Sonlight’s American History 120 is a core program covering Bible, history, and geography that can be used with students in grades eight through ten. I can be purchased along with Literature 100 (the combined package is listed as Sonlight 100 American History), however this review does not cover the literature component. Even without it, the course includes a heavy reading load.
As with the other History/Bible/Literature core programs, many books are used along with a parent guide and a student guide. Both guides come as loose-leaf pages to be inserted into a binder. The two guides are identical in many ways. They both include complete lesson plans, some instructional information, and assignments, including material to be read by students (e.g., Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech). Section Three of both guides has additional resources that will be used throughout the course. Among them are several maps; helpful articles, such as “Notes on Biblical Dates;” a “Practical Life Skills Check-Off List;” a scope and sequence showing what’s being covered each week under the headings Memory Work, History/Social Studies, Geography, and Biography; a suggested schedule for adding people and events to a timeline; a “Field Trip Planning Sheet,” and additional schedule pages in case you want to create a schedule that differs from the one provided. Section Four of the guides has course instructions. The parent guide also includes suggested answers after the questions and occasional “Notes to the Teacher” to alert parents to content found in a book that might need additional discussion or omission.
The course is laid out so well in the student guide that students should be able to complete much of their work independently. Each lesson is laid out in order, telling students which pages to read and providing questions (and occasional supplemental information) on that reading. However, the guides tell students to discuss many of the questions that follow their reading assignments, so a parent will need to be involved. Parents might also want to discuss the supplemental information, such as that on page three in the student guide that discusses various theories about the distribution of people around the world. Parents are provided with brief, suggested answers, but discussions will be most fruitful if parents are able to read the books.
History and Geography
American history, the theme of this course, is taught primarily through the 905-page book America: The Last Best Hope (one-volume edition), by William J. Bennett. The book is written for an adult audience but is full of interesting anecdotes and biographical sketches that make it easier to read. Bennett does an exemplary job of connecting events and people in meaningful ways. This book should be accessible for students, despite its length.
Since Bennett’s book begins with the year 1765, students first read the much briefer books, Before Columbus, Constance: A Story of Early Plymouth, and Colonial America. Then alongside America: The Last Best Hope, students read Traitor: The Case of Benedict Arnold, Sacajawea, Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution, The Dragon’s Gate (story of a Chinese immigrant to America), The Slopes of War (the Civil War), The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming (post Civil War), The Yanks are Coming (WWI), The Panama Canal, Farewell to Manzanar (internment of Japanese American’s during WWII), The Lions of Little Rock (desegregation), Moonshiner’s Son (prohibition era), Cameron Townsend (Bible translator who worked with people from Mexico, Guatemala, and Peru), Out of Left Field (equal rights for African Americans), and The Cross and the Switchblade (a Christian pastor who ministered to gangs in NY City). Notice that some of the required books address social issues and some are faith-related.
Map activities are included within the lesson plans for students to identify and label points. Students should also create or use a timeline, making entries as directed by the student guide.
One of the goals of the course is to help students learn how to read articles about current events, so each week concludes with a reminder that students are to present two or three reports based on articles they have read from newspapers or magazines. (A few suggestions for sources are included in Section Three of the guides under “A Brief List of Magazines and Newspapers for Current Events Study”. Parents might begin by reading articles with students to help them learn how to grasp key points and their implications. I expect that many students will use some articles from the internet, but they should have guidance for that. (It might also be an opportunity to teach students how to identify credible internet content.) The reports should be oral, although parents might occasionally ask for them to be written.
The Bible component of the course focuses on helping students learn how to live out their Christian faith as they study theology, worldviews, and the development of a prayer life. The content is generically Christian and should work for Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians. Resources used in addition to a Bible are the books Finding Truth by Nancy Pearcey (an excellent book about worldviews), Why Pray? by John DeVries, and two books by Philip Yancey, The Bible Jesus Read and What’s So Amazing About Grace? All of these books are written for college or adult audiences, but mature teens should be able to understand the content.
Students do memory work every week, focusing on scripture passages in two-thirds of the course and a famous speech for one-third. They present the memorized passage or speech orally after each has been mastered.
Sonlight American History 120 does an excellent job covering American history by incorporating stories and biographies. It also takes Christian students to a deeper level of understanding with the books about worldviews and faith. The amount and level of the reading might be high for some eighth graders, so I expect the course should work best for high school students. It’s recommended by the publisher for those up through tenth grade, but I would use it with an eleventh or twelfth grader who has not covered these topics.