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Legatus Magazine

Cover Story
Michael Van Hecke, M.ED. | author
Sep 02, 2017
Filed under Columns

Learning history shapes the student

Genuine College prep encompasses the whole human person. It can’t be confined to a score on a college entrance exam.

Michael Van Hecke, M.ED.

The early years are formative in critically important and subtle ways, especially living as we do in a culture that abounds in distractions and in educational content that seems hell-bent on undermining our core principles as Catholics and humans. “Life prep” happens every minute of every day, in what a child learns and experiences at home and in school.

I’m not alone in this thinking.

“Train up a child in the way he should go,” reads Proverbs 22:6, “even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

C.S. Lewis, in his marvelous short book The Abolition of Man, recounts Aristotle’s fitting and timeless account of education’s purpose—“to make the pupil delight in what he should delight in, and shun what he should shun.”

But given the errors of the era in which we live—whereby what is natural and normal is turned upside down and considered “phobic,” “noninclusive,” “offensive,” even “wrong” or “evil”—excellent intellectual formation and understanding is critical.

The errors of our current age, as C.S. Lewis noted, have seeped into nearly every aspect of our school textbooks, from history to English to mathematics and science.

Consider history.

All the major K-12 textbook publishers boast about the diversity of their review boards, pointing to members who are Muslims, transgender, etc. Christians aren’t mentioned. On the contrary, every attempt is made to show “diversity” as opposed to Christian “influence.”

Evaluating what to include—or not—in a textbook is often determined by whether—or not—the information aligns with a politically correct vantage point.

In secular history textbooks, information regarding the Catholic Church, its formation and historical influence, the significant historical impact of Catholic religious orders, lay men and women, their founding of hospitals, schools, universities and more—throughout more than 2,000 years, worldwide—is often ignored, minimized or falsely portrayed.

In at least one popular world history textbook an entire, glowing chapter on Mohammed and Islam is prominent yet there is barely a sentence about the Church.

This example isn’t about whether or not all of history should be taught. It’s not about pretending every Catholic person in history was holy or made prudent decisions. This is not even about teaching the Faith. This is history, not religion.

This is about teaching true history, accurately. In today’s secular history textbook, you won’t find the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the dramatic, significant historical impact of this miracle on the history of Mexico and neighboring countries.

When a child’s K-12 formation includes a true and accurate understanding of history—one that includes the major historical contributions of such Catholics as Christopher Columbus, Mother Seton, Thomas the Apostle, Don Juan of Austria, Pope Pius X, Joan of Arc, even Antonio Vivaldi, and so many others whose faith and actions have impacted society and nations—then this child grows up to understand that he, too, has a role to play in today’s era, as a Catholic. He learns that decisions and actions have consequences—good and bad. He learns the truth about the men and women on whose shoulders we stand today. He learns life has a bigger purpose than today’s distractions and myopic, shallow vantage point.

The same is true in the study of science, English and other core subjects.

Students take for granted that the textbook used in class is accurate. But in today’s culture, even textbooks can undermine a young person’s understanding of the Catholic faith, of the significance of the Church and its faithful. This affects a young adult’s foundational understanding of the world and his purpose in it.

Clearly a person’s “life prep” is critical during the K-12 grades, and if its embers are fanned and examined more deeply in college, such a person will become an ambassador for Christ in season and out of season, in joy and in hardship—no matter what his or her vocation, no matter what his or her field of enterprise—to the end.

MICHAEL VAN HECKE, M.ED., is founder and president of Catholic Textbook Project (, The Institute for Catholic Liberal Education (, and a seasoned headmaster of a Top 50 school.


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