ABUSE & VIOLENCE IN THE CHURCH, Classical Conversations, No-Talk Rule, Spiritual Bullies

Classical Conversations #9: Bullying as Peer Pressure, and Could CC Compromise Homeschooling Laws in Canada?

NOTE: This is part of a series that began with these earlier posts:

Note from Julie Anne:  “IngonitoToes” shares her experience and concerns when her family participated in her local Canadian Classical Conversations group. She brings up some important issues:

  • Bullying
  • Pride and arrogance among students and parents
  • Memorizing information without an understanding of the material
  • Implications of the CC program on Canadian homeschool laws
  • Anarchy from Corporate
  • No asking questions

Update 1/18/2019: I have had feedback from people that this post does not have the same tone other posts in this series have had. This was originally a comment that came in on an older post that I made into a post on its own. I did so because I thought it was of the recurring themes that I mentioned in the bullet points above, but also because of the possible implications in Canadian homeschool laws.

There is a local homeschool group in my town that is functioning fine. They have good leaders, and if they read this series, they might be surprised to learn of the difficulties and spiritual abuse others have experienced.

Spiritual Sounding Board’s purpose is to be a safe place for those to share their experiences. I do this because many times there is not a place where they can do so in their location. It is important to note that if IngognitoToes shared her story on the Classical Conversations Facebook group, it would be removed immediately. That should tell you something about the Classical Conversations culture. A healthy organization is not afraid of pushback. They are grateful for it because it gives them an opportunity to improve. ~ja

Photo by Pragyan Bezbaruah on Pexels.com

IngognitoToes Shares Her Story

We are from Canada and we tried the Classical Conversations group in our city, but found it very cliquey and hugely disappointing. There seemed to be an arrogant ignorance among the clique of mothers, and if you wanted to be truly accepted in the group, you had to blindly conform and follow with no questions asked.

Asking questions was offensive. This arrogance trickled on down to the children, who some could neither read nor write at the age of nine (to each their own), but they seemed to be very prideful that they could recite words that they had no true understanding of.

My kids who are literate were made fun of for not memorizing everything by the illiterate children… The bullying was considered positive peer pressure to conform to the group & was very much condoned by the mothers & the director.

I agree that Classical Conversations is likely a cult, but with a twist of anarchy. The academic standards were lower than the standards of our public schools in Canada. In fact I would not be surprised that this is the group that will likely be the reason for homeschooling to eventually become illegal in Canada! They make the rest of the homeschool community look very backwards!

As for the corporate part of Classical Conversations, between the communications with the bookstore and the people responsible for training the tutors, it was quite obvious that the arrogant ignorance and anarchy comes right from the company themselves.

There is one BIG thing we did come away with from this experience. It was IEW; and Classical Conversations can NOT take credit for this writing program whatsoever! Other than that, we came away with nothing valuable, not even friendship, although we made huge one-sided efforts!

We “were unevenly yoked”… Haha… But I’m still dealing with the after effects of the backwardness of the bullying of the illiterates on the literates.

On a side note:
I am looking forward to reading through this entire blog because honestly, this experience was a great example of how abusive & backwards Christianity really can be.

13 thoughts on “Classical Conversations #9: Bullying as Peer Pressure, and Could CC Compromise Homeschooling Laws in Canada?”

  1. I am so sorry for you and your kids. That is heartbreaking to hear. We are first and foremost moms and educators before any loyalty to any program. I hope you are able to find a group of loving and supportive friends on this homeschool journey. I agree with you on the arrogance part of CC. It is ridiculous.


  2. The only thing I take exception with is the “Christianity” part, how abusive and backwards it can be, because while some Christians do CC and it is at least nominally Christian, my experience with it is that it does not tend to instill legitimate Christian values.

    Our good friends who did the CC thing with their kids are Christians, but at least with their oldest, it did not seem to make him act like much of anything but an arrogant, privileged kid. Not even a poor performance on the ACTs was sufficient to shake his self-confidence. He’s in college now and, having gotten away from the CC influence, is maturing nicely, but he and his mother could be just insufferable while he was going through the CC thing.

    Arrogance and ignorance may go hand-in-hand, but they are sure not Christian virtues. They pretty much fly on the face of what Jesus taught. That’s why I don’t consider CC a legitimate representation of Christianity.


  3. Please note the following update I added to the post:

    Update 1/18/2019:

    I have had feedback from people that this post does not have the same tone other posts in this series have had. This was originally a comment that came in on an older post that I made into a post on its own. I did so because I thought it was of the recurring themes that I mentioned in the bullet points above, but also because of the possible implications in Canadian homeschool laws.

    There is a local homeschool group in my town that is functioning fine. They have good leaders, and if they read this series, they might be surprised to learn of the difficulties and spiritual abuse others have experienced.

    Spiritual Sounding Board’s purpose is to be a safe place for those to share their experiences. I do this because many times there is not a place where they can do so in their location. It is important to note that if IngognitoToes shared her story on the Classical Conversations Facebook group, it would be removed immediately. That should tell you something about the Classical Conversations culture. A healthy organization is not afraid of pushback. They are grateful for it because it gives them an opportunity to improve. ~ja


  4. I really feel like though everyone should feel free to share their story, this is not helpful to the overall conversation and the exposure of corporate policies and issues. It just comes across as a vent and a bit disgruntled. I truly did not see a ton of support in the article for the billeted claims made.

    The degrading use of the word illiterates (and it is used to degrade) is very unkind and judgmental and it sets the tone for the piece. I know the writer talks about pride and arrogance, but that tone and continuously referring to young children as illiterates comes across extremely arrogant, prideful, and just mean. It discredits the piece.

    Also, it seems very much a stretch to say that CC is the reason that homeschooling may become illegal in Canada. There is absolutely no reason, support, or evidence provide for this bold statement.

    I am all about exposing the flaws in CC and exploring the corporate culture and some of the things that are happening that are scary. However, this addition to the series does more harm than good. Just one bad article can discredit an entire series as petty. I felt informed by the content of #1 – #8. I think this one should have stayed in the comments where it belonged. It feels more like a fluff piece full of opinions. It was not quite obvious to me.


  5. I see that. I still feel even with the disclaimer it is not helpful to the series, does nothing to enlighten the reader about structure and policy flaws, and is more harmful than helpful.

    It makes me sad that this site which does a great job of highlighting spiritual abuse wrote (or promoted) a post with verbal abuse calling children illiterates. It really bothers me – those are children and condescendingly referring to them as illiterate is just wrong. No matter what the writer feels they did to deserve it.


  6. Hey Torn – You’re not being particularly helpful yourself. The lady was frustrated, and she ranted about what she experienced. I can understand some of that frustration, having seen what CC and similar mindsets can do to kids with perfectly good minds–it can make fools of them.

    As for your concerns about Julie Anne allowing her rant to be posted, what about the rants God allowed to stand for the last two to three thousand years without modification? How about the one where David said “Let his children become waifs and beggars”(Psalm 109)? Or David speaking of how one who “dashed” the babies of Babylon “against rocks” would be blessed? (Psalm 137) Or when Paul said of the Pharisees that he wished they’d just castrate themselves? (Galations 5)

    Do you think the Lord really, honestly wished for Pharisees to butcher themselves or for the enemies of David to have their kids wandering the streets starving–and their babies thrown against rocks? Of course not! But unlike you, the Lord is willing to allow real human passion and frustration to stand–He gives grace to people and allows them to express their frustration in strong terms, He even inspires such things with the Holy Spirit.

    And while I can find many, many examples of God allowing things far stronger than what you condemned here to be part of our Bible, one thing I cannot find over the course of 66 books written over more than 1,000 years is a smug, sing-songy “It makes me sad…” finger-wagging such as you have produced. You’ll find absolutely nothing like that in the Bible–except from the Pharisees. THAT’s what should make you sad.


  7. Torn, I do not think it is appropriate to accuse the commenter of being abusive. That has crossed the line. She clearly said in her comment that there were “some” 9 year olds who did not know how to read. She was referring to those “some.” If they can’t read, they are illiterate. She was saying that to prove the (important) point that CC forces children to memorize without knowing how to read. That is problematic.

    I am feeling pressure by you to remove this post. I don’t appreciate that. I am not removing it because she speaks for many. This woman represents many who have felt bullied. This mom represents many who see that forcing children to memorize without encouraging foundational academic requirements like reading to be amiss. Even if she was the only one who has encountered this treatment, her voice deserves to be heard. Please don’t silence people who have gotten the courage to speak out.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. JA – The one doing the bullying right now is Torn. Torn is using a shaming technique, heavy on the sanctimony. It’s very typical behavior of one who’s in an abusive, only nominally Christian environment. I’ve seen it and experienced it. I’d give Torn no consideration whatsoever and let the lady’s rant stand. You’re in the right here, just one man’s opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I live in the panhandle of Texas and have been thoroughly appreciating this series of posts you’ve curated exposing the ills of Classical Conversations.

    The CC community in our town currently meets in the church where my husband is associate pastor. Recently, he received a letter from an anonymous source (postmarked in Ohio) recommending that the church consider and research the potential legal and tax ramifications of hosting CC, specifically because it is a for-profit business. This prompted me to do some research and led me to your series.

    I led my eldest daughter through 2 years of CC before we left after the ’17 – ’18 year. Ultimately we left CC because of inaccuracies in the history memory work, specifically regarding the war of 1812, and a lack of any substantive reference to the civil rights movement in cycle 3, which proposes to cover American history. My husband has a bachelor’s degree in history and was vehemently opposed to our continuing the program because of these issues. (We are a white, middle-class family in a predominately white town; teaching diversity issues is going to be hard enough without having to fight the white-washing of American history that CC wanted to deeply sear in my children’s memories.) Out of curiosity, I browsed through the 5th ed. Foundations manual when they arrived for others and discovered that neither of these particular issues was changed.

    We originally started in CC when my daughter was 4 (which I am now convinced is absolutely foolish) because we knew we wanted to homeschool (the public schools in our area are simply horrid), but I had NO CLUE what I was doing. What I found there was a vague sense of community, no help in how to implement any strategies in at-home instruction, and a director who was happy to take my tuition and then say that a 4 year-old shouldn’t be expected to retain any of the information or participate in any real way. Most of the families in the community were members of the same church and were kind, but not overly embracing of the family they didn’t see on Sunday mornings. That’s just human behavior, and perhaps I should be glad that there were no mom-to-mom relationships to hinder our departure. (As an aside, it IS true that all the children of a CC family who are 4 years-old at the beginning of a school year must be enrolled. This was a nail-in-the-coffin issue for us.)

    In our second year (cycle 3), I was asked to volunteer as the substitute tutor for my daughter’s class. While I was required to fill this role 5 or fewer times, I was uncompensated for the time I spent preparing for and delivering the week’s instruction, I was required to sign all the same NDAs and contracts as the paid tutor, and I was required to attend the same tutor training during the “free” three-day practicum (which, coincidentally, I paid for my children to attend and cost me considerably in travel expenses).

    Since leaving CC my most significant take-aways have been that 1) I should have trusted myself and my child to work out what homeschool looks like for us, 2) piece-meal curricula can cost less that CC tuition and really wasn’t all that daunting to assemble once I understood what I wanted from it, and 3) rigid memory work boxes-in my child’s patterns of thought rather than providing her with “pegs” on which to hang further information. We still do memory work, but only Scripture, and ONLY in the context of thorough discussion (with 7 and 4 year-olds discussions can get deeper than I could possibly have imagined). I have discovered that my children retain much more when their lessons are delivered in a ‘living’ story than they ever did when they simply memorized a set of words in a particular order.

    In no way whatsoever do I regret leaving Classical Conversations; however, there are plenty of ways in which I regret having ever bought in.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve just finished reading what looks like the last in this series and I have to say that I could not be more grateful for having found this place. I’m a public school teacher at a fairly good school and I’ve sworn my children will never attend even a school as decent that at which I teach. For me, it’s an easy calculation: the public schools simply have too little time on task and far too much lateral peer pressure to take advantage of even the most optimal learning environments.

    My wife and I were strongly considering CC, and being a medievalist by training, I thought it an obvious choice. We have a few family friends who are also homeschoolers, and they’ve recommended the program strongly – so much so that my wife even applied for, interviewed as, and passed whatever the assessment criteria were for becoming a director. It seemed then that things began to go sideways for us. With all the apparent qualifications met, we thought it would be a quick movement from her approval, organization (the wife had already found a host church in our area), and access to the curicula before we’d be building a community. But there appeared to be various hang ups in the process; my wife needed another interview, there were some late-stage concerns about what she’d do with our newborn and toddler while our four year old was receiving instruction once additional families started joining – all things that I thought could easily be provided for at a local level but that didn’t achieve any clarity yet that saw a corresponding push for us to send in our enrollment fees and tuition check.

    My wife was literally about to mail these monies away tomorrow when she asked me to research this a bit more on a hunch. Something about her last conversation with the area director or whatever put her off; she said it seemed like they were urging her to pay up front for some of these things without offering a lot of clarity about her duties, the relationship with CC itself, organizational questions within the community. Neither of us were aware of the distinction between Corporate and the various levels of directors and managers, the implications for legal liabilities, CC’s obvious exploitation of mother-labor, the tacit acceptance of the assumptions by church entities that it’s ‘just a group of homeschooling families.’

    After reading the first few posts here we decided not to throw our money away. After reading them all, my stomach is sick with the idea that my wife could have been unknowingly exposing herself to some of the liabilities mentioned throughout this series.

    Thanks for all the sharing that’s helped us make a more informed decision. I’ll be sharing this series with a few friends tomorrow.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I am going to start off by saying that I graduated from CC after having stayed in it my whole life. My older brother did the same and my younger siblings are currently in Challenge 3, Foundations and Essentials, and Foundations. My mom was the first Essentials tutor in Montana for 5 years before she switched to Challenge 1. She directed that for 2 years before moving on to Challenge 3. She now switches between 3 and 4 , depending on which her oldest school-age child is at the moment. She is currently directing 3.
    I also want to say that I don’t want this to be any kind of an advertisement for CC. It does not work for all families or children, and not all communities are the same. It did happen to work for me and my family, and our community is amazing.
    Since I grew up in the program, I can’t really compare it to anything, except that I got a much higher SAT score than many of my non-CC peers. But I can say this:
    Foundations. Let’s face it. Many of the history, science, and English songs were downright annoying. Some were catchy, and a small few were fun. The timeline, for example. I still sing that whenever I hear my siblings singing it. My 11 year-old brother is currently learning it backwards. This is not a CC requirement, it’s a mother requirement. And my mom does a lot of those. She understands that there are gaps in the history, so she reads history books to her kids and discusses them. She understands that the English grammar is deficient, so she teaches that herself. She understands that the Bible stuff is non-existant (or almost), but it’s not the job of the teacher or government or church or curriculum to teach that. My parents never used a Bible curriculum to teach us the Bible. They used the Bible. We have regular devotions and Bible studies, and in school we also have to memorize chapters of the Bible. How I miss the old days when one of the cycles was we had to memorize Ephesians 6. I can still recite John 1:1-7 in English and Latin.
    She also understands that the math isn’t, so she uses Math-U-See until Essentials, then Saxon until Challenge, then Teaching Textbooks through Challenge 3, then Consumer Math (Abeka) in 4.
    The science experiments in Foundations were, admittedly, rather puny. And we endured the music lessons just waiting for the next time we could paint.
    And she teaches us to read using the phonetic way starting when we are 1 or 2.
    Essentials. Face it. Not many college students know how to diagram even a simple sentence, let alone a compound-complex one. But CC teaches that in 4th grade. True, not all students retain or even really grasp it. I happen to be one who grasps language anything, but not history. That’s not me bragging or showing off. It’s just me stating the way God made me.
    Several years ago when I was still in Essentials, I was getting my hair cut at a salon. The lady who was cutting it was very interested in my schooling. So I answered all her questions and ended up explaining the parts of speech to her, which afterwards she admitted she hadn’t known. True story. Interpret how you will.
    Math was the favorite of everyone in class. I still use the speed tricks I learned in my college algebra class.
    In IEW, I learned a lot about the basic format of essays, strong vocabulary words, and literary devices. But I definitely didn’t like it as much as LTW.
    Challenge. I will spend the most time here, partly because there is so much to cover, and partly because it’s what I remember the best. My favorite Challenge subject was Latin. Did I mention we did Latin for 3 years before Challenge? That helped immensely. I hear a lot of communities are dropping Henle and switching to a more conversational Latin. This would be easier if the goal is to learn another language eventually, but it would break my heart if our community did that. I have such great and horrible memories with Henle. I would definitely rather translate Caesar, Newton, and Virgil, though I am far from fluent.
    I also liked Logic. Finding the validity of syllogisms and discussing Theology and philosophy are kind of my things. I hated math except for Algebra and Geometry, which a lot of people (including CC friends) find astonishing. I tolerated history (A Patriot’s History is sooooooooo dry and The Discoverers is biased) and enjoyed debate. I liked geography. I loved Exposition. Reading all the books, writing all the essays, it was hard and I sometimes got behind (in which cases I was duly punished my my real teacher- my mother).
    All in all, I loved CC.
    Many people say they don’t allow questions from parents and tutors. I never found this to be the case. And when I talked to my mom about it, she agreed. Maybe we just have amazingly fantastic SRs and ARs, or you just have all had really awful ones (they do exist, sadly enough). Or perhaps we just don’t ask the right questions to garner that kind of response. Or maybe we try to find the answer ourselves before going to anyone, which might just be a sign of stubborn unnecessary independence. But in any case, the leadership in my community is excellent, though it has changed with not a little hostility.
    I have also read that CC is not really a Christian group. It’s not meant to be the only Christian foundation builder in your child’s life. You are. I agree there are problems with how little material there is, especially in the younger age groups, about Jesus and anything Christian. But in the older classes, it really depends on the teacher. Some teachers really encourage the digging deep and founding everything on the Bible (like my mom), and some discourage the deep doctrine because it might “hurt the feelings of someone who doesn’t believe the same”. Growing up, I had 2 messianic prostelyte Jews, an Armenian (my family is mainly Calvinistic), and several others who differed on some big doctrines in my Challenge classes. We loved digging and discussing the hard topics. But we never had any moments of feeling oppressed or unappreciated. I have some pretty awesome friends, don’t I?
    There are also comments on CC kids being arrogant and entitled. This is very sad, but unfortunately true. Many homeschoolers (including non-CCers) view public schoolers as undereducated and government-raised (myself included). In general, though, it is a common thing for everyone to feel as if their position is better than the positions of everyone around them. This is true of Americans, Chinese, French, Ugandans, Liberals, Conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, southerners, westerners, homeschoolers, public schoolers, Christians, atheists, Muslims, Hindus, etc., etc., etc., etc. Everyone deems themselves as better than those around them. Now who is rather un-Christian?
    In reality, though, I used to be that CC snob. I used to correct everyone on their grammar and history and math. I try not to be a grammar Nazi now. I notice grammar mistakes, of course, because I can’t help it, but I don’t say anything. I’m working on my homeschool arrogance, which I admit exists, but the first step to getting rid of a fault is admitting it exists, right?
    Another thing I notice is the cost. AND I AGREE!!! CC costs WAAAAAY too much, especially for a Challenge student. But I have heard that there is a cap on the cost (I don’t remember what, but you might want to check that out). However, if you are not making enough, don’t even consider it. My parents were not rich. Not even close. Closer to poverty. But their policy on buying things (unless it was a life-or-death) was: don’t. No clothes (we got A LOT of hand-me-downs from friends), no restaurants, no new furniture, no excessive food (my mom always has and always will shop for prices, not taste). In other words, if you are REALLY REALLY set on CC, like my parents were, you can find ways, like my parents did (tutoring almost leveled the cost).
    About the HUGE amount of memorizing, I understand that memorizing is not how a lot of people learn best. But I have some friends who almost glory in that they “can’t memorize”. That is not a healthy mindset to get into. Everyone can memorize. CC has given me the ability to memorize almost anything I put my mind to. Of course, it doesn’t all stick perfectly for very long, but parts of it do.
    I can’t say anything about whether it’s MLM, but I do find it concerning that Leigh Bortins’ son took over after she left. It’s like he was the “heir apparent”.
    What I find interesting on this site is the incredible commonness of negative reviews of CC. It’s like people are trying to find something wrong with the program. But the few positive or in between reviews that do make an appearance are attacked and belittled as if they are the wrong points of view. If what was said in the first post, that, if someone has had a good experience with CC, JA believes it has been 100% good for them, then why does she seem to side with the belittlers? I am just a bit confused about this, please enlighten me and correct me if I am wrong. I do not want to be pounded for bringing this up or for having a good experience with CC or good parents. As for some of the other comments, they are also belittling people who are confused or had a different opinion or experience. We can disagree and not attack. That happens to be a fallacy that I learned in Challenge A. Ad hominem is what it’s called.
    I am very glad I experienced CC the way I did and I plan on bringing my kids through it.


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