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Culture | Calvin McCarter didn't join the National Geographic Bee merely for love of academics; it was for love of God

Issue: "The Marriage Amendment," June 8, 2002

WORLD reported last week that on May 22, 10-year-old Calvin McCarter out-answered a gaggle of teenagers to become the youngest-ever winner of the National Geographic Bee, the annual quiz-type competition sponsored by National Geographic magazine.

But here's fresh news: Calvin's parents almost didn't let him enter.

Calvin, a homeschooler, had participated in local geography competitions in 2000 and 2001, even making it to the state-finals tiebreaker last year. But his parents, avid proponents of a well-rounded Christian education, felt that Calvin this year should concentrate more on English composition and spelling-not his favorite subjects. Finally, the family struck a bargain: Calvin could compete in geography contests as long as he promised to work extra hard in language arts.

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Calvin kept his end of the bargain: Even the week before the national competition (hosted in Washington, D.C., by Jeopardy emcee Alex Trebek), he labored at spelling and paragraph construction.

"I think people feel that homeschoolers can sit at home 10 hours a day studying one subject to prepare for these kinds of competitions," said Calvin's dad, Parnell McCarter, who works as an accountant. "Nothing could be further from the truth."

As the Bee approached, Calvin and mom Charlotte kept up his home studies in subjects like science, math, and theology, using curricula from Saxon, A Beka, and Bob Jones University, along with the Westminster Shorter Catechism for religious studies. The McCarters emphasize not just homeschooling, but a specifically Christian education for Calvin and his big brother Parnell, 12. "Neutral education is a myth," Mr. McCarter said, "and anti-Christian education is unwarranted rebellion."

In April, after winning the Michigan State geography competition, Calvin prepared for the National Geographic Bee. He mined everything from geography textbooks to Robinson Crusoe for geographic arcana, even finding the answer to one Bee question in WORLD. (Question: What is the capital of the breakaway nation of East Timor? Answer: Dili.)

Calvin's parents describe him as "extremely motivated and very self-disciplined." But even he was surprised when he beat out a 14-year-old to win the national Bee. "I was shocked," he told WORLD. "I was thankful to God and really surprised that I had just earned $25,000" in college scholarship money.

Lots of news organizations-CNN, CBS, NBC-offered microphones and cameras to explain how Calvin won: superior recall ability coupled with hard work. But fewer media outlets explained why Calvin won, said Mr. McCarter, who worships with his family at The ARP Church of Grand Rapids. Mr. McCarter said he believed his son emerged victorious so "that [he] should be to the praise of His glory, who first trusted in Christ."

"It has been the prayer of the whole McCarter family throughout our son's participation in the National Geographic Bee that this would be the means for us to proclaim the glory of the Trinitarian God revealed in scripture," Mr. McCarter wrote in a news release issued after journalists, though gracious to the McCarters, failed to dig deeper into young Calvin's victory. "And so we proclaim it to all who are willing to listen and to read."

After his win, Calvin proclaimed his thankfulness to God during a whirlwind tour of news programs in New York City. "We were very busy, going from news station to news station. It was tiring, but fun." He's now looking forward to a summer where he can "relax a little bit more ... catch up on my other things, like sports, and not be studying so much."

Meanwhile, his love for geography and his parents' drive to improve his language skills may soon marry. Calvin's next goal is to compete in an international geography bee. What must he do to make the all-U.S.A team? Write a winning geography essay.

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