- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2000

Teaching history can be an uphill slog for many of us. This is especially true when our own learning experiences consisted of memorizing dates and thumbnail descriptions of various events.

This is like trying to find out about the past by strolling through a cemetery with a notebook, writing down the names and dates of birth and death of the people buried there. Even if you can remember the date, does it really have any meaning for you?

I had already finished my formal education before I ever became aware that history could be exciting and relevant.

Once I discovered how vital it is to understand history, I have always tried to make it come alive for my own children. Therefore, I am always on the prowl for resources that can illuminate the meaning behind the events of the past.

One rather fascinating glimpse into America's history is provided by a series of books written by Peter Marshall and David Manuel. The authors are Christians who sought to understand how God has been guiding America's destiny.

They embarked on a quest to discover the underlying principles that have been at work in our nation's development. Along the way, they uncovered many amazing stories about the actual events and the real people who helped build this country.

The first in the series is "The Light and the Glory" (Fleming H. Revell Co., 1980). Beginning with Columbus, the authors trace the good and bad choices of the key figures in the founding of America, up until the writing of the Constitution.

This is the first account I have read of most of the events of that period that really dissects the motivations of the historical figures, and then demonstrates how those motivations affected the eventual outcome.

For instance, Columbus, Pizarro and Cortez harbored motivations of greed for money and power, and the result of their explorations was cruelty, disease and massive human loss on all sides. But the unselfish missionary explorers created respect, harmony and development, even despite initial hostility from the indigenous peoples.

This is not to say that all religious people were unselfishly motivated, and the authors show that the self-righteous and arrogant religious people brought destruction instead of goodness both to others and to themselves.

I must say I was a bit shocked to realize how scanty my own knowledge was on some points. Did you know that the Pilgrims and the Puritans were actually two separate groups?

The Pilgrims were Separatists, who felt that the Church of England was corrupt and separated from it to follow their inner convictions. The Puritans, although similar in religious belief and fervor, stayed within the Anglican church believing they should purify it from within by their example.

The Pilgrims were the pioneers, coming on the Mayflower and setting up the foundations for the New England Colonies; the Puritans came several years later, when they despaired of being able to build a thriving faith community within the corruption and decay of Europe.

Throughout the book, the authors draw parallels to modern America. The reader is encouraged to compare the sacrifice and serious commitment of the early heroes with our current standard of morality. They also depict the human aspects of the various people: their struggles, their temptations, their decisions and their victories. Not only does this help us understand the ancestors of our country and relate to their sacrifices, but it provides a clear standard of comparison with the citizens and leaders of today.

Because I enjoyed the book so much, I went on the Internet to find out what other books might be available from these authors. To my delight, I found there are children's activity books for each of the three books.

"The Light and the Glory" covers the period from Columbus until 1889; "From Sea to Shining Sea" (Fleming H. Revell Co., 1989) covers the expansion of America until 1837; "Sounding Forth the Trumpet" (Fleming H. Revell Co., 1998) covers the period up to the Civil War, and deals with slavery and the activity of Christians in the abolition of that evil.

For about $7 per workbook, children can get an in-depth understanding of the interaction of God and man in developing their country. I consider this a tremendous teaching resource, especially for those who want children to learn about God along with their regular academic subjects.

Although these books are written from a very specific interpretation of Christian belief, there is respect for those of other faiths. The sacrifices of all men and women of faith are noted here; also, the failures are impartially reported, regardless of agreement or disagreement with the doctrines concerned.

For instance, Columbus and the other Roman Catholic figures are examined in terms of their passion for God and humility before His purposes, just as the Calvinists and Methodists, Quakers and Presbyterians all are analyzed according to the same light.

My only criticism of the book is that it ignores the enormous mistake of slavery. I assume this is covered in the later book "Sounding Forth the Trumpet" about the causes of the Civil War, but it should have been included in the first one as well, because it affected many aspects of the decisions of that time.

Despite this, the book does present a tremendous story of the unique destiny of our country, and the devotion and sacrifice of those who helped build it.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a free-lance writer living in Maryland.

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