I’m grateful for Classical Conversations as a program, and for the people who have sacrificed so much to bring it to our community in southern West Virginia. I see it as an answer to a prayer we’ve been praying for a long time and an enormous infusion of light in our area. That said, CC was a hard sell for us. After years of struggles, we were content and flourishing in our homeschooling. Gina (my wife) was really reluctant to switch up when we already (at last!) had a good thing going. But I thought there was a chance to take a challenging, but possibly rewarding, step forward and so we dove into the (somewhat confusing, at first) work of figuring out if CC was right for us. Gina was brave and open.
I have never heard a single person involved with CC indicate that this program was right for everyone. It isn’t. We have found that it’s right for us right now. We are two years in and it seemed a good time to say out loud some of the reasons we value our CC group (in no particular order).
Homeschoolers can be almost pathologically independent. We start by bravely exploring a counter-cultural educational path and sometimes we can’t help but carry on into an unbiblical and irrational fear of involvement with others. We are sometimes tempted to over-correct the misinformation about “socialization” (the oft-mentioned homeschooling canard) with radical isolation. We believe we, and only we, are capable of homeschooling in a way that can produce perfect little prodigies. Putting aside the fact that we don’t all need to be prodigies, this radical over-correction can and often does mean a lonely mom in discouraging isolation, feeling pressure to have it all together and be a homeschooling wizard.
Isn’t there already enough pressure on women to be super-human in almost every area of life? CC has been an opportunity for us to be relieved of the pressures we sometimes allow to creep in, pressures insisting, “You can do everything your kids need yourself!” Bake bread! Sew clothes! Use cloth diapers! Garden and eat fresh food! Look amazing all the time! Clean the house perfectly! Be a Theological Expert! Be involved with politics! Volunteer at church! Be smarter than your doctor! Homeschool four kids with perfection! Be the perfect wife! On and on and on and on…
Hey, rest easy. It’s not all on you. One of the gifts God has given us is community. Your family. Your church. Your friends. Your homeschool co-op. Your prayer group. Your homeschooling partners. For us, CC has been a huge relief and support in our life.
Seeing how insane the expectations Christian communities often place on women has left me burdened for my wife’s (incredibly brave) heart and that of other moms. CC, for us, has been an avenue of relief and delight. It’s good to know we aren’t alone. It’s good to be part of a team. It’s good to be humble and ask for help. It’s good to recognize your limits, work hard, but rest in the gifts God has provided.
Language and Latin
We all know that engaging Latin is key to understanding and mastering our own language. In CC, our kids are exposed to Latin and work toward its mastery. This has benefits beyond my ability to adequately express here, but I’ll just mention a few. As Christians, we are people of the Book, therefore language is fundamental to the Faith. Competence in reading (and writing) aren’t just convenient, or an opportunity to excel and serve others in many areas, it’s an essential (though imperfect) protector against many snares. This is also an area where many (us included) aren’t equipped well to teach this to our kids in isolation. We could possibly do it, but there’s a limit to what we can do alone, and for us this is another area where abandoning the (often) counterproductive independence of homeschooling has served us well.
It’s a delight to be involved with a group of people committed to proceeding together in the love of the Father, through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, by the power of the Spirit. It’s wonderful to be in a group of Christians from many different denominations and traditions coming together under broad agreement in the Gospel and a shared commitment to raising our children in the love and grace of the true and living God of the Bible.
Great Books and the Great Conversation
There’s a humility in the Classical method I am profoundly grateful for. It allows for what Chesterton called the “democracy of the dead.” That is, it “gives a vote” to those who have come before. It isn’t slavishly devoted to modernity with its conflicting studies and faddish innovations. I do not think modernity and scientific studies should be ignored. Please do harken unto that. But I do believe we need to place them, as best we are able, in context with the Great Conversation of history, in consultation with the Great Books. The Classical method is more settled, less panicked and anxious. As people who are building our lives around an ancient Book, the classical method is an imperfect, but helpful ally in our approach to a life of learning.
Truth, Beauty, and Goodness
There is a more harmonious approach to these ancient virtues in CC than I see elsewhere. The kids are engaged with art, history, the Bible, and science. Among many other things, they do art projects, engage in music theory, and perform scientific experiments together. There‘s so much included. I love that the arts are an integral part of CC. Like so much of CC, this complements beautifully what we are doing in our own homeschooling.
If you haven’t taken time to read up on the Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric stages, perhaps you should. This operational framework for understanding how human beings may best flourish in education has served us well. It does sound intimidating when you first hear about it, I know! But, as with many things, an investment of time may serve you well, as it has us. I love the emphasis the Classical method places on natural stages of learning, providing a framework for understanding how to proceed.
Inclusive and Rooted in Truth
Jesus came, full of grace and truth. We must be like him in our commitment to both. There are significant doctrinal, lifestyle, medical and even educational differences between the people we partner with at CC. However, somehow we manage to team up to accomplish something amazing with the kids in our community. There is a very real climate of inclusion, while remaining orthodox in commitment to important Gospel essentials. I know this may seem confusing, but I treasure the small, ecumenical victory among people (including people who are probably nervous at hearing the scary word “ecumenical”) who disagree about a lot, but can work together in communion and with purpose and passion.
In our group, we have had an excellent Director. This has made a huge difference. Jamie Buckland has been a tireless advocate for the children in our community, a brave pioneer for classical homeschooling in southern West Virginia. You may have heard about CC Directors making money hand over fist and perhaps pocketing it while smoking a big cigar and laughing maniacally. While I have heard Jamie laugh maniacally (which is awesome), I’ve also seen her cry. I’ve seen her work her heart out for this community, for homeschoolers and hopeful, anxious moms who are sometimes feeling overwhelmed and alone. I have seen her sacrifice in ways very few can see, including financially. Minimum wage would be a dramatic pay raise for her.
As someone who works many hours at a passion for significantly less than free, I have to applaud Jamie for her incredible work at great personal and financial cost. She has done this (sometimes thankless) work because of love, love for her kids, for our kids, for so many children and families in southern West Virginia. She deserves to be applauded and actually deserves to make a ton of money for what she has done. The fact that she hasn’t made a ton of (or any) money is something that personally bothers me a great deal. She deserves to. But that’s not what it’s about for her. It’s about sacrificial love. Jamie Buckland is not perfect and is the very quickest to admit that (in detail, if you give her a second). But she is a gift from God to us. Be wary of accusers. Jamie may definitely count me among her advocates.
We have other leaders who have sacrificed and the tutors we have had have been fantastic. Gina and I are profoundly grateful for the tutors our kids have had. Nobody’s perfect, but we’ve been served in love by them and it’s been worth every penny we’ve invested.
Note: Good things often cost money. While it’s maybe OK to look for the cheapest option, it’s also OK to invest in something that benefits your family and community in deep, lasting ways. Do not be afraid.
Our Kids Love CC
All our kids are delighted to go to CC and always come home with stories of what they experienced that day. I love that. They are super-excited about learning. Our daughter became a Memory Master this year, an incredible accomplishment. She memorized an enormous amount of material that will stick with her for life, giving a framework for comprehension in a number of subjects. She, a very shy girl, speaks every week in public, and has grown in confidence and competence. Our kids have been challenged, changed, and invested in. CC has been a powerful, shaping experience in our family, for the good. Our kids have so much fun at CC, which is incredible considering how much they learn.
My Wife is Encouraged and Happy
This means so much to me (and her, obviously). Gina loves CC, with all its faults, and feels profoundly encouraged by the results in our family and community. It’s been absolutely worth it for us just for this reason alone. This, along with the obvious and encouraging things we see in our kids, is the central benefit of CC for me.
Note: People are dumb and sinful and selfish. I know, because I am one.
CC has some very real limitations. It cannot make people righteous. You may have pushy leaders in your group, pushy people who want to expand too quickly and not build a solid base. CC could easily expand beyond its ability to function well and I’m sure it does in many communities. Our leadership has taken some great steps, at a high personal cost, to make this less likely. Jamie should be praised for this. I’m sure that many of the negative reviews from former CCers come from situations where expansion was fast and thoughtless. That’s real. There are real drawbacks to CC. It does, as previously mentioned, cost money. It does take a lot of work. It does take time and you do have to actually wake up in the morning and go to a place one day a week. It’s also a bit hard, at first, to grasp in simple terms. I had years of experience reading books on Classical Christian education and I was completely confused when CC was first explained to me. Foundations? Challenge A? Challenge 1? Wait, Essentials isn’t essential? What?!
This is one of the reasons there are many meetings. They exist to help explain what’s actually happening in CC. I needed several to get the basics, myself. If you are serious about understanding what all the fuss is about and why so many people in our community are so excited by CC, please do actually engage with the human beings who are involved with CC and ask lots of questions. It is challenging. It’s easier to remain ignorant, or, even to (mystifyingly) feel threatened by something that is so positively engaging a growing number of families.
Maybe CC isn’t for you. That is OK. Our CC group is for us. Really for us. It’s been a beautiful ally in our efforts to educate our kids in the light of the Gospel and in community with fellow Christians. It is a unifying project. I love that.
And we love our CC group.