Federal Relations

Bright Spots in Home Schooling

May 21, 2002  

Home Schooling Works With Math Too!

It may have taken longer to start tapping into their potential in this area, but it is becoming more apparent that home schoolers are capable of excelling in mathematics, much as they have demonstrated they can in the liberal arts.

This is demonstrated in a number of ways, but perhaps none more visibly than recent high-level competitions that have seen home school students excelling.

At the recent USA Math Olympiad (USAMO), Alison Miller, 15, of Niskayuna, NY, and Anders Kaseorg, 15, of Charlotte, NC, both home schoolers, were among the 12 winners (out of 326 finalists). The 12 will participate in a summer training session at the University of Nebraska, after which six will be chosen to compete for the U.S. in the International Math Olympiad (IMO) in July at Glasgow, Scotland. Both students had made it through two regional qualifying competitions to get to the finals, as had Matthew and Nathaniel Ince, home schoolers from Chesterfield, MO who were named honorable mention in the final round.

They follow in the footsteps of Reid Barton. The Massachusetts home schooler won the USAMO four times and was a four-time gold medalist at the IMO. More recently, the MIT student was named a Putnam Fellow, the top honor of the prestigious William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition.

While these students are the highest profile examples of home schoolers excelling in math, the evidence abounds. There are numerous competitive math teams consisting of home schoolers, and many home schoolers also have done well in standardized testing.

Annette Bramsen, a home school mom from Wheaton, IL who coaches a competitive math team, said the elements of home schooling that have made it a helpful vehicle for students interested in the humanities, serve them well in mathematical pursuits as well.

Additionally, she said, math studies tend to be foundational.

"I think math serves as a great training ground for a student in any academic subject," Bramsen said. "You can't twist it. You can't make it mean what it doesn't mean. It's very important, especially for bright students, to learn to work hard on something, because if you don't learn that, life just gets tougher. You need that intestinal fortitude. It really aids in the study of any kind of logic. It helps with argumentation and debate. It teaches ordered reasoning. Math assumes there is an answer.

Bramsen, who said her children have surpassed her in their understanding of the subject, said it is important that home school teachers not be intimidated with mathematics.

"I think we have a tendency to want to teach subjects we are most comfortable with," Bramsen said. "Don't allow your own limits in math to define your child's future. I wanted all three of my children to do better in math than I did. Don't be intimidated by them exceeding you in math! When they exceed you, find a tutor if you need to."

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