Friday, May 29, 2015

Why I am Not Returning to Classical Conversations

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If you have been here a while, you might remember my post from last year, Why I Decided to Join Classical Conversations.    I had always had my eye on Classical Conversations, but for some reason it never seemed like it was the right thing for my family to do (for many reasons).  Then last year a new campus opened in my city, so I thought it was a good time to try it.  As I re-read my post from last year, the reasons for joining are still very valid, so why am I not returning?  First let me talk about some things that I really appreciated about my CC community.

The Memory Work


One hour of each community day is dedicated to memory work (1/2 hour to new material and 1/2 hour to reviewing past weeks' material).  Yes, the great volume of memory work comes at you like a tidal wave.  Yes, it is mostly disjointed from each other and from other things you are learning.  Yes, for the most part the kids don't really understand what they saying...BUT I still appreciated it and think it has great merit.  

It truly does provide great pegs for my children to hang their other learning on.  We have referenced different memory work pieces many times this year.  

I also loved seeing how much can truly be retained when it is learned through song (we put a song to most everything).  I learned many, many new things through those songs too!

Next year I plan on continuing with the memory work at home.


Timeline


Classical Conversations created their own timeline.  It is put to song and available in flash card form.  My kids did not master the entire timeline, but they can sing along when the music is playing and will often reference events that they hear about in their daily lives.  I think it is so important for every person to understand the general flow of history and their place in it.  We had been using the Veritas Press timeline song and cards, but we will stick with the CC ones now.  I plan on continuing to use them next year at home.


Presentations


Each week the children give a short presentation in front of their 8 person class.  It was wonderful to see how each student grew in their confidence and ability!  I think it was a great idea for CC to put this as part of the class time and I am going to miss that opportunity.  I am hoping to continue some form of this, maybe with a few homeschool friends getting together, because I think it is a vital skill to learn!


Scripture in Latin


I have been using Song School Latin with my kids for the past couple of years, but I really enjoyed the Latin component of CC as a supplement!  Last year we memorized the vocab of John 1 and then put it together to learn to say the first 7 verses of the chapter.  It was really neat to do this as a group and to get the feel of speaking a long passage in Latin.  I am thankful that we got the opportunity to do this!


The Community 


One big reason that many people like CC is the community aspect of it.  I especially appreciated knowing that a group of other people were doing similar things and that many of us thought the same way on many issues.  It was great to get to know a group of other homeschool moms (only one of which I knew before) and to learn from one another.  A few of them scheduled outside field trips for us, and that helped me to learn about opportunities in my community that I didn't know were there!

From the perspective of my children, they appreciated getting to know new kids too.  They both LOVED going to class each week.  Honestly there really isn't much time available for getting to know one another very well (everything is so jam packed and fast paced), but they enjoyed being around the other kids and always looked forward to play time after lunch.


Classical Conversations' desire to help families grow


Classical Conversations really is a support to homeschooling families.  I particularly appreciated the encouragement that came in the form of helpful emails and at the practicum.  I think the company is finding great topics to talk about and to explore with homeschool families.  

The lady who ran my area practicum last year set up two meeting times during the year for parents in my area to get together and learn about classical principles.  She asked me to speak at both of them, which was a great privilege!  Our first meeting had a focus on Scholé and the second on Assessment.  I appreciated the desire to help inform and encourage community members through these events, and I will miss not being a part of them next year!



So, why am I not returning to Classical Conversations?




As you can see, there are many great aspects of CC.  I am thankful that I was a part of the community last year.  The problem is that I had a nagging feeling through most of the year that I just couldn't shake.

You see, Classical Conversations has a great focus on the trivium.  They understand the grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages and heavily write their material to go along with them.  That sounds great, right? Well, the problem is that the trivium is only one small part of the classical model of education.  

Over the past two years I have been reading and listening to great authors and speakers share what they have rediscovered about classical education.  Two years ago I would have thought that CC was spot on and would have equated classical education with the trivium as well.

Classical education is SO MUCH MORE than the trivium.  (It be fair, I think that CC is discovering this as well, but it is very hard to change things in a large program that has been running the same way for many years.)  Classical education is also about concepts like multum non multa (much not many), scholé (restful learning), festina lente (make haste slowly), cultivating wonder, and more!

I would see emails from Classical Conversations starting to talk about topics like these, but the reality is that the program (in the foundations level at least) is not set up in a way that allows them to take place.  A big focus of the morning is sticking to schedule.  In tutor training, it is drilled into us that each segment of the morning must be a crisp 30 minutes long, and there is no freedom to change anything.  Of course some tutors or campuses may choose to not obey those rules, but I cannot speak for them.

How can students revel in the wonder of learning when there is no time for a student to ask questions and no ability to dive deeply into a topic of interest?

As much as I enjoyed the memory work, the broad scope and fast pace is the opposite of multum non multa.  

Fine Arts and Science are two other segments of the morning.  I enjoyed both of these aspects of the program, but they were not without problems as well.  Often, the children were enjoying their art projects so much that they wanted to continue working on them.  That is a wonderful thing!  But it is not possible in the structure of the CC morning.  Art time must be a crisp 30 minute segment.  

Science experiments, on the other hand, were often a quick demonstration and the tutors were left to try to fill the rest of the half hour.  It is very clear from the guidelines that tutors are not supposed to be teaching, but instead just modeling for the parents, so this left us in a bind.  We were not really supposed to teach what was happening in the experiment, nor were we allowed to add another related experiment.  

In a parent-led co-op, the problem would have easily been solved by giving more time to art and less to science.  Or activities could be chosen differently (longer science experiments and shorter art projects).  This is not possible in CC because when you sign up as an official campus you are agreeing to follow their program and you give up your freedom to make changes like this.

These things are definitely not cause to discredit the program, but part of my reason for choosing to homeschool my children was so that I could do things in ways that I saw fit to most benefit my children.  I don't want to give up that freedom, even for one morning a week.

Another issue for me, personally, is that (like I mentioned before) the class is not actually designed to be for the children.  It is supposed to be teaching the parents (who stay in class) how they can teach at home.  I am sure that some parents benefit from this, but it is just not what I need right now.  If I put out money for a class, I want it to be for my children, not me.  It only adds to the problem that I don't think they are teaching truly classical principals during class time.  They are teaching helpful ways to memorize information, but that is not all that classical education is about.  (I cannot speak for the Essentials and Challenge programs, only Foundations.)

It is hard for me to type this because I really don't want to come across saying that the program is bad.  I think it is very helpful to many families and I appreciate that it is available.  I am honestly not trying to dissuade you from joining your local community, it just isn't the right thing for my family at this time.

I understand that many of my issues stem from the fact that CC is an international company and that in order to make a program that large to work, there needs to be rules and regulations. standards and consistency.  Therefore I am not faulting the company, but personally I need to make the best decision for my family right now. 



So what is the plan for next year?




I have learned a lot this past year, both from my experience at CC and from other sources. So, what do I desire for next year?

I want a truly classical group.


I want a group of like-minded people to dive into the full richness of classical education with.  I want to dive deep together, cultivating virtue, enhancing wonder, and pointing our children toward truth, goodness, and beauty.

I want freedom.


I want the freedom to change things that need to be changed.  I want the ability to stay on one subject for 2 hours if the children are engaged in the wonder of God's creation and there is no pressing reason to stop!  

I want to work together with other moms.


The Body of Christ is so diverse in our gifts and talents.  CC literally left me in a state of exhaustion each week because their model has the tutor doing everything (to show that "You can do it too, mom!")  I appreciate their desire there, but it has made me understand more fully how every person is uniquely gifted and that it is beautiful when we come together and share our strengths!  

I think that meeting days could be a time of joy (instead of stress), with each mom doing what she loves to do, blessing the entire group by doing it.  A few friends and I have been experimenting with that concept this spring and it is working well so far!

So what is the plan?  Well, I'm working on it =)  I am excited to say that it is beginning to come together and I look forward to sharing the details with you soon!



I do not want this to become a "praise CC" or "trash CC" fest, but I would love to discuss this more with you in the comments if you have any questions or thoughts to share.  I am sure that I did not remember all the good things about CC and I am sure that I did not adequately explain my reasons for not continuing, so I am happy to dialogue with you in the comment section if I can help in any way!



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32 comments:

  1. How I've seen "classical" done in many places online and in CC specifically have always made me think that I didn't have that bent. As I've read about "classic" classical, I've realized how much my educational philosophy does dip into that. I value deep thinking and deep analytical learning mixed fed by a child's natural curiosity and sense of wonder.

    I've also preferred the classic old-school co-op with 1-3 other families where we have the opportunity to cater to the individual needs of the children we have as well as capitalize on the giftings of the moms. For me, that has worked out to co-oping with one other family. It made it much easier to make adjustments as needed.

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    1. I like how you put that..."classic" classical =) I think the tricky part is that the classical model of education is something that is being slowly rediscovered, which is why what people thought of it as a few years ago is different than what it is beginning to be thought of as now.

      I am still learning and figuring things out, but I tend to think that I appreciate a smaller co-op as well. I'm glad to hear that it has worked well for you!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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  2. I meant to add that I think this post will be so helpful for families considering what to do. I've seen Classical Conversations work beautifully for many friends and have it NOT be a good fit for others. Your post lays out the pro's and con's and I think will help families as they weigh out what will work for them!

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    1. Hi April. I read what you wrote before you removed it (did you do that, or was there a glitch?) and just wanted to say that I had a lot of the same experiences and completely agree!

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  4. Amy, this is so helpful! I have felt some of these same things (we have decided not to join CC at the present time and honestly I don't think we will, but we'll see!) but you expressed them so concisely and eloquently. My jumbled thoughts have included "I think this is just rote memorization, which is valuable but I can't spend an entire morning every week on this!" and "I chose homeschooling because I want the freedom to decide what is best for my family, is this a pre-designed curriculum that removes my options?" We are going to use Tapestry of Grace this year and I'd love to find a group that would mesh with that. I have so much to learn but reading your thoughts helped me clarify my own. Thanks!

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    1. Thank you, Cat. I'm glad this was helpful, even if just a little bit =) I know just what you mean about all those jumbled thoughts. I've spent way too much time trying to un-jumble them.

      It was interesting to me to discover that the memory aspect was just one part of CC. I think going in, I thought that was that main point. I guess it is a main point, but it only takes up a fraction of the meeting day. It's hard to really understand the program until you are a part of it and for that reason (amongst others) I am thankful that we were a part of it for the year.

      I hope that you are able to find a group of friends to partner with in your Tapestry of Grace studies! Community really is a great thing to have for all of us. It's a hard thing, figuring out how to balance the freedom we want as homeschoolers with the benefit that a community can bring!

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    2. My 11yo daughter and I have one year total of homeschooling finished. We joined CC because the curriculum was all there and I didn't want to hunt and peck around for every piece of the curriculum puzzle. However, the Essentials portion left us both unfulfilled. We are signed up for next year but my heart isn't totally convinced it's our thing. I'm even going to tutor Foundations in hopes that I'm inspired for weekly learning.
      I love the community on meeting day, but the rest of the week we are alone. We don't like that! We need to be around other people to help sharpen our learning skills!
      Since CC is in place I guess we will continue.
      Still praying for the best way for us!
      Thanks for your candid discussion.

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    3. Candy, sorry I did not respond sooner, I must have missed seeing your comment before. I hope that you and your daughter are having a great time learning this year! It's a hard balance figuring out just how much time to schedule for learning with other people and how much to spend at home. I am learning that both have their merits and their struggles. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about CC!

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  5. You just put into words what I have been feeling over the past year. Thank you. Your blog made my thoughts clearer.

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    1. You are welcome. I am thankful that this post was helpful! I know that it helped me to write all my thoughts down. I actually made a pros and cons list a few months ago to see if what I was feeling made sense on paper ;) It's nice for me to know that other people are thinking/feeling the same things that I am, too!

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  6. Amy - Thank you for sharing your perspective. I look forward to seeing your next adventure shape up and walking through that with you as Schole' Sisters :)

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    1. Yes, I am looking forward to fleshing this all out with you too, and seeing where next year leads all of us =) Thanks for stopping by!

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  7. I haven't had any experience with CC - I don't know that it's very well known over here but I was interested to read your thoughts on the outworking of a classical education.

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    1. Carol, I know that CC is international, but I'm not sure where it all is. Interesting that it is not by you. Thanks for taking the time to read the post!

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  8. I really enjoy your blog! We have been part of a CC community for five years, and it has been a great fit for us, and I have seen the fruits of our labor. When we started in Foundations, I was trying to figure out exactly what content I needed to focus on in the grammar years (oldest was 11), and their content was much--we took our time with the content at home by reading great books that went along with the grammar. We also live in an area that has amazing museums, and we spent summer and the other four days of the week in awe and wonder in both nature and art galleries and science labs (at the museum). I will say, however, that I was still not fully convinced until we entered the dialectic/rhetoric stages in the Challenge program. I can honestly say that my daughter fully uses the grammar that she learned in those early years. She drew both the western and eastern hemispheres, labeled every country, capital, and many land features--by memory. In science (research), she dissected animals, drew all the major body systems and labeled the parts, and learned to defend scientifically the idea of a created earth. I could go through every subject, but I would encourage anyone needing help pursuing a classical education to take a holistic look at the program. I have met many of the students in the upper Challenge levels, and they are amazing young men and women who have been equipped well...and one great side benefit is that the parents get to be an integral part of it. (I am learning so much!) Just wanted to give a big-picture perspective. I have met parents who do the Foundations program but claim that they are only there to lay a good "foundation" for the Challenge program. Thank you, again, for your encouragement and insight. I wish I could do the things you do!

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with CC. I am definitely not qualified to give any opinion on the Challenge levels, so thank you for giving a more holistic view of the program. I am happy that you have had good experiences and seen good growth in your daughter! The things you mentioned sound wonderful! I hope you and your family are having a great start to this next school year! (Sorry this response is late, your comment must have gotten pushed down in my email inbox and I missed it.)

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  9. I enjoyed reading this post, and will enjoy poking around your blog. This is our first year in CC, my son is in Foundations, he's 5. I appreciated your personal pros and cons. For us, CC seems to be working well. I have so much to still learn about classical learning and homeschooling in general. There's so much available. I love our community for many reasons -- one being that they are well organized, and I'm definitely one of those mamas who is getting a lot at this point out of teaching tips. In a nutshell -- I love that I don't have to piece the curriculum together (with no gaps if we choose to go all the way through), I love all the songs and memorization, I love presentations (and knowing that they will be every week through graduation!), I love the classical model. I really appreciated your points on true classical, keeping the wonder of learning, etc. It's encouraging to me as I'm still learning how to schedule our home days, and what CC looks like for us at home. I have had moments of feeling overwhelmed by it all (as I think I would regardless of what I was doing at this time!) as we get our feet wet with homeschooling and learn our options. I also have a three and one year old that fit into our days :) Thank you for the insight. While I see us staying with CC at this point for many reasons (which I won't delve into as I don't need to write a blog post here!), I am encouraged to work out the kinks and keep it classical, keeping the wonder of it along with challenging and stretching our minds and capabilities.

    I also really appreciate that this is one of the first blog posts that doesn't "praise or trash" CC. What works for one family may not for another, and I enjoy people who want to share ideas in a friendly way. Thanks to the other commenters, too!

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    1. I'm glad that CC is a good fit for your family right now. I can tell you that I still appreciate that they really showed me how much can be learned through song and my kids and I still do a lot of the memory work that we had learned. I would love to hear more of your thoughts after completing your first year!

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  10. I am a contracted Challenge I director and have about 8 weeks left as a CC mom. I've served as a Foundations and Essentials director for two years and have also directed Challenge B.

    After 4 years, I've realized that the freedom my heart desired has made me a poor fit for Classical Conversations.

    I have loved the accountability and direction and spine and equipping that it allotted me.

    However, I have found it was for a season. And my season has ended.

    We will be part of a new program next year and are thrilled at the opportunities to choose different books, different projects, and different objectives.

    We have loved it. It has been for us. But, it isn't any longer.

    Thank you for sharing. My heart needs encouragement in a time where our decision is being analyzed and judged from all angles.

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    1. Jamie, I think it is wonderful that you embraced CC when it was the right thing for your family, but that you also have had the ability to step back and see that it is no longer the right fit for you. I am so glad that this post was an encouragement to you, and I hope that your new direction is going well so far this year!

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    2. Hi Jamie. I know you posted this a couple of years ago, but I was curious what your family was doing now. This is our 5th year of CC, and I currently direct Challenge A and my oldest daughter is in the class. We have been completely happy with everything until this year. I am feeling less and less free to choose what I think is best for my daughter as the year goes on and I am watching her dread doing her work more and more. I have a hard time believing that she will just blossom and begin to love it later on, but I don't have enough experience with the upper levels to know. We haven't made any decisions, but I would love to chat with you more on this.

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    3. Thanks for contributing to the conversation, Michaela! I hope that Jamie or another mom with Challenge experience can chime in to help you think through all of this!

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  11. Hi Amy-
    I appreciate your candidness and willingness to share your experience. We are currently a part of a Classical conversations community and love it. As far as the other critical aspects of classical education (i.e. Multum non multa, schole, and festina lente) since learning about these parts, I have thought it easily added to the CC curriculum. It is in those ways that we implement learning and diving into CC's set curriculum at home. I find it hard to fault CC for having set time periods for different subjects as any co-op would simply have to have some time restrains otherwise no one would ever be on the same page or the same subject even...I believe the beauty is that you have that freedom at home, not necessarily on community day. We have about 4 communities in our area and a group of moms across all 4 have put a "schole sisters" group together where we meet and talk though how we practically implement all these things at home, as well as delve into attempting to fully grasp classical education together. Restful learning? Yes please! We all have such unique perspectives and interpretations...and why reinvent the wheel? We glean from each other and encourage each other. You aren't required to be a part of Classical Conversations, or even homeschool for that matter, to be a part of the group- it just so happens that most are. My response is in no way meant to be critical of you or your decision. CC isn't for everyone. I just wanted to share how we-along side many other families in our community are making it work.

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    1. wow- I could not agree more with Kristin, here. That is my exact perspective. It is especially easy to see the beauty of the Classical Conversations program the longer you do it. All of those methodologies (festina lente, multi non multa, etc- ROCK- and Do seem to fit in beautifully, without extra striving because CC offers a base. Im curious how easy it would be to continue on with a different program if one had never had CC as a jumping off point? :-)
      Sometimes I think that in any approach or group- the stress level and frantic feelings can pretty much be raised or lowered by each individual's perspective and actions.
      I agree that tutoring can be a bit frantic each week :-) but it always helped me stay on top of learning all this great stuff I missed 20 years ago (or so) :-)
      I hope you'll find your groove with the new plan :-)

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    2. Kristin, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts (for the benefit of everyone!) I understand what you are saying but I struggle with the argument of doing those other things at home. (Please forgive me as I am trying to work through my thoughts, and not trying to express a strong opinion here.) Yes, we can definitely implement scholé, multum non multa, etc. at home, but if they are so important, why would they be left out of the one day a week (community day) that is supposed to be 'classical' or at least teaching how to do classical (like they make a big deal about). I don't know how I would structure it any better, and I do really like a lot of what CC is trying to do, but somehow I think it would be beneficial if the tone of the curriculum and of community day could reflect those other principles. But, honestly I don't think those principles were what Mrs. Bortins was going for when she designed the CC program, so it probably doesn't even make sense to wish that. Maybe that is my issue. What if Mrs. Bortins has realized new things about classical education since originally creating the program? With such a structured (to the exact word and precise minute) program, it would be incredibly difficult to make changes. I just think that is a downside. I'm not sure if that makes any sense, but it's nice to work through some thoughts =) Thanks for the discussion!

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    3. Marla, Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I am very glad that everyone is feeling like they can share their experiences on either side of the issue.

      I did not have the benefit of experiencing the scope of the whole CC program, so I definitely give you that! I will say though, that CC was not my jumping off point for classical education, and for me it confused matters more than helping. Now that I have been through a year of the Scholé Group, I can say that it is much more like what I think a classical education group should look like. The downside is that currently (in my opinion) it does not provide enough structure/guidance, so the burden is on the leader of each group to make sure that their group is lead and structured well. The potential, though, is incredible. I am truly glad that CC has been a good fit for your family, and I thank you for sharing your perspective for the benefit of everyone who reads here!

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  12. Thank you. As someone who has always gone the eclectic route, with a gut feeling that total CC wouldn't be a great fit, I appreciate the insight.

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    1. I think most people who like it that are not necessarily classically minded, really like it for the sake of the community. It is definitely nice to have a group that is regularly meeting and supporting you! If you feel the need for more community and encouragement, you might enjoy it, but it sounds like the curriculum part probably wouldn't be something you would embrace. (Some people don't do anything with the memorization at home and just engage on community day.) Go with your gut...and pray for guidance =)

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  13. Been in CC for 9 years. We have 2 in challenge. I have grown to see that the scope and pace of CC is the opposite of schole. It's overwhelming (especially in the Challenge years & in Foundations) The program *could* be amazing. We will probably be leaving next year due to several different conclusions:

    1) it's not restful. Grammar does not need to be overwhelming. The notion that "we will repeat it again next year," is not a valid reason why it needs to be so overwhelming. When we were in Foundations we made the decision to STOP and really master some of the charts and concepts. The class raced on ahead of us. We sat and mastered NOUNS and noun usages. This year we're not in Foundations. Why do I need to repeat nouns? We've mastered it. We continue to reveiw them, but we are now mastering ADJ and ADV. I don't need to present ALL of grammar every year and HOPE that after 3 years it sticks. I realize that this method of education may work for some, but it is not fit my learning type or my children.

    2) The notion that the mom can do it all, is foolishness and not biblical. CC refuses to allow the communities to operate as the body of Christ - letting each one contribute as she is gifted. If you can't do it all, you can't teach. Requiring the moms to sit in the Foundation classrooms does not teach the mothers how to classically educate. Memorizing all that information does not mean that one is classically educated. There is no time to discuss together or to explore because the pace is so fast and there is so much material. As mom of 5 with 2 kids in challenge, I cannot do it all! I need support to help keep up with the overwhelming amount of material. I can't keep up with both challenge students and with my other 3 children.

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  14. 3. The challenge pace is too fast. I remember when I began CC 9 years ago I was so impressed by what they said my children would be doing in middle school and high school. Now that we are there - it's too much! There is not time for mastery - we are hardly surviving even while we are tailoring back the subjects. For example, from last year to this year the pace of Latin has *increased* they are doing 1 more Latin exercise this year than last year. Why? Who are we trying to impresss? Has some challenge family said this curriculum is too easy - we need to do more? The majority of kids are lost and behind in our class, but we are told to be encouraged because the kids will "repeat it next year." In a normal educational setting if the majority of the class is lost or behind, you slow down and allow time for mastery - not pick up the pace.

    I talk to many CC families. The majority of them will say its wonderful. We love challenge, but when you continue the conversation, you learn that they are overwhelmed and behind and spend all week and weekend to do the work. Why does middle school require that much work? I don't think that most people realize there's a problem because everyone else around you has the same problem too.

    There are many aspects that are beneficial to CC especially community and relationships. I appreciate the memory work, but at the same time find that it is foolish to present all 24 weeks of memory work to 4&5 year olds. The younger children would be far better off to be presented a portion of the material and allow them to master it! Then give them more time for exploration together.

    When I tutored masters, I was instructed to not teach, but just present information. The kids really wanted to discuss the information. I find it very beneficial when kids are allowed time to discuss the information too. CC has began some beta test of an "enhanced masters" where the kids prepare more and present the information.

    What will we do for next year? I don't know. If we leave CC, we will certainly miss our friends. When we took a break, we learned that the majority of families in CC are so busy, that you don't have another common circle of acquaintance, you won't see them if you're not enrolled in CC. My husband laughs and calls it a social club for moms.

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  15. Hello!
    I know this is several years after your original post, but you should look at the memory work created by Claritas Publshing: https://www.claritas-publishing.com
    It is fantastic!
    Here is a digitized version: https://crossseven.org

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