Thursday, August 7, 2014

Roman Roads Media Review

Roman Roads Media Review
As a part of the Review Crew, I was presented some options,one of which I could use and review, from Roman Roads Media, a company specializing in a classical Christian education. These options were such things as Old Western Culture: The Romans, The Grammar of Poetry, Dave Raymond's American History, Economics for Everybody, Visual Latin, or Old Western Culture: The Greeks. Because we enjoy Greek history and stories so much in our household, I was eager to review, along with my son who is going to be a junior, Old Western Culture: The Greeks. This is a four-unit Christian approach to the "great books" that includes (as can be seen below) The Epics, Drama and Lyric, The Histories, and The Philosophers. The product that was given to us was the online access to the full-year course of Old Western Culture: The Greeks along with the DVD set for Drama and Lyric.

Roman Roads Media Review

We chose to focus most of our time on the histories since we've spent some time recently studying the philosophers and my son wasn't too excited about having to do a lot of reading. He was surprised, however, to find out that "The Histories" unit included just as much reading as "The Epics" and "Drama and Lyric."

Roman Roads Media Review

Our homeschool has never taken a classical approach to Christian education because I believed it was too rigid, and I have been mainly eclectic, using an all-in-one curriculum for the first couple of years but then sampling many different curricula over the years since there are so many wonderful products available to homeschoolers nowadays; I didn't want to miss out on anything. However, it appears that I may have actually been missing out on something.

Recommended for students who are 14 and older, the full year of The Greeks Year 1 curriculum is available through online streaming for $199 or 4-DVD sets for $224. Each DVD set includes four DVDs, a guide, a PDF workbook, exams, and answer keys. Each of these things is accessible as part of the program through the online version. Hard copies of the workbooks are available also but are not necessary. Individual DVD sets that include a guide are available at a cost of $56 per unit, but the student workbook must be purchased separately as it is not included as a PDF (as with the purchase of the full-year course.)

My first impression of the online version of The Greeks is that it is a no-frills presentation. Each element of the course—the assignments, the lectures, and the quizzes—are simply listed one right after the other on the page. 

I found it a bit difficult to find where we left off each time we re-entered the course outline. As you can see, the headings for each unit are not obvious. They are smaller than the boxes that list the lessons. The lesson boxes also close each time you log out, so that made it difficult to remember where we were. The image above shows that the word "Completed" is present when each step has been finished. However, we had to open each lesson to find our place, if we couldn't remember. Perhaps if each new unit were a different color that would make it easier to distinguish between them.

The program is extremely easy to use. All my son had to do was click each new step, and it would open to an assignment or a video. Thankfully, Roman Roads Media has provided various options for acquiring the books that are required for The Greeks. The very first step for each unit has a "Note on Translations and Texts" which lists the works required and the translations suggested. In the online course, these works are provided as PDF links at the bottom of the first step.

The videos are presented by Wes Callihan. For the videos we viewed, he spent his time lecturing comfortably from an arm chair. I was impressed with his knowledge. My son and I both learned a great deal from listening to his lectures. The only complaint I have is that he has quite a bit of verbal pausing—a lot of "um" and "uh." If you can ignore that, it is quite enjoyable. I found his voice very relaxing as well. The videos don't just show Mr. Callihan sitting in his chair, though. They show ruins, works of art, drawings of the people being discussed, and more—all things that enhance the student's understanding.

The first book in The Histories unit was Histories by Herodotus, translated by George Rawlinson. The version provided by Roman Roads Media was a 629-page book. So, my son's idea that he wouldn't have to do much reading was proved completely false. This reading stretched through six lessons. Needless to say, we didn't finish the reading of HistoriesThe History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, which we didn't get to, is four lessons long, and Anabasis by Xenophon is just one. I think about the lower age limit of 14+, and I think about my 14-year-old. He would not enjoy this course. When trying to decide whether or not to purchase this course, think about the amount of reading your child will have to do and whether or not he/she likes to read. One option, although you'll probably end up with a different translation, is to find an audio version. My son tried this and found it a bit more enjoyable.

As I mentioned early on, we did receive the DVD set for Drama and Lyric. I am the type of person who likes to hold a book in my hand rather than read an e-book. In the same vein, I would rather have a case full of DVDs than have to access everything on the computer. I think that might be because I grew up before personal computers and DVD players. Regardless, the "Guide to the Art" that is provided in the case is wonderful. It provides instructions on using the course, along with a materials list and a recommended schedule. Additional assignments are listed along with age level "warnings"—"will encounter mature themes such as paganism, sexual immorality...and nudity in classical painting and sculpture." I greatly appreciate these warnings. The same warnings are provided in the PDF workbook that must be downloaded on the online version. It is located in step 1-"Welcome to the Greeks: Year 1." It is just a bit more difficult to find the information with the online version. There are many PDFs at the bottom of some of the pages (be sure to scroll all the way down so you don't miss any). I would strongly urge parents to read through all of the introductory materials, both online and in print, before your child begins the program. I'm fairly sure the child will not.

I noticed, as far as the nudity in the paintings is concerned, that Roman Roads does not dwell on any painting that displays nudity. Some paintings that have it are shown on a smaller scale than others. It seems to me that maybe they try to avoid it as much as possible, unlike some other Greek and ancient curricula that allow the image to be displayed for longer than I would like. I understand that they are classical works of art, but I don't believe my children, especially my boys, need to see nudity in any form until they are married.

Drama and Lyric covers the development of the theater, the period and the poets, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, lyric poetry, Quintus of Smyrna, and Apollonius. The Epics covers the Iliad and the Odyssey and discusses the Legacy of Homer in Western Civilization. The Histories contents were discussed above. The Philosophers provides an overview of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle but spends the majority of the time on Plato and Aristotle. Each unit has quizzes and a final test, as well as a paper.

Despite the few things that I commented on that I didn't like, I think this program is a very high quality choice for world history and/or literature for a high school student. It is well worth the price. I think it would be extremely difficult to find the same level of knowledge of ancient Greek civilization in any other high school product. Wes Callihan is truly a master. I would think that a high school student who took this class would certainly be ahead of his/her peers upon entering college in terms of culture and historical literacy.

We enjoyed the program so much and felt it provided such a wonderful learning experience that my son will be completing it for school this year.

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