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Podcast | 20 Minutes

All About the Omnibus, Veritas's Great Books Program | Marlin & Laurie Detweiler

Marlin Detweiler Written by Marlin Detweiler
All About the Omnibus, Veritas's Great Books Program | Marlin & Laurie Detweiler

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Marlin and Laurie Detweiler are here to do a deep dive into the Omnibus, Veritas Press’s signature Great Books course. How do course credits work? What’s the difference between Omnibus Primary and Secondary? Why should Christians study books like Mein Kampf or Freud's writings? All this and more in today’s episode of Veritas Vox!


Episode Transcription

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

Marlin Detweiler:

Hello again. Welcome to Veritas Vox, the voice of classical Christian education and the voice of our dog, Mack who has joined us off-camera. Of course, this is my wife, Laurie. And I'm Marlin Detweiler. Today we want to talk about the Omnibus curriculum at a practical level. We've talked about it a little bit more theoretically, and we've talked about it from a standpoint of how it came to be. But today we're going to talk a little practically. So, Laurie, why don't we start by talking about the historic approach and the order in the books from one through six.

Laurie Detweiler:

Well, I think you're actually better at answering.

Marlin Detweiler:

Oh but you can do it, too. You answered it a thousand times.

Laurie Detweiler:

And I do want to answer one question real quickly first, because it's the most commonly asked question that we get, and that is, can a seventh grader really do this? And I'm going to tell you, before I tell you what it is, I'm going to tell you they can if they've been having a classical education and what I call coming up in the system.

But if they haven’t, it is it is a big jump. And so a lot of times, what we do is transition students in, and we can talk about that in a little bit. But the whole idea behind Omnibus is that it's a Great Books curriculum because historically this is the way children were educated. If you go back a hundred, couple hundred years, you're going to see that this is the way students were educated.

They read the Great Books. And if you want to even go back to that, really, if you look at God's word, that's how He educates us. He educates us through His story and he educates us through His history and in speaking into things that we need to know. And so if you look at scripture, it's not a textbook.It doesn't, you know, chapter one, and here you go. It's history woven through time of the way God worked with his people and how he was faithful. And really, that's what the great books are. The great books, for the most part, are a history and philosophy woven– politics.

Marlin Detweiler:

–lots of everything.

Laurie Detweiler:

Delving into a narrative approach. And what that does is it gets out of the grammar stage. It's not just memorize, memorize, memorize. You have to think, you have to read this stuff, you have to process it.

Marlin Detweiler:

I loved what Mortimer Adler, or at least around his list of great books. You hear the phrase “joining the great conversation.”

Laurie Detweiler:

Right.

Marlin Detweiler:

Building on the past in order to live in the present in order to prepare for the future. We've often said that when somebody asks, “What do we learn from the Omnibus?” We learn how to do anything, how to live comprehensively.

Laurie Detweiler:

And how to think. And that's one of the things that we would be different than Mortimer Adler and the list of Great Books is that if students go through our program, they will read the entire whole entity of Scripture. So they will read everything.

Marlin Detweiler:

The Omnibus is, in simple terms, six years of curriculum. It's divided into I, II, III as a first section and then IV, V, VI. And in I, we study the ancients. When we deal with the Primary books, we'll get into what that is in just a moment. II is Middle Ages/ Reformation time period defined fairly broadly with historic epics, and then three is more modern times.

Then in IV, V, and VI, we repeat that cycle with books that are a little bit harder, books that may be a little bigger, and in many instances reading only selections or portions in V, V, and VI. Whereas in I, II, III we're reading most of those books. So we repeat the historic cycle, doing it twice.

And that's the difference between the first three books and the second three books. But there's something in these, and that is there are two courses. We often say one book, two courses, three credits. The two courses are what we call the Primary books course and this pardon me, the Secondary books course. What are they and why do we do that?

Laurie Detweiler:

The Primary tend to be the books that are more historical in nature. So for instance, in Omnibus I, you're going to read Herodotus, the father of history. And so, you know, it's this big chunky. Yeah, I love history. So I guess what, I love Herodotus. So I always talk about it and people think I'm crazy.

But anyway, it tends to be more historical books and then you'll have some literature in there also. And then Secondary tends to be more theological. So for instance, you're going to be reading some modern authors in there, You're going to be reading. R.C. Sproul and J.I. Packer.

Marlin Detweiler:

Wouldn't say it's more theological. The theology tends to bridge both of them, but it does. The Primary would be a little bit more history emphasis in context with Primary sources and the Secondary books might be books written more recently, but about past times or relate to that. There is a looseness instead of reading through it.

Laurie Detweiler:

You're going to read Tolkien in Secondary.

Marlin Detweiler:

So even if it's not–- even before the the year, the third year that focuses on more contemporary or more recent history. Yeah. So we've got this Primary books course and Secondary books course that make up in the, in the design. Now, we design with a lot of flexibility in mind. It's not necessary to do Primary and Secondary together, but there are reasons why you might want to do that.

What is the value of doing them together?

Laurie Detweiler:

So one of the things that people don't realize is what went into the making of Omnibus. So they're like, did you just, you know, you give a credit for history, You give a credit for literature, English literature, you give a credit for theology. Well, we actually gave weighted numbers to each one of the books. And when I say we, I don't mean Marlin and I, I mean a group of authors.

Marlin Detweiler:

It was a large group of people.

Laurie Detweiler:

Herodotus is a book that would have gotten a ten for history.

Marlin Detweiler:

And a zero for theology.

Laurie Detweiler:

And a zero for theology, right. And at the most, a one for literature qualification.

Marlin Detweiler:

But let me correct something there. There were ten points to be split for each book, right? Split between history, theology and literature. So if we didn't if we gave it one to literature, we gave it nine. And I guess it's just a small correction that will help you understand how we weighted them to write an entire curriculum year with balance.

Laurie Detweiler:

So for instance, Calvin's Institutes would have been given probably a nine for theology, but it might have been given a one for history, right? A zero for literature. So that’s how this worked. And so when the students take this, they really do have a legitimate credit for history, theology, and literature. If you split it up and don't take it that way, what we recommend to you is that you just have an English Lit credit.

If you were at Veritas, for instance, in our Diploma program and we were giving you credit for something in the past, if you only took a Primary course or a Secondary course, we would give you like a literature credit or a history or industry credit.

But if you take three together, then, I mean, if you take the two courses together, then there is enough work in there that they receive the three credits. And the last three are dual enrolled. And in that way three credits.

Marlin Detweiler:

IV,V,VI.

Laurie Detweiler:

For IV, V, VI are doing dual-enrolled college credits for history, theology, and for literature.

Marlin Detweiler:

But if you were to pick up a book and say this is an enormous amount of work for a school year, we would say yes. But keep in mind it's not one course because it's one book; it's not two courses because it's Primary and Secondary. It's three courses because of history, theology, and literature. And that's important from a workload standpoint because it's essentially in a six-credit year, half of all that a student will do.

Laurie Detweiler:

And so I had a mom the other day that was like, “Well, I want my student to take a history course.” And I said, That's great, but I wouldn't take a history course on top of Omnibus, at least at the level their child was at. They were a seventh grader, you know, and when you get into Secondary school that I mean, high school, you may want to do that because you have elective credit hours, but it's not even necessary to do that.

And we have people that say, “I'm coming to you late, like I am a ninth grader. And just hearing about this, is it possible for them to take Omnibus I, II and III?” Particularly because and I'm going to jump to this now, we have three ways that you can teach this. You can teach it yourself. I will tell you that's a Herculean effort in order to really give your student what you need because it's almost unknowable.

Marlin Detweiler:

I want you to pause. Okay. That's obviously something we want to talk about, but it's getting things out of order a little bit. And I think I think, well, what I want to say is, you know, we've talked about it being in balance between history, theology and literature, and we talked about it being three credits, which is very significant.

And we literally worked with the powers that be in the college environment to put labels on each of those three credits so that we knew how they could be transcripted. And that has, while it might have occasional explanation needed, we don't use the term Omnibus I Primary on a transcript. We have transcript terms that you can find on our website as a way of transcription these courses, all three credits for any given year that applies to a transcript, which of course is simply things taken in ninth through 12th grade. And, and they have been accepted 100% of the time in the college and university world.

Laurie Detweiler:

So for instance, Omnibus I would be a history credit and it would say Ancient World History. Literature would be Ancient World Literature, and theology would be Theology I.

Marlin Detweiler:

So it's very important to know that. Now, talk a little bit about one of the things that we wanted to incorporate into the design of this. After all, we're looking at theology credits and we don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves or do what sometimes happens, and that is we fail to put ourselves into studying the Bible.

So you mentioned earlier the idea of how the entire Bible is covered. Talk through what that means.

Laurie Detweiler:

Well, in each of the three cycles they will excuse me. In each of the three cycles, they'll read the entire Bible. And so they read it.

Marlin Detweiler:

Actually, that's not true. No, it's so it would be very difficult to put all 66 books, but it's actually overall six books, Primary and Secondary.

Laurie Detweiler:

And do you want to describe how they were broken up?

Marlin Detweiler:

The answer to your question is no, I don't, because there was a little bit of randomness to what books were where, but it also had some context for what would be most significant and relate best to the concept.

Laurie Detweiler:

For instance, when you're studying about Greece and Rome, you're going to read some of the New Testament, right?

Marlin Detweiler:

That's helpful. You're right. I wish you hadn't asked me because you had the answer and I didn't! So that's that's a very important thing. When we talk about studying theology, we're not talking about books about the Bible, We're talking about the Bible. Clearly, there are both. Clearly, there are books about the Bible, too. But I should say we're not talking about just books about the Bible and the theology that developed out of it. We're talking about studying the Bible to getting historic context for understanding its major themes and of course, the significant teachings within them. It's very significant, very important.

One of the things that was always important to us was to provide means of communicating how you can take our courses. And with regard to Omnibus, we've got the means of three different ways, which is the most we have in any of the subjects that we offer. And so talk to us about those three ways.

Laurie Detweiler:

So just like in everything else, we either offer two options or three options. One day we'll have three options for everything, I might add. We're working on that. But you can take Omnibus as a You-Teach course. So what that means is you have the book, you have the teacher's manual and you're teaching your student, or it might be a school. Obviously, that's teaching a group of students, but you're actually taking the material and you're working with your student. So you know, we provide all of the written exams and materials that you need for your student. All the graded work is included in that. So it's not like you're having to come up with your own work on a daily basis.

It is set out so that there are choices that you have to make depending upon what you want to do with your student. But everything is provided for you. But obviously I can tell you, because I you know, I've been looking at this for a lot of years, it would be impossible to do a You-Teach if you were really going to teach your child without reading the books, right? Yes the answers are there. But you it would be hard to have a discussion with that.

Marlin Detweiler:

And it is a wonderful learning exercise for parents who don't have a theology education, whether that was in a Bible college or more significantly, a seminary. It is also a very significant thing for parents who have not had a background in the time period, the ancient time period, or the medieval time period, or the modern time period in terms of history or who are well versed in literature.

And honestly, there is enough material in there for it to be done. But it's an enormous amount of work and requires a fair amount of expertise to do and an exceptional job in doing that. And so honestly, we don't find many parents taking that on unless they want to regard themselves as almost as much as a student as their own students are.

Laurie Detweiler:

Yeah, And then we offer I, II and III right now as Self-Paced courses. And those the student has the books and you as the parent can be as involved or uninvolved as you want to be. The computer, in all honesty, is doing the teaching. We have teachers, we traveled all over the world filming these classes. So when we were talking about, say, a concentration camp, we were at that concentration camp, we were there live filming.

Marlin Detweiler:

Many of these videos, we spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on each of the courses, millions in total to put together a very vivid experience. Conversations about the Battle of Marathon are filmed from the location of where it happened. And that was done in as many contexts as we could. And a remarkable experience. And it brings to life in ways that I never experienced– and I didn’t like history as a kid because it didn't seem like it was meaningful, is more about memorizing facts. And that didn't seem all that relevant to me in the 20th century. She always loved history, but it was for a different reason.

Laurie Detweiler:

The great thing about the Self-Paced, and I always tell parents this is if you have a child that is a slow reader and they're I believe that, okay, yes, there are reading courses where you can learn to read quickly. But I've been working with students reading for a very long time, 40-some-odd years. And I can tell you, yes, you can take classes. Yes, you can improve your speed. But I really believe you're born in certain ways. I read so fast in my comprehension is really great when I read so fast, and Marlin on the other hand, is –

Marlin Detweiler:

I read technically.

Laurie Detweiler:

He's very slow in reading. And so, you know, I will literally be done with a book before he's done with a chapter of the book. And it's just I believe that God wired you that way, right? So yes, there are things you could do, but, you know, so Self-Paced is great because you can go at your own pace. And so that's what's really wonderful about that.

We have a lot of families and I'm going to talk about live right now our live courses as many of you know, meet two days a week for an hour and a half each time. And those are the live courses that function on our school calendar. So they basically start in September and they end in May.

And those meet in real time where your child will be in class with 20 other students, students, which I might add, are from around the world. So you want to talk about an incredible discussion. Give your Benedict Arnold.

Marlin Detweiler:

So imagine one of the things, that this this speaks to the value of an international population of a class. I imagine a discussion with a child from England about the war for independence. And you're discussing Benedict Arnold. To an American, he's a traitor. But to an Englishman, he's a hero. And those contexts are the kind of thing that are very, very rare and only happen in online settings in a K-12 world because there just aren't schools – very, very rare circumstance. A boarding school maybe where you have students from multiple countries.

Laurie Detweiler:

So anyway, we have live courses now. A lot of people combine live and Self-Paced. A lot of people will take like one live and one Self-Paced. We even have families that because of the reading load, they just decide that they'd like to have normally the Secondary course, the Primary course is just too heavy.

Marlin Detweiler:

Little too big to do it for.

Laurie Detweiler:

So yeah, but we have summer intensives and we have a number of families that take Secondary in the summer so that their fall load is lighter. I also have heard from students it's because they enjoy being with their friends so much online that they don't want to take the summer off and they want to be in these Omnibus courses. They're very fun. They're the same content. But I will say in the summer, our teachers realize it's the summer for students and they just know how to have fun and really lively and great discussions.

Marlin Detweiler:

There's only 75% of the class time in summer that there is of a full school year, and so it's condensed and focused on says it's done slightly different.

But I think for somebody that says, “I'm not sure my child is ready for all of this, live” or “I don't want to do it all in a Self-Paced because I want them to be involved in some live discussions in the first year,” it's very common for people to do one of each choosing Secondary for a Self-Paced because they could do it in the summer sometimes, or choosing Secondary in the live and then a Primary Self-Paced as a way of doing what seems best for the child. But it's a way to get into it with a little bit more flexibility to choose what might be best in subsequent years, where you might do two Self-Paced or two live instead.

Laurie Detweiler:

So I'm talking to a lot of people right now about Self-Paced. And one of the things that I always tell people is get it, and get it started in the summer. You've got 12 months. But if you're particularly if you're onboarding a student and they've never done this before, let them have more time to spread it out and read the books, then enjoy the books.

And so that's always a good thing because you can spread the Self-Paced out over 12 months.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah. So I just thought of the phrase that I was trying to recall earlier, and I didn't quite say it this way. And so the question that we get asked frequently, “What does one learn when studying the Omnibus?” They learn to connect with history. But more importantly, and this is the significant statement that you can take to the bank, it will teach your child to think biblically about everything.

This is a core piece of teaching from a biblical worldview. This is a core piece of teaching children that we have to think through the lens of Scripture about everything that we read, everything we study, everything that we do, whether it is in an educational context or not.

Laurie Detweiler:

And I will say this I am–- some of you have heard my story. I went to a Christian high school growing up, junior high high school, and it was a wonderful school, but it was Dutch reformed and we would never have been allowed to have read these kinds of writing. We would never have been able to read these kinds of books because they would have been considered a Christian, shouldn't read them.

So what I watched happen was as students, kids that I grew up with, that I would have thought were believers that had walked faithfully as I watched them through high school, they went off to college, and for the first time they were confronted with things like Mein Kampf and Freud and some of them– it just rocked their world now for a while and they walked away from their faith. And I so much saw that I didn't want my child in a fundamental Christian school because I wanted to interact with this stuff while they were in our home. And I wanted godly teachers interacting so, you know, when we get asked, “Why in the world would you have a child read Mein Kampf or Darwin or Freud?”

The reason is, is because those ideas are all still out there today. We see that from Scripture. We read and go, we think something new is happening, nothing new is happening. It's the same thing just repeating itself at a different time in history. And I wanted, and we wanted our children to interact with that stuff while they were still in our home and could learn how to think about it from the way Christ looked at it.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah, that's a really good place to leave things.

So understand that we're not reading things from a standpoint of saying we want you to have a broad exposure so you can choose what you believe. That's not it at all. We want to help students understand God created, and he providentially superintends everything that is. And so we look at that which is good, and we take from it what we should. We look at that which is bad and we understand how it happened so that we can deal with it because we're going to have to at some point. It's not just in college that we get confronted with bad ideas. It's all of life that this can from a bad ideas. And boy, are we seeing kids be able to say, “No, we understand what happened there, and this is what the truth is.” It's remarkable.

Thanks for joining us. Hope this helped you in understanding the Omnibus curriculum. And it was, it took us eight years to create it. And it's been around now for a long time. And I don't to the best of my knowledge, there's really nothing like it out in the classical Christian education community at all. And so I hope you'll take a look at it if you haven't.

And we would welcome questions if you have them, too. Thanks. So thanks for joining us on Veritas Vox, the voice of classical Christian education. Hope to see you again next time.