Friday, October 26, 2012

Book Review: British History by James Stobaugh

I have had the opportunity to review British History: Observations & Assessments from Early Cultures to Today by James Stobaugh. Since school has started, I haven't had a lot of "free" time.  It was nice to be able to slip into a book review again.  I am reviewing both the student book and British History - Teacher .

I did a little background work on James Stobaugh before I did this review.  I strongly considered using his literature and history courses for this school year.   Designed to be used together, if desired, they make a strong team.  Cathy Duffy's review of the British History course can be found here.

This British History course is designed to be an approach to studying history that will build critical thinking skills in your high school student.  The publisher, New Leaf Publishing Group, is notable for publishing high-quality books that adhere to a Biblical worldview.  I knew from the product description that Stobaugh's history courses would aim to view history through the lens of this Biblical worldview.

What I like:

I like that the course is largely designed to be completed independently.  It is set up so that the student has a reading assignment and an essay question (or two) to be answered each day for four days.  On the fifth day, the student will have an exam, which can be found in the teacher book and is also essay format.  (Answers to the questions can usually be answered in 1-2 paragraphs).

Sometimes these questions are answered directly in the text, and sometimes they need to be thought about a bit more deeply.  I love the thought process that these questions stir up.

I appreciate the comfortable pace of the curriculum.  Each day's work can be completed in around 30 minutes.  My son knows exactly what he should do and when he is done.

I think it goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway:  I love the fact that it is history presented with a Biblical worldview.  Our children need to be thinkers, and they need to be guided in thinking Biblically now so that they may continue to do so as adults.

What I do not like:

I do not care for the all black-and-white text.  It is a tradeoff for a lower cover price, and I certainly appreciate that!  But the black-and-white pictures are dull.  On a positive side, we did look up interesting pictures online to see them in full color.

I think the daily reading assignments are too brief.  The reading level is a stretch for me, let alone my avid-reading 15-year-old.  I understand the course is supposed to inspire creative thinking, but this is very difficult here.  There is not enough information provided, and what is provided is sometimes done so in a way that is boring or difficult to understand.  This does not help me love history more!

Trying to answer the open-ended questions with not enough (clear) information was not only frustrating for me, it was definitely frustrating for my son.  Yet he made a valiant attempt!  I was proud of his answers and simply baffled when I read the "suggested answers" in the teacher book.  Cathy Duffy says in her review, "Students who have not yet learned how to think will either find these courses refreshingly stimulating or frustratingly overwhelming."  Um, ME!!!  I find it "frustratingly overwhelming."  Unfortunately for Cathy Duffy, I do NOT think that means that I have not yet learned how to think.  Nor do I think that about my son.  He gives intelligent, thoughtful answers to many other assignments in different subjects.  He writes nearly as well as he reads.  I think it simply means she understands the noble goals of the course and does not see from our perspective how a lack of information can hinder achievement of the goals.  The exam questions are possibly more baffling than the text questions.

My Conclusion:

I decided after Chapter 1 that I would not ask my son to do any more unless he would like to try (while I continued to read the book).  But I don't see how he can get a good background in British History with this course.  I don't see how I can fairly assess him when he does not come close to the "suggested answers" on the exams.  I can not penalize his grade for not achieving chapter goals, if the chapter itself has not provided a basis for achieving such goals.  I'm wary of other positive reviews that exist, and I wonder if anyone has actually tried this course with their child.

After spending the first two months of our school year using "living books" from the library to study Ancient Greece, I found this course paled in comparison to reading real books.  I love the structure of British History by James Stobaugh.  I love that each day concludes with thought-provoking questions.  I just wish that the text gave us more to work with.  You can ask all the questions you like, and they can be good questions, but if you do not provide the information needed (and I'm not asking for chopped up bits of facts to spit out), you are asking an impossible task.

I'm so thankful to Newleaf Publishing Group and MasterBooks for providing me with complimentary copies of the student and teacher books in an exchange for my honest review.  My thoughts and opinions are my own.  I was not required to write a positive review.


  1. I'm really looking into this particular series, specifically the World History one for next year. As much as I would LOVE to try Sonlight, I have read 75% of the of the books, A Beka is not an option for me, and this seemed the most interesting :P

    1. I think it would be good if you are willing to add in "living" books (aka whole books on specific topics) as you study. Be willing to dig deeper and find books that are interesting and help take the subject to that next level...then it will be amazing. I am using Bob Jones World History right now with my older two kids. It is shallow and moves quickly, like most history courses. They like it, but I sure do miss the depth that we got from studying TruthQuest History Ancient Greece. I won't be able to convince them to change, but I think the next set of kids coming up will be Mich more flexible. :)