Federal Relations

Bright Spots in Home Schooling

December 1, 2005  

Homeschooler's essay garners national award

by Andrea Longbottom

Ian Gilbert was one of six high school juniors to win the third annual Idea of America Essay Contest sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The 17-year-old homeschooler joined the grand-prize winner and five other finalists at the NEH awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., on October 18, 2005. Ian received $1000 and a medal for his winning essay.

Ian Gilbert is honored along with other Idea of America Essay Contest winners.
Photo courtesy of the National Endowment for the Humanities by Frasierphoto.com

This year, NEH required contestants to write an essay answering the following questions: "How were the tenets of . . . totalitarian movements different from the ideals that unite Americans? How did the ideals embodied in the American founding prevail?" In his essay, "The People's Government or the Government's People?" Ian contrasted the ideals of totalitarian governments with the ideals of democracy. "While the citizens of Communist and Fascist nations slaved away for the benefit of a dictator, the governments of democratic countries such as the United States trust citizens to make their own decisions," he wrote. His essay was judged by a panel of 16 history teachers and then reviewed by the National Council on the Humanities, which recommended it to NEH Chairman Bruce Cole. "I didn't really think about the 'contest' aspect that much," says Ian. "I had no idea I was going to win!"

The high schooler decided to write the essay when his online history teacher offered extra credit to students for entering the contest. Ian spent several weeks researching and writing before submitting his essay in April 2005. "Writing the essay gave me a greater appreciation of our democratic system," says Ian. "It also gave me better organizational skills in writing. I think it was one of the most strongly organized papers I've ever written. I did more revising and proofreading than I've ever done before!"

Ian has been homeschooled since 2nd grade, along with his two younger brothers. He says home education helped him develop critical thinking skills that he used when writing his essay. Frequent family discussion played a large role in sharpening his thinking. "We discuss topics together, like the different forms of government," says Ian. "Because of that, I'd done a lot of thinking about the topic of the essay before I decided to do the contest."

Now a senior in high school, Ian is researching liberal arts colleges and considering majors. He is interested in many different fields of study, from science to writing. He also enjoys astronomy, his local 4-H program, building scale airplane models, and playing the piano and guitar in his church youth group.

 Other Resources

For more information about the 2005 Idea of America Essay Contest and next year's question and guidelines, go to NEH.gov.

Read our Bright Spot on Rachel Shafer, the 2004 Idea of America grand-prize winner.

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