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The Buzz About Classical Conversations

Jazzercise.  The Atkins Diet.  Bell Bottoms.  Fads come and go – whether it’s in health, fitness, fashion, or…. education.  While the public school system is riding the wave of Common Core, my local homeschool community is experiencing its own version of this season’s buzz word – Classical Conversations.

I’ve written before about the Classical method of homeschooling in my series on education methods and philosophies.  I’ve also referred to it in HEDUA’s television series “Life Plus Homeschooling” on my segment “The ‘Right’ Homeschooling Method”. 

I’ve been active in the educational community for 30 years, both as a public school teacher and a home educator, at times serving as a private tutor and teaching in a homeschool co-operative.  I love our homeschool group.  I don’t think I could find a finer bunch of parents and children anywhere.  I love that our co-op is dedicated to welcoming people of all backgrounds, faiths, and philosophies, and that our focus is on providing creative enrichment and social opportunities to complement the efforts of parent teachers, regardless of what curriculum they use.

Many of my friends and acquaintances have been confused that “a new co-op” is starting in the area, called Classical Conversations.  Of course, we have lots of co-ops in the area, and there’s room for all of us.  Everyone can find a group that fits their needs.

What many newcomers to homeschooling or co-operatives don’t realize, is that Classical education as a method is NOT the same thing as Classical Conversations, Inc.  As a former reviewer for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, I was curious about this company that promises so much.  With that in mind, I’d like to outline a few pros and cons, and give anyone considering joining the CC community a few more resources than they are likely to get at an initial information meeting.

Here’s the breakdown about Classical education as a philosophy:

  • Originally used in ancient Greece, and in Europe during the Middle Ages
  • Based on the Trivium – a three-stage development theory that includes taking in knowledge, making connections from the facts acquired, and presenting opinions on the subject matter
  • Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric are key components of the Classical Method
  • Latin, the Socratic Method, and “Real” books (the great books of western civilization) are frequent players
  • Highly structured and rigorous, with an analytic approach to literature and history, heavy on debate and intellectual argument.
  • Arts, technology, and creativity often take a backseat to the written word and rote memorization

Here’s the breakdown of Classical Conversations, Inc. as a company:

  • Founded in the late 1990s by engineer and author Leigh Bortins
  • Uses Classical education as the model for the company’s products and community design
  •  Is an entire curriculum, with once-per-week meetings in local communities
  • “Communities” (not co-ops) have a paid director and tutors
  • Average cost per child per year is $500
  • Statement of Faith and admission screening process required for community acceptance

Now, there have been plenty of positive remarks about Classical Conversations (CC) which are plentiful at any of their introductory meetings, and I’m not here to bash their company.  I’ll be the first to admit that I have not used Classical Conversations, primarily because I don’t agree with all that the classical method of education is about, and secondarily because my research on the company did not inspire me to devote a year of my children’s life to it.  I simply want to note some of the concerns that others have had, since these seem to be swept aside by avid proponents of the campaign.

In my locale, the aggressive marketing to begin groups here has caused excitement, trepidation, and even fear that we have all been doing something wrong all these years. I hear comments like these:

“Classical (Conversations) is for the elite. No one will want to do anything else once they start with us. And if they do, it won’t be as good.”

“I went to their meeting, and it sounded like brainwashing to me.”

“Talk about drinking the kool-aid!”

“Sounds like a pyramid scheme or one of those multi-level marketing things.”

“We did it for 6 months, and our kids were so burned out that we had to stop schooling for 3 months just to get them interested in learning again.”

There are a lot of reviews out there from parents who have used the company’s complete community program, and I urge you to read through them – as well as the comments – to get a more complete picture of the company and its methods.  From what I can discern, it operates much like Tupperware or Mary Kay…

  • There’s a district manager and a local director and some “tutors” under that.
  • Representatives attend seminars for “training” (typically 3 days in length, much of it as online instruction)
  • These individuals are paid, as opposed to the usual parent volunteers at a homeschool co-operative.
  • Participants must use the company’s materials and books, which are frequently “revised”, prompting more purchases.
  • Participants are not allowed to resell their materials after use (a hallmark of multi-level marketing companies).

Families who have elected to leave the program have stated these reasons:

  • Issues with instructors are ignored by the supervisors and parent company
  • Lack of teaching ability in instructors
  • Parental presence required at all classes, since instructors are “modeling” how the parent should teach the same information the rest of the week
  • History not taught chronologically
  • Rote memorization and recitation is dull and unrelated to other learning
  • Little to no application of memorized material to real-world learning
  • No assessment, testing, or accountability to any standards of instruction
  • Participants who object to portions of the program or elect to leave are treated “like lepers”
  • Students not allowed to move up in the program if they are lacking in some other area
  • Art is a repetitive study of the same few masters, with little attention given to individual creativity and other schools of study
  • The 3-year cycle is a repeat, leaving students bored and parents feeling that they are no longer learning new or valuable information

My hope is that, like any decision to educate your child, you give it careful consideration and attention.  Every family must find a program of study that works best for them – without regard to ego, elitism, propaganda, or promises without verifiable results.  I suspect that those already on the Classical method track will find much to enjoy with Classical Conversations.  But for those who choose a different path, rest assured that you are doing what is best for your family, and you have no reason to apologize or doubt yourself.  Just imagine what the fad will be next year!

Additional Links:

Two-Year Veteran of CC Gives Her Review

To CC or Not To CC

CC: Verify, Then Trust

Classical Conversations In the Spotlight

Homeschool Resource Review: Classical Conversations

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16 thoughts on “The Buzz About Classical Conversations

  1. Very interesting review, as usual. I’ve looked into the Classical method and it seemed a bit dry for my creative, off-the-wall son, so we have avoided it. I’m sure that there are many people who truly enjoy it, and boy am I glad that there are so many different methods, and curriculum, available to homeschooling parents! Thanks for the information.

    • It is definitely a very different approach and when you first look into it it does seem dry and boring but its really, really, (I cannot add enough reallys in here!) not. My girls are can give any boy a run for their money! They are crazy, creative, extremely active,tomboys. Their favorite activities are catching snakes and climbing trees.Their favorite shows are Gator Boys and Wild Kratts. And if you ask them why they love CC, they will tell you it’s because its so much fun. We do memory work (it’s much better than it sounds!) while at the skate park or while scootering or rollerblading or swimming. We talk about history & geography while playing with flubber. In CC group they have bounced on mini tramps, dissected owl pellets, pretended to be volcanoes, and so much more. My 8-year-old is interested in who the next president will be because she wants to add their name to the CC President’s song. My 5-year-old likes Bach more than Handel because his music “just sound better to her ears”. One time we went to a friend’s house who had boys. He got out his nerf guns and asked if my girls wanted to have a nerf war. Their responses? Yeah, but we get the be the Allied Forces, you guys can be the Axis Power! Lol. Nope, never boring.

  2. Classical Conversations has become quite popular here as well. I’m sure it’s a great program for those that it works for, but it definitely is not for my family. I am very happy that homeschooling allows us to choose what works best for each of us.

  3. Have you considered a Hebraic style of education? Hebraic education is a God-centered, God-glorifying teaching style that allows each child to develop into the unique person God designed them to be. Knowledge is instilled by teaching a love of learning and a desire to discover more about God’s creation. Adam learned Hebraically. God created him, breathed His Spirit into Adam and then directed him to take dominion over (learn about, understand, name…) the animals. Each evening God walked with Adam in the garden (discussion). At Eden Hope Academy, our students create their own Timeline Cards. They LinkIt! facts and events throughout history, such as linking the Praetorian Guard of First Century AD with Hitler’s brownshirts. LinkIt! uses Natural Language Processing techniques to stimulate advanced thinking skills. Eden Hope Academy students learn by singing, building, making and exploring. Just a thought.

    • Lol!! I have to laugh because you just described Classical Conversation almost to a T! Eden Hope sounds wonderful.

  4. In addition to considerations of educational philosophy, those who are involved in Classical Conversations, especially those who sign contracts with the company, should realize that this is a business and not just a homeschool coop. The tutors, Directors, area managers, support managers, and regional managers all sign contracts that state they are independent contractors. This means that each of these individuals retain all liability for their campus as well as need to pay all taxes. The reason they retain liability and taxes is because the government views them as independent businesspeople who are in business for themselves and who make decisions independent from substantive control so they are naturally responsible for what happens. HOWEVER, while CC says that these individuals are independent, CC retains substantial controls over the decisions these individuals make within their business. Be sure to have an attorney review your contract, director business manuals, and have your CPA explain the IRS’s definition of an independent contractor with the help of the ss8 form. Ask CC what will happen if the IRS determines that you have misclassified those you have contracted – is CC responsible or are you? And realize that the manager to whom you are speaking may not know much about the issue. Get the manager’s answer in writing! Do not just have nice conversations, get it in writing. Be prepared to feel that you are the person being difficult when you want things in writing. I resigned as Director because I didn’t believe I was truly an independent contractor and was told I could keep my money. CC management later called me and said that I needed to pay my replacement even though I did not contract her. The manager admitted that I had been told I could keep my money but did not realize that I also had it in writing. When I told her I had it in writing, she asked for the letter. I know you would like to believe that because these individuals are Christians, they will honor what was verbally stated, but remember, this is a business and he who has the most paperwork, prevails. CC realizes this and they make it clear to their managers and Directors that putting legal, personal, progress issues in writing is means for dismissal. They leave their independent contractors no way of protecting themselves from the liability that they have as ICs. The first and only employee with whom they would allow me to speak was the Regional Director even though I requested numerous times to speak to someone on the leadership team.

    • Thank you for your comment. I appreciate having an “insider” point of view, and you make an excellent statement about being aware of the difference between a business model and a co-op model, as well as the need to get things in writing and report income appropriately. Hopefully, everyone interested in these types of businesses will do the necessary research. Thank you!

  5. ■There’s a district manager and a local director and some “tutors” under that.

    I’m not sure why there are quotations around tutors. The tutors are trained in the classical method. Tutors are not “teaching” the students rather modeling for the parents and equipping them.

    ■Representatives attend seminars for “training” (typically 3 days in length, much of it as online instruction)

    Do you mean tutors? Directors? For tutors it is a three day practicum in PERSON. Online training covers common topics and it’s open for anyone interested. Not required.

    ■These individuals are paid, as opposed to the usual parent volunteers at a homeschool co-operative.

    Of course the tutors are paid. There is a great deal of information to prepare for the week. The directors are paid, as well. This allows the parents to focus on teaching at home, being tuned in during class, and relieves them from obligations that aren’t necessary.

    *Note: The tuition is paid by each family. With that money the director purchases supplies, secures a location (pays for the rent), purchases insurance, pays the tutors, etc. They pay is VERY little. I tutor and the pay doesn’t even come close to $5/hour when you factor in tutor time in the class, prep, etc.

    ■Participants must use the company’s materials and books, which are frequently “revised”, prompting more purchases.

    There are several places online to obtain materials. Ebay, Classical Conversations has a used section, homeschoolclassifieds, etc. The only thing needed is a foundations guide and a tin whistle. Both can be purchased second hand. I’m the queen of cheap. My first year I didn’t even need the foundations guide. As far as purchasing a revised foundations guide, that’s not true. Classical Conversations gladly sends revisions to those who already have a foundations guide.

    ■Participants are not allowed to resell their materials after use (a hallmark of multi-level marketing companies) .

    That’s straight up erroneous. You have the right to sell whatever you want. I have no idea why you would think this. Nobody can stop you from setting up an ebay account and going to town….

    Families who have elected to leave the program have stated these reasons:

    ■Issues with instructors are ignored by the supervisors and parent company

    That’s a blanket statement if I’ve ever seen one. Directors are responsible for conflict resolution. If that’s not being handled properly then the Area support manager can assist.
    This also varies from campus to campus. In my opinion, if the director is inept, the community can join together for a solution.

    ■Lack of teaching ability in instructors

    The directors are responsible for hiring the tutors. The tutors aren’t responsible for teaching. Teaching experience helps but it’s not necessary. If your tutor is insufficient then he/she should be removed by the director if enough families have complaints!! I would never sit by and watch an unqualified tutor.

    ■Parental presence required at all classes, since instructors are “modeling” how the parent should teach the same information the rest of the week

    It’s not a babysitting service. The tutors are there to encourage, share, and equip the parents. If you are absent then you are using the class time for social interactions only. That’s fine. A lot of people join for the social component. However, tutors are not responsible for everyone else’s children during class time. Insurance fees stipulate that as well.

    ■History not taught chronologically

    Of course it is. From creation to modern day. A simple search on youtube for the timeline song will verify that. So will the timeline cards on Classical Conversations website.

    ■Rote memorization and recitation is dull and unrelated to other learning

    It’s dull if you are boring as a tutor/homeschooling parent. How is it unrelated to other learning? This year we are learning the basics of chemistry. We are committing it to memory so when we need to retrieve it in several years it will be there. It’s related.

    ■Little to no application of memorized material to real-world learning

    What is “real-world” learning? I’ve never heard this term.

    ■No assessment, testing, or accountability to any standards of instruction

    There are assessments, testing, and standards along with transcript records, etc. It’s on the website. This is an inaccurate statement. Also, each state has their own standards and requirements. It’s up to the parents to find what works for them and also meets the states requirements.

    ■Participants who object to portions of the program or elect to leave are treated “like lepers”

    That’s just sad and upsetting. I’m sorry that happened to anyone in the program. Obviously, each director doesn’t have the same amount of grace, love, and leadership qualities as our director. No Christian should ever treat another like a leper.
    Also, we have families from many different Christian churches. I believe we have non-christian families as well. Take what you want and leave the rest. That’s our motto.

    ■Students not allowed to move up in the program if they are lacking in some other area

    I’m have no experience in this department. I’m sure the best placement for the child is best suited at the discretion of the parents.

    ■Art is a repetitive study of the same few masters, with little attention given to individual creativity and other schools of study

    Of course it is. It’s classical. It’s repetitive. It’s up each family to expound in the areas of art, math, etc. Classical Conversations is a FOUNDATION to build on. It’s NOT a complete curriculum. It’s a skeleton of sorts and you provide the meat.

    ■The 3-year cycle is a repeat, leaving students bored and parents feeling that they are no longer learning new or valuable information

    See above description.

    My hope is that, like any decision to educate your child, you give it careful consideration and attention. Every family must find a program of study that works best for them – without regard to ego, elitism, propaganda, or promises without verifiable results. I suspect that those already on the Classical method track will find much to enjoy with Classical Conversations. But for those who choose a different path, rest assured that you are doing what is best for your family, and you have no reason to apologize or doubt yourself. Just imagine what the fad will be next year!

    It certainly doesn’t work for every family. But if you want a good foundation to build on, this is a great place to start.

    *You do NOT need to join a community to buy the materials. You can use the foundations guide at home as a basis for your memory work.

    • Thank you for sharing all this. I was pretty frusterated reading this post as I too saw error after error…. or lie after lie being repeated. Thanks for clearing up the lies.

  6. My jaw dropped while reading all the misinformation provided by Ms. Nelson. At least CC Tutor corrected much of it.

    I will discuss the “real world” misinformation. In class, the role of the tutor (for elementary kids) is to spend about 4 minutes showing mom how to memorize each fact. Mom, not tutor, fleshes those facts out at home. She is her child’s teacher. My children are constantly seeing their facts relate to real world learning. Many parents love seeing the connections they and their children make between what they have memorized in geography, history, science, etc. and what they come across in books, field trips, travel, the news, movies, etc. It’s really a fun and effective way to learn.

    As for all those quotes, they were all deeply negative and you can find people to say the exact same thing about any business or church. There is not one quote from someone who likes cc. “the Buzz About CC”. I don’t know what to say about the title except that it’s quite misleading.

    As for the commenter Colleen – I’ve seen her post the same rhetoric all over the internet. She hasn’t said exactly how she was treated as an employee.

    • Here is my Facebook group if you’d like to know more details, here is my Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/643440409089565/ . Please pm me from there if you’d like more details. ( I realized after posting below that I should have posted it as a reply so happy homeschool mom is more likely to receive notification so kbnelson, if you want to delete the post below, please feel free to delete so I don’t look repetitive.) The reason for my persistent posts happy homeschool mom is because not many people are willing to speak of a negative experience with CC and one of the reasons is because CC workers are not allowed to put things in writing so they don’t have a paper trail associated with their experience with CC . . . . I didn’t follow CC’s instructions and have much in writing so CC managers cannot claim they didn’t say something they actually said. My Facebook group page is public so that those in CC can read without having to associate or explain their reading of the posts to their upper managers. You can remain anonymous as you have here. As a courtesy to me and in the interest of having all the information before addressing the issue, please read all my posts on the Facebook group before pming me because I have already spent more time than necessary explaining to CC supporters who are very quick to defend CC before reading my posts. I have a new policy that my first question to any CC supporter who pms me is . . . How many posts have you read?

  7. I appreciate everyone’s comments and promote respectful discussion. As a long-time reviewer of curriculum, I’m afraid not every program or company receives an entirely favorable or positive review. The persons quoted in my article were all either current or former users of CC or had worked for the company. Their statements and opinions belong to them, and they have a right to express them. I reported accurately my own experience with the company. This article is merely a distillation of what is already available on the internet and through personal investigation. While I understand that these facts may be uncomfortable for those who are adherents to the program, I believe there is plenty of room in the homeschool community for all kinds of learning, and I support everyone’s right to choose their path based on their own research and inclination.

  8. I have to say that your article made me very sad, for the following reasons.

    – Most of your “facts” are wrong. You even said in a comment above, “While I understand that these facts may be uncomfortable for those who are adherents to the program…”. Everyone is welcome to their opinion, positive or negative, but care should be taken when touting something as fact. I have been a CC parent for 3 years and a tutor for 2 and I can assure you that most of the “facts” given are false, as was addressed in the comment above by CC Tutor.

    – As for the opinions that you posted, well the truth is that we are all human. When you get groups of people together there are bound to be good ones and bad ones. This happens in governments, companies, schools, churches, etc. We have a parent who drives 2 hours to our group because the group close to her had drama and issues that she just didn’t want to deal with. My CC group is loving and kind and has been an amazing blessing in our lives.

    – I find it disheartening that you only pointed out negatives about CC. Did you even try to find any positives? I can assure you that there are quite a few. My daughters love CC and have learned amazing things. They run around singing CC songs. When they play dress up or Barbies they often pretend to be Charlemagne or Joan of Arc. If they hear something in a book or movie that relates to CC they get all excited. They ASK me to put on CC songs. How often do children ASK to work on schoolwork? They talk, weeks later sometimes, about experiments done in class and games played. Even I have learned lot of new and fun things. One of my biggest reasons for using CC is because I feel that my children will be better educated than I ever was. They will learn more about how to deal with the world than I ever did. They will also learn HOW to learn. I know that might sound strange but one of CCs biggest focuses is not just giving the children the “fish” but actually teaching them how to “fish” for the rest of their lives. I am currently working on my Master’s degree and I am using skills that I learned in CC.

    While I love CC I would like to point out that there is no one curriculum or group that is perfect or perfect for every child. CC may not be for everyone, and that’s ok, however, that does not mean it’s a bad fad group. I just hope that this very one sided article doesn’t scare people away from something that could turn out to be an amazing experience for them and their children. Please, go visit a CC group. In fact, visit multiple groups multiple times. Go to a practicum and see what it’s all about. It is very different than traditional education and so it often sounds boring or strict but it’s not. My children do more learning while bouncing and giggling and getting messy than they ever have. And most importantly, pray about it and keep an open mind. Listen to both the good and the bad with an open mind and heart.

  9. I call CC the Amway of Homeschooling. The moment I made it clear to my CC friend, who in various ways had been trying to get me to join, 6 months of friendship based on mutual values and homeschooling went down the drain and I was dropped and left in the dust. I’ve had that happen to me in the past with other “friends” who were involved in multi level marketing.

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