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Podcast | 25 Minutes

Rob Shearer: Homeschool Pioneer & Omnibus Enthusiast

​Rob Shearer Written by ​Rob Shearer
Rob Shearer: Homeschool Pioneer & Omnibus Enthusiast

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Today, we hear the story of a man who was a 1980’s homeschooling pioneer, father of 12, founder of Greenleaf Press, author of the Famous Men of the Renaissance & Reformation book, and one of our most beloved Omnibus teachers at Veritas Scholars Academy for the past 9 years. Get to know this wonderful teacher as he tells his story. Plus, he gives a great detailed account of what students learn in a year of Omnibus and its impact on students’ lives.

Episode Transcription

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

Marlin Detweiler:

Hello again. This is Marlin Detweiler, and you have come to listen to Veritas Vox, the voice of classical Christian education. Today we have with us Rob Shearer. Rob has a long and impressive history, not only with Veritas, but with homeschooling and influence there. Welcome, Rob.

Rob Shearer:

Thank you, Marlin. It's great to be here.

Marlin Detweiler:

Well, it's great to have you here. Tell us as we get started, I like to get a little bit of a give a little personal touch to tell us a little bit about you, your wife, and your family.

Rob Shearer:

Oh, gosh. Well, I'm born in Atlanta, Georgia. I can give you the longer or the short story. When I came up here, the yeah, came up through the public school system, went off to college in North Carolina. Davidson College, now made famous by Steph Curry, and then went on to grad school on the West Coast, which was a cross-cultural experience for us.

We got married right after I graduated college, and so we were newlyweds and transplanted ourselves from the South to the San Francisco Bay area. That was an eye-opening experience, but I finished up a master's degree at Stanford and was pursuing a doctorate but never finished my dissertation. So I taught college for a while. I did a variety of things in the corporate world.

I worked in marketing. I worked for Coca-Cola for a while, actually. But along the way, we started a family. Our first son was born in Germany while I was doing research for my doctorate, and then I was already teaching at Virginia Wesleyan College History and Philosophy. And our second child, a daughter, came along, and eventually we had three or four kids, and the oldest one was getting to be school age.

And we're looking around, and we had never considered homeschooling, but there it was. It was kind of staring us in the face in 1985, 37 years ago.

Marlin Detweiler:

That is early, early homeschooling.

Rob Shearer:

Yeah, we were not the first, but we were kind of in that first wave. It was still in the eighties. In most states, there were legal issues. It was not necessarily legal to school your children at home in the eighties.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah, we have the I'm drawing a blank on the organization in Virginia to thank for making it, helping to make it legal and so yeah.

Rob Shearer:

That’s Homeschool Legal Defense.

Marlin Detweiler:

So how many children we have now I know this is scary.

Rob Shearer:

Oh yeah. Well, we wound up. We didn't do it all at once. It took us 20 years, but we wound up with 12 children.

Marlin Detweiler:

You don't have any Roman Catholic roots either?

Rob Shearer:

No. And neither are we Mormon. You know, the neighbors have all asked, “Are you guys Mormon?” No, no. And it's not it was not an ideological statement by us. We didn't we're not trying to to to persuade everybody to have 12 children. We just enjoyed it. We enjoy children. We had seven children.

We found out about the plight of so many abandoned baby girls in China in the late nineties. And so we applied to adopt as we applied to adopt, discovered we were pregnant. So from 7 to 9, two years later, it was such a rich, rewarding experience and a huge blessing for our family to have brought Cori home. We decided to adopt the second time from China, and as we sent the application and discovered Cindy was pregnant again.

So we had four under four, and that was an adventure. I don't know that we could have carried that off had it not been for our older children helping us out because we really had, you know, some middle schoolers and some teenagers. And so we had kind of built-in babysitters and assistance, and it really worked out.

So we wound up with 11 children, and then we got to 12 while we were teaching. We had a young lady who was in need of a home. She was in the care of the Tennessee Department of Human Services, and she was one of our students they called us up and asked us if we would be an emergency placement for her.

And I kind of looked at Cindy, and she looked at me and we said, you know, “How do we say no?” So we got our 12th child. She was already 17 when she came to live with us, and we became her guardian. So that that was our number 12. And she was actually a month or two younger than all of our others.

So it kind of completed the sequence there. And now the older ones, of course, are married and have families. We have 16 grandchildren.

Marlin Detweiler:

Unbelievable! I did not know that.

Rob Shearer:

So yeah, we now have 16 grandchildren. Number 17 is due in December. And one of our daughters has two children that she and her husband are foster parents for and they're hoping to adopt them. So sometime in ‘23 we'll probably go to 18 and 19. And then who knows there, you know, any of them could decide to have more children.

And I hope they do. I and I enjoy being baba to all of those little kids.

Marlin Detweiler:

Well, I mentioned early on that you really were pioneering as a homeschooler, and that took on some leadership roles and some business roles. Talk to us about that and how your education contributed to the career that led to the business that you and your wife have.

Rob Shearer:

Sure. Well, as I say, the oldest one got to be school age. Cindy, and both went through the public schools, and we had never really thought much about it. We were in Oklahoma, and we happened to know a couple of families in our church there who were homeschooling their kids. They were slightly older. And when we went to meet the kids, and I remember having this epiphany, it was a rather startling moment in what family was for children.

And we went to visit them at their house. And I started talking to the kids and, especially their middle school kids, the sixth, seventh, eighth-grade kids. And they took me by the hand. They took me out in the backyard. They showed me the goats. They were telling me about the books they were reading. And Cindy and I have been working with youth groups at churches since we'd gotten married.

And there's always kind of a little barrier. I mean, middle school and high school kids don't really talk to adults, they're so peer-oriented. And I was looking at this kid and asking, who are you and why are you talking to me, and why are we carrying on what really is a pretty adult conversation? She knew quite a bit about raising goats, and I was learning things.

So I came home to Cynthia, said, “We're going to find out what these people are doing because homeschooling seems to be working for this family,” and Cindy did some research. I did some research. This would have been the mid to late eighties. We went to a conference in Tulsa, a homeschool conference. We weren't yet homeschooling, and Edith Shafer and Susan Schaefer McCauley were the two keynote speakers.

Marlin Detweiler:

Oh, wow.

Rob Shearer:

And she had just published her book For the Children's Sake. And, of course, we had both been huge admirers of Frances Shafer. I had been to La Brea. We had both been to see Frances Schaefer speak when he was touring with the film series How Shall We Then Live? And so hearing Edith and Susan talk about homeschooling and seeing a whole bunch of other homeschoolers and seeing even in the early eighties, there was quite a bit of curriculum available, although not as much as the later explosion produced.

So we decided we would try it, and we tried it. We moved to Virginia about the time our oldest started school. We actually had Mike Farris actually had to represent us before our county school board because they didn't want to give us a religious exemption to homeschool. So we had Michael Farris himself. As our attorney to represent us. Oh, yeah, Yeah. And I think they were a little intimidated by him. So they granted us our exemption, and we homeschooled, and it's been off to the races since then. Cindy was really struggling trying to find a home school history curriculum for our kids that she liked. She never liked history, it was not her favorite subject.

Marlin Detweiler:

Just for clarity purposes. This is before Veritas Press.

Rob Shearer:

This year, years before Veritas.

Marlin Detweiler:

And we'll get to that. I know.

Rob Shearer:

Before Greenleaf. Yeah. So she was trying to figure out how to teach the kids history because she didn't like any of the textbooks. So she looked at, you know, Abeka and Bob Jones and the standard curriculum textbook publishers, and she didn't like them. They were boring. And Susan Schaefer Macaulay was a big deal about, you know, using living books with kids use biography.

So one of our favorite weekend activities, a cheap date for, you know, young marrieds with no money is we'd go to use bookstores and we just browsed or used bookstores. So she found a couple of elementary school readers from 1904. What she found first was Famous Men of Rome, and then turned out there were three other volumes that had been published in 1904, and they were about 30 biographies written for at the time they were written, they were probably early elementary.

Now we would judge them to be upper elementary, and middle school level. And she brought him home and started teaching the kids out of these little stories. And she liked them so much. She came to me and said, Rob, these are out of print. They've been out of print for almost 100 years. We need to put them back in print.

So this was the early days of laser printers and copy shops. And so I typeset it on the computer, and we printed off some copies with a Xerox machine and had them comb bound and started selling them.

Marlin Detweiler:

Let me just say something for people that might have questions about what you did Rob. It's also important to realize not only were they out of print, but they were in the public domain and out of copyright, which means anyone could do what you did with those books. Legally permissible. Go ahead.

Rob Shearer:

Yeah. Copyright expires in about 75 years. In those days, anything published before about 1920 is now in the public domain. They keep changing it because Mickey Mouse is about to go into the public domain.

Marlin Detweiler:

He has a powerful copyright protection!

Rob Shearer:

They've revised the copyright two or three times to keep Mickey Mouse from becoming public domain. Anyway, that became Greenleaf Press. And we eventually expanded those and we wrote Study Guides, which gave you some suggested discussion questions to go over with your children, how to adapt them to different age levels. We then began advocating for the homeschool community.

You don't need to use textbooks. You can use living books, you can use biographies. You should use biographies. After all, the Bible teaches history with biography. If you actually look at the books of the Old Testament, most of them are history, and they're not textbook history. They are a series of biographies. You get the biography of Abraham and the biography of Isaac and the biography of Jacob, and the biography of Moses, the biography of Joshua.

The whole Old Testament history curriculum is a series of biographies, and it's designed to be taught to children. So we said, okay, start with the Bible. Then do Egypt, Greece, Rome, Middle Ages on down through modern times and do a history sequence– you mentioned my educational background. Yeah. The other part of the background there is I had great good fortune while I was in college at Davidson in North Carolina.

They had an integrated humanities program that they offered for freshmen and sophomores, two-year program. And you started with the Epic of Gilgamesh, and it was all original source material. You read original text 100 pages a night, five nights a week for two years, and you finished with the existentialist. So I got to go through this fabulous program of an introduction to Western Civilization and a reading of the classics.

It was a classical education for someone who hadn't gotten one in public school, but now had this suddenly available, and I just kind of stumbled into it. Well, as it turned out, Stanford University, in its graduate program, offers a joint degree, a joint Ph.D. in your discipline and humanities. And the humanities portion of the joint degree is a two-year integrated chronological study of Western civilization.

It begins with the epic of Gilgamesh and gets you all the way down to the existentialists. So I was like, Oh yeah, sign me up. I would love to do that again, because it gave me a chance to go back and revisit people who had become some of my favorites. You know, I loved reading the classics and I loved studying them.

The graduate program was fabulous because you had people from all the different disciplines. You had people from the modern foreign languages, you had people from the sciences know the people from sociology and economics, and they were coming in and we were all reading these classical works of Western civilization together and discussing them in a graduate program at a graduate seminar level so that, you know, when you guys did the omnibus program, I was just like flipping out.

I was going, Oh, yes, absolutely. This is wonderful! Omnibus. And now, of course, you know, you called me up. It's been almost ten years. Can you believe that? I'm this is my ninth year teaching for Veritas.

Marlin Detweiler:

You don't get too far ahead of yourselves. We're still building this!

Rob Shearer:

All right? We're building.

Marlin Detweiler:

We're building. So now you've got this business that caters to the homeschool community and probably the Christian school community, too. And you take it on the road as many of those businesses did at that point, going in the summers, spring, and summer from one conference to another. We get interested in your product because of our initiating of the Geneva School in Orlando in 1992.

And so we contact you to discuss what you're doing. As we're prone to do, we like going to sources. And so we talk to you, and you were very gracious, and we had coordinated getting together for dinner in our home with your at that point; who knows how many children? Probably eight or so at that point. And tell us a little bit about the surprise that we were in for when you got there.

Rob Shearer:

Yeah, well, we were at the Orlando Curriculum Fair at the time.

Marlin Detweiler:

That's right.

Rob Shearer:

Have all the homeschoolers in the state of Florida get together once a year for a convention. And we had set up our booths, and we're displaying because we sold not just the books we published, we sought out from other publishers living books that we could put into a catalog and sell packages and sell readers and that sort of thing.

So, yeah, you guys came by and talked and invited us to come to dinner and, and we showed up and. And you did have a surprise guest at the dinner that you did not warn me about, but R.C. Sproul was at your home and greeted us along with you. And I was like, okay, deep breath, don’t say anything stupid.

Marlin Detweiler:

I didn’t remember that he was there!

Rob Shearer:

He was there, and you hadn't warned me! But yeah, we rolled up to your house in what we were then touring with. We figured out we were doing about 60 or 70 nights a year on the road with six kids. I think it was six at that point.

Marlin Detweiler:

Well, it's more than six.

Rob Shearer:

It eventually got to be 12. But at that point there were only six traveling with us, so we were doing 60 or 70 nights on the road, curriculum fairs and hauling a trailer full of books with a 15 passenger van. But we're having to book hotel rooms everywhere we went. And so I ran the numbers at one point, Chris, we were based out of the Nashville area, and I knew people in the music business and one of them suggested to me it's actually economical to have your own coach with bunk beds and a bedroom for you and your wife and a kitchen and you'd actually spend less money doing that than staying in hotels all the time.

Marlin Detweiler:

Coach– that's synonymous with recreational vehicle or RV, I assume.

Rob Shearer:

It is, although, you know, they tend to use the big Greyhound coaches, the emcee threes and the Prevos. So we looked around, and as it turned out, one of our neighbors in our county was Charlie Daniels. And Charlie Daniels was buying a new coach. He was buying a big brand new Prevo.

And so we contacted him and bought his coach to use for Greenleaf Fresh and didn't really have to do much to change it. He had a sitting area in the front with some exercise equipment. We did redo the front compartment with six bunk beds for our kids. The middle compartment was a bedroom with a queen-sized bed that Cindy and I slept in, and the back compartment was a kitchen, and it worked great.

We only had to make one small change to the exterior when we bought it, he had on the front, on either side dead buffalo skulls, kind of a Western motif on either side. And that really didn't go over too well in the homeschool community. So we had that part of the coach repainted and put in our Greenleaf Press logo with the lamb underneath the tree.

Marlin Detweiler:

And when you first drove that into Georgia, did is there any truth to the rumor that it broke out with the fiddle song about Devil Went Down to Gerogia?

Rob Shearer:

I had several people at truck stops come up to me because they would recognize the bus, especially before we painted out the Dead Skulls, and they wanted to see Charlie. You know, Charlie's not. I'm sorry. Charlie's not on the bus, but we had people occasionally come up and want to try and see Charlie and get an autograph.

Marlin Detweiler:

Funny. So you came to our home and that, and we had to find a place to park. Our neighbors put up with it for a couple of hours. I don't remember any complaints, but I'm glad you didn't spend the night. I got to tell you, they might upset about that. But because of that and that relationship, you availed yourselves to Laurie and me and were really encouraging and what we thought was going to be a hobby business activity of creating a history and Bible curriculum in the form of those flash cards that were the foundation of Verita Press. What's your recollection of how that played out?

Rob Shearer:

I remember you guys calling up and asking very sweetly, “Would you mind if we produce some flashcards to go alongside the famous men books?” And I thought it was a terrific idea. In fact, I said, “You know, if you guys do that, would you let us sell them in our catalog along with our famous men books?” And you and Laurie said, reciprocally, what could we sell your Famous Men books in our catalog?



And I said, Absolutely, it's fine. So we really did have kind of a partnership there where we sold each other's products and cooperated. And the flashcards were fabulous. They were a real game changer. We included them in our study packages.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah, these are things I didn't actually know until now, and that's really cool. I'm glad there was a good symbiotic reciprocation. Wonderful. So, that was a real help and an encouragement that they kind of greenlighted us to jump in. You then jumping, I guess a few years forward, have been involved with I don't know what your status maybe you formed it and started it.

I don't know, but I'll call it what it is and then you can tell me what happened and where you are with it today. The Shaefer Study Center.

Rob Shearer:

Yep, Yep. I mentioned Francis Schaefer early on. He really is a huge hero for Cindy and me both. So we were homeschooling our kids at the high school level. As you know, the homeschool community sort of splits. There are a lot of people who homeschool through the elementary grades but don't really feel confident enough to teach high school classes.

So a number of different kinds of innovative experiments have occurred along the way, mostly co-op arrangements where parents sometimes swap teaching subjects to each other. We wanted to start something that was a little bit like a co-op, but actually didn't necessarily require all the parents to teach. But recruited teachers who had subject matter expertise in history or literature or art, or the sciences.

So Cindy and I had taught classes in various co-ops and national three or four. And we finally said, you know, let's do it ourselves, and let's do it and let's implement the chronological history curriculum that we've developed. And so we actually did start the Frances Schaeffer Study Center. It's now going on its 17th, 18th year. It started way back in the early 2000s.

And we meet on Wednesdays. We have a kind of a university model school. We have one day of live classes where all the students come in, and our home church very graciously has adopted and sponsored, and endorsed that as a ministry to the national community. And so we transformed the church into a school. I call it the Brigadoon School.

It comes into existence on Wednesday morning at 7 a.m., and by 6:00 that night, it disappears and leaves no trace. All day long we'll sometimes have 30 or 40, or 50 high school kids. Right now, we've got a little bit fewer than that. But they're taking classes in the ancient world for the ninth graders, and then the 10th graders do Medieval and Reformation. The 11th graders do early modern, and the seniors do the modern world. And I teach history for all four years. Cindy teaches literature for all four years. We have two art historians. The students are required to take an art history class along with the history and literature classes. So it's a little bit like Omnibus, except it's team taught.

So the core, the core for each year is, is really 3 hours of instruction on a Wednesday with three different teachers. You have a history teacher, a literature teacher, and an art historian. And we do one hour of live in-class instruction, and then they have a reading syllabus for the things that they're required to do over the other four days of the week before they come back again.

And we review a little bit and we introduce new material, and we spend our hour. But the ability to get 3 hours of instruction really on different aspects of the same time period. So if we're studying ancient Rome, you know, I'm doing the history and Cindy’s doing the literature, she's talking about the Aeneid and our art historians are talking about the architecture and the accomplishments of the Romans in that field.

And it works. It really works. It works. It's a slight variation of what VSA does, but it works. And I really enjoy participating in both. So we've been doing that now for 17 years.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah, well, now you mentioned briefly, and I cut you off. Now it's time to talk. What do you do here?

Rob Shearer:

I teach in the Omnibus program, which I dearly love. It's the highlight of my week every week, getting together with these high school students and reading the classics. I teach Omnibus II Secondary and Omnibus V Primary and have done that now. This is my ninth year doing it. I'm Omnibus II Secondary, you know, I could do a whole sales pitch for you on this.

Well, this is the Omnibus curriculum. Each year has a primary course and a secondary course. Primary course are the, you know, the original authors from that time period. And the secondary course is more focused on historical fiction and background and related materials. So when I do two secondary and two is the Middle Ages Renaissance Reformation. When I drew to secondary, the nickname for that course is the year of Tolkein because we start with The Hobbit, and then we read all three volumes of The Lord of the Rings.

Now we do a lot of other things as well, but that's probably about half the year. So it has been my great pleasure, my great privilege for the ninth year now, to take eighth graders and walk them through The Hobbit and walk them through all three volumes of The Lord of the Rings and talk to them. I actually introduced a whole class period in their little innovation in the Omni curriculum. That was my invention. On why J.R.R. Tolkien is the greatest author of the 20th century.

It's not kid literature, it's not escapist, it's not just fantasy. He ranks in the pantheon with Shakespeare and Chaucer, and it's is not an original thesis of mine. Tom Shippy, hi successor at Leeds University, has written a book with just that title. Why J.R.R. Tolkien is the greatest author of the 20th Century, so it's a wonderful course to teach the other course.

Omnibus V equally a pleasure. We're right now in the middle of Dante. We just finished Inferno yesterday and we'll be moving on this year. We will cover, you know, Purgatorio and Paradiso as well, and that's a huge part of the year.

But then we're also doing we start with the Russian city of God. We do believe. Yes, will do Chaucer. We'll do Luther and Calvin and read some original material from them. We'll actually have a wonderful week where we study. Johann Sebastian Bach, and we don't have a reading assignment for the students. We have a listening assignment to listen to the St. Matthew Passion and it's a wonderful– I enjoy it every year, and I learn things every year.

I see things new in the material as I reread it. And the students every year produce insights that I have not seen before. And it's still true this year. I've already learned things from my students that I didn't know before about Augustine and Bouvis, and I'm sure they'll continue to surprise me as we go through.

Marlin Detweiler:

I am smiling so much because I hear the joy that I express this way. I love the ability to do what I love and get paid to do it.

Rob Shearer:

Well, you may have heard Bob Cannon, because he started quoting me and I, and I don't mind, I have said it. “I would teach Omnibus classes for free.”

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah, I'm the wrong person to tell that to, because if anyone is going to take you up on that it would be me!

Rob Shearer:

Well. There's a caveat: You have to pay me to grade papers!

Marlin Detweiler:

That's great. I love this note. I love the footnote. Hey, you said something at an End of Year Gathering that I was so encouraged by that I want to hear it again, and I want our listeners to hear it. And it was an observation that you made about VSA students. Tell us again.

Rob Shearer:

VSA students and this again, I'm not the first one to make this comment, and I'm not the only one on the faculty who has voiced this enthusiastically and passionately. But the students that I have taught for nine years now are the best students I have ever taught in my lifetime. They are enrolled at VSA because they want to be there.

They are readers. They joyfully go through the material, and they come in with questions and observations, and they have been and continue to be a true joy to teach. They are the best students I have ever taught in my life.

Marlin Detweiler:

I'm going to follow that up by saying something that you wouldn't say. That is because we have the best collection of teachers in the world, and teachers are the most important part of education. We're thrilled with the curriculum that we can offer, but we're even more thrilled with the fact that we have the best collection of teachers in the world, and that produces the best students.

There are some students that come in and you're pushing them. The direction that they're running isn’t the easy one. Then you have students who aren't ready for the work. They're not interested in that kind of work, and they get won over. They get won over by the teachers who have won over other students first. And now everything conspires to do that for those students.

And so for those that are listening, I hope you hear this because this is a chance to be a student of Rob Shears and his and his contemporaries in ways that will make the most wonderful difference in your kid's lives forever. So thank you for being a part of that.

Rob Shearer:

It's been a joy, and I have to say I'll endorse that not to blow my own horn, but because of my interaction with the other teachers you have hired. And I will absolutely confirm the teachers you have hired, along with Dr. Bob, are incredibly impressive. In fact, a little intimidating when I go to the End of Year Gathering Meetings, and I see these people, or when I'm in an adobe classroom, we have faculty meetings in the Adobe classroom.

They're a little intimidating because they're all so bright and so passionate and so articulate. They have multiple degrees, they have subject matter expertise there. And you can tell they love the students, they pray for the students. We put a prayer request for each other and reach out to each other. They mentor new teachers and hold their hand and offer them support and affirmation.

It is a remarkable collection of teachers. I have been just incredibly blessed by my association with the rest of the faculty. I feel myself sometimes a little bit inadequate when I look at all of them and all of their accomplishments. And I go, “Oh my gosh, I hope I can live up to the standards that they are setting and keep the pace that they set because these people are really good.”

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah, that's great. Folks. You have been listening to Veritas Vox, the voice of classical Christian education, and maybe a little bit of a different closing note. If you happen to have an R.V. and are in the Franklin Nashville area, go ahead and try it. Show up at Rob's house and see if he's ready to pay it forward for dinner.

Rob, thanks so much.

Rob Shearer:

It's been my pleasure. Thank you. Marlin.