Classical Conversations: Multilevel marketing for homeschoolers

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.

21 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.

    • Robyn
      Robyn says:

      Wow. I too, am blown away by this blogger’s animosity and contempuous attitude towards a curriculum, yes curriculum, that has been and currently is helpful to me, a mother of 3 and CC user for over 5 years.

      It’s actually laughable! that she calls it a social group. I worked my behind off tutoring and collaborating with other moms to provide kids hands on art appreciation and science projects, interactive games, geography lessons, extensive oral exams, presentation exercises. You have GOT to be get more accurate information before you spew your biases like verbal vomit on the public internet. Here’s some advice, do YOUR homework.

  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.

  8. Inna Shkuratkov
    Inna Shkuratkov says:

    Wooow. This is the most dishonest information about CC that I have ever read. Everything in this article is flipped. Literally, you need to read this in the negative, then it would be true. Classical Conversations is all about empowering parents. That is ALL it does. The trainings are free. What you pay for is to be part of the program because most buildings have facility costs that they will charge any group. You pay for material provided. You pay for your child to be in an amazing learning environment. The memory work that is provided in CC is brilliant. This is our 3rd year with CC and I am convinced I will never suffer from memory loss thanks to this program. I’ve been a parent and a tutor in this program and can tell you it is one of the best things that happened to our family in our homeschooling journey.

    • Katie Kurowski
      Katie Kurowski says:

      I have been with CC for 5 years, and we love it. It makes me feel empowered and simplifies things at home. I was a little shocked to read this. I have been hearing a lot of negativity about it lately, but I don’t understand it. I guess everyone has different experiences at different campuses. But stop spreading misinformation, especially if you have no real experience at CC.

    • Jen Riley
      Jen Riley says:

      What you pay for the facility is a reaction of what you pay for tuition and fees. Here is the pay breakdown:

      1. $145 application fee for first child in family, $55 for each child after that. This amount is paid to the local CC Director, but 100% of it goes to Classical Conversations, Inc from the Director as her “licensing fees”. Did you catch that? In a full 48-student Foundations-only community, that is something like $4,000 to $6,000 that goes directly to the corporation. This is for Foundations alone. For Challenge, the corporation takes a full $445 per student in licensing fees from the Director. Only about 20% of that gets paid out to middle managers. Plus the conglomerate CC corporations sell curriculum and many other services. This corporation is making bank and largely from community enrollment.

      2. $335 tuition is paid to the local Director, who then pays her tutors 40% of that, again, for Foundations alone. The Director keeps the rest. The Director is a business owner, complete with hiring tutors. (Typically. There are a handful of the total CC communities out there that seek non-profit status or subcontract tutors. Those routes are much more complicated.)

      3. Tack on facility fees (this is what pays for rent, usually to a church) and supplies fees.

      4. Tack on the purchase of required printed curriculum and optional resources for a fee paid to CC.

      All in all, CC costs well over $500 per child to attend community just for Foundations. Same for Essentials, which is added on top of Foundations starting in 3rd grade. Four times as much for Challenge starting in 7th grade.

      No. You’re not simply paying for a place to meet and material. You are paying tuition like for private which, if extrapolated to a 5-day-a-week, 7-hour-day private school would be something like $9,000 a year. Only at CC parents have to stay on the premises and help in classes every meeting day until the kids reach Challenge.

      What a deal!

      • Kelly
        Kelly says:

        Thank you for writing this all out for people to see the scam this truly is. People should ask more questions about where the money goes instead of blindly being an accessory to an organization whose primary purpose is to sow insecurity and fleece parents- typically the ones who can least afford it too.

  9. CCWitnessProtection
    CCWitnessProtection says:

    From a former director that is very concerned about the exploitation of homeschooling families ( both licensees and customers) and host churches, I would strongly caution anyone considering this organization to run the other way. If you would like to learn more about the concerns of the business structure and corporate culture of CC, I recommend joining the Facebook group Let Us Reason For Real for an eye opening and uncensored discussion.

  10. CCWitnessProtection
    CCWitnessProtection says:

    From a former director that is very concerned about the exploitation of homeschooling families ( both licensees and customers) and host churches, I would strongly caution anyone considering this organization to run the other way. If you would like to learn more about the concerns of the business structure and corporate culture of CC, I recommend joining the Facebook group Let Us Reason For Real for an eye opening and uncensored discussion.

  11. Speakthetruthinlove
    Speakthetruthinlove says:

    From a former director that is very concerned about the exploitation of homeschooling families ( both licensees and customers) and host churches, I would strongly caution anyone considering this organization to run the other way. If you would like to learn more about the concerns of the business structure and corporate culture of CC, I recommend joining the Facebook group Let Us Reason For Real for an eye opening and uncensored discussion.

  12. Kristin huey
    Kristin huey says:

    Former director here. Too much to write. I love homeschooling, I love Jesus and his church. CLassical Conversations is an $87 million dollar FOR-profit Corp. Don’t get me wrong, I’m ALL for Christians making money- (love me some Chick Fil A). I’m just opposed to corporations using nonprofit church buildings and volunteer labor to increase their profit margins. Read the true stories of thousands of former CC tutors and directors from all around the globe on the FB page “Let Is Reason-For Real”.

  13. Samantha Corraliza
    Samantha Corraliza says:

    There was also something about diversity I would like to say. I live in Miami, which is extremely diverse. Each community is going to reflect the diversity or lack of, of the neighborhoods in which they live. I would also argue… homeschoolers are not going to be as diverse as a public school because not everyone CAN homeschool, especially for economical reasons. What I have witnessed in my own city is that we have families in our own mostly hispanic community who donate to sponsor children, so we can help families who want to homeschool but can’t afford it. CC also has sponsorship program (from a percentage of their sales) to help financially struggling families. I have seen a single mom able to homeschool because she directed. Look up Hialeah which is where I am from. It is not the best neighborhood… but there are moms thriving here, and CC brought us together and gave us a great curriculum and guide. Why so much hate for that? I’m not sure…

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