A Review of The Mystery of History, Volumes I and II by Linda Hobar
Reviewed by Laurie Bluedorn
I wish The Mystery Of History had been written fifteen or twenty years earlier so that my own family could have used it. It would have been perfect for our large, young family and would have relieved me of the job of putting together my own history curriculum, and it is so much more thorough than anything we ever studied in our years of homeschooling.
I’m not going to describe how the texts are arranged or how they are supposed to be used — others have done that much better than I could. But I do want to list here my observations and respond to some comments which have been directed at the curriculum.
The cover of MOH Volume I tells us exactly what we’ll find inside the book. Within the title — The Mystery of History — the “T” is a cross dividing the word “History” into two sections, making the title seem to say “The Mystery of His Story” — meaning Christ’s story. Isn’t that what history is really all about? Under the title and in the center of the cover, taking up the largest portion of space is a picture of a stairway — an ancient, stone stairway — going up. Going up from a tomb and into the sunlight. Whose tomb would that be? Perhaps it is the tomb of Jesus, the Author of this “Story” we are about to begin. Jesus came up out of the tomb so that this “Story” would have a happy ending some day. But even more significant on this cover are two small pictures at the lower right corner, pictures which seem to be bowing to the larger stairway picture. One is a picture of Egyptian art and the other is of the Greek Parthenon. All history bows in submission to the Author of history.
I have listed here the comments which have been directed at MOH along with my responses.
****Doesn’t balance religious with secular; too heavy on religious.****
Some texts make a pretense of trying to balance the religious with secular, though the secular always seems to end up on the heavier side of the balance. “Secular” literally means “of the age, worldly.” We use the term to refer to indifference toward or exclusion from religion. All of time — past, present, and future — revolves around the Potter and how He deals with His vessels. All of history is religious. So if we want our history compartmentalized into separate secular and religious boxes, or if we like our religion thinly spread, then we really do not want history as it actually is, but only as secularists want it.
Here is one of my favorite quotes:
“… I concluded that one of the only reasons why we are here on earth is to know God and to make Him known. We are designed for relationship…. And I wanted this incredible story to be far more than the short-term accumulation of scattered dates and events. I wanted the living story of God and man to be one of our “long-term” core subjects……I believe history is the story of God revealing Himself to mankind and that He did it most perfectly through the person of Jesus Christ.” (from Volume II)
The author treats pagan gods and non-Christian topics respectfully and honestly, though always compared and contrasted with the truth. For example, separate lessons are dedicated to Buddha and Confucius. After discussing each — who they were and what they taught — we are shown how they differed from Christ — who He was and what He taught.
****Lessons too short; only 2-3 pages which includes the activity suggestions.****
Here are the statistics:
MOH I — 108 lessons of 600 words each
MOH II — 84 lessons of 700-1000 words each
Besides the lessons, the activities in both volumes vary in length, but there are about 2-3 paragraphs per activity with at least three activities per lesson, often more than three. Volume II has more activities per lesson than Volume I.
The shorter lessons allow flexibility for homeschoolers. When longer lessons fit the schedule, students can do two or three lessons at a time. On days when time seems scarce, the single lesson may be just the adjustment needed. Either way, each lesson is a thorough treatment of its subject.
****Lessons fluffy with little information; shallow.****
If this is true, then the Bluedorn family, including our grown children, must have fluffy, shallow minds, because even now, as adults, we have enjoyed reading through several of the lessons in both volumes. The lessons in both volumes are as thorough as you would find in any history curriculum on the market today. In my opinion, this curriculum would best fit children from ages 5 through 14, but could be adapted for older students.
I would consider The Mystery of History to be a narrative history, similar to the Helene Guerber histories, which were first published in the 19th century and recently republished by Nothing New Press. Next to historical fiction and biographies, narrative histories are the method of my choice for studying history. The first narrative history I ever read to my children was A Child’s History of England by Charles Dickens, and the history we learned from that book still sticks in our minds even though that was 20 years ago.
But not only is MOH a narrative history, it is also a history curriculum. The author adds all kinds of hands-on activities and projects, photos, timeline and mapping assignments, memory work, supplemental resources, and exercises and tests.
****Language and writing style dumbed down; modern and gushy — neat, cool, gosh.****
Yes, the author does, on occasion in Volume I, use “hip” words such as “neat” or “cool.” And I guess if I must have any complaint with MOH, this would be the only one. The author avoids those types of words in Volume II.
But as far as the overall language and writing style is concerned, there is variety and complexity in the vocabulary, and the sentence structure is pleasing and flows easily — the reader doesn’t have to struggle to understand. It is an enjoyable text to read aloud and doesn’t fall into that mind-tiring simple baby-language of some narrative histories.
****Activities silly and lame.****
There are a large number and a wide variety of activities which I found to be fascinating. One of the reasons writing this review has taken me so long is that every time I sit down to write, I am drawn into the text and the activities, planning which ones I would like to do someday with my grandchildren. No one family could possibly do all the activities, and there are plenty to choose from.
****Resource list disappointing; items impossible to find at any U.S. library or bookstores; too many videos and toys recommended.****
Volume I lists 8 pages of resources; Volume II lists 19 pages of resources. Recommended resources listed in Volume I includes 64 videos, 117 books, 17 toys, and numerous passages from the Bible. I calculated our family had in our own library at least one quarter of the books. But I wanted to find out what other people thought about the resource list, so I asked this question of a group of mothers who use MOH. Here are some of the responses:
“We don’t use the videos … but of the recommended books for the younger grades in the first 27 lessons of Volume I, about 75% of them were available through our library system.” S.
“I just looked up all the resources for the first 20 lessons of Volume I. I found at my library at least one resource for each lesson, often more than one. The rest I found on Amazon. The only one I had problems with is Lesson 11 — World Wise Series on Egypt.” Heather
“We have used the resource list and have not had much trouble locating the books and videos at our library when we want to explore further.” Christina D.
“…what my local library hasn’t had available, I’ve been able to find through interlibrary loan.” Debbie
“…25 of the recommended books in Volume I are found at our local county library. I have not tried interlibrary loans, but I’m sure many more could be found that way.” Cheri
Here’s a quote from Volume II of MOH concerning the resource list: “Please bear in mind that these are merely suggested books, movies, and other resources that could enhance your study of the Early Church and the Middle Ages through spice and variety — but they are not necessary to complete this course.” The MOH texts are really a stand alone curriculum — no outside books are necessary, but the resource lists were compiled for those who choose to add to the texts.
The author never claimed to create a comprehensive resource list. Through contact with the author, I learned that her resource list was created from her own collection and research — it is not a compilation of other lists of supplemental reading compiled by others. I so much appreciate this. Publishers complain that plagiarism of lists is widespread in homeschool circles.
****Table of contents incomplete.****
The Table of Contents for both volumes are about as complete as anyone could ask — nine pages of TOC in Volume I and eight pages in Volume II.
****Leaves out a lot of world history. Concentrates only on people, rather than on people and events.****
MOH approaches the study of history from a chronological standpoint, looking at events happening around the world near the same time. This approach gives us a sense of how God has been at work in every corner of the globe throughout all of history — He was not just working with the Israelites in their little part of the world. Indeed, MOH shows how the events happening in all corners of the world impacted the lives of the Israelites.
All of history is shown to be a continuum, not just a series of isolated events and famous people. For example, Volume I, Lesson 66 points out the connection between the history of Cyrus the Great with the prophesy in Isaiah 44. This lesson also clears up the confusion between Darius the Mede and Cyrus. Lessons on the Biblical prophets are inserted in their proper places, showing the who, what, and where of their importance.
With 108 lessons in Volume I (472 pages) and 84 lessons in Volume II (704 pages), MOH is about as complete a treatment of Ancient and Mediaeval history as any homeschooling family would desire at this level. In Volume I the standard ancient history topics are covered along with chapters on China, India, and American Indians. Volume II covers all points of the globe — north, south, east, and west.
And, yes, since history consists of people doing things — inventing, conquering, writing, speaking, ruling — the lessons of MOH deal with people AND the events surrounding them. In Volume I, approximately 60% of the lesson titles are of specific people, while 40% are of specific events.
****Author takes too long to get the volumes finished.****
It takes time to do a good job in researching, writing, testing on an audience, rewriting, formatting, printing, and publishing — particularly with a history curriculum. All good things come to those who wait. I’d much rather wait and allow the author to write a thorough, well researched world history than read something thrown together in a hurry just to please an editor.
We know Mrs. Hobar has a young family which requires her primary attention. We don’t want the writing of this curriculum to interfere with raising her family. The quality of her work makes us willing to wait.
If you are a Christian family looking for a thorough history curriculum you can confidently use with your children up through age 14, and is downright fun, you’ll want to look at The Mystery of History.
Our family has been involved in homeschooling for over thirty years. I have seen lots of curriculum come and go, but it seems like the very best is produced by homeschooling families themselves. They see a need and proceed to fill it. Linda Hobar has done this with her creation of The Mystery of History.