Home Schooling Is the Place to Bee: Home-Schooled 14-Year-Old James Williams Captures the Coveted Top Spot in the 2003 National Geographic Bee. (Education)
Gilmore, Jodie, The New American
Madagascar, Mumbai, Myanmar, Martinique ... sound like the itinerary of an exotic round-the-world trip? Not exactly. But it is a sample of the correct answers to questions posed in the National Geographic Bee finals, held in Washington, D.C., on May 21st. And while James Williams, the 14-year-old winner of the bee, has never visited any of these faraway places, he does know a lot about them, and many other aspects of world geography.
How does an eighth-grader from Vancouver, Washington, know so much about distant destinations? "I studied every day, for several hours," James told THE NEW AMERICAN. "I've always thought that geography was really cool." James and his five siblings are home schooled by their parents, Ann and Craig. James said he finds the flexibility of the home-school environment conducive to concentrating on his specific interests, such as geography and science.
"We wanted to make learning a lifestyle rather than something you have to do," said Ann. Certainly learning takes center stage in the Williams family household. James is a weekly regular at the local library, checking out as many as a dozen books each visit. And he doesn't concentrate solely on geography. His interests are wide-ranging, encompassing spiders, weather, mountains, and many other topics. Instead of being tied to the standard public school schedule, the Williams family incorporates learning in all parts of their day-to-day existence -- taking many field trips, and participating in a variety of home-school activities.
Ann and Craig decided to home school their children even before the first baby arrived. "We saw the advantages of being able to tailor education to each child's learning style and interests," stated Ann. Plus, she added, "we wanted to ensure our values were the ones they were most familiar with." Home-schooled children, like James, have done exceptionally well in both the National Geographic Bee and the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee in recent years, winning the geographic bee in 1999 and 2002, and the spelling bee in 1997 and 2000. Mike Smith, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association, credits the individualized instruction home-schooled children receive -- the same "one-on-one, tutorial type of teaching that was the foundation of our early founding fathers." Smith pointed out that "Thomas Jefferson and the early presidents and the intellectuals of those days [and] the people who wrote our Constitution -- most of them were tutored or taught by their parents." As further evidence of the ben efits of home schooling, this marks the second year in a row that a home-schooled student has won the geographic bee.
Busy as a Bee
While some people might worry that home-schooled children lead sheltered lives and don't receive a well-rounded education, James is living proof that "it ain't so." Although his primary love is geography, he finds that to excel at the National Geographic Bee, he had to study a variety of other subjects. James listed geology, weather, economics, cultural studies, history, and chart interpretation as all useful topics.
In addition to studying for the geographic bee this spring, James also qualified, along with the rest of his local team, for the National Science Olympiad, held in Ohio just days before the geographic bee. In the Olympiad, James' concentration areas included metric estimation, life sciences, process lab, and experimental design. Although his team finished in the middle of the 55 participating teams, James said the competition was fun. In the team environment, he said, "sometimes it's hard to work with the rest of the team," but he finds that less nerve-wracking than individual competition (like the geographic bee), which "is more stressful -- one question and you're out!"
With his siblings receiving the same quality home education he is, James can't afford to rest on his laurels. His 13-year-old sister, Kirsten, also competed in the Olympiad, and came very close to edging James out at the local level of the geographic bee, missing victory by only one question. …