Bruce Hoover looks every bit the time traveler he is.
And why not? The bearded, bespectacled American history teacher at Anchor Christian Academy in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was born and raised in the spot where his family roots reach down 200 years. Yet, if he looks like he just wandered off a Civil War battlefield – and sometimes walks into class in such character – he’s more like Rufus, the time traveler from the future in the film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
Like Rufus, Hoover physically escorts his students back in time for an in-person, indelible crash course in history.
The school year starts with the class’s mountain hike to a small church cemetery and “the graves of Native and Black Americans, early settlers, presidential ancestors, veterans’ graves from the French & Indian, Revolution, 1812, and Civil wars,” he says. Foreshadowing another lesson to come, Hoover points to the gravesite of the Wenrich family, who donated land for the church and whose relatives inevitably fought in these wars.
As they hike, students take note of the region’s flora and fauna, as well as the cut-it-with-a-knife history that lies dormant under foot.
The school year ends with an immersive four-day camping trip to Gettysburg itself – though not before watching the Gettysburg movie and studying the era’s weapons, uniforms and artifacts, as well as the Civil War soldier’s life they are to recreate on Mr. Hoover’s Excellent Adventure.
“The two trips are linked when we visit the site of J.J. Wenrich’s death (at Gettysburg) by friendly fire,” Hoover says. “His was one of the graves visited in the fall.”
The hands-on early-American experience imbues the students with not only a sense of history, but also one of self-reliance – and camaraderie.
“We’re camping for three and a half days. We are biking. They’re helping with the cooking, they’re helping with the cleanup. They’re responsible for not only themselves, but also for one another. They are truly their brother’s keeper. And there has to be that vision of unity and self-support and encouragement.
“So, it is a community-building relationship that they come away with. And there’s a greater sense of self-reliance, that this is something that they’ve been challenged with and have never done before.”
God’s presence is always felt in Hoover’s classroom, whether it be inside Anchor Christian Academy or on mountain or battlefield.
“Overarching everything was God’s providential hand there at Gettysburg – to allow the Union side to win, because it was not a good situation we found ourselves in. But time after time after time in the documentation and the anecdotal record, God was there.
“And I want to see the students bring back this relationship of God and life and terrible situations and circumstances, (and that) God pulled them through.”
Any time-traveling teacher is going to earn great accolades in the here and now – and Bruce Hoover has, most notably as one of 12 instructors nationwide to be named 2023 Christian Teachers of the Year by the Herzog Foundation, which publishes The Lion.
The thing is, he didn’t start out as a Christian schoolteacher. After earning a B.S. in Elementary Education – he later added a Master of Education – he found public education dispiriting. Literally.
“Three years of public-school instruction convinced me of the futility of a man-centered curriculum that blatantly and purposely ignored God,” Hoover says in a video he produced for the Herzog Foundation. “The students I taught there were disinterested and disrespectful.”
That all changed, he adds, when he joined his wife in teaching at a Christian school.
“In the ensuing years God has taken my profession and blessed me with a ministry that is exciting and active in impacting students – until God determines that I am finished.”
But that’s in the future. The present, in Mr. Hoover’s class, is reserved for the past.
And for God.
“There almost always must be a Godly seed,” he says. “Without Christian education, I fear for our nation. As we have determined to turn our own way, I fear what’s going to take place in our nation.
“But God. There’s always ‘but God,’ and He always has a plan to work through what His will is to be.”
Can one really teach about creation without referencing the Creator, as public schools are now consigned to do?
“There’s no way. No. And it’s foolish to even attempt it,” Hoover says, noting his own public-school education in the 1960s included Bible reading, prayer and the principles of God’s word. “I think that we need moorings, we need foundations. We’ve been created that way. We’ve been created dependent upon the Lord. And when our focus goes other places then we are totally lost in direction and inspiration.”
The Christian Teachers of the Year honor is part of the Herzog Foundation’s Excellence in Christian Education award series. Each of the 12 winners will attend a special awards event in Washington, D.C., where they will also receive a monetary gift.