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The Socratic Discussion in History Review by Debra Brinkman

John De Gree
The Classical Historian
1019 Domador
San Clemente, CA 92673

My oldest homeschooled child loves history. He hates to write, and he’s not keen on reading, unless it is history. This means, of course, that I use history to draw him into other coursework too. His science focuses more on biography and the historical implications of various scientific advances, for instance.

Most of his writing assignments are something history-related, but I’ve had mixed luck with that. While taking a look at the curriculum that The Classical Historian carries, I wondered if The Socratic Discussion in History would be something that would help with his writing.

A program for ages 12 and up, this comes with a book/workbook and a three DVD set. Permission is given to copy the materials for use in a single classroom or in one family. The materials also include Teacher Certification Requirements, if you wish to be listed as a certified teacher on the Classical Historian website.

Basically, you work through the written material and watch the DVD lessons. This takes you from the basics of distinguishing fact from opinion all the way through the process for writing a historical five-paragraph essay.

The course starts with information on how to work through this program, before teaching about classical education throughout history and the thinking tools used in history. My absolute favorite part of the materials is the “Extended Introduction” DVD, which is a video of a presentation from a California homeschool conference. Mr. De Gree talks about studying history in general, and one point he makes is that if you are only teaching one perspective of history, you are doing your teens a disservice.

Once you bring your students into the mix, they learn about thinking tools and about asking open-ended questions in history. Essentially, the students are taught to think about what they are being taught. There is explicit teaching on distinguishing fact from opinion, judgments, supporting evidence, the difference between primary and secondary sources, using quotes, and paraphrasing.

Then you use Socratic Discussion to discuss the fall of the Roman Empire. After that, students begin working on a short one-paragraph writing assignment. The DVD assignments conclude with some more thinking tools, such as doing a compare and contrast within an essay, and information on writing longer essays.

There is also some information for the teachers on grading and literary analysis, plus “Encouraging Family Discussion at the Dinner Table.”

This course was designed to teach homeschool moms and their students about using the tools of a historian in their history courses. The Classical Historian also designed history programs that use these tools for middle and high school. Each year of their programs begins with The Socratic Discussion in History.

You can definitely use this, as we did, to introduce some classical ways of thinking and writing into any history program. There are a total of 17 student lessons on the DVD, and most of the time, my high school students were able to work through more than one lesson a day.

The DVD lessons are mostly of the instructor working with two students, one in early middle school, the other in early high school. Neither seem particularly interested in history, though maybe it was more of a fear of the camera. My boys found them a little frustrating at times, but it did generate some great discussion. I’d rather have great discussions than watch them, so that part worked for me. Both of my teens wished that the students had been more engaged in discussion.

The information presented gave my oldest high school student confidence in his ability to write a paper. He is voluntarily began working on a one-paragraph report using the format provided in the book. That paragraph, about John Wycliff and his influence on English politics and the Reformation, has turned into a full-blown history essay.

My 9th grader struggled with this program. Mostly, he critiqued the filming and editing techniques, as he did find the production quality of the DVD to be distracting. Most of the student lessons are filmed with the instructor sitting between the two girls, and all three seem to be uncomfortably aware of the camera at all times. For my history-lover, that was not a problem as he was paying attention to the content.

My future filmmaker, though, simply could not focus on the content of the DVD lessons. Our discussions were fabulous, and he engaged with us quite well outside of the DVD time. He found the suggested writing process to be easy to follow.

I think this is a solid resource. While I cannot quite imagine working through this at the beginning of every year of middle and high school, I do fully intend to have my two youngest utilizing the program next year as 6th and 8th graders, and then again in high school. I am also considering purchasing the curriculum.

-Product review by Debra Brinkman, Crew Administrator, The Homeschool Review Crew, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, December, 2016