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Podcast | 25 Minutes

Like Father, Like Son? | Brandon Detweiler

Marlin Detweiler Written by Marlin Detweiler
Like Father, Like Son? | Brandon Detweiler

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How do classically educated kids really turn out as adults? Get a peek at one through today’s episode! Today Marlin Detweiler is joined by his son, Brandon. Hear how his education impacted his life, drove him to succeed as an entrepreneur, and begin Lux Classical Christian school in Jacksonville Beach, Florida.

If you need hope that your classically educated children can come out on the other side as strong and intelligent adults, today’s episode is for you!

Episode Transcription

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

Marlin Detweiler:

Welcome again. This is Veritas Vox, the voice of classical Christian education. I am Marlin Detweiler. And today we have with us somebody who I know pretty well. He is son number two of four, Brandon Detweiler. But before I give the mic, so to speak, to him, we're going to talk a little bit about his view on the importance of classical Christian education and some of the things that he's done.

It is notable that he has done some things that his mother and I have done in a way that actually surprised us a little bit. Welcome, Brandon.

Brandon Detweiler:

Thank you for having me, Dad.

Marlin Detweiler:

All right. Tell us a little bit about yourself, your education, your family, and then your career path a bit.

Brandon Detweiler:

Sure. Now, first on a little bit under the weather, so forgive me if I cough a little bit. I think you forgot to mention my middle name, which I think is kind of important and funny at times. Being one of four boys, our middle names are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, in chronological order. And my middle name is Mark because I am number two in the lineup.

Let's see. So family: married. My wife is Jackie. Obviously, you know her, but the audience doesn't have two daughters, which were just sitting in my lap because they wanted to say hi to Gramps, which for those that don't know, is my father's name to all the grandbabies. So Skyler is six. She's in kindergarten and Gray is two and a half.

Actually, Skyler, I think it's six and a half today. Yeah. So just two girls, and they're wonderful. Obviously, Skyler just started kindergarten, which is one of the reasons why we started or did what we did and had a lot of help from your mom and from Veritas along the way. Audience, forgive me for calling him Dad. I'm not going to call him Marlin.

I'm going to call him Dad because that's what he is to me. Calling him Marlin sounds a bit awkward and maybe a little disrespectful. Only willing to do that on the golf course. But as far as my career path goes, I wouldn't really consider it, or certainly not conventional, as my brothers would say.

In many ways, I have followed in my father's footsteps or tried to do whatever he's done. And in some cases that's true. And I would certainly disagree with what my brothers saying because I want to feel like I'm making a more unique decision. But I have made a lot of decisions similar to my dad, and I'd say the decisions that are similar are just good decisions.

But the first one I did, was I took golf very early. My dad was a great golfer and I just had a natural talent there and love the game and eventually played golf at N.C. State and had a solid career there. I played amateur golf at a high level graduated, turned professional and I played for about four years, and my last year, I think in 2013, was on the Sunshine Tour in South Africa.

It was a wonderful experience just living overseas and experiencing a completely different culture, and it certainly makes you more appreciative of the of America in general and some of the freedoms that we have. Just gratitude is something that I think I experience more as a result of doing that.

As easy as that is to look at our culture and society and want to point out like how all things, how everything is wrong or all the all the wrong things in the world. And let's see, about a year into turning pro, I was diagnosed with Crohn's, which has seriously impacted my life, changed my lifestyle, changed a lot of decisions that I make playing golf and traveling, you know, 30 to 40 weeks a year.

Being on the road and eating really well was quite difficult. But towards the end of that four year stint, I met my now wife and she was born and raised in San Diego. And it's kind of weird saying it, we met on, oddly enough! So when things kind of got serious with her, I was feeling that my playing days were over and I was ready to move on to something different.

I talked about that recently. It's hard to describe all the factors that went into making that decision, but I think ultimately I just say it, it just really felt like the time was right to move on to another chapter. And so along that same time, an opening– Veritas Press had a need for someone to kind of fill in for a Director of Marketing position, really manage all the communications.

And my parents asked me to fill in while I figured out what I was going to do next. And they probably well, actually, I don't know. You can answer this question. Thought like, “Actually we would like for Brandon to do this”, but to me, I was thinking that it would kind of be a part time thing, but digital marketing and ecommerce and technology were things that just kind of clicked.

And I'd say we had a lot of quick wins and in many instances, Veritas had already started the shift into becoming what I wouldn’t call a tech company. I remember you and I had this conversation potentially an argument several years ago, and eventually I agree with you that it's an education company that really relies heavily or is empowered by technology.

And I firmly believe that now. And I think I was able to help make that transition and start.

Marlin Detweiler:

Start getting us into the 21st century.

Brandon Detweiler:

Yeah, Yeah! That's I know you say that a lot. I certainly don't want to take all the credit for that because great team, great people that well I guess there's no I in team and I'm not going to say the Michael Jordan quote because it's not true, certainly not in this instance. And for him, it very well could have been.

Yeah. So it just kind of clicked, and my folks asked me to come on full-time. So I did. And there just continued to grow. Just wonderful. Not only was it fun, but it's also fulfilling because of the impact that Veritas has on people's lives. And I think more importantly on kind of early learning K-12 kids, I think that's really where impact can be made and lasting impact, cultural impact because you need to prepare the next generation.

Marlin Detweiler:

Parenthetically there I know you believe this too, but it can't be said too much and that is by the time college rolls around, which is the place that most people have thought the greatest impact happens. Frankly, it's too late. And that was one of the things that was really important and is an important message for us to get out that if you don't establish what needs to be established in K-12 in college, it's going to be too late to really shape it properly. You have so much ground to make up.

Brandon Detweiler:

Yeah! I mean, I wouldn't say that It's like it's not that it'd be true of the whole, but it's not true of every individual part. Right. So I mean, my best friend Erin Ginn went to a public school, and became a Christian very late in life. And I'd say, in many ways, he's a more developed Christian and leader than I am.

But I think that that is really was, frankly, just by a God's providence that that became the case. But for the vast majority of kids, I agree with you because you're implementing, you know, in the early stages. And so I think academic rigor is important or even playing sports. You can get it in lots of different ways, but especially in academic rigor because it teaches diligence, it teaches consistency, it teaches some of the things that a lot of kids have to start learning in college.

But I think I had them before I got there. I didn't need people making sure that I got my work done on time. I took ownership of it. So that's probably a good way to put it is academic rigor can help kids feel a sense of ownership over their life, and that serves very well.

But more than that, you know, just being able to defend your faith, being able to not question nearly as much, or even when those questions do pop into your head about your faith, which I think is perfectly natural and good to be able to remind yourself very clearly, logically, biblically, why you believe what you believe.

Marlin Detweiler:

Okay, yeah, the whole category of knowing where to get the answers. People ask questions but go to the wrong place for answers.

Brandon Detweiler:

No doubt. No doubt. And I'd say, yeah. And that's just, I mean, that's especially true with your spiritual life and your faith, but it's also true of really every other category of life work, vocation, family, parenting, like it's health, a career. I mean, it doesn't matter knowing, knowing how to go about finding answers, figuring out solutions. I'd say that's kind of the goal of going through the final stage of the trivium where you leave and not only can you formulate ideas, but you can think of new ideas and then back them up, or you can kind of troubleshoot and solve. And that's where I'm coming into Veritas, of being a professional golfer, I think I was able to move a lot faster and get things rather quickly as a result of the education that I was given because I was born into our family.

I didn't choose it. You chose it for me. I'm grateful that you did that for me. There are things that I think I would I would have loved to be different. But now, having started what we started, I have far more empathy and understanding. You do the best that you can! And so things that I may have been not going to be very different.

Marlin Detweiler:

Produce all of the best options for sure.

Brandon Detweiler:

Yeah, but go ahead.

Marlin Detweiler:

I'm sorry, I didn't mean to cut you.

Brandon Detweiler:

So I was going to say just career-wise from there, so I'm no longer at Veritas. So after, oh, I don't know, 5 a half years or so, it's just frankly, something that you told me and told all of us boys getting experience elsewhere, I've realized now would have served me well. There was just the lack of professional experience, I think caused me to operate in some ways that just kind of maybe turned into frustrations or just a lack of empathy or complete understanding.

And so it just became clear that it was time for–- it would be good. It was kind of time for me to go out and also kind of become my own man. From that sense. Right? And so I did that and left and was kind of a mercenary executive CEO for couple of organizations, PE firms, or people that bought businesses and went in and worked on just kind of growing, going through a similar process to what I think I did at Veritas, but at more of a higher level I did that went through a handful of those, moved left Lancaster with our family and ended up in California. There's a company in LA that I was running, and my wife is from San Diego. So getting back out there was nice for a period of time. And then after that was done, after the last one was done, I was based in Austin, but I didn't have to be there.

We moved from Southern California to Jacksonville Beach, Florida, which is where we are now. And in doing so, I called my best friend in June, and he asked me what I was going to do next and asked me, “Will you come and run Lincoln Studio?” So Lincoln Network is a nonprofit. Think there are like three heads to it. A think tank and events team and then the studio, and their goal is to build bridges to connect Silicon Valley and Capitol Hill.

And they do that by helping policymakers make better decisions on how to structure data and how to, you know, make this report or making things available. It's just making good decisions to not hamper American innovation and great events. And then the studio team actually builds products. Put your time and your money where your mouth is.

So if you're going to talk about technology, you should probably build it, too. And a couple of the products are K-12 ed products. Obviously, I love K-12. It made a lot of sense. is a school finder application, which is really wonderful, and I think we'll talk about some of the trends that I've been seeing in the marketplace. Project Nickel, a school spending transparency application that's really neat, and I did that and then just a number of different things and still have an entrepreneurial itch and am always working on working on things and projects.

But yeah, that kind of a base, that's where we're at right now. And then, when we moved to Jacksonville Beach, I realize there was no classical Christian school here or really there wasn't one here that I thought was just high quality or up to the standards that I would expect having gone through Veritas and what I like to call being a test dummy.

And so there are some good ones in Saint Augustine. We thought about moving to the south side of town to be drawn, doing the commute, frankly, because I don't I personally just don't want to live in Saint Augustine. And it's more than just a personal thing, lifestyle thing. And we started going to a new church here, Christ Church Beaches, and at a Super Bowl party at our pastor's house, there's a family there, Dave and Jenny Stiffler, and I had met Dave a couple of times, but I don't think I had ever met Jenny. And she just she heard somebody introduce me and she asked, “Are you Marlin and Laurie’s son?” And I said, “Yes, I am.” So that's not the first time that's happened to me. It certainly won't be the last time.

Marlin Detweiler:

And nothing makes you feel any better. There are occasions where especially in the golf world these days. “Oh, are you Brandon Detweiler’s father?”

Brandon Detweiler:

Yeah! Yeah, that's true. I mean, that goes both ways. I still guess not as often anymore.

Marlin Detweiler:

So you decided to start a school?

Brandon Detweiler:

We're really trying to figure out how to get Skyler into one of the classical schools in Saint Augustine. And I went through that, started the application process, and literally looking at houses in the south side of Ponte Vedra. Meanwhile, we had already bought out about 20 minutes in town, but I think, you know, put your money where your mouth is.

This is something that I feel very passionate about. I think Jackie will even go as far as saying, like, I'm very stubborn and inflexible here. And that's true. And I'm trying to do a better job listening and making her feel heard; it sounds like. All right, we moved a year ago, and we bought this house a year ago.

I'm will to move again. Like that's how much I believe in it. And then went as far as trying to find a private driver that would take her, it's about a 35 to 45-minute drive every day. And so as we're working through this and I'm becoming more and more convinced like this is this is not great, but I'm willing to do it because it's worth it.

We're at the Super Bowl party. And Jenny, said, “Are you Marlin and Laurie’s son?” So I said yes. And I think these were like the first words out of her mouth after that, she said, “You know, a lot of my friends have been asking me to start a classical Christian school. You should do it.”

And I looked at her, and I verbatim said, “Not a chance.” I've been through this twice before. Not doing it. But I remember when you and I started Geneva, and I remember when you and Mom started Veritas Academy in Pennsylvania, and I remember how hard it was and some of the struggles, and frankly, as lots of family members like to remind me, my memory is not nearly as good as I thought it or as I think it is, because it is significantly harder than I thought and continues to be on ebbs and flows.

Yeah, it's hard. And so I said, “Not a chance. Like, No, I'm not doing that. I'm going to hire a private driver, and we're going to do this. And you know what? You should carpool with us.” So two weeks later, they're over for dinner. Jenny can be good at getting what she wants.

And in this case, that's something that was very good. And by the end of dinner, they convinced my wife, Jackie, which, if you knew Jackie, you'd be surprised that she did this. And the two of them said, “We want to do this now.” And as soon as Jackie said she wanted to do it, I have a hard time saying no to her.

I love her very much! I said, All right, if you guys are. And then Dave, Jenny's husband was also kind of had cold feet because he's a serial founder and started multiple companies, and he knows how hard starting things is. He’s like, “Are you guys sure? Like this is a startup in a sense.” So right then and there, we decided to do it, and we were off to the races.

I think it was March of 2021, and September 6th, 2021, was our first day. So it was what's that like? Roughly five months, right? And I think that's about the same time frame that you did with Geneva. But frankly, I had far more resources than you had at the time in that I had you and mom.

Marlin Detweiler:

Not that we're comparing competitive notes, but we did it in three months. Yeah, with far less so. Yeah, well, we had R.C. Sproul on board to help, and that was a huge difference.

Brandon Detweiler:

Yeah, but like I already knew the curriculum we were going to use, had so many startup resources from ACCS, It's a great place. Got their Start a School Kit, I think is what it's called. Was funny as I bought that, and I was reading through it and I'm reading articles that you literally wrote, which I just kind of giggled to myself reading something about insurance for teachers. And it was written by you. Just, you know, it comes full circle.

Marlin Detweiler:

We're getting caught up a little detail. We're going to run out of time. So I want to move this along in case the audience doesn't know what I would expect they do. Brandon is my most talkative son.

Brandon Detweiler:

I am! I am. But details matter. But yes, you can get us back on point.

Marlin Detweiler:

What you started is Lux Classical Christian School, and it is currently a university model school meeting three days a week. It's younger grades only. And for those that are interested, look it up and join them because they're doing great work.

Brandon Detweiler:

Marlin Detweiler:

Thank you. So tell us, going beyond that, why you chose that model and then what you see happening in education in general and how it will benefit classical Christian education in the myriad of models and things that are coming about.

Brandon Detweiler:

Sure. Why we chose that model. So that I'd say David and Jenny were really interested in that model. There are a couple other like I like to call them homeschool co-ops on steroids locally, that have that. I think there are two of them that that model was probably where the idea came from. But for me, I actually– long term I don't want to be three days. We have other ideas there. We'll get into those later in the conversation. But I thought we were going to start small. I have a lot of moving parts going on in my life at the time and was very busy but thought, All right, if we do three days a week, we start out just K-2, assign work on Mondays and Fridays.

So we meet Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday and send work home. It should be done on Friday and on Monday and brought back to class on Tuesday afternoon to the teacher. So there's some homeschooling, some is partnering with the parents, which I think is very important, that it requires parents to be engaged, can't just do you know, it's not 100% en loco parentis, its not in place of the parent.

But for me it was more of a logistical thing, and just, okay, I think we can do this. We have a short time frame to get this done. We'll start three days, and then over time we can add more days if we want to. My thoughts on that have changed dramatically now that I'm kind of in it. I'm talking to parents; I'm doing what in the tech world, I would call user research, right? You're figuring out who user personas are, what do they want, and what do they tell you their problems are. And culturally, what I'm seeing are parents, more so now than probably before, are interested in more flexibility. And flexibility could look like it could be three days a week.

It could be four days a week. It could be an online school. It could be we're going to homeschool completely. But frankly, there's not a whole lot of flexibility in homeschooling, as I think most parents know. Homeschooling is very hard, and the way I tell parents is, I'm a believer in classical Christian education. And you could say I've been indoctrinated to believe it, but I believe that Veritas Press curriculum is the best because I trust my mother completely and her choices in curriculum.

She has the great ideas, you kind of bring them to life. And it's a beautiful thing. It's very synergistic. And I love it! But that I believe in the content, get the content. And then you need to figure out how is your child going to like, where are they going to thrive, what environment are they going to thrive.

And this is talking to thousands of parents and sending millions of emails and A/B tests, and figuring out what people really care about and what their problems are. And everyone's always worried they're going to make mistakes, they're going to mess up their kids. And that's kind of the biggest fear. And I hope that parents can release that because you are going to make mistakes.

Accept that. In fact, don't accept that, expect that, but not let that cause you to not make decisions. You have to move forward. Sometimes you take two steps forward, and one step back, and that's okay. But there's some big decisions that you can make on the front end by having some self-awareness and kind of doing an audit for kids and of yourself.

It's like, what environments do your kids thrive in? Our oldest daughter, Skyler, much like me, and Gray, our youngest, will be the same, I can tell already, she’s two and a half are extreme lecturers. They love being around kids. They'll thrive in an environment around kids. You could do that with a co-op, you could do that with lots of things. But then I always say like for mom, because 99.9% of the time mom is the one at home doing teaching routinely. And for my wife that is just not her thing. And I'm perfectly fine with that. Frankly, it's not my thing, but that doesn't mean you can't get the content.

So then I say, okay, you know, what are your options? Bricks and mortar school, online school, homeschool co-op, pick one. There are lots of them. They use the very same curriculum. And so, for us, it just happened to be the hardest thing, bricks-and-mortar. And there wasn't one here. So. All right, you know, we got to do it.

Marlin Detweiler:

Well, what's really interesting is that today and I believe this is trending increasingly, it will be increasingly the case, the blending of all of those things is happening at your school.

Brandon Detweiler:

Yeah, the micro-school revolution is here. And some organizations are greasing the skids. I'll say VLA Fund is an organization that, frankly, you want to talk about extreme generosity. Like we just filled out their application. It took like 15 minutes, and they cut us a check to support what we're doing.

Like almost, almost no questions asked. And they're doing it for basically any micro school and for them. And this is where I put my business hat on. I love it. They're looking at it from the perspective of we want to open up as many seats as possible and kind of plant seeds, almost venture style, venture investing style and get extreme ROI, but instead of, you know, spending $5 or $8 million building a school that can house 300 kids.

Right. I don't know. Do the math really quick on how many dollars per seat that cost. They realized, well, there's this family that the only reason they can't have 15 kids and do a micro-school at their house because they have like an extra large, I don't know, barn per se is they need to spend $15,000 or $10,000 on a fence to keep the kids in an area like small kids.

They say, “Cool. Let's pay for that.” Guess what? You just spent, you know, ten grand, and you created 15 seats. It's crazy ROI. And so that's kind of the way they're looking at it. And there will be lots of failures. But I think that the wins will be they'll be exponential and will be really impactful. And I think that's a really cool thing.

Marlin Detweiler:

For us is, you know, we've worked with you, and this is one of the things that we're really focused on at Veritas, and that is using leveraging technology for delivery. At your school. you've done what we might call a reverse classroom environment or self-paced, where the kids do self-paced courses at home and come to what might be homework at school and things like that.

And what I wanted you to be able to bring out what you did so well is how many opportunities there are for our children today to get a classical Christian education and how important it is to do that through all kinds of means. I'm going to say publicly here that you're part of a brainstorming exercise with us in the company and some others to really think about how we can leverage that using your model and other models as scenarios that allow us to get what we believe to be a missing ingredient in the recapturing of culture for Christ. It's fun to be a part of.

Any last words on that before we go?

Brandon Detweiler:

You've worked with some schools and some brick-and-mortar schools are already doing it right where they say, “Hey, we're a smaller school in the middle of insert state name…” It’s really hard to find a chemistry teacher or a calculus teacher for our school. And it would be kind of ridiculously expensive to hire a full-time teacher for five kids.

Well, you don't have to anymore because of technology and being able to just decide, “Okay for that period they're going to sit in a room together and take a live online class with Veritas Scholars Academy. That's wonderful. And so that kind of got the wheels turning. So for us this year, I think we have like 16 or 18 kids.

We have three teachers, but we do have combined grades, and there are a lot of classes that can be taught together, like if history, for example, could be taught together, but the older grade could do the Level two workbook, and the younger grade could do the level one. But that way you get some economies of scale. But as I've been ruminating on this, the more I'm trying to think about a model and potentially something that we would implement over time would be because, frankly, hiring teachers right now is very difficult as teachers are leaving the profession.

And frankly, I don't blame them because they're underpaid. And it's a thankless job because you have parents that care so much about their kids, and they're hard to deal with. And especially in the public school system after COVID, a lot of them just kind of rage quit because they're sick and tired of wearing a mask and doing all these things.

But so then I've been thinking about, okay, well, what are some things that we can do at Lux that would allow that would make it easier and more cost-effective for us to scale? Because starting a school is very expensive. God has challenged me in that area. I've had to cut up, and bring out my checkbook along with Jenny and Dave and lots of other families.

But so what if there was a playbook where you could hire one teacher for two grades and say they would teach fourth grade in the morning, fifth grade in the afternoon, but in the fourth grade in the afternoon would take, you know, 40 to 50% of our classes would be VSA, and fifth grade would do it in the morning.

You know, that makes it easier to start. Makes it easier to grow, lowers the risk it potentially has, you know, it gives the flexibility that a lot of parents want. And so as up in ruminating on this because ideally we are three days I'd love at the very least for parents to have the ability to be able to drop their kids off five days a week.

I think there are a lot of families that have two working parents, and so I want Lux to be available to as many as possible. And, you know, the more I think about it, certainly in the grammar stage or in K - 6, it would be, you know, maybe classes would be Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, four days a week, and Friday would be like an optional drop your kid off and you're going to proctors there and help them with homework.

But so that's kind of where we're headed. But even right now, we are using self-paced courses in the classroom because there are a couple of classes where the teacher has to split, and they have to teach. And it allows our teachers to teach the younger kids or, the older kids while the other kids are doing self-paced. So it's a plug-and-play effect.

Marlin Detweiler:

We've run out of time, but there are so many options like that, and we want to be facilitating people and the communities that they're in to provide for the needs that they've got there while making sure that what they're getting is the kind of education that we are so much believers in, you and us. And it's fun to see you all doing this.

If you live in the Jacksonville Beach area, check out Lux Classical Christian School. What's the website again?

Brandon Detweiler:

Marlin Detweiler:

Very good, Brandon. Thank you. As you can imagine, it is very heartwarming to see a kid stepping into footsteps and standing on shoulders and going further up and further in. Thank you, folks, for joining us for this episode of Veritas Vox, the voice of classical Christian education.

Brandon Detweiler:

Thanks, Dad! Love you.