The Catholic Textbook Project’s goal is to produce high-quality history textbooks that teach from a Catholic worldview. Eventually, they intend to produce books for all grade levels. However, they began with the upper-grade levels first, and five main textbooks are available thus far. (They have also published six state and regional history supplements for fourth grade and a U.S. history supplement for the second volume of Light to the Nations. I haven't reviewed the supplements.)
The textbooks are fairly similar to standard history texts in methodology and presentation. However, the inclusion of the Catholic perspective means that some events are presented with a different slant and some events and people are included that might be skipped in a non-Catholic presentation. In addition, the overall scope and sequence leans somewhat toward a western civilization emphasis. Even with a Catholic emphasis, the texts avoid the temptation to make the actions of Catholics always look good in contrast to those with other religious beliefs.
All of the Catholic Textbook Project textbooks are hardcover books that are illustrated in full color. The textbooks are written in more of a narrative style than many traditional texts, so they are fairly interesting to read. All of the student texts include chapter review questions and activity suggestions. From Sea to Shining Sea and texts above that level add chapter summaries of key points. Both volumes of Light to the Nations, as well as Lands of Hope, add lists of key concepts, dates to remember, and central characters at the end of each chapter.
The teacher’s manuals do not reprint student textbook pages. They have extensive teaching material for each chapter that includes a chapter overview, chapter goals, paragraph-long explanations of each key piece of information students should master, vocabulary terms and definitions, review questions, optional activities, sample quiz and test questions, and answers to all of the questions. Sample questions can be used to construct your own tests, although this is a bit of work.
Student workbooks have activities for subsections of chapters so students are continually reviewing and reinforcing chapter content rather than simply answering end-of-chapter questions. Workbook questions emphasize comprehension rather than deeper thought as do some end-of-chapter questions. Question formats are fill-in-the-blank, matching, circling, true/false, underlining, and crossword puzzles. There are also map labeling, drawing, and maze activities.
From Sea to Shining Sea: The Story of America
Publisher's suggested grade levels: 5-8
Beginning with early explorers such as St. Brendan and Leif Ericsson, this text tells the story of the United States up through the 1800s. Note that the text begins with the story of a saint, and it concludes with a chapter titled “Catholics in America.” While a Catholic viewpoint crops up from time to time throughout the rest of the text, the presentation is not at all heavy-handed. In fact, in my opinion, this text could have used even more Catholic perspective. Missing, for example, are any mention of the Know Nothing movement and the development of the Catholic school system. However, the text is suggested for students in grades five through nine, and both topics do show up in Lands of Hope and Promise. Overall, this is an excellent text and one of the best choices up through eighth grade. I would generally recommend that ninth graders use the more-challenging text, Lands of Hope and Promise, for U.S. history. However, if you use All Ye Lands in sixth or seventh grade, it makes sense to follow it with From Sea to Shining Sea.
With 206 pages, the student workbook offers substantial review and reinforcement for the lessons in the text. However, it seems targeted at the lowest end of the age spectrum with activities generally appropriate for fifth and sixth graders rather than eighth and ninth. Activities include fill-in-the-blanks, matching, crossword puzzles, drawing, coloring, and map work. These activities work within the comprehension and memory realm rather than requiring students to do deeper thinking. Questions in the Chapter Activities that appear in both the student text and teacher’s manual do stretch students to deeper thinking, but there are only a couple of these questions for each chapter. An answer key for the workbook is also included on the CD-ROM. I would have loved to see potential questions or even tests and quizzes themselves included on the CD-ROM to make test creation simpler for teachers and parents. The publisher tells me this is something they are working on.
All Ye Lands: World Cultures and Geography, 2011 revised edition
Publisher's suggested grade levels: 6-8
Major improvements and revisions were made to this second edition of All Ye Lands. The text is ambitious in scope. While the purpose is the coverage of world geography and cultures, it also attempts to present an overview of all of history by highlighting particular events and civilizations.
The first chapter introduces geography, then brief sections on geography appear at the beginning of most chapters. A "Things to Do" section at the end of most chapters provides map work activities. These usually include drawing and labeling, but they sometimes stretch into other topics such as longitude and latitude. Political maps are included throughout the text.
I very much appreciate the rewrite of the second chapter on prehistory. It makes it a little clearer than did the first edition that early man was of a different category than apes. It makes a definite statement that all people descended from Adam and Eve. However, I question its presentation of homo erectus as an ancestor of homo sapiens since current genetic research shows that homo erectus, at best, might descend from a predecessor common to both home erectus and homo sapiens rather than being an ancestor. The text also accepts an old age for the earth and living creatures. In spite of the potential error regarding homo erectus, because of the nuanced presentation regarding prehistory, I think that both those who believe in evolution, as well as those who reject it, should be able to work with this text. For example, on the same page as the information about homo erectus it says, "Based on several bits of evidence they have discovered, scientists have concluded that human-like creatures have been on the earth for at least 1 million years. This is not a fact, but a theory—an idea we form to explain facts we discover" (p. 24). You might want to add your own discussion regarding evolution and creation with your children at this point.
While views on prehistory might be debatable, once the text moves on to the Sumerian and Egyptian cultures (still in the second chapter), it is on firmer historical ground. It provides an excellent overview of world history and cultures. Granted, it is selective in coverage, but it balances out the development of Christian civilization (through Israel, Greece, Rome, and Europe) with study of China, Japan, India, Africa, Russia, and Latin America. Another chapter presents the United States within the context of world history.
At the end of each chapter are four different activities. "Let's Remember" questions require students to write out answers in complete sentences. "Let's Consider" questions can be used for discussion, personal reflection, or short essay responses. "Things to Do" are the map activities mentioned earlier. "Let's Eat!" is a food activity relating to the culture studied.
The revised edition has also added and strengthened connections to scripture.
Light to the Nations, Part I: Development of Christian Civilization
Publisher's suggested grade levels: 7-9
Published in 2008, this text uses an introductory chapter to lay the groundwork for the story of Christian civilization. It begins with Adam and Eve, and then deals briefly with prehistory, cautiously presenting the birth of civilizations without bringing in evolution. This leaves parents the freedom to deal with that topic separately. Within this introductory chapter, it shows how God revealed Himself in preparation for his entry into history through the Incarnation. With this background, chapter one then begins with the birth of Jesus and continues through the establishment of His church.
Against the backdrop of the Roman empire, it tells the stories of martyrdoms, evangelization, and the spread of Christianity, primarily through the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. The Rise of Islam receives a good deal of attention since the conflict between Christianity and Islam was and remains such a major force in world history.
The text moves on through the so-called Dark Ages to the feudal and medieval periods. Students then study the rise of nations (Spain, England, and France) and the Crusades, then the decline and decay of the Middle Ages that paved the way for the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation. Religion and politics both became major factors in the wars that ensued following the Reformation, and the text follows this thread through European history up into the early eighteenth century.
The text also includes the creation and expansion of colonial empires, brief coverage of the American colonies, and chapters on Africa, the Age of Enlightenment, Capitalism, China, Japan, Latin America, and the Scientific Revolution.
After studying this text, students should have a clear understanding of the development of our western Christian civilization. This book and Light to the Nations: Part II fill the clear need for a study of world history that fully acknowledges the vital role Catholicism has played in the development of our own civilization. Although this is not a church history text, students will certainly learn a great deal about the development and growth of the Catholic Church, key figures in that development, and conflicts that have embroiled and shaped the Church.
At 574 pages, this is a substantial book. While it might be suitable for some seventh graders as the publisher suggests, I think it will more likely suit students in grades eight through ten. You might want to use this text in ninth grade, Light to the Nations, Part II in tenth grade, and Lands of Hope and Promise in eleventh grade, and allow time for study of government and economics in twelfth grade. You should keep your own scope and sequence in mind as you determine when you might use this text.
Light to the Nations, Part II: The Making of the Modern World
Publisher's suggested grade levels: 8-10
Part II continues the story of world history, picking up with the Age of Enlightenment. History coverage centers on Europe and Russia with attention to other countries and continents only in relation to them. Even among European countries, France gets more space than other countries. Three of the book's 20 chapters center around Napoleon and events concurrent with his time in power!
As with other texts in this series, church history and religious events are also given significant attention. Likewise, the Enlightenment, the rise of romanticism, and other worldview-related movements are also addressed. All of this helps the reader understand historical events within a worldview context.
This text ends with a discussion of the Catholic Church and the modern world with some excellent insights into a Catholic worldview of government and society, particularly the concept of religious liberty. However, it skips over most historical events from the late twentieth century to the present. Aside from brief mentions of a few events such as the creation of the European Economic Union and the exportation of American culture around the world, it essentially ends with the Communist takeover of China. Given that the most recent history is also omitted from Lands of Hope and Promise, you might want to use other resources to cover the late twentieth century and recent
At 650 pages this is definitely a high school (or even adult) level text. It provides much more detail on the topics it covers than do most high school history texts, perhaps too much for some students; I would not recommend it for junior high students. Nevertheless, it is an excellent text for students interested in history and willing to do the reading.
Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North America
Publisher's suggested grade levels: 9-12
Lands of Hope and Promise is an outstanding history text. It does an excellent job of presenting United States history with fair coverage of both Protestant and Catholic views. It is, nevertheless, a Catholic history, so it includes stories of St. Elizabeth Seton and Dorothy Day as well as coverage of encyclicals that addressed prominent issues in America, especially economic issues. The political tone cannot be described as either conservative or liberal, although there seems to be a fairly strong leaning toward a constitutionally limited government. For example, in reference to Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, the text relates, “The centralization of government in the federal government, dreamed of by Hamilton, begun under Abraham Lincoln, furthered by the Radical Republicans and Reconstruction, perfected by Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, was about to reach its logical practical expression under F.D.R.” (p. 758).
The text is quite long for a high school history text. The coverage is thorough, and the author takes the time to make connections between events and ideas so that readers understand the interplay of events. This is the sort of history we find more often written for adults who want to truly understand history rather than just rushing through a litany of names, dates, and places.
Lands of Hope and Promise covers through 1973 then wraps up the study in an epilogue suggesting topics for students to pursue that pertain to history over the past 40 years. The text justifies this unusual approach by explaining that “the author of this history text and its readers…are actors in the drama of contemporary history….We are caught up in the events we would wish to understand. They are too close to us” (p. 858). It is then left to the teacher to lead discussion or research into a lengthy list of topics. Perhaps, since students have already read 861 pages to get to this point, some might choose to end the course without addressing more recent events.
According to the title, this is a “history of North America.” While there is some coverage of Mexican and Canadian history, most attention is on the United States.
While Lands of Hope and Promise is suggested for grades nine through twelve, because of the book’s length and depth of coverage, I would recommend it for grades ten and above.
Overall, the Catholic Textbook Project makes an extremely valuable contribution to Catholic education—one long overdue and sorely needed.