Thursday, April 2, 2009

Review: TruthQuest History

I have recollection of only one history course from my school years – World History. The teacher, who thrived on her position of power over teenagers, opened up the first day of class with, “This is an honors course and most of you won't pass.” I swear I detected a sly grin and heard a muffled muah-ha-ha during the statement's delivery. Ms. Tormentor's idea of a challenging class was to drone on at the blackboard and force us to memorize a chain of dates. I did pass, but learned nothing in the process except there is an art to sitting to avoid a head making contact with the desk if one might happen to doze off. It makes for a rather abrupt and embarrassing awakening. Ask me how I know.

My perspective on teaching history to my kids has been a mixed bag. I don't necessarily consider history essential to the academic big picture. (Is that a gasp of astonishment from a large segment of the homeschooling population that I hear?) After all, history knowledge isn't measured on standardized or college entrance tests and I've done just fine in life with with a pathetic history education. However, I'm determined that my children should have a better experience studying history than I. I do see its importance in understanding our world today and into the future. Studying history, if done correctly, is an exercise in analysis and critical thinking of past and present and much more, which you'll soon see.

I've leaned towards literature-based programs and steered clear of anything that involves memorizing dates and filling in blanks in workbooks. There are some great literature-based history programs out there. How I would have loved to learn history outside of a bulky and boring textbook. However, I've found that most of the meaty programs are highly scheduled and take mass amounts of time in our day. While I'm not opposed to adapting programs, I often feel hopelessly behind with all those unchecked boxes. Fortunately, I've found in TruthQuest a Christian literature-based history curriculum that is of substance yet adaptable enough to make it your very own, without feeling inadequate.

TruthQuest, authored by Michelle Miller, offers history guides from the ancients to the present for grades 5-12. For younger grades, there is also have a series of American history guides. I received the Age of Revolution III: America / Europe, 1865-2000 to review. Miller starts out with a very clear distinction that this curriculum is not the history study that we adults remember and is on a completely different plane (yeah!). First and foremost, TruthQuest does not approach history as the story of mankind, but of the One who made mankind. It is HIStory, God's initiation and our response. To learn a bit more about Michelle Miller's perspective on teaching history, listen to her speak in the audio presentation of yrotsiH: Do We Have it Backwards?

So, how do the TruthQuest guides work and how do they differ from other history programs? The first thing I noticed was there was no schedule (double yeah!). What I did see were extensive book lists, listed chronologically and sectioned in categories, preceded by what appeared to be an introduction. Comments as well as cautions were included for various titles. While the guide is designed for grades 5-12, there were many listed titles for younger grades as well. At first glance the guide appeared to be a glorified reading list. How is this different from looking up the many topical book lists available on the internet and elsewhere?

The primary difference is in the “introduction” of each category. What proceeds each section is a full commentary, a setting of the stage for the proper frame of reference. Miller explains not only what was happening in the time period, but the thought, perspective and heart of the people. With the appropriate axiom, that God is the prime force in the universe, students then work though the book lists to flesh out the commentary, viewing history as man's interaction with God, not as man's interaction with himself.

As I mentioned, there is no schedule to follow. That may bother some, but I enjoyed its absence. If an interest in a particular topic is piqued, the student can linger. Conversely, some topics can be skimmed or skipped entirely. There are far too many books listed to read them all, which lifted the self-imposed expectation to cover everything. The idea is to pick and choose what suits your family best. For those who need just a bit more structure, titles that could serve as a "spine" for your study are suggested. Aside from reading, enjoying and soaking up HIStory, there are ThinkWrite assignments scattered throughout each guide to inspire students to go deeper. These questions could also be used solely as discussion questions rather than a writing assignment. The Age of Revolution III guide differs from the preceding guides with one large ThinkWrite assignment, encouraging students to analyze truths over the course of the entire study. The Appendix gives parents suggestions for what might be appropriate responses to the ThinkWrite questions.

To give you an idea of what a guide might cover and how it looks, the below links pertain to the guide I received.

Table of Contents

Sample Section

"Optional" Spine Resources

You can view the same sample information for each of World History (grades 5-12) and the American History for Young Students (grades 1-5) guides at the TruthQuest website. The various levels and volumes available are:

Level 1 (Grades 1-5)
American History

Vol. I ~ Exploration - 1800
Vol. II ~ 1800-1865
Vol. III ~ 1865-2000

Level 2 (Grades 5-12)
World History
American Egypt/Ancient Greece
Ancient Rome
Middle Ages
Renaissance Reformation Exploration
Age of Revolution I
Age of Revolution II
Age of Revolution III

I used this guide with my 12-year-old daughter. First, we would read the commentary together. Miller delivers the commentary with a conversational tone and sense of humor that my daughter thoroughly enjoyed. The commentary is more than an opinion or viewpoint. Instead, it is like a narrator of a story that interprets and provides meaning to what is happening, with the story played out through fiction and non-fiction titles. After reading the commentary, I'd assign titles based on interest and availability. Miller is clear that parents are not to assume the listing of a title is an endorsement. At the request from users to provide more titles, particularly more titles still in print, Miller has expanded the list beyond those titles she's personally viewed. If we happened to have a title on our shelves that wasn't listed, adding it to the mix was no problem and I didn't feel that I had to make room for it in the schedule, since it is my own schedule I'm following. My daughter appreciated the flexibility in both schedule and titles, which also included audio and film resources.

Overall, TruthQuest fits our homeschool quite nicely. TruthQuest took something we were already doing, reading quality literature as a means to learn history, and made it more productive. My children love to read, including a lot of historical fiction, and I felt that they were learning quite a bit that way. However, it never really felt pulled together. Previous attempts to pull it together made me feel slave to a schedule that overshadowed other subjects. Just using available book lists without a guide didn't feel like enough. For us, TruthQuest has been a perfect balance of structure and flexibility while still delivering substance.

I'm so thankful that my children need not experience the head-meets-desk approach to history from my school days! TruthQuest provides a truth-revealing approach to history that impresses upon your children that history is not man's story, but HIStory and our response. TruthQuest guides sell for $24.95 - $34.95. Visit the TruthQuest website to see a list of available guides, read about placement, see how others are using TruthQuest and more. Be sue read other the reviews on this product at the the official TOS Crew blog.


Maxine said...

While amusing, your experience is all to familiar and real. Every history teacher I have ever had was a Mr. or Ms. Tormentor. While, learning World History, I think many students have learned the lesson about the head making contact on the desk. Very helpful review for many a home school parent, I'm sure. We are using the ABeka DVD program in our home school, and my daughter (tenth grade) is quite happy with the World History teacher, Mr. Duby. He's quite an exception, I must say.

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Hidden Jewel said...

Your experience with TQ mirrors our own. And your review is written like a craftsman.