Old-time educators used to talk about the importance of furnishing the mind. Yes, we need to teach students to think and reason, but we must also furnish their minds with facts, names, dates, places, terms, concepts, objects, and more. It is on this “mental furniture” that the student’s powers of reasoning first begin to operate and grow.
Here’s an example. Today is the birthday of the great English historian Edward Gibbon (1737–1794), author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–1789), one of the most influential books of Western history ever written. The name Edward Gibbon and the title of his famous work should be part of the mental furnishings of every educated person (including your homeschoolers!). I’m not saying everyone should necessarily read the book or have read it; I’m saying an educated person should recognize the name and the title, and know that it has been an important and influential work.
Why? Because both Gibbon’s name and the title of his magnum opus appear in all sorts of other cultural contexts, and have now for more than two hundred years. Countless books on “The Decline and Fall of…” all inherit their titles from Gibbon. Even the very magnitude of the work — six large volumes — has been an object of commentary ever since the less-than-literary Duke of Gloucester exclaimed (in 1781), “Another damned, thick, square book! Always scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh! Mr. Gibbon?”
So this week, in honor of Mr. Gibbon, furnish your students’ minds with his name and the name of his famous work. Just drop it in somewhere — don’t make a big deal of it. “You know today is the birthday of a famous historian named, what was it — Gorilla? No, Gibbon! He wrote a giant book on the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Maybe we can look it up at the library next time we visit, just out of curiosity.” And with that, the name and the title become part of your student’s mental furnishings; if you’re lucky, for life.
❡ Explore more: For a quick modern homeschool review of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, turn to pages 150–151 in your River Houses history encyclopedia (riverhouses.org/books). The two-page spread is titled — not accidentally — “Decline and Fall?”