Master Books Literature

There is currently no lack of literature courses demanding more of students than previous programs. After all, if we take our children's education seriously, hoping to shape people who can not only retain facts but think creatively, why wouldn't we give those children a serious education?

Into this milieu comes James Stobaugh's literature curriculum, a rhetoric-level high school course (as well as the pre-high school Skills for Literary Analysis and Skills for Rhetoric) that will not only introduce students to much of the world's great literature, but will also help them to think about it as intelligent, educated Christians.

In the preface to each of the three high school student volumes, Stobaugh urges students to learn in order to serve God and rescue our rapidly declining culture from complete collapse—and hopefully to replace it with a renewed, Christ-centered culture.

How Do These Work?

Before the three high school literature courses, Stobaugh offers Skills for Literary Analysis and Skills for Rhetoric. The first of these is a logic-stage course for grades 7-9 introducing the tools of literary analysis, while the second is a rhetoric-stage course in which students learn various forms of essay writing and compose a research paper. Both are designed to be completed in one year, using the consumable student text and the teacher's guide together.

Skills for Literary Analysis teaches the mechanics of literature and equips students to interpret it according the to the principles of a biblical Christian worldview. He uses three categories (ethoslogos, and patho) to evaluate integrity of narration, identify the theme of the work, and reflect on the passion and emotion of the work. Kids learn terminology, the literary genres, analytic tools, how to outline a novel plot, and more.

Building on this knowledge, Skills for Rhetoric focuses on the student's ability to formulate their own thoughts and put them in writing. The first half of the book guides them through writing essays of various kinds (persuasive, descriptive, etc.), while the second half concentrates on composing a research paper. Kids learn to pursue clarity of thought and expression, and how to put both to use in articulating Christian principles and ideals. These courses (or something like them) should be completed before pursuing Stobaugh's high school literature program.

Each volume of For Such a Time as This Literature (World LiteratureBritish Literature, and American Literature) is divided into 34 chapters, each with five lessons that should take students about 45-60 minutes to complete. If students don't read the literature selections ahead of time, the lessons will take much longer: because there's so much material to get through, Stobaugh recommends completing as much of the reading as possible the summer before tackling each volume.

Chapters always begin with "First Thoughts" and "Chapter Learning Objectives" which students should always read first. These both introduce the topics and themes of the following chapter, and prepare students for what they'll be learning and what they should focus on. Daily warm-ups can be written or oral, and are intended to stimulate discussion between the student and the parent/teacher; these are completed after the text of each lesson has been read, and should help students begin to think more clearly about it.

Students are responsible to complete a daily concept builder. This should take about 15 minutes, and elaborates on a particularly important topic found somewhere in the week's chapter. Parents and teachers need to determine which level of achievement students will aim for, and depending on what they choose students will write 1-3 essays per week. They'll also complete a weekly test, which is usually a single essay question for kids to answer impromptu. Students so inclined can link up their literature and history study for bonus credit, preferably using Stobaugh's own history coursework.

Everything teachers need is found in the teacher guide, which includes answer keys, student objectives, daily concept builders, and weekly essay prompts and tests. Student volumes are perfect bound; teacher guides are loose-leaf, and three-hole-punched for storage in a binder. Though teachers are responsible for correcting students' work, grading, and discussing concepts, these are student-directed courses, intended to encourage and foster independent learning. Each volume provides 2 high school credits for writing and literature.

There are about 200 pages of often challenging content for students to read each week. They'll read selections from The Epic of Gilgamesh, the works of Plato, The Rubaiyat, short stories by Edgar Allan Poe, Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson, and countless other essential-reading literary masterpieces. They'll also read many, many complete works, from Crime and Punishment and Faust to Billy Budd and The Little Foxes to The Mayor of Casterbridge and Ethan Frome. Many of these works will have to be procured by students, but most are free online or at the library.

It's entirely possible to complete only one or two of these books, but the best results will come from students working their way through all three volumes. Stobaugh uses the range of literature he explores to introduce both the essentials of literary study and criticism, and a well-rounded introduction to the concept of Christian worldview and its application to literature.

Again, there's a lot of content for students to work through, and many difficult concepts with which they'll have to wrestle. These are excellent courses, but they require dedication and effort, and unmotivated students should either get motivated or find another course. If your student intends to study literature or one of the humanities in college, this would be an excellent choice to prepare them for higher level work.

Our Honest Opinion

Too many high school literature programs claim to offer a premium education in the classics (both ancient and modern), but instead only regurgitate what every other literature program has already said, and delimit themselves to the same few titles every other program employs. Stobaugh's books are unique on both counts: much of his material is original and all of it is extremely informative and useful, and while he does have kids read many of the more popular classic titles he also has them delve into lesser-known and lesser-read works.

Also, unlike some other courses that bite off more than all but the most brilliant and motivated students can chew, Stobaugh's literature curriculum is challenging yet manageable for serious students. Still, you won't want your students to jump right in without having read plenty of good literature beforehand; it would be too easy for such students to become overwhelmed by, if nothing else, the sheer amount of reading they'll have to do.

Like any humanities course for high school students, this one will be even more useful if parents discuss the content with their students. Since thinking is best perfected through conversation, kids need to be able to bounce ideas off of, ask questions of, and just generally talk to someone about what they're learning. That said, Stobaugh's lessons are so thorough they don't need this discussion; it's simply very helpful. However you use it, we hope along with Stobaugh that these books will be responsible for shaping many young minds into intellects able to interact with and form culture to the glory of Christ.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.


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