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Old Western Culture: A Christian Approach to the Great Books will eventually be a series of four Great Books courses for high school students. Thus far only the first two courses, The Greeks and The Romans, are available. The next two courses will be Christendom and The Moderns.
The Old Western Culture video course series makes it possible for students to get a Great Books education through independent study using video lectures, student workbooks, and term papers along with the literary works. This is high-quality classical education although it lacks the element of Socratic discussion with other students and a mentor. Each completed course should earn a student two high school credits: one for literature, one-half credit for history, and one-half credit for philosophy or theology.
Students will read many classic works of literature as they become familiar with some of the most influential books that have shaped western civilization.
Classic Christian works will also be included in the series, including some not on the Great Books list. In the introduction to The Greeks, course teacher Wesley Callihan presents a great explanation of how the Enlightenment influenced the generally-accepted lists of the Great Books, and resulted in the exclusion of many classic Christian works—some of which he will be teaching in this course.
Each course is presented in four units, with 12 lessons per unit. It should take about nine weeks to complete each unit, although an alternate schedule shows how each unit might be completed in as little as seven weeks. The amount of reading is about 30 to 40 pages a day with the nine-week schedule, so I would be very cautious about shortening the schedule.
Each unit has its own theme. In The Greeks, the four units are “The Epics,” “Drama and Lyric,” “The Histories,” and “The Philosophers.” In The Romans, the four units are "The Aeneid," "The Historians," "Early Christianity," and "Nicene Christianity." You can see from these unit titles that the courses delve into history, religion, the arts, and philosophy as well as literature.
For each unit there is a set of four DVDs that comes in a case—four sets of DVDs per course. You can choose standard DVDs or Blue-Ray. There is also a streaming option that you might consider.
There are separate student and teacher books for each unit. The first DVD of each unit includes two PDF files: one for the student workbook and one for the teacher edition. The teacher edition is the same as the student workbook but with answers overprinted....
Each unit begins with one or two introductory lectures. Students answer questions in the workbook after watching each lecture. After the introduction, students immediately begin to read the assigned pages in the work being studied. They have “Reading Questions” in their workbook to answer before they watch the next video lecture. Video lessons continue along with both Lecture and Reading questions. The questions include some comprehension questions, but they also pose more challenging questions that get into literary analysis and the author’s intent.
“Discussion Topics” show up at the end of most lessons. These might be used for discussion if someone is available with whom to discuss them, but they might also be used as essay assignments. For each unit, students will write a 750- to 1200-word term paper, and some of the Discussion Topics would be great for those papers....
A Christian outlook is assumed as is evident in questions such as, “Of which book of the Bible do some passages in [Hesiod’s] The Works and Days remind you?” (“Drama and Lyric,” p. 34).
Lectures, which are all presented by Wesley Callihan, make readily apparent his complete familiarity with each of these works. He speaks comfortably without notes as he provides background and commentary to help students understand each work at a much deeper level than if they read the books on their own. Callihan is a gifted teacher—so much so that I think parents might want to watch the lectures along with their students for their own enlightenment....
At appropriate points, Callihan suggests his favorite translations of each of the works, but he also has links to free online versions of each work even though these might not include the best translations. Nevertheless, students can access all of the assigned reading material without having to purchase anything more....
For many years, I’ve believed that it should be possible to provide study of the Great Books for those unable to participate in group classes either in person or online. Great Books enthusiasts rightly are concerned about the value of the discussion process in learning. But I would rather have something available that makes the Great Books accessible to more students even if it does not conform to the ideal. I think Wesley Callihan has done a fantastic job of providing such an option, and doing it in such a way that students engage with great literary works at a deep level and begin to ponder some of the most important life questions. His inclusion of Christian works and a Christian perspective might even make this an improvement on some “live” Great Books courses.
Note: Christendom is due by January 2016 and The Moderns later in 2016.