I’ll start to address my experiences with Classical Conversations (CC) here. Let me begin by emphasizing that overall I have been very pleased with the program and my family’s experience with it. We have become friends with some wonderfully kind and generous families in the five years we have been part of CC, and my son, in addition to making enduring friendships, has learned a ton. When I attempt to compare what my son has learned with what I knew at the same age, I’m always impressed and proud of him (and I was a pretty stellar student through my elementary years). That’s not all because of CC. But I think overall the program is excellent and most kids in it are learning plenty and being well-prepared for life.
CC implements a model based on the classical trivium, which identifies three main stages of learning: the grammar stage, the dialectic stage, and the rhetoric stage. The Foundations program in CC (1st – 6th grade) takes kids through the grammar stage, which is heavily focused of memorization, since the belief is that kids’ minds are specially wired for that at this age. My son is just finishing Foundations, and, indeed, I am astonished at how much information he can retain when he focuses on memory work. (My wife’s exasperation at how he can forget a simple household task she asked him to do three minutes previously is another story, that I expect many parents will chuckle and nod at.)
While anyone could buy CC materials and implement the program at home, everyone I’ve known that’s used it has been part of a CC community. These meet once a week to review the memory work in classes of five to ten, as well as to do oral presentations and art, music, and science activities. Parents are expected to reinforce the memory work at home throughout the week. I don’t doubt that some have used the materials as just a supplement, but I don’t personally know any who have done so, and my sense is that CC very much markets its program as a complete curriculum that is best done within a community. I will add that some subjects (math for sure) require way more than just CC content.
Much of the memory work is organized into question-response tidbits: Tell me about the Boston Tea Party. What is the formula for the area of a triangle? What is a participle? What is each continent’s highest mountain? Each prompt will have a response that students are expected to memorize verbatim, often with the assistance of catchy tunes the response is set to. The content isn’t flawless; in particular I’ve found the geography content to be oddly organized and sometimes simply wrong, and the maps CC provides can be sorely lacking. (Attentive readers may have surmised that I’m a connoisseur of maps, but apart from my admitted cartographic snobbery, CC’s maps really are substandard.) Still, overall I’m pleased with the content.
Science is not my academic forte, but my concern regarding the topic of this forum was first raised during our second year of CC (I think), when I saw that one of the science prompts and replies read, What is the Theory of Evolution? The Theory of Evolution states that life began as a chance combination of non-living things. By this point I was well on my way to a “BioLogos-friendly” mindset (described above), and I immediately thought, “That’s just factually inaccurate. That’s not what the Theory of Evolution says at all.” Since my son was required to state the response verbatim as part of the “Memory Master” proofing process that culminates the year, I told him to memorize it that way, but also that I wanted him to understand that the sentence was wrong and that evolution has to do with how life has developed, not how it began. Otherwise, I didn’t make too much of a deal about it.
Around this time I also started to realize that many in the community were pretty staunch advocates of YEC ideology. This may seem shocking to many on this forum, especially given the number who have come from strong YEC backgrounds, but until a few years ago I truly didn’t know that large numbers of Americans took seriously the idea of a literal six-day creation a few thousand years ago. Seriously, I had been a Christian for over two decades, with my college years spent in the heart of the Bible Belt, but I really didn’t get this. But through things picked up in conversations over the years, a magazine my wife brought home one day that a friend had given her, continued exposure to CC resources, and plenty of reading about science and faith issues, I figured out that not only are there plenty who believe this, but I was educating my son in a milieu in which this was the predominant thinking. To be clear, it was the young earth dimension of the thinking that caught me off guard. I was certainly aware of widespread antagonism towards evolution within the Christian community, but inasmuch as I shared it or discussed it over the years, it would have been of the old earth or intelligent design variety. When I first got a sense of what is actually portrayed at the Creation Museum, I was dumbfounded.
I’m going to wrap up for today. I rarely have time write at this length, but the past two days have been unusual. I’m sorry if my posts are unduly long and personal. It just seems since I haven’t contributed to discussions previously, it may be helpful for readers to know some of my background. I’m really glad to see that others seem interested in this topic as well. And I’ll have more to add later.