Each Spring many seniors sleep a little less because they are waiting for acceptance letters to come from colleges. Everyone is looking for thick letters, which are acceptances, rather than skinny letters, which are often denials. When colleges accept students and when they choose students for scholarships, they are showing what they value as institutions, accessing their skills and weakness, trying to find the best candidates.
Each year Veritas Academy, the school of which I am Head, sends a group of seniors out into the world—many are headed to college—so each year I get a glimpse at what colleges value whether that be athletics, math, reading and writing, etc, and each year I am renewed in my faith in classical education. Schools of all types have been consistently impressed by the caliber of our classically educated students—especially those who have come through the Omnibus curriculum. I have had the opportunity to interact with college presidents and professors and have gotten feedback from many students who have interacted with colleges about how the skills they learned in Omnibus set them apart as they competed for acceptance and scholarships. So, in this post I wanted to share with you the three important reasons why colleges value students trained in the Omnibus.
Colleges Value Omnibus Students Because They Have Learned the Skills of Discussion
Discussion is the most used type of session in Omnibus. Good discussions where students are actually grappling with ideas (along with good reading to inform their opinion about these ideas) are the greatest curriculum to form and refine students. Discussion is distinctive to Omnibus, making the Omnibus’s students ability to effectively discuss things a rare and valuable asset. Good discussions grow students who can, not only accurately convey their point of view, but also are able to think and talk and argue with others effectively, instead of yelling at each other or talking past each other. In other words, good discussion is one of the most powerful and enjoyable ways to learn. Not only is it one of the most powerful and enjoyable ways to learn, it is the way that many colleges teach. College professors love students who want to dig into the material they are teaching, the ones that interact with them in class and actually participate in the material. They love students who are willing to ask questions of the text or of each other. In fact, all great teachers enjoy students who will ask them questions that show that they are engaged or challenge the assumptions of the text, the class, or the teacher. (My favorite essay from a student started by saying “Mr. Fischer thinks that the answer is X, but he is wrong.”) Now, admittedly, not all college professors are great teachers, but the best instructors value the kind of students that Omnibus works to produce.
Colleges Value Omnibus Students Because They Can Take a Punch (in Discussion)
One of the saddest parts of our current culture is its fragility. In the past colleges used to be places where students had the opportunity to learn to defend their thinking—and to have it challenged. In our day, too often, young adults crack under the pressure of having their assumptions questioned or having their ideas challenged. Omnibus-trained students have a great advantage at this point. They have been trained to expect that their assumptions will be questioned and that people will disagree with them (for some it is even enjoyable, to have someone challenge their thinking.) This means that they can get more out of college, winnowing ideas, keeping the truth and throwing away the chaff.
The “punches” they take in Omnibus help form them into leaders and valued students at their colleges. Their toughness makes them valuable to the college because they can be a leader, who excels because of their willingness to go through the “punches” and arguments that it takes to lead people without breaking apart. This causes Omnibus-trained students to shine when competing for scholarships and selective colleges as well. Often, at the end of a scholarship competition or to get into selective schools, students end up being interviewed and questioned by a group of adults. This interview almost mimics an Omnibus discussion. Omnibus-trained students are not intimidated by this environment; the difference of their education shines through in this environment. Their comfort around these tables often translates into scholarship offers and admission to selective colleges.
Colleges Value Omnibus Students Because They Have a Greater Breadth and Flexibility
Omnibus exists to make broad-minded people. It aims to produce students who can exhibit the skills of grammar, logic, and rhetoric in the subjects of theology, history, and literature. In the past, something like Omnibus was a prerequisite to simply be an educated person. Colleges were created to convey that precious cultural endowment from one generation to the next. The stories of Bible and of Odysseus, Aeneas, Dante, and Chaucer were expected. Today, knowing these stories is, sadly, a distinctive, which sets students apart because of the foundation that it creates that helps students have breadth and flexibility that their non-classically educated peers do not have access to.
Interestingly, this broad foundation that Omnibus creates seems to not only give an advantage to those who are going into humanities majors, but it also gives, I think, even greater advantage to students studying science and engineering. Omnibus-trained science and engineering students shine because they are well-rounded. Too often our culture encourages us to stick to what we are good at, encouraging STEM students to take a very narrow range of classes. Omnibus-trained STEM students on the other hand know how to write and speak much more effectively. This is a massive advantage particularly when applying for jobs or graduate studies. Also, STEM majors with a sense of the liberal arts are well-situated to thrive in a culture that values beautiful innovation and rewards the creation of technology that is fitted to humans. Jonah Lehrer’ article on Steve Jobs in an article New Yorker in 2011 (also in Wired) famously said that technology alone is not enough. Jobs’s success, based off the marriage of technology and design, human interaction and machine, are deep encouragements to give all student but particularly students headed into STEM fields a Great Books education.
In conclusion, Omnibus is a worthwhile subject for every student because it teaches you the life skills of discussion, endurance through argument and disagreement, and having a broad and flexible foundation.
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