by TCA Staff
Phil Belin is one of the founding Board members for Trinity Classical Academy. He and his wife Marie have four children - ages 9, 6, 5 and 3 - whom they educate at home using the classical method. We recently sat down with Phil and Marie to ask a few questions about their experience.
How did you decide to educate your children primarily at home?
My wife and I were educated in both public and private (non-sectarian) schools, and we reflect fondly upon our respective educational experiences. However, when it came time for our children to start schooling, we wanted to play a significant role, and so we decided to home school through the classical method. We love taking such a big part in the education of our children. Truthfully, we also enjoy learning so much ourselves - so much of the material is new to us!
What has been most enjoyable for you about playing a significant role in your children’s education?
For us, it has been a wonderful experience to be part of the day-to-day teaching of our children. We get to personally witness just about every one of the special moments and developmental milestones, rather than hearing about them after our kids come home from school. When our four-year-old daughter is learning to read, and I’m looking over her shoulder as she’s sounding out a word - “M-I-L-K” - “Milk! Daddy, it says ‘milk!’” as she turns around with an ear-to-ear grin - those types of moments are priceless. Certainly, all parents witness these type of moments, in greater or lesser degrees. But, since we take on so much more of the educational responsibility than we would with traditional schooling, we get to experience more of them.
Also, as we see our children develop, we have the personal satisfaction of knowing that we played a primary role. Those milestones - those are the fruit of our labor. As an example, when you pour yourself into a task at work or a do-it-yourself project at home, you feel a lot of satisfaction when you’re done because you worked hard and can see the result of your work. The same is true with education. “Wow, my son can do long division, and we’ve walked him through this all the way from counting 1, 2, 3…” Things like this dawn on us from time-to-time. Those moments of self-actualization are very rewarding. This cuts both ways, though - when we see our children misbehaving, we often have the personal disappointment of knowing that they’re modeling something they saw in their parents! This is good, though - it keeps us humble and has a way of holding us accountable.
In your opinion, how important is the “classical” aspect of education?
To tell the truth, we didn’t know what classical education was until just a few years ago. But, now - several years later - we have really “bought in!” Classical education seeks to teach children as appropriate to their stage of development. At the grammar stage (up until about grade 4), children are wired to absorb amazing amounts of information. So, classical education focuses on memorization. At the next stage, the logic stage (what we call middle school), children begin to think more analytically. Abstract thought begins to mature. During these years, the student begins algebra and begins to apply logic to all academic subjects. Writing involves paragraph construction and learning to support a thesis; reading involves criticism and analysis of texts; history demands that the student find out why World War II was fought, rather than simply reading its story; science requires that the child learn the scientific method. Finally, the rhetoric stage (what we call high school) builds on the first two. The high school student learns to write and speak with force and originality. The student expresses his conclusions in clear, forceful, elegant language. Students also begin to specialize in whatever branch of knowledge attracts them; these are the years for specialized training such as art camps, foreign travel, apprenticeships, and the like.
When we first learned about classical education, this all sounded great (and even correct) in theory. But we were a little skeptical. But now, several years later, our experience of watching our kids and others has validated things. With our children, we have experienced mainly the grammar stage, and we have been blown away by how much information they can memorize, and how quickly it happens! Tapering the learning process to a child’s particular stage of development reaps many benefits. The best one, in our opinion, is that learning is more enjoyable because both the method and the subject matter are geared toward the child’s age. In our opinion, this goes far in instilling a life-long love of learning, which is one of the most important goals of the educational process.
What are some of the advantages of a collaborative educational process?
The process of organizing home school curriculum and the month-to-month, week-to-week, day-to-day, and hour-to-hour schedule can be daunting to many people. There are so many different curricula out there, it’s hard to know where to start! And, it can be a tricky task balancing the teaching at home when you have multiple children of various ages. In a collaborative model like TCA’s, the school takes the lead in organizing the curriculum and schedule, thereby removing a heavy burden from the parents who can then focus on teaching. Also, the collaborative model allows ample time for parents to supplement other material as they see fit.
You are Christians. How do you integrate your faith into the educational process?
To us, “Christian” education means more than just supplementing science, history, English, etc. with a Bible class. God created the entire universe, and He must permeate our entire schooling process. Practically speaking, this affects both our subject matter and method. For example, when we study history, we seamlessly juxtapose Biblical history with a-Biblical history. The Assyrian captivity of Israel (Biblical) occurred at roughly the same time as the founding of Rome (a-Biblical). When we study science, we will discuss God’s creativity and wisdom in regard to what He made. When we work on English grammar, we may present a Bible passage with several misspellings and punctuation mistakes for our child to correct. The Bible isn’t the only text we use, but it’s certainly prominent rather than a token after-thought.
Even more importantly, our faith informs our method. We are constantly remembering that we are making disciples of Jesus, who have hearts and souls. If a child is progressing really well, we should be quick to praise not only the child but also our heavenly Father for giving the child the skills and diligence to succeed. If a child is not respecting our authority during school time, we should discuss the Fifth Commandment and perhaps discipline him or her. If we as teachers act out wrongly against our children, we should ask their forgiveness. So, we try to live out our faith in very practical ways in the classroom.
What’s up with Latin?
Ah, Latin. We study Latin for many reasons. This language served as the foundation for many of the Romance languages (Spanish, French, Italian) but also English. Knowing Latin makes it easier to learn the Romance languages and helps better understand English vocabulary.
Another thing we’ve learned is that by studying Latin, we are - in a way - paying respect to the ancient and classical cultures of old, and recognizing that they have much to teach us. Many people believe that we moderns have a monopoly on knowledge and wisdom. We believe that while modernity has brought on praiseworthy developments and scientific discoveries that eluded our ancestors, the “old dead guys” still have a lot to teach us.