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Catholic Schools Textbook Project

Publisher: Catholic Schools Textbook Project
Review last updated: February 2013
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The Catholic Textbook Project’s goal is to produce high quality history textbooks that teach from a Catholic worldview. Eventually, they intend to produce books for all grade levels, but they have begun with the upper grade levels. At present five books are available.

The textbooks are fairly similar to standard history texts in methodology and presentation. However, the inclusion of the Catholic perspective means that some events are presented with a different slant and some events and people are included that might be skipped in a non-Catholic presentation. In addition, the overall scope and sequence leans toward a western civilization emphasis as evidenced by the Light of the Nations’ (two volumes) focus on Christian civilization rather than comprehensive world civilizations. Even though Christian civilization garners more attention, the volume All Ye Lands does cover civilizations and cultures from all over the world. Even with this Christian/Catholic emphasis, the presentation seems fairly evenhanded. Catholicism and important historical figures who are Catholic are often covered “warts and all” rather than sugar-coated.

Textbooks are available in hardcover editions and either ePub or Adobe Digital editions. Digital editions are available for purchase or for rent; the rental option greatly reduces the cost. The Adobe Digital Reader is a free download for PC and Mac systems. Digital editions have an easily accessible table of contents for quick navigation.

All of the Catholic Schools Textbook Project texts are nicely illustrated in full color. The textbooks are written in more of a narrative style than many traditional texts, so they are fairly interesting to read. All of the student texts include chapter review questions and activity suggestions. From Sea to Shining Sea and texts above that level add chapter summaries of key points. Both volumes of Light to the Nations as well as Lands of Hope add lists of key concepts, dates to remember,and central characters at the end of each chapter.

Teacher’s manuals do not reprint student textbook pages. They have extensive teaching material for each chapter that includes a chapter overview, chapter goals, paragraph-long explanations of each key piece of information students should master, vocabulary terms and definitions, review questions, optional activities, sample quiz and test questions, and answers to all of the questions. Sample questions can be used to construct your own tests, although this is a bit of work.

Student workbooks are available for each text on CD-ROM. You can purchase a classroom license ($25) or a single-family license ($10) for a year, or you can purchase a PDF or epub version ($20 each). Workbooks have activities for subsections of chapters so students are continually reviewing and reinforcing chapter content rather than simply answering end-of-chapter questions. Workbook questions emphasize comprehension rather than deeper thought as do some end-of-chapter questions. Question formats are fill-in-the-blank, matching, circling, true/false, underlining, and crossword puzzles. There are also map labeling, drawing, and maze activities.

From Sea to Shining Sea: The Story of America

Publisher's suggested grade levels: 5-9


From Sea to Shining Sea

Beginning with early explorers such as St. Brendan and Leif Ericsson, this text tells the story of the United States up through the 1800s. Note that the text begins with the story of a saint, and it concludes with a chapter titled “Catholics in America.” While a Catholic viewpoint crops up from time to time throughout the rest of the text, the presentation is not at all heavy-handed as we find in some of the other Catholic history texts used by Catholic home educators. In fact, in my opinion, this text could have used even more Catholic perspective. Missing, for example, are any mention of the Know Nothing movement and the development of the Catholic school system. However, the text is suggested for students in grades 5 through 9, and we shouldn’t expect everything to be covered at those levels. Overall, this is an excellent text and one of the best choices for grades 5 though 8. In most cases, From Sea to Shining Sea should be used for U.S. History for students up through eighth grade, and Lands of Hope and Promise should be used by high school students.

The student workbook offers substantial review and reinforcement for the lessons in the text with 206 pages. However, it seems targeted at the lowest end of the spectrum with activities generally appropriate for fifth and sixth graders rather than eighth and ninth. Activities include fill-in-the-blanks, matching, crossword puzzles, drawing, coloring, and map work. These activities work within the comprehension and memory realm rather than requiring students to do deeper thinking. Questions in the “Chapter Activities” that appear in both the student text and teacher’s edition do stretch students to deeper thinking, but there are only a couple of these questions for each chapter. An answer key for the workbook is also included on the CD-ROM. I would have loved to see potential questions or even tests and quizzes themselves included on the CD to make test creation simpler for teachers and parents. The publisher tells me this is something they are working on.

Note: A free supplemental chapter on The Great Awakening is available by clicking here.

All Ye Lands: World Cultures and Geography, 2011 revised edition

Publisher's suggested grade levels: 6-9


All Ye Lands

All Ye Lands is now in its second edition. Major improvements and revisions were made for this second edition. The text is ambitious in scope. While the purpose is purportedly the coverage of world geography and cultures, it also attempts to present an overview of all of history by highlighting particular events and civilizations.

The first chapter introduces geography, then brief sections on geography appear at the beginning of most chapters. "Things to Do" at the end of most chapters provide map work activities. These usually include drawing and labeling, but they sometimes stretch into other topics such as longitude and latitude. Political maps are included throughout the text.

I very much appreciate the rewrite of the second chapter on prehistory. It makes it a little clearer than did the first edition that early man was of a different category than apes. It makes a definite statement that all people descended from Adam and Eve. However, I question its presentation of homo erectus as an ancestor of homo sapiens since the current scientific thinking is that homo erectus, at best, might descend from a descendent common to both home erectus and homo sapiens rather than being an ancestor (p. 24). The text also accepts an old age for the earth and living creatures. In spite of the potential error regarding homo erectus, because of the nuanced presentation regarding prehistory I think that both those who believe in evolution as well as those who reject it should be able to work with this text as long as they do not require a "young earth" view. Here is an example from page 24 in this section: "Based on several bits of evidence they have discovered, scientists have concluded that human-like creatures have been on the earth for at least 1 million years. This is not a fact, but a theory—an idea we form to explain facts we discover." Still, you might use this section with discretion, possibly expanding into your own discussion regarding evolution and creation. Once discussion moves on to the Sumerian and Egyptian cultures (still in the second chapter), the text is on firmer historical ground. From there on, this is an excellent overview of world history and cultures. Granted, it is selective in coverage, but it balances out the development of Christian civilization (through Israel, Greece, Rome, and Europe) with study of China, Japan, India, Africa, Russia, and Latin America. Another chapter presents the United States within the context of world history in preparation for further study of U.S. History. Although From Sea to Shining Sea (U.S. History text) might be used prior to this volume, it makes more sense to use it after.

At the end of each chapter are four different activities. "Let's Remember" questions require students to write out answers in complete sentences. "Let's Consider" questions can be used for discussion, personal reflection, or short essay responses. "Things to Do" are the map activities mentioned earlier. "Let's Eat!" is a food activity relating to the culture studied.

The revised edition has also added and strengthened connections to Scripture.

Light to the Nations, Part I: Development of Christian Civilization

Publisher's suggested grade levels: 7-11


Light to the Nations I

Published in 2008, this text uses an introductory chapter to lay the groundwork for the story of Christian civilization. It begins with Adam and Eve, and then deals briefly with prehistory, cautiously presenting the birth of civilizations without bringing in evolution. This leaves parents the freedom to deal with that topic separately. Within this introductory chapter it shows how God revealed himself in preparation for his entry into history through the Incarnation. With this background, chapter one then begins with the birth of Jesus and continues through the establishment of his church. The story continues against the backdrop of the Roman empire. It continues through martyrdoms, evangelization, and the spread of Christianity primarily through the Middle East, Europe and Africa. The Rise of Islam receives a good deal of attention since the conflict between Christianity and Islam was and continues to be such a major force in world history. The text moves on through the so-called dark ages to the feudal and medieval periods. Students then study the rise of nations (Spain, England and France) and the Crusades, then the decline and decay of the Middle Ages that paved the way for the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation. Religion and politics both became major factors in the wars that ensued following the Reformation, and the text follows this thread through European history up into the early eighteenth century. Regarding the topic of the creation and expansion of colonial empires, there is brief coverage of the American colonies in this text. Additional coverage of this and other topics is available in free supplemental chapters on Africa, Age of Enlightenment, Capitalism, China, Japan, Latin America, and Scientific Revolution. These supplemental chapters contain everything except artwork, so they are a valuable bonus. Access them by clicking here. The supplemental chapter will probably be incorporated into the next print edition.

Some might see the limited scope of this book as a problem, but I think it actually makes it easier for students to grasp the “story” of history with a presentation like this since it follows the story line of Christian civilization. With a clear understanding of the development of our western, Christian civilization, students can branch out for further study of other cultures later on.

This book and Light to the Nations: Part 2 will fill a clear need for a study of world history that fully acknowledges the vital role Catholicism has played in the development of our own civilization. Although this is not a “Church History” text, students will certainly learn a great deal about the development and growth of the Church, key figures in that development, and conflicts that have embroiled and shaped the Church.

At 574 pages, this is a substantial book. While it might be suitable for some seventh graders as the publisher suggests, I think it will more likely suit students in grades 8 through 10. You might want to use this text in ninth grade, Light to the Nations, Part II in tenth grade, and Lands of Hope and Promise in eleventh grade, and allow time for study of Government and Economics in twelfth grade. You should keep your own scope and sequence in mind as you determine when you might use this text.

Light to the Nations, Part II: The Making of the Modern World

Publisher's suggested grade levels: 7-11


Light to the Nations II

Part II continues the story of world history, picking up with the Age of Enlightenment. History coverage centers on Europe and Russia with attention to other countries and continents only in relation to them. Even among European countries, France gets more space than other countries. Three of the book's 20 chapters center around Napoleon and events concurrent with his time in power!

As with other texts in this series, church history and religious events are also given significant attention. Likewise the Enlightenment, the rise of romanticism, and other worldview-related movements are also addressed. All of this helps the reader understand historical events within a worldview context.

This text ends with discussion of the Catholic Church and the modern world with some excellent insights into a Catholic worldview of government and society, particularly the concept of religious liberty. As far as broader history coverage of the twentieth century, aside from brief mentions of a few events such as the creation of the European Economic Union and the exportation of American culture around the world, it ends with the Communist takeover of China—no mention of Viet Nam, the recent rise of Islam, terrorism, and other more recent history. Given that the most recent history is also omitted from Lands of Hope and Promise, you might want to use other resources to cover the late twentieth century and recent years.

At 650 pages this is definitely a high school (or even adult) level text. It provides much more detail on topics it covers than do most high school history texts, perhaps too much for some students; I would not recommend it for junior high students. Nevertheless, it is an excellent text for students interested in history and willing to do the reading.

Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North America

Publisher's suggested grade levels: 7-12


Lands of Hope and Promise

Lands of Hope and Promise is an outstanding history text. It does an excellent job of presenting United States history with fair coverage of both Protestant and Catholic views. It is, nevertheless, a Catholic history, so it includes stories of St. Elizabeth Seton and Dorothy Day as well as coverage of encyclicals that addressed prominent issues in America, especially economic issues. The political tone cannot be described as either conservative or liberal, although there seems to be a fairly strong leaning toward a constitutionally-limited government. For example, in reference to Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, the text relates, “The centralization of government in the federal government, dreamed of by Hamilton, begun under Abraham Lincoln, furthered by the Radical Republicans and Reconstruction, perfected by Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, was about to reach its logical practical expression under F.D.R.” (p. 758).

The text is quite long for a high school history text. The coverage is thorough, and the author takes the time to make connections between events and ideas so that readers understand the interplay of events. This is the sort of history we find more often written for adults who want to truly understand history rather than just rushing through a litany of names, dates, and places.

The text covers up through 1973 then wraps up the study with in an epilogue suggesting topics for students to pursue that pertain to history over the past 40 years. The text justifies this unusual approach by explaining that “the author of this history text and its readers…are actors in the drama of contemporary history….We are caught up in the events we would wish to understand. They are too close to us.” It is then left to the teacher to lead discussion or research into a lengthy list of topics. Perhaps, since students have already read 861 pages to get to this point, some might choose to end the course without addressing more recent events.

According to the title, this is a “history of North America.” While there is some coverage of Mexican and Canadian history, most attention is on the United States.

While Lands of Hope and Promise is suggested for grades 7 through 12, because of the book’s length and depth of coverage, I would recommend it for grades 10 and above.

Summary

Overall, the Catholic Textbook Project makes an extremely valuable contribution to Catholic education—one long overdue and sorely needed.

Pricing

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    Light to the Nations The Making of the Modern World

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    Christopher Zehnder

    Instant Key

    • Suitable for: traditional classroom or one-on-one, but with much independent work
      Audience: grades 5-12
      Need for parent/teacher instruction: moderate
      Prep time needed: minimal
      Teacher's manual: essential
      Educational philosophy: traditional
      Religious perspective: Catholic

    Publisher's Info