MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – Keith Harding walked the stage at Faulkner University like hundreds of others, having earned a degree in music with a concentration in performance.
Like the others, he had family, friends and classmates watching and cheering his hard work, dedication and accomplishments.
Soon he expects to start a job as a lifeguard. Because that’s what 15-year-olds typically do during the summer.
Harding, who graduated Friday, first walked on to the Faulkner campus at age 11, having been home-schooled on an accelerated plan that allowed him to pursue his passions early in life. His parents, Kip and Mona Lisa Harding, set out the same plan for all 10 of their children.
“For us, it’s more a belief that it can be done,” Kip Harding said. “If you see someone flying in an airplane, then you know it can fly. People don’t think kids can learn at a young age. But they can. I just see education in the information age instead of an industrial age where kids need to be segregated by age groups. Then, motivate them with their own interests.
“Ask a kid what he wants to be when he grows up, and believe them.”
Keith Harding is the sibling to:
Hannah, 25, who graduated from Auburn Montgomery when she was 17 with a bachelor’s of science in math; Serennah, 22, who is a physician; Rosannah, who completed a five-year architecture program at California College of the Arts at the age of 18; Heath, 17, who graduated two years ago with a degree in English from Huntingdon College – he also has a masters in computer science; Seth, 12, a sophomore history major at Huntingdon College; Katrinnah, 11, who is dual enrolled at Faulkner studying theater and finishing her high school curriculum this week, and Mariannah, 8, who is on track to begin studying for her ACT test. Following in Mariannah’s footsteps are sister Lorennah, 5, and brother Thunder, age 3.
“At this age, (homeschooling) is like (part of) our religious beliefs, feeling like we need to be responsible for educating them,” Mona Lisa Harding said. “I don’t feel I want to give them over to the public school system or pay all that money for a private education. At this age, it’s not even an option. So we home school. And in the process of home-schooling, they become accelerated at a very young age because it’s a very efficient way.”
The only difference, she said, is “where” the children go to school for their academics. They still have a social life – they play organized team sports and still hang out at the mall sometimes with friends – and still have homework like everyone else. Harding said if her younger children decide they aren’t ready for a college campus at age 11 or 12, they will likely wait another semester before reconsidering.
“You can’t push them into a (college) classroom because they are either going to cry or run out screaming,” she said. “It’s not physically possible to force a child, because they are not going to perform well. But when they see their other siblings doing it, and know at age 10 they’ll start preparing for the ACT … it’s just what they know.”
During Keith Harding’s first semester at Faulkner, his mother stood outside the 11-year-old’s classroom door so she could walk with him after class. When that stopped, Harding had “a lot of moms” by way of female students in their early 20s, helping him around campus when needed.
By the time he left Faulkner at 15, graduating with a 3.73 GPA, he was president of the university’s choir club.
“I think because I was interested in music, the studying wasn’t a burden,” he said. “It’s really nice to apply the musical things you learn in classes and get to experience going on tour and performances.
“I think it helps us relate to people of all ages. That even when we’re young, we can get along with the kids our age and younger. And being home-schooled and not going through grade-based school, we take care of the younger siblings, and being around adults all day helps with understanding maturity.”
His sister Katrinnah agrees.
The 11-year-old is dual enrolled at Faulkner – she took English 101 and a choir class this semester – and home-schooled. She said she and her brother were treated fairly on campus by the other students, “because I think in high school, there are bullies and stuff, because they are not very mature.
“But once they get to college, some of them are married. They are more accepting.”
Her father agrees.
“College folks are much more accepting,” Kip Harding said. “It’s very competitive. They are much more mature; they like to see more success.”
Keith and Katrinnah left Saturday on a Faulkner-sponsored choir trip to New York.
When he returns, Keith Harding will spend time working at a pool, a nice distraction before focusing on a masters program at a yet-to-be determined university. He wants to study counseling.
Katrinnah will start full-time at Faulkner in the fall. She is considering becoming a lawyer at Jones School of Law at Faulkner, but she also wants to study theater. This summer, she will likely take some online courses through Faulkner.
Neither Keith or Katrinnah feel they have missed out on a childhood. They meet with friends regularly – on Friendship Friday – and have no regrets over the academic path they have taken.
“I feel if I went to a regular school, I’d be doing just as much homework,” she said, “just less advanced.”
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