To know God and to make Him known.

History, Government, and Economics, Oh My!

“As with government and economics, history helps students understand what it means to be human, and it informs their identity as a member of a particular history. Furthermore, it demands that they ask certain questions and make certain judgements” (Leigh Bortins, The Conversation, p. 159).

Last week I saw Cleopatra walking down the hall during our Classical Conversations community day. It’s the season for the “Faces of History” projects for our Essentials kids, which means you never know who might show up in the classroom next door. My heart warms with the memories of the days when my family spent a whole season diving into the study of a great historical figure.

It feels like only a few minutes ago that my son became obsessed with the U.S. Navy’s Founder, John Paul Jones, then later with President Theodore Roosevelt. But I know absolutely that Greek and Roman history left the biggest impression on him after the year of studying Achilles. To this day, some five years later, he still loves Greek and Roman history and can have long conversations about the geography, wars, and great figures from that time period.

The beauty of the homeschooling experience is that we have the opportunity to dive deep into a subject without having to move on to keep up with an exact schedule. We can focus on our children’s loves and let them explore as their heart leads instead of barely discussing a bunch of topics just to “check things off.” Don’t get me wrong; I’m a big fan of checking things off. But there is something really wonderful in slowing down and lingering awhile where our kids’ passions come to life. Those are the pearls of homeschooling and are moments that feel like gold in your pocket.

Now that my son is in the upper Challenge years, he can take this amazing foundation from his earlier studies in history, geography and literature and apply them to his current studies in government, economics and American history with Challenge I. He can make the connections across these subjects because it’s a natural extension of how he has come to learn in the classical model. Even students that join Challenge in the later years without the benefit of Foundations/Essentials still love to study a topic by looking at how it fits across the subjects instead of something that has to be studied alone.

As we walk through Leigh Bortins’ book, The Conversation, it’s such a joy to look at how all the subjects are connected—especially when it comes to history, government and economics. We have been using the five canons of rhetoric as our basis for discussion and working through each subject for high school studies. If you need a refresher on the five canons, read the previous article called “Drawing Out the Wonder” here.

In Mrs. Bortins’ discussions in chapters eight and nine on history, government, and economics, she states that by raising up a generation of students who think deeply, we are creating citizens who will take an active role in society.

“Asking these questions and refining the answers guides students toward a stronger understanding of their relationship to their own communities,” Mrs. Bortins says.  “....A practical reason to study them is to raise up a generation of leaders who will participate well in government and economics” (154).

Putting the Five Canons of Rhetoric to Work with History, Government, & Economics
Let’s look at how you might approach the subjects of history, government, and economics with the five canons. For the purposes of an example at home, we will look at how a parent/student might prepare for a discussion on citizenship as part of a debate experience to weave these important subjects together.

Invention – What are we discussing?
The very first step in invention is to define terms. It’s amazing to me how many people work from a place of assumption before first agreeing, specifically, to the definition of what we are discussing. Also, in our grown up minds, our idea of how something is defined may be very different than how our student might define the same term. It’s important to clarify the issue, as well as look at the history of what we are discussing, any biases about the matter, and any contexts that need to be reviewed. Create a big brainstorm of ideas from which to draw from in this stage so your student has a wealth of thinking for their argument.

Arrangement – What will be your position on the issue?
Arrangement looks at how you might organize your ideas. Should you put them in order chronologically? Should you start at the end and work backwards to build your case? Should you put your stronger points first or last to build your case? What are your best ideas? What additional elements should you include in the structure of your ideas? Does the order of the way you present your ideas flow in a way that makes sense and makes your position strong?

Elocution – How will you support your position?
This is where your student adds pizzazz to their ideas by using the most compelling language. Recently, my son completed a formal policy debate about the military draft. The students spent weeks researching their position and had prepared well with their evidence. However, he felt as if he didn’t perform as well because of the other team’s polished speaking and presentation skills. He shared that despite the fact that his team had better evidence, they were not as prepared from a speaking standpoint and therefore lost the debate. He learned a powerful lesson that day—information isn’t the only priority; how eloquently you present it makes a big difference.

Memory – What will inform your thinking?
What can you draw from to help explain your ideas in the best possible way? Will you share statistics, laws, quotations or personal experience to add depth to your thinking? What lessons from history can you share to demonstrate connection? Memory is where all of the students’ thinking and learning experiences come together. It is their chance to create an expression of all they are learning in their persuasive presentation.

Delivery – How will you present your ideas for the greatest impact?
Delivery is the whole package and the finished result. Ask your students how they can deliver a presentation that will leave a lasting impact. What will their call to action be? It is important to remember the vital aspects of delivery such as tone, body language, volume, energy, eye contact, posture and hand gestures. As a parent, I also like to ask my students how they are different as a result of this experience—how has it changed them? Is that something they can add to their presentation?

Putting it All Together
When we intertwine the study of history, government and economics together, it makes for a rich experience. When our Foundations and Essentials kids started off by writing and reading about history and dressing up as a historical figure, it drew them into a meaningful experience. For our Challenge students, they can look at history as it relates to government and economics. We can even branch off to see concepts from science, Latin, math, language, and faith within these subjects. We don’t have to close down one subject just because it’s time for the next to begin. We can see the greater context of how everything is connected. Like concentric circles, we look at how God placed us in a universe. He is the lens through which we view our world. We can enjoy the beauty of connection across all subjects to fuel the vision of becoming virtuous citizens who participate well in the affairs of our country and His kingdom.

Read Along in The Conversation
Read Chapter Eight
Read Chapter Nine

Good Questions:

  1. What do you feel is important to consider for the study of history?
  2. How do you integrate the study of subjects at home?
  3. What stories of your own personal experiences of history, government, and economics can you share for your student’s benefit?
  4. How do you build a rich experience with history, government, and economics that can go beyond academic learning?
  5. What are some simple things you can do to emphasize citizenship at home?


CATEGORIES: Articles, Classical Christian Education, Dialectic Stage (ages 12 to 14), Grammar Stage (ages 4 to 11), Homeschooling Life, Rhetoric Stage (ages 14 to 18)

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