Saturday, April 5, 2014

Classical Conversations and The Well-Trained Mind

As a follow-up to my previous post on The Well-Trained Mind Schedules, I'm attempting to answer some questions I received about how The Well-Trained Mind fits in with Classical Conversations®.

First, let me say that I am not a Classical Conversations® (or classical education) expert. I am just a mom who completely believes in the mission, model and method of Classical Conversations®. Leigh Bortins (along with a whole bunch of other people who have paved the way!) inspires and equips me to provide my children with a quality education - the education I wish I'd had myself when I was younger.  Now I am restoring two generations of education as I teach my own children.

For those who are not familiar with Classical Conversations®, click here for a description of what  a day in the life of a Foundations community looks like.  The Classical Conversations® 2014 Catalog includes thorough descriptions of classical education and Classical Conversations®.   This is my absolute favorite catalog. I refer to it about a thousand times per year. Visit ClassicalConversations.com to download or order a copy.

Before I mention some similarities I see between Classical Conversations and Well-Trained Mind, there is a significant difference between the two, especially as you enter the dialectic and rhetoric stages of learning.  The mission of Classical Conversations is "To know God and make Him known."  The mission of Well-Trained Mind is to develop a well-trained mind. Classical Conversations provides a Classical, Christian Education in which all subjects are interrelated and point back to God, as He is the Creator of all subjects. You can read more about a Classical, Christian Education here.

For a thorough comparison between the two programs (well, between The Core and The Well-Trained Mind), visit Melody's article CC and The Well-Trained Mind at And Here We Go!

In this post, I am specifically comparing Classical Conversations to Well-Trained Mind at the grammar stage (preschool to grade 6). 

For Foundations students, the Classical Conversations® 2014 Catalog states the following:

"During the Foundations program, students will focus on building a core body of knowledge to build on later studies.  At home, Foundations parents can supplement their daily practice of the memory work with the following:
  • Daily math lessons
  • Daily math drill
  • Daily reading including read alouds, phonics studies, and independent reading
  • Weekly spelling practice
  • Additional history and science studies
  • Young children should practice copying a sentence every day while older children can practice copying paragraphs.  This develops the discipline in writing and prepares students for their own original writing.
For sample schedules and suggested readings, see Classical Christian Education Made Approachable."  (Classical Conversations 2014 Catalog, p. 15)

With that, let's revisit the Well-Trained Mind schedule for younger Foundations students...


What's the same?  Math, reading, spelling, history, science, and writing/copywork

What's different?

  • First, the Well-Trained Mind is a suggested course of work for parents/students who are not participating in a classical education community.  
  • The Well-Trained Mind offers a suggested timeframe for doing each activity, but because it is only a guideline, you should adjust the times to fit your own needs.  
  • The Well-Trained Mind offers suggestions for notebooking and how to do it if you are unfamiliar with notebooking.  Notebooking can take the form of narration, dictation, and copywork.  
  • Religion is something that comes up throughout all the subjects, so we as Classical Conversations® parents are not limited by the 15 minutes suggested for the formal study of religion/Bible. 
  • Art and music are fine arts subjects that Classical Conversations® communities rotate through every six weeks.  The addition of Prescripts for extra drawing/art practice and listening to classical music would fill out the rest of the suggested WTM schedule.
  • Note that the majority of the time suggested in the WTM schedule is for reading. Also note that I do not follow this strict schedule in our own homeschool. I've been told that not even Susan Wise Bauer follows this strict schedule!
  • Both emphasize lots and lots and lots of reading

Now… on to a specific breakdown for students in 4th grade who are enrolled in the Classical Conversations® Essentials Program:


Download a pdf of the above schedule here.
For the WTM schedules for other grade levels, visit Revisiting Plans and Schedules with the Well-Trained Mind.

Essentials is rigorous and thorough. If you back off from planning too much those first six weeks especially, you will likely thank yourself for being so wise.

Although it is not required by Classical Conversations®  they've suggested that parents introduce a simple Latin program (like Song School Latin) by 4th grade. [I've also been told by many Challenge parents that it is beneficial to introduce more Latin vocabulary during the Foundations years.]

This again is my own personal interpretation, but I just wanted Classical Conversations parents to know that Leigh Bortins has structured Classical Conversations® to provide a quality, classical Christian education to children and their parents. You need not concern yourself too much about whether you're doing enough. Provide your children with a literature-rich environment in the Foundations years and teach them how to write via copywork and dictation.  Essentials will prepare your child for Challenge.  And Challenge will prepare them for the world that is set before them when they graduate from high school.

To find out more about our own experiences in Essentials, visit our Essentials posts.

Please feel free to ask questions! Many times the questions I receive spur me on to better explain myself. I enjoy the questions, as they help me learn how to articulate my thoughts better. (And boy! Do I have a whole bunch of room for improvement in that area!)

9 comments:

  1. This is absolutely fantastic! Thank-you so much for sharing these schedules and comparisons. I love TWTM but gave up on it after trying to combine it with CC. Now you've given me a more realistic view on how the two can be put together, keeping in mind to be flexible!

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  2. Thank you, Noelene!  I am thrilled that it helps to connect the two together for you!  Thank you for taking the time to comment.  :)

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  3. Julia Shaw-FullerApril 6, 2014 at 6:31 PM

    CC is absolutely unique in the way that it integrates all "subjects." There is only one subject: God. When we study math, we understand one part of God, when we study history we are literally seeing His story play out, in literature, we are constantly comparing back to the Bible. The Well Trained Mind does not integrate in this way. I think that at the grammar stage, it may be harder to appreciate that difference, but in the dialectic and beyond it is clear.

    I would caution parents not to try to follow all of both, or they will end up burning out, particularly at the upper levels. There are some good ideas in both, but eventually they diverge.

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  4. I agree, Julia!  I am so thankful that CC is laid out as a Classical, Christian Education where the subjects are all interrelated and point back to God.  I think Well Trained Mind is useful for the grammar stage, but beyond it, I would only recommend Challenge. (It was never my intention to encourage anything different, but I failed to mention that!)  I'll be sure to add that in the post.  Thanks for your comment!

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  5. Can you adequately compare a program to a method? One of my biggest criticisms of CC is that it seemingly purports to be the *only way* to have a classical Christian education. This article appears to support that notion by painting the pictures that an education based on The Well-Trained Mind automatically leaves out a Christian worldview -or pegs it into a mere 15 minutes. Bauer wrote TWTM in order to help map out a classical education regardless of a person's religious beliefs. You fail to acknowledge that many Christians use the methodology outlined by Susan Wise Bauer with resources that accomplish tying history, literature, science, etc. back to the truth of Scripture and the sovereignty of the God of the Bible. Do you realize that there are many classical resources and classical publishers out there that support Christian families in their quest to educate their children with a distinctively Christian worldview? The biggest differences, in my mind, between The Well-Trained Mind and Classical Conversations, are that there is a lot more flexibility to choose curriculum that works for your individual child using TWTM as a guide and that Susan Wise Bauer firmly believes that home education can be accomplished without paying a tuition fee to a program. While you are looking at sticking with CC for the long haul, I don't know if it is wise to counsel parents "not to concern yourselves too much with whether you are doing enough." Every child is unique each family faces different circumstances. One of the downsides to CC is that you have to follow the pace of the program. Think Latin at age 4 is developmentally ridiculous and your child doesn't care? Too bad - you've got 24 long weeks to sit through. Maybe doing the Essentials grammar program three years in a row with the hopes that they finally retain it all by the end of the third round or competitive math games in a group setting are not helpful for your child? Not everyone is a kindergarten to graduation CC family for various reasons, so your plan commits families to one specific tuition-based program in order to get a complete classical education. You also fail to mention that the emphasis within CC is memory work done out of context; whereas, The Well Trained Mind focuses on memory work that complements the student's studies. I've been researching how Classical Christian schools view memory work, and I've yet to find anything that supports memory work out-of-context. To be fair, I will disclose that we execute a more WTM way of classical education in our house. For many of the reasons highlighted above, we found CC to be a poor fit for our family. I speak up on public forums because the CC corporate model for expansion is incredibly aggressive and there are not many places where people can thoughtfully read and/or discuss the pros and cons. I just wonder how prepared you are to engage questions or commentary that challenges some of your assumptions. I am not against community or out-sourcing subjects where the parent has weakness, but I think it is not fair to say that CC is unique in its Godward focus as the poster below states. CC leaves many people thinking so, and posts like this one just leave people uniformed and clinging to a program rather than an adaptable model.

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  6. I see several typos in my response, but I don't know how to go back and edit. You'll just have to bear with my extra and/or missing punctuation//words.

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  7. I would probably have more respect for CC as a company if their mission included helping Christian homeschool families educate classically without any connection to one of their proprietary communities, but nonetheless, all the resources seem to revolve around their program. I like gleaning information and picking curriculum from the several different classical publishers out there, but there really is little applicable information or help from CC for the independent classical Christian family outside CC's tutor program. From what I understand, once you get to the upper levels, the company prohibits resale of certain manuals and does not even sell certain resources to anyone outside a community. That, my friends, is what I would consider unique. Please correct me if I am mistaken.

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  8. Hi Julie! I previously wrote an article that was more general about the WTM: http://www.halfahundredacrewood.com/2014/03/well-trained-mind-plans-and-schedules.html This particular article was written specifically for Classical Conversations parents, for many of those who read this blog are Classical Conversations parents.


    Classical Conversations is a method of parents equipping parents. This is what CC is built around, which is why the community is so important in this particular method. I have never known CC to purport to be the only way to teach your children a classical, Christian education. However, it is one way - one method and model - to do so. If you do a direct comparison between the method described in WTM and the method in CC, the emphasis is definitely different. CC shows how to connect and integrate all subjects as they relate to God, but WTM does not. That does not mean that CC is the only way to receive a Classical, Christian education. It is not. Anyone can take what is in WTM and adapt it with an emphasis on integrating and connecting all things back to God. There are many Classical Christian Academies and co-ops across the nation that do this very thing. Again, this article was specifically written for those who are in a Classical Conversations Community. If you realize that the thing that sets CC apart is the emphasis on community (parents equipping parents), then you may see why they keep the Challenge program protected (the good thing is that they allow others to use the Foundations program without being in a community, even though the community is what is foundational to the overall structure of Classical Conversations, just as the community would be a foundational element of being a part of a classical Christian academy). In CC, the money for tuition goes directly to the individual communities. Upper management of CC is funded completely by registration fees and profits off of the ClassicalConversationsbooks website - none of the tuition goes outside of the community of parents who are equipping and supporting each other.


    By making a reference to whether or not you're "doing enough," I am simply encouraging parents who are enrolled in CC. CC is enough by itself, just as WTM would be enough if you understood how to interrelate and connect subjects and show how those subjects help us to know God and make Him known.


    I know this is probably not such a helpful response, but I wanted to validate your comments by simply explaining why I wrote this post (it was not to attack those who do not use CC!). Whether CC is superior to someone else's homeschool or whether it's superior to an academy or school is not something I can judge because I have not seen all that is out there! But I love Classical Conversations because it has helped me to do something that I would likely not do by myself. I thoroughly enjoy my community, and I love and deeply appreciate those who are dedicated to helping equip me to successfully educate myself and my children with a classical method that emphasizes God in all things.


    Thank you for your comment!

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  9. Hi Julie! I previously wrote an article that was more general about the WTM: http://www.halfahundredacrewood.com/2014/03/well-trained-mind-plans-and-schedules.html. This particular article on Classical Conversations and The Well Trained Mind was written specifically for Classical Conversations parents in response to questions I had received from CC parents after I had written that first post.

    Classical Conversations is a method of parents equipping parents. This is what CC is built around, which is why the community is so important in this particular method. I have never known CC to purport to be the only way to teach your children a classical, Christian education. However, it is one way - one method and model - to do so. If you do a direct comparison between the method described in WTM and the method in CC, the emphasis is definitely different. CC shows how to connect and integrate all subjects as they relate to God, but WTM does not. That does not mean that CC is the only way to receive a Classical, Christian education. It is not. Anyone can take what is in WTM and adapt it with an emphasis on integrating and connecting all things back to God. There are many Classical Christian Academies and co-ops across the nation that do this very thing. Again, this article was specifically written for those who are in a Classical Conversations Community. If you realize that the thing that sets CC apart is the emphasis on community (parents equipping parents), then you may see why they keep the Challenge program protected (the good thing is that they allow others to use the Foundations program without being in a community, even though the community is what is foundational to the overall structure of Classical Conversations, just as the community would be a foundational element of being a part of a classical Christian academy). In CC, the money for tuition goes directly to the individual communities. Upper management of CC is funded completely by registration fees and profits off of the ClassicalConversationsbooks website - none of the tuition goes outside of the individual communities of parents who are equipping and supporting each other.

    By making a reference to whether or not you're "doing enough," I am simply encouraging parents who are enrolled in CC. CC is enough by itself, just as WTM would be enough if you understood how to interrelate and connect subjects and show how those subjects help us to know God and make Him known.

    I know this is probably not such a helpful response, but I wanted to validate your comments by simply explaining why I wrote this post (it was not to attack those who do not use CC!). Whether CC is superior to someone else's homeschool or whether it's superior to an academy or school is not something I can judge because I have not seen all that is out there! But I love Classical Conversations because it has helped me to do something that I would likely not do by myself. I thoroughly enjoy my community, and I love and deeply appreciate those who are dedicated to helping equip me to successfully educate myself and my children with a classical method that emphasizes God in all things.

    Thank you for your comment!

    ReplyDelete