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Step Into A Larger World: An Interview with David Aikman

August 25–29, 2014   |   Vol. 120, Programs 46–50

“[Christians] don’t believe there are truths that will suddenly stab you in the back and take away your faith and so forth. So I think a Christian should have great confidence in proceeding into historical areas where he doesn’t necessarily know very much.”—Dr. David Aikman

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Are you wondering how to teach your children about current events? Well one great way to do that is by studying the histories of countries and communities around the world. Today on Home School Heartbeat, Dr. David Aikman shares some ways to start learning about other cultures.

Mike Farris: My guest this week is prolific author and former correspondent for TIME Magazine Dr. David Aikman. David is a professor at Patrick Henry College. He teaches upper-level history courses on China, Russia, and the Middle East. David, I’m very glad to have you on the program.

Dr. David Aikman: Mike, it’s terrific to be on the program with you.

Mike: David, what would you encourage parents to consider as they teach their kids historical background on current events?

Dr. Aikman: Well, I think it’s very important to have even a basic historical knowledge about countries in the world that you’re reading about or seeing on television. But I think it’s more important to keep up with different situations through serious magazines, both weekly and monthly. And I would put The Economist magazine at the top of that list because I think it has the most comprehensive weekly coverage. And look at any television programs that seem to go beyond simply two-minute news slices on a country.

Listen to radio programs. National Public Radio, which is often maligned as left wing and so on, often has quite good programs on different foreign countries by people who are actually reporting from those places. But generally use every means of media access that one can have to find out about different countries in the world.

Mike: Thank you so much, Dr. Aikman.

Mike Farris: Dr. Aikman, last time we talked about how important it is for homeschooling parents to understand a country’s culture when teaching history. How would you encourage Christian parents to study cultures that are different from their own?

Dr. David Aikman: Well, the first thing, Mike, it might sound paradoxical, but I think it’s very important for Christian parents to have a good understanding of their own country and their own culture and how we developed things like political freedoms and religious freedoms and so on.

I think you have to know your own faith very well, and I think you have to have a fairly good grasp of other people’s faiths. And being a Christian, I think, gives you an advantage because you take seriously when people say they believe certain things, you accept that they probably do. Whereas the secular media often says, “Well they don’t really believe that, they’re just saying that because they’re socially disadvantaged,” or something like that.

Belief systems or non-belief systems do have an impact on the way cultures behave towards their own citizens and behave towards other citizens. I think Christians should be more alert to the kind of trigger points of change or crisis that take place in other cultures and they should be ready to observe those even before they start happening.

Mike: David, thanks so much. I’m looking forward to talking to you more next time.

Mike Farris: David, you’ve written a book called Jesus in Beijing. As an expert on China, what insight can you give parents as they try to make sense of the daily news from China and explain it to their students?

Dr. David Aikman: Well, I think the long-term significance of what’s happening in China, is China is a country that is discovering that Christianity is actually a rather good way of running a country. I have had several books that have quoted conversations from my book, Jesus in Beijing. In particular, one conversation where a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences is saying, “We wanted to discover why the West was so successful. We thought it was economics, we thought it was democracy, we thought it was military technology, but then we realized that the core of the success of the West was Christianity, because the Christian spirit has enabled the development of science, the faith and exploration and so forth.” So, knowing what made America great is a good way of seeing how the Chinese are beginning to look at their own society.  

Mike Farris: David, as a Christian journalist and historian, how does your worldview affect teaching history and current events in the classroom? Do you have any advice for a way that a homeschooling parent can approach such a topic with a balanced view?

Dr. David Aikman: Well, I think as a Christian, you are concerned above all with truth. And you also are not frightened at truth. You don’t believe there are truths that will suddenly stab you in the back and take away your faith and so forth. So I think a Christian should have great confidence in proceeding into historical areas where he doesn’t necessarily know very much.

I would recommend for every homeschooling parent, even if the subject they’re teaching is literature or geography or something like that, to get as much historical background from a reliable source as possible and proceed to teach the topic with that in mind. And also look for Christian markers in the history of different countries. Look for what missionaries did, or when they came, and so forth. That also is a very good way of grasping how the religious significance of a country in question can be understood.

Mike: Dr. Aikman, thank you so much.

Mike Farris: When you pick up a newspaper and read stories on Russia, what do you see in store for this ex-Cold War superpower? How would you tie this in to teaching Russian history in the classroom?

Dr. David Aikman: Well, I think to understand Russian history you have to have quite a long reach of knowledge. I’ll just give you an example: the Communist Party leader who was campaigning against Boris Yeltsin in 1996, in his Manifesto, said that the big problem with Russia had started in 1054, which was the date of the great schism between eastern Christendom and western Christendom. And he said that it had been the task of the West basically to try to suffocate Russia ever since. So you’ve got a huge degree of paranoia there.

I think what we’re seeing now is, after the humiliation with Russia that took place just before and just after communism fell, you’ve got a tremendous desire by ordinary Russians for a strong, self-assertive Russia that can assume in the world something close to the position that Russia had when the Soviet Union was a superpower. And that’s going to cause quite a lot of problems for the rest of us, because Russia basically is flexing its muscles.

Mike: David, I appreciate you joining me on the program this week, and I’m sure our listeners appreciate your insights just as our students here very much appreciate hearing you in depth. I’m Mike Farris.

Dr. David Aikman

Dr. Aikman teaches upper-level courses on the history of modern China, the Middle East, Russia, Modern Terrorism, Islam, Revolution, WWI, and Cold War Novel at Patrick Henry College. Starting fall 2008, he also began teaching Russian. Dr. Aikman oversees apprenticeship work for students wanting to become writers, to which he brings the experience and expertise of having written nine books and co-authored four others. A former foreign policy consultant in Washington D.C., he is a current senior fellow of the Trinity Forum. For 23 years Dr. Aikman was a foreign correspondent and senior correspondent for Time magazine and reported from four continents and fifty-five countries, notably Russia, China, and the Middle East. He has also been a correspondent for TV documentaries and speaks several languages, including Russian and Chinese.

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