The Christian Homeschool Movement and Nostalgia

When I was eight or ten, my mom was really interested in finding a particular geography book to use in homeschooling us. Frequently when we would go to a historical home or a museum, she would see it on a shelf and say “There! That’s the book I want!” It was published in 1902, you see. Frye’s Geography. She’d heard it promoted somewhere, at a conference or in a homeschool magazine. She eventually found it used somewhere and was thrilled. She began using it with us, and while the images were beautiful, it wasn’t hard for me to pick up on the blatant racism it contained.

For some reason, the homeschoolers I came in contact with – fundamentalist and evangelical Christians homeschooling for religious reasons – always seemed to have this idea that anything that was old must be better than what we have now. But, as Frye’s Geography made clear to me, just because something is old doesn’t mean it’s better.

Frye’s Geography is only one example. When it came female advice, I read Stepping Heavenward and Beautiful Girlhood, both also over a hundred years old. I was assigned chapters of Beautiful Girlhood as punishment sometimes, when mom decided, I suppose, that my girlhood was not being “beautiful” enough.

I also spent years and years studying Latin. And you know what? I really haven’t used it, and I don’t really foresee myself using it in the future. Sure, word roots and all that, but you can get a lot of that from studying a language like Spanish as well, or from taking just a year or two of Latin, as opposed to ten. Honestly? I wish I’d studied Spanish. But Latin, you see, was old, and back in the nineteenth century every school child studied Latin, so Latin it was.

It seemed like recreational reading was similar – anything that was published a hundred years ago or more, or even fifty years ago, was more approved and smiled on than something published today. We grew up reading dozens of Elsie Dinsmore books and G. A. Henty books, most purchased from Vision Forum. Once again, these  books were racist. The Elsie Dinsmore books idealized the Old South while G. A. Henty books were wrought through with British imperialism. But they were old, dag namit! They were written over a hundred years ago, so they must be good and godly!

I think that’s what it comes down to, really. In Christian homeschooling circles there’s this idolization of the past and this demonization of the present to the extent that anything that’s old is almost as default seen as good and anything that is new is by default held as suspect. Given that reality, it’s really not a surprise that companies like Vision Forum not only live in the past but also market the past, or that companies like Lamplighter operate by republishing old books and marketing them to homeschoolers.

The thing is, the “olden days” were not some sort of wonderland without divorce, sexual promiscuity, or violence. The faults of the present day that Christian homeschoolers are so quick to point to existed then too. Believe it or not, New York City already had a gay subculture. Prostitution thrived. Divorce rates may have been lower, but the trade off was abusive marriages. Women still got pregnant out of wedlock, and people still had premarital sex. And even more than all that, racism was rampant, the poor starved to death, and children died early deaths working in the coal mines. The reality is that the “good old days” Christian homeschoolers look at so wistfully didn’t exist, and that just because something is old doesn’t mean it was better.

Unfortunately, plenty of Christian homeschoolers are more than willing to go on idolizing a myth, and part of that idolization means buying up all the old books companies like Vision Forum and Lamplighter can find space to print.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Chris

    A geography book from 1902? With the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and parts of Asia and all Africa divided into colonies belonging to different european states? Might not be the best tool to understand today’s world…

    • Niemand

      It would be a useful tool in the right context-as an example of how the political map was arranged in the 19th century and what people thought then. It might make history more understandable if you knew what people believed then. But as a primary geography text it must have been very confusing.

      • Christine

        I agree. You are thinking of the study of historiography (the study of the “history of history,” including outlooks and viewpoints.

    • Rosie

      Or it might be. Take a look at how the colonizers drew national boundaries right down the middle of the largest and most powerful indigenous ethnic and tribal groups, and how that affects politics in the region today.

  • Eddie – The Usual Mayhem

    Beautifully put!

    While I do love and appreciate some of the older stories (Five Children and It, for example) I don’t agree with the older-must-be-better philosophy myself, despite my love of Charlotte Mason-style education.

    I don’t think that she would have stubbornly stuck with old books a hundred years later either; I think that often what happens is that we forget that these books were new or relatively recent when they were being used at the time.

    • victoria

      [derail] Oh, I love that book too! A coworker recommended the Edward Eager books for my daughter, and he included a reference to E. Nesbit in all of his works, in the hopes of turning kids on to her writing, and it totally worked.

      • Amanda

        Hopping into the derail, that happened to me except I was the one who started reading Edward Eager back in elementary school (from the school library). From then, I discovered E. Nesbit. Love :) My children haven’t caught on yet, although I keep trying!

      • brightie

        I found Nesbit through C.S. Lewis, actually… there was a reference at the beginning of The Magician’s Nephew.

    • John

      How does the novel line up with the movie from a few years ago?

  • Nox

    If one believes the best of human knowledge is something in our future, something we have to build up to and discover, it would make sense to want to use current information.

    If one believes the best of human knowledge was lack of knowledge, and that we’ve only degraded since the garden, then it makes something like sense to idolize the past.

    And while the world was objectively a worse place 500 years ago, the church had mostly unchecked power. It is not surprising that they spend so much time telling their flock we should all be trying to go back to that.

    • machintelligence

      But for over 1000 years, after the fall of the Roman Empire, the best knowledge was all in the past. Add to this the warm glow of nostalgia (where unpleasant things are conveniently forgotten or glossed over) and it is easy to see where the meme comes from. Additionally, most modern solutions are more complicated and counter-intuitive than the older ones (Newtonian physics “makes sense” while relativity and quantum mechanics do not).

      There is also the bias resulting from what we heard recently vs what we remember. Steve Pinker makes a pretty convincing case in “Better Angels of Our Nature” that violence has been on the decline over most of recent human existence, yet because most people hear about violence a lot ( in the news,if it bleeds,it leads), they assume it is on the increase.

      • Caravelle

        And even that 1000 years isn’t really true, the “Dark Ages” weren’t that dark, and technology progressed enormously in Europe during the Middle Ages.

      • machintelligence

        I’m not so sure of that. To take two examples, iron working and glass manufacture and working, neither progressed significantly in Europe for a long time. Wikipedia:

        There was no fundamental change in the technology of iron production in Europe for many centuries. European metal workers continued to produce iron in bloomeries. However, the Medieval period brought two developments—the use of water power in the bloomery process in various places (outlined above), and the first European production in cast iron.

        The best steels, like Damascus steel, were not produced in Europe.

        In the 5th century CE with the Roman departure from Britain, there were also considerable changes in the usage of glass.[16] Excavation of Romano-British sites have revealed plentiful amounts of glass but, in contrast, the amount recovered from 5th century and later Anglo-Saxon sites is minuscule.[16]

        The center for luxury Italian glassmaking from the 14th century was the island of Murano, which developed many new techniques and became the center of a lucrative export trade in dinnerware, mirrors, and other items. What made Venetian Murano glass significantly different was that the local quartz pebbles were almost pure silica, and were ground into a fine clear sand that was combined with soda ash obtained from the Levant, for which the Venetians held the sole monopoly.

        So it took almost 1000 years for glass and glassworking to rival that of the Romans.

      • Caravelle

        The very Wikipedia article you quote says cast iron was invented in the Middle Ages and that there were advances in iron production before that; when they talk about there being no fundamental change “for many centuries”, that’s not 10 centuries. And you can’t just juxtapose an account of glass use in Great Britain in the 5th century and innovations in glassmaking in 14th century Italy like that. For one thing Great Britain and Italy are two completely different places, to the point that what’s called the Middle Ages and the Renaissance don’t correspond to the same time periods in both. For another the existence of innovations in glassmaking in the 14th century doesn’t mean there weren’t such innovations before (like, say, forest glass). Also, iron and glass aren’t the only technologies out there. Architecture, agriculture, shipbuilding, horseriding, timekeeping, wind and water mills etc all made significant advances during the European Middle Ages. See :
        Most of those things arose during the High Middle Ages (after the 11th century) but not all, and the High Middle Ages are well within the 1000 years post-Roman Empire anyway. And where the technology was invented or produced isn’t relevant as long as it was available or at least known-of; all it means is that the best knowledge was in faraway lands like China or the Middle East instead of in the past.

      • machintelligence

        @ Caravelle
        I will grant you that the 1000 year estimate is an exaggeration, but what constitutes a significant advance is something on which we will have to disagree. I still see no enormous advances in technology during the Middle Ages. After the beginning of the enlightenment, certainly.

      • Caravelle

        What do you call an “enormous advance in technology” ? There were no cathedrals in the Roman Empire, or hourglasses, or gunpowder, or stirrups, or chimneys, or windmills, or paper, or a positional numbering system, or magnifying glasses…
        But it isn’t about “enormous advances in technology”, it’s about whether the best knowledge during the Middle Ages was all in the past. It’s a simple fact that it wasn’t; technological advancement may have slowed (it was certainly slower than during the Renaissance) but it didn’t stop; Europe in the 11th century was in many if not most respects more technologically advanced than it was in the 4th century. China and the Islamic world certainly were. And insofar as there was actual technological regression it was localized and didn’t last more than a few centuries.

      • Christine

        The best knowledge in the early middle ages had definitely been lost. From a structural standpoint: making large structure, like cathedrals, using arches instead of solid walls was unknown. Concrete technology, if it was known, was so poor that evidence of its use has been lost. Bridges were nowhere near as solid as the emergency bridges that the Roman army put up. Heck, look at all the references to Roman roads: they were the best roads in the area. A lot of knowledge was lost. By the time it was regained, the idea that “people could do better work in the old days” was thoroughly ingrained in our society.

      • EEB

        Yeah, and lets remember how incredibly ethnocentric the whole “Dark Ages” idea really is. China, for example seemed to be completely unaware that they’re weren’t supposed to be developing technology and culture. I’m sure it was something of a suprise, later.

    • Noelle

      Very nicely said, Nox.

  • Carol

    That’s so interesting that you would post this now because I just went back and commented on an old comment here: where a woman glorified the “olden days” and painted it with such a rosy picture of harmony and bliss and voiced her longing to return and her “hatred” of feminism (her words). She seemed to think that back in the turn of the 20th century, people lived in comfort and plenty well into their 80′s. No mention of maternal death, poverty, disease, lack of education, she yearns for that non existent golden era where men were real men and women sewed and found a good husband. Yet I’m sure she has a washing machine and other modern comforts not available back then. Including the Internet, a place where a woman’s opinion matters, and she can pine away for those misty, hazy bygone days on line.

    • Stony

      You bring up a point, Carol. It also seems that folks looking back with nostalgia don’t believe they would be part of the lower classes. They see themselves middle class now with the ability to own a piece of property and think that would be the case in the late 1800s or early 1900s, where it likely would not. The lower classes were stricken through with disease and malnutrition. If you’re strong of stomach, do some research on pellagra. It’s caused by lack of niacin and was an absolute plague in the American south for a long stretch, such that there were hospitals dedicated to it.

      • machintelligence

        Or go back a bit further, to classical Greece

        I admit it, I love modernity. I’ve never been one to hanker for days of yore when life was simple, teeth were rotten, and lifespans were short. I remember thinking this way at least as far back as junior high school, when I read an essay by Isaac Asimov on the subject. He recounted having encountered somebody who said that he wished he lived in ancient Athens, to whom Asimov replied “Why would you want to be a slave in the Athenian silver mines?”, or words to that effect. His point was obvious — unless you are an aristocrat, there really is no better time and place than modernity.


      • smrnda

        Glad to know I’m not the only person who has heard of pellagra.

    • Elise

      I taught an ESL class last year. During one chapter, they were asked to write about their favorite technological apparatus. One student’s response: The washing machine. Having one changed her life in so many ways…

      • Christine

        For one of my friend’s courses he had to write about how stoves can improve lives (vs. using an open fire). He couldn’t come up with anything, so I started listing advantages off the top of my head. Of course, given how much he missed, he might not have realised all the effects of each of these, but hey, it was his essay, not mine.

  • Stony

    The idolization of the past is so very pick and choose, though, isn’t it? They wouldn’t choose a surgeon who only used books from 1902. Or eschew electric lighting or washing machines or plow with a mule (which is why I grudgingly admire the Amish, at least they’re consistent).

    My brother frequently forwards these idiotic chain emails that glorify growing up in the 50s. We were respectful of adults! Our entertainment was wholesome! There was no pollution! I just reply with pictures of “whites only” drinking fountains and remind him that the only options for women were mom, nurse, or teacher. The Past is only nostalgic for those who are no longer on the top of the heap or are unwilling to share the heap at all. As Nox says, the church owned much of the heap “back then”.

    • L’Ann

      I agree, part of the issue and pick -n- choose, but sometimes there is a fabrication to make what never was. I’m an historian, and it never ceases to amaze and sadden me how some students come in convinced that women never worked before feminism, never wanted to control the sizes of their families, or that men always did the “right thing” for their families. The dangers of nostalgia are that people make things into the image by which they understand, appreciate, or criticize the present– and that means they don’t really interact with the past itself, just a vague image of it.

  • Amethyst

    When I took an Intro to Geography course in college, my textbook was three years old and already due for an updated edition. The instructor was constantly supplementing its information with current, up-to-date articles. While I’m sure I’d find Frye’s Geography a fascinating read from a layman historian’s POV, I cannot imagine using a hundred-year-old geography book as an actual curriculum.

    • Whit

      Not to put too fine a point on it, but that Belle Époque geography book would have abruptly gone out of date in 1914. Something called “the great war”.

  • smrnda

    A good antidote to that way of thinking is a book I once read called “The Good Old Days, They Were Terrible.”

    I’ve never been able to *get* nostalgia since there’s so many obvious ways that the past was worse than the present. I can’t even see how anyone can make a case that morals have declined. Look at the decline in racism, the fact that we actually mostly agree that slavery is wrong (I said mostly to account for the handful of revisionist historians who might not agree) women can vote and get educations. We have workplace safety regulations, environmental protection laws, better medical care. Companies can’t pay their workers in useless company coupons you can only redeem at the company store.

    I also think we have more authentic relationships. In the past, when family was king, people probably lived a very tribal existence; you didn’t have a right to your own opinions, feelings, or the right to make decisions on your own. Beating kids into submission was considered a good thing. You were expected to conform. Now, we have so much more power to be who we want to be. You can reject the values of your family and community much easier now than in the past. You can chose who you are loyal to. We are rejecting moral taboos that don’t make sense these days, which I consider a sign of moral progress.

    Reading a lot about the Quiverfull movement (like girls planning a ‘high tea’) people clearly forget that most people in the past were not aristocrats. A family on the frontier with a mess of kids would have lived a pretty bleak existence.

    • Sue Blue

      Exactly. What i find so puzzling about nostalgia for “the good old days” among the religious members of my family (my mother and her sisters and brothers) is that they can actually remember how horrible those “good old days” were – yet they still idealize them. I heard stories about how my grandfather was one of nine children born on a small farm in North Dakota, how three of the children died in infancy and a set of twins was stillborn, how the kids had to go to work in their preteen years when their father disappeared (there were rumors he ran off to look for gold in Canada and died there), how they were often not paid, how they were physically and sexually abused by their employers. I heard about how my mother was born at home and how her mother almost died in childbirth, how they had no running water and no electricity on their 1930s Montana ranch; how they were wiped out by hailstorms, all the hand-me-down clothes they had to wear, how my mother almost died of mastoiditis at age 4 (before the days of antibiotics), how one of them was crippled by polio and the two youngest were deformed by rickets; one of my aunts contracted rheumatic fever at age 13 and suffered severe heart damage that eventually led to her death in 1991 after two open-heart surgeries and valve replacements. There were lots of object lessons to be learned when God or the angels “saved” them from some disaster or terrible injury or illness – apparently, you can’t learn about God’s grace or love without some agony involved. Yes, Montana was beautiful and their love of the land was deep, but it sounds like an awful lot of hardship and suffering for all that. I guess maybe they thought hanging clothes out on a line in below-freezing weather and having your butt freeze to the hole in the outhouse and nearly dying from childhood diseases was character-building or something.

    • Anat

      I’m nostalgic to my own childhood and the communities in which I grew up (plural because my family moved a lot). We had a lot of freedom yet no more hardships than today’s generation. Wouldn’t want to go a generation further back though.

  • Jaimie

    I majored in English years ago in college and became fascinated with archetypal imagery. I just spoke about it on my blog. Even though archetypes usually refer to prototypes of people, philosophical beliefs are included. I believe that “the good old days” is an archetypal image. Although it is a popular image for many, for the conservative homeschooling groups, it became an almost complete idealization of the past. Where most people have a benign nostalgia, these groups went so far beyond it that it was disturbing. Some of them even dressed like Little House on the Prairie. It was baffling to me. They did realize they had no bathrooms, electricity, or communications, didn’t they? The problems were all glossed over in favor of serene paintings from that era.
    My love of history came from my dad who was quite an expert. One thing I found in reading his books was that people are the same. Cultures, dress, and religion may be different, but the exact same problems and faults occurred in every age at every time.
    I think we are fortunate to live in the times we do. Women had a pretty rough life back then with discriminatory laws that did not allow them to own property or have any control whatsoever over their own lives. Why go back to that? But these women seem to think that women getting rights is the source of all our current troubles. When I heard them talk, it almost seemed like the real problem was that they hated women, including themselves. I guess if I dressed like Ma Ingells, I wouldn’t feel too good about myself either.

  • Caravelle

    The thing is, the “olden days” were not some sort of wonderland without divorce, sexual promiscuity, or violence. The faults of the present day that Christian homeschoolers are so quick to point to existed then too. Believe it or not, New York City already had a gay subculture. Prostitution thrived. Divorce rates may have been lower, but the trade off was abusive marriages. Women still got pregnant out of wedlock, and people still had premarital sex. And even more than all that, racism was rampant, the poor starved to death, and children died early deaths working in the coal mines. The reality is that the “good old days” Christian homeschoolers look at so wistfully didn’t exist, and that just because something is old doesn’t mean it was better.

    Not only an excellent point, but people wrote about that sort of stuff. What do Christian homeschoolers think of old books by Upton Sinclair, or Maupassant, or Zola, or Chaucer, or Aristophanes ?

    • ScottInOH

      They think those books are obscene.

    • Rosie

      Or even Jane Austen? She’s kind of subtle about it, but about the third time I read Pride and Prejudice I realized she generally considered marriage a form of prostitution (“copulation in the economic mode”, to quote Ursula K. LeGuin on the subject of marriage and prostitution). And, well, it was that, in Victorian England.

      How about Shakespeare’s baudy jokes? These kids have been reading the KJV long enough, I bet they can even understand Shakespeare.

      • pedantic anon

        Jane Austen was Regency era, not Victorian. Same point, of course applies, though.

      • Amethyst

        Many of them don’t get Shakespeare’s double entendre or any of his sexual, especially homosexual, subtext. If you try to explain it to them, they say you have An Agenda ™. Because, you know, no one made dirty jokes or thought of sex as anything but something husbands and wives do to make babies prior to 1960.

  • Sarah

    Hey, did you see Tom Smith suggesting that premarital sex is similar to rape? It reminded me of your “boxes” idea.

  • Neal Edwards

    Whenever my mom saw a media portrayal of some historical figure being less than perfect, she asserted that the movie was inaccurate. For example, the movie Forrest Gump featured Bear Bryant using the phrase “son of a bitch” and my mom declared “Bear Bryant never would have used that kind of language!” Another movie we saw, something made in the ’60s about a historical Pioneer-era family, portrayed a teen-aged son as talking back to his parents, and my mom proclaimed “He wasn’t rebellious like that in real life!” Every time she said these things, I wanted to tell her “How could you POSSIBLY know that?”

    This post explains the mindset, though… when you hold the belief that everything from the past was rosy and “Christian ideal”, the idea that it may not have been is unfathomable.

    • Heather Munn

      I think you’re right, but at the same time I can’t help remembering something I read: a WWII veteran objecting to the portrayal of WWII soldiers in movies just tossing F-bombs around all the time (like modern soldiers.) He said he never heard a soldier use that word the whole time he fought in WWII.

      I found it a bit hard to believe myself, honestly. But *he was there*. So, maybe my perception is skewed. I do know, as a writer of historical fiction myself, that one of the hardest things to really know about the past is how people *really* talked and acted. So, I doubt movies always get it right.

      That’s not to say that your mother was right, or was being rational. I highly doubt it!

      • alfaretta

        Your WWII veteran may never have heard the word, but the acronym SNAFU is believed to have originated in the WWII Marine Corps. My dad, also a WWII veteran (Navy) certainly remembered that word and all the other common expletives being used around him (and by him, I’m pretty sure).

      • Christine

        Question: was said veteran an officer? That said, I can believe that movies would drastically overstate the level of profanity, but never hearing *anyone* drop an f-bomb surprises me.

        While human nature might not change, how it is expressed will be a product of the culture. For example: there’s a reason that the stereotypical 30-year-old living in his parents’ basement is mocked. However in many cultures, and in our past, that was normal and healthy. But the framework of society allowed people to mature while doing so. Or look at how people in different cultures act when drunk.

      • Eamon Knight

        OTOH, the author’s forward to The Caine Mutiny (pub. 1952) notes that the dialog has been cleaned up compared to that actually heard aboard ship (Wouk served in the USN), where “profanity was used a form of punctuation”. Maybe the Army was more restrained than the Navy, and there really is something to the expression “swear like a sailor”.

        The 1950s were prudish by our standards — today such abridgement would be unnecessary.

  • Christine

    Saying that something is better because it’s old makes as much sense as saying that something is better just because it’s new. There are things that I like about way back when, i.e. the multigenerational household (I know that some people still do that, but it’s generally an ethnic thing). Saying that “new is better” leads to people being stuck doing stuff the hard way, just because it’s modern.

    That being said, I am so glad I live in an age where I’m not making some sort of stand to have a midwife instead of an OB, to go into engineering, etc. (I’d mention modern medicine, but idiots are managing to undo the good of a lot of my favourite parts).

    • Christine

      Oh, and it’s not just the fact that I and my daughter are legally persons, it’s the fact that others are too. I would enjoy my middle-class existence a lot less if the poor were as badly off as they were back then. (This, incidentally, is a large part of why I fully back my husband’s refusal to consider moving to the US).

  • John

    The cynic in me also insists I point out that books that are 100 years old are in the public domain, and therefore the publishers don’t have to pay anyone royalties.

  • AztecQueen2000

    I once had a discussion about this with two women–one who looked about 80, and the other who looked about 25. The younger one longed for the “good old days” of the 1950s. The 80-year-old looked at her like she was nuts. I pointed out that women had no rights to their own property or earnings, could not establish credit or initiate divorce proceedings, and were barred from most professions. Also, birth control was illegal and often ineffective.
    Two books for anyone waxing rhapsodic about the “good old days”:
    A Tree Grows in Brooklyn–Written in 1945, this book is set in 1900-1918 Willimsburg, Brooklyn. It features TWO child molesters (one a violent stranger, the other a nice candy-store owner), a promiscuous aunt who works in a condom factory, a drunken father, and a lace bra given as a Christmas gift to the fifteen-year-old protagonist.
    Kitty Foyle–Written in 1940, this book features a main character who has an affair with a wealthy man, gets knocked up and has an abortion. (The Ginger Rogers movie sanitized this down to a divorce and a stillbirth.)

    • Stony

      Azttec, you can get A Tree Grows in Brooklyn from iBooks, but alas I do not find Kitty Foyle anywhere except Amazon in hard cover. I downloaded ATGiB, since I remember that I loved it as a girl, and I found this “E-book extra study guide” questions: “Francie’s teacher dismisses her essays about everyday life among the poor as ‘sordid’”, and “Francie observes more than once that women seem to hate other women, while men, even if they hate each other, stick together agains the world.”

      Timely, no?

  • cupcake_break

    I seem to find this kind of nostalgia more among my white friends than my PoC friends, and for good reason.
    We all generally came to the consensus that we’d probably go on rage-induced rampages if we’d lived in any other time but the present.
    Things may not be totally ok yet, but I’d rather be black and a woman in 2012 than in 1912.

    • Liriel

      Totally separate thing, but I really do hope one day people feel about living in 2012 the way I feel about living in the 1400s – “no way in hell do I want to.” That’s it’s primitive and dangerous and there was too much poverty and prejudice and that they didn’t know anything about medicine, etc. Because that would mean that things are better then.

      We say that we’d rather live “now” when things are better, and I hope people still feel that way in the future.

  • Noadi

    I loved learning Latin (I actually took an accelerated summer course on it, that crammed a year of Latin into 4 weeks), it’s a very useful language to learn if you are interested in European languages and it makes learning the other Romance languages easier. However a couple years of it is more than sufficient for anyone who isn’t planning to be a linguist or historian.
    Much of the past is worth learning, but not because it is better but because it tells us where we’ve been as a society and both the great things we should hold on to and the horrible things we should never repeat. That’s the problem here, they are seeing only the good parts and ignoring or excusing the horrible as not that bad (looks at right wing “historians” who argue that slavery was good for black folks).

    • Karen

      This. Libby Anne will have a much easier time with Spanish and French because of her background. Also, Latin study is one of a very, very few things that actually increases reading and writing ability permanently. I can’t find a link, but one school in New York was able to hugely increase its students’ test scores by teaching Latin for two years. That said, using a 100 year old geography book is beyond useless.

    • Jaimie

      I took Latin all the way through high school and now look back on it quite fondly. And let’s face it, only those who have taken Latin in a classroom setting can appreciate this Monty Python sketch.
      I almost peed my pants laughing so hard. John Cleese was exactly like my Latin teacher!

    • Terra

      As a Latin teacher, I appreciate the defence of my subject. Any area of learning can be an opportunity for increasing empathy and expanding understanding. And Latin provides students and teachers with the opportunity to critically examine a large swath of literature and history. I find that studying Latin has decreased my tendency to indulge in what I call “pathological nostalgia”. (aka go0d-’ol-daysism)

  • Carol

    Do you think the idolization of the past is also related to the fairy tale first kiss perfect wedding fantasy? That if only this can be achieved, happiness is ensured?

    The other thing that I’ve been reading is the “kids these days”, they’re so rude, they talk back, I don’t know where these people get the idea that secular kids are rude nowadays. In my secular world, the kids I’ve come across have all been lovely, charming, respectful and pleasant. My own included. I once volunteered at a family shelter and boy those kids were wonderful and gracious to us. I really don’t know where these people get off, except their ideas are wholly unoriginal, it’s been said by every generation, presumably as far back as Socrates.

    • machintelligence

      No presumably about it!

      “Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

      It’s a real quote, as far as I know.

      • Caravelle

        When I saw that post I directly went to look for that quote too, but it doesn’t seem to be a real after all:
        (This seems to be my “disagree with everything machineintelligence writes” day, I really am not doing it on purpose, sorry -_-)

      • machintelligence

        This one was my bad, I got suckered by a quote site. I should have checked wikiquote, but was lazy.
        As I said before, feel free to correct me. I like discussions and have a pretty thick skin (as long as no one is actually throwing things.)

      • Karen

        Aristophanes wrote at least two plays based on “kids these days . . . ” so your point was correct even if the quote was wrong.

      • Noelle

        I thought Dick Van Dyke sang that in the 60s.

    • Carol

      Oh, just don’t get me started on showtunes, Noelle! Noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy loafers, and while we’re on the subject, KIDS!

      And that’s just off the top of myhead.

    • EEB

      There are several years between me and my youngest brother, and I know for a fact “kids today” are improving. (Granted, some of this may be geography, as well.) During the short time I was in school, I was bullied horrible, physically and emotionally black-and-blue for being the fat kid, and later, for being the lesbian. My brother, who has a learning disability and so has resource classes has never been bullied because of it at school. Now, from cousins (homeschooled cousins!) and kids at church? Yeah, but never at school.

      When I was in high school, being gay was enough to get you a serious beating from the football team (as a girl, being gay just meant complete ostracism…sometimes it is a lot harder for guys). My younger brothers? All of them have/had gay friends in high school, and after. (I swear, I have one brother that I don’t think has any straight friends. His best friend from elementary school turned out to be gay, and that guy introduced him to all his friends after he moved, and now they tell me he’s an “honorary gay” and he knows more lesbians than I do!) They were all on the football team, and the only people I ever heard one of them threaten to beat up was another jock who was picking on one of the autistic kids in my brother’s boy scout troop. From what my youngest brother tells me, a lot of the jock guys really try to look out for some of the kids that get picked on most, who are the most vulnerable.

      I’m sure it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. Heck, I’m sure that if I was at school, I would still probably face a lot of the same issues with the girls–girls can be vicious in adolescence. And I know that there was a big case of internet bullying at the high school a town down from us. But, objectively, it’s a lot better than it was when I was in school, and not even comparable to what it was like when my folks were in school. I think the kids today are just fine.

  • smrnda

    I worked with kids, and I myself have never been tempted to think ‘kids these days.’ I think kids these days are just fine, and probably much more generous, socially and politically aware and accepting of people different of them than kids in the past.

    When I hear someone complaining about how kids ‘talk back,’ my usual response is that adults are full of shit a lot of the time, so why shouldn’t kids talk back? Being able to talk back to authority figures is what got us a world where we all have more rights than in the past.

  • homeschoolchris

    I so agree that old does not always make it better! We used old history books and new ones, comparing how history views changed over time. This way the children learned to analyze what they were reading. Just because it is in a non-fiction book does not mean that it is true!

  • katiesays

    One of the first things I point out when people bring out the “good old days” in a conversation is medical technology. Diseases that would have killed or dehabilitated are easily managed now (things like Sarcoidosis, for example) – not to mention the quality of care has risen sharply. Quite frankly, the argument that kids were better behaved and more respectful to their elders bothers me the most. Both of my parents grew up in abusive households, but it was my father who suffered the most (physically). And you know what? No one intervened. None of the teachers or administrators at school said anything about his bruises and welts – it wasn’t “proper” to do so (this is in the 1950s/1960s American south. I swear, if I had a time machine…

    • smrnda

      In the good old days, as long as whoever was in authority was the one dealing out the beatings it was OK, at least that’s my perspective. It was only wrong when the subordinates hit back…

  • Siobhan

    Ah, the good old days. I like some of the clothes and building styles but not much else…

    I used to work in Child survival programs in West Africa and one doesn’t need a time machine to find the types of conditions that were the norm 100 – 1000 years ago if you were the average person (i.e. not super rich). High childhood and maternal mortality, gender-based violence, lack of education for women and girls, legal restrictions on women’s rights, lack of technology for food storage and preparation, “off grid” living resulting in isolation and vulnerability… etc etc. Which is why the US government (and many Christian charities) devote millions of $$ to changing those conditions…

    Oh, but liberals do it too with their “noble savage” cherry picking of “natural living”. Elimination communication, extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping and baby wearing are often cited as “natural” because women in Africa raise their kids this way. But (many) women in Africa also use corporal punishment, restrict water to kids with diarrhea, prevent their girls from going to schoo, and marry them off at age 15 and that doesn’t seem to be very “natural”.

    Learn from history so we don’t repeat it, is my motto.

  • Noelle

    My grandma was born during the Great Depression (do the good old days yearners just skip that era?). She was the last of 13 children. Her father had already purchased her gravesite next to the sister who died before she was born, because he assumed she’d die too. She lived to 73, with scores of grands and great-grands who loved her dearly. I never heard her idealize the past. She welcomed each advance with delight and amazement. When I was engaged at 22, she was upset because she assumed that meant I was quitting school and my career path. Because that’s what girls did when they married. It was what she did, and her daughters did. I laughed and told her she had nothing to worry about. She was very much reassured and crazy proud to be there as I graduated from med school, finished residency, started my working life, and had two babies without skipping a beat. She laughed and said she wished her father could be there to see that. He didn’t think there was any point in a woman getting much education, and had forced her older sister to quit school to work and help support the family.

    You’ve mentioned that your parents wave of quiververfulling was different than their own upbringing. What did your grandparents think of their choices and your lifestyle as a child vs now?

  • Bix

    I love studying the past, but I wouldn’t want to have lived any time but now. I like civil rights and modern medicine too much.

    When I was researching Christian Patriarchy stuff online I came across a blog written by an African-American ‘stay at home daughter’. She seemed to have significant nostalgia for the 19th century. Umm…

    • Carol

      I think they read books that romanticize the time period, so they picture themselves in their morning parlors, penning letters to their friends, quietly sewing and having afternoon tea brought to them. Playing the harpsichord. Well dressed gentlemen dropping by and leaving calling cards, drinking brandy and discussing politics with their distinguished fathers. Courting for their hand in marriage. They don’t think that it’s possible they wouldn’t have survived to their first birthday or that indoor plumbing wasn’t widely available. Or that they had no rights and couldn’t own anything, and if things didn’t work out, well then society didn’t have much use for them.

    • Katherine

      A Black female nostalgic for 1800s. What! Did she forget slavery, racism and the Civil War? If she went back to those times she would have been a slave. If she was lucky enough to be a freed slave she would have still experienced the racism and the discrimination against women. Even Oprah talks about how her mother cleaned houses for white people. She hoped that young Oprah would someday find white people who were nice enough not to toss the n-word her way when she grew up to cleaned their houses- this was in 1960s Mississippi!

    • kisekileia

      Was she adopted by white parents?

      • Bix

        No, she wasn’t adopted. I would understand it better if it was an academic interest, but I think it’s really nostalgia. I found it baffling.

  • Chiara

    Nice article, but I was a little baffled by this part: “I also spent years and years studying Latin. And you know what? I really haven’t used it, and I don’t really foresee myself using it in the future.”
    It made this jump to my mind:, and I can also say that just because something is old and maybe replaced by something else, does not mean that is useless.
    We study Galileo’s and Newton’s physics even if now we have more advanced theories (and one can also argue that physics is useless at all…), so why not Latin? In Italy we study Latin for all high school in all the schools for people who want to continue with academy, and never use something does not mean that it is useless (see again the xkcd comic).
    Studying Spanish or Italian or French is not the same thing, maybe German would be a similar option and a modern language that makes you still think in certain ways about sentences structures, logical and grammar analysis.
    But in my opinion, studying a language to learn to speak it and studying a language in the way we usually study latin is completely different, and makes you learn different way of thinking.

    • Caravelle

      The physics analogy doesn’t really work; the reason we learn Galilean and Newtonian physics in school is that they’re much, much simpler than more advanced theories and they’re still perfectly adequate for most physics applications. That’s the only circumstance where obsolete scientific theories are taught in school (as opposed to just mentioned). We don’t learn Aristotelian physics, or Ptolemy’s cosmology, or four humors theory… we learn about them, but we don’t study them.

      Latin is a very interesting language but it isn’t a simpler stepping-stone to modern Romance languages, or any other language.

      • smrnda

        In Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography I think he made a point that it would make more sense to learn a modern Romance language (since you can actually use it) and then to try Latin, since the other language would help with Latin and would already be something you could use.

      • Rod

        I took four trs.of Latin in high school, aas well as French which most Canadians learn, at least a bit. When I was in Italy on a business trip a few years ago, I could look at printed Italian and figure out the gist, and understand enough of a menu to know what I’d be getting. Latin is indeed useful. Problem today is no qualified teachers.

  • Katherine

    Even in the Puritan times pre-martial sex happened even though they condemned it. I heard 1 in 3 women were pregnant when they got married not after the marriage. Of course this meant there were shotgun weddings all over.

    • not a gator

      I’m sure “bundling” had nothing at all to do with that….

  • Bowman

    (1) Human “affective forecasting” through time is lousy. Although we can write histories and make plans, psychologist Daniel Gilbert has shown just how unreliable our feelings about those scenarios can be. It’s usually a brain flaw, not a failure to be honest with oneself. (2) Strictly speaking, the antiquarian homeschoolers want deep familiarity as opposed to the forcefed novelty around them, and an identity to celebrate as opposed to the “view from nowhere” for everybody and nobody.

  • Michael Busch

    @Amethyst: The double entendres were the most interesting part of reading Shakespeare in junior and high school, at least for me. By that point, I already knew the plots of the most popular plays, so the wordplay and translation was more fun – especially insults that were entirely incomprehensible until I knew the Elizabethan slang.

    Re. Socrates: He may not have pulled a ‘kids these days’ line, but he’s quoted in The Phaedrus by Plato as saying that things were better before _writing_ was invented. Plato himself had some similar nostalgia-filtered opinions of the past.

    Re. the general theme of the Nostalgia Filter, here’s a good response from a book by the science-fiction author Lois McMaster Bujold (slightly paraphrased to make it understandable in the absence of context – it’s part of an exchange between two women on a space station):

    “It’s wonderful and dramatic to read about the past. So nice to be able to read, don’t you know. … I know girls who pine for the past. They like to play dress-up and pretend being ladies of old, rescued from menace by romantic youths. For some reason they never play dying in childbirth, or vomiting your guts out from dysentery, or weaving till you go blind and crippled from arthritis and dye poisoning, or infanticide. Well, they do die romantically of disease sometimes, but somehow it’s always an illness that makes you interestingly pale and everyone sorry and doesn’t involve losing bowel control.”

    • Christine

      Reading the comments about the majority of people being working-class, I was reminded of the observation that “people from an egalitarian society can fit in just fine in an aristocratic one, as long as they get to be the aristrocrats”. (Said by a woman who married the most influential man around and started pushing against the parts of the society she didn’t like.)

      • not a gator

        Sound’s like Cordelia in Bujold’s Shards of Honor/Cordelia’s Honor. Well worth the read!