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The Classical Historian

Publisher: The Classical Historian
Author: John De Gree
Review last updated: May 2013
Instant KeyPublishers InfoPricing
Courses available in The Classical Historian
  • Ancient Civilizations
  • Medieval Civilizations
  • American History from Columbus to 1900
  • Modern World History
  • Modern American History
  • American Government and Economics

The Classical Historian

The Classical Historian is the broader name for the curriculum surrounding the Take A Stand! series that I selected for inclusion among my 101 Top Picks. The Classical Historian courses teach students how to read with discernment, how to gather information, how to think about and analyze information, and how to discuss and write about what they have studied. Because these skills are taught incrementally and students master them a step at a time, Classical Historian courses are very manageable for students beginning in junior high.

I love the original Take A Stand! books, but many parents and teachers prefer a more structured program for using them as part of complete courses. So author John De Gree revamped the program since I wrote 101 Top Picks, incorporating the Take A Stand! books within courses that are easier to use. You can still use the Take A Stand! books as supplements alongside other history resources, but I expect most parents will prefer to use the bundles for each course.

For junior high students, there are three courses:

 High school students also have three courses available:  

Each course has a number of components. Common to each course bundle are a Take A Stand! student book, a 32-Week Guide, and Teaching the Socratic Discussion DVD Curriculum. Each course also has a core textbook and at least one other supplemental resource.

The 32-Week Guide is the starting place for the parent or teacher. A few pages at the beginning explain the philosophy of the program. The second section of the each guide provides practical information such as required course components, time required for lessons and homework, enrichments ideas, and directions for end-of-semester oral presentations. Part three of the guide lays out 32 lessons plans, one for each week of the school year.

Each year begins with use of Teaching the Socratic Discussion in History DVD Curriculum—a set of three DVDs and a 77-page guide. This set helps parents/teachers and students learn this approach. While it comes as part of each bundle, it may be purchased on its own. On the first DVD, DeGree shares some of his background, introduces the program, and explains how it works. The second DVD is an extended version of the first DVD, with additional material directed toward home educators. On the third DVD, “Tools of the Historian,” we watch DeGree working with different homeschool families through the actual lessons. The guide includes instructions and forms so that you can actually teach your own students through a complete lesson on the Fall of the Roman Empire, including the composition assignments. Parents and teachers can become certified Classical Historian Teacher's by working through this course and teaching some students. (Requirements and instructions are in the guide.)

While the DVDs in the Teaching the Socratic Discussion in History set include demonstrations and explanations of the teaching process, the Ancient and Medieval Civilization bundles each also include a DVD showing John De Gree having Socratic discussions through the lessons for each of those respective courses.

DVDs are not professional, but they are very helpful for showing how this approach actually works in homeschool settings.

You might think it redundant to repeat Teaching the Socratic Discussion each year. Some of the basic concepts will certainly be repetitive, but each 32-Week Guide has students work through Socratic discussion and writing skills using resources and topics from the year’s textbook or core resource. So students practice applying skills in entirely new contexts each time.

A history textbook, a book of primary source documents, and/or another resource provide the content information for each course. While the 32-Week Guide provides lesson plans and assignments, the Take A Stand! book for each course guides students in their reading as well as through discussions and extensive writing activities, using elements of classical education in the process. Classical educators will note that the methods used are those appropriate for both the dialectic and rhetoric stages.

Students are presented with very brief statements about a key event in their Take A Stand! book then challenged to research and write in response to questions such as, "Which government of ancient Greece was the best?" They must also defend their conclusion(s) after completing their research. Students might use their core history text or any other resources for their research. (The more research they do, the more well-developed their information is likely to be.)

Originally written for classroom settings, lessons in the books also direct students to compare their own conclusions with those of classmates and reconsider whether or not they want to change their own conclusions before writing their papers. Students begin by writing one-paragraph responses and progress through five-paragraph essays to multi-page essays.

Students are given plenty of assistance with skill development and prewriting activities with a section of "skills assignments" at the back of each Take A Stand! book as well as through the Teaching the Socratic Discussion lessons. (The author assumes that students already have basic writing skills.) Teachers might use the unassigned skill assignments as needed for their own students, skipping those that are unnecessary. The types of skills addressed in these sections are distinguishing fact and opinion, finding supporting evidence, taking notes, paraphrasing, using quotations, writing a thesis statement, writing a conclusion, outlining the essay, writing a rough draft, documenting sources, and creating a works-cited page. Rough draft and outline forms are included for the various essays.

In addition, there are other forms in the student books that help students direct and organize their research. For example, the first lesson in Medieval Civilizations has to do with the fall of the Roman Empire. The "take a stand" question is, "Based on the evidence you researched, what were the two most important reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire?" Three prewriting forms follow. One is headed "Reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire." A first reason is given as a "freebie" followed by six more blank lines for students to add six more reasons they discover in their reading and research. The second prewriting activity is headed, "Explain your reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire." Here students use a brief statement to explain each of the reasons they came up with in the first activity. Again, one explanation is supplied then there are lines for the student to add six more explanations. The third activity is a more complicated chart that has the student rate the reasons, ranking them as to relative importance. All of this helps them arrive at their two most important reasons.

"Classroom discussion" is a vital component of each lesson. In a homeschool setting this will be more challenging to accomplish because it really requires at least two students or family members comparing their research and ideas. The more students the better... up to a point. If you are working with only one student at this level—and even if you have more than one student—these questions would be great to use for a discussion involving dad, mom, and appropriate-aged children after dinner.

There is a reason why I think the Take A Stand! approach works so well. When students read and research with the questions in mind, they pay much closer attention than when reading simply to cover the material. When they have to analyze information, thinking about cause and effect and relative importance, they have moved to a much deeper level of thinking. Discussing their research and ideas with others forces them to think logically and critically.

After students have worked through these steps, they are ready to write their essay where they pull it all together. The instructions for each of the essays says, "In your essay, include a thesis, evidence, and explain how your evidence supports your thesis."

Assignments each have a chart for recording due dates for various assignments. In addition, grading rubric forms are included for the different essays. These can be used by both student and teacher.

All of this sounds like fairly high level work for high school students, but this series was originally written for grades 6, 7, and 8. As I was reviewing these books I was concerned that students in middle school might not have enough historical knowledge to use this approach, but author John De Gree assured me that he has used these very successfully with students, many of whom were ESL students with very weak knowledge of history. De Gree says that the format motivates students to read and think more than they would with just a textbook. Arguments and essays from some students might be shallow or poorly informed, but the learning experience itself still takes them beyond where they would be with only a textbook. Students with a better knowledge base are able to form more complex arguments. If you use these books with high schoolers you should expect more depth of research and argumentation than you would from a sixth or seventh grader. It's also important to note that assignments gradually become more challenging, eventually requiring the use of at least three sources, then five sources.

The curriculum is aligned with California state standards (which are similar to those of other states). It actually succeeds quite well in meeting the standards without being anti-Christian or exhibiting other biases because it uses a historical inquiry method.

For example, state standards include study about religions, so the curriculum includes questions that relate to religions, albeit without expressing belief or unbelief. For instance, the final lesson in the sixth grade book is on the rise of Christianity and poses the question, "What made the relationship between the Roman Empire and Christianity change so much from the death of Jesus to the year A.D. 395?" Students might come up with a wide range of answers and opinions depending upon their research resources and parental or teacher directions. Also, remember that the parent or teacher can always add other ideas to those presented in the book.

Most of the textbooks and other resources in the bundles are relatively neutral in their viewpoints to make it easier for students to form their own opinions based on information. Examples of some of the texts and resources used are Global History and Geography (Amsco), World History Detective (Critical Thinking Co.), A History of the United States and Its People (Lost Classics Book Company), A Patriot’s History of the United States (Sentinel), The Patriot’s History Reader (Sentinel), Lessons for the Young Economist (Ludwig von Mises Institute), and The Western Experience (McGraw-Hill).

Lessons for the Young Economist by Robert P. Murphy, used for AmericanGovernment and Economics, might be considered an exception regarding neutrality since it is written from an Austrian economics viewpoint and supports limited government intervention. Some might consider The Patriot’s History of the United States biased because it leans toward a conservative viewpoint both religiously and politically.

Some books as well as the Teaching the Socratic Discussion in History DVD set are used for more than one course, so you need not purchase a complete bundle for each course after the first year. Permission is generously granted for a parent or teacher to make copies of pages from any of the Classical Historian courses for their family or classroom.

The Classical Historian has produced supplemental games that should be useful, even with younger students. Go Fish Card Games in your choice of Ancient, Medieval or American History ($11.95 each or set of three games for $29) can be used to play at least four games: Go Fish, Continents (identifying cards with continents), Collecting Cards (uses a series of three hints on each card for a quiz/review game), and Chronology (arranging cards in time sequence). Cards are illustrated, color-coded, and numbered.

Memory Games for Ancient, Medieval, and American History ($14.95 each or $39.95 for all three) are patterned after popular memory games with paired sets of square cards. These seem most useful for younger students, but older students will probably the more challenging games that can be played with each set.

American History Flash Cards ($9.95 per set) are three separate sets of cards covering from early American history up through the beginning of the 20 th century. Specifically tied to the California State Standards, each card has two questions with the answers on the reverse. These can be used for review, but I think they would also serve well as “trivia” questions used with any game board with a path.

I expect The Classical Historian courses will be very popular among homeschoolers who want to engage in discussions with their children as well as to those who want their children to both know historical information and know how to analyze and write about that information.


List Prices
Take A Stand student books - $18.95 each
Student book with teacher guide - $24.95 each
Teaching the Socratic Discussion in History set - $79.99
bundles: $179.99 each except for Modern World History - $279.99, and American Government and Economics - $229.99

  • All prices are provided for comparison only and are subject to change. Click on prices to verify their accuracy.
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    Take a Stand! Medieval Civilizations Studentís Book

    Take a Stand! Medieval Civilizations Studentís Book

    Take a Stand! Modern American History Studentís Book

    Take a Stand! Modern American History Studentís Book

    Take a Stand! Modern World History Studentís Book

    Take a Stand! Modern World History Studentís Book

    Take a Stand! Ancient Civilizations Studentís Book

    Take a Stand! Ancient Civilizations Studentís Book

    Take a Stand! American Revolution Up to 1914 Studentís Book

    Take a Stand! American Revolution Up to 1914 Studentís Book

    Instant Key

    • Suitable for: group or one-on-one work plus independent study and writing
      Audience: grades 6-12
      Need for parent/teacher instruction: moderate
      Prep time needed: minimal if you're already familiar with the historical topic
      Teacher's manual: essential
      Religious perspective:  secular but "Christian friendly"

    Publisher's Info