A couple of years ago, my husband and I took our children on a field trip to see the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. When we exited the building, there was a television monitor outside loudly playing a video disparaging one of the founding fathers. We hurried the children away from it. It just felt wrong to me.
With the recent stories in the news about statues being torn down by angry mobs, I’ve given this some more thought. As a homeschooling parent, it begs the question, “What is the right approach in teaching my children about historical figures?”
I suspect that the reason that there is so much vitriol towards some of these people is because the tendency in the past has been to venerate them and hold them up as examples to our children. I can understand why that would have happened. How better to inspire children to use their God-given gifts to the utmost and not settle for mediocrity than to give them an accomplished person to emulate? The pushback to that in recent generations seems to be to point out their every moral failing, as if to make them pay penance for their fame.
As a Christian, I believe my job is to teach my children to idolize and imitate only one human being – Jesus Christ. Anyone else, successful or not, is only another sinner just like them. Even public figures that are generally admired by most of us still have hidden sins, as do we. No one has attained perfection.
I want to teach my children both by my words and my example to emulate Jesus. In order to do this, I have to follow His commands. That includes not attempting to remove the speck from someone else’s eye when I have a plank sticking out of my own eye (Matt. 7:1-5). It also means that I should not cast the first stone, when I am not without sin myself, and that I should treat others the same way that I want to be treated (John 8:7; Matt.7:12).
I also think that it’s a good idea to provide balance in our history lessons; presenting both what someone may have done that was right versus mistakes that they made. There has to be a line, though, where I determine what information is useful for them to have and what is just tabloid fodder. One thing that I find helpful is to take off my 21st century lens for a moment and look through the lens of the time period we are studying. Every generation has their predominant sins. There are things that were accepted in the past that appall us, but if the people living in that time were able to look forward to practices that are generally accepted today, they’d find plenty to be appalled with as well.
After I’ve removed and carefully examined the plank that was in my own eye, it makes me a lot more humble and less likely to harshly point out the speck in another’s eye. If the person is deceased, what can be accomplished by pointing out their failings at all? In the end, I wouldn’t want my own sins blaring from a TV into the streets of Philadelphia, so I won’t do that to someone else.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:1-5