Classical Conversations #1: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Classical Conversations, Homeschool, Classical Education, #ClassicalConvMadeKnown

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About 10 years ago, I was at a homeschool family camp with my family in Washington state, and it was talent-show night. Previous years at the talent show, children and families sang, kids performed skits, or danced a routine. However, this year, there were a couple of very young girls who recited historical passages. I cannot recall what was recited, but I remember being impressed with these girls, who were about 5 years old, reciting such long texts – texts that included vocabulary words with four syllables, using words I rarely use. Actually, I was blown away.

I later found out these girls were involved in a group called Classical Conversations (CC) in their area, and memorizing was part of their schoolwork. Along the way, I’ve run into several homeschool moms who have tried to encourage me to join Classical Conversations, especially when I expressed my interest in classical education.

Here is a brief description of classical education:

Classical education focuses on the great books of Western civilization, Latin, and lessons about morality and virtue, and is based on the medieval European curriculum that divided learning into the “trivium”: grammar, logic and rhetoric. The concept of fusing classical education into modern teaching was popularized by a 1947 essay by British author Dorothy Sayers called “The Lost Tools of Learning.”  (Source).

I had already been teaching my children and adopting some classical methods of learning after hearing a compelling lecture by Susan Wise Bauer who spoke at a HEAV convention in Virginia. I immediately bought her book and began implementing classical methods in my teaching. Prior to that, I used a hodgepodge of curricula, but now with Susan Wise Bauer’s recommendations, my children were on a tried-and-true academic track  – a proven educational method that had been used by students for centuries. It felt reassuring to have such a proven academic plan for my kiddos.

When we moved to a new state, many of our new homeschooling friends were supplementing their homeschooling with the Classical Conversations program. My new friends once again encouraged us to join. I asked questions, took a look at what we already had going on in our homeschooling plan, looked at the needs of our children, and my needs, and decided it was not a good fit for us at the time. Currently, there are so many options – maybe too many options – for homeschoolers. Parents need to use what works best for them and for their children to achieve optimum educational success.

Classical Conversations didn’t work for my family; however, it has worked for many families. For many families, CC has become a way for them to connect with other families who are homeschooling, and receive support. Children can grow up with other CC children through the years and gain solid friendships. Parents can encourage and support each other.

I’ve read accounts that using Classical Conversations has helped some inexperienced or perhaps unorganized moms/dads to stay on task and get all of the academic boxes checked, because someone else has made sure that the material is good and appropriate.

Students can participate in fun activities together from science projects, to memory work, speech and debate, and mock trials. Have you ever heard of a child reciting Newton’s Laws of Motion? When was the last time you heard of students learning Latin? Classical Conversations sounds like a rich and broad learning experience, doesn’t it? I have no doubt that many have benefited from this rich program.

CC also can benefit new homeschool moms who are overwhelmed with homeschooling options. It can give them a sense of security, knowing they don’t have pick books and programs when it’s already done for them. It’s a great way to get immersed into homeschooling without doing it blindly. Parents only need to cover reading, writing, and arithmetic (for the lower grades). The rest is covered at Classical Conversations which meets one time per week.

That all sounds great, doesn’t it?

It probably is great for many families/groups. But all groups do not run the same, nor do they have the same leaders or families, so there is bound to be different “looking” groups.

Unfortunately, I’ve been hearing negative issues connected with Classical Conversations. I’ve noticed them, too, as I have been in homeschool sites on the internet. And, recently, people have contacted me to share their experiences. I believe I’m in a position to do something that makes a positive difference, by hosting some conversations here at Spiritual Sounding Board, about apparent problems in the Classical Conversations system.

Julie Anne’s (yes, I go by both names or JA is fine, too) Background

Let me give new readers a little background so you can understand where I am coming from and the purpose of this blog. After starting BGBC Survivors, a blog about my abusive church experience, I, along with five others, were sued by the pastor there in 2012 in a defamation lawsuit. He lost the lawsuit and had to pay not only his attorney fees, but the defendants’ attorney fees, along with court and filing costs. Through that process, I learned a lot about First Amendment rights and responsibilities, and what people can and cannot say publicly.

When the lawsuit against me went viral, a lot of people came to my blog to send notes of encouragement. Along with those notes, many people shared their abusive church experiences. I continued to blog, changed the name to Spiritual Sounding Board, but now made it about spiritual abuse in general, and invited others to share their stories.

This blog is for survivors who have been harmed in church or Christian groups/organizations. Other stories covered here have included Doug Phillips, Vision Forum, Family-Integrated Churches; Bill Gothard, IBLP, ATI, and reports of sexual abuse; the Christian Patriarchy Movement, Stay-at-Home Daughters Movement, courtship, purity, and modesty teachings, etc. I do quite a bit of investigative reporting, have done interviews on these related topics, am quoted in major news articles, etc. I am not new to this gig. As a 23-year veteran homeschool mom, I know the Christian homeschool culture pretty well.

Let me get straight to the point: I have seen and heard enough about Classical Conversations that alarm bells are going off. This is going to be the first of probably many posts about Classical Conversations. For some who have not experienced any problems with CC, this will probably be shocking to you. I get that. I believe 100% that is has been good for you.  But there are others who have been harmed, and it is because of those people that I have decided to take this on (along with a team of others who were directly involved with CC).

I am working with a team of former Classical Conversations members who have done an incredible amount of research. Combined, they are connected with scores of people currently and formerly part of Classical Conversations. As typically happens with systemic abuse, once someone goes public and tells their personal story, others feel more comfortable sharing their experiences.

So far, here is a sampling of what I’ve seen/heard that I find troubling:

  • Mishandled child-to-child sexual abuse cases.
  • An atmosphere of: no talk, no asking questions, especially publicly if the question seems at all critical.
  • A blurry line between ministry and business aspects of the organization.
  • CC leaders using the Bible to control or silence people.
  • Misuse of Matthew 18 when dealing with conflicts.
  • A rigid atmosphere: “Classical Conversations is the only right way to homeschool” – others are inferior.

Sadly, these are not just normal issues, but issues that would represent systemic malfeasance

Apparently, leaders at Classical Conversations have made legal threats to members who post negative comments about their experiences. That is bullying behavior. Here at Spiritual Sounding Board (SSB), you have the opportunity to share the good, the bad, and the ugly. I do not reveal sources, e-mail addresses, or IP addresses of my commenters to anyone.


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Commenting Ground Rules

I have a minimal set of ground rules to keep Spiritual Sounding Board a safe place for people to share their experiences and expression their opinions.

  • My blog is set up so that your first comment is moderated. After that, all subsequent comments should go through fine unless there are ground rules broken (like language, personal attacks) or it gets stuck in spam. If you think your comment is stuck in the spam box, feel free to send another comment asking me to check the spam box, or send me an email at spiritualsb@gmail.com.
  • Pseudonyms are absolutely fine. In fact, I find that people often feel more comfortable to share when using a pseudonym. Your story is very important. It is very likely that your story has happened to others. By you speaking out, you will give others the courage to speak out.
  • I do not allow comments with the pseudonym. “Anonymous.” Mickey Mouse and Fred Flintstone are up for grabs. 🙂
  • While this is primarily a place for survivors, I do allow conversation from people with opposing opinions, but no personal attacks. You get one warning before Owen, the SSB watchdog, comes out. I’d like to introduce you to Owen:
  • If you violate the warning again, you will be put in the “dog house,” which means all of your comments will be moderated. They will eventually be approved if they are okay, or trashed if they are rude and attacking. Good behavior will get you out of the doghouse. This must remain a safe place.

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Note to Classical Conversations Leaders

Please do not be foolish and send me Cease and Desist letters from attorneys or threaten to sue me, as you have allegedly done to others. I am very aware of my First Amendment rights. The attorney who represented me in the defamation lawsuit taught me much; in fact, she also taught about First Amendment and SLAPP/anti-SLAPP law to other attorneys. She is probably the top attorney in the state on this topic. (SLAPP stands for “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.” Such frivolous lawsuits are basically designed to shut people up by threatening to tie up their time and resources. Anti-SLAPP suits counter those.)

I know how to make sure I am within legal parameters on what can or cannot be said.

I live in Washington State, which has anti-SLAPP laws. Discussion about Classical Conversations would qualify under the anti-SLAPP due to this phrase in the law: “in a place open to the public or a public forum in connection with an issue of public concern” (Wash. Rev. Code § 4.24.525 (4)(a-e)).

My blog is a public forum and the issues related to Classical Conversations are issues of public concern. And there you go.

Additionally, this is what will happen if/when I win a defamation lawsuit using anti-SLAPP statute:

If you win your motion to strike under Washington’s anti-SLAPP statute, the court will dismiss the lawsuit (or the parts of the lawsuit found to be SLAPPs). You will also be entitled to receive your attorneys’ fees, your court costs, and an automatic statutory damage award of $10,000. The court may also sanction the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s attorney.

I recently noticed my vehicle is getting close to 200,000 miles. That $10,000 would come in handy. Just sayin’.

BREAKING NEWS: Dr. Paige Patterson Terminated, Effective Immediately: No Title, No Housing, No Ongoing Compensation

Paige Patterson, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, SBC, #Churchtoo, #ChurchToo, #MeToo

 

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A new statement was just released at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary: Continue reading

Sovereign Grace Church Leaders Remove Wife from Women’s Small Group Leader Position after Couple Asks Questions

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Both Jeff Owens and his wife Sarah recently sent out a thread of tweets regarding a recent experience they had at their former (unidentified)  Sovereign Grace church. I think these tweets deserve a wider audience.

What you will read is not healthy at all, and people need to understand the dismissive and bullying behavior employed by Sovereign Grace church leaders when they are encouraged or questioned about having an independent investigation of the decades-old sexual abuse allegations involving many children, many churches, and the mishandling of these cases by church leaders.

Sovereign Grace leaders are still using the same tactics that we’ve heard from personal accounts for years: no one gets to question authority or criticize authority without repercussion. Folks, this is spiritual abuse. Let’s call it what it is.

I have copied the tweets below for easier reading, but if you would like to see the original tweet threads, click on the hyperlink in Jeff Owens’ tweet below, or Sarah’s link within his tweet.

In the tweet thread, there is a reference to Rachael Denhollander. If you are unfamiliar with Rachael Denhollander and her experience in exposing Sovereign Grace ministries mishandling of sex abuse cases, here’s a good article to start:  My Larry Nassar Testimony Went Viral. But There’s More to the Gospel Than Forgiveness.

Before we get to the tweets by Jeff and Sarah Owens, I wanted to share a section of the Sovereign Grace Local Church Polity with you. I have bolded parts pertinent to the communication by congregants to elders and leaders: Continue reading

Personal Story: What Did the Church Teach You about Yourself?

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Rachael Denhollander Challenges Sovereign Grace Churches to Respond Appropriately to Sex Abuse Cases

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Will Those in the Real Gospel-Centered Churches Please Stand?

Gospel-Centered Movement, TGC, YRR, Calvinists, Jared Wilson

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Rachael Denhollander, the Relentless Hero Who Loved Sacrificially, and Stopped Dr. Larry Nassar from Sexually Abusing More Girls

Rachael DenholIander, Dr. Larry Nassar, Sexual Abuse, MSU, USAG


rachael denhollander, dr. larry nassar

“Who is going to find these little girls and tell them how much they are worth?”   Rachael Denhollander

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I normally write articles about church leaders or Christian groups. This is neither, but you will see soon discover that the hero in this story, Rachael Denhollander, is a Christian. In this story, you will see sacrificial love – love that puts the needs, safety, concern of others, far ahead of herself. It’s one thing to sacrifice for your family or friends, but Rachael sacrificed for strangers. She was steadfast, strong, determined, articulate, thorough, and unrelenting. She became a leader, a counselor, an encourager, a listening ear, and perhaps even a surrogate mother-like figure to many who had gone through the same horrific ordeal. For those who couldn’t speak, she became their voices; but by her bravery and courage, she empowered others to use their voice, even up until the very last day of testimonies.

This is about a highly publicized sex abuse case, not in the church, but in athletics. The Dr. Larry Nassar sex abuse case has been an important case. I like to watch cases like these to observe the tactics abusers or enablers use to hide the deviant behavior. When there’s one person who is abusing, many times there are others who enable the abuse. This is a classic case of systemic abuse just as we have seen at Penn State, in the Catholic Church (see Spotlight Movie), the Boy’s Scouts, and others.

Because of the graphic content in this post, I am issuing a trigger alert. If you have been sexually abused, this will likely be difficult to read. Use caution. Continue reading

First #MeToo, Now #ChurchToo: Sexual Abuse, Harassment, and Mishandling in the Church

#MeToo, #ChurchToo, Sexual Abuse, Harassment, Church

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The hashtag #MeToo has been trending for quite some time on Twitter. Women who have been sexually harassed or abused have been identifying themselves as survivors of sexual harm, indicating it with the hashtag, #MeToo. But now, there is a new trending hashtag, #ChurchToo. The stories that you can read in one little tweet are heartbreaking.

I wanted to share some here, and also invite those who have been on Twitter to feel free to share more here if they like.

If you are new to Spiritual Sounding Board, this is a blog that deals with abuse in church or church groups. We have dealt with all kinds of sexual abuse: sex abuse of children, sexual abuse in marriage, sexual abuse by clergy, wives of pedophiles, church leaders who have failed to report sexual crimes, church leaders who have blamed victims for sexual crimes, and also spiritual abuse which often occurs when a church leaders are involved in any capacity (perpetrator, counselor, spiritual advisor).

If you have been harmed sexually, this is a safe place. If you would like to share your story in more detail, you can in the comments, or to me privately: spiritualsb@gmail.com. Please feel free to comment using a pseudonym. This is your place to use your voice where it will be heard.

~Julie Anne Continue reading

A “Systems Approach” and Some Historical Background on Dealing with Abuse and Violence

To deal with “systemic abuse,” we must understand systems, victimization, and what makes individuals and institutions vulnerable.

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Book Review: The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide, by Boz Tchividjian and Shira Berkovits

Key component in a system of resources on child sexual abuse for policy makers, survivors, educators, and advocates.

Guest post by Brad Sargent, with input from Julie Anne Smith.

Cross-posted at futuristguy.

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Spiritual Sounding Board was invited to participate in the Litfuse “blog tour” for the recently released Child Safeguarding Policy Guide. They asked us to post a one-paragraph summary of our overall response to this resource book, so that could be used as an excerpt on other sites. Here is what I wrote:

How will our church serve those who’ve suffered the harm of childhood sexual abuse, and seek to prevent it from happening to others? On this difficult but foundational issue of human dignity and care, will we choose conscience and compassion – or corrosion and complacency? The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide and the range of other resources from GRACE equip us with clear definitions, well-organized knowledge, and practical skills to follow a right and righteous path on these global problems of violence and abuse.

Available reviews of the Policy Guide share about its concepts and content from a variety of angles. Already posted on Amazon are great summaries, detailed insights from church leaders, poignant personal accounts from survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Litfuse Publicity Group has review excerpts and links to full posts, and New Growth Press, which published this book, has additional endorsements.

In this post, I will give a brief preview of key features from a systems perspective, and list other resources from GRACE and New Growth Press. In a follow-up post, I will add my thoughts on the big picture of systemic abuse, why we’ve needed a set of resources to deal with it, and share some personal perspectives on how the Policy Guide and other books produced by GRACE represent answers to some longstanding prayers. Continue reading

Kari Benton Shares: Spiritual Recovery after a Lawsuit and Spiritual Abuse

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Let’s Discuss: The Keepers, Netflix Documentary Series about the Murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik and Systemic Sexual Abuse

The Keepers, Netflix, Cathy Cesnik, Systemic Sexual Abuse, Catholic Church, Spiritual Abuse, Clergy Sexual Abuse



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The Keepers is a new documentary series airing on Netflix. I have watched 5 of the episodes and it is excellent. If you have seen Spotlight, it is similar, however, the investigative reporters in this case are two grandmas who have spent the last three years compiling details of the case and trying to get answers as to who killed their beloved former high school teacher, Sister Cathy Cesnik in 1969.

Like the movie, Spotlight, the series uncovers systemic sexual abuse of female students at Archbishop Keough High School in Maryland by Father Maskell who was a counselor on campus. When I refer to the word “systemic,” I mean it is a whole system of cover-up and abuse. Father Joseph Maskell was not the only one who committed the crimes. His friends in high places also committed sexual crimes and helped to conceal the crimes: police officers, businessmen in the community, etc.

The first episode lays the groundwork for the story and introduces the main characters. Then, the second episode goes into repulsive, unimaginable sexual abuse descriptions. This episode is definitely difficult to watch and I would caution those who get triggered by topics of abuse to be very careful watching it. The second episode was the most difficult for me to watch, but this is important information to know how insidious these crimes were, not only sexually, but spiritually.

Because this documentary series is being discussed so much, I wanted to have a post specifically to address it, and especially to be a place where people can discuss how it may have affected them.

So, let’s use this post to discuss how the show may have affected us and try not to include spoilers for those who have not yet watched it.

Below, I have gathered a variety of links that may be of interest. I encourage you to check out the first link, especially. It is excellent.

Note:  While this sexual abuse scandal – also connected with the systemic abuse cover up with cases around the world uncovered by the Boston Globe Spotlight team occurred in the Catholic Church, Protestant churches are not exempt from these types of scandals. We know of the  Sovereign Grace Ministries sexual abuse scandal which is still ongoing. I am personally aware of several others that are “under the radar.” No one church group is exempt from systemic abuse.

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Related Links

A website was set up for the movie here:  The Keepers. I am very impressed with the information presented at the site, from information about the series, to helpful resources for survivors, therapies, systemic abuse, how to help, etc.

The following links are related and may be of interest:

How Safe is Your Church?

 

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Have you met Boz Tchividjian of GRACE – Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment? This would be a good video to post on Facebook or send to church leaders. Until churches have safe policies in place and survivors feel safe to share their trauma to others in the church, the church is not whole. We need to be proactive in minimizing the opportunity for sex abuse to occur and also to help those who have been harmed by sexual abuse.

Continue reading

Second Amended Complaint Filed in Bill Gothard & IBLP Sex Abuse Lawsuit: 18 Victims in Lawsuit

Bill Gothard, Lawsuit, IBLP, Institute in Basic Life Principles, David C. Gibbs III, Sex Abuse, Sexual Grooming, ALERT

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Attorney Plans to File Another Sex Abuse Lawsuit against CJ Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries

C.J. Mahaney, Sex Abuse, Failure to Report, Statute of Limitations, Sovereign Grace Ministries, Lawsuit, Pedophiles, T4G

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Bill Gothard Added to Lawsuit; Victims Alleging Sex Abuse and Rape

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A Spotlight on Abuse and Death of VCY America Founder Vic Eliason

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After The Gospel Coalition Staunchly Defended CJ Mahaney in Sovereign Grace Ministries Sex Abuse Scandal, They Now Promote the Movie Spotlight (Sex Abuse Coverup)

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Attorney David Gibbs III Discusses the IBLP Lawsuit and Answers Important Questions

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