Parents who love to learn never talk about love of learning. Parents assume their kids have it. So the first thing I notice about Classical Conversations is the slogan on their learn more page: “Over 125,000 students worldwide are cultivating a love of learning with us.” Here are other things I noticed.

1. Classical Conversations is a social group.

Classical Conversations is not a curriculum. It’s a religious book club for parents that meets once a week. This is not a way to give kids an education. It’s a way to give kids a community.

And let’s just be honest that these parents are not so interested in education as in not-education. You do not need to take your kid out of school to be part of a once-a-week Classical Conversations meeting. The parents are taking the kids out of school because they don’t want kids to explore ideas that would challenge their family’s values. So this program should be called Un-Classical Conversations.

2. Classical Conversations preys on parent insecurity.

The worst part of school is the premise that kids cannot learn without teachers telling them what to learn. This assumption has been disproven a million times by a million different types of research. Left to their own devices, kids learn on their own just fine, and they ask for help at appropriate times. Which means that parents are completely capable of helping their children to learn. Home is a great place to get an education because parents and kids make a good team.

But Classical Conversations won’t make any money by boosting the confidence of homeschool parents. There’s nothing to sell if you tell parents they are born teachers because they love their kids. So Classical Conversations preys on parents’ fears with words like accountability, support, and resources. Those words reinforce the idea that parents need help doing what’s right. Giving parents tools to follow someone else’s guidelines implies that parents are incompetent—and so are the kids.

Homeschool parents don’t need tools. They need a coach to help them feel empowered to trust their kids.

3. The buzz online is Classical Conversations leaders misuse their power.

I did some googling to see if people are complaining about Classical Conversations, and I found Julie Ann at Spiritual Sounding Board. She has gathered lots of stories from people involved with the company, and it sounds terrible. Here is what Julie Ann has shared on her blog about what some people have experienced:

  • Mishandled child-to-child sexual abuse cases.
  • An atmosphere of: no talk, no asking questions, especially publicly if the question seems at all critical.
  • A blurry line between ministry and business aspects of the organization.
  • CC leaders using the Bible to control or silence people.
  • Misuse of Matthew 18 when dealing with conflicts.
  • A rigid atmosphere: “Classical Conversations is the only right way to homeschool” – others are inferior.

(Proselytizer sidenote: If Christians want to get Jews to read the New Testament they should publish lists like that one. I went straight to Matthew 18 to see what’s going on there.)

4. Classical Conversations is not curriculum. It’s multilevel marketing.

Of course, no scathing review is complete without checking for commentary on Reddit. Some redditors think it is a multilevel marketing scheme. The Classical Conversations homepage has two important pieces of a multilevel marketing scheme: training that you pay for so you can then gather up more people to buy the product the trainers are selling.

This business model should work well. Classical Conversations doesn’t need to pay for marketing. The parents feel incompetent unless they pay for training, and then the parents gather their friends to pay more money to the company. But, like most scams, their biggest expense is making sure people don’t think they are a scam. Which is why I want to introduce you to Kristine Bailey.

She commented on my blog right here on a post titled Why Homeschoolers Fail When it Comes to Diversity. Kristine did not read the post. Her comment begins: “This article was obviously written by someone who has a very limited knowledge of homeschooling…” I kept reading and I was shocked to discover that she was promoting Classical Conversations. I checked the email address that she posted with and I discovered that she works in public relations.

Her comment was largely irrelevant to the topic of the blog post, but that’s not actually what concerns me. The big takeaway from her comment is that Classical Conversations is in so much trouble that the company is paying people who have never used the curriculum to extol the curriculum on random blogs.

The people who use a system like Classical Conversations are people who are accustomed to being told they do not have authority. These people are looking for a hierarchy for homeschool that mimics the hierarchy of the Church. If you want to teach your kids to trust themselves to make good decisions, then you have to model that yourself.

Trusting yourself means gathering information independently, and it means you need to stop seeking external validation for the choices you make. For someone considering Classical Conversations this will be a difficult leap. But if you are considering Classical Conversations then trusting oneself is probably the most important lesson you can teach your kids.

11 replies
  1. Sarah M
    Sarah M says:

    Hah! Just the title of the blog post had me laughing. I have never done CC, and although have many friends who have done it–most have said good things about it–I’ve never been interested. It’s more intense than brick-and-mortar school and I don’t want to be there all day to help learn things I don’t want to. I am a Christian who homeschools not necessarily because of that reason, but because of time and freedom to do what we want. I just really don’t like people telling me what to do-CC has never even been remotely interesting to me, except the fact that in upper levels they do a lot of classic literature which I love…but I can just do that at home if I want to.

    I totally agree with your list-it definitely feels like it preys on parent insecurity. Oddly enough, I work part time at a Classical Education book store (no affiliation with CC) and…they got out of that circle pretty quickly. That makes me think the buzz you’re hearing online is pretty bang-on…
    Sarah M

  2. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    There’s a whole subculture of Christians who are afraid. They want to live a safe life — one that avoids the pitfalls and pain that are actually unavoidable in life, and avoids the slightest risk of the penalty of afterlife in Hell. These Christians flock to a legalistic interpretation of the Bible, and they are exactly the Christians who would fall for nonsense like this.

    • Betsy
      Betsy says:

      This is so sad but true. If you make your decisions based on fear, it’s really hard to make a good choice, and to have confidence in it. When we were considering homeschooling many people suggested CC to me, but why would I use such a narrow curriculum? Part of the benefits of homeschooling was doing my own curriculum!

  3. Aquinas Heard
    Aquinas Heard says:

    Did I (somehow) miss a prior post where you talked about what was your catalyst for exploring the classical education route? If by chance it was for some more challenging intellectual work and exposure to historically important thinkers, have y’all considered a “Great Books” program. It’s something I’ve thought (at 45) about doing for myself. An intriguing one was brought on a School Sucks podcast. I know you don’t like links in comments but there is an interview with the founder, Scott Hambrick, of Online Great Books.

    • Betsy
      Betsy says:

      I used a Great Books approach in my public school classroom and it has a lot of benefits. I’d definitely encourage you to explore it if this interests you! The web has so many great resources that you could use to tailor to your own experiences.

  4. Jenise
    Jenise says:

    CC is almost cult like. The parents I’ve talked with are very pushy, i.e. offering to pick up & drop off my child even though we’ve never met. I also don’t like how secretive they are about the curriculum. I couldn’t even view the curriculum until my family had been interviewed & accepted. I quickly said Bye-bye.
    There’s another homeschool group (cult) out there called Wild & Free. It is a “community of women that support & encourage each other.” They do this by having women only retreats, no husband’s or kids. The response I get when asking about the curriculum is “You really need come to one of the retreats to understand how empowering Wild & Free is.”

  5. Menu
    Menu says:

    What is the purpose of this scorched-earth attack on the CC program (based on one individual’s website and a few Reddit speculative comments) except to punish someone who promoted the CC program and was “so annoying”? What is so contemptuous about Christian parents who want to teach their kids their faith in a homeschool environment with support from others? I love Penelope’s blogs in general and the way she challenges the culture, but she seems so triggered by someone who wanted to promote the CC program. Today I asked a real mom, face to face, about her experience with CC. She’s been involved for 7 years, is a tutor to help offset cost, says it’s amazing to watch all the info that’s been provided to her kids over the years now all “come together,” that questions and discussion is inherent in the Classical approach, that they’ve learned about Hinduism and other religions. (I shared nothing about this blog post before she readily said all of that.) Ive gotten to know this particular mom to an extent and would describe her as very secure, confident and independent-minded like many homeschooling moms.

    • Betsy
      Betsy says:

      If CC works for someone, that’s great! The people I know that use it tried to, quite frankly, scare me that I would fail as a homeschooler if I didn’t use it. I think the content is fine, I just also think some people are threatened if someone takes a different path than they do. Your friend sounds like she enjoys the curriculum, which is wonderful.

  6. Virginia
    Virginia says:

    Well done for drawing attention to the profit-funnel aspect of CC, and how the brand plays to parental insecurity and an outmoded, hierarchical model in which information flows downhill to the student.

    I have looked into it for the social group aspect, and have talked to a satisfied cc parent who said the education is not worth that much, but you’re paying for the social group. (It’s hard to put together a social group organically.)

    I have also talked with more than a few CC moms who have said, “Oh, I’d really love to do Charlotte Mason / Ambleside Online / something else, but I need the structure/organization/accountability of the CC group.”

    I get that, and I’m pro-moms, no matter if they make different choices from mine. Moms generally do what they genuinely perceive to be their children’s best interests.

    Interestingly, I just learned of a local couple who had planned to open a classical school, but ended up creating an Acton Academy (where students decide what to learn and how to go about it, govern the school themselves,
    find a calling, line up apprenticeships, lead Socratic discussions, and generally pursue excellence through self-determined goals.)

  7. MusikproStL
    MusikproStL says:

    “Trusting yourself means gathering information independently, and it means you need to stop seeking external validation for the choices you make.”

    Hello !?!?!?

    Is this not why our entire social fabric is in the mess it’s in? People would rather be told what to think than to find out for themselves. It’s so much easier to be part of a group that proscribes what we shouldn’t do than to figure out for ourselves what works for our families.


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