Hillsdale College offers a number of free courses in the realms of history, government, economics, literature, and theology that should prove valuable for homeschoolers at the high school level. These should most likely serve as supplements rather than as comprehensive courses, although some could be combined into semester or full-year courses.
The courses include lectures, Q&A video sessions, assigned readings, and quizzes. Most courses run ten weeks, but some such as Introduction to the Constitution (five weeks) are shorter, and some such as Great Books 101 and 102 (11 weeks each) are longer. Hillsdale does not monitor student progress or offer credit for these courses. It is up to parents to assign credits. While students can watch videos and access all of the readings any time they wish without signing up or registering, they will need to create a free account if they want access to the weekly quizzes.
Courses are patterned after the college’s core curriculum. This curriculum takes a classically liberal approach, one grounded in western civilization and our Judeo-Christian heritage. It also stresses the importance of understanding the history and government of the United States as based upon this tradition. However, these online courses are less demanding than on-site courses.
Lectures are presented by experts in their fields. Some courses have a number of different presenters such as in History 101. Hillsdale college president Larry Arnn introduces this course with an overview of the purpose of this and other courses. (It appears that Arnn provides such an introduction for most, if not all, courses.) Six other speakers present the subsequent lectures. On the other hand, for Economics 101 Larry Arnn presents opening and closing lectures while the core course material is taught by Gary Wolfram, the William E. Simon Professor in Economics and Public Policy at Hillsdale College.
Students can watch videos or listen only to audio lectures, although videos occasionally include helpful visuals. Lectures run about 40 minutes each and are presented in a traditional format, but they are filmed with multiple cameras to make them more interesting. It is important to also watch the Q&A videos that accompany each lecture. These present discussions between the lecturer and an interviewer in a slightly more casual format. Questions raised by students are dealt with in these sessions that generally run 20 minutes or more each.
Some courses seem more appropriate for high school students than others. My thanks to homeschooling parent Becky Subrahmanyam for the following recommended sequence that she used with her three students:
- History 101: Western Heritage, From the Book of Genesis to John Locke
- History 102: American Heritage, From Colonial Settlement to the Reagan RevolutionIntroduction to the Constitution
- Constitution 101: The Meaning and History of the Constitution
- Constitution 201: The Progressive Rejection of the Founding and the Rise of Bureaucratic Despotism
- The Presidency and the Constitution
Beyond Becky’s recommendations, you might also use:
- Theology 101: The Western Theological Tradition
- Economics 101: The Principles of Free Market Economics (See my review of this course here.)
- The Federalist Papers
- The U.S. Supreme Court
- Public Policy from a Constitutional Viewpoint
- Athens and Sparta
- Great Books 101: Ancient to Medieval
- Great Books 102: Renaissance to Modern
- An Introduction to C.S. Lewis: Writings and Significance
While I can envision combining some of these courses to create comprehensive courses, I think they will serve best alongside other resources. For example, you might use Great Books 101 and 102 together, rounding out the course by requiring students to tackle two or more of the selected books for in-depth study. You might use any of the courses on the Constitution along with a broader course on government. (I particularly like the idea of using Constitution 201: The Progressive Rejection of the Founding and the Rise of Bureaucratic Despotism to alert students to problems that have arisen within our government since its founding.) The Presidency and the Constitution might be a great course to use alongside a study of modern U.S. history since there has been increasing debate about the limits and authority of the President over the past decade.
Reading assignments don’t require buying any books. Hillsdale has created their own linked handouts for all of the readings. They often use excerpts from books, articles, or primary source documents rather than complete works. Using the History 101 course as an example, the second lecture assigns selected reading from the Bible to support the lecture on the Jewish roots of western civilization while the third lecture shifts to Greek influences using readings from The History of Herodotus, “Pericles’ Funeral Oration” from History of the Peloponnesion War, and The Politics of Aristotle. The Greek readings are rather short, ranging from two to eight pages each. However, a later lecture on Renaissance, Reformation, and Counter-Reformation has three, much lengthier readings that range from 10 to 26 pages each.
As I mentioned, many readings use excerpts rather than entire works. The Great Books 101 course provides a particularly apt example of this. Students will learn about The Iliad, The Odyssey, Oedipus Rex, The Aeneid, the story of David (from the Bible), the Book of Job, Confessions (by St. Augustine), Inferno, Canterbury Tales, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Since it would not be realistic for students to read every one of these in only one week, excerpts are often assigned such as the 33 pages from Homer’s The Odyssey. Students need to devote time and attention to the reading assignments, but time required will vary from week to week.
Hillsdale courses are based on a Judeo-Christian worldview. Some courses are broadly theistic in their presuppositions if not their specific content, while some such as An Introduction to C.S. Lewis are more specifically Christian.
The content of these courses is outstanding. Hillsdale’s educational philosophy is likely to appeal especially to those who want their students to receive an education based upon enduring principles.