The Harm of Therapeutic History, part 2

Posted by Emma Perley on 9/14/22 3:28 PM

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What is actually being taught in history classes? And more importantly, whose history is being taught? [Did you miss part 1? Go here.]

The history program at Patrick Henry College is informed by a Christian worldview that challenges students to master the tools of the first-class scholarship, to analyze historical topics in depth, and to defend their conclusions with rigor and intellectual honesty. As the culture moves forward in stirring up outrage over perceived offenses, accurate accounts of history have never been more important in college education.

What is actually being taught in history classes? And more importantly, whose history is being taught? 

Dr. Robert Spinney, Professor of History at PHC, said that accurate knowledge of American history is declining among Americans. How might we identify what is really true throughout history if foundations are not firmly built upon accurate and biblical interpretations of historical fact? While secular historians might portray facts and truth, their interpretation of the facts are necessarily limited without a theological framework.

“Good secular historians often write helpful history books. They get many things right. They shed light on issues that are important to Christians. Few professional historians write histories that are deliberately inaccurate or deceptive,” Spinney said.

But such books have limitations, and discerning Christians must be aware of them. Every historian operates from his worldview, and that worldview necessarily influences how he explains facts. For example, secular historians typically do not identify the theological causes for the myriad 1820–1855 social reforms or even the Jacksonian Democracy of that era.

“We are stewards of truth," exclaimed Esther Katz, addressing her graduation class and their families as the Student Body President at the 2019 Commencement. She was explaining the virtues of the Patrick Henry College core curriculum. Ester identified the key principles that impact how, at PHC, history is taught to foster future leaders of the nation. She continues,

In Western Civilization [class], even the histories of pagan cultures intersect with great biblical truths. In U.S. History, our old paradigms were challenged. We were asked to decide what was really right and wrong, and how we would have reacted on the world’s stage.

Knowing Western history and what is really right and wrong compels Christians to act in a way that foments a better future for the generations after us. For example, comprehensive knowledge of the adversarial process behind the American legal system is a central aspect to interpreting the trajectory of economic and political policies in the present day. “With regard to public policy, advertised immediate promise is not the same as actual long-term significance,” said Spinney. “The American political economy typically moderates potentially radical policies while institutionalizing obscure ones. As a result, allegedly paradigm-shifting policies end up tweaking but not transforming. . . ."

Many of the key Reagan Revolution reforms were reversed twenty years after he left office. Bill Clinton’s signing of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act was considered a game-changer at the time; it turned out to be only a game-delayer. Obamacare has changed but not transformed our healthcare system. Even that fabled weapon of liberal mass destruction, the New Deal, receded in the conservative 1940s and 1950s, only finding its fulfillment in the 1960s' Great Society initiatives. History has taught me that lasting and noteworthy change happens not when a new law is enacted, but rather when a reformer like Harriet Beecher Stowe, D. W. Griffith, or Phyllis Schlafly changes culture.

The reformers that came before us knew that to change the system, one must understand its foundations. Studying history at PHC not only encourages a complex understanding of civic duty but also fosters rigorous learning through devoted faculty members. 

The history program at PHC utilizes sound knowledge of the American founding to train leaders who will guide America toward its Constitutional aims.


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