Sonlight’s History 520 course is suggested for students in grades 11 and 12 to cover both history and religion for one school year. The course consists of Sonlight World History and Worldview Studies Parent Guide, Sonlight World History and Worldview Studies Student Guide (these two guides come as loose-leaf pages to be put into your own binders), Streams of Civilization (both Volume One and Volume Two) from Christian Liberty Press, The Universe Next Door by James Sire, Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey, Good Ideas from Questionable Christians and Outright Pagans by Steve Wilkens, and Philosophy Made Slightly Less Difficult by Garrett J. DeWeese and J.P. Moreland.
The Streams of Civilization textbooks are generally each used as full-year courses on their own. History 520 has students read through both of these volumes as well as the entire content of the other four books plus another 30 articles that are found in the guides. Clearly, this amounts to a heavy reading load. The supplemental books are written for an adult audience and are not light reading. Philosophy Made Slightly Less Difficult really is only slightly less difficult than other philosophy texts, and it could well be overwhelming for some high school students. While it covers some very important points in relation to worldviews, I would skip it rather than make the entire course too difficult.
Having presented that caution, I have to say that I still think this course does an excellent job of presenting an in-depth study of worldviews while covering history from ancient to modern times.
While Sonlight’s History 520 is not a unit study with all of the readings tied to a common theme in each lesson, the study guide often poses questions for the students that will help students make the worldview connections between readings in the history texts and other resources. The ultimate goal of the course is to help students understand that ideas have consequences; what people believe shapes history. So the course helps students learn about those ideas within their historical contexts, examining everything through a biblical Christian worldview.
The Streams of Civilization books serve as core books for the course. Students read through them each week from beginning to end of each text. Since these texts were originally written many years ago, some content seems out of date. For example, the Sonlight guide notes that Volume One, originally published in 1976, “states that India and Africa ‘are drifting’ in the direction of communism. Several decades later, this doesn’t appear to be the case” (Parent Guide, p. 74). In this and other instances, the guides provide notes that clarify content in the textbooks. The guides also try to soften the sometimes stridently Reformed Protestant viewpoints expressed in the texts. The guides include expanded discussions of various Protestant viewpoints and even Roman Catholic views. The 30 articles very helpfully address topics not covered in the texts such as the age of the earth (explaining different viewpoints), arguments for and against revolution, Islam, and evolution (again presenting different viewpoints). While Streams of Civilization Volume Two includes end of chapter questions, the guides use only a few of those questions then add a few more of their own. Students should not try to complete end of chapter activities in the history textbooks, but should do only what the guides direct them to do.
Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth is also introduced at the beginning of the course, and portions are assigned for most weeks until the entire book has been read. Other books are introduced at different points. Good Ideas from Questionable Christians and Outright Pagans and Philosophy Made Slightly Less Difficult are introduced a bit later and are read straight through with only one chapter from Good Ideas used out of order. Chapters from The Universe Next Door are entirely rearranged to fit in better with the rest of the course. For example, chapter 7 on Eastern Pantheistic Monism is read the same week as students read in their history text about the Assyrian, Chaldean and Persian empires; ancient India; and Hinduism and Buddhism. These four books provide an excellent foundation in Christian philosophy.
The Sonlight parent guide and Sonlight student guide are both absolutely essential. The parent guide contains all of the student guide material plus answers to some of the questions. Guides provide lesson plans plus essential instructional information and the 30 articles to be read by students.
Lesson plans are thoroughly developed. For each week, a half-page chart shows exactly which resources are to be used and which pages are to be read. Space for other notes allows some customization. Fill in the date at the top of each chart and each chart can serve as your record of work completed. Detailed, daily lesson plans follow each week’s chart. These lesson plans include important notes about the reading that are essential. Some of the notes summarize key ideas presented in the reading. These might be helpful for the parent who can’t keep up with all of the reading, but parents might still have difficulty discussing some of the questions if they haven’t done the reading.
Each reading assignment from one of the books is treated individually in the lesson plans. “Vocabulary” terms are listed and “defined” with references to page numbers. Vocabulary terms include people such as Immanuel Kant as well as terms like “syncretism.” It is not clear that students need to do anything in particular with these terms, but they should be helpful for quick reference. Discussion questions follow many of the reading assignments. Assignments from Total Truth include additional material in the “Study Guide” at the back of that book. That additional material includes questions, but there is no instruction about answering them. Use your own judgment as to whether or not to have students answer them.
Timeline and map activities are included for many lessons. These are lists of items to be added to timelines and places to identify on maps. You can create your own timeline or use a purchased one. At these grade levels, timeline entries can simply be written entries and need not include illustrations. Outline maps are included at the back of the guides to be used for the map work. The guides include mention of other helpful resources for more information on particular topics directly within the lesson plans.
I do not see any requirements for written work aside from map and timeline entries, yet it seems that students at this level should be writing at least brief essays from time to time. Parents might assign compositions for some of the questions in this course and use those compositions to also meet some of the student’s language arts requirements. Students might also write a research paper on a topic raised by this course. There are certainly many topics likely to arouse a student’s interest!
Sonlight’s History 520 clearly advances a Christian worldview but one that focuses on the essentials of Christian faith rather than denominational distinctives. While the resource books are often strongly biased toward certain Christian viewpoints, the guides help students understand reasons why others might hold contrary views that should not be lightly dismissed. The guides often point out evidence in favor of opposing views for students to consider. This approach helps students think through their own beliefs both for their own benefit and so that they can explain them to those who raise questions.