Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Review: Illuminations for High School

I posted an overview of Iluminations on Monday, details about the 3rd-8th grade level, yesterday, and today I'm going to focus on how the high school level is working for my family.

Illuminations 1 from Bright Ideas Press, is one of the newer programs on the homeschool market.  It includes history, related literature, and a host of other subjects.  We used (or at least tried) quite a bit of the program.

This post is the final installment of the review.  Though, as we will continue to use it, I'll probably comment more, but not likely as a formal review.

My initial plan was that I was going to have Connor continue on with his own history, and use Illuminations for the rest of my family.  I didn't expect to get the high school level, nor did I expect that to be the right answer for me.  When I did receive both levels, I looked the high school material over, and Connor & I made the decision to give it a shot.

Included in the high school level is Bible, History, Literature, writing (using WriteShop), grammar, vocabulary, geography, humanities, Life 101, and supplemental materials.  My son used everything but the writing and Life 101 resources, though the grammar was at the pace his brothers were doing.

Basically, if you read yesterday's review, you have a pretty good grasp of the program.  What is different with the high school level is that there is more work scheduled for Friday, and the "read-alone" segment of the 3rd-8th grade schedule is replaced here with "literature" instead.  And that does mean literature.  This past week, we started reading Homer (The Iliad).  We will also read Sophocles (Antigone), Aristotle (Poetics), Plato (The Trial of Socrates), Tolkien (Roverandom), C. S. Lewis (Till We Have Faces and Out of the Silent Planet), two books of the Bible (Hagaai and Malachai) and some poetry.  The 'light' stuff includes The Phantom Tollbooth, Through the Looking Glass, More Than a Carpenter and Genesis: Finding Our Roots.

I have been very impressed with the quality of the study guides for the literature.  For The Iliad, which we are reading now, there is a page of introductory material, giving an overview of how to attack this book.  The reading is broken down over four days, and that includes reading overview/summary material from SparkNotes, plus the actual book.  Friday is for analysis, with short answer (1 paragraph) questions, long answer (3-5 paragraph) questions, and/or hands-on activities.  The questions are great.  Some tie in Biblical concepts and verses. Some reflect on Greek culture.  I would never be able to pull this together.  I've never read The Iliad before, and I am finding this to be accessible for even me.

Other study guides have a different focus.  The Phantom Tollbooth spends a lot of time, naturally, on finding the meanings for the various idioms and explaining the double meanings of their use in the story.  There are a lot of discussion questions, but very little in the way of written assignments.

Or Till We Have Faces, where the study guide has you doing more timelines, mapping, and literary analysis.  And the discussion questions tend to help you compare the polytheistic world of the Cupid and Psyche myth to the Bible.

I have been very happy with the literature portion.

So, let's talk history.  First, Illuminations uses Mystery of History for the history portion.  I was a bit apprehensive about this for my high school level child.  I just don't think Mystery of History is in-depth enough for a sole history resource in high school.  Could it be used as a spine?  Sure.  But for high school, I want to see some other points of view being explored.  Now, that could come through the literature and historical fiction, and some of it does.  But still...

I don't know.  I'm torn between thinking we are doing well.  I mean, reading The Iliad, The Trial of Socrates, Antigone, Poetics... isn't that adequate supplementation?  But... I'd like to see something more.

So for us, Connor is continuing to use other materials in addition to what he is doing for Illuminations.  Namely, he is doing Sonlight Core 6 at half pace (because we own it), skipping the material used by Illuminations or materials that are clearly duplicated, which really means that we aren't adding much, besides more history reading and an occasional book.

Another note is that when I first used Mystery of History 1, a complaint I heard fairly often was how the tone was over the top along the "Golly, isn't history just NEAT?" line.  I didn't have problems with it then, but I do find myself editing out some of that as I read to my guys now.

Another concern for me with the Illuminations High School level is that clearly the 3rd-8th grade program is where they put the majority of their emphasis.  When I received the materials in September, the 3rd-8th grade program was in pretty good shape, but the high school materials were a mess.  There were tons of little errors all over the schedule, and in the support materials.  Most of that has since been fixed, but clearly the high school level had not gotten the same level of attention.  Even now, as you read through the information at the Illuminations website, they refer to books that never were added to the program, and mention including optional titles for students who need more, even though that was taken out.  It's just the little, frustrating, inconsistencies like that...

One thing I really like with the high school program is that if you are doing 3rd-8th grade already, there is very little that you need to purchase.  Half of the literature is included as ebooks or is available online.  The other half is mostly books that are pretty easy to find in most libraries.  To do it fully, you would need to purchase the Life 101 materials (though some of that may be available at the library too) and the Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation.  And the Illuminations materials.

Another thing I really like is that this program does not get so wrapped up in reading so many different resources, and so much literature, that there isn't time for subjects like math and science.  Which totally contradicts what I said above about there not being enough in the history program, I know.  I'm torn, what can I say?

On the other hand... if you are not also using the 3rd-8th grade level, your experience with this will be different, as high school does not have all the family read-alouds scheduled.  Only about half are scheduled -- and therefore included -- in high school.

And to throw in another somewhat contradictory thought, I think back to my semester of ancient history in high school, and I know there is more here than what I got then.  And there is certainly far more ancient literature than I was assigned in all of high school and college. (I'm 99% sure the only "ancient lit" I was ever required to read was Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.)  So maybe my perspectives are warped.  Clearly, Illuminations 1 provides more history and far, far more literature than what I got in my ancient history studies.

What is my bottom line?  I don't know.  How much history do YOU think is important?  How important are multiple perspectives to you?

I hope to use Illuminations 2 next year, as we own Mystery of History 2, and many of the other resources used.  I will continue to have Connor read other history sources too.  We do so much better in school when we are all studying basically the same thing, so it is far easier for me to beef up the history a bit for him than it is to find something entirely different and hope I can make it work for everyone.

Another quick note:  Yesterday, the second semester of Illuminations 2 became available for sale.  Since I commented on that on Monday, I figured I better make note of the fact that it is now available.

And you can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about various Bright Ideas Press products at:

Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.

Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive Illuminations for Grades 3-8 and for High School for free from Bright Ideas Press.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.  It does guarantee a review. A fair review. But I am not going to praise something unless I think it deserves the praise.  If I don't like it, you'll hear that.  And hopefully with enough detail as to why so you can decide for yourself if what I hate about it makes it perfect for your family.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.
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Merry said...

Debra, I so appreciate your review here. Thanks for taking the time & giving honest feedback. So, do you think the high school guide alone is worth $95? It seems like the main value you got for HS was the schedule, the free books & the Lit. Guide (and I wonder if the free books can be found online somewhere anyway? I haven't looked). I admit, the lit. guides are what most attract me. I've thought about buying the highschool guide & just adding in other books recommended by Illuminations & Sonlight (we also use SL). Just don't know...
Thanks again, Merry :-)

SisterTipster said...

Thanks for your review. I am considering illuminations 2 for HS with my teens next year.