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« on: May 14, 2007, 10:11:30 AM »

Home-schooling proves its merit with scholarships

Last week we learned the names of the 53 outstanding Minnesota high school seniors who won 2007 $2,500 National Merit Scholarships, arguably the top academic honor in the nation. More than 20,000 Minnesota students took the test that begins the intense competition, and the 53 winners emerged at the end.

National Merit Scholars are often the product of our state's most elite private and public high schools. But as I stopped by the school of one winner, John Molitor of White Bear Lake, I saw no gleaming laboratories or cutting-edge computer labs. John's teacher opened the door. She's also the school's principal, lunch lady and head janitor. She's Joyce Molitor, John's mother.

During the past 10 years, an increasing number of home-schoolers like John have won National Merit awards, according to Eileen Artemakis of the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.

Nationally, John may be a stand-out student. But at the Molitor home school, he's just one of the crowd. Joyce and Paul Molitor have homeschooled all eight of their children, ages 24 to 5.

The oldest, Ruth, now holds a master's degree in linguistics. David, 22, will head to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this fall to start a Ph.D. in economics. Rebecca, 20, is a piano performance major at Northwestern College in Roseville.

So the Molitor genes are remarkable, right? Maybe, but so is the Molitor education system. The family doesn't rely on breakthrough curricula designed by teams of educational consultants. Instead, John credits curricula such as Rod and Staff, a Mennonite textbook series, with giving him a vital edge. A lot of modern grammar and composition books skimp on fundamentals, he says. But Rod and Staff"s English texts go deep, illuminating the mysteries of dangling participles, moods of verbs and sentence diagramming. Thanks to Rod and Staff, says John, "I understand how the English language is really built." As a result, he now has the background he needs to master foreign languages, which he plans to focus on -- along with music -- at Northwestern University in the fall.

What about socialization, that bugaboo of home-schoolers? "Some kids say, 'Oh, man, you must be so socially inept if you're a homeschooler," John says. His grin makes clear what he thinks of this stereotype.

"I've noticed that while most kids get a lot of socialization, it's in a very narrow age band," says Paul Molitor, John's father and a sales representative with a St. Paul company. The Molitor kids socialize with friends, neighbors and other home-schoolers. They also spend hours each week in north Minneapolis, where they teach Sunday school, go on outings with local kids, and visit the homes of families they work with.

The Molitor brood has also developed impressive entrepreneurial skills. They run a lawn care business, and raise and sell guinea pigs. Last year, Joseph and Daniel, 12 and 9, made $150 selling their homemade Christmas ornaments door to door.

But the best socialization of all comes from sitting around the dinner table, says John. "When you belong to a family of 10," he said with a smile, "you learn to relate to all kinds of personalities." John describes his siblings, even 5-year-old Tim, as his "best friends."

The Molitors know a lot about the virtues of togetherness. Until 2003 they lived in a 900-square-foot house in Lauderdale, where all five boys slept in one bedroom. "It was hilarious," their father says. "We had to shuffle kids around, move them from the bedroom to the kitchen when the little ones needed naps. We called it 'nomadic homeschooling.' "

In the 1980s, when homeschooling began to grow, families that embraced it had a reputation of being reclusive and exceptionally religious. But the movement has rapidly expanded and diversified. Today, 18,374 Minnesota K-12 students are educated at home, according to the Minnesota Department of Education.

It's not surprising that colleges are seeing a growing number of top-notch home-schooled applicants like John. Stanford University is one elite institution that is eager to attract them. Stanford assigns home school applications to an admissions officer who specializes in evaluating prospective students who don't have standard transcripts.

Why is Stanford interested in home-schoolers? "Admissions officers sum it up in two words: intellectual vitality," according to an article in the university's alumni magazine several years ago. "It's the spark, the passion, that sets the truly exceptional student -- the one driven to pursue independent research and explore difficult concepts from a very early age -- apart from your typical bright kid."

Stanford, says the article, wants "more of those special minds. "

Joh 9:4  I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.
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