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Education Reporter

How to Spell Achievement: H-O-M-E-S-C-H-O-O-L
WASHINGTON, DC - The top three finishers in the 73rd annual Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee held May 31- June 1 are educated at home. Twelve-year-old George Thampy of Maryland Heights, Missouri, captured the first-place trophy by correctly spelling "demarche," meaning "a line of action, move or countermove, or maneuver." Twenty-seven of 248 competitors (nearly 11%) were homeschooled, setting a record for this year's event.

The nation's top speller credited God with his victory. In an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (6-2-00), he admitted struggling with an earlier word, "emmetropia," the condition of normal refraction of light in the eye, and asked God for inspiration.

George is one of seven children of biochemist and physician Dr. K. George Thampy and his wife Bina, both of whom immigrated to the United States from India. The Thampys are homeschooling all their children, stressing basic skills, hard work, good study habits, and respect for authority. Dr. Thampy told the Post-Dispatch that his son "obeys his parents" and "honors God. At the same time, he is a typical boy."

George received $10,000 for his achievement, which he says will go to his parents. A week earlier, on May 24, he finished second in the National Geography Bee, which netted him a $15,000 college scholarship. Last year, he finished 3rd in the spelling bee, and came in 4th in 1998, the first year he competed.

The 2nd - and 3rd -place finishers in the spelling contest are also homeschooled. Sean Conley, 12, of Newark, California, earned the $5,000 second prize. Fourteen-year-old Alison Miller, from Niskayuna, New York, won $3,000 for her 3rd-place finish. Sean stumbled on the word "apotropaic," which means safeguarding against evil, and Alison missed "venire" - a list of potential jurors.

Home School Legal Defense Association President Michael Farris says the reason homeschooled youth tend to be disproportionately represented in national contests that test academic skills is simple. "Homeschool parents emphasize traditional learning rather than feel-good, self-esteem methods that leave children puffed up but devoid of the knowledge they need to sustain themselves in real life," he told the Washington Times (5-31-00).

Former Family Research Council chief Gary Bauer agrees. "Government bureaucrats at the state and federal levels always want more regulation of home schools and there is still a widespread perception that these students lag behind their public school peers," Bauer says. "In fact, they usually test one to two years ahead of their grade level."

Nationally-syndicated columnist Cal Thomas in his June 7 column chided President Clinton for wanting homeschoolers to "prove they are learning on a regular basis" or be forced to attend government schools. "This is surprising," Thomas wrote, "given that homeschooled children consistently score higher on standardized tests than their government-school counterparts."

Thomas urged his readers to "contrast the pursuit of excellence and unique personal attention that are the norm among homeschoolers with what occurs in government schools, where the curriculum is often dumbed-down and non-academic subjects take time away from acquiring real knowledge and the endangered species known as wisdom."

Thomas also attacked the myth that homeschooled students lack socialization. "An ABC News reporter recently asked one [student] how he feels about that," Thomas wrote. "[The student] indicated he is happy to avoid school shootings and competition over clothes and cliques. Homeschooled children have plenty of time to socialize, but in a different environment."

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