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Homeschoolers Are at Home at Harvard

Reed N. Colfax '92 and J. Drew Colfax '90

He was just about the only member of the freshman class to appear on "Good Morning, America" this fall, but Reed N. Colfax '92 kept quiet about it.

The Matthews Hall resident and prospective Afro-American Studies concentrator has two brothers who attended Harvard, so he was well prepared for the fanfare that would accompany his enrollment.

Reed and his brothers, J. Drew Colfax '90 and Grant N. Colfax '87, are among the approximately 500,000 students who are taught at home by their parents instead of attending regular schools. Their 13-year-old brother, Garth M.A. Colfax, is still at home.

Although "homeschooling," may be more and more popular around the country, it hasn't yielded many Harvard students. Dean of Admissions William J. Fitzsimmons '67, says he would not comment specifically on the Colfaxes but adds that about five to 10 homeschooled students apply each year to Harvard.

And Fitzsimmons says that, on the whole, homeschooling is an educational asset that Harvard considers favorably when making its admissions decisions. "One often sees a self-reliance and independence, as well as intellectual curiosity in people with unusual educational experiences," Fitzsimmons says. Homeschooled students, he says, "do just as well as most all students who come here do."

The Colfaxes, who live on a ranch in California and are largely what they describe as "self-taught," have had almost no formal education. So the experience of Harvard classes, dorm life and homework assignments seemed almost foreign to the brothers when they arrived here.

But homeschooling certainly hasn't handicapped the Colfaxes' intellectual achievement. Grant is currently in New Zealand on a Fulbright Scholarship and plans to attend Harvard Medical School in the fall. A magna cum laude graduate in biology, Grant won a Hoopes Prize for his thesis.

And Reed says he took three Achievement Tests and scored 1310 on his SATs.

While homeschooling hasn't affected the Colfaxes' academic performance, it doesn't seem to have hindered their social development, either. Reed, for one, says he is adjusting well to the rigors of Harvard life.

"I was surprised by the mark of maturity in Reed," says his proctor, J.B. Schramm, a third-year student at the Divinity School. "He didn't have the predictable freshman fluster."

Schramm, who says Reed is unassuming about his unusual educational background, concludes, "They must breed them well up in the goat farm."

And Reed says, "I'm having a great time." Life at Harvard is probably easier than life on the ranch, where "we did a lot of hard physical labor and had to get up very early," he says.

The unusual circumstances of life on the ranch meant that the brothers themselves took responsibility for their own educations. Starting in 1973, when the Colfaxes moved to California from St. Louis, Missouri, the boys took on their own projects and helped each other learn everything from basic algebra to plumbing.

The oldest son, Grant, began his education at a public school in St. Louis, but his parents removed him after six weeks when they decided the education there was "very rote and uncreative." Mother Micki Colfax, who has a master's from the London School of Economics, says she was happier with Grant's next school, a private alternative education school, but decided to begin teaching at home when they moved to California.

At the time they moved to Boonville, California Reed was two, Drew was five and Grant was eight. "The [local] school...was notoriously bad," Reed says. He says his parents did not plan to make the homeschooling a permanent arrangement, but "it just kept working, so we kept doing it."