L A P O R T E, Ind., May 29, 2001 -- Mindy Cosaert, 11, is a spelling whiz.
Word by word, letter by letter, her skill has won her a spot as one of the 248 finalists competing in this week's three-day-long Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.
"I study a lot," Mindy explains. "I study, like, two hours [a day]." And she's drawn a lot of attention because, together with her brother and two sisters, she is taught at home.
"Education is just the whole day, a way of life," says her mother, Carol Cosaert. "It's not just a few hours in the day."
Unlike public school students with their strict schedule of subjects, Mindy can dwell as much as she wants on spelling.
Home Schooled Finalists Gaining in Numbers
Home-schooled children began showing up at the spelling bee a decade ago. And their numbers have steadily increased.
Even though students taught at homes make up just 2 percent of the entire school age population, they are more than 10 percent of the finalists in this year's national spelling bee. They will make up an even higher percentage at National Geographic Society's National Geographic Bee.
"I think there's a certain sense of astonishment," says Paige Kimble, the director of the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee. "And frankly I think there's also a sense of respect and jealousy."
"The recent successes of home schoolers in these contests have been very beneficial for home education because it now becomes credible to many people who were thinking before that this is just done by a bunch of weirdos who want to go in the back woods and isolate their children," says Michael Smith, the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. "There are people actually considering home schooling today [who] would have never thought about it 10 years ago."
Only a Master of Memorization?
Amanda Whitworth, 14, of Columbia, Mo., is in Washington, D.C., where she is a finalist in the spelling bee. She has been taught at home by her high school-educated mother, Becky, who admits, "I can't even pronounce some of the words that she knows and for her to remember how to spell them, it's really amazing to me."
Advocates of public education say spelling bees prove little beyond a mastery of memorization.
"I don't think winning a spelling bee proves that one form of education is superior to another," says Paul Houston of the American Association of School Administrators. "If that's the way the parents want to spend their time with their child, that's certainly a choice that's valid for them to make individually. But I don't think it says a lot about the form of schooling that they've gone through."
Try telling that to Mindy Cosaert who spelled "diapsid" for us in a matter of seconds. "Diapsid. D-i-a-p-s-i-d. Diapsid."
She got it right. But then, everyone knows how to spell diapsid. Right?