Feature Article “Omnibus as Capstone” by Douglas Wilson
Educational Helpsby Laurie Detweiler
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October 2011

Feature Article

Omnibus as Capstone

As all students of the Omnibus curriculum know, it is an integrated curriculum. The components that are integrated together are theology, history, and literature. There is a point to all this, and there is a point that it doesn’t have. Let’s start with the latter.

The modern resurgence of classical and Christian education began with an essay by Dorothy Sayers entitled “The Lost Tools of Learning.” The operative word in that title is tools. Sayers was concerned that our approach to education had become one of stuffing facts into heads, and doing so in a way that left students poorly equipped to do anything creative on their own later on. Her point was that we ought to treat students less like carbon-based filing cabinets, and more like human beings with eternal souls. As future men and women, she argued, students needed to learn how to learn. They were not to be taught so that they would then be “taught.” They were to be taught how to teach themselves. They were to be taught in such a way that they could encounter a new situation, get oriented quickly, and do what a truly educated person ought to do.

If a student is just a receptacle, then passivity is the only thing required of him. If a student is in training, then graduation marks the time when he goes out to actually run the race. The mind of a student is not like a shoebox, which gets crammed if you stuff things in it. The mind of a student is actually like a muscle which, when exercised, is capable of more. The more you put into a shoebox, the less it can hold. The more you train a muscle, the more it can do.

Sayers was concerned that education conducted according to the shoebox model was going to create a generation of lethargic souls. In the years after graduation, the alumni would wave off any prospect of learning anything new because they “had already done that.” Sayers was concerned that we figure out how to train our students with the tools of understanding. 

And so the point of the Omnibus curriculum is not to make an implied statement that the books or subjects covered are “everything important you need to know.” Omnibus students are not students who have been given a bigger shoebox, with more stuff crammed in it than the kids at the government schools get. This is a qualitative issue, not a quantitative one. The students are apprentices. They are being mentored. They work with these books, and with these subjects, seeing how things connect. All their exercises could be labeled e.g. – exempli gratia. In the course of their lives, they should encounter scores of situations like “this one,” and so they are shown how to take it apart, think about it like a Christian, integrate it with other aspects of their knowledge, and then relate the whole to their worship of the triune God the next Sunday.

Such students see how different subjects tie together. The reason for learning how to do this is so that they can do it for themselves later on in life—when the subjects are different, when the books are different, and when the circumstances are completely different. Once you learn how to ride a bicycle, you know how to ride any bicycle.

This is why the Omnibus curriculum is not a “one size fits all” approach. In one homeschool setting, the student may work through every book assigned, every year, for all six years. In another setting the student may work through a comprehensive (albeit not exhaustive) selection. A traditional school may use the Omnibus for its secondary humanities curriculum. Another school (like Logos School does in Moscow) may use its own curriculum, but have the Omnibus available as a fully integrated resource for their teachers. The point is that these subjects and these books belong together—but not simply on the shelf.

I have long said that a teacher’s job is not to get the students to think in the classrooms (although it is nice when they do). The teacher’s job is to get the students to think in the hallways. The teacher should so challenge the students that their discussions overflow into the next class, and the math teacher is helping them grapple with the meaning of history. The issues should be vibrant and exciting, and they should swirl around the students’ experience at dinner that night. I recall sitting at dinner listening to my son recount stories from Herodotus, while his food got cold. This is integration that overflows into the world.

When a student with tunnel-vision is just being diligent in a simplistic way, his questions tend to gravitate toward a “will that be on the test?” approach. All the subjects of the curriculum are waiting there in the bin like so many Legos that need to be snapped together. When the curriculum is finished, you have built your castle (or whatever), and there are no pieces left over. But in the world God made, there are always pieces left over, and they are all supposed to go together. In the world outside the classroom, everything is waiting to be integrated, and if you learn how to do it in the classroom, then you will know how to do it outside the classroom.

So if an Omnibus student, for example, says that he doesn’t need to go to a liberal arts college because he “already read” Homer, then regardless of whatever good grades he got doing Omnibus, he nevertheless missed the whole point of it. (This doesn’t mean that he has to go to a liberal arts college. It means that he must not avoid it for the wrong reasons.) The world certainly needs more engineers, but it needs engineers who know how to think in an integrated way. Liberal arts training, whether in high school or college, is not vocational training for English teachers. Liberal arts instruction, as is contained in the Omnibus, is an education for living as a free man or woman in Christ, wherever God calls them. And when they are called to a particular place, they should be able to see how Jesus Christ is the integration point for all things (Col. 1:17-18). If they don’t know how to do that, wherever they are, then they did not receive a classical Christian education, whatever was offered to them.

But let’s say we consider another student, one who didn’t get the best grades of all time while in high school. Not only was he integrating theology, history and literature, but also three-a-day football practices, a part time job at the mini-mart, and hunting trips with his dad, and he actually learned how to live an integrated life, with Christ at the center of it all. What should we think? We should think of him as a real success story.
This is because the point of education is found in what the student does with it. Faith without works is dead.
Douglas Wilson

Douglas Wilson is a Reformed and evangelical theologian, prolific author and speaker, pastor at Christ Church in Moscow, Id., and faculty member at New Saint Andrews College. Many credit him as the key person in reestablishing the interest in and importance of classical Christian education. Included among the many works he has written is Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning.He is the general editor of the Omnibus curriculum, published by Veritas Press.


Educational Helps

I don’t know about you but when my children were younger I was always trying to come up with a creative way to start the day. Having four boys made it so that even breakfast was a big deal. Now my new daughter-in-law, Lexi, is getting used to having a husband who wants a big breakfast every day. He had adopted my husband’s tradition of cooking pancakes on Sunday mornings for his wife to give her a break. It is fun to see traditions carried on to the next generation.

Lexi is quite an accomplished cook and a food writer. I asked her to put together some fun breakfast recipes that you could cook with your children or have them prepare to start off the day in a special way. I know most of you already have a month of school under your belt, but it still seems like we are still in that back-to-school mode.

Click here to retrieve the recipes. Enjoy!

Laurie Detweiler

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Free Hot Sauce from a PGA Tour Caddy
Last month I, Marlin, had the pleasure of caddying for my son in Dallas, Texas, for the first level of PGA Tour qualifying. (This was his first attempt and, unfortunately, an unsuccessful one.) We spent a good deal of time with Travis Wadkins, son of the well-known golfer Lanny Wadkins, and with Lanny’s former caddy who caddied for Travis. “Smiley,” as he is known, is not only a famous caddy but the owner of an incredible hot sauce. The combination of fruits and spices went way beyond my expectations—it’s remarkable.

You may have a bottle of your choice of mild, hot or extra-hot free with a $50 order during the month of October. If you place your order by phone, simply ask us for your choice of hot sauce. If you place your order on our web site, you may click here or simply enter the item number (#902170) on the Express Order page and click Add to Order. Then choose mild, hot or extra-hot. (One bottle per family.)



Q. Your educational materials are great. But, what can we do with preschool children to prepare them for their formal education years?
A. First of all, have fun! Let them know that God created this incredible world for them to explore and learn of his never-ending grace. Preschoolers, in particular, need not have most, let alone all, of their learning done in a formal way. First and foremost, read out loud to your children. If you want them to love books, read lots of books to them. Dads should know this does not work if mom is the only one reading the books. Secondly, look for everyday ways to teach. When you are in the grocery store, take the box of cereal off the shelf and say, “What letter does this begin with?” “That’s right K for Kellogg’s.” Driving down the road, ask your preschooler to identify letters and sounds from billboards and road signs. Colors should be handled similarly. So should numbers. You’ll find this is a far more natural transition to the more structured learning environment we call kindergarten.

Q. My daughter is 13 and in 8th grade. Is it really fair to ask her to read with understanding material that is typically given in High School Honors classes? She is very bright, but is struggling with the lengthy, complex reading assignments.
A. I assume you are referring to the Omnibus curriculum and will answer accordingly. The simple answer is “yes,” we’ve seen this done for quite some time and with great results. You mention High School Honors classes, and you could have mentioned colleges as well. There is no doubt that a college student should be able to handle more than a 16- or 17-year-old, who should be able to handle more than a 13-year-old. The real question is whether it is realistic for the 13-year-old at all. Certainly, someone who has had a rigorous classical Christian education in the prior years will be more able to tackle the material than someone who has not, so the foundation must be considered. The other matter is how they are taught. It seems quite wise to us to dedicate significant blocks of time to reading out loud with the teacher, stopping occasionally to discuss the reading for comprehension purposes. This isn’t always practical, but for the age level, it is helpful—especially for those students who have not had the benefit of a classical education in grammar school.

Please submit any questions you’d like answered here to



Summer Reading Contest Winners
Thanks to all who participated in our summer reading contest; what a great response! As promised, we held a drawing from all the submissions and the winners are named below. Congratulations to all who participated. Everyone is richer for having read good books. The following are also richer because they won a gift certificate:

$150 First Prize                Jacob Johnson             Fort Belvoir, Va.
$100 Second Prize                        Tommy Meadows      Hesperus, Colo.
$70 Third Prize                Caroline Randall        Bridgewater, N.J.

Poetry Writing Contest
The poetry writing contest also produced a wonderful number of pieces. We received so many entries that we need to put off announcing the winners until next month. We’re sorry for the delay, but we know the four winners will be delighted with their $50 gift certificates. Stay tuned!

New Course Offerings for Second Semester
SAT Prep Course Coming in Spring Semester
Veritas Press is delighted to announce a semester-long course which will help your child prepare to take the SAT test. Taught by veteran teacher, Cynthia Jackson, the SAT Reasoning Test is a measure of the critical thinking skills students need for academic success in college. The test is just one factor colleges look at when they consider student applications. The SAT Test Preparation course is a comprehensive review of the skills and techniques required to get the best performance results for this college entrance requirement. This course is ideally suited to upper secondary level students. The course begins January 24, 2012. Read more details and register here.

Coming Soon! Math Help Evening Course
Another new offering coming in the second semester is a math help course. This course willprovide help for students in Pre-Algebra, Algebra I, and Geometry courses with their homework, test reviews, as well as post-test corrections. It is intended for students who would otherwise benefit from having a tutor or some other outside help beyond what can be offered in the regular class. The instructor will follow the syllabi of the Scholars’ Academy teachers, preparing students to deal with potentially troublesome concepts covered during the regular classes. Meeting Monday through Thursday evenings for forty-five minutes from 7:45—8:30 PM ET, the class will be limited to 20 students from these courses, so all will benefit from help on new concepts as well as review of old material. Questions will be answered on a rotational basis going from Pre-Algebra to Geometry. The goal is that all questions will be answered in the time limit per evening. This is a non-graded, non-credit course where attendance is on an as-needed basis. Watch your e-mail for registration details later this fall.

Teaching Openings with Veritas Press Scholars Academy
Online Teachers Needed Immediately!—We have needs for experienced teachers. Teachers can work from home, the beach, or anywhere high-speed internet is available. Send résumé to Bruce Etter.


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