The Notgrass Exploring America curriculum is a one-year course in American history for high school students. It presents an enjoyable, readable survey of the principal themes, people, and events of our nation's history, placing an emphasis on using original source documents, speeches and literature of the period because these allow the participants in historical events to tell their story from their own unique perspective. This is a fairly comprehensive, Bible-based textbook set which attempts to build faith into the student by showing the influence that Christianity has had on the past and present.
Exploring America is divided into two volumes—fifteen units each, for a total of thirty units of five daily lessons apiece. Every unit begins with an introduction that outlines the material to be covered during the week and provides a memory verse, as well as suggested activities and writing assignments. The lessons that follow are typically three to five pages long, and contain additional material to read or questions to consider. There are no comprehension questions in the two texts, but they are available in an optional (and separate) quiz and exam book. The primary sources cited are contained in a third volume called American Voices.
Mr. Notgrass suggests that students can earn up to three full credits for this course: one in history, one in English, and one in Bible. To do this, students must read the text and complete the assignments for each of the 150 lessons. This includes a weekly writing project, a weekly Bible study, and readings in literature (which includes speeches, essays, and a list of selected books which are to be read in their entirety). To do the work in full, it is expected that students will need to spend two or three hours a day in reading and writing.
You don't need to do everything suggested; many of our clients opt to do just the history portion of the course, which eliminates the Bible study and literature readings, vastly cutting down the amount of time needed. Very little parent/teacher interaction is necessary for these courses. There is, of course, no reason why a parent cannot be involved anyway.
Exploring America also incorporates some classic literature. So it is a textbook course, but also, to a limited degree, a "literature approach" program. As such, we compare it to the better-known textbook curriculums produced by Bob Jones and A Beka, as well as literature courses like Beautiful Feet. As we compare, we find a couple things we dislike:
First, while we appreciate the blending of literature and history, we think the literature selection is too limited. Granted, it's hard to develop comprehension questions for a large number of books, but we wish they'd included an extended reading list, offering more choices for the voracious reader. It seems they are so selective in their literature to avoid offending the sensibilities of certain Christians; this is reflected in short, cautionary comments provided about several of the books in the package. (If you want something that offers a broader selection of literature, see Beautiful Feet.)
Second, the questions given in the quiz books are predominately of the "read and regurgitate" variety. The answers are easy to find in the text, and easy to provide an answer key for, but don't provide a lot in the way of critical thinking. (If you want questions that require more critical analyis, check out the Bob Jones U. S. History.)
To sum up, Exploring America combines an interesting lecture-style approach with a largely well-written, student-friendly text. Their strength rests in their concentrated effort to present historical and Biblical concepts in an engaging and accessible manner, though their perspective, especially as it relates to contemporary trends and events, is necessarily somewhat subjective. The books are well-organized, and we think quite easy to use. They offer a clear book list, understandable instructions, and encouragement. In short, they are very doable for home school families with high school students and we can recommend them highly.
Table of Contents (for both volumes)
Sample Unit #4
Sample Unit #19
American Voices Table of Contents
Quiz & Exam book sample
(In the order they are used)