Finding Unbiased History books for School

reason not enough to govern a countryYou’re not going to find such a thing. You will be using biased books no matter what. Now, some biases are so far in one direction as to cease to be history, but instead have become fiction.  I’m not going to name any names but they are on both sides of the spectrum,e verywhere from A to Zinn. When you find books that suit your own slant,  that’s often more dangerous than the books you rejected due to bias.

We are Christians. We used Hendrik Van Loon’s book on world history.  I would not say that Van Loon is warm and friendly toward Christianity, quite the opposite, in fact, but I believe this is a defect overcome by proper teaching in the home. I also believed that since my children are often going to meet people who do not have warm, tender feelings toward their faith, it is actually beneficial to them to meet this sort of thinking in books, at home, with me there to discuss and answer questions.
I also think it’s really important for us to understand those who disagree with us and see things differently, from their point of view.  There is a quote on the back of a book in the ‘opposing viewpoints series’ that goes something like, “Those who do not understand their opponent’s viewpoint cannot understand their own.”  I really agree with that.  But also, it makes your arguments weak and you just look silly when you misrepresent somebody else’s position, even when it’s not deliberate.

In every history book old or new there will be some areas where the best historical research of the time might not agree with the best historical research of another time.  Sometimes there isn’t even one ‘best’ understanding of any given event in history- there are multiple current opinions, each equally well researched, but quite contradictory- did Richard III kill the princes in the tower or was that accusation a hatchet job done by the supporters of Henry VIII?  When and where did King Arthur live, or was he even based on a real person?  Was Mary, Queen of Scots a villainous usurper or a tragic victim?

At some point in their studies, I think it’s important for our young scholars to learn that viewpoints change over time, and that while there really is one truth about what happened in the past, it is also true that we may never know for sure what it was.  It’s also important to recognize, and to help our students recognize, that what we believe to be true may alter or at least be slanted by our own viewpoint and place in history. What we believe we know about history may be based on limited information, and sometimes new documents or artifacts come to light that give us more information and historians have to revise their data. I wouldn’t begin this sort of critical thinking  in the early grade school years, but I think there are no drawbacks to making sure children understand this by the time they finish high school. It’s a great way to help children learn that perspectives in history change and that point of view influences the retelling of any history, even the recent history of why your little sister is crying.

Sometimes what we believe about history is going to be largely informed by what we already believe about religion.  Whether you think three young children truly saw a vision of the virgin Mary in Portugal is going to be hugely influenced by whether or not you are Catholic.  Whether you believe it’s appropriate to call Mary a virgin will depend on your starting point – Catholic, or not?   Whether you believe that she went on to have normal marital relations with her husband which produced the brothers and sisters of Jesus referred to in the Bible, or whether you think those siblings were her step-children will depend largely on whether or not you are Catholic.

Whether you think Joseph Smith was a scoundrel who engaged in illegal treasure hunting, married multiple women (including other men’s wives, and a young teenager) against his wife’s wishes, and a traitor who tried to scrape together his own army against the United States government, or whether  you think he was a prophet of God and now lives in Heaven with the Gods (and his wife or wives) as a god repopulating another planet is going to depend pretty much entirely on your religious viewpoint.

We could say the same about many other points of history- the temperance movement, slavery and the American Civil War, the Reformation, and on an on.  It’s a valuable exercise to, as Miss Mason recommends in volume 3, ‘to trace cause to consequence and consequence to cause’, and also to trace logical conclusions from differing points of view.

There just isn’t a perfect history book. I have not ever seen any history book that I thought was 100 percent accurate. I have seen errors of omission, errors of commission, errors of slant, bias, and fact, or poor literary
style in every single history book I have ever examined for use in our school, and I really think this means well over thousand books at the moment, both out of print and in print. So whatever history text a family uses will be based up choosing between imperfections, really. Which ones matter most to you? Which ones will you most be able to address?

I tend to prefer the older books because in general, well written older books use richer vocabularly, more complex sentence structure, and contain more ideas per page than modern books. Recently written books, by contrast, use watered down language and sentence structures and sandwich meaningful ideas in between pages and pages of fluff. Some are more interested in promoting social studies rather than history.

I also think that most older books that we use have stood the test of time, and that can be a tough test. Books that have been read for generations generally will be read for generations more because there is a timeless quality to them. They rise above their own period and speak to readers of other ages.

Some modern books will probably do that as well, but it’s too early to tell which of our current crops of books will still be communicating to readers outside of the culture and time that produced them. Those of us in that culture and time are perhaps not best suited to judge the books that are our contemporaries on their timelessness.

I have yet to see a history book- old or modern- which does not have a viewpoint or historical information with which I differ. I can fix those things. I can’t fix tepid writing as easily as I can an errant fact. For our studies I want realliving books packed with informing ideas rather than twaddle and barren facts. More often than not, that tends to be an older book rather than a newer one.

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vintage Valentine to make

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vintage books and things quotes

from The Life and Reflections of Charles Observator: In which are Displayed the Real Characters of Human Life, by Elijah Robinson Sabin, 1816

This is a collection of moral teachings and observations, delivered through an account of the fictional Charles Observator writing to his oldest son. It’s stiff, but occasionally intentionally funny- the author says in the preface he hopes sometimes to successfully laugh people out of some of their errors without hurting feelings. HEre are just two or three random excerpts that I liked for various reasons:

“Such as are never accustomed to obey, are never fit to command.”

charles observator accustomed to obey before can command


charles observator whipped spaniel parent


charles observator col. indulgence


charles observator proper ladies




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Hazards of Parenting a Teen

There’s a teacher at the school for whom the Boy has little respect. They’ve had a minor conflict over a point on one of his papers, and the Boy says he’s going to bring it up again and again until he gets his grade corrected.

Sadly, this method will probably work for the Boy, hence, his lack of respect.

Me: I’m going to email him and tell him to stick to his guns.

Boy: You mean his pea-shooters.


Me: That was not nice.

Boy: That reprimand would be more effective if you hadn’t just laughed until you cried.

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Printable Template for Valentine’s Coupons

There were things I liked about this, and things I didn’t:
valentine jokes vintage

So I kept what I liked, changed what I didn’t, and created a blank template for you to fill in with coupons to give your beloved for Valentine’s Day:

valentine coupons template

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1920 magazine cover, because it’s pretty


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Thinking My Way Through A Book

book-1019740_1280I’m reading Anya Kamenetz’s The Test: Why Our Schools Are Obsessed With Standardized Testing – But You Don’t Have To Be and am at a point where I want to filter and sort through some of what I’ve read, mentally, before reading any more of the book.  This is a virtual version of how I discussed books in high school (both in notebooks and with my parents) and with how my favorite college history classes were set up… engaging in a real conversation with professors and classmates over a book, letting our thoughts flow freely and having strict organization later. To organize something, you must first understand it. And that’s what this post is aiming at.

This book caught my attention on the new-book shelf at the library.  Schools, education, and how they work is a side interest of mine and this looked, well, interesting.

So far it is, although I say that with some caveats. This book will be dated in about ten years. I don’t think Kamenetz is aiming for a ground-breaking study; she’s an NPR reporter and writing very much for the now. There are mentions of 2016 presidential hopefuls and galloping run-throughs of No Child Left Behind and Common Core. Dated for the future is not the same as not pertinent now, though, and she covers a great deal of ground.

I don’t agree with some of her premises. She sends her daughter to public school partially because she has a “strong personal belief in public schools a the building block of democracy.” Um, kudos to her for caring, but I think the way we do public schools in general severely damages any the goals of a thoughtful, diverse citizenry. When federal and state governments dictate curriculum and educational goals, true democratic philosophies are not achieved.  Furthermore, no matter what I think about democracy, I absolutely don’t think that my job as a parent means sacrificing my own children’s education for some theoretical greater good. If I believe they’ll be best nourished at home, then that’s where I’ll keep them, hang any notions of governance.

This misunderstanding of the hows and whys of homeschooling continues later in the book. When talking about the responsibility conservatives hold for the push toward more heavily standardized testing (something I’ll get to next post and an area where she seems to be fair to both sides), she writes about Milton Friedman’s call for a more privatized school system.

Then she says this: “Vouchers would eventually prove politically radioactive in most places. But marketization – in the form of charter schools, homeschooling, and a growing role for various for-profit technology and service providers – remains the goal of a significant faction of the education reform movement. Testing assumes an important role as the basis of decision making within that marketplace.” (p. 77)

I’m curious to see if that’s the only mention of vouchers she’ll make, but that’s for another post. In the meantime, the mention of homeschooling here seemed just odd and disconnected from the reality of the homeschool world I’ve seen.  The homeschoolers I know made their decisions with scant consideration of tests and with more consideration for finding a better way for their family to function. Maybe I’m misunderstanding her point? I’ve gone back to re-read this page several times now for better understanding but I really think it boils down to a misapprehension on her part of what drives much of the homeschool world.

More thoughts later. The children are up and wanting breakfast now. 😉

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Open Ended Narration Questions

books and reading, school arts vol 15 1916 STANDING INVITATION TO A READER AND TWO LISTENERS TO SIT AND ENJOY A GOOD BOOKI gleaned and gathered these from elsewhere- they are not all original to me.


Should he/she have done that?

How does x compare with y?

What is x? What do you mean by that?

What was going on at that time?

Why do you think …?

What do you suppose was the cause or reason for….?

What do you think will happen next?

Who has something to say about that?

Are there any choices the main character has made that you really admire?  Tell me about one.  Choices you really think were wrong? Tell me about one.

Tell me who the main characters are.

What do you find out about any of the characters in his reading?

What are the main characters like?  How do you know?

What’s your favourite part?


Did anything here really surprise you,  strike you or grab your attention?

Did you wonder about anything as you read?

What happened in this chapter?  Why?  Is that what should have happened?

Did this remind you of anything else?

If you could be any of these characters, which would you choose, and why?

If this happened to you, what would you do?

book shelf border small

Do not ask all of these questions after a reading.  That would be ridiculously exhausting.   Once the child has give you a basic narration,  ask maybe one or two of these questions.

These questions are for older students, not 6-8 year olds.  Probably most of them are better suited to 12 and up.

Don’t argue with his answers, or he won’t want to tell you his thoughts again.  Depending on your relationship, you might rather thoughtfully say, “Really?  I hadn’t thought of it that way.  I thought……”

You want questions that give the child scope to think and process, not merely remember facts. You’re not looking for one correct answer.  You don’t want to ask, “Why should Harry trust Snape,” but rather, “Would you trust Snape or not?  What are some of your reasons?”

Be careful in wording the questions.  “Why does Choi Soo Hyun resent his little brother” is not as good as ‘How does Choi Soo Hyun feel about his little brother?’ followed by, “How can you tell?” or “Why do you think so?

You are helping your child discover connections.  You are not telling them what the connections are.

Recommended Reading:


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This is so much fun

The brilliant person who produced this mash-up requests that those who enjoyed it consider donating to film preservation:
If you like this video, please support these film preservation charities:
The British Film Institute,
The George Eastman Museum,
The Film Foundation,

Movies used (you can also see them named in the captions):

1. [1] Red-Headed Woman (1932) – Jean Harlow.
2. [2] The Littlest Rebel (1935) – Shirley Temple and Bill Robinson.
3. [3] The Barkleys of Broadway (1949) – Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.
4. [4] Sensations of 1945 – David Lichine and Eleanor Powell.
5. [5] Broadway Melody of 1940 – Fred Astaire.
6. [6] Honolulu (1939) – Eleanor Powell and Gracie Allen.
7. Broadway Melody of 1940 – Fred Astaire.
8. [7] Lady Be Good (1941) – Eleanor Powell.
9. [8] Girl Crazy (1943) – Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.
10. [9] You Were Never Lovelier (1942) – Rita Hayworth and Fred Astaire.
11. Broadway Melody of 1940 – Eleanor Powell and Fred Astaire.
12. [10] Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949) – Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly.
13. [11] Colleen (1936) – Ruby Keeler and Paul Draper.
14. [12] Gilda (1946) – Rita Hayworth.
15. [13] It Happened in Brooklyn (1947) – Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Durante.
16. [14] Animal Crackers (1930) – Groucho Marx.
17. [15] For Me and My Gal (1942) – Judy Garland and Gene Kelly.
18. [16] Summer Stock (1950) – Judy Garland.
19. [17] The Little Princess (1939) – Shirley Temple.
20. The Barkleys of Broadway (1949) – Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.
21. [18] Easter Parade (1948) – Ann Miller.
22. [19] Second Chorus (1940) – Fred Astaire.
23. [20] Footlight Parade (1933) – James Cagney and Ruby Keeler.
24. [21] Kiss Me Kate (1953) – Bob Fosse and Carol Haney.
25. [22] The Pirate (1948) – Gene Kelly and the Nicholas Brothers.
26. [23] Carefree (1938) – Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.
27. [24] On the Town (1949) – Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, Gene Kelly, Betty Garrett, Ann Miller and Vera Ellen.
28. [25] Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929) – unidentified. Any suggestions?
29. [26] The Gay Divorcee (1934) – Fred Astaire.
30. [27] A Day at the Races (1937) – Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers.
31. [28] Go Into Your Dance (1935) – Al Jolson.
32. [29] Stormy Weather (1943) – the Nicholas Brothers.
33. [30] Babes on Broadway (1941) – Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.
34. [31] Ship Ahoy (1942) – Eleanor Powell.
35. [32] The Sky’s the Limit (1943) – Fred Astaire.
36. [33] Small Town Girl (1953) – Bobby Van.
37. [34] Anchors Aweigh (1945) – Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra.
38. [35] Show Boat (1936) – Sammy White and Queenie Smith.
39. [36] Top Hat (1935) – Fred Astaire.
40. [37] Broadway Melody of 1938 – Eleanor Powell.
41. [38] Roberta (1935) – Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
42. [39] Love ’em and Leave ’em (1926) – Louise Brooks.
43. [40] Singin’ in the Rain (1952) – Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly.
44. [41] Babes in Arms (1939) – Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.
45. [42] 42nd Street (1933) – chorus.
46. [43] Till the Clouds Roll By (1946) – Judy Garland.
47. [44] The Band Wagon (1953) – Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire.
48. [45] Born to Dance (1936) – Eleanor Powell.
49. [46] Broadway Melody of 1936 – Eleanor Powell.
50. Honolulu (1939) – Eleanor Powell.
51. [47] Rosalie (1937) – Eleanor Powell.
52. [48] Swing Time (1936) – Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.
53. [49] Ziegfeld Follies (1945) – Lucille Ball (with whip).
54. Top Hat (1935) – Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
55. [50] Follow the Fleet (1936) – Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.
56. [51] Cover Girl (1944) – Gene Kelly, Rita Hayworth and Phil Silvers.
57. [52] Thousands Cheer (1943) – Eleanor Powell.
58. Anchors Aweigh (1945) – Jerry Mouse and Gene Kelly.
59. [53] Royal Wedding (1951) – Fred Astaire.
60. [54] Way out West (1937) – Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel.
61. [55] The Red Shoes (1948) – Moira Shearer.
62. [56] Blue Skies (1946) – Fred Astaire.
63. [57] Boarding House Blues (1948) – the Berry Brothers.
64. [58] Panama Hattie (1942) – the Berry Brothers.
65. [59] The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939) – Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.
66. [60] Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) – James Cagney.
67. Broadway Melody of 1938 – Buddy Ebsen, Eleanor Powell and George Murphy.
68. [61] An American in Paris (1951) – Georges Guétary.
69. [62] The Little Colonel (1935) – Bill Robinson and Shirley Temple.
70. Stormy Weather (1943) – the Nicholas Brothers.
71. [63] Shall We Dance? (1937) – Fred Astaire
72. Easter Parade (1948) – Fred Astaire.
73. [64] On the Avenue (1937) – the Ritz Brothers.
74. [65] Hellzapoppin’ (1941) – Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers.
75. Lady Be Good (1941) – Eleanor Powell.
76. Stormy Weather (1943) – the Nicholas Brothers.
77. Panama Hattie (1942) – the Berry Brothers.
78. Singin’ in the Rain (1952) – Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly.
79. Stormy Weather (1943) – the Nicholas Brothers.
80. Panama Hattie (1942) – the Berry Brothers.
81. [66] That’s Entertainment, Part 2 (1976) – Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.
82. Ziegfeld Follies (1945) – Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire.
83. That’s Entertainment, Part 2 (1976) – Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.

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Vintage article on home and family


Some of this has absolutely no bearing on today, at least not in the U.S. Some of it presents useful principles and ideas.vintage 1920 mom tot front door puppy  The illustrations are mostly advertisements I found in a 1920 House Beautiful or similar magazine.


The first essential of the perfect home is its adaptation to the family.  It is this adaptation to the financial or social standing of the family that makes its harmony. If its cost exceeds the financial freedom of the family, if it is a house that expresses what the family are reaching after, not what they are, there can be no harmony for there is no rest. Rest, repose, is the foundation of peace, and peace is the angel that guards every true and repose 2


cottageIt is not the amount of money spent in a week, a month, or a year in maintaining the home that determines its character. It is the results obtained by the expenditure, whether the amount be large or small. If the home-maker has placed at her disposal the sum of twelve thousand dollars a year and through ignorance or indifference is not able to secure the best possible results from this amount, she is as culpable, as much to be condemned, as the home-maker who fails to produce the best possible results from the expenditure of three hundred and sixty-five dollars per year. The happiness of the family depends on the purchasing power of the money expended by the home-maker. If her ignorance reduces its purchasing power, the family must suffer.


vintage housewife grocery shopping at the butcher shopNo law can be laid down for the expending of a family income. The needs, the tastes, the conditions, of no two families are the same, while the incomes of thousands of families are identical. We cannot proceed upon the principle that the division of expenditures being identical, the results would be equally good for all. It were easy to make a law were this true. It is this diversity of life that is at once its beauty and its difficulty. Each family must be a law unto itself. The wisdom of the controller is shown in the adapting of income and expenses, whether for necessities or luxuries. The home-maker equals her opportunity as she is able to use the income placed in her hands so that it secures the greatest freedom for each member of the family to grow in health, morals, and spiritual grace. The foundation, then, of the family life is the income plus the intelligence of the heads of the family.
The social position of the family is the accident, the result of this combination in addition to antecedent conditions.

The income of the average American family is estimated at about five hundred dollars a year. The incomes above and below this average represent the upward and downward scale of social opportunities. The problem of living is hardest to solve in the United States for families of refinement who have the natural ambitions of intelligence- how to live that they may secure at the same time the greatest freedom and the greatest privacy. Rent is the first item. What proportion of the income can be expended for rent?We are told that no man should spend more than one-fourth of his income for rent. But we cannot accept this as an unchangeable law, for one-fourth of the income of some families will not secure space enough for privacy and a greater proportion than one fourth must be for rent. This extra allowance then must be secured by economy in other expenditures. The social life,  the wardrobe,  or the food supply,  must pay their tribute to this absolute expense that cannot be brought below a certain point without affecting,  not only the comfort,  but the health and morals of the family.

cottage 2

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