“The Forgotten Highway. No one travels on it. It’s not on the map. And no one knows where it goes.”
“Have you been there?”
“We have; but we couldn’t explore it.”
“A highway from nowhere to nowhere,” uttered Pashka after recovering from his surprise.
“Perfect,” said Anka, and her eyes gleamed like little dark embrasures. “Let’s go. Can we get there before dark?”
“What are you talking about? We’ll be there by noon.”
– Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Hard to Be a God, Prologue
If you are the average American parent, your children are woefully ignorant about history. Especially if you send your children to a government school; very probably if you send them to a Christian school. The situation might be better if you homeschool them. But even then history is not very high on the list of subjects.
Yes, the teachers can be blamed for it. And the education system. And the book publishers. And the parents themselves. But they are only the symptoms of a greater problem. And the greater problem is that the worldview behind the history education is wrong. It is an atheist worldview – yes, even in the Christian schools, and in many Christian textbooks.
It is a worldview that turns history into the Forgotten Highway. It makes history come from nowhere and lead to nowhere. It effectively erases it from the maps of our knowledge. No one travels on it anymore because there is no point of reference, and no meaning in it. The fault doesn’t lie with the teachers, and it doesn’t lie with the educational system. It runs deeper. It is a crisis of faith.
They reached the Forgotten Highway earlier than expected…
“Look,” Pashka said.
A round metal sign was hanging in the middle of the road on a rusty wire that had been strung across. The paint was peeling off the sign. They could barely make out a yellow bar on a red background.
“What is that,” Anka asked, without much interest in it.
“A traffic sign,” said Pashka, “No entry.”
“And what does that mean?”
“You can’t go beyond the sign.”
“So what’s the purpose of the highway then?”
Pashka shrugged. “It’s just an old road.”
My friend Juan went to a summer camp for advanced math students a few weeks ago. In one of the lectures, a math professor from a major state university taught for about an hour on number systems with bases different than 10. An interesting subject for a mathematician but at this stage of development of science and technology there aren’t too many practical applications; for example, none for a number system with base 3. When at the end of the lecture Juan asked him about the practical use of it, the professor just shrugged, “None at all. It’s all worthless.”
The math professor was honest.
If modern history professors were that honest, they would have to admit the same about their own field. Under the presuppositions of the modern atheist academia history has no meaning at all. It’s just “old stuff,” totally worthless. Anyone who somehow gets on that highway won’t have any standard to decide where the highway is going, and what the traffic signs mean.
“It’s just an old road.”
No wonder the teens don’t have a clue about history. Meaningless signs on a worthless road, from nowhere to nowhere, if we accept the modern view of history. Why have any interest in it and why spend the time learning it?
“Anisotropic road,” Anton explained. “Traffic allowed one way only.”
“The wisdom of our forefathers,” Pashka said pensively. “You travel a couple hundred miles, and all of a sudden, No Entry! You can’t go further; and there is no one around to ask for permission.”
“Imagine what can be there beyond this sign,” said Anka and looked around. The deserted forest spread for many miles around and there was no one to ask what may lie beyond the sign…
“Let’s follow the track,” argued Anton stubbornly.
“Are you crazy,” Pashka sounded angry, “No conscientious person will run a No Entry sign!”
“I don’t care about your conscientious persons. I am not conscientious and I will run the sign.”
But the desire to go back an learn about past events is deeply embedded in every one of us. Long before there were computer games, Internet, or TV, boys and girls gathered at night around the older men in the community and listened for hours to their stories of the past, recent and distant. The older men kept the memory, and memory was important. Memory kept the faith, and memory kept the community together. There was magic in it, and no one could understand the magic, but they kept passing that memory to the future generations.
It is in our very nature as God’s children to want to learn about history. We like hearing about it, we like identifying with the heroes or the villains of the past. Children learned history before they learned to read; some of them never learned to read anyway but they kept the records in their minds. And taught others.
So, what has changed? Why is it that today, in an age of so much technology and available information we are so ignorant about history? We don’t need to gather around the older men of the tribe anymore; we have the stories of all the older men of all the tribes throughout history at a mouse click distance. Especially here in America, we can have any book in English within a couple of hours. We have Wikipedia, Google, Amazon, Cheapest Book Price, Barnes & Noble… A book costs us an hour of wages at the most; and sometimes it is completely free. And yet, we and our children are ignorant. Why?
There is no one around to tell us the meaning of history. The forest is deserted, and the highway of history has been abandoned. And historians have lost their ability to explain history – because they have lost the worldview that makes history explainable. As long as history is a highway from nowhere to nowhere, the forests around it will be deserted, and no knowledge can come out of a deserted place. Thomas Altizer defines history thus:
The meaning of “historical” is intimately related to the idea of “historicity”; for, in this perspective, “historicity” means a total immersion in historical time, an immersion that is totally isolated from any meaning of reality that might lie beyond it.
In other words, the highway of history exists without anyone without to explain its meaning. Even if it has a start and an end, no one will be there to testify of them or to give them meaning. The road contains its own meaning . . . or may be not, may be it’s just an old road with no meaning and a No Entry sign.
On the way back home, Pashka asked softly, “Anton, what did you see there, beyond the sign?”
“A blown-up bridge,” replied Anton, “and a skeleton of a German soldier chained to a machine gun.” He thought a while, then he added, “The machine gun was halfway sunk into the ground already.”
“Yeah…,” Pashka said, “it happens.”
Growing on the Balkans, we lived among ruins from the past. Thracian settlements and burial mounds and treasures, Roman roads and bridges and baths, Slavic and Bulgar stone altars, Byzantine churches and fortresses, houses 2,000 years old, Ottoman courthouses and sarais. It often happened that we would find an old arrowhead or an armor ring if we knew where to dig – usually old battle sites which are abundant throughout the Balkans. We would find an old artifact, brag about it for a while, and then throw it away. It had no meaning to us because there was no indentifiable framework to place it within. Even small museums in small towns had rich collections of those artifacts for they were a commonplace everywhere.
Yes, we could remember many historical facts and figures and names because we were surrounded by history. But did we learn from them? Did the society learn from the numberless lessons we were surrounded by?
We didn’t. Long before America, Eastern Europe had lost the worldview that made history a teacher and the people teachable. Even with all the facts we knew and still know about history, there wasn’t and still isn’t much wisdom in the society. Eastern Europe keeps repeating the same historical mistakes with every generation. When history is a highway from nowhere to nowhere, there are no lessons that people can learn from it. History has no flesh and no spirit when there is no worldview to create the framework and the meaning for it. No matter how many arrowheads and armor rings we find, history would tell us nothing.
“Anka,” Pashka said, “do you remember the anisotropic highway?”
Anka knit her brows. “What highway?”
“The one-way road, with the No Entry sign. We were there, the three of us.”
“I remember. Anton said it was anisotropic.”
“Anton went beyond the sign and when he returned he said he found a blown-up bridge with a skeleton of a German soldier chained to a machine gun.”
“I don’t remember,” Anka said. “So what?”
“I often remember that road,” Pashka said. “I feel there is a connection there… The highway was like history; you can’t go back. But he went back. And he found the chained skeleton.”
“I don’t understand. What does the chained skeleton have to do with anything?”
“I don’t know,” Pashka admitted.
– Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Hard to Be a God, Epilogue
If you are a Christian parent, you can not afford to leave your child without a strong understanding of history. Your children must grow up with the knowledge of what everything has got to do with everything else, back in history. History is not an idol to be worshipped but it is a meaningful tool to be used. Without it, your children will be an easy prey to the enemies of your faith.
There is no understanding of history unless the God of history is acknowledged. History is not an impersonal chain of events; it is the story of the works of God in His world, in and through His covenant people. Every little story, every event, person, and place have their significance. Your children must learn that significance. Leave them ignorant, and you have lost them.
So, your task is this: Teach your children Providential History. Not the history of the pagan textbooks, where God is absent and history is just a highway from nowhere to nowhere. And not the history of the majority of Christian schoolbooks where God is only present to legitimize certain agenda or interpretation for a specific historical event; with Bible verses on the side. No, the history they need to learn is the history where God is the constant participant in everything that happens, as the God of the Covenant, rewarding covenant obedience and punishing disobedience, and working in everything for the good of those whom He has foreknown and predestined before the foundation of the world, for His own glory.
But where do you start? Given the average ignorance of most parents about history, how do we give our children this very important part of their equipment to serve God in His Kingdom?
Start here: The Providential History Festival. Register, and take your children there. Meet with other Christian parents who have realized the need to train their children to understand history from the perspective of a Biblical Covenant worldview. Learn from their experience. Enjoy their performances. Let your children participate. History is a Story, and your family can enjoy the Story and learn; because God has created that Story for our instruction and enjoyment. Have you watched the Lord of the Rings or Narnia? Real history can be even more exciting than that.
More than just the fun and the performances, you will learn the worldview that gives the meaning and the framework for understanding history. It is laid out in a short and digestible form here: Seeing History With New Eyes: A Guide to Presenting Providential History. You will find out that the Highway is not forgotten, and there is meaning to it, from a Biblical perspective. If you were worried where to start with when teaching your kids Providential History, you will receive thorough training and lots of materials, as well as reading lists for your history curriculum. You don’t have to rely on the meaningless “expertise” of secular historians to build your history curriculum. The Christian community has enough expertise to help Christian parents meet the challenge of teaching history; and the superior worldview to make it meaningful and exciting.
“Great are the works of the Lord; they are studied by all who delight in them” (Ps. 111:2).