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