America’s Broken Education System—Homeschooling Expert Leigh Bortins on Restoring Classical Education
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With millions of students going to school virtually during this pandemic, many parents have been shocked to see what their kids are learning. Today, we sit down with homeschooling expert Leigh Bortins, founder of the curriculum company Classical Conversations, to discuss how American public education has declined in the past century, the responsibility of parents in educating their children, and how classical education can enrich the lives of America’s next generation.
This is American Thought Leaders, and I’m Jan Jekielek.
Mr. Jekielek: Leigh Bortins, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Mrs. Bortins: Thank you for having me, Jan. I’m so excited to be here.
Mr. Jekielek: Leigh, you are one of the leaders of I think the largest homeschooling organization, certainly in the US, if not the world. And we’re at a very interesting time here as we’re hitting 2021. We have a situation where a lot of people aren’t liking the education that their kids are getting in schools on the one hand, and we have a situation where a lot of parents just simply don’t have access to giving their kids that education in schools because some of the schools are locked down. So a lot of people are coming to look at homeschooling solutions as one of the options.
What kind of influx are you getting into the whole homeschooling system? This is so fascinating to me because typically when you think of homeschooling you imagine parents left to fend for themselves with kids. But that’s really not the case and certainly not [for] the parents that work with you.
Mrs. Bortins: Right. One of the things that we do not endorse is something that I call lone-schooling. Even homeschoolers for the last 20 years, parents who are picking that as an intentional model, sometimes just plop their student in front of a machine or they let their high school student do all the work alone in their room. That is not what we have ever advocated. We believe that home education is almost misnamed. Maybe we should call it global family education, because we feel like if you homeschool well, the entire world is your classroom.
And so a lot of people right now are trying to figure out how to bring school home. And we are trying to say to them, great start there, you have to do what you know. And you know what school is like. But as you go forward, start assessing your children differently. They don’t have to be part of what I call the factory model of education where it’s mass education, it’s compulsory education. You could actually begin to look at your children as individuals and figure out what’s the best educational form for them.
And some of that class of conversations is famous for believing that homeschooling, parent-led education, is possible for everybody. Because we live in a country that relies on every voter, every citizen to participate in what we’re doing here as a country. And if we think people are incapable, that says a different message than I want to send to people who love freedom and want to take part in the duty and responsibility of being an American citizen.
So what’s really interesting through this last election cycle is to see how far we’ve come in our understanding of our history, our understanding of the Constitution, and then just things like where is this kind of wildness coming from with fathers being absent and parents not being responsible for their children; we’re seeing more violence, tearing down the statues.
And so one thing that the coronavirus and the current movements have done is shown us that the public schools have succeeded—they made egalitarian education down to its lowest denominator, and now nobody knows anything.
And we’re trying to say we can rebuild those schools, we can repair education, we can make it so that your children actually are intelligent, engaged citizens, but the government does not have that as their prime motive. And so you’re going to have to look elsewhere if that’s what you want for your children.
Mr. Jekielek: So tell me about the principles of a classical education. And how does that contrast with what we see typically in the public education system, in your view?
Mrs. Bortins: To be efficient with children in a group setting you need a lot of handouts. And so the opposite of that is the classical model. Some of you might be old enough in this audience to remember something called a Blue Book, or your university may have still used it, where at the end of a course you were handed blank paper and asked to just pour out your thoughts and what you had learned that year.
That is a very different style of learning than being always given something [that] somebody else pre-digested and is put into small little pieces, and it said to you, “fill in the blank,” or “do multiple choice,” or “answer this question,” where the majority of information is given to you.
Classical education believes in thinking, and we believe that everyone’s thoughts are valuable. So we set up systems of learning where people get together with basic original source documents that they’ve studied, an opportunity then to discuss them. And our result of that is giving speeches, writing plays, doing blue books, doing things that are holistic to represent what it is that you’ve learned, rather than just, like we’ve said in the past, studying for a test or trying to please the teacher.
You’re actually trying to make sure that you yourself are a competent learner. And this leads to folks that enjoy a lifetime of learning, which is actually, as a parent, your ultimate goal—you want your children learning forever. So that’s one thing that’s different about classical education, is you start with a blank page.
Because you know, everyone who has a baby starts with kind of a blank baby there, don’t they. As parents, we naturally fill that child, we fill them with love and words and activities and experiences and ideas. And 100 percent of parents do a really good job those first few years. Then something happens where we start to lose our confidence. And we think some expert can come in and do a better job than we can. And part of that’s because of how we’ve been conditioned.
We’ve had public education, compulsory education, since the 1920s in our country. In some areas you had it earlier than that, but no one was expecting anyone to go to school full-time or past eighth grade. So we don’t really know how people used to be educated. We assume the only way to do it is the way that we’re doing it now, instead of really doing some research into the various modes of how people have learned for millennium.
And so as classicalists that’s one of the things that we’re always doing. We’re saying, “Hmm, I don’t know how to do this, but I bet I can find somebody who does.” And one of the reasons we love community so much and we get together in weekly programs is, I’ve begun to learn who are my best friends who are also working with their children, that maybe are better at math than I am, or better at Latin, or have read a book I haven’t read, or can help me lead a discussion. Or can take my kids to glassblowing class.
There’s so many things we can do as parents who love our children if we would unite with each other. And I imagine in the early days of education, that was probably done a lot. Right now, if parents went into the school system and tried to reorganize things, that would not be really welcome, would it?
Mr. Jekielek: That’s very interesting. So if I understand [correctly], you actually provide a framework for these different parents to work together? I understand you have 120,000 or more kids enrolled in various variants of the curriculum that you offer in your kind of umbrella. These families are working together, as you say, as [much as] possible, and so how does that work? Do you give them a very strict curriculum as a public school would, or is it something that parents need to develop on their own, working with these other parents?
Mrs. Bortins: Let me explain a little bit about how we do this. I believe that education has to do mostly with an adult that loves passing information on to a child. It’s not always the parent. Parents might go and get somebody else to help out with that. But a lot of time when children can’t learn something, it’s because nobody’s hugged them that day or they haven’t eaten. Or maybe that’s the year they’re growing, their body is growing 12 inches like one of my sons did in a year; they’re not going to learn much academically the year that that happens.
And so what we’ve done is, across the United States, we find leaders who are willing to use the curriculum I developed as a spine. And parents with their children meet once a week together. And they work on classical material. With our youngest children, kindergarten through sixth grade, it’s a lot of parent directed activities that are really responsive to the learning style of young children.
And then as the children get older their parents still are involved, but less involved because they’re older, you’ve raised them to learn. The older children get together and they complete projects that we’ve assigned them and work assignments for at home. And then when they get together once a week, they work on what we call their dialectic or rhetorical skills.
So let me give you an example. You may read Hamlet at home, but you want to get together once a week with other students and other adults that have also read Hamlet and say, let’s put Hamlet on trial, or let’s read it aloud as a radio play together. Do we want to put costumes together?
So there’s a lot of education that’s on your own, especially when you are older, you’re reading and thinking and wrestling and writing. But you still want to know that other people are encouraging you and maybe looking into the same kind of ideas. And so we provide an opportunity once a week for the parents and the students to get together and complete the work for the high schoolers.
And to us, again, the completion is that they’re asking questions and doing projects together and discussions, as well as presentations. Our youngest children do that also in the programs, but at a much lower level with a lot of chanting and games, crafts and singing and that kind of thing.
And so there’s parents who, through no fault of their own, have not maybe had the best family life to grow up in. And so we provide an opportunity to say to one another, “Hey, let me help you with this, I see that you’re struggling.” But it’s one day a week for 30 weeks. It doesn’t destroy anybody’s home time or family time. And we did that intentionally.
We put the curriculum together in a way that we work in two brief semesters really intensely on our academics. Because I love delight directed activity. And I want a good half of the year to look at my children and say yes, we’re going to go surfing and skateboarding and glassblowing and other things that we do. But if we don’t have some accountability and a schedule, it’s a little bit harder to get through calculus and through Latin and through reading the Aeneid.
And so having this peer group for our older children made it so that if I was giving birth, or a baby was sick, my older children still knew that every week they were going to have a group of friends that read the same book and did the same assignments and they’re going to go and work on them together and complete them together. So that’s basically how Classical Conversations works.
Mr. Jekielek: So Leigh, this is really interesting. Classical Conversations has the Christian worldview as a kind of underpinning, I guess you could say. What just struck me as you were speaking and what you’re describing is a way to promote free thought among students, and the ability to think. Very typically, the Christian worldview in the public sphere is portrayed differently. I’m wondering if you want to speak to that a little bit?
Mrs. Bortins: Sure. And they may be portraying it right or correctly. Anecdotally, there’s all kinds of people that are really good at doing things and really bad at doing things. And so what we try to do is avoid what we call the silent slap. I don’t know if hand motions are appropriate or not. But the dialectic questions can be really well represented by hand motions.
So Jan, you and I may be doing this [steeples hands]. We might not quite agree with each other, and we’re pressing on each other and on an idea. And sometimes we might do this [folds hands together]. We’re totally in agreement with each other where we’re one in thought. And then other times [claps], we may be mad at each other and talking hurts, but we’ve got to do it, we’ve got to do it.
But the one thing we don’t want as thinkers is the silent slap, [waves one hand], where there’s nothing in opposition. We want to always be thinking through what it is like to be in somebody else’s shoes. We know that our vision is limited. That’s one thing that I love about Christianity is that we know we don’t know everything. But here’s the thing, we do know someone that does. And so we’re trying very hard to make it so that everyone we meet has the ability to work with all kinds of ideas, so that as parents you can help mold your children into thinkers.
One of the things that I don’t like is when I hear parents say, “Well, I want my children to have their own ideas.” Well, we’re seeing the result of that right now. Nobody has their own original ideas, they all came from somewhere. And so they could come from your secular school model, or they could come from your church, or they could come from your employer or from your parent.
But we as parents have a responsibility to choose which ideas our children are being exposed to, and then helping them think through: is that a good idea; a bad idea; a true idea; a beautiful idea; a good idea? And so ethos, pathos, and logos are really key to classical education.
Also, you may have a really great idea, but it may not be time to talk to people about it. You may have a really bad idea and you need to go talk to people to find out why it’s such a bad idea. And so we’re really just helping them learn how to communicate well with other adults who may or may not disagree with them.
And I feel like if the Lord has given my children to me, I have a responsibility that you don’t have for them, Jan. I have them. And I’m so grateful for the neighborhood he puts me in because I know those people are going to be helpful and get to know my children. And I’m really grateful for our faith community. Some people don’t have a faith community, some of them have more of a fraternal community, right? They might be into sports or arts or things like that.
There’s so many people around who can love on your children and help you do a better job to raise them and train them without the difficulty of having to go five days a week for most of their childhood somewhere elsewhere, yes, there are teachers that love the children, but overall the system isn’t about loving our children. It’s more about how we fund the NEA [National Endowment for the Arts] and the teacher salaries and administrative and the buildings and that kind of thing.
And so what I like to advocate is all kinds of freedom of education that doesn’t require buildings and administrators, because then it becomes much cheaper and is really accessible to a lot of other people.
Mr. Jekielek: This is something that has come up in a number of interviews that I’ve done over the last few years and also in discussions that I have, and it’s this question of the institution of learning; the school system, but not always, taking over the role of the parent which was classically or traditionally the parents’ role. And of course that’s tied to the fact that the family has broken down a lot since the 1920s—which is one of the time periods that you mentioned—dramatically, in fact.
So my two questions: What are your thoughts about this question of institutions taking over the role of parents? And secondly, how can parents that maybe are single parents participate in programs like this?
Mrs. Bortins: First, I want everyone to understand that I believe very much in the First Amendment and the freedom to assemble, so I am not against institutions. I’m against mandated institutions, where the people who are participating don’t have a lot of say. So if somebody from a group of churches, or somebody from a neighborhood wants to get together a private school, I don’t want anybody to think that I’m against that.
On the other hand, there’s extremes. There’s that lone school where the child’s all by themselves and has just a machine or they’re doing the work on their own. What I’m trying to advocate is, what are the things that we can do that are kind of in between those two extremes. And so for us, it was finding communities of classical educators, other homeschooling parents, and we worked with each other. All my children went through it. So we’ve been doing it for a really long time.
But what people tend to forget in general about education is, let’s pick the word college. What’s the purpose of education? College has the same route as colleagues. So my children did go on to colleges after they were finished with our homeschooling. And we didn’t pick them by name, or by topic, or by price.
We helped our children pick the universities they would go to by the colleagues they would hang out with. Who’s your Dean? Who are the professors? Who are the people that are going to mentor you and disciple you? And does that school even do that at all? Or are you just there totally on your own?
So we’ve brought that same kind of attitude down into our homeschool life. We think it’s really important for our children to have a lot of colleagues to work with, and do you know who needs them more than my children? Me! As the homeschooling parent, I need help. Sure, there’re days where I don’t want to be with those kids. But I don’t get to not be with them because I’ve made this commitment to their education.
And so I would say that no matter what your economic situation is, if you’re interested in changing your children’s educational form, find a friend who agrees with you that lives nearby. And you’re going to come up with such better ideas as to what works for your family than I could possibly give you. On the other hand, if you are tentative about that, you are welcome to join Classical Conversations, and a local director will include you and your children and help as much as they can.
I like to say that we homeschool with a friend. So the other part of your question was about people who maybe can’t afford to do something like this, is that correct?
Mr. Jekielek: Well perhaps financially but also just from a time perspective. Sometimes people have to work very hard to support their families and it’s very difficult to imagine how they would be spending so many hours with their kids even though they might want to do that.
Mrs. Bortins: Sure. So we all govern our own time and our own finances. And so if somebody comes to me who’s really struggling in that situation, I try to help them see what their resources are, because they usually have more resources than they realize. It’s just because we fought so narrowly about education, we haven’t really looked abroad.
As an example, I had a friend who went through a serious health issue right when her husband asked for a divorce. She came to me and said, “That’s it, I’m done.” And I said, “Could you just wait 24 hours? See if something comes up?” Sure enough, she went home and this gentleman from her church called and said, “I heard what’s going on with your life. Can I please homeschool your children with you?” Who knew what kindness could be offered if you just look around?
I know the other day you talked to Bob Woodson, and he talks a lot about the grassroots communities in the lower income impoverished areas of the inner cities, and how if you leave those people alone, they will find their own solutions. A grandma may step up and say to the three or four moms in the area, “For this much money, I’ll go ahead and I’ll watch the kids and we’ll do school.” And maybe they’ll buy Classical Conversations curriculum, or maybe she’ll make up her own, or maybe she’ll just buy 50 cents used books at the library.
But somebody will rise and take care of the kids. And you know what, we’ve had proof of that. During this COVID crisis a lot of parents made decisions they never thought that they could make or would make. It’s much like if you look at refugee camps, which is a horrible example in some ways when war torn areas and all those thousands of kids [have] no running water and various things like that, the mamas always get together and put school systems in. They always figure out a way to manage the children.
And so I trust that if you have children, you’re going to find a way to raise them as well as you can. So it’s just if your attitude can maybe change, you might find that there’s more solutions than you know of.
Also, there’s a movement now for more and more private scholarships, to go to whether it’s homeschoolers, or pop-up schools, or micro schools or private schools. We who do have resources, we’re the ones that are responsible for helping our neighbor who can’t help themselves. And so when the government steps in with the one-plan-fits-all, that makes it really difficult for somebody to be either generous or entrepreneurial, and trying to find out a different solution.
I just want to begin conversations about what are the things that are holding you back economically in the cost of schooling? And then what are the things you can do to overcome that. Especially, look around the world—there are so many resources that people can use that don’t cost much at all. But it’s not what they think of as school. And so it really requires a paradigm shift in how you think about education.
The beauty of it though is this is how parents schooled for thousands and thousands of years in every single culture. And so we have a lot of classical historical examples of the way parents dealt with this.
Mr. Jekielek: I’d like to hear what you think, what are your biggest criticisms of the education system as it exists now?
Mrs. Bortins: They’re almost limitless. The first thing is, they are a single-payer system, which conservatives recently in objecting to Obamacare have called single-payer healthcare systems, right? That they want to have choices and be able to be a part of their own healthcare decisions. They don’t like veterinarian medicine, which is what happens when somebody else makes your healthcare decisions.
Well, I would say that’s the same thing with education. Somebody else is making decisions for your family, and not you. And so they’re usurping the authority of the mother and the father.
I have a friend who told me the other day, he looks at school kids and wives at work, and he says, that means there’s 15 to 20 different adults I have to answer to even though I’m the father in this family, because if I want to take my children on a service project or vacation, or there’s something new that I want them to learn, I have to go ask permission from so many people in order to just do things with my own children. So that helps to destroy the family when the father starts saying, “Yeah, let somebody else do these things for me.” So I object to that.
The other one I object to, there’s people who will say, “Well, what about poor children, people who don’t have any other choices?” Well one, they do have other choices if the rest of us step up. But let’s say that that’s a good argument. I would say it’s probably the worst system you could have ever handed them.
So here’s why: If I live in a home where there’s not a lot of love and I go to kindergarten, and this is true actually for almost all kindergarten children, I fall in love with my teacher. She plays games with me and teaches me things and makes the class be nice to me. And it’s just a really great situation. And that might be true in kindergarten and first grade and second grade.
But now all of a sudden, I don’t have a homeroom teacher, I have five teachers, I have the math teacher and the social studies teacher and the PE teacher. And some of them love me and like me and help me and some of them maybe don’t help me as much as they did. And so that might happen to you in second or third grade.
So this idea of an adult being at the school who really is your mentor and looking out for you starts to diminish, then by fourth or fifth grade, you start looking around and you go, you know who’s with me every year, my peers! And children who are in such dire need of adult direction are in a system that requires you to count on your peers. And so grade after grade that continues.
Now, I’m actually for my children having friends, everybody having friends, but I want them to know that their peers are not their authority, because I want my children to grow up to become adults, not grow up to become children.
And so it’s not a situation that I would recommend at all for a single parent or somebody who’s low income and is trying to help their child to grow up to be a man or a woman. They’re going to do that no matter what, right? Give them enough calories. But you want them to grow up to be a man or woman of virtue. A man or woman of self-sacrifice, someone who has eyes to see and ears to hear and can attend to the needs of other people. And that tends to be not what is modeled in an institutional form of education, where the adults rotate in and out by the hour.
When I went to school I had the same homeroom teacher through sixth grade. So I could tell you each year besides my parents who I loved, I don’t think children can do that anymore. And I would want children who are in desperate situations to be able to identify who loves them. So that’s why I’m against that situation.
Mr. Jekielek: So one thing that just struck me is we live in a culture that seeks to minimize suffering at every turn, in some way, the challenges and difficulties. The whole process of education from certain perspectives requires some level of suffering, some level of a difficulty, and so forth. But it just seems to me that this element is increasingly absent, or attempts are being made to reduce it to a level where people don’t end up getting the challenges they require to gain some of the virtues that you just described.
Mrs. Bortins: If you read the mission of the various schools that were started in the United States 300 or 400 years ago, they all had some sort of mission based around virtue. You can’t walk under a school door today and have anything like that.
In fact, one time I saw a school that had those moveable billboards that said, “We’re preparing our children for the future.” I want to know which adult in that building knows what the future is. We as classicalists believe you can’t know that, and of course the present is the same way because as soon as you’re in it, it’s gone.
But if you know the history of your people, of the world of thought, you have a lot of tools that you can rely on in order to go forward. And if you read the classical books that are considered classical, because they speak so well into the human condition and how to overcome people, you’re just equipped with so many stories so that if you see somebody doing something wrong, you can think, “Oh, that’s not what Laura Ingalls Wilder would have done.”
You’d have a whole series of people who are continuing to mentor you because you know how to read well and you know how to associate time periods of the books that you read with the issues that they were dealing with at that time.
When we read, the classicalists, we may not have anybody really worried about COVID virus or how do you fly an airplane in some of the older books, but there’s lots of issues that deal with “do no wrong with medicine” and the Hippocratic tradition, or what’s the purpose of war? Or what are the outcomes of any of those human conditions that you could describe. And so our children are just better equipped if they have a lot of friends they’ve read about who’ve been through things that they too may go through.
So you’ve got the book “The Hiding Place” where it talks about Protestants hiding Jews from Hitler, you’ve got books like Homer’s “Iliad” and Virgil’s “Aeneid”. And I remember one day my son came off the basketball court and he looked at his teammate who was also in Classical Conversations, and so they’re in high school, and he said, “Stop acting like Achilles, you’re just whining.” And his friend looked at him and said, “Yeah, well you’re acting like Agamemnon, and you’re not sharing and you’re not leading.”
And so I don’t care who wins or loses that basketball game, my mother’s heart soared, because I know these young men have other men to look at as they go through their lives. Because you never know when you’re going to lose your mother or father or your grandparents. And so they need other resources besides us, and they need living resources, as well as the hated dead white males and modern feminist writers. I mean, they need them all.
They need all these ideas in their back pockets when they think about, how do I live my life out. So again, we’re not wanting that silent slap, but raising children who just know there are so many things they can rely upon, so many ideas, so many people—that makes an educated person to me.
Mr. Jekielek: So this is also very interesting, you’re not advocating for isolating kids from dangerous ideas or something like that?
Mrs. Bortins: I would say, you could accuse me of that for my young children, that they are in the greenhouse of our family, that they need to make sure the deer aren’t eating them and stomping on them. That you get them to a place of strength. And then you have them try things. That’s where you have parents who should have wisdom to go, “Yeah, you’re not ready for this.” And, “Sure, go do that. It’s time. You need to get out there and do that.”
It’s difficult because as a parent, and my husband too, we went through public school. We had great parents, but we didn’t see them wrestle all day long with big ideas. And so we as parents weren’t always sure how to be a parent. For instance, my kids know from an early age how to deal with an insurance phone call when the kitchen floods, because they watched Mama make them.
There are daily living kinds of things that you can’t protect them from. We have neighbors who die, relatives who are in jail, alcoholics, things like that. There are sins everywhere, people have to deal with difficult things all the time. And so the place I would prefer my children who are, say, middle school age, early high school age, to deal with these things, is with us as a family, or by reading a book where we can talk about how it was dealt with.
That’s why coming of age books are so popular in the United States, because they help children see other children who were under maybe mom and dad’s thumb, and then a situation occurred and mom and dad said, “Yeah, you need to deal with this yourself.” And so they can respect that when that happens in their own family.
That doesn’t mean we don’t butt heads with our kids. Absolutely we do. But that’s my sanctification when my children are mad at me or are disobedient or don’t want to do what I want them to do. I need to step back and say, “Alright, what am I going to learn from this experience so that we can go forward as a family united?” And if you don’t struggle, you don’t ever ask those questions.
And so the beautiful thing is within our family, I’ve got four sons, and they all grew taller than me when they hit about 12 so that I was forced to look up to them. Because if your mother can’t look up to you who else can? And over those years, as they got taller than me, they didn’t always want to hear what I had to say. So I had to learn myself, how do you live with grown sons? And then of course, daughters if you have them.
These are just like life lessons I didn’t get with my family, because we weren’t together enough to see each other struggle through what makes us adults and what makes us family. We left every morning for the better part of the day.
Mr. Jekielek: So let me expand a little bit on my question here. How do you deal with education around thinkers like Nietzsche, like Karl Marx, like revisionist histories of America and the world? Things which are very different and potentially hostile to classical approaches?
Mrs. Bortins: So Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto is part of our Challenge One, ninth grade reading program and economics. We’re not afraid of these ideas. We introduce them at the right times, as the children are getting older, because how are they going to fight against those ideas if they don’t have a dogma to compare it to? So when someone else’s dogma comes in, and it always sounds right, it’s really easy to embrace it. You need to know three or four different versions of how people look at something so that you can maybe be changed and accept it, or maybe say, “I can’t agree with you.”
So with the revisionist stuff that’s happening, I would say homeschoolers have almost been able to avoid that. That’s really been a public school situation, most homeschoolers don’t bring public school books home, they tend to read either homeschooling curriculum or original authors from the past. And so it’s not even really prevalent. And this is a problem because then they go to college, and they hear a lot of it.
And so one of the things that we’re finding out with at least our Classical Conversation students is they recognize that and they tend to either leave the school pretty quickly, or they tend to pick a major that is more like engineering or math or a harder kind of science, because you get less of that in the curriculum.
And then there’s a lot of classical schools that you can go to where they respect both sides, or many sides to an issue. And so if your child is really interested in a variety of authors, that might be the kind of school or college that you send them to because, again, you’re looking for these colleagues. I think we’ve avoided it a lot, actually.
Mr. Jekielek: So how do you approach the rise of critical theory based approaches to education, like the 1619 Project which has its own robust curriculum that’s been distributed across America, as I understand it to many schools? And just this particular ideology, this is something we’ve covered a bit on the show before, a lot of our readers have expressed concern about it.
Mrs. Bortins: Let me answer it this way. Classical Conversations actually has a master’s program that we’re working on where if you homeschool through our curriculum, you can earn your master’s while you’re homeschooling your children, because our curriculum is so rigorous. And one of the things that we’ve faced is, some of the textbooks that have been introduced by the professors that we’re working with have had some of the critical race theory things in the introduction, or maybe even part of the many chapters in the books.
And so we look through all our resources really carefully for two things. One, we want to make sure there’s a broad perspective, and [critical race theory] is a very narrow perspective. And then two, if a book is written from that perspective, we want our academic audience of parents to not think we’re necessarily promoting it, but to recognize that it’s one of many theories that they may hear, and we’re not afraid of it.
It’s just really sad because I look at these kinds of books all the time, and they continue to have the same three or four critical theory topics. And I think there are so many ways to criticize a book, you could criticize it as a historian, as a plumber, as a mother, as a Christian, as a secularist; there’s so many ways to view anything in life. And to think it’s all been reduced to gender issues, it’s just foolishness because there’s so many other ways to think about things.
So we try to look for books even on our master’s level that will provide other world views and critical theories. As a Christian, we think that telos is really important. That one of the theories that shapes what we look at as Christians is, where are you going? What’s the end game for all of this? And that’s totally missing from the books in the colleges today, versus [the fact that] that kind of drove our curriculum 300 or 400 years ago.
Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating. Leigh, any final thoughts before we finish up?
Mrs. Bortins: Yes, I just want every single parent to know that they can be equipped to deal really well with their children’s education, and that I’m sorry we have a culture that doesn’t do that. And so organizations that are involved with various private schools, church schools, micro schools, home schoolers—there’s a lot of people out there who want to help you.
And we, of course, are with ClassicalConversations.com. We have curriculum, we have training, we have local communities that help you. I would love every person to be free indeed, and really lead their family in a way that gives a legacy to what you’ve done as a mother and father. And so I just asked you to consider doing something that’s maybe not the status quo and see what you learn from it.
Mr. Jekielek: Leigh Bortins, such a pleasure to have you on.
Mrs. Bortins: Thank you, Jan. I’m so glad I was able to.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.