Federal Relations

Bright Spots in Home Schooling

May 13, 2004  

Homeschooler Awarded Rhodes Scholarship

Lara Anderson has accomplished what only thirty-one other Americans have done this year. After spending over one hundred hours on the application process and writing a one thousand word essay on her goals in life, this homeschool-high school graduate has been named a Rhodes Scholar.

When she was twelve years old, Lara Anderson surprised her parents by acquiring an interest in physics. Up to that time she had shown a lot of potential in the fields of writing and literature; since she was four she would pen her own stories and would be upset if not allowed to write every day. However, upon visiting the Hanson Planetarium in Salt Lake City, which is equipped with a physics program written exclusively for it by Steven Hawking, she decided that physics was fascinating.

Lara's interest didn't wane. "Homeschooling had a lot to do with keeping that desire to learn alive," says her mother, Sher. Because Lara could focus on any subject she chose, her studies become a joy rather than a nuisance, "With any subject she wishes to learn, she pushes on ahead when most people would stop. Homeschooling is directly responsible for that," says her mom.

So twelve-year-old Lara started reading Steven Hawking, Japanese physicist Matchiokaku, and other popular physics authors. At the age of fourteen, she decided that math was essential to a career in physics and reviewed everything she had learned up to that point. She worked every day, including weekends, and by the time she was sixteen had finished advanced calculus. Then Lara decided to spend her senior year studying writing and literature. She entered Utah State University at eighteen, living at home. By the time her four years there were over, she had completed two bachelor's degrees and half of her Master's, while managing to squeeze in twenty hours of research every week. "That was Herculean," says her mother.

Lara's enduring work ethic was noticed. At the end of her freshman year, she received requests from five professors to work as their research assistant. She chose to work with the professor of theoretical physics, the type Einstein grew famous for, which requires "a phenomenal amount of knowledge of math," her mom notes. Some of the calculus problems Lara faced were seventy pages long, and of course, there was no answer key to fall back on.

The Andersons chose to homeschool Lara from day one. When she was five, as her mother describes her, she was a happy, bright, busy little girl. Each day was productive; she was already learning on her own, and was writing her own stories. Would school be this good, her mother wondered. Would what she learned stick? She and her husband Andy decided to homeschool Lara on a year-by-year basis. Her mother was exceedingly pleased with the homeschooling experience because "It lets her study as many subjects as she wants to the depth that she wants."

Like every other homeschool mom, Sher has been asked "the socialization question" plenty of times. She believes what many happy homeschool parents have come to see, that homeschooled students are actually better off socially than their traditionally-schooled peers. "Anybody who's been around homeschool kids is struck by their maturity," she says. This is because homeschooled students interact with people other than just those that are in their grade, she explains. "Most public school kids don't have that opportunity," she notes. "Homeschool kids have it much better."

Lara is now headed to Oxford. She stands out not only among other college seniors; her accomplishments are also noticeable among Rhodes Scholars-most receive their scholarships after studying something like politics, business, or literature, but Lara won hers for her accomplishments in the field of physics. She's also one of the few who will be pursuing her Ph.D. at Oxford, while most other Rhodes Scholars study for their Master's Degree or for a second Bachelor Degree.

Lara's father is a biology professor, and he, his wife, and her seventeen-year-old brother live in Utah.

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