The High School Curriculum
Our core curriculum history courses are World History, American History and Remarkable Biographies.
This course builds upon the four years of world history studied in the elementary grades to gain an understanding of the broad trends that will continue to shape human history into the future.
There are three main components to the course: 1) a series of lectures on world civilizations from the Great Courses, 2) "spine" texts that present the facts of world history, and 3) several popular history books for adults which examine key trends in human history.
One of the spine texts is a fairly conventional choice: A History of the World by Andrew Marr. This book presents the major events from the Stone Age to the present at a level appropriate for high school.
The second spine text is The Cartoon History of the Universe series, a detailed narrative of world history in the guise of humorous graphic novels. These comic books are actually more detailed than Marr's A History of the World, and are a wonderfully entertaining way to learn about historical events and characters.
The popular science books start and end with Sapiens and Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari, which examine the major drivers of human history to elucidate key issues of the future. In between, The World Until Yesterday examines how modern civilization differs from traditional hunter-gatherer cultures, Guns, Germs and Steel traces how geography led to Eurasian dominance, and Collapse studies how various cultures have dealt with environmental degradation.
Finally, several excellent historic movies are included as part of the curriculum. These are optional but highly recommended as they bring to life the people and historical periods being studied.
This is the only high school history course in our curriculum which does not include a research paper. This is because the course is intended to be taken in the ninth grade year, when the Literature and Writing course includes substantial writing practice and research paper writing has not yet been studied at a high school level. It also leaves more time for reading the excellent books that have been written about world history.
American history courses often suffer from bias. Some whitewash negative events (especially recent ones) in an effort to instill patriotism. Others dwell so much on America's wrongs that they make students ashamed of their country.
We aim to present American history in a balanced way, fostering appreciation of America's unique contributions without any political agenda. The course materials are selected with this goal in mind.
We use as a framework the excellent and comprehensive course The History of the United States, from Great Courses. This course includes 84 lectures and should take a full academic year to complete at the rate of two lectures per week.
Alongside the lecture series, students read David McCullough's 1776 (about the American Revolution) as well as key primary sources including the autobiographies of Benjamin Franklin and Frederick Douglas, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Historical literature includes Uncle Tom's Cabin and My Antonia.
We include a history of the Cold War among the second semester texts. This could be read for World History, but is also appropriate for American history as it offers an understanding of America's influence on the modern world that is often lacking in high school history programs.
The last book is a modern memoir by an immigrant from war-torn Somalia, which offers an especially vivid perspective on how America is viewed elsewhere in the world and experienced by a newcomer to our culture.
The course includes a research paper at the end of the second semester, on a topic in American History of your choice. We include a guide to research papers among the course materials.
As does World History, this course includes several excellent movies that elucidate key periods in American history.
This course invites you to experience the lives of great or remarkable men and women through biographies.
Each month, students choose a biography to read from among the options presented. The schedule includes two options each month, but you may choose a biography from a different month if you prefer. By the end of the course, you should have read ten of the twenty options offered.
We include remarkable biographies from a wide range of times and walks of life. Here is a rough categorization:
August - September: Scientists and inventors October - November: Statesmen and advocates for social change December - January: Spiritual leaders February - March: Survivors who have transcended terrible circumstances April - May: Explorers who have left comfortable lives to seek new insights and experiences
The course concludes with a short essay writing assignment.
Great books allow us to experience life many times over from the perspective of others, and provide examples to inspire us. Biographies do these things especially well. We hope this course will be the start of a lifelong enjoyment of remarkable biographies.