It never really occurred to me to attempt teaching a humanities type of course to my girls. Art Appreciation? Yes. Ancient History? Yes, we covered that. Something about the culture of ancient peoples? Well, kind of. But a full integrated humanities curriculum that ties together history, theology, philosophy, poetry, and art? I wasn’t even aware that such a thing existed for high school, let alone home schooling high school! Roman Roads Media has a full year video course program that does just that: Old Western Culture: The Greeks.
When I first saw Roman Roads Media listed as an upcoming vendor, I confess I wasn’t all that excited. I consider myself more of an eclectic home schooler and I shy away from a pure classical approach. The idea of spending a full year studying the Greeks did not appeal to me. When it came time to provide my interest level, I showed the website to Turtlegirl and she got excited. She loves history. She loves literature. She loves studying about Ancient Greece. She loved the idea of integrating all of those subjects. We expressed the highest level of interest and received the Online Streaming Access.
Roman Roads media has planned Old Western Culture to be a four year series. The first year is The Greeks. Old Western Culture: The Greeks is divided into four units: The Epics, Drama and Lyrics, The Histories, and The Philosophers. Each unit can stand alone. I do highly recommend watching Lesson 1: Introduction to Old Western Culture: The Greeks from The Epics unit before starting any of the parts. This is a very helpful overview.
According to the website, you can assign 1 credit of literature and 1 credit of social studies to the full year program. Each unit is considered 1/2 credit so the full program would be 2 credits. I am learning towards awarding 2 credits of humanities to Turtlegirl when she completes the program.
Ok. But What Is Old Western Culture?
It is a Christian approach to the Great Books. It is a study of the books, ideas, theology and philosophy that has shaped our thoughts and our culture. Old Western Culture: The Greeks explores the epic poems of Homer, the Histories of Herodotus, the tragedies of Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides, as well as select works from Plato and Socrates. Each of the four parts also includes a Guide to the Art which “extends the curriculum into an exploration of ancient art and more recent artistic responses to the literature.” (from the Guide to Art: How to use this course Sec1:1)
What Do You Get When You Purchase the Online Streaming Access?
A lot! First you get access to the video lectures. You also get access to the PDF versions of the texts you need for the reading assignments. These are available right in the online course! Links to other formats such as free or inexpensive Kindle versions are available on the Materials page. Yes, you get access to the FREE Materials page with both the physical DVD purchase and the Online Streaming Access.
With the streaming option you also get online quizzes and the ability to mark as complete each step you need to complete the lesson. (NOTE: The online quizzes feature is only currently available for The Epics and The Drama and Lyric units. The steps to completion in The Histories are listed but the student must use the questions in the student workbook and then mark the step complete. At the time of this review The Philosophers unit only has the video lectures. The student must utilize the course outline in the student workbook. I fully expect The Histories and The Philosophers to be as well laid out and interactive as The Epics and Drama and Lyric when the programmer is finished!)
The Structure of Old Western Culture:
There are four components to the course. The video lectures form one piece of the whole. Each lesson has a video lecture presented by Wesley Callihan a master teacher. In addition, there are text readings, a student workbook and a Guide to Art. The art guides and student workbooks are available as free PDF files downloadable from the Roman Roads Media Materials page. If you prefer, the student workbooks can be purchased as spiral bound books.
A typical lesson involves reading a text such as Book 1 of Volume 1 of Herodotus’s Histories, answering questions about the reading, watching a lecture, and answering questions about the video. The student will also complete one term paper per unit and take a final exam. The exams are available in PDF format, along with answer keys, on the Materials page.
Many lessons include discussion questions such as “How might a “Great Books” based education be more in line with the Medieval concept of Digressio than an approach that isolates subjects into disciplines like Literature, History, and Philosophy?” (p. 13 The Histories Student Workbook)
Discussion topics are not included in the interactive questions in the online version nor are answers provided for them in the Answer Key section of the Student Workbook. However, I like that they *are* included. The topics give me an opportunity to connect with my daughter over the material she is reading and learning.
Guide to Art
The Guide to Art appears to be an optional way to expand on the lessons. Because I want to list this as an integrated humanities course on my daughter’s high school transcript, I want to use the guide. The Materials Page has the PDF version each unit’s Guide to Art but a printed booklet is included with each DVD Unit. Roman Roads Media generously sent me The Epics in DVD just so that I could see the difference between the online streaming course and the DVD course. Roman Roads Media also wanted me to be able to see the beautiful full color art book. One advantage of the PDF version is that you can have a larger view of the art work.
There are no instructions on when to insert the art into the lesson but there is one art work per lesson for each unit. I do wish that the Recommended Nine-Week Schedule included the Guide to Art but since it didn’t, I have been putting it at the end of the lesson. So it’s read the text and answer questions, watch the lecture and answer questions, then meet with mom for discussion topics and read the corresponding lesson in the Art guide.
The Video Lectures
Wes Callihan sits in a comfy looking leather chair in a room full of book laden shelves. In the videos I watched he was wearing jeans and a black shirt sometimes with a suit coat. He’s not just talking at you, he’s inviting you to join him in a fascinating conversation about a topic he knows and loves. He reminds me of some of my most beloved college professors. I insisted on drinking tea while I watched the video.
Not only are the lectures not boring to listen to, they are not boring to watch. There’s a visual element as well. Sometimes you’ll see a timeline. Sometimes you’ll see a map. During the Drama and Lyric video I watched, some of the Greek words were displayed so you could see how they had morphed into English.
Scheduling and Pacing
Roman Roads Media designed to accommodate a traditional 36 week school year that has four nine week terms. Students are expected to spend 1 to 3 hours per day reading, answering questions, and/or watching a video and answering questions. A nine week schedule is included in each workbook and art guide.
In the very first lesson of The Epics entitled Introduction to Old Western Culture, Mr. Callihan explains how important it is to read in large chunks. He recommends that you read an entire book of the Iliad in one sitting. By reading for a minimum of 30 to 40 minutes and reading aloud if possible, the student will get a better feel and taste of the work. The recommended schedule lists two books of the Iliad.
I put a cap of two hours instead of three for Turtlegirl’s schedule. She was required to work for one and half to two hours three to four times a week. (It’s summer. In the fall she’ll work four to five times a week.) Reading for longer than 45 minutes taxed her ability to process and retain what she was reading so she read one book of the Iliad into multiple 45 minute sessions. This means that we’ll have to work longer than 36 weeks to complete.
We started with the Epics but when we received the DVD for the Epics, Turtlegirl switched to The Histories. I would have chosen Drama and Lyric but then I am a theater girl. For The Histories, the schedule did only list one book per day for reading but Turtlegirl found that sometimes it was easier to divide the reading into two days.
Thoughts from Turtlegirl (age 17):
[Tess Notes: Turtlegirl has been working through Unit 3: The Histories] I love the approach the teacher takes. I like how we have an introduction lecture to give us a feel for the author and the 'story', and then we get to go read the 'story'. After we've read a certain amount, we answer questions to make sure we know and understand what we've read. Then there's another lecture about what we've just read. It adds depth, and also helps you understand why we're talking about Egyptian culture when Herodotus said he would talk about the Greco-Persian wars. (Main reason is Herodotus is a storyteller and he's telling us about the characters.)
One of the things I especially enjoy is the teacher's style. He clearly explains in the lectures what is going on. He adds details that make everything that much more understandable.
The one thing that did cause me trouble was the recommended schedule. I tried to follow it, but because I was taking the time to deeply read and understand the books, it took me much longer.
Overall, I truly enjoyed working with this program and I am very much looking forward to completing it.
Instructor Wesley Callihan
Wesley Callihan impressed me, not just with his knowledge of history, but with his respect for the Early Church. In the very first lesson of Epics, Introduction to Old Western Culture, he speaks at length about the Great Books. He took the time to discuss Christian authors and how he includes and why they should be included in his book list. Mr. Callihan so intrigued me that I had to check the About page of Roman Roads Media and then I had to check out Mr. Callihan’s Hill Abbey website. Reading his statement of faith on his about page delighted me!
I am largely in agreement with the major Reformational Protestant confessions, especially the 39 articles of the Church of England and the Westminster Confession of Faith, but am deeply appreciative of the historic Roman Catholic and Eastern (and Oriental) Orthodox churches. All of the teaching at the Hill and in Schola will clearly reflect a historical and classical Christian perspective.
His appreciation for the historic and early church comes through the lessons I have watched. As an Orthodox Christian I am often leery of using protestant based materials but I am comfortable using Old Western Culture. No, I am more than comfortable. I am confident that he knows the material, can teach it well and that any theology is handled respectfully.
Old Western Culture: The Greeks and its Christian approach to the Great Books, is a challenging, rigorous course blending history, art, theology, and philosophy that prepares the high school student for college. It provides a foundation for understanding our current modern western culture.
I strongly recommend this course for older high school students who plan to attend a four year university. The independent work combined with lectures, term papers, and finals along with the actual material learned are perfect for preparing a home school student for the work necessary at the college level and will prepare students for encountering views that are different from their own.
- The Vender: Roman Roads Media
- The Product: Old Western Culture: The Greeks
- The Instructor: Wesley Callihan
- Format: We received the Online Streaming Access. It is also available in DVD Format.
- Age Range: Listed as for grades 8-12. or for students ages 14+ I would recommend this for more mature students because some of the art and literature have more adult/mature themes. I could see a younger sibling (grade 8-10 tagging along with an older sibling (grade 11-12).
- Price: $199 for the Online Streaming Access
- Coming Soon: Old Western Culture: The Romans - The Aeneid
- NOTE: Read More about Roman Roads Media or check out their archives featuring instructor Wes Callihan.
You can read my other Schoolhouse Review Crew Reviews to find more great products.