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Podcast | 25 Minutes

Ed Stengel: One of Veritas' Great Teachers

Ed Stengel Written by Ed Stengel
Ed Stengel: One of Veritas' Great Teachers

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Ed Stengel has taught in classrooms in four different countries but has a passion to teach live online classes with Veritas. He shares his incredible life experiences that exude his love for teaching. Whether he’s helping a “problem student” thrive, encouraging children from around the globe to share their cultures with each other, or finding Jesus through reading Les Miserables, Ed will light up the room with his energy and enthusiasm.

Are you excited for your student to take classes with teachers like Ed? Schedule a free consultation today to see what classes are best for your family: https://veritaspress.com/consult

Episode Transcription

Note: This transcription may vary from the words used in the original episode for better readability.


Marlin Detweiler:

Welcome again to Veritas Vox, the voice of classical Christian Education. I'm Marlin Detweiler. And today we have with us Ed Stengel. Ed has been a teacher with us for a long time. But before we get to interviewing Ed, let me just say, as many of you know, Veritas is the largest online classical school in the world, in fact, the largest classical school in the world, Edward Scholar's Academy, as we call it, or VSA for short, is what it's called.

What many of you may not know is the registration for live online classes opens at the beginning of February this month, so look for information on that. These classes are a fantastic way to take stress off of your plate as a parent. And for your students to learn from expert teachers like Ed, who you'll hear from in just a moment, and you'll see how much he and all of our teachers really love what they teach.

In this episode, we're giving you a chance to meet Ed. And Ed, we want to welcome you to the podcast.

Ed Stengel:

Oh, thank you very much! I'm happy to be here.

Marlin Detweiler:

I don't remember. I know you've taught for us for a long time. Do you know off the top of your head how many years you've taught online with us?

Ed Stengel:

This is year five or six.

Marlin Detweiler:

Okay. I was thinking was a little bit longer than that. How did you become aware of Veritas and the opportunity to teach online?

Ed Stengel:

Yeah. So I was finishing up my Masters program in Christian philosophy, and so I was - I love teaching and this is my 10th year teaching. And so I was always after another teaching position. And I had never considered online teaching before. I'd always taught in face-to-face courses, and one of my fellow students who was graduating with me suggested VSA.

Both of her daughters were there and she said, “This is the perfect place for you. This is the sort of place you love and you get to teach from your home in your home classroom.” And I was blown away as I did research into the VSA philosophy and the style of class. It fit my personality and what I liked doing most the best.

I was used to having to teach some things I wasn't so passionate about in order to teach the things I liked. And at VSA, I never had to compromise. I was offered a chance to teach all the books and philosophy and Christian theology that I could ever want. And what's so nice about VSA is if you want more, you will always get more.

The student body is constantly growing and it's so diverse from all over the world and so there's every year is different and so that's it's so much fun to do and so I'm hooked.

Marlin Detweiler:

Now different people come to teaching for different reasons and from different places. How did your love of teaching and interest in teaching come about?

Ed Stengel:

This is a very funny story. So I was an exchange student my junior year of high school in Peru, and I was in a secondary school that had an English department. And so the administration of that school had a really interesting idea that I could go there for free for the entire year. It was a pretty expensive school.

If I was willing to help out in reforming their English curriculum and helping the English teachers, which, you know, at the age of 16, is a pretty wild experience. And so I got a lot of classroom experience through that. And I just I fell in love with it. I realized how much I enjoyed talking back and forth with students, just how rewarding it is to see students' eyes light up as they start to understand things or to see ideas click. And I don't know, ever since I was 16, I just thought, this is what I'm good at. Like, I didn't exactly know quite what I was good at before, but after that I was like, This is what I want to do.

Marlin Detweiler:

I know you've taught in four different countries, including, of course, America, and now teaching in a country is a funny thing because you never know who you're teaching what you do, but you could be teaching somebody from any part of the world. How did it come about that you had such a diverse experience in terms of places you've been able to teach?

Ed Stengel:

Well, when I was younger, I was kind of squirrely. I was really eager to go out and see as many things as I could. And so as soon as I graduated with my bachelor's in education, I was already looking overseas to see if there were any opportunities. And I started to work for a Christian school in Jakarta, Indonesia.

And I was exposed to a whole lot of different styles of curriculum there. One was International Baccalaureate, the other one was Cambridge, and they were very difficult to kind of shove into my head and with the cultures and everything along with it. But what I didn't realize at the time was that that was putting me through a gantlet that would kind of make me prepared for our VSA experience, where we have students coming from so many different backgrounds, so many different styles of education to where I kind of know generally where they're coming from.

So I can do my best to integrate them into classical-style education, which I have found to be by far the best fit for me. And it's just it was fun, and exhausting for sure to adjust to new cultures.

But, you know, now the funny thing is, my second year here at VSA, I ended up teaching a student who was at the elementary school in Indonesia that I was there, and he recognized me instantly. And when I was introducing myself and showing some pictures of where I lived, he's like, “Oh, I went to your church like, Oh, I know you!” And that's happened four times now. I've had students from that school in Indonesia who recognized me. And so I think it's fascinating how, you know, VSA’s name is becoming commonplace even in a place like Indonesia, where a lot of people are hungry for something different.

Marlin Detweiler:

That is incredible. I had no idea. How was your trek to becoming familiar with classical education and finding your own voice in it?

Ed Stengel:

Well, my Masters program played a very big part when I signed on to Houston Christian University's Christian Apologetics program. It's very classical in nature already. They don't really advertise that. But I was so fortunate that we end up reading from the ancients, from the medievals, from the moderns. It's necessary for everyone. And then you can kind of branch off into different interests.

And so I was very interested in the relationship between science and Christianity. I was also very interested in history and historical Christianity. And so it all just happened to very nicely tie in to exactly what's going on in the classical education world. And so when I was informed about VSA and informed that I'd be a good fit for it, that's when I started researching classical education and realized I'd been doing it for three years already without realizing that, you know, this is just continuing the tradition that the Christian church and the education that has come from it for a thousand plus years.

Marlin Detweiler:

That's incredible. I know that you have quite a following among Veritas families. Students love being in an Ed Stangel class. What do you think the secret to that is?

Ed Stengel:

Well, I think that part of it might be that I am I'm definitely on the younger side. I'm 31 this year. And when I started teaching, I was a lot younger ten years ago. But I think another part of it is, is and this is another sheer irony is when I first started my education program that my Bachelors level, I said, never middle school.

It's a never. I'll never be good at it. It's they're terrifying. I'll never be able to teach middle schoolers. And then through Veritas and really through my time in Indonesia, I came to realize, like middle schoolers are what I'm good at. And that's God's irony, right? Is every time we say, God, everything but that, that's the thing that God's going to say yes to.

Marlin Detweiler:

Isn’t that the truth.

Ed Stengel:

And I just realized that there is a certain level of controlled chaos where students know that you can match their energy levels in certain ways. You kind of have a proving ground for the first week or so of class where they're going to test you as much as they can.

And if you show them that you're up to the task and that you don't just want to kind of beat them down into submission, but you want to kind of harness that energy, that enthusiasm that they've got and put it toward something productive, you know, to where it's not bad to be goofy in class as long as it's the right kind of goofy, as long as it's the goofy that leads to us all understanding Herodotus Histories better. Because we study some really goofy people like Cambyses in Herodotus, like he was he was a crazy man who launched cows at his enemies. Like, that's funny!

It's crazy, but it's funny. And I think that students really appreciate the culture of the classroom online, which is, you know, you would think that it'd be very difficult to build a culture in an online class, but it really isn't that different from a face-to-face class in that, you know, every single class of VSA has its own unique characteristic.

And so we're all we're teaching the same curriculum. We're all on board together in the department meeting regularly, and yet every single teacher offers something different for each student. And I think that families love that. They get to experiment with different teachers and find which specific teachers match their specific students. And, you know, it's so great here at VSA that we have such a variety of teacher personalities that there is somebody for everybody.

Marlin Detweiler:

Now you alluded to something that kind of feeds into my next question. That's the whole idea of online teaching, and my experience is that anyone who has not observed it or experienced live online teaching like what we do, tends to underestimate its effectiveness. I think that's true of a number of people I know Tom Garfield, our Dean of Academics, was very much excuse me, was drawing a blank on his title.

But anyway, I think that might be right. But Tom was– years before he came to work for us. When I served on the ACCS board with him, was very skeptical and he was blown away by what he observed. What do you think it is that causes people to not understand how effective online education is? In some respects, considerably better than a bricks and mortar?

And what is it that causes people to say, “Aha! I didn't realize that it could be like that?”

Ed Stengel:

I think part of it is that online education has made huge jumps in probably the last 20 years. I would say that there is still an old paradigm understanding of what an online class is. So for a lot of people, they still think online classes student does work without any interaction with the teacher. Maybe the teacher makes a video or something to teach something indirectly to students.

They might interact on a chat board, but it's largely not a personal experience where in reality, you know, when we use software like Adobe Connect, it is a digital classroom with the added benefit that classroom discipline is so much easier. It's so much easier for students to be in a safe environment because if an environment is not safe, no learning is going to happen.

And I've worked in public schools that have been pretty rough in the past where earnest students who really want to learn really struggle to. When there is so much distraction going on in the classroom, whereas in an online environment, it's more controlled in terms of safety and at the same time you still are getting that face-to-face.

You know, students are on webcam, we're on webcam, we're talking back and forth. There's no shouting in the middle of someone else talking, which is great because you can turn people's mics off if you need to. And I think that Aha! moment comes with experience or when they just look at the data and they see how well our students not only perform in school, but once they go to university and after university.

I remember reading, I believe it was a Yale study that classical students of our specific genre outperform students of every other metric that they were looking at by a lot. Classical education prepares students the best and having this convenience of being able to have such a high-level education wherever you are in the world; if you're a missionary, if you're an international businessman, if you live deep in the country, all of them can tune in to this world-class education. And all of them, you know, have this level of care that the administration provides for them that frankly, would ten years ago be impossible for them to have.

So I think it's a lack of imagination right now that causes that reticence. And I think it's a realization that not only is this like a face-to-face class, but in some ways, it can be superior, especially with students who tend to be more introverted, who tend to really struggle in a crowd.

Everybody kind of gets their chance to shine in an online classroom. And as a teacher, I don't feel even half as destroyed emotionally and energy-wise when I'm done with the class because I mean the classroom is just there and in my home class or my home classroom, and when I'm done, I get to go downstairs and have lunch. I don't have to drive an hour back home. And the students just they love learning and we get students who love learning from everywhere. And I mean, we get a dream team of students in our classes from all over the world of different races and cultures. And it's a beautiful thing.

Marlin Detweiler:

I think it's also true that students who didn't love learning previously grow to love learning to. We have seen many, many students come out of their “I hate education” shell because of the teachers and the personal touch that they provide. People like you. One of the things I think I've touched on this in other episodes, but one of the things that really surprised me, you know, I knew that online education could be effective.

I knew the technology was going to develop. This goes back almost 20 years. Now. In 2023, we start our 19th year of online classes. And so I knew all those things were going to be the case because I've been around technology long enough to know that you're not going to stay where you are. It's going to get better.

That was easy, but I didn't see coming was how important, how significant it was to have a breadth of nations and cultures represented, especially in classes that are discussion-oriented classes like the great books, classes that we call the Omnibus. What has been your well, statistically speaking, what percentage of your students have been from other countries than America?

Any idea? Just a guess.

Ed Stengel:

Well, I would say that every like I said, every single class is different. Sometimes I have a class that is just all Americans. Sometimes I'll have a class that is half Asian. The earlier classes tend to be more international by far because that's a good time zone for them. And so I would have to say maybe a solid 30%.

In my classes, especially the younger ones and the earlier classes, I start teaching at 7 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and those are very heavy with Asian students.

Marlin Detweiler:

7 a.m. Central time, correct?

Ed Stengel:
Yes.

Marlin Detweiler:

I just want to make sure that people hear, because we're working on expanding our hours because we want to be increasingly convenient to people that are in very different time zones. I live and sit today in the Eastern time zone and you sit in the Central Time Zone and that's where a lot of people are from.

But 30% come from other countries. That's incredible. How would you describe how that makes classes better, more rich in terms of discussion and interaction?

Ed Stengel:

It's so fascinating when we ask the cultural questions in an Omnibus class, especially when you know and I ask, “what does your culture think of this?” And “what does your culture think of the objectivity of good and evil? What are they?” And you'll have a Chinese student who has a completely different answer, one that most students, you know, a 12-year-old student in the United States may not ever consider how a Chinese family might think.

And now suddenly, it's not strange to them. It's not foreign to them. They have a personal face-to-face experience with all these people from different cultures in the world, and they didn't even have to travel there for it. And so, you know, this ability to make friends with people halfway around the world as if you're in the same room together, it definitely makes, especially in the Christian world, it really connects us to the church all over.

And, you know, some issues that we may have as Christians in the United States or they might have a polar opposite issue in a place like China. And so getting to hear about what we hear on the news straight up from somebody who lives there, that's an invaluable experience. I mean, and they're what's going on in their part of the world in this, you know, historical discussion that we're having.

I get to learn so much every I always make this joke with my students. I said, “you're paying me so that you can teach me, you know, about your culture and about how you view these things. And so you give me wider viewpoints. And so I'm just conning you into teaching me. Every time I ask you a question.”

I generally want to know what you think about it. And so, you know, the joke's on you. You end up teaching me so much and, you know, hopefully, I'll teach you something as well. But there's an exchange in this online format that just isn't possible even in an international school.

Marlin Detweiler:

Well, it's clearly the case. I've seen this in the teaching that I've done, and I'm not a teacher, but I've done some teaching, that the teacher always learns the most.

Ed Stengel:

Yeah, I would say so.

Marlin Detweiler:

Now you have most of your teaching. Maybe all of it at the moment is teaching in the great books, or Omnibus curriculum. Where did your love for that - for the canon of Western civilization, the great books, as we tend to call them, where did your love for those books come from and how do you see that as valuable today?

Ed Stengel:

I actually wrote about this in the Epistula point a few years ago, which is our kind of blog publication for teachers and administrators to write in. And I kind of talked about this. I did not really get to experience almost any of the great books in my education growing up. I think that we probably did one or two books a year is what we got. We would read little tiny portions of Shakespeare, but it was obvious my teacher didn't like it and didn't want to do it. And when a teacher doesn't like what they're teaching, it's just glaringly obvious and you're never going to get into anything that your teacher's not into.

And so I went through my entire high school years and most of my undergrad years just not having an appreciation for the great books I remember and I wrote, This is what I wrote about in the Epistula is I picked up Dante's Divine Comedy when I was maybe a junior in my undergrad, and I opened it up and I didn't understand anything. I didn't understand the references. The language is archaic because it was the Wordsworth translation. I didn't know what translation I was supposed to read because I had no background and I thought, this just isn't for me. Maybe I'm not smart enough. Maybe, maybe I just don't have what it takes to read these books. Like what a shame. And then I put it away.

And it was only when I began my master's program and Dante's Divine Comedy was a part of what we were required to read for a class. I'm like, All right, well, I've got to become the sort of person who understands this. And so we read a much more modern translation, which is what we need in my Omnibus class as well.

And it just suddenly I realized that there is something special about these works. It's not just nepotism from, you know, people promoting their ancestors or something of the sort like I had kind of been told. That there is something divinely special about many of these works. You can see the hands of God in how these works came to be and there's a reason why we still have them today and that the lessons that we learn not only about history, but about what it means to be human, what it means to be made in the image of God and, you know, suffering from sin.

We are inheriting the entirety of what humanity has experienced up until this point and what a tragedy it would be if students did not get to experience this, if they were not given the tools to be changed by this work.

I'd love to tell the story. I came to Christianity. I became a full believer because of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, which is in the canon of great literature. It's a little bit too long for us to cover in the Omnibus program, but it's one it's in my list of books that are not Omnibus books that you should read once you leave.

And I just remember the experience of Christianity being made so raw in the experience of Jean Valjean in that book. And it just suddenly made sense to me where it never did before. I had this moment where I realized like, “Wait, there is no middle road to faith. You walk this road, you can't see what's ahead of you, but you've got to walk it or you got to go the other way because you can't just stand in the middle.”

And that impacted my life. I always explain it as the world was black and white and it became color after that moment. And that's an experience that I want to to the best of my ability to be able to give to our students. And a lot of students are terrified when they see these big books and they're like, “Oh, I'm going to hate it. Or my sibling hated this book, so I'll hate to.” And I'm like, “Oh, you won’t. You definitely will not.” Now, in the end, if you read it and you said, “You know what, I prefer other works to this.” That's perfectly fine.

But every single one of these works has something to say to you and you've got to interact with it. You've got to dialog with these works. They're not just going to beat you over the head. You've got to uncover it. And it's its treasure. And I and I see us in the classical world, you know, we are kind of treasure bearers to these people and, and it doesn't matter your race or your culture. This is the story of humanity. We're going all over the world.

I always tell people, in Omnibus I, I don't think we have a single white European showing up the whole time, except when Shakespeare at the very end, because this is all of us and humanity. These identity issues that the modern world keeps struggling with. We're not really concerned with that sort of thing. We're concerned with what makes us human, what it means to be made an image of God, what makes us, you know, the Church of Christ.

Marlin Detweiler:

It's wonderful when we rise above some of the silliness, isn't it?

Ed Stengel:

So many of my students are all different races!

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah. Can you give an example? Obviously don't name names, but can you give an example of growth and transformation in a student as a result of participating in an Omnibus class?

Ed Stengel:

Oh, absolutely. I have a perfect example in my mind. A few years ago I had a student who had been kicked out of the school that they were in. They were in a private I don't know if it was a classical school. They were kicked out of school for bad behavior because they were constantly arguing with teachers. They were constantly neglecting their work.

And they came into this class and they kind of, you know, they started out kind of bragging about how bad they were in school. And instead of just like hammering them, I kind of slowly ushered them into our culture here, which is, you know, being a bad guy is not going to be seen as cool here.

But instead, you know, we have a very supportive group of students who love what they're learning and they love seeing other people learning. And these are kids who will get a formal debate set up on a Saturday morning that no teachers are involved in and all the students from class will come to. And then very respectfully, like digitally shake hands and be like, “Whoa, you made such great points there.”

And this student’s transformation, they, I think, got a 98% in that class. Theirs was the first hand up almost for every question their projects were incredible because this student was so intelligent and they were not being challenged in their old school. And I guess nobody asked the question why? Why are they acting out? Are they bored? Do they need more responsibility? Are they upset that they're not being taken seriously? Because Omnibus takes every single student seriously. We treat them like true thinkers. They're not just there to have something shoved into their heads. They're a serious thinker from day one. And they got to rise to that challenge and this student did it, it's one of my proudest moments.

But we have so many stories like that, students who weren't challenged in other places and they find where they belong and they feel like they belong. And I didn't have a single behavior problem with them the entire year.

Marlin Detweiler:

It's amazing how effective the culture of positive peer pressure, love for our neighbor, student to student, obviously teacher to student and student to teacher, but student to student also. And what that does to draw in people because they get to a place. They're in an environment where everybody wants to learn and they know they can be trusted.

Ed Stengel:

Yeah.

Marlin Detweiler:

That's really cool. Well, I've saved one of my most important questions for last. You play in a folk group called Pawns or Kings. And you play something in addition to the banjo and guitar called the Irish Penny Whistle. I wanted to hear from you. What is an Irish penny whistle?

Ed Stengel:

So an Irish penny whistle, historically speaking, it's an instrument that Irish people could afford during the time of famine. And so it's largely considered an Irish instrument because it was made of tin. Tin was super inexpensive in this era so it was made of tin and it's a very rudimentary instrument.

I think it's got just eight holes in it. I have one right here, actually. Always have one available, I suppose.

Marlin Detweiler:

So I was going to ask you, we didn't set this up. I want people that are listening to know that I didn't have you set ready, but let me ask you to play now.

Ed Stengel:

Well, I might be able to. So this one's in the key of C. I don't know if this one's full of dust or not, but.

Marlin Detweiler:

Oh, we lost our sound a little bit. Just at the right time. See if you can play it toward the microphone a little closer. Yeah.

Ed Stengel:

I'll try that again.

Marlin Detweiler:

Oh, the computer doesn't like it for some reason.

Ed Stengel:

Yeah, I have a noise canceller that's in the eye of my microphone. And I'm wondering if this is. It's picking it up as breathiness.

Marlin Detweiler:

I think it is. Yeah.

Ed Stengel:

Yeah, that's a shame.

But yeah, it's a great instrument because you can pick it up for ten bucks anywhere. And you can hear it in the Lord of the Rings soundtrack and in Irish traditional music. Weird instruments have always been my favorite. I can actually show you my newest one that I'm most proud of and it's out of tune, so don't ask me to play it right now.

Marlin Detweiler:

But wow, look at this woodwork. What is that?

Ed Stengel:

It's called a hurdy-gurdy. It's a medieval instrument. I played it for my students a little while ago. One of the things about it is it's like 20 degrees outside. And so when humidity disappears, it falls out of tune. But yeah, I waited for three years for this to be handmade.

Marlin Detweiler:

There was a rock song from the sixties that refers to the hurdy-gurdy man. I am old enough to know it. He also sang Mello Yello. I can't think of the guy, he was an Englishman. That was the one that sang it. I can't think of his name. But anyway, we're right on time. Ed, thank you so much for joining us.

Thank you for what you do at VSA. Ed is one of 160, some, maybe even more teachers. And we have so many teachers like Ed that love what they do and it comes through in and it impacts students like you can't believe.

So if you're interested in speaking with an expert about our live online classes and of course options, you can go to www.veritaspress.com/consult and there you can provide the information that you need to have somebody contact you and describe to you what it might be like for your children to be a part of it. Ed, thank you for joining us.

Folks, this has been Veritas Vox, the voice of classical Christian education. Take care.