Sunday, November 29, 2009

Home schoolers thrive at bees

Op-Ed in Washington Times
by J. Michael Smith
HSLDA President

It is well-known that homeschoolers excel in competitions like the Scripps National Spelling Bee and the National Geographic Bee. Homeschoolers regularly comprise 15 percent of the entrants to these competitions despite being about 3 percent of the school-age population. In the past 10 years, four homeschoolers have won the spelling bee, and in the past 11 years, five homeschoolers have won the geography bee.

Earlier this month, the finals of another competition—the National Bible Bee—were held. Patterned after the spelling and geography bees, the Bible bee encourages students to learn more about the Bible.

Mark Rasche, executive director of the event, had this to say about this year's contest:

“We were overjoyed with the way the 2009 National Bible Bee turned out as God blessed this inaugural event far beyond anyone’s expectations. There were countless blessings and testimonies, but the most encouraging phenomenon was the way God used the National Bible Bee to unite entire families around the Word of God throughout this entire year as children and youth invested hundreds of thousands of hours memorizing Bible passages in homes across the nation.”
The 300 national qualifiers who competed in the District were chosen from among the 17,000 entrants. Eighty-nine percent of the qualifiers were homeschoolers, and all nine of the finalists were homeschooled.

It's not surprising that homeschoolers dominated the Bible bee. One of the two top reasons for homeschooling is the ability to teach from a religious perspective, and about two-thirds of homeschoolers self-identify as evangelical Christians. This, however, doesn’t explain why so many homeschoolers succeeded in the Bible bee.

In a homeschool, parents tailor the education to suit the individual needs of the child. Consequently, the child isn’t forced into a one-size-fits-all approach. The home environment also has far fewer distractions, which enables children to freely ask questions and absorb the answers.

Another top reason for homeschooling is the negative peer environment of public school. If the environment is not conducive for children to learn, their education will suffer.

While competitions do not prove the efficacy of home education, these events do provide a window into what a homeschooler can achieve.

Sometimes the objection is raised that homeschoolers have an unfair advantage in national competitions because they are not constrained by the public school schedule. These competitions, however, mandate that the child must also pursue a range of subjects and not exclusively focus on the competition.

The Bible bee is no different. The manual covering the competition material was released on May 1, and the early rounds were held during the summer. Participants, therefore, were largely preparing and competing during a time when public schools were not in session.

We look forward to more homeschoolers excelling in national competitions and continuing to show what can be achieved. Continued success in national competitions is just one way homeschoolers are proving the academic potential of homeschooling.

The Home School Legal Defense Association welcomes the Bible bee as an excellent program that allows the next generation to learn about a book that, whether one agrees with the message or not, has been tremendously influential on Western Civilization and still has a profound effect on our world today. We hope homeschoolers continue to participate and that the Bible Bee will play a key role in establishing the firm foundation that will be absolutely necessary for confronting the inevitable challenges and opportunities that will be faced by the next generation.

Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association.

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