A Pond, a Paper Cup, and the Past

What’s the most common misconception about studying history?  It’s probably not what you think it is!  The most common misconception I address in my history classes is this:  that history and the past are taken to mean the same thing.

In my Western Civilization history class at Denver Christian High School, we headed outside to the pond on campus today, toting a stack of paper cups, to tackle this misconception.

I borrowed the original idea for this lesson from an analogy that C.S. Lewis used in an essay called “Historicism.”  He had a waterfall, but since that wasn’t an available for us, we used the pond and fountain here on campus instead.

In the analogy I used, the pond represented all the events of the past; the fountain represented the passage of time.  Each student got a paper cup.

Students each scooped a cup’s worth of water while I explained that the water in the their cups represented all of human history, which is simply “”the remembered (& recorded) past.” I then had them dump out 3/4 of the water from their cups and explained how that represented all of recorded history.

Then they dumped out half of the amount left in the cup, and we discussed how that represented the history of Western Civilization. They poured out the rest of the water and I explained that the tiny drops remaining in the paper cup represented the history of the United States.

Being outside by the pond, which isn’t a large body of water but loomed much larger in comparison to drops of water left in the bottom of a paper cup, provided a striking object lesson that places our class studies within a much broader context that I hope made a lasting impression on them.

And I also hope students can see that studying history is about much more than just “boring” facts, dates, and names.  God’s story is much bigger than that, and I’m eager to walk with them while they discover more about their place in it this year in our Western Civilization course.

by Cole McClain, History & Bible teacher at DCHS

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