Use code COMPLETE100 to get an additional $100 OFF 2nd-12th Complete Grade Packages or COMPLETE50 for $50 OFF K-1st Grade Packages

Podcast | 20 Minutes

Meet the Headmaster of the World's Largest Classical School (part 1)

Marlin Detweiler Written by Marlin Detweiler
Meet the Headmaster of the World's Largest Classical School (part 1)

Listen on Apple Podcasts | Listen on Spotify

In this episode, Marlin Detweiler helps you get to know Dr. Bob Cannon, the beloved Headmaster of Veritas Scholars Academy! Discover the story of how he came to faith in Christ, his journey into the world of education, and how he finally came to join our family at Veritas.

Are you or someone you know at the start of your Christian life like Dr. Cannon was those years ago? This Westminister Shorter Catechism book is a helpful and clear way for both new and seasoned Christians to study the core teachings of the Bible.

Episode Transcription

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

Marlin Detweiler:

Hi, this is Marlin Detweiler. Welcome to our podcast. Today I'm hosting and our guest is Dr. Bob Cannon, who many of you might know is the headmaster of our online school, Veritas Scholars Academy. But Bob has quite an interesting story. And so in this session, we're going to focus our interactions with him on his background and how he got involved in classical Christian education. Bob, welcome.

Bob Cannon:

Thank you. Thank you, Marlin. Great to be here.

Marlin Detweiler:

Good to have you here. Bob has become a dear friend in addition to a wonderful executive at Veritas. Bob, can you tell us a little bit of your background, how you came to faith and the process of that conversion and maybe some of the credentials that you bring to work at Veritas?

Bob Cannon:

Sure, yeah. I'll start with the credentials and then we'll get to the really interesting stuff, which is my faith story. I studied psychology at the undergraduate level at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. And then if you fast forward, that was in 1993 that I received that degree. If you fast forward to 1998, that's where my salvation story really takes root.

And I'll come back to that, as I said. But that was in May of 1998 that I actually came to Christ. And then just a few short months later, in August, I started my graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania. I remember when I was just a boy, early teens, I was at a basketball camp. And I remember the basketball coach there saying that when you really want to do something, you grab your mom's lipstick, you go into the bathroom and you write whatever it is you plan to do or to be on the mirror in your bathroom.

Now, I'm sure that he caused a lot of moms to be unhappy with their sons, but I walked into the bathroom, not with my mom's lipstick, but with a Sharpie marker. This was in about May or June of 1998. I was living in Philadelphia at the time and I wrote On The Mirror, I'm going to Penn. And it was in August then that I had been accepted to their graduate school program in education.

I started my studies there and then if you fast forward to 27, by that point I had received both a master's and a doctorate in education at the University of Pennsylvania. Lots, of course, happens in that course of time, but that's the really short story. In addition to the studies that I took up many experiences through the years, even in those years, working for a nonprofit, working for colleges and universities in administrative capacities, serving as an adjunct faculty member at a few different colleges.

So lots of lots of experiences blended in there. Now backing up to the really interesting stuff. It was in May of 98 that after four years of friends of mine, I didn't realize just what great friends they were. They had been praying for my salvation. They referred to me as Unsaved Bob. That was their pet name for me.

On Friday nights after Bible study, one of the guys would put a hand up and say, Hey, during our prayer request, let's not forget to pray for unsaved Bob. And would you believe it if I told you that on May 2nd of 98, I was sitting in the living room of a home in Paoli, Pennsylvania. That's about 45 minutes to an hour west of Philadelphia on the far western mainline.

And sitting in that living room where I gave my life to Christ, I found out after I had bowed my knee that it was in that very room that they met for Bible studies, and they had been praying, among other requests for me. That's it. So that's an encouragement that I love to share with people that if you have unsaved loved ones that you've been praying for a time, please don't give up hope. Sometimes it's just a matter of patience.

Marlin Detweiler:

Is it important to refer to them as unsaved? So we keep the details clear?

Bob Cannon:

Yeah. You know, it's funny. Even years later, I was still meeting people who they'd kind of looked at me sideways when they were introduced and they would say, Are you unsaved, Bob? And my response, of course, is, Well, not anymore. It's there were many people praying even outside of that living room. And I'm so grateful for them. And naturally, I'm grateful that the Lord got a hold of my heart.

Marlin Detweiler:

That's wonderful. Now, in another session, we plan to discuss your involvements at Veritas and your role and what happens routinely as the headmaster of our online school. But we're not going to focus on that today. I'm more interested in having you. Tell us about your trek in education that took you to Minnesota and back to the Lancaster/Philadelphia area twice.

Two round trips and then focus, if you would, on the last trip that brought you to work at Veritas and how that came about.

Bob Cannon:

Sure. So it was in 2004 that I had been serving at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. That's their business arm, if you will. I had been in executive education for four years there, and the work that I did there was interesting. Of course, I worked with companies many large companies that anyone would recognize and with the Wharton faculty and I conducted needs assessments.

And then I brought those two groups of people together to conduct week long developmental experiences for mid to senior level executives. Some really great stories to tell their. In itself. In 2004, I decided that when I was rounding out my classroom studies for towards my doctorate in education that once I was done with those classroom studies on the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia that I wanted to wander a little bit with my young family.

My wife and I at that time had two children. And then by the time I moved to Minnesota to take on a position with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, we had had our third our first boy, he was about two months old when we moved to Minnesota. We went to Willmar, which is about 2 hours west of the Twin Cities.

And this was a bit of a fulfillment of a soft dream that I had to live in a remote location and to experience something a little different because I had been in the Philadelphia marketplace for a good long time and moving into an environment where I could grow in my professional capacity and to have the right opportunity was very appealing to me.

So we moved out there. We were there from 2004 until the end of 2007, and it was in 2007 that I was wrapping up my doctoral dissertation and it wasn't going to be appointed until a little bit later. I remember the folks at Albright College. It's a small liberal arts college in Berks County, Pennsylvania. They tempted me to come back to Pennsylvania.

And coupled with the fact that grandparents were really starting to miss their grandkids, they came to visit us from time to time, but it wasn't exactly the same. And they really wanted us to be closer to home. So I moved on to Albright College to fulfill a couple of different needs, one to take on a more academic position.

So I served as one of their academic deans and to be closer to the grandparents and closer to family in general. So we moved back to Pennsylvania and then in about 2010 or 11, I don't have the exact timing. It's been a little while, but it's at that time that I then took on an interim pastoral role just outside of Philadelphia.

It was a small, nondenominational church, and the pastor there wanted to have someone else to partner with him in teaching. Fantastic experience, really enjoyed the work. And let me tell you, if you want to get into the Word of God, go ahead and be a teacher in a church because the pressure is really on. It was during my time there that was a pretty short stint, but it was while I was there and just after having left Albright College that I got a phone call from some folks out in Minnesota who had known me from my first time there.

They said they had a failing school. It was a Montessori school. They said that the state had been watching test scores, as they usually do, and students were performing not well enough to satisfy the state. This had been a problem for coming up on two years and they decided to remove the head of school there or what they called the director, and they needed someone else to come in and serve and that role they wanted a school principal.

So my friends out there, professional friends, gave me a call and said, Bob, we think that you're somebody who's capable of turning this school around. And I have to confess, I do love stepping into problem situations and finding solutions for them. And after some prayer and discernment, we decided that we would actually make the move back to Minnesota.

Not many people can say they've gone there twice, especially what with mosquitoes and road construction. But we did go back and this time we lived about an hour west of the Twin Cities, and I was there for about a year and a half during which time we did turn the school around. The school became a school of excellence in Minnesota.

That wasn't all my doing. There was a really nice team of individuals working on the problems that they had been having there, but I was very glad to be a part of it. I was glad to be a leader in the midst of it all. And it was about at the close of that work that I could have stayed.

But interestingly, a requirement came down from the state that I needed to then pursue a professional license to be a principal in Minnesota and in order to pursue a professional principals license. In that context, at that time, I had to step away from the principal role, step into a classroom and teach for a time, and then pursue the principal license.

That was a part of the requirement. So things were kind of in a flurry. I wasn't sure exactly what I was going to do, but I knew this much. Stepping into a classroom wasn't my calling, at least not at the elementary level, because that's what I was being asked to do. And it was right around that very time that some friends from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, reached out and said, You've probably hit your stride out there.

You love where you're at. Why would you want to come back to Pennsylvania? Of course, I had a quick answer. The grandparents were getting itchy again. And I thought, well, why not? Why don't I pursue this? And what was really fascinating to me, Marlin, was that when I looked at the posting that they had said, which was one that you had created, I saw the words classical and Christian.

And of course, the Christian part really appealed to me. I don't have to explain why. It's the classical part that had me scratching my head a little bit, not because I didn't understand anything about classical education, but because, first of all, I understood little about it. Then secondly, I knew some families whose kids I had heard went to classical schools and they made a mark.

And each time we interacted with them, their kids impressed me. I didn't know what it was exactly. I thought, you know, maybe it's just coincidence, but there seems to be a theme that these children who went to classical schools, there was something different about them. And so that's what caught my attention. And of course, you know, the rest is history.

We jumped on a call, we had an initial conversation, we had questions for each other, and we got to know each other over the next several months as we were making a decision for me to move back to Pennsylvania and take on the role that I'm in now.

Marlin Detweiler:

It was I remember that it was around May near what we call our End of Year gathering, where students come to Lancaster to celebrate the school year. What year was it? I don't remember the year.

Bob Cannon:


Marlin Detweiler:

2014. Okay, yeah.

Bob Cannon:

I actually sat in my office for the first time on May 1st of 2014.

Marlin Detweiler:

I’m glad you mentioned your being new to classical education at that point because that was an interesting part of our conversation as we considered you coming to work at Veritas. And it was something that I've seen a lot of change since you've been at Veritas. So your initial appeal was from classical Christian education was obviously that it was Christian and you had not taught in a Christian school before or been a work in a Christian school before.

But and so maybe you want to comment on the differences there and how that has let's let's actually keep it at that question first. So tell us what has been exciting to you about being part of an organization that is actively promoting Christianity in its educational model.

Bob Cannon:

Yeah, yeah. That's a terrific question. I'm so glad you asked because actually backing up a little bit when I took on adjunct roles, even while I was at that liberal arts college I referenced a bit ago in 2007 through 2000, ten or 11, that was a secular institution. But at the same time, I started teaching as an adjunct in a Christian university.

And so I got a little taste of what it was like to be working with other Christians around me. But it was only that. It was just a little taste. There were there was another college that out in Minnesota that I served as an adjunct for while I was in this job with the Montessori school that I referenced.

So I always kind of had a toe in the water of Christian education. But at those two institutions, as an adjunct faculty member, I was interacting with others, but not a whole lot. And because most of it was working from a distance, if you will, when I stepped into the classroom at Eastern University here in St David's just outside Philly, that was a hybrid experience where I was teaching online and I was teaching on the ground, so to speak, in a residential context.

So we had business and education and nonprofit leaders from various parts of the country and even internationally. They would come for a time to Eastern's campus and I would have a chance to interact with them there. And I got to interact with other faculty at Crown College out in Saint Boniface, Minnesota. That was distance learning entirely. So interacting again from a distance, but not with other colleagues, only with the students.

And that was the big difference. When I came to Veritas, it was the first time that I had stepped into an environment where I could be authentically Christian without wondering How are others going to react to this? How will others perceive me? I didn't need to exercise quite the same level of discretion or discernment about what I said and to whom and when.

And, you know, was it an appropriate time to say something? At Veritas, I stepped into this environment where I'm working with people around me, and I know that families and students, they appreciate the faith that I bring with me. And even looking back to when I was at the Wharton School, I remember one of my colleagues commenting.

Someone asked something about me, and in the comment that she made was, well, yeah, I'm not a Christian like Bob is, but I wouldn't want to change that about him because it's who he is and it's what makes the guy interact the way that he does with the rest of us. She even had a sense not being a believer that when one is a Christian, that's a part of the package that you get.

And coming to Veritas was a sigh of relief of sorts, because now I could be authentically Christian and not wonder what other people were perceiving at least about that.

Marlin Detweiler:

So that, that makes perfect sense. And I watched that happen over several years and you really findings tried in that way of operating with others. There was another challenge, though. You said earlier that you came with an understanding that it was only by observation. Classically educated kids seemed to be a cut above. That's my language, not yours.

And it was an interesting progression that we watched in you as you became more and more familiar with the tenets of classical education and the applications of those tenants. Talk to us about your progression in really imbibing that pedagogical model and the methods that go along with it.

Bob Cannon:

Yeah, there are various angles from which I could come at this, but it's a fun story to tell because I had been in education for a number of years before we met and there were different educational models that I saw in play. For example, I spent some time at the Montessori school. I also in my studies at the University of Pennsylvania, of course, they held up men like John Dewey and others.

And in fact, I took a course exclusively about John Dewey when I was at Penn under Dr. John Puckett. John and I got to know each other and enjoy. I enjoyed the class because of John. The information that I was learning about Dewey- sometimes okay, sometimes not so okay. But when I think about the transition that I made mentally, the first thing that comes to mind is that I'm a bit of a skeptic.

I don't just take people's word for it. I suppose that makes me a little bit Borean. I really need to be convinced of something before I can grasp it with both hands and embrace it fully. And coming to Veritas, obviously making the move to work for Veritas, I had enough information to convince me that this was a viable model of education to make this transition in my life.

But it wasn't until I started spending more time around those who knew more about classical education, including you and Laurie and others, the teachers that I worked with, it seemed that around every turn, the more that I learned about classical education and the more I found myself really appreciating it. There's a bit of a funny story in here.

It's just a detail. But I don't know that I'd ever shared it with you. Marlin. When I did my doctoral work, there was a time when I was writing about younger children and how traditional school systems historically had children memorize lots of information and there are some who would counter that saying that that's not the best way to educate children.

And even in my own writing, if you looked hard enough, you might find an area where I said that that's not the best way to go about educating young children. Here's another idea that really ought to be employed, and I wish I could do that, because now that I have seen up close and personal, not just theoretically, but actually in practice, watching children memorize information, that there's a caveat here.

You've got to do it the right way. You don't want to bore a kid to tears with memorizing information. But I've learned that if you're doing it with songs or rhymes or chants and you're doing it in that kind of manner with young children, they gobble information up. They just love it. So it's been a steady progression at this point.

Am I completely sold out on classical education? You bet I am. It's the way that I want my own children educated. It's the way that my wife educates our children. It's the way that our teachers are educating so many thousands of children all around the world. And I get to watch the results of it. And it's an absolutely wonderful memento.

Marlin Detweiler:

One of the things I remember in these discussions of your early years at Veritas was that it was pretty easy for you to grasp the benefits of logic. You think logically, that's something that is attractive to you. The idea of clear thinking and precise thinking is, is important to you. It's a hallmark of how you work, being articulate and persuasive.

The third of the three phases of the Trivium rhetoric is something that comes naturally to you. You're careful in your communication and you see the value of appropriate and proper persuasion. But what was really funny was your- I'll call it an allergy - to Latin just a bit. Maybe you want to call it something different. And I remember early conversations where you would talk about how convinced you were of the benefits of these other phases in these other disciplines as kind of capstone disciplines.

And each part of the Trivium. But Latin was one that you were far more skeptical about. Talk to us about your progression with that specifically as it gets applied at Veritas and in many classical education environments in grammar school.

Bob Cannon:

Yeah. Yeah. So I'll start by saying that I had kind of dug my heels into the space of if it's not Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic, dog on it. And I'm just it couldn't be as important as those. That's my affinity for the scriptures. But I also must say that I've taken courses over the years, even beyond my education.

And I once studied anatomy and physiology and pathology as well at Thomas Jefferson Medical College, because I worked there and I had the opportunity to do so. And I got to tell you, that was really helpful when I was studying those things, children learning Latin, you and I like to say I learned this nomenclature from you actually, that Latin is a tool of leverage for mastering the English language, and there's no disagreement here.

I really like the way that that's put. I think it's absolutely true. And as we see children chanting and rhyming and doing the kinds of exercises that they do in Latin, using Latin for Children A, B and C, and then moving on to transition courses if they need to. And then Wheelocks and then we move our way on to the reading courses in classical works and Christian works, and students can even go on to Virgil.

It's exciting to me to know that that kind of progression can be pursued by students, and I see Latin stretching into all kinds of disciplines, not just science. If someone is studying anatomy and physiology, it will surely help them. But I see it reaching into their study of English and composition. I see it reaching into their study of the sciences.

Of course, there are different disciplines where you can link some of the information that you're gathering back to Latin, even on kind of an intangible level, I think that Latin itself helps students to put things in order. You mentioned the way that I think and the way that I articulate, I believe that Latin helps students to articulate well because when you find yourself appreciating the way that language is broken down, you pay more attention to the words that you use.

You're more careful. And I think that it gives you that much and a whole lot more that's some of the value in Latin. I could probably go on and.

Marlin Detweiler:

That's very helpful. It was made for some interesting conversations, as I mentioned in those early years. Well, as I've as you all know, we've had Dr. Bob Cannon here today as our guest on the podcast. Bob has, along with his wife, Carrie, and seven children. And I'm not sure how many animals have been living in the Philadelphia area now since he's been working at Veritas and has been a remarkable addition to our staff and is doing invaluable work, the next session we record with Bob will be about that work and we look forward to hearing about the challenges and opportunities that you've seen coming for the children that we're able to work with through Veritas Scholars Academy, our online school. Any last words for us before we call it a day?

Bob Cannon:

Only to say thank you for being interested, and I'm so glad to share my story. Not just the testimony of through I came to faith, but how I came to Veritas. And I have to say, I appreciate your saying that I've had an impact here. Marlin Veritas has had an impact on me as well. There are a lot of families that I've interacted with over the years. And it's been a genuine pleasure.

Marlin Detweiler:

Thank you so much. See you next time.

Bob Cannon:

Okay. Sounds good!