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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Classical Conversations?

Does anyone out there know if there is a less dogmatically Protestant group that is similar to Classical Conversations? I had looked into it really briefly when we were researching homeschooling, but didn't remember a whole lot about it.

Last week I went to an information meeting about beginning a campus in our area. The methods they use are just what I'm looking for, it is once a week, the parents are still considered the primary teachers, so in that sense it is really great. I asked if they had a faith statement, because of a few comments that the woman presenting made which set off some alarm bells for me about how they would deal with Catholicism (I believe Orthodoxy is almost entirely ignored, though it tends to get lumped in with Catholicism in many Protestant circles). The faith statement itself was relatively innocuous. It was very up front about their positions and beliefs. I like that. I'd rather know what position a person or group had, right off the bat. The students enrolled do not have to subscribe to this statement, nor do the parents who enroll their children and come to the classes. Tutors and directors do, which would exclude Rich and me from those positions, because there were things in the statement of faith that we could not honestly affirm. This wasn't the real problem, though. We can live without the extra work and responsibility of being tutors or directors.

The problem was the materials they used. They come from a very well known classical homeschooling publisher, and they are well made, beautifully printed, accessible, organized. They are also rather vituperatively anti-Catholic. The history materials described the Catholic church as completely apostate, Catholic figures were presented in the worst possible light, often rather dishonestly, there was at least one text from a Church Father that was used, with the introduction that although this person was Catholic (and, it was implied, therefore not a reliable source of information, or a valuable person to study), before his conversion he had been a believing Christian. These are just a few examples. It started mild, and got worse as you went through the material.

We do not wish our children to be exposed to an anti view of the beliefs that we are passing on to them from textbooks and other authoritative sources. While there are certainly individuals in history who will hold this view, and there are certainly negative periods in the Church's history, which we will not ignore, it is a different thing to read those views from people or groups than it is to be taught that it is absolute, unquestionable fact from instructors, text books and commentaries.

In the later levels of Classical Conversations, the courses are more like seminars and the parents and children pick and choose which ones in which they will enroll and participate, which is perfectly acceptable to us. The grammar stage, however, is an all or nothing proposition, so we could not effectively keep the children out of the history and religion portions. I understand why that is, as the grammar stage is about rules, facts, vocabulary, etc, and all the material presented is what forms the foundation of their later education, but this was not acceptable to us.

Rich and I are getting to the point where we'd rather use exclusively Catholic and Orthodox materials (or balanced secular materials), and supplement some more secular or Protestant material to study the Reformation and the Great Awakenings in the U.S, rather than try to reorient the entire world view of history to include the whole Church's history. This program actually defined periods of history as pre-Reformation, Reformation and post-Reformation, which gives you an idea of their frame of reference.

Aside from not wanting this kind of point of view presented as truth to our children anyway, there is a theological problem we have with it. Basically, the view that says that the Church that God established became utterly corrupt and apostate means that the Holy Spirit was not strong enough to preserve the Church, hold it together, and keep the promise that it would be guided in all truth and that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it without the intervention of sinful men. The other part of this that is irritating is how these groups present themselves as representative of Christianity as a whole. It is far more honest to say that they are Protestant or Anabaptist, or Fundamentalist, or Evangelical, or whatever. I don't think it is an effort to be deceptive, partly because I think they really believe that their beliefs are representative of the entire Christian world, even in opposition to the evidence of historical Christianity, but it ends up being a misrepresentation, probably from a misguided attempt at eccumenism. We'd much rather deal with a group of Baptists, or Methodists, or Orthodox, or Presbyterian, or Catholic, or what have you and know right up front what their standards and beliefs and perspectives are going to be, where we will agree and where we will differ.

In fact, we will be going to a Catholic home education conference in a week. We know that some of the presentations will not be entirely relevant to our family, nor to our theology, but we won't walk into some unwelcome surprise either. Likewise, when we visit our friends' church which is strongly Anabaptist and quite open and direct about it, we know what to expect, we are not offended when they preach their theology, and we know the areas we will have to discuss and clarify with our children.

I do not think that anonymous eccumenism, which is really sectarian, but disguised, furthers cooperation between churches. There are real theological differences, which are significant, and that matter, that need to be hammered out before theological unity can be achieved. However, there are many basics that are held in common, enough that we can be considered Christian brothers and sisters, even with our differences, and that should form the basis of any joint work or effort. Calling a Christian brother an apostate does not further joint work. Calling an entire communion (two actually) of the Church unChristian does not make your communion look better, or make unity any more possible. It is worse, actually, than disagreement, as it says that they are imposters posing as Christians and leading people astray. Jesus had some serious words about those who posed as believers and led other people astray. He said it was better for a millstone to be hung about their necks and for them to be thrown into the sea. This is what these groups are saying about Catholicism and (usually by implication) Orthodoxy.

So, back to my original question. Are there any similar home education groups to Classical Conversations which are either less Protestant, or Catholic or Orthodox, or even secular, if they are willing to deal honestly with religious history? I know there is T.O.R.C.H. which is Catholic, and about which I have heard good things from Protestants and Orthodox alike, but it is not strictly classical, as I understand it.

While I'm at it, are there any Jewish homeschool publishers or organizations out there? I met a man and his daughter yesterday at homeschool P.E. who is Jewish and using Christian materials, editing and revising it according to their faith for their daughter. Academically, it is fine, but has some obvious difficulties for them when it comes to idealogy. They are using an all inclusive curriculum, so that's probably what they are looking for, at least for now, but any suggestions would be nice. I was going to do some searching on the web and see if I could come up with something for their family when I see them on Monday.


I met with Leigh a few years ago. She wanted me to do academic advising in conjunction with CC. I was unimpressed with her and concerned about the hyper-Reformed theology. I have no recommendations; I haven't found an "easy" way to do it. I plan to use a classical curriculum approach and knowing all the garbage (anti-Catholic white supremist racist thinking)in the classical Christian movement, I will carefully choose curricula after reading it first. I do
hope to start a cooperative for my own sanity (at which you and Rich would be welcome to teach).
I do recommend Susan Wise Bauer (http://susanwisebauer.com/) and particularly her book The Well Trained Mind which is full of curriculum recommendations. Her husband is a non-denominational pastor and from what I know of her, she is very balanced. However, I haven't delved in as far as you have at this point.
Our way of picking and choosing, and trying to utilize the method has been working pretty well. I like WTM, and have it, and I also have Laura Berquist's Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum, which is very practical and comes from a more Catholic POV. It also seemed to me to be more do-able with time frames that were reasonable in a home that still needs to be run and with multiple children. Emmanuel Books is a good source for Catholic books and resources, so I've used them to balance out some of the other things we've gotten. Also, I haven't used, but have heard good things about Kolbe Academy which has a more comprehensive curriculum that is kind of school in a box.

I just thought it would be nice to have an organized group with which to do the fine arts/science. It also seemed a good way for me to make friends with some other homeschooling parents.

I refuse to call the Protestant classical movement classical Christian. It is classical Protestant. I haven't run into the racist/white supremacist stuff, but I wonder if that just hasn't been screened out already by my avoiding two rather well known publishers (one classical and one not). Veritas Press was pretty obvious with the anti-Catholic stuff, I didn't see anything that suck out as racist, but we pretty much drew the line with the hyper-Reformed theology, and didn't look much further. I wouldn't touch Bob Jones stuff if it meant I had to start from scratch writing my entire curriculum. It would have been a little difficult to work their core into a classical education anyway, but the math and grammar type curricula might have been useable.

I do not understand how otherwise non-racist Christians (which in my experience is just about all), and/or those who have nothing against Catholicism, even if they don't practice it themselves, can give their money to companies like this. We rejected some private schools because they used BJU social studies and math texts.

We have somehow gotten on their mailing list, probably just because we get other homeschool materials and catalogues. They are slick, with great photography and illustrations, well written, but we are not going to subject our family to their skewed theology, racist principles and anti-Catholic screeds. Why would we give our money to support that? Just because they have a good Math program? Not a chance. Of course, Rich made jokes about what their story problems would involve.

There is too much good material out there for us to bother with wicked things. We saw no reason to sift through sewage to try to find the salvageable things. Especially when we have to pay for the sewage and help them produce more.
Hi, to my knowledge there is no Jewish curriculum or if there is, it is not widely used. And we know a fair number of Jewish homeschoolers here and in Israel. I do know however that there is homeschool co-op of some sort starting in Portland. I will try to do some research and see if the material is available for use in other areas. Do you know if they are Orthodox, Reform, etc.? This could make a difference as to whether or not they would even want to use the material. If you want, feel free to pass them my information and I can put them in touch with someone in Portland as well. On a homeschool note, I know that Calvert is really popular here in Israel as a majority of homeschoolers are Americans. However, we have Jewish friends who are using a religious program in America and she is just editing the information. I can ask her what she is using as she seems over all happy with it. Hope this helps and good luck!
Hi! A friend recently searched for "Catholic Classical Conversations" and suggested I do the same. Therefore, I came across this discussion.

As a Catholic homeschool mom of 4 young children, I joined Classical Conversations (not as a tutor, students/parent only) this past year. It was a good experience, very close to what I am looking for in a homeschool community. However, the environment is very fundamentalist. Even though the memory facts rarely contained objectionable material (as the resources did contain), the classroom respose to these items was strong. Months after a memory fact about Martin Luther, moms in the classroom were still singing his praises. I frequently had to remind my children that while he pointed out valid abuses, his actions led to great division in the Church. This fundamentalist basis, along with some general organizational issues with the program, has caused me to not enroll for future years.

In fact, I am in the process of developing a Catholic classical education program. I hope to try it out locally with three classes this fall and work out any bugs before offering it to a larger audience. However, if a few other groups want to try it as well and give me feedback, that would be great!

Because my experience is with younger children and I want to expand intelligently and slowly, I am only targeting children in the grammar stage of learning (about ages 5-12). This year we hope to do "Morning with an Expert" for the older siblings in the program.

This is my mission statement: Joyful Learning strives to lay the foundation for future learning in elementary age children. Through a structured program of rigorous, coherent academics and fine arts enrichment, our children will be guided in both knowledge and character in a positive, Catholic classroom environment.

Please send me an e-mail at JoyfulLearning.homeschool@gmail.com if this sounds interesting or you would like to learn more.
As a Southern Baptist myself and 4 yrs of CC I have my doubts that CC is even a Christian organization. It lacks serious integrity in all areas. True Christians seek truth, CC does not do this.
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