The World’s 15 Most Extraordinary Homeschoolers

Boring, unathletic, antisocial, fashion-challenged, politically retrograde, culturally backward, religiously extreme…the list of homeschooler stereotypes is seemingly endless and almost entirely negative. Homeschoolers can be found in any state.

But as our list of the world’s 15 most extraordinary homeschoolers shows, the homeschooling population is extraordinarily diverse, defying every attempt to shoehorn them into a single mold. The homeschoolers on this list are geniuses and jocks, conservatives and progressives, fundamentalists and hippies, scientists and artists. They are rural and urban, American and international, abled and disabled, black, white, Asian and multiracial.

While not everyone on this list enjoys the same degree of fame or notoriety, each possesses characteristics and talents that cause them to stand out in the world and in some way challenge the stereotypical images of homeschoolers that continue to dominate the public imagination.

Without further ado, here are our picks for the world’s 15 most extraordinary homeschoolers (in alphabetical order):

1. Julian Assange

Something of an international man of mystery, Julian Assange is an Australian journalist, activist and computer hacker best known for founding the notorious whistle-blower website, WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks was founded by Assange in 2006 and has repeatedly made headlines through its leaks of classified government and military documents to the public, including several damning reports of neglect, abuse, torture and misconduct by the United States in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Assange was homeschooled for several years while traveling with his parent’s touring theater company. He continues to live a nomadic lifestyle as an adult, claiming to spend most of his time in airports. A U.S. criminal investigation, an arrest warrant from Interpol, and calls for his assasination certainly give Assange reason to stay on the move.

2. Margaret Atwood

Few contemporary writers are as well known or highly regarded as Margaret Atwood. What is not well known is that the Canadian novelist, poet, and literary critic was homeschooled through the sixth grade. Atwood spent much of her childhood following her dad around the backwoods of Northern Quebec, where he worked as a forest entomologist, learning to be at home in nature and to learn naturally at home. A long-time environmental activist and vegetarian, no doubt the time in the woods with her father played a role in igniting Atwood’s love of animals and the environment. Atwood’s latest novel, The Year of the Flood (2009), envisions the future emergence of a new environmentally rooted science/religion hybrid in the wake of a massive ecological disaster caused by genetic engineering experiments. The book contains several religious hymns written by Atwood, who has indicated that her own religious beliefs are similar to those displayed in the book.

3. Francis Collins

Francis Collins is best known for his leadership of the Human Genome Project, which completed a genetic map of the entire human genome in 2003. Collins grew up on a farm in rural Virginia, where he was homeschooled until the sixth grade. An outspoken Evangelical Christian, Collins published The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief in 2006, arguing for the compatibility of science and Christian faith. In 2007 Collins formed the BioLogos Foundation to “contribute to the public voice that represents the harmony of science and faith.” President Barack Obama nominated Collins to the position of Director of the National Institutes of Health in 2009. Collins accepted the nomination and was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

4. Erik Demaine

When Erik Demaine joined the faculty of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) he was 20, and the youngest professor ever in the history of the school. Demaine homeschooled while traveling around the United States with his father, a goldsmith and glassblower. Demaine started college when he was 12, and finished his bachelor’s degree two years later at age 14. In addition to being a mathematical and computational genius, Demaine is something of an artist. He wrote his dissertation on the computational logic of origami, and is known as the leading theoretician of origami mathematics, which uses paper origami models to understand mathematical concepts and apply them to disciplines like architecture, robotics and molecular biology. In 2008 Demain collaborated with his father on an artistic collection of mathematical origami, which was displayed at the Museum of Modern Art and ultimately incorporated into the museum’s permanent collection.

5. Blake Griffin

Homeschooled until high school, Blake Griffin grew up playing basketball with his older brother Taylor and followed him to the University of Oklahoma, where the brothers led the Sooners to the Elite Eight of the 2009 Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament. Blake was selected no. 1 overall in the 2009 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Clippers, while Taylor was selected 48th overall by the Phoenix Suns. Blake Griffin is often described as “a man among boys”  for his massive size and awesome athleticism. His dunks are already legendary. Griffin, who’s mom is white and dad is black, considers being biracial an asset, allowing him see the world from both sides of the racial divide and giving him a broader sense of perspective.

6. The Jonas Brothers

Kevin, Joe and Nick Jonas, the three brothers who make up The Jonas Brothers band, are the hottest teen hearthrobs on the planet right now. The brothers, who are counted together for the purposes of this list, got their start on the Disney Channel and now tour the world playing to sold out stadiums of swooning preteen and teenage girls. Their latest album, Lines, Vines and Trying Times (2009), debuted at no.1 on the charts. All of this is a long way from their musical experience at their father’s Pentecostal church, but the brothers remain outspokenly religious. The guys are known to wear purity rings to signify their commitment to avoid pre-marital sex. Denise Jonas, mother of the Jonas brothers, recently gave an interview about her experience homeschooling her little rock stars.

7. Akiane Kramarik

Akiane Kramarik is considered to be the youngest art and poetry prodigy in history, but chances are you’ve never heard of her. Kramarik taught herself to draw at age four, began painting at age six, and started writing poetry when she was seven. She also speaks four languages: Lithuanian, Russian, English and Sign Language. According to Kramerik, God taught her how to paint and write, and has been appearing and speaking to her in dreams and visions since she was three. Prior to Kramarik’s encounter with God her family had no serious religious commitments. Her mom, a Lithuanian immigrant, was an atheist and her American father was a lapsed Catholic. They, along with Kramerik’s four brothers, are now devout Christians as a result of Kramarik’s influence. Kramarik’s first painting sold for $10,000 and she has since sold paintings for as much as $1,ooo,ooo, making her one of the wealthiest child art prodigies in the world and one of the richest teens in the United States.

8. Jonathan Krohn

Jonathan Krohn, whom Jon Stewart of The Daily Show once referred to as “Doogie Howser GOP,” became something of an overnight political sensation after his three minute speech at the 2009 Conservative Political Action Conference when he was 13, garnering coverage from several major American media outlets and worldwide attention on YouTube. A year prior to the speech Krohn published his first book, a conservative political manifesto called Define Conservatism, which he dedicated to Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, and William F. Buckley, Jr. Krohn has since written a second book, Defining Conservatism: The Principles That Will Bring Our Country Back, which is described as “a history lesson, a manifesto, and a roadmap for the future” designed to get the Republican party and the conservative movement in America back on track. Krohn, who has been homeschooled since 2007, is a regular contributor to the conservative magazine Human Events.

9. Joey Logano

Homeschooled from the fourth grade, Joey Logano is known in racing circles by his nickname, “Sliced Bread,” as in, “the greatest thing since…” He has certainly established himself as one of the best young stock car drivers around. Logano starter racing when his was six and won the national junior stock car racing national championship just a year later. Logano went on to becomine the youngest driver ever to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup race, the youngest to take home Rookie of the Year honors, and the youngest to race in the legendary Daytona 500. Being homeschooled allowed Logano to devote more time to racing than many of his peers. When an interviewer asked the then eleven years old Logano in 2001 if he felt like he was missing out on life with all the racing and training he was doing, his reply was, “I have home schooling and I really like that. I don’t feel like I’m missing anything by not going to school. I feel like I learn more that way.”

10. Jedediah Purdy

Jedediah Purdy is a law professor at Duke University and the author of several popular books on American culture and history. His first book,  For Common Things: Irony, Trust, and Commitment in America Today, was published in 1999, when Purdy was a 24 year old law student at Yale University, and made him something of an intellectual and political celebrity. Purdy, who is known for his earnest demeanor and unabashed concern for things that matter, described the book as “one young man’s letter of love for the world’s possibilities.” Purdy’s parents were self-described hippies seeking an honest, simple, rural life when they moved from Pennsylvania to a farm in West Virginia shortly before he was born. They named their little boy after Jedediah Strong Smith, the famed mountain man and Western explorer of the 19th century. Purdy was homeschooled until age 13, eventually making his way to Exeter and then Harvard University, before completing his law degree at Yale. A “wildly popular” teacher at Duke, Purdy recently finished a book on the nature and origins of private property.

11. Condoleezza Rice

Angelina Rice knew her daughter was special, but when she took a year off from her job as a high school music teacher to homeschool little Condoleezza she had no idea she was laying down the educational building blocks for the first black, first female and youngest Provost of Stanford University, and the eventual U.S. Secretary of State (under George W. Bush), the first black woman ever to hold the position. The woman Forbes Magazine would twice declare “The Most Powerful Woman in the World” grew up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama studying French, piano, balet and figure skating. She is currently a faculty member of the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a Director of its Global Center for Business and the Economy.

12. Astra Taylor

In 2006 Filmmaker Magazine called Astra Taylor one of the “25 new faces to watch” in filmmaking. Taylor is a Canadian-American documentary filmmaker best known for her philosophically oriented films Zizek!, about the philosopher Slavov Zizek, and Examined Life, a series of on-the-move interviews with contemporary philosophers that attempts to make philosophy relevant to the man and woman on the street. Taylor grew up in Athens, Georgia and was unschooled (a child-guided variation of homeschooling) along with her three siblings. Taylor is married to Jeff Mangum of the popular indie rock band Neutral Milk Hotel.

13. Sunaura Taylor

Sunaura Taylor is an artist, writer and activist for animals and the disabled. She taught herself to paint while being unschooled by her artist mother and musician father in Athens, GA. Taylor has arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, a rare congenital joint disorder that prevents her from using her legs or arms, and believes the disease was caused by the toxic effect of contaminated waste illegally dumped by the U.S. Military near her birthplace in Tucson, Arizona. Using her mouth, Taylor paints extraordinarily vivid and moving portraits of her subjects, primarily people with disabilities and animals, intending to raise philosophical and political issues surrounding disability/normalcy, personal identity and animal ethics. She appears in the film Examined Life, by her sister Astra Taylor (see above), discussing disability issues with the well known American philosopher Judith Butler. Taylor has won several awards for her work, including the Joan Mitchell Foundation award in 2008, and was featured on NPR’s All Things Considered.

14. Tim Tebow

Former All-American and Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Florida, Tim Tebow led the Gators to national championships in 2007 and 2009. He was drafted by the Denver Broncos in 2010.  Tebow was born in the Phillipines, where his parents were Christian missionaries, but spent most of his childhood in Florida, where he was homeschooled along with his siblings. A 1996 Florida law allowing homeschoolers to play on the sports teams of their local public school enabled Tebow to play for his local high school and lead them to the Florida state championship, while being twice named Florida’s Player of the Year. Other states have since moved to pass similar laws allowing homeschoolers to play on public school sports teams, including in Alabama, where the pending bill is called the “Tim Tebow Bill.” Tebow has always spoken highly of his homeschooling experience and seems to enjoy confounding stereotypes of homeschoolers. After being asked how he felt about being the first homeschooler nominated for a Heisman Trophy, Tebow replied, “That’s really cool. A lot of times people have this stereotype of homeschoolers as not very athletic – it’s like, go win a spelling bee or something like that – it’s an honor for me to be the first one to do that. ”

15. Sho Yano

Sho Yano is an Asian-American child prodigy with an estimated IQ of 200. His father is from Japan and his mother from South Korea. Yano was reading at two, writing at three, playing piano at four, and composing at five. Yano graduated summa cum laude from Loyola University Chicago when he was 12 and earned a PhD from the University of Chicago in molecular genetics and cell biology when he was 18, the youngest ever to earn a PhD there. He is currently in medical school working on an MD. Yano’s mom decided to homeschool her son after realizing how much more advanced he was than the other students at his school and how much more seriously he took his academic work. Mrs. Yano has written several books in Korean on homeschooling and homeschools Sho’s little sister, Sayuri, an academic and musical prodigy in her own right. Sayuri recently finished her bachelors degree in biology at Roosevelt University. She’s 13.

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