New Catholic History Text Debuts

KAREN WALKER

For the past nearly 40 years, Catholic schools have had to choose between buying secular history textbooks or reproducing old, out-of-date history textbooks previously written for Catholic schools. But now that has changed.


The Catholic Schools Textbook Project is the brainchild of the frustrated headmaster of St. Augustine Academy in Ventura, Calif, Michael Van Hecke, who could not find suitable history textbooks for his students. It is the result of Mr. Van Hecke’s desire to respond to the exhortation of the Second Vatican Council to lead students to “knowledge…illumined by Faith” (Gravissimum Educationis, No. 8). He recognized a desperate need for visually beautiful and well-crafted textbooks for Catholic schools, beginning with a History series. And, he wanted these History textbooks to be written in a way that would capture the imagination of students.

A lot has happened in the last 40 years: The ending of the Vietnam War, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the explosion of the Internet, two Gulf Wars, the worldwide travels of Pope John Paul II, his apostolic letters and encyclicals, the launching of World Youth Days that have drawn up to four million young people at a time, the effects of 30 years of legalized abortion in the U.S., the saintly example of Mother Teresa, and the canonization of more than 200 new saints worldwide.

These new events, and others, contribute to new challenges for today’s Catholic student. Many of the newly canonized saints also provide strong new role models for children of our modern world. Such contemporary saints include St. Maximilian Kolbe, who resisted the Nazis and who also fully embraced the most advanced technology of his age; St. Edith Stein, a Jewish convert to the Faith; and St. Faustina, the great saint of Divine Mercy.

Endorsed by seven bishops, the new History textbook series now has two — Volumes 5 and 6 — of its projected nine-book series completed. Volume 5 is entitled From Sea to Shining Sea: The Story of America and recounts the story of North America — the Indian nations, European colonization, the founding and history of the United States up to the beginnings of the twentieth century. Told as a series of engaging and historically accurate stories for young people, this volume includes thumbnail biographies, lives of the saints, maps, illustrations and other supplemental material. Volume 5 is suitable for students in the middle school grades.

Volume 6, All Ye Lands: World Cultures and Geography, has been in schools for a year and is receiving rave reviews. This textbook presents the origins and stories of world peoples and cultures — European, African and Asian — with geography of the world and lives of great men and women from the dawn of civilization to modern times. It includes timelines, maps, charts and illustrations to give depth and context to the stories presented. It is suitable for grades 6-8. Teacher's Manuals for both volumes will be available late summer and will include quizzes, tests, games, tips, descriptions and more.

Last year, Volume 6 was used in Catholic schools across the nation, including Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, Michigan, Arizona, Texas, Alaska, Maryland and California. All Ye Lands is a wonderful example of a synthesis of geography and world history designed for a social studies program in a Catholic elementary school,” says Roberta Kenney, a teacher in State College, Penn. “It is a serious book meant to teach without unnecessary distractions. The illustrations are to the point. The information is concise and does not "talk down" to the reader. The chapter review section contains three elements which I find very well done. The final element, "Let's Eat!" makes the social aspect of the chapter fun!

“I think one of the important aspects of this book is the fact that it can be used for more than the teaching of social studies,” continues Mrs. Kenney. “It is so well written that it can provide examples of good construction of sentences, paragraphs and short essays which will be useful to language arts programs at the upper elementary and middle school levels. The "Let's Remember" and "Let's Consider" sections in the chapter review provide many possibilities for written language arts assignments.”

“Personally, I would have to say that Chapter 8 was my favorite chapter,” explained Jim, a seventh grader at St. Augustine Academy. “Why? Because it was filled with stories of men seeking truth. Men such as St. Thomas Aquinas, Emperor Charlemagne and Robin Hood.”

Katie, a seventh grader at the same school responded, “My favorite chapter is Chapter 3, The Mission of Israel. This is my favorite chapter because in it I learned more of Bible history and what it was like during the many events that happen in the Bible. I like how it gives full account of characters, like King David and his son Solomon, and their lives. It also gives me more of the background of some of the stories that my mom used to read me when I was younger, like Samson or the handwriting on the wall. And, I enjoyed the given pictures and maps that helped me visualize the person or place being described.”

Mr. Van Hecke says of the results of Catholic Schools Textbook Project, “I not only now have the pleasure of being able to purchase textbooks that are specifically designed for the Catholic student, I enjoy the opportunity to teach using them myself. The students love the story of history. In student evaluations, one student, Elizabeth, wrote: ‘My favorite chapter was PreHistory: Beginning Man’s Story…It was very interesting and fun to read.’ Imagine prehistory being perceived as “fun” to a middle schooler!”


For more information about the History textbooks, call toll free (866) 458-3332 or look online at catholictextbookproject.com.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Karen Walker. "New Catholic History Text Debuts." Catholic Exchange (July, 2003).

This article reprinted with permission from Catholic Exchange.

THE AUTHOR

Karen Walker is a prolific writer and Catholic publicist, and owner of California-based Walker & Associates Strategic Communications.

Copyright © 2003 Catholic Exchange



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