A Review of Classical Conversations

So you heard about Classical Conversations (CC) and now you’re thinking about joining a community. You’ve scoured the internet and are looking for more info about CC. Is CC a good program? Is it worth the cost? What are the pros and cons?

If that’s you and you’re just trying to figure out what it’s all about, my first suggestion is that you visit your local community! The atmosphere of each community will come from the people in it- not CC Corporate, so it’s important you like what you see!

Now, I want to tell you about our experience with CC.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot on the internet about the downsides of CC and not enough about the upsides. There’s nothing like a bad experience to make someone start typing out their frustrations!

I think mostly these incidents stem from relational problems. The messiest experiences are when someone from corporate doesn’t really get along with someone leading a local community. There are a wide variety of personalities in such a large organization and it can be hard when you and your people have a grove going only to have it disrupted because corporate dropped a whole new personality in the mix. However, you probably won’t experience this unless you’re a Director or above in their structure. Plus, CC itself is a large international organization so there are bound to be some bad apples out there giving everyone else a bad rep. Steer clear of the troublemakers!

It makes me sad when I hear about communities that have had problems, but I also know that in this fallen world, they will also exist. While CC is a business, it functions a lot like a little church and we know churches have problems, so it shouldn’t really surprise us when we hear about CC communities haven’t problems, but it always does.

Here, I want to tell you about our good experience with CC. It’s not perfect (nothing is), but we love our local community and have enjoyed many years together (in spite of the fact that we have to drive all the way across town for it). Our kids have grown up together and community day is their favorite day of the week!

A Little History

We first learned about Classical Conversations (CC) in 2012 and helped start Yuma, Arizona’s first community in 2013. We moved to Tucson near the end of 2013 and transferred to another community here. I started up a new community on the northwest side of town in the fall of 2014 and for the next 4 years, I was a Director. During that time, I also tutored Foundations for two years and served as an SR for a year (and started this website)! In the fall of 2018, I stepped down from all that, so I could tutor Essentials. After 4 years as an Essentials tutor, my youngest finished with Foundations and Essentials and we’ve moved into the “Challenge only” phase! In 2022, I took some time off from any formal position in CC to have multiple foot surgeries. I’m healing up and enjoying having some extra time to spend on my kids and our Ridge Light Ranch business!

Pros and Cons of Classical Conversations

Pros- These are the reasons we’ve stuck with CC all these years

  • Community for my Kids: One of my sons is very extroverted and one is very introverted, but they both NEED community. CC has become their best source of friends, accountability, encouragement, and socialization. Yes, there are always hard and messy parts to being around people, but that’s good too. We need messy human interactions, not just screens and phones.
  • Community for Me: I also need community. Homeschooling is hard and long and while I ADORE the online Schole Sisters group (highly recommend!), they aren’t local. They never saw me limping up the stairs after surgery, they didn’t know to celebrate my son’s personal accomplishment, and they didn’t even notice when I was MIA for a while. Local, in-person community is necessary! Find it somewhere!
  • The Curriculum:
    • CC developed its curriculum plan with the whole K4-12 path in mind. I love how it all fits together and I love that I didn’t have to figure it out. Things they learn in elementary school inform their discussions in high school. Yet, at the same time, students can also join at any age and, while they may have to work a little harder, they’re able to join the discussions and reap the benefits of classical education. It’s really quite beautiful.
    • CC says their prescribed curriculum, especially in the Challenge years (7th-12th grade), should be viewed as a buffet for you to choose from. Please don’t quit because it was too much- just scale it back to where it works for your students.
    • I love that I’m learning alongside my own kids. I grew up in public schools and wasn’t exposed to most of what I’m teaching my kids. I’m delighted to have picked up new knowledge in geography, debate, English grammar, and Latin (as painful as it was in the moment).
  • Corporate Marketing: There’s a lot of irony here. My main complaints about CC are about corporate, as you’ll see below. However, as a business owner I can appreciate that corporate’s constant international marketing is part of what keeps our community alive. Over the years, I’ve watched many homeschooling groups fall apart as people move away or their needs change. With CC, there’s a constant stream of people joining as well, allowing the community to shift and change, but also remain the same. (Does that even make sense?)

Cons- I want to be honest about the cons, but note that the pros of CC outweigh the cons.

  • CC corporate likes to insist that all their directors and tutors have all their children enrolled in CC and I disagree with that mindset.
    • My husband and I pray over each child each year and look for direction from God as to what their education should look like. I don’t want to box in what God’s will is for my children. If He directs us to stop CC or stop homeschooling, we will. Fortunately, both my kids love homeschooling and love CC, so it hasn’t been a problem for us.
    • I also recognize that CC isn’t the right fit for everyone and I don’t want to assume I know what God’s will is for your children. Please pray about it and do what HE tells you to do!
    • Note: This rule only applies to their contractors (directors and tutors) and there are some exceptions, so if one kid wanted to stop and the other didn’t, you’d still be allowed to enroll one- you just wouldn’t be allowed to work for CC.
  • CC corporate is very anti-ESA.
    • Here in Arizona was have Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) where the state directs some of the money they would have spent educating my child to an account earmarked for my child. I can then apply to have educational expenses reimbursed from this account. ESA has been such a blessing for our family, allowing my children to do a bunch of extracurriculars that were just beyond reach before. There’s a LOT of political drama around ESA but CC’s hardline stance against ESAs has really disappointed me.
  • People say, “trust the process” too much.
    • I don’t know if this came from corporate or not, so, to be fair, I’ll assume it didn’t. I’ll admit, I’ve even said it myself! Here’s the thing- most of us grew up in the industrial model of education and so the classical model is foreign to us. It can feel really scary to do something so different with our kids. What if it doesn’t work? How can I know for sure?
    • In response to these doubts, those with more experience may say, “Trust the process.” I think what they mean to say is, “I know, I was a little scared too, but then one day my kids were in high school and I was amazed at what they’d become. Of course, they aren’t perfect- no one is, but somehow this crazy idea called classical education worked! Classical Education is a very old idea that has been proven for many centuries. Industrial education is the new-fangled thing that is a grand social experiment. If you’re feeling nervous, dig deeper into the classical model and learn why it works. Then you’ll feel more secure.”

FAQs about Classical Conversations

Is Classical Conversations Strict, Boring, and Legalistic?

What?! I don’t know who told you this, but in my experience, the kids have a blast. CC can be a lot of fun or it can be boring- just like every model of education.

I think if you’re the strict, legalistic type of person, the classical education and CC will appeal to you– just like if you’re a very go-with-the-flow type person, unschooling might appeal to you. So then each model attracts more of certain types. However, I’ve also found that often people know their own weaknesses and are attracted to the opposite. So maybe the go-with-the-flow type appreciates the structure and accountability of CC. The key is that CC is going to be what you make of it. The curriculum is planned out, but it’s still your choice to follow it or not. As the parent, you’re still your kids’ primary teacher. You assign grades and eventually write the transcript and sign the diploma!

Should I become a Tutor with Classical Conversations?

Yes! Wait, I should qualify that… I really enjoyed tutoring but it is work, so here are some pros and cons:

  • Pros of Being a CC Tutor:
    • You’ll finally memorize the material your kids are memorizing and understand all the concepts they’ve been learning. You don’t have to know the material before you sign on to tutor, you just have to know it before you teach it. So roll up your sleeves and redeem your own education! (This is my favorite reason!)
    • You’ll learn the classical model deeply. Again, there’s nothing like doing it to learn it!
    • You’ll stay engaged in your child’s education– it’s easy to mentally check out when you’re sitting in the back of the class.
    • You’ll be more engaged with the community– in the years I haven’t ‘worked’ I have felt less connected (probably because I’m not attending all those extra meetings!).
    • You’ll earn a little extra money to help pay for tuition WHILE being with your kids. How much you earn will depend totally on the size of your community’s classes and which levels you’re tutoring. This is probably the least important reason because it’s so little pay.
  • Cons of Being a CC Tutor:
    • It takes time: summer training, quarterly meetings with your Director, and of course weekly prep for class.
    • You’ll get frustrated with CC’s rules at some point. As homeschoolers, we tend to like doing everything our own way and it can be hard to follow a system. I often remind myself that the CC business model and the way they structure communities is their prerogative. I’m enjoying the fruits of their labor, so I have to let go of some of my preferences.

Ask lots of questions of your local Director to help you decide!

Is Classical Conversations a Co-op?

CC says it is NOT a co-op, however, it’s going to depend on how you define co-op. (I’ve heard some weird definitions.) Not all co-ops are non-profit (think REI), but co-ops are usually owned by their members and that is not how CC is structured.

It’s a business where the parents who are working get paid (reminds me of Bible verses about the laborer deserving his wages). For better or worse, they don’t get paid a lot– I like to think of it as a volunteer role with a stipend. That also means that there are a bunch of parents who are not working at formal CC jobs. Instead, they sit in class and help out as needed. So, you tell me, does that mean it’s not a co-op in your definition?

Is Classical Conversations a Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) Company?

Hum, sounds like we need to start with a definition again. Investopedia says this:

Multilevel marketing (MLM) refers to a strategy used by some direct-sales companies to sell products and services. MLM encourages existing members to promote and sell their offerings to other individuals and bring new recruits into the business. Distributors are paid a percentage of their recruits’ sales. New recruits become the distributor’s network or downline and are, in turn, encouraged to make sales to earn money. Many MLM schemes are legal, but there also are illegal operations run as pyramid schemes. This has cast some negative light on legitimate MLM businesses.

Looking at this definition, I don’t think it’s an MLM. (Do you have a different definition of MLM you prefer?) Corporate does a lot of marketing, but they also hire local contractors. When a family enrolls in a local community, that money goes toward tutors, directors, the facility, supplies and corporate. This is not a secret and I bet if you asked your local director, he/she would be willing to show you her books and exactly how much goes where. I don’t want to tell you all the numbers from when I was a director because it’s probably all changed since then.

Families are not required or even encouraged to bring more people in. However, I do think the hope is that you’ll love it and tell your friends like you would your favorite taco shop. Families do not earn anything if their friend joins CC.

Corporate uses some of that money to hire Support Representatives (SRs) and Area Representatives (ARs) (all still all contractors), to help spread the word, start new communities, and help support the existing people in CC. They earn money based on the number of people in their territory, but it’s not a straightforward equation.

I have been a tutor, director, and SR, but I’ve never earned anything close to minimum wage. (I’m probably a glutton for punishment for calculating out my earnings per hour– I don’t suggest it!) No one’s getting rich on this and I’ve never had anyone try to sell me on any position in CC with the pay as a big incentive. The pay is more like a stipend. I’ve heard accusations that the Bortins family, the founders, are getting rich off it, but they don’t act like it. (Not like the celebrity preachers you know.) Honestly, they’ve dedicated their lives to this and created something pretty amazing so I wish them success and hope they are earning a good living on it.

So I don’t consider it an MLM, but I also think you should also ask yourself if there’s anything actually wrong with MLMs… MLMs are not pyramid schemes, which are illegal. So why do MLMs have a bad reputation? I honestly don’t know!

Are there Weird Tax Implications for Classical Conversations Communities?

This is not tax advice, but as I mentioned, the people who are working are getting paid. Each worker (Director/Tutor) is a “contractor” and needs to figure out the special tax situations for themselves. Contractors need to claim their pay as income on their taxes and will owe some of it to Uncle Sam. They’ll probably even receive a 1099 from their CC work. Hopefully, the people they’re working closely with have explained all this to them! When I was a Support Rep, Director, and Tutor (but not all at once) I chose to complete a Schedule C each year but you should consult with your tax people to figure out what’s best for you!

There are a LOT of extra rules to become a 503c non-profit organization and so few communities do it. However, if that’s what you’re community is doing then the taxes probably are a little different!

Contact Me

What other questions do you have? Contact me with your questions and I’ll be happy to answer them as best as I can! But remember, I HIGHLY suggest you visit your local community! The atmosphere of each community will come from the people in it- not CC Corporate, so it’s important you like what you see!