As a teacher, I’ve evolved, a lot.
When I began, I lectured almost the entire period. I believed the information – the facts – were so important. I used to frown at almost every professional development day that involved some “expert” strong-arming historical moments to teach “lessons” to the children. I fancied myself barely a teacher, mostly historian.
History was my focus, and it was my firm intent to become an esteemed professor of history down the road. Teaching middle school kids was just a stop along the way.
I did finish a graduate degree in history, and when I came to the precipice of doctoral study, had a choice. See, I’d worked for that M.A. while we had only one child, my oldest, Noah. Even that was a strain on my wife, and me, and surely Noah. We have four children now. So, part of my decision was about pragmatic concerns regarding family life.
A second part was about money. It always is a factor, in every decision, and we didn’t have any.
A final part was that the intense study of history was killing it for me, just like studying music theory had stymied my love for music during an earlier college career (I’ve had many short stops along the way, and I’ve had a total of five majors and attended six colleges).
My focus in history is on the ancient past – the Greeks, Romans, Goths, Vandals, etc. What I found was how much wasn’t to be found. How much speculation goes into all of the ‘facts’ in books.
It’s logical, really. How many people think Trump is the worst president in the history of America? How many think he is the best? In this historical moment, right now, our country is split, almost completely in half.
In the past they weren’t worried about tolerance or political correctness, so the histories written are chock full of bias. No doubt, much was exaggerated, and even more left out. Sometimes the winners just burned every single thing to dust.
Archaeology helps, of course, but it is also based upon a good amount of speculation and speculative comparison to other speculations. So, here’s the bad news.
We don’t really know what happened; it’s all just educated guess.
At least, not in a telling of the story kind of way, where we can know exactly what they thought and felt.
At least not way back. One day, our time will be way back, and who knows what they’ll think of President Trump, or if anyone will even know he existed at all. Perhaps the USA will be erased or minimized to a blip on the historical radar.
Why am I dropping this bad news? You’re probably asking ‘what is the point, Blake?’
There are concrete facts. However, when it comes to the human condition, the brain, anthropology, sociology, political science, philosophy, religion, and yes, history, facts are uncertain, and almost always in flux. Even in the harder sciences like biology or chemistry, we sometimes find our previous notions were incorrect.
Now, I like facts, just like you. They give us a sense of order, norm.
But, and this is where I may aggravate a few folks, I think sometimes facts can become a diversion that is just as dangerous as a fling with our passions, pleasures, sins, lusts, gluttony, etc. Those things inure us to our pain and sorrow, essentially stifling our own soul so we don’t have to hurt. I’d argue that our modern day infatuation with “facts”, particularly of a political nature, is a form of clinging to an idol. (As an aside, the media and big tech are making a lot of money selling this idol.)
Here is what I believe. We know almost nothing. We need to feel safe and secure, though, and so we go searching for a harbor. Some people try to make money, while others seek fame. Some hope they’ll find happiness in the perfect mate or family or job. Material possessions or sexual deviance are other favorites. Facts are too.
When I teach now, I still sprinkle in quite a few of those important facts, 'cause, you know, they have some value after all.
More importantly, though, I try to remind the children they have souls.
And that life will only make any sense at all if they can come closer to understanding and embracing that deepest part of themselves, no matter how painful it might be.
And that many things, facts included, will be temptations to ignore that part and move on down the road, oblivious to pain or fulfillment. Don’t do it, I say.
I am a person of faith. I say this unabashedly, though most of my life is a struggle with doubt. I believe there is One who knows all the facts, and He also holds me close, if only I’ll be quiet, and hear, and feel.
"Examine all things; hold on to the good."
-Saint Paul the Apostle