Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Omnibus from Veritas Press

Here's a little shout out to the folks at Veritas Press, specifically their Omnibus series.

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.

9 comments:

Marlin said...

Thanks for your kind and wise words.

Marlin

Kate said...

Great points - I love Omnibus! I have taken it for five years and it has taught me so much. I love the reading load, but having read many of the books previously helps. Omnibus actually inspired me to start a blog that incorporates the pursuit of lateral thinking in everything from theology and philosophy to current events and literature. I can't say anything, but good things about Omnibus.

Lizzie said...

We are starting Omnibus for high school this year, I've wanted to use it for years and here we go!

thelazydazy said...

I have been toiling for days over whether or not to dive into Omnibus. It scares me. I've been homeschooling my children for ten years and this is the first time I've seriously considered classical ed. I believe it to be the best, but I don't trust my (or my kid's) ability. The reading load is my biggest fear.

The last three points of your post, and the thoughts following, may just be the very thing that helps give me the confidence to take the Omni "plunge". Thank you.

If you have any suggestions as to what (or what not) to leave out or how to choose in order to make the load more doable or lighter, I would really appreciate your input.

Toby said...

Lazydazy,

I'd recommend you start with all the books that you already love/enjoy or are pretty sure that you will love/enjoy and then pick a few more that look interesting. Wade in from the shallows and don't be afraid to try something that looks challenging. You might also skim through the introductory essays. That may help you decide how to prioritize as well. Blessings on your studies!

Suzanne said...

Thanks for this post. I've been looking all over the internet for Omnibus reviews and have only found a few. I'm seriously considering using Omnibus for our children's home education. Our oldest with be in the 7th grade in the fall. However, I'm not sure she has the maturity to take on the types of books that Omnibus I includes. I've noticed that some of the themes in the books are not what we're accustomed to using. Also, I really want her to get the most out of Omnibus I so I've considering waiting until 9th grade to use it. Yet I hate that she wouldn't get to go through all 6 Omnibus levels. Would you mind sharing your thoughts?

Toby said...

Sure. What I've suggested to other families considering the Omnibus curriculum is to wade in from the shallow end. So maybe you might skim through the Omnibus I textbook and pick a handful of chapters to use for your daughter's 7th grade year. You can also filter the themes and issues that you think would be most helpful/beneficial for her. Then you might consider doing a little more the following year with the ultimate goal of doing the whole program in high school. Blessings!

Anonymous said...

My son is taking the Omnibus I online course this year. He is in 8th grade. It is a very challenging course but his instructor puts a lot of fun in the class. That said, my son did drop his science course this spring because it was too hard to keep up with all the homework. I am trying to decide what to do for next year. Is the reading for Omnibus II just as intensive as I?

Toby said...

My experience with the Omnibus program is that the readings are fairly steady throughout. And it tends to be on the heavy side. Of course lots also depends on individual instructors and how fast they work through the texts and how much (if any) additional homework they assign alongside the reading.