“History is a mirror that we hold up to our lives and ideas,” says Providence Humanities department chair, Stephen Alston. “Looking at the lives and ideas of the past brings one’s own virtues, sins, and convictions into focus. At Providence, my goal is to expose students to the great ideas and questions that humanity has been wrestling with since the fall of mankind.”
A well-loved teacher at Providence, Mr. Alston is a graduate of both the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton and Baylor University in Waco. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with a minor/double major in History, and a Master of Arts in Church-State Studies. His passion for integrating concepts from subjects across the curriculum drew him to the classical approach to education. “I have always loved that Providence values the family as a central part of the educational process. At Providence, education is more than the facts and skills students learn, it is about shaping students into virtuous, wise, Christ-like people that will influence their communities in a positive way,” he explains.
Mr. Alston’s commitment to Providence’s distinctive view of education is evident in his classroom on a daily basis. “Historical sympathy is the ability to evaluate and judge all ideas and people without assuming your own time and place is right. If students can learn to critically, but fairly, judge the past as a place of both wisdom and folly, they will find it easier to love their neighbors and enemies today as fellow human beings. Studying history helps us develop the ability to critique actions and ideas while still treating the people associated with them as human beings who deserve respect,” he says.
A lifelong learner himself, Mr. Alston enjoys modeling his passion for learning. He enjoys encountering new facts and ideas; fascinating tidbits from the past that show his students the humor and providence that infuses all of life. In addition to a love of learning, Mr. Alston aims to model what it is to struggle through weaknesses in faith. “My disability makes some of my weaknesses obvious. Students see that I need to ask for help with some simple classroom tasks (passing out papers, technology, etc.). I hope they see that I accept this help with humility and grace even as I try to help them understand history and great ideas with humility and grace,” he says. “I know some of my students’ greatest challenges come inside the classroom. I hope that seeing me deal with physical challenges every day while still pursuing my calling helps my students deal with whatever challenges they face. I hope they will ask for help when they need it without shame or bitterness. I also hope to show them that facing obvious challenges is a chance to deepen your faith in Christ, not a reason to doubt and run from Him.”
Mr. Alston’s passion for both his students and his subject is easy to see. He enjoys having discussions with the students as they read difficult texts and explore great ideas together. “I love hearing a question I have never thought about before and being humbled as students make connections and applications that I have never seen or that took me years to achieve. I love hearing the little flashes of wisdom come from students as they think deeply and use the unique personality traits and gifts that God has given them to help each other discover and apply truth.”
God reminds us in His word that ultimately He is the Truth (John 14:6). He also calls us to live “in deed and truth.” (1 John 3:18). “As a Christian, these verses remind me that every time I encounter God or His word, it must shape how I live. No truth gets to sit on the page as a fact to be displayed or even in the mind as a thing to be recalled,” Mr. Alston explains. “Truth must be embodied and lived out even as Christ lived and died for us. My hope is that studying history at Providence will help students avoid the twin traps: being arrogantly closed-minded people who use truth as a weapon to beat others down or being foolishly relativistic people who think that loving others equals uncritical acceptance of all opinions.”