Omnibus I: Biblical and Classical Civilizations is a guide to ancient literature from Creation to the Fall of Rome. Veritas Press created this guide for seventh grade, logic-stage students. Please be aware that this book is simply the guide; you will need to obtain the actual books elsewhere. In addition to the books themselves, the publishers recommend two reference works: Western Civilization by Jackson Spielvogel and History of Art for Young People by H.W. Janson and Anthony F. Janson.
So what exactly does "Omnibus" mean? Omnibus is a Latin word meaning "all encompassing." Rather than studying theology, history, and literature in a disjointed way, Veritas Press integrates these complementary subjects into a unified study. The editors have attempted to balance all three areas in the total reading plan. Books are rated on a scale of ten, which is broken down into three parts: theology, history, and literature. For example, Genesis is given the rating 7.2.1, which means it is mostly theology, some history, and a bit of literature. The Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul is given a score of 10.0.0 because it is only theology. Plutarch's Lives scores 0.8.2. A complete list of books studied in Omnibus I is available at www.veritaspress.com. For each semester, there are two lists of books: primary and secondary books. According to Veritas Press, "The primary reading covers books that the student will interact with most. Papers, tests, field trips, etc. will generally be more geared to the primary books. Secondary reading is not necessarily less important, but it is given less emphasis."
The subject matter in some of these books may not be appropriate for your children. According to the publishers, "In the creation of the program we have assumed that it will be used by students in seventh grade and above. Furthermore, we have assumed that there is no part of the Bible deemed inappropriate to discuss with a seventh-grade student. Therefore, the material assumes that the student knows what sex is, that he understands the existence of violence, that he understands there a theological and doctrinal differences to be addressed and that he has the maturity to discern right from wrong."
Different authors have written each book study: Stuart Bryan, Peter Leithart, Ben Merkle, William Dawson, Douglas Wilson, N.D. Wilson, Michael Metzler, Toby Sumpter, William Michael, Tyler Fischer, Doug Jones, Natali Miller, Gregg Strawbridge, Brent Harkin, Jared Miller, Randy Booth, Jerrold Owen, J.C. Evans, Bruce Etter, Deborah Erb, and O. Woelke Leithart. They have obviously done their homework, as there are pages of detailed information, discussion topics, and activities for each book. Each author brings his or her own personality to the study and gives a welcome diversity to the Omnibus. The tone of the writing is semi-formal, yet with a wittiness that will probably make the book inviting to even reluctant readers. The Great Books often require deep thought and discussion, but the authors have preserved their sense of humor throughout.
Much beautiful artwork and photography also make the book highly inviting. This is a quality book! The paper is thick and glossy, and the cover and binding appear sturdy. There is something visually appealing on virtually every page. In fact, some of the optional activities involve analyzing select works of art.
Each book study begins with an introduction, intended to draw students in and spark interest in the book. This is followed by a general information section that covers the author and context, significance, summary and setting, and worldview. The worldview is by far the largest part of the general information section. If you are unfamiliar with Reformed theology, you might like to visit http://www.veritasacademy.com/FAITH.htm as much of the book presupposes this worldview. You will have to decide if you want your child to read each book first to see if he can identify the worldview, or if you want to understand the worldview going in. You are certainly free to tweak Omnibus to suit your needs.
Next, the prelude to the book opens with a question to consider, such as (for Shakespeare's Julius Caesar) "How would you define ambition? Is it a virtue or a vice, and why?" To check understanding of the general information sections, a series of comprehensions questions is next. Suggestions for optional activities follow, such as making a map or listening to a related opera.
Now the time has come to start actually reading the book! Reading assignments are broken down into manageable chunks with plenty of follow-up work: recitations, discussions, writing exercises, evaluation, and analysis. Each book study follows the same general plan.
A recitation is a list of questions for factual recall. For example, in The Horse and His Boy, one question is, "Describe Arsheesh and Kidrash Tarkaan." Each discussion section begins with a question. For The Best Things in Life by Peter Kreeft, the question is, "Do you think pleasure is good, bad, or neither? Why?" After this question, each discussion section has three sets of questions regarding text analysis, cultural analysis, and biblical analysis. I will share an example of each type of question for Romans: 1. (text analysis) "Is it true that we are commanded to preach the gospel to all" (Matt. 28:18-20); 2. (cultural analysis) "How is the concept of election understood in our culture?" 3. (biblical analysis) "What does the Old Testament teach about election, especially concerning the people of Israel?" Throughout each book study, students are encouraged to apply the lessons of the books to their lives.
Writing assignments are abundant and varied. Essay questions are liberally sprinkled in among every book study. The following in an example essay question for The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis: "In Letter 12, Screwtape says that it does not matter to him how small the sins are, as long as they lead men away from God. Is the idea that one sin is as bad as another biblical? Explain using Scripture."
Other writing assignments are more creative; one assignment for the Histories involves historically documenting a chosen topic in Herodotus' style. The instructions say, "Make sure it's trivial. Something like a certain bicycle, or the car your family drives, or your teacher...Make connections and run down rabbit trails to make the story more interesting and understandable. Try to keep the story short-one page will be fine. Think quality, not quantity."
Another writing activity is called the progymnasmata. According to the text, "Classical training in rhetoric included preparatory writing exercises called the progymnasmata. These exercises in composition introduced the beginning student to basic forms and techniques that would then be used and combined when practicing more advanced exercises and speeches." Extremely detailed instructions are given for each progymnasmata exercise.
Suggested activities are abundant and include ideas such as making a map, filling out a chart, or playing a game. A rather exciting suggestion is to go spelunking (exploring caves) after reading The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis! Another fun suggestion is to act out Socrates' death, complete with tea to sip (and a reminder NOT to use hemlock).
A very helpful resource is the accompanying teacher's CD that includes the entire Omnibus I text with answers. Answers are easy to find; they come directly after each question in a different font and color than the text. Other resources include a thorough lesson plan for thirty-seven weeks of study, and midterm and final exams for both semesters. A helpful grading supplement explains how to determine your student's grade in the separate branches: theology, history, and literature. There is also a nine-page map of Narnia to print and color while studying The Chronicles of Narnia, as well as a game, "Escape from Tashbaan." Finally, a short story by Edith Nesbit, The Aunt and Amabel, is provided as a supplement to one of the book studies.
Omnibus I is a gold mine of information for Reformed Christian homeschoolers. I consider it well worth the $100 price tag (teacher's CD included). I do not imagine a non-Christian, or even a non-Reformed Christian, would want to use this book, although there is plenty of factual background information on each book that would be helpful to anyone. Keep in mind Omnibus I is not a Christian "Cliffs Notes" that mainly focuses on character, setting, conflict, and themes. The unapologetic focus of the text is to understand and evaluate the message of each book based on the Bible, with an emphasis on Reformed doctrine. With that in mind, I do think the authors did a good job of presenting other sides of an argument.
Although Omnibus I was created for seventh grade students, I would not use it with my just-entering-seventh-grade daughter. We loosely follow the recommendations in The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise, so my daughter has begun reading some of the Great Books already. However, I feel Omnibus I could perhaps be more profitable to the majority of students in the rhetoric, or high school, stage. I am no classical guru, but much of the subject matter and discussion topics appears geared toward that later stage.
Some parents may wish to use Omnibus I as a teacher resource only, especially parents who need help learning how to discuss books or lack the time to read every book with their students. Surely this one book would be more economical than thirty-eight individual study guides! Parents should feel free to pick and choose from among the smorgasbord Omnibus I offers. Not every child (or homeschool parent!) is going to be able to interact on such a deep level with thirty-eight books in one year. In addition, with so many suggested writing exercises, I would probably choose one or two at most for each book. With such a rich resource as this, I recommend that everyone write one of my favorite quotes from Ruth Beechick in the front cover: "You are teaching the child, not the book."
Omnibus I is certain to benefit many Reformed Christian homeschoolers who are attempting to introduce their children to the Great Books of Western Civilization, especially those of us who have read few of the Great Books ourselves. A job well done, Veritas Press!