Understanding the Times is a video-based curriculum version of the one- and two-week programs offered by Summit Ministries at their Colorado headquarters and other sites. (I highly recommend these programs. Contact Summit for the current schedule: www.summit.org.) The curriculum described in this review is recommended for twelfth graders, although many eleventh graders will also be ready for such a course.
The purpose of UTT is to enable Christians to obey two particular Scriptural commands. The first is Colossians 2:8, "See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ." The second is 1 Peter: 3:15, "But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence."
This latest edition of Understanding the Times (both curriculum and the book) divides worldviews under six headings: Christianity, Islam, Secular Humanism, Marxism/Leninism, Cosmic Humanism, and Postmoderism. Islam and Postmodernism were not covered in earlier editions, but their inclusion along with other revisions throughout the course reflect Summit's continual work to stay current in all areas of the curriculum.
UTT examines these six worldviews within each of ten topical areas: theology, philosophy, ethics, biology, psychology, sociology, law, politics, economics, and history. The breadth of this course helps students understand how their belief system, or opposing belief systems, influence the way we think and what we believe in all areas of life.
The homeschool UTT curriculum includes:
- a hefty teacher manual
- about 600 pages plus a companion CD with teacher helps
- a set of 8 DVDs: 2 full length presentations to watch on TV or with a DVD player plus 6 Quicktime Movie DVDs that play on the computer. Quicktime DVDs each have quite a few video presentations, running from 10 to 44 minutes each (approx. 3 to 5 hours of video per DVD).
- The revised second edition of the book Understanding the Times by David A. Noebel (2006)
- Worldview Training Student Manual
This package that Summit has put together for this latest edition is a real service to homeschoolers. The price is incredibly low for all that you get. (Summit was able to cut costs dramatically by handling the videos differently. The classroom version includes DVDs that can be shown on larger screens rather than the Quicktime movies in the homeschool version.)
The new Teacher Manual is wonderful--so much easier to use than those for earlier versions of the curriculum. The course is laid out very clearly with options for either 90-day or 180-day schedules. This is quite a demanding course for high school level. In fact, Bryan College offers three units of college credit to high schoolers completing the 180-day course or two credits for the 90-day course. (See the Teacher Manual p. vii or the CD-ROM for details.) That means this is equivalent to about two standard high school courses. How you assign credit on the transcript is up to you--it might depend on what college your teen wants to attend and what credits they will honor. It is not practical to give credits under each of the ten topical areas covered. You might simply list it as a humanities or social studies course, but that's a bit general. Alternatively, you might break it down and parcel out credit for history, English (lots of reading and essay writing!), and comparitive religions or something similar.
The Teacher Manual has fourteen tabbed sections: preparation (overview of the course and how to use it), introduction, one section each for the ten topics, conclusion, and fact sheets (key terms, resources, and lots of other information arranged under topics). A CD-ROM comes in the back of the manual. It has handouts, tests, study guides, printable forms with information required for college credit/transcript purposes, Excel programs for grading (very helpful!), and a four-minute video on abortion (another Quicktime movie)
The curriculum is very interactive and multi-sensory. Students watch videos, discuss, read, and write, so there is a lot going on and a lot to keep track of. Fortunately, the Teacher Manual charts out each lesson showing what to do when, including homework assignments.
Although students can do much of the work independently, to get the most out of the course, they should really have opportunity to have frequent discussions. Parents might be discussion partners, but it is better if a few teens can do it together, perhaps watching videos and completing reading and writing assignments independently, but getting together for discussions and going over their answers. (When I taught this course, students commented that the discussion time was their favorite part!) The teacher needs to stay up with readings to be able to guide discussions and evaluate student responses. The Teacher Manual has suggested answers to questions from the videos, readings from the student manual, and textbook assignments.
Video presentations feature many excellent speakers and presentations. Among speakers on the DVDs are Dr. David Noebel, Dr. Jeff Myers, Josh McDowell, Dr. J.P. Moreland, Dr. Frank Beckwith, Greg Koukl, Dr. Jonathan Wells, Philip Johnson, John Stonestreet, Kevin Bywater, and E. Calvin Beisner. The presentations themselves are excellent, but the Quicktime movie versions suffer from lack of synchronization on my computer--perhaps a problem only on my computer. Presentations vary; there are quite a few "talking heads" but generally they are broken up with a number of speakers or in an interview format so they're easier to watch. The full-length DVDs are Icons of Evolution and Unlocking the Mystery of Life, both outstanding presentations supporting creationism and intelligent design. (Remember that you will need a computer with a DVD player for the Quicktime movies.)
The Student Manual has note pages (fill-in-the-blanks) for all the DVD presentations, questions related to the DVD presentations, questions for textbook reading assignments, extra articles to read, and the Fact Sheets (same as in the Teacher Manual). Students will be writing out short essay answers to many of the questions. In addition, each unit has a "Dear Doug" essay assignment. For these a letter from "Doug," included in the Student Manual, raises a challenging question that the student is to answer as a reply to Doug. Note that in addition to what I have already described, students each write one worldview research paper. (You might omit some of these assignments depending upon the time you have for the course and your goals.)
Understanding the Times is also the title of the 510-page book by Dr. David Noebel of Summit Ministries that is the textbook for this course [revised second edition: $36.95 retail; $21.95 through Summit]. The book is designed to be used as part of the video course, although it can certainly be read on its own. The book addresses the same ten subject areas listed above, with a chapter for each topic, but each chapter is further divided into sections for the six different religious viewpoints. As with the course revisions, this revised edition of the book is much more readable than the original. Most significantly, it has been condensed from the original 912 pages! Yet, at the same time, it has expanded to include Islam and Postmodernism.
I have personally taught through earlier versions of this course twice. I have seen the effectiveness of the course in meeting its Scriptural goals. In fact, I am so impressed with the course that I think it or a similar course should be offered to (or maybe even required of) all Christian teens and parents. The ease of use of this revised version of the curriculum and the very reasonable pricing remove two of the most significant barriers that used to exist for many families. I cannot recommend this highly enough.