This year while on furlough ministry in the States, we felt it was important to tackle American history with our three older kids in home school. After studying in Chilean schools for several years they were well-versed in the heroics of such names as Arturo Prat and Bernardo O'Higgins, but definitely a little foggy on George Washington, Ben Franklin and other famous Americans. (Although thanks to a few historical Adventures in Odyssey episodes, they did have a few initial facts under their belts!)
We began our studies in February and enjoyed learning about Columbus' voyages; the arrival of the Pilgrims; and the American War for Independence. All was well as we read of Miles Standish and William Penn and the baby steps of our new nation. We even enjoyed two field trips to Crossroads Village (which in the midst of our busyness never made it on the blog!) where our children were able to experience turn-of-last-century living and a ride on a historical railroad. It was enjoyable learning for the whole family, and then -
Enter the topic of slavery.
It wasn't planned; we hadn't even reached the chapter on Civil War history yet. In fact, we had been studying the life of Thomas Jefferson from his "minor" accomplishments such as inventing a traveling writing desk to his "monumental" achievements as the author of the Declaration of Independence and becoming the third President of the United States. In the midst of this the kids and Pedro had gone to our local library for some additional resources. It was while innocently reading a children's book on Jefferson's life that I stumbled into a sentence about the slavery in his household.
We were sitting in our living room, comfortably settled in couches and chairs when the words came out of my mouth and suddenly all eyes were startled and turned directly to me. What do you mean, slaves? He had slaves? Who were slaves? Only once before had I spoken of this to my oldest, Eva, and as I responded she kept her face somewhat downcast in embarrassment with occasional glances at her brother and sister. I stumbled a little as I explained the tragic truth, that once upon a time the color of your skin determined your worth as a human being; your place in life; your educational opportunities; truly, your life and your death.
The air felt heavy as disappointment and disbelief settled on Owen and Isabel. You mean, we would be slaves? And Eva wouldn't? (If it weren't such a heavy topic, the sibling rivalry even in the midst of such a serious subject might have been humorous.) We talked about how the Bible teaches that "there is no one righteous, not even one" (Romans 3:10) and how even mighty men who have accomplished great things in history can have fatal flaws. We discussed how we, too, must guard our hearts against blind spots in our lives. And of course I emphasized how incredibly wrong slavery was - and still is, for it still exists and even people of one race continue to enslave their own - and how it is absolutely contrary to what we know from the Bible, that every human being is wonderfully created in God's image and loved by Him.
Always these difficult conversations leave me with a bittersweet feeling. Bitter, that we would have to address this at all and that the "sins of the fathers" continue to haunt our precious ones simply because of the color of their skin. And sweet, in that it is an honor to be the one to hear my child's questions and seek to apply the salve of God's love on his or her heart.
I wish I could say the topic ended here. But history lessons continued, and with them a new chapter: the Civil War.