Conor Ross

Early in October, ACES hosted an immersion course in conjunction with Beautiful Teaching, “Teaching History Classically” with Mark Signorelli leading. Mark has over twenty years of experience as an educator and is the headmaster of Lumen Gentium Academy, a classical Catholic secondary school in New Jersey USA.

Mark led us through the plentiful ways in which history can be taught classically, highlighting the exciting impact history can have on students and their conceptions of the world past and present. First and foremost, history itself is paradigmatic for classical educators – who are a type of historian themselves, rescuing treasures from the past that will serve our students and children. History itself has been an ever-present companion of human culture, Mark explained, and is at its core, storytelling, meaning we as teachers must acknowledge our role as storytellers. Far from the pervasive view that storytelling is a shallow form of entertainment (modern cinema and television notwithstanding) embarking on the project of teaching history classically leads both teacher and student to discover storytelling - whether in history, myth, or song – as fundamental to culture and identity. As German poet Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote, “Gesang ist Dasein, Song is Existence.”

As an Australian, I found it particularly refreshing to find an approach to history imbued with a good faith search for truth, beauty and goodness. This is in stark contrast to the turbulent history wars which both educators and students have been exposed to in Australia over the past years, especially regarding to our own national history and the origin of our country. Regarding similar controversy around the history of the discovery and founding of the USA, Mark eloquently expressed what countless history teachers in Australia have long pondered, but perhaps struggled to articulate: Controversy is normal in the study of history. In fact, disagreement makes things fun when the participants act in good faith and the curriculum has not been vandalised by propagandists of various stripes. “Historians have always loved to argue!” summarised Mark, which has been true as long as there has been history, point in fact even Herodotus liked taking Hecataeus to task for not cross referencing!

In controversy or agreement, history is a fundamental and valuable part of our classrooms and homeschools. History both contributes to classical education and is brought to fruition by it. For where the human figure is raised to his full dignity, his story and all its successes and failures is also dignified and charged with grandeur. And within today’s culture where many students are left in ignorance of our history or pressured in closed mindedness, teaching history classically could not be a more important endeavour.