Find out why my family left Classical Conversations, including the problems we experienced with the curriculum, expectations, and corporate.
Before I get in to why my family left Classical Conversations, I’d like to start from the beginning, with why we joined in the first place.
If you aren’t aware of Classical Conversations (which I’ll refer to as CC), they are an educational group for homeschoolers. According to their website, they have 117,000 students enrolled in CC, so it’s a huge, worldwide corporation.
After attending an informational meeting and practicum, we joined CC in 2015, and we were part of CC communities for 4 years.
As a first time homeschooling mom, who grew up in public school, I was definitely nervous about how to homeschool, and how to know if I was doing it “right.” Because of this, CC sounded like a God send to me.
- A community for my kids, so they wouldn’t feel like they were the only homeschoolers in the world.
- A curriculum that helped “Know God and make Him known.”
- Someone else doing art and science with my kids, so the mess didn’t have to happen in my house.
- Three hours a week of our homeschooling that I could outsource, when the rest of the time my kiddos were my responsibility 24/7. It sounded perfect.
The closest community was about 45 miles away, but we were willing to drive that far each week, for 24 weeks, in order to make it happen.
That first year I had mixed feelings. I adored our community– they were incredible people, and I still feel fondly for them, so I hope that none of them feel offended if they read this post. If they hadn’t been as amazing as they were, we probably would have left much earlier, once I started to have doubts.
So what kind of doubts did I have? I would broadly classify them as problems with expectations, problems with the curriculum, lack of God in the curriculum, and problems with corporate.
Problems with Expectations
One of the first things that I struggled with was what was expected of me, as the mom. We had just dished out what felt like an awful lot of money to me ($820 for our 2 kids’ tuition, plus about $100 for the Foundations Guide). Then, at our first community day, we were all told we needed to volunteer for something. I had been willing to pay that much money to have less on my plate, not more, so that really bugged me.
I also learned that the teachers were really called tutors, because it wasn’t their job to teach my kids at all. Their job was to teach ME how to teach my kids. That wasn’t at all what I had expected.
Add to that the fact that in our 4 years of being in CC, I was typically the only mom (or one of 2 moms) in the classroom, with a bunch of other people’s kids, and it just didn’t seem to make sense. If the goal was truly to teach the parents, shouldn’t all kids in a family be grouped together, so the mom could be present with her kids?
Instead, I was not only the one being “taught” by the tutor, I was also helping herd other people’s kids to bathroom breaks, helping other people’s kids do art and science projects, and helping deal with classroom management. It was so not what I thought I had signed up for.
I had purposely avoided an actual co-op, because I was in a place in my life where I just needed to outsource some of it, and have less stress. Instead, I had paid far more than I would have for a co-op (in my area co-ops are typically just the cost of supplies), but I was still stuck with responsibilities.
I also felt like Classical Conversations had been erroneously sold to me as a “stick in the sand” curriculum. I was told that the ONLY thing I needed to buy was the Foundations Guide. Then it turned out that in addition to the Foundations Guide, I also needed a tin whistle for each kid (CC charges $11 per tin whistle). We also needed to buy the cd, so the kids would be able to practice the songs that they learned during community day (and there is a different set of cds for each cycle, and each set costs $35). Then I found out that really, you should also buy the timeline cards (another $100) and the memory work flash cards (another $30 per cycle).
It’s not that I had a problem with the things needed, but more with the fact that it was presented as ALL you need is the guide, when in reality, that’s not all you need. It ends up being so far from stick in the sand that it’s ridiculous to even keep saying that line.
(And in case you’re not following the math on this, we’re now at $1100 for our first year in CC.)
Problems with the Curriculum
That first year was eye opening for me. We loved the history sentences the kids learned each week. My kids adored the timeline song. And I’m not going to lie: it was kind of nice when people asked what the kids had been learning (as some people love to do to homeschoolers), and one of the kids rattled off the history of the founding of Islam, or a list of prepositions, or something like that.
However, I was quickly underwhelmed by the art and science. Let’s start with the art. Art is divided into 4 groups of 6 weeks each. 6 weeks of fine arts, 6 weeks of tin whistle, 6 weeks of famous artists, and 6 weeks of orchestra & composers.
The kids enjoyed some of it, but the new edition changed the orchestra and composers section terribly. For 6 weeks, the kids were supposed to listen to the same 3 songs over and over. Each week, those same 3 songs. And CC instructed tutors to have them just listen. No coloring, no acting out the music, just sit and listen. For the money I was paying, my kids could (and do) sit and listen to classical music at home. It felt like a waste of community time.
The fine arts tended to be a lot of drawing pictures with crayons or colored pencils. Not a bad thing, but once again, something that wasn’t worth my paying someone else to oversee.
As far as the science goes, it was just awful (and it got worse with the newest revision of the Foundations Guide). There were something like 4 weeks in Cycle 1 where the kids spent the entire science time looking at rocks. Now I am fascinated by geology, but 4 weeks in a row of looking at rocks with a magnifying glass was just too much.
In Cycle 3, there are 6 weeks of probability. First off, I wouldn’t consider that science (though I know it is used in science), but rather math. Second, the kids were again SO bored with rolling dice and recording how many times we got each number, or flipping coins and recording how many tails and heads. Introducing probability is great, but 6 weeks of it in a row is overkill.
Science can be so exciting and interesting, but CC really doesn’t do it justice. There were many weeks that the science “experiment” took less than 5 minutes, and all of the moms were looking at each other saying, “That’s it?”
Strangely enough, while art and science were one of the greatest reasons I joined CC, they were actually the smallest part of the curriculum I had issue with.
I was told that CC was “a complete curriculum,” but that I might want to add a math and reading curriculum to it. It turned out that CC wasn’t much of a curriculum at all, in my opinion. Sure, the kids memorized a few sentences about Emperor Constantine (for example), but that was it. They knew nothing more about each subject than a simple memorized paragraph. They memorized cloud types, but never actually knew what those cloud types looked like.
By claiming it’s a complete curriculum, and being constantly told to “trust the system,” we weren’t being encouraged to let our kids dig deep into the subjects and really LEARN about them!
I struggled with why certain things were included in the information my kids would learn, while other things were skipped. Why did my kids need to know the commutative law for addition and multiplication, but not the order of operations? Order of operations seems to be used much more often, and would be a handy thing to know, but that’s not in there at all.
5th Edition Foundations Guide
When the 5th edition Foundations Guide came out, and we had to re-purchase a guide that I had been told would be the only thing we needed to buy, which had already been proved false, I was annoyed, but hopeful that maybe the new guides would be a little better than the 4th edition.
When we received our 5th edition guide, and I saw that there were flaws and mess ups throughout the book, I figured that like any good curriculum company, Classical Conversations would try to make it right (print out the wrong pages and send them to the customers, or at the least send an errata sheet to each customer so they could fix the errors). But they didn’t.
In fact, despite the fact that these issues were brought to their attention, they never sent out any type of communication to let people know what the correct information was. I had to dig pretty deep, and spend many hours, to finally find an errata for the guide.
Instead of CC owning up to the mistakes, moms like me had to embarrass the tutors by correcting them when they were attempting to teach the kids (ahem, I meant while they were teaching us moms) the information. While I didn’t want to have to correct the tutor in front of the kids, I also wasn’t willing to let her teach wrong information.
Not only did CC not inform the purchasers of the Foundations Guide that there were mistakes, they went even further to pretend that one of the geography mistakes was on purpose, and recommended that if you’d like to “dig deeper” you can buy their cartography book (which is also riddled with mistakes).
Instead of owning up to the mistakes they had made, CC made those who questioned the mistakes look like they were in the wrong for questioning and not being willing to “dig deep,” implying that they maybe weren’t up to the challenge of CC. This is their words: “To inspire families to dig a little deeper, they can think of it as excavating treasure as they research or discuss ancient locations or compare locations to modern-day names or locations. Since ancient locations are the focus in this cycle, not all locations are shown on the Foundations maps.”
It’s definitely true that not all locations need to be shown on the maps. However, it stands to reason that the locations that the kids are supposed to be memorizing ought to be on the maps. It wasn’t inspiring to me that they couldn’t own up to their mistakes, when they expect perfection from children, with their Memory Masters program.
Where’s God in all this?
Most of all, I struggled with the fact that a curriculum company whose tagline is “To know God and to make Him known” had so little about God in the curriculum. My kids memorized history sentences about Greek and Roman gods, Islam, Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and more, but not a single sentence about Jesus Christ.
The timeline includes Jesus, several missionaries, and some early church information, and there are a couple of verses memorized in cycle 1 and cycle 3, but other than that, and the fact that they write “God” in the middle of the board each week, there was very little God in CC’s Foundations curriculum.
This was one of the biggest things that bummed me out. I feel that it’s a missed opportunity. While I don’t mind my kids being exposed to, and understanding, what other religions are about, the number one god I want them to learn about is the One True God, and CC really misses the boat on that. (It’s possible that it’s better in the Challenge program, but I really can’t speak to that, since I have no experience with that.)
Problems with Corporate: Shady business practices
Through all the rest of this, I pushed the nagging, “something isn’t quite right” issues out of mind, and tried to focus on the positives. Fortunately for me, the person who brought the errata sheet to my attention also invited me to join a Facebook group where I learned more about Classical Conversations that went beyond the mistakes and poor curriculum.
I had never really given thought to the fact that CC is in fact a for-profit business. They really market themselves as a ministry. This isn’t just a “feeling” I got– I was actually emailed many times from CC corporate, about volunteering for this “ministry.” That seems like an odd choice of wording for a multi-million dollar, for-profit corporation.
Maybe it doesn’t seem like a big deal to you that CC is a corporation, but it is definitely a big deal in how they are running their communities.
First, the majority of communities meet in churches. While CC will tell you that they aren’t actually the ones placing communities (which is true; however, the tutoring programs CC licenses are for-profit), I have been told that they encourage communities to meet in churches. Churches are non-profit and, therefore, don’t have to pay property taxes. However, if a church decides to start allowing a for-profit entity to operate inside the church, they could end up losing their property tax exemption and have to pay property tax.
Think about it this way: if Starbucks suddenly decided to start operating out of “churches” in order to skip paying property taxes, it would be obvious that they are not really a non-profit church. CC is doing the same thing, but it’s less likely to be spotted due to the fact that they portray themselves as a ministry, “just a group of homeschool moms,” along with the fact that often educational institutes are non-profit, so we just assume that’s the case.
Classical Conversations directors also may be misclassifying their employees. Tutors are hired as independent contractors, yet often treated as employees. In most cases, it is obvious that tutors are hired incorrectly- they should be employees (I’m no tax expert, but here’s the opinion of someone who is). This is how CC tells directors to hire the tutors, which then makes the burden of liability fall on those directors.
The hiring setup has been changed in California (one state that is really cracking down on this), which shows that CC Corporate is aware of the problem, but that they’re willing to skirt the law in areas where it’s not being cracked down on. It was implied by corporate that the fine wasn’t enough in other states to make it worth being aligned with the law.
CC also encourages volunteers. Every summer, highschoolers are encouraged to sign up to volunteer for Practicum. They are told that they can use these hours as volunteer hours, for scholarship applications, and other purposes. In light of the fact that CC is a multi-million dollar corporation, they cannot use volunteers.
Can you imagine Wal-Mart trying to recruit volunteers? For-profit businesses can offer unpaid internships, but there are actually strict guidelines on that, and CC Practicum volunteers wouldn’t fall under those guidelines, due to the fact that CC does gain something from the use of highschoolers (Practicum is a huge money maker for CC) and the highschool students are definitely displacing a paid worker that would be required if there weren’t enough volunteers.
I wish that these were the only shady business practices the Classical Conversations was participating in, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many other issues that come from corporate down to the local level due to the hierarchy of the program.
Final Thoughts on Classical Conversations
While I absolutely loved the people in the two Classical Conversations communities my family participated in, we are leaving knowing that we already stayed too long. I cannot continue to support CC, knowing what I do now.
My hope is that in reading this, other families will see that CC is a corporation that is not operating in a godly manner, while claiming the name of God, and will find out that they could do so much better with their money & time, than join a CC community.
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