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American Government and U.S. Constitution, Part 1: Principles of Freedom 101 (with the book The 5000-Year Leap) Review by Donna Campos

Curriculum by Earl Taylor, Jr./ Book by W. Cleon Skousen
National Center for Constitutional Studies
37777 West Juniper Road
Malta, Idaho 83342

The American Government and U.S. Constitution, Part 1 course, includes a textbook (The 5000-Year Leap), a Curriculum Guide, and a set of six DVDs that contain 27 lesson presentations. Lessons generally run from 30 to 40 minutes, with the longest being 50 minutes and the shortest being 23 minutes. The Instructor reads aloud from the book and leads the viewer through step-by-step, with great emphasis on the fact that the Constitution is not out of date. The Curriculum Guide is a 3-ring binder of 78 pages that includes a suggested class schedule, teaching objectives for each lesson, reading assignments, 27 quizzes, two examinations, and answers for the quizzes and exams. The 5000-Year Leap is a 337-page softcover book. Originally published in 1981, it covers the 28 Principles of Liberty. The course is designed for use in public schools, private schools, and homeschools; and it is the first of two sections that make a complete American Government and U.S. Constitution course. Each part of the course is fully capable of standing alone or may be used together at the discretion of the teacher. The suggested daily schedule assumes a class period of one hour and 45 minutes but stresses that other options are possible. If used for one-hour class periods (covering one lesson over two class periods), the Part 1 course will take one semester, assuming three days of work per week with a 36-week school year. As part of the course, the student keeps a notebook of course notes, newspaper clippings, and/or details of current events. Quizzes and exams may also be kept in the course notebook, if desired.

The 5000-Year Leap is a compilation of 40 years of research. It includes great quotes from the Founding Fathers and plenty of references to God and Creation. The book is divided into two parts: "Structuring a Government with All Power in the People" and "The Founder's Basic Principles." The book concludes with a bibliography and index. In the Curriculum Guide, the "Course Requirements and Grading Standards" clearly break down a percentage value for each assigned part of the course (quizzes, memorization of the principles, Course Notebook, reports, and exams). Each lesson includes a reading assignment and Lesson Objectives, generally going over one principle per lesson. The lessons on the DVDs are broken down into sections, allowing the viewer to break up each lesson or stop for discussion as desired. Throughout each lesson presentation, PowerPoint information is displayed for note-taking and inclusion in the student notebook.

This course offers flexibility while still keeping to guidelines that ensure a well-rounded education about the intentions of our Founding Fathers. Lesson presentations may be consistently viewed on the DVDs, or the teacher may choose to use the DVDs to learn the material beforehand and then present it to the student himself. Notebooking homeschoolers should find this course very agreeable and will find creative ways to expand the described notebook. Schools using a textbook approach will appreciate the straightforward lectures. Other homeschool styles should be able to blend the course into any existing program without much difficulty. Both visual and auditory learners will be able to learn from the DVDs, but some may find the lectures a bit dry.

The 5000-Year Leap is an incredible book and a fantastic backbone for this course. It reminds students that originally our nation was considered "the hope of the world." Many historical figures are quoted throughout the course--not only Americans like Washington, Jefferson, and Adams, but also Plato, Tocqueville, Polybius, and Montesquieu. (Montesquieu was quoted frequently by the Founding Fathers, second only to the Bible.) This course brings so much information to light, and it will educate students beyond the standard curriculum found in schools today. I found many of the points enlightening. For instance, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut were based on the first chapter of Deuteronomy, and the inscription on the Liberty Bell is Leviticus 25:10. These are the facts our students should learn about their history. The discussion about improvements made since Jamestown is a phenomenal eye-opener about freedom and the human drive that operates when people are left to work in a free society under the Principles of Liberty. Far too many pieces of information are contained in this course for me to possibly list them here.

Older versions of the textbook and the Principles of Liberty cards are shown on the DVD, so sometimes the page numbers do not match up (but the material is the same). I encourage parents to preview each lesson and correct the page numbers beforehand. I would also strongly encourage multiple copies of the textbook. Even if your student is viewing the lessons alone, you will appreciate having your own copy of the book.

On the negative side, there is a point when the text boils down all "sound religion" (including Christian denominations, Judaism, Islam, and Eastern religions) to the following supposed commonalities: all of them have a Creator, and all of them believe that the Creator revealed a moral code, that the Creator holds mankind accountable, and that we live beyond this life and will be judged by the Creator in the afterlife. The instruction is that we should be teaching these basic religious principles that we can agree on, regardless of the deeper basis for the religion. I do not believe that the various different religions ultimately hold to the God I believe in, so this was difficult for me. Though I understand the basic principle, I still worry about the slippery slope it opens.

Nevertheless, this is a course that should not be missed by any high school student or parent! If politicians were aware of the true foundation of this nation and the intent of the Founding Fathers, our nation would be enjoying more health and blessings and experiencing fewer problems. Many homeschoolers today are finding that by returning to our Founding Fathers' learning methods we can be successful. This course will help our nation return to the God-fearing principles we were founded on. I pray it returns us to the America once proud to proclaim "In God We Trust."

Product review by Donna Campos, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, January 2008