Why You Will Find Contradictions in History

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We at Sonlight hear from clients who are confused by "problems" they find in our history books. You might read one thing in one of our books, and then see something else in another book, on television, or from another source that seems to contradict what you read.

You want to teach your child accurate information, so you want to know what is right, and you want to know what you should do about these contradictions when you find them.

Debbie put it this way in one of our forums:

"I guess I am just a little disappointed that the information may not be accurate that we are reading to our children. I would have thought the information would have been researched before being used in one of the curriculums. . . . I would like to find those things out ahead of time."

We understand exactly what she means. We all want our children to learn the right information. After all, what's the point of teaching them something that's wrong?

The problem is that often there is no way to find out the "right" answer. Since we cannot call up George Washington, Napoleon, or Julius Caesar, we can't ask them directly what really happened during their lives and, even if we could, they would only give us their own biased view of events. So the only way we can know about what happened in their lives is to read reports that were written at the time, and read research that historians have done since.

Unfortunately, the research and reports often don't agree. One source will say one thing happened, and another will say something completely different happened.

Try to do some research on William Shakespeare and you'll see what we mean. There are so many different reports of what he was like, where he lived, what he did and didn't do—like write plays!—that finding out the historical truth can be very frustrating. Some people even argue that Shakespeare never existed at all!

Even though books will often speak authoritatively about exactly what his life was like, no one really knows for sure.

Similarly with wars and battles. There are many examples of battles and even wars that both sides say they won. If you read a textbook from one country, it will tell you their armies won, and if you read a textbook from another country, it will say they won—the same battle!

Obviously, that is not possible.

So how do you know what is true? How do you know what is right to teach your children?

As I think you can see, in some cases, you can't know for sure what "really" happened. In which case, you're going to have to discuss some of the problems with your children.

We recommend that you teach all the sides of a story as well as you know how. Help your children understand that history is not always black and white. So maybe you'll say to your children: "We're really not sure what happened here. There are a bunch of reports, but they don't all agree with each other. Some say this happened because ________. . . . Others say that's not what happened, but rather this did because ______. What do you think?" Even more importantly: "Why do you think that?"

And while such statements and questions may seem to make things more confusing, you are actually teaching your children to think critically, to look at every side of an issue, to evaluate what they think is right, and to explain reasons for why they think as they do. And these are all skills I hope you want your children to learn!

It's important to note here that your children might disagree with you about what really happened. Remember: that's ok. Your children do not have to come to the same conclusion you do. If they can explain the reasons behind their viewpoints and argue their positions logically, that's what's important. After all, there are a lot of very smart people who disagree with each other about how things happened in history; so it is all right for you and your children to disagree!

Try to be patient with your kids and with yourself as you experiment in this new style of learning. It may seem easier to say, "This is the way it happened. Memorize these facts and know what is true and false." But by digging deeper, you will help broaden your children's perspectives and challenge their critical thinking skills.

And in the end, that's what you really want, isn't it? Not just for your children to learn facts, but to understand concepts and to think critically.

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