The Classical Historian is the name for the history curriculum surrounding the Take A Stand! series of teacher guides. These Classical Historian courses teach students how to read with discernment, how to gather information, how to think about and analyze information, and how to discuss and write about what they have studied. They do so in the context of history courses covering different eras. Courses implement classical education strategies such as Socratic discussions and analytical writing. Classical educators will note that the methods used are appropriate for both the dialectic and rhetoric stages.
The Take A Stand! teacher guides are the core element in all courses, and they can be used on their own or within the Classical Historian course bundles. The teacher guides each outline a 32-week course of study.
For junior high students, there are three Take A Stand! guides:
- Ancient Civilizations
- Medieval Civilizations
- American History from Columbus to 1900
High school students also have guides for three courses available:
- Modern World History - opens with a review of western political thought then covers the "Age of Revolution" from the 1600s through the Cold War
- Modern American History - covers Reconstruction then selected topics up through "Nixon and Watergate" and "Technology as a Cause for Change"
- American Democracy and Economics - a classical approach to government and economics
A few pages at the beginning of each teacher guide explain the philosophy of the program. The second section of each guide provides practical information such as required course components, time required for lessons and homework, enrichments ideas, and directions for end-of-semester oral presentations. Part three of the guide lays out 32 lessons plans, one for each week of the school year.
Separate student workbooks are essential for students to work through the various assignments in the course.
The Classical Historian's Take A Stand! guides can be used with a broad range of reference resources for historical information, but most parents and teachers prefer using the complete Classical Historian course bundles that incorporate the guides as well as appropriate resource books for each course. There is a bundle for each Take A Stand! guide.
Each Classical Historian bundle has a number of components. Common to each are a Take A Stand! teacher guide, the corresponding Take A Stand! student workbook, and Teaching the Socratic Discussion DVD Curriculum. Each course also has one or more resource books that provide at least some of the historical content for each course.
Each complete course begins with use of Teaching the Socratic Discussion in History DVD Curriculum—a set of three DVDs and a 77-page guide. This set helps parents/teachers and students learn this approach. (While it comes as part of each bundle, it may be purchased on its own.)
On the first DVD, author John De Gree shares some of his background, introduces the program, and explains how it works. The second DVD is an extended version of the first DVD, with additional material directed toward home educators. On the third DVD, “Tools of the Historian,” we watch De Gree working with different homeschool families through some lessons. The guide includes instructions and forms so that you can actually teach your own students through a complete lesson on "The Fall of the Roman Empire," including the composition assignments.
(Parents and teachers who are interested can become certified Classical Historian Teacher's by working through this course and teaching some students. Requirements and instructions are in the guide.)
While the DVDs in the Teaching the Socratic Discussion in History set include demonstrations and explanations of the teaching process, the Ancient, Medieval, and junior high American History bundles each also include a DVD showing John De Gree conducting Socratic discussions through the lessons for each of those respective courses.
DVDs are not professional, but they are very helpful for showing how this approach actually works in homeschool settings.
You might think it redundant to repeat Teaching the Socratic Discussion each year. Some of the basic concepts are repetitive, but each Take-A Stand! teacher guide has students work through Socratic discussions and writing skills using resources and topics from that year’s textbook or resources on a particular historical period. This means that students practice applying skills in entirely new contexts each time.
While the teacher guide provides lesson plans and assignments, the student workbook for each course guides students in their reading and research as well as through discussions and extensive writing activities.
Students are presented with very brief statements about a key event in their Take A Stand! book then challenged to research and write in response to a question.
For example, the first lesson in Medieval Civilizations has to do with the fall of the Roman Empire. The "take a stand" question is, "Based on the evidence you researched, what were the two most important reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire?" Three pre-writing forms follow. One is headed "Reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire." A first reason is given as a "freebie" followed by six more blank lines for students to add six more reasons they discover in their reading and research. The second pre-writing activity is headed, "Explain your reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire." Here students use a brief statement to explain each of the reasons they came up with in the first activity. Again, one explanation is supplied then there are lines for the student to add six more explanations. The third activity is a more complicated chart that has the student rate the reasons, ranking them as to relative importance. All of this helps them arrive at their two most important reasons, which they are then asked to defend.
For their research, students might use the history books that come in the Classical Historian bundles or other resources. The more research they do, the more well-developed their information is likely to be. Junior high bundles for Ancient and Medieval periods each include only one additional book: World History Detective (Critical Thinking Co.). These courses have students use the internet for other research. All of the other bundles have at least two source material books. For example, the Modern American History bundle includes A Patriot’s History of the United States and The Patriot’s History Reader (both published by Sentinel).
Originally written for classroom settings, lessons in the Take A Stand! guides direct students to compare their own conclusions with those of classmates and consider whether or not they want to change their own conclusions before writing their papers. Discussion with a parent or tutor can substitute for class interaction, but however you manage it, discussion is essential.
After students have worked through these steps, they are ready to write their essay and pull it all together. They will first write one-paragraph responses then progress up through five-paragraph essays to multi-page essays. The instructions for each of the essays says, "In your essay, include a thesis, evidence, and explain how your evidence supports your thesis."
Essay assignments each have a chart for recording due dates for various assignments. In addition, grading rubric forms are included for the different essays. These can be used by both student and teacher.
Because these skills are taught incrementally and students master them a step at a time, Classical Historian courses are very manageable for students beginning in junior high. Students are given plenty of assistance with skill development and pre-writing activities with a section of "skills assignments" at the back of each Take A Stand! guide as well as through the Teaching the Socratic Discussion lessons. (The author assumes that students already have basic writing skills.) The types of skills addressed in these sections are distinguishing fact and opinion, finding supporting evidence, taking notes, paraphrasing, using quotations, writing a thesis statement, writing a conclusion, outlining the essay, writing a rough draft, documenting sources, and creating a works-cited page. Rough draft and outline forms are included for the various essays. Parents or teachers might use the optional skill assignments as needed for their own students, skipping those that are unnecessary.
All of this sounds like fairly high level work especially for junior high students. However, author John De Gree assures me that he has used these very successfully with junior high students, many of whom were ESL students with very weak knowledge of history. While arguments and essays from some students might be shallow or poorly informed, the learning experience itself still takes them beyond where they would be with only a textbook. Students with a better knowledge base are able to form more complex arguments. If you use these books with high schoolers you should expect more depth of research and argumentation than you would from those in junior high. It's also important to note that assignments gradually become more challenging, eventually requiring the use of at least three sources, then five sources.
One reason why I think the Classical Historian approach works so well is that when students read and research with the questions in mind, they pay much closer attention than when reading simply to cover the material. When they have to analyze information, thinking about cause and effect and relative importance, they have moved to a much deeper level of thinking. Discussing their research and ideas with others forces them to think logically and critically.
The Classical Historian's mission statement says that they are, "dedicated to promoting the American experiment of self-government under law, rooted in its Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman heritage. We believe in American exceptionalism and teach patriotism through all our materials." While this is the philosophy behind the program, Classical Historian resources can be used by those across the religious spectrum because they avoid biases both for and against religion by using a historical inquiry method. The curriculum includes questions that relate to religions without expressing belief or unbelief. For instance, the final lesson in Ancient Civilizations on the rise of Christianity poses the question, "Why did the Roman Empire change from persecuting Christians at the time of the death of Jesus to supporting Christians by the Fourth Century?" Students might come up with a wide range of answers and opinions depending upon their research resources and parental or teacher directions. Also, remember that the parent or teacher can always add other ideas to those presented in the book. Because of that religious neutrality, the curriculum has been approved for purchase by charter school students.
However, most, but not all of the textbooks and other resources in the bundles, are relatively neutral regarding religion in their viewpoints to make it easier for students to form their own opinions based on information. (Of course, you can use other resources instead of or in addition to those in the bundles.) Two resources might be considered as exceptions in this regard: Lessons for the Young Economist by Robert P. Murphy, used for American Democracy and Economics, is written from an Austrian economics viewpoint and supports limited government intervention, and The Patriot’s History of the United States leans toward a conservative viewpoint both religiously and politically.
Some books as well as the Teaching the Socratic Discussion in History DVD set are used for more than one course, so you need not purchase a complete bundle for each course after the first year. Permission is generously granted for a parent or teacher to make copies of pages from any of the Classical Historian courses for their family or class group.
You might want to check out card games and memory games that the Classical Historian has created. These can be used with the courses reviewed here as well as with most other courses for U.S. history, world history, and government.
The Classical Historian courses are proving to be very popular among homeschoolers who want to engage in discussions with their children, as well as among those who want their children to both know historical information and know how to analyze and write about that information.