
I have found a history program for my kids that does just that. We began with prehistory and are working our way from the cradle of early civilizations UP TO the present day. After two years of study, we have learned little about North America. But, we have seen so many similarities in the mistakes and successes of civilizations based upon beliefs and human nature. For example, every time we begin studying a large empire, my son asks if that empire exists today. If not, and usually not, he assumes aloud that it was probably broken into smaller pieces and assigned to multiple ruling parties before its eventual decline. He's right of course. Won't the study of civil wars in America and the Balkans be more meaningful to him when he can see how history repeats itself?
Historical literacy is important. It helps us monitor our leaders and the decisions they make. It helps us see trends in our world. Religious literacy can help us understand the decisions being made worldwide as well. We are all interconnected...we all being all countries and civilizations...all humans. Our seemingly small decisions; recycling, acts of kindness, voting in local elections, turning off the water while brushing our teeth, cause ripple effects. These all have an effect on the future of our children and the children of those around the world.
My personal and teaching goals include a journey toward a more global perspective of my own... to pay more attention to decisions of my ancestors...and try to help my children do the same. The myth is not Zeus' lightning bolt. The myth is our tendency of self-reliance and egocentricity in this young nation. We will we be the stories told in school in years to come. Will we, too, be the heroes with fatal flaws?