‘Classical Tools of Learning’
The stated purpose of the Classical Conversations model is “to lead the home-centered education movement by teaching parents and students the classical tools of learning in order to discover God’s created order and beauty, and as a result, enable others to do the same.”
Classical Conversations is composed of local community groups that meet once a week. The organization lists as one of its core beliefs on its website, “Parents are a child’s first and most influential teacher.” Directors and tutors help guide students in three programs: Foundations, which focuses on younger children memorizing facts, and the Essentials and Challenge programs, which incorporate discussion and rhetoric with continued memorization for older students.
“If America’s one-room schoolhouse teachers could produce some of greatest leaders with very limited resources, then so can today’s homeschool family!” the Classical Conversations website states.
Dissatisfaction Breeds Innovation
Leigh Bortins started to develop what is now the Classical Conversations model in 1984, after the birth of her son. Dissatisfied with the homeschooling materials available at the time, Bortins created her own classical curriculum and soon began teaching it to other homeschooling families. Bortins developed a business plan and incorporated Classical Conversations in 2001.
“By 2008, Classical Conversations had 9,500 students and over 400 directors in 30 states,” the company’s website states. “And in 2011, just three years later, Classical Conversations had over 38,000 students with communities in 45 states and a few foreign countries.”
As of March 2017, Classical Conversations had more than 104,000 students from 42,000 families participating in the program, in 2,300 communities in 50 states and 15 foreign countries.
‘Takes the Pressure Off’
Melissa Stout, Foundations and Essentials director for a Classical Conversations community in Indiana, says the program makes homeschooling less stressful.
“Homeschool parents are looking to provide the best education for their children, but with the plethora of options available, it can be overwhelming trying to figure out which program is best,” Stout said. “Classical Conversations takes the pressure off of what to learn, provides families with support through community, and cultivates a love of learning in a classical, Christian environment.”
‘Parents Find Support’
Stout says the Classical Conversations model helps homeschooling families find success together.
“A huge part of what makes Classical Conversations successful is the community aspect,” Stout said. “As a homeschool parent, you can feel isolated and continually wonder if you are doing enough. Since all the families in the community are doing the same program, parents find support through each other that they can homeschool through high school and do it with excellence.’
Stout’s community meets every Friday for 24 weeks of the year for Foundations and Essentials and 30 weeks for the Challenge program. Parents are required to attend and assist for the Foundations and Essentials programs.
“We enjoy lunch as a community, and it is a wonderful time of fellowship and community building,” Stout said. “We try to plan field trips and other events throughout the year to continue that bond passed on the community day.”
Michael Hamilton, a research fellow and managing editor at The Heartland Institute, which publishes School Reform News, is part of a Classical Conversations community in Beavercreek, Ohio. Hamilton says his family was drawn to the program’s strong community element.
“We chose to join a Classical Conversations group because of the curriculum and community,” Hamilton said. “The Classical Conversations curriculum is heavy on the history of Western civilization. This broad framework enables just about every conversation you have with your kid to be a teachable moment. The communal aspect provides accountability and support for parents and students.”
Tutors Guide Parents
Stout says parents and tutors are trained to use the Classical Conversations method effectively.
“Unlike co-ops, Classical Conversations does not require every parent in the community to tutor,” Stout said. “Tutors attend an Academic Program Orientation in the summer at one of the Classical Conversations Parent Practicums. There they learn methods and ideas about how to model the program for parents so they can teach at home.”
Stout says the one-room schoolhouse approach helps children of all ages learn.
“Between the ages of four and 12, the students are all learning the same thing, although understanding it at different levels that correspond with the three stages of learning: grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric,” Stout said. “This helps families with multiple children, because it creates a one-room schoolhouse environment that allows younger children to learn from their older siblings. The Challenge years build on the knowledge that was learned in the Foundation years and allows students to understand on a deeper level and to apply that knowledge.”
Homeschooling Through High School
Stout says Classical Conversations appealed to her because she wanted to homeschool her children until graduation from high school.
“The biggest draw for me to Classical Conversations was the fact that it is a complete program that would give me the support and the plan to be able to homeschool through high school,” Stout said. “Homeschooling high school seemed like a daunting task that I wasn’t sure I would be able to accomplish.
“My oldest will be entering the Challenge program in the fall, and he and I couldn’t be more excited,” Stout said. “He will be taking the lead in his education and learning to build ownership and figure out that he can do hard things, and I will get to learn right alongside him.”
Ashley Bateman ([email protected]) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.