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Progeny Press
Progeny Press: Loving Literature and the Truth
By Deborah Deggs Cariker
EHO assistant editor

It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention. That certainly is true of the origins of Progeny Press, a home-based company created in 1991 to meet the need for literature studies in the Wisconsin home of Michael and Rebecca Gilleland’s family. Thirteen years later, their more than 80 study guides open doors to literature that can inspire and entertain your own home learners. They’ll be transported by their imagination down the Mississippi River on a pirate boat, to an upstate New York farm of the 19th century, to an ancient Scottish castle, to a Nazi concentration camp, and beyond.

“I've always taught using a literature-based curriculum, but back in 1991 when my oldest was in first grade, there was very little curriculum available to teach literature,” explained mother of seven Rebecca Gilleland on the company’s website. “I wanted my children to:

  • learn to read critically
  • analyze characters, their actions, and the resulting consequences
  • learn literary techniques such as imagery, irony, foreshadowing, flashbacks, etc.
  • build their vocabulary
  • discern the truths in anything they read
  • connect the ideas, issues and themes from a book with ideas found in the Bible, and understand what scripture says about these issues
  • know what they believe and why, so when they enter college and adulthood they would have a solid foundation.”

Because she wanted this for her own children, you can have it for yours.

Michael Gilleland said they sifted through what was available discovering it wasn’t what they needed. They also discovered their own niche.

“When we started homeschooling our eldest daughter in 1991, we soon realized that there was nothing available in the Christian market that provided a good education in classic and cultural literature but maintained a distinct Christian perspective,” he explained in an email interview. “We looked at study guides available for secular schools and found that some actively downplayed spiritual and moral application, most were very basic and offered little for critical thinking, and, frankly, many had factual errors. Finally we approached some teachers in Christian private schools and asked what they used to teach classic and cultural literature. We were surprised to be told they could not find anything either—they had to invent their own, which meant they avoided many titles and kept to safer, tried and true books for which they or another teacher in their school had prepared materials. They told us if we found any such materials, they would like to hear about them. We quickly realized there was a need no one was filling.”

Working with another homeschooler, it only took a few months to produce a study guide for The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom.

“We gave it to a local Christian school to try out in the classroom and asked them to evaluate it and critique it for us,” Michael recounted. “At the end of the semester, the teachers came back to us and told us it worked so well, they would like to purchase every title we published. We knew this was what we were supposed to do.”

The Gillelands had just started another business and so hired Andrew Clausen as the company’s first editor in 1992. The next year, Progeny Press began selling its first 18 titles.

“Literature is a plunge into an imaginary world—giving readers a chance to experience, through imagination, life at its best and worst—and to learn from that experience,” according to the Gillelands. “However, literature is always subjective to the author and carries a subjective and imposed value system. The perspective may be conservative or liberal, Freudian or Jungian, Christian or humanistic, but it is a biased perspective.”

That’s exactly why Progeny Press study guides point teachers and students back to the Word. The study guides include:

  • vocabulary exercises
  • comprehension, analysis, and application questions
  • introduction of literary terms background information
  • discussion of related Biblical themes
  • suggestions for activities related to the reading
  • a complete answer key
    . . . and more!

The guides are just so different.

“I think Progeny Press brings a unique emphasis on literary analysis and critical thinking to the student using the Bible as the benchmark for moral, philosophical, and spiritual questions,” Michael explained. “We want students to be able to recognize good writing and what makes it good writing, and to learn to see the author techniques that bring words to life and make us think and react.”

Though the guides work on the art of language, this is not a language arts curriculum.

“We publish study guides for literature, not language arts—our study guides look at such things as author technique, plot devices, and imagery, rather than just spelling, grammar, and vocabulary,” he pointed out. “We want students to be able to see beyond just the mechanical words to understand how an author takes the reader into his world and to comprehend what he is saying about it.”

You’ll find Progeny Press guiding you and your students through more than just “safe” and “nice” literature. The Gillelands take a crack at the hard and hard-to-explain in literature, always tugging you back to the Word, teaching through well-written stories that help students develop and refine how they deal with the world and its philosophies in relation to the Word of God.

“We are committed to bringing good cultural literature to parents and teachers, examined from a Christian perspective,” Michael Gilleland emphasized. “We believe in the equation "Biblical Truth + Cultural Relevancy = Effective Christians.” Take away Biblical truth and Christians become no more than a religious subculture—salt without saltiness. Take away cultural relevancy and Christians become isolationists with no impact on the world—lights hidden under bushels. We believe in looking at the world clearly and openly with Bible firmly in hand.”

Indeed, you’ll discover worldly philosophies, deeds, language, real-life situations, and ungodly people in the books through which Progeny Press studies will guide you.

“However, we are committed to examining all such writings from a strong, biblical perspective,” he said.

For the wavering who may see no need for fiction, Gilleland offered the example of the Lord Jesus.

“Jesus himself taught with fictional stories־we call them parables,” he began. “He used his stories partly to separate believers from nonbelievers (Matthew 13:10, 11), but also to clearly illustrate his message. In Luke 10:25-37 Jesus uses the story of the Good Samaritan to amplify and illustrate his answer to the lawyer. In answer to the man's question, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ Jesus could have answered ‘All men,’ and the lawyer could have gone away satisfied (because he certainly loved all men). Instead, Jesus told a story. By describing the man attacked, the indifference of the religious leaders, and the care of the Samaritan, Jesus demonstrated not only who is a neighbor but how the lawyer should practice neighborly love.”

Gilleland continued:

“By telling this story, Jesus placed the listening lawyer within a common cultural experience and used the circumstances to lead him to an irrefutable conclusion. Under the circumstances as laid out by Jesus, the lawyer could truthfully answer only one way: The one who showed mercy to the despised stranger was the neighbor. Jesus then used the story and the lawyer's response to instruct him in life: ‘Go and do the same.’ Jesus used a fictional story to illustrate a problem, define the common cultural response to the problem, demonstrate the godly response to the problem, and instruct the listener in how to respond in like circumstances.”

Gilleland said we can and should use literature, Christian and secular, as a map to anticipate the conflicts on the roads before us.

“We can and should use fiction as Jesus did: to view conflict in its cultural context, to view conflict in a Biblical context and find a Godly response, and then use our understanding to prepare ourselves and others for similar circumstances in real life,” he said. “Mixed in with all of the heroism and examples of good behavior, there is much in secular fiction that I do not want my children to absorb or follow. However, I also know that at some point in their lives they are going to come into contact with these ideas, and I want them to be prepared to respond to them in a Godly manner. I can take the safest way out and tell them not to read these books because they contain wrong ideas, or I can go through these books with my children and discuss the ideas with them and show them how God would have us respond in like circumstances.”

Interestingly, Progeny Press study guides do not assume that the student is a Christian, nor do they try to convert the student. Therefore, the guides are useful for any school setting.

“Our goal is to teach students of all ages to examine what they read, Christian or secular, classic or contemporary, and value the truth it contains as measured against the Bible,” the Gillelands said. “Because the Bible has withstood 4,000 years of examination and challenge and continues to be revered as one of humanity's greatest sources of wisdom, we believe it is the foundational standard of measure.”

The Bible also causes us to examine ourselves. Literature might plunge us into a similar exercise as we examine fictional characters.

“(It) takes us into the minds of other people, into their experiences and thoughts, into worlds we cannot otherwise know,” Gilleland said. “In some cases these worlds are dangerous; there are ideas and thoughts that are blasphemous and evil—there is no question about it. Sometimes we come upon futile speculations and hearts of darkness. Sometimes we have to flee. Still, better to come upon it first in the pages of a book than in our friends or neighbors; and in such instances we shall more easily recognize it should we meet the heart of darkness in person. We have tested it and ourselves in some degree already.”

Naturally, the parent will decide at what level to test these ideas in their own children, and the study guides are clearly marked to certain grade levels.

“Of course we do not recommend reading bad, violent, or pornographic literature for the sake of ‘seeing what it's like’ or building up an immunity,” Gilleland explained. “Sometimes fighting ‘the good fight of faith’ means fleeing from evil (1 Timothy 6:11, 12). The question should be ‘Can I learn from this, and will it glorify God?’ … So how do we come to understand our culture without becoming seduced by it? By reading its literature in relation to God's Word. If I were to read books like Night consistently, I have no doubt that soon I would become cynical and negative. However, when I go back to the Bible, such works fall into context. What we find in those books is not the base fate of all humanity but the fallen state of unrepentant humanity. We see the same state in Cain, Amnon, Jezebel, and Judas. At times, we see it in Samson, David, Solomon, Peter, and Paul, but in them, we also see repentance and redemption. By continually going to the Bible, we put human experience, with all its joys, pain, triumph, and depravity, into the eternal context of God's providence and grace.”

Therefore, the danger isn’t as much what literature we read as it is how we read it.

“Do we use the Bible as the standard by which we judge good literature, or do we tend to assume that because the assumptions and values in a "good" or "Christian" work of fiction are Biblically valid we need not draw the comparison?” Gilleland asked. “If so, we run the risk of building our moral structure on shifting sand. The Little House on the Prairie teaches wonderful family values of respect, obedience, stewardship, etc. However, when our children step outside our house, they don't see Laura's world; they see television, adult-inspired fashions for children, sex-based advertising, war, homeless people, and cutthroat competition. How can the Ingalls' simple and innocent set of ideals from the northwoods or American prairie apply to an age like this? If we take the children to the Bible and compare Laura's values to Joseph in the Old Testament, we demonstrate that the values that were valid in a simpler time also upheld a young man torn from his family and sold as a slave. The instructions of God are timeless; they are built on absolute right and wrong, not the shifting physical or cultural circumstances surrounding us.”

Gilleland pointed out numerous ways to use the Word and literature to teach deep truths to your children.

“Likewise, we can teach Biblical principles by contrasting them with examples of faulty human reasoning. Huckleberry Finn is a rascal, liar, thief, and cheat (albeit a likeable rascal, liar, thief, and cheat),” Gilleland said. “Give his story to any adolescent boy and he will immediately identify with Huck—that's part of the appeal and fun. By bringing Huck's actions to scripture, however, we can continue to identify with his feelings but examine the appropriateness of his actions in light of Biblical principles. We can use a less than pristine character or story to build on the solid rock of God's truth.”

God plainly gave instruction on teaching in Deuteronomy 6:6, 7: "And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up."

“To paraphrase,” Gilleland said, “‘instruct your children in My Word in all aspects of life.’ Easy to do? No. Especially now that fathers generally work outside the home and in increasing numbers mothers are not there either. We are no longer able to walk by the way much with our children. So how do we follow this instruction? One method of teaching our children in all aspects of life is to take them to literature, where they can see many successes and failures before they have to face such situations themselves.”

It also is important to know the beliefs of the author, editor, or publishing company before leaping into what they offer your mind. The Progeny Press family believes thusly:

  • The Bible is the inspired Word of God and is true spiritually, morally, and historically. It is to be the foundation of all mankind's wisdom, behavior, and belief structures.
  • There is one triune God composed of three Persons: God the Father; God the Son, Jesus Christ; and God the Holy Spirit. God is the creator and keeper of all things. He is holy and immutable, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, etc. There is no higher authority in heaven or on earth. There is no other god.
  • Humanity is sinful. Through Adam sin entered the world, and through Adam and by our own actions we are all guilty of sin. We cannot achieve God's standard of perfection by any means of our own.
  • Jesus, God incarnate, by His life fulfilled the Law of God, by His death fulfilled the penalty for our sin, and by His resurrection sealed His authority and power to bring His followers, righteous, before the Father.
  • Only by the grace and mercy of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, can man be saved. Each individual must make the decision for himself.

Michael Gilleland credits his wife and Clausen with writing more than half of the guides they’ve published over the years.

“Sadly, Andrew recently left us to flex his wings in another aspect of publishing,” he said, “and we are still trying to absorb the myriad little jobs and duties he had taken over the last 12 years.”

In general, Progeny Press relies on a number of authors to write their study guides—college instructors, teachers, pastors, home educators, and writers—all of whom are professing Christians from various denominational backgrounds. A select peer panel then reviews the guides. Oft times, the literature titles for which guides are written are suggested by Progeny Press customers. The company produces about six new titles each year, so write them your personal list of suggestions.

Though the Gilleland children have provided “testing ground” for many of the guides, they’re now assuming more duties in the family-run business.

“As our children have gotten older and employee turnover has occurred our three oldest children (Mary, Paul, and Nathan) have moved in to fill the customer service, order processing, and shipping positions,” Gilleland explained. “Rebecca has assumed the bookkeeping/office managing duties. Now, with the departure of Andrew, we are entirely a family-run business, but we do not expect this to last. We are in the process of sorting out exactly what sort of position Progeny Press needs to have filled at this time—what function needs the most attention—then we will evaluate whether we need to add another person.”

The Gilleland children have made additional contributions to the company.

“Both Mary and Nathan have provided artwork for our covers,” their dad proudly conveyed. “Mary drew her first cover for us (Sarah, Plain and Tall Study Guide) when she was about 10 years old and has since done covers for an earlier Macbeth and the Lord of the Rings series. Nathan recently did the cover for our Redwall Study Guide.”

The Gillelands believe they have grounded their approach to literature studies in the rock, not sand.

“We do not believe in isolationism—we believe we should work through the problems of the world with our children, in an age-appropriate manner, using the Bible to find the answers,” Michael Gilleland said. “We want to arm our children for life, but we recognize that prepackaged, religious answers won't work—we need to develop in them the skill and habit of searching the scriptures for God's answers to life's ever-changing questions.”

Developing that habit is what the study guides for every grade level wants to do for you and your students. Coming out of the Gilleland’s Wisconsin home this summer are study guides for Stone Fox and Mr. Popper’s Penguins for grades three through five, and the guide for Julius Caesar for high schoolers.

For more information on the company and for a look at their 80+ titles, visit their website at www.progencypress.com or you can order at their toll free number: 877-PROGENY.

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This site was authored by Beverly S. Krueger. All contents belong to the Eclectic Homeschool Association or the original authors. Reproduction of this World Wide Web Site in whole or in part is prohibited without permission. All rights reserved. Trademarks may not be used without permission of the trademark owner. Details about our reprint policies are available.

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