I’ve taught through the Omnibus III textbook through the Veritas Press Scholars Online Academy, used portions of the other texts in other venues, and written a few chapters throughout the series, but I think these texts are a good step in the right direction for classical education, schools, homeschoolers, and coop groups.
Here are a few of the highlights for me:
1. The entire series aims to include units of study on every book of the Bible. Until classical education makes studying the entire Bible a non-negotiable, I think words like “Christan worldview” are vague at best. The most important text for Christians is the Bible. Is that clear from our curriculum? The Omnibus series is pushing that aim forward.
2. The Omnibus series is consciously integrative. There are echoes throughout the books of other chapters, other readings, and many repeated themes. It challenges students to connect dots in literature, history, Bible, art, philosophy, ethics, politics, and practical every day life. These are the kinds of conversations every parent wants to be having with their kids on a regular basis.
3. The method seems very helpful to me. Every chapter begins with orientation material: What is this book about? Who wrote it? What’s important about it? And then there’s an essay drawing out the most important themes and lessons and evaluating the work by the standard of Scripture. Following this, there is a suggested lesson plan for reading the text, with discussion questions, recitation questions, and suggested projects and activities. These lesson plans lean heavily in the discussion direction, lots of discussion and conversation. Done right, it requires teachers to really dig into texts, raise very significant questions and issues, and challenges students to grapple with the ideas themselves.
4. Related to the last point is the fact that the series encourages natural conversations about just about everything. The book selection is fairly eclectic, though it draws heavily from what is widely considered the “western canon” of the Great Books. And the readings and discussions don’t shy away from challenging ethical issues, sexuality, or particularly dark themes. The series doesn’t bring these issues up in a preachy-moralistic way, rather, it comes up like real life, where teachers can naturally work through the issues and apply God’s Word thoughtfully.
Lastly, a few warnings or guidelines that I would add (and I have said to a number of people who have asked):
1. No textbook can replace a faithful and gifted teacher. You can have the best curriculum in the world, and the students will hate learning, struggle to understand, and be worse for it in the end. While I think these textbooks are a significant step in the right direction, I would still rather have a faithful, Christian mom or dad or teacher teaching what he or she knows with joy and enthusiasm. If the textbooks help (and I think they could) then great.
2. Every good teacher knows that the curriculum is just a tool. The curriculum is not the teacher; the teacher is. This may be just another way of restating the previous point, but what I mean is that good teachers will pick and choose lessons, chapters, texts throughout the Omnibus series. The textbooks are just big piles of suggestions and ideas, and they need to be applied with wisdom to every classroom, every family, and every student.
3. If the Omnibus series errs on anything, it’s probably in the overall reading load. But I always prefer this error. I’d rather aim high and have teachers use wisdom and cut certain readings or cut certain students a bit of slack. But this is why the centrality of the teacher is so crucial. A faithful and gifted teacher knows his/her students, knows their frames, and knows the difference between the student who is out of breath and loving it and the student who is out of breath and about to collapse.
I remember one time a parent telling me that his son had never worked so hard in all his life for school, and every morning he was waiting at the door with his backpack on asking if it was time to go yet. The dad said it was a strange but highly encouraging experience to see his son working so hard and eager for more. And that’s what we want in our kids. We want them to learn to work hard, but we want them to grow up learning to love that hard work, loving learning, loving God and His world.
If I have any fear of the classical education scene it’s definitely this last bit. Having a bunch of good books and high ideals is not the same thing as loving students and teaching them to love. If classical education is heading in the right direction, our students should be overflowing with the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, and peace. And those fruits are far more important than high SATs, fluency in Latin, or Ninja Logic skills.
Of course, we don’t usually have to decide between the two. Usually we can do both. But we just want to make sure that all these “blessings” are being received as blessings. The great danger — and this is the danger of bringing kids up in the Faith in general — is that we can actually inoculate kids to truth, goodness, and beauty. We can pile these blessings all over them in a mechanical and thoughtless way, and when they graduate high school, they’ve had enough already.
Anyway, a few random thoughts, recommendations, and encouragement, hopefully. And again, I’d definitely recommend that you check out the Omnibus series if you haven’t already. Some good stuff there.