College at 12? Master’s Degree at 16?

The media is buzzing about the Harding family.   Seven of Kip and Mona Lisa Harding’s ten homeschooled children have started college before age 12.  Their three younger children are on track to follow the same course.

While the Harding family is making headlines, the folks here at Calvert remember another family who followed an “accelerated learning” approach.

Joyce Swann, a columnist for Practical Homeschooling Magazine, practiced an accelerated learning approach with her ten homeschooled children.  Swann did this at a time when homeschooling was not as common as it is today and curriculum was not as readily available.  In this article from 1996, Joyce explains her approach to homeschooling and her use of the Calvert curriculum.

“All of my children who are old enough have earned their Masters degrees at age 16. My five oldest children, who range in age from 21 to 25, are happily employed in a number of fields, including television news production, photojournalism, education, and publishing. My 17-year-old son Benjamin is the youth pastor at our church and supplements his income by substitute teaching at a local elementary school. He plans to eventually pastor his own church. My 16-year-old son Israel received his Masters in December. He is an excellent artist who hopes to find a career as an animator. The three youngest – ages 12, 13, and 15 – are earning their university degrees.”

In a 1994 article for Practical Homeschooling Magazine, Joyce’s daughter Alexandra explains how she was able to graduate from high school at age 11, earn her bachelor’s degree at 15, and earn her master’s degree at 16.

“In spite of the rapid pace, however, we never skipped any grades. In fact, we never even skipped a lesson or a part of a day’s work. To us, education was not about “getting out of school quickly.” It was about earning the best education possible, which meant that our grades had to be excellent and we had to demonstrate that we had really mastered each phase of the material before we moved on to the next. With Mother directing our school, however, we were able to earn l’s and 2’s — Calvert School’s equivalent of A’s and B’s — and still complete the work in much less time than would normally be expected.”

While we applaud these children and their parents for their dedication to education and their drive to succeed, we’d also like to ask YOUR opinion.  What do you think of this accelerated learning approach?  Should children be encouraged to advance rapidly through their curriculum? Or do you feel that packing that much schooling into such a short time takes away children’s ability to learn through play or to “just be kids?”