Archive for August, 2009


Olivia Bennett – Homeschooled Teen Artist

August 9, 2009

Olivia Bennett

Olivia Bennett is a 19-year-old nationally recognized art prodigy who found her unique visual gift after being diagnosed with cancer at age 5. Olivia’s story is an inspiring one of hope and healing, with her greatest gift discovered during her bleakest hours. While battling leukemia, Olivia required more than two years of intense chemotherapy including numerous spinal taps. Her one and only respite from the pain, nausea, and vomiting was painting which she did for hours on end. Olivia’s artistic talent blossomed into a passion and now it is her full-time profession.

Olivia’s work received almost immediate critical acclaim. She sold her first painting at age 8 and had her first art show at age 10, where she sold 24 more paintings. Since then, Olivia’s status as an artist has taken on superstar proportions. She and her artwork have been featured in numerous magazines and newspaper articles, as well as appearing on television shows such as Oprah and the Today Show. Her colorful floral and wildlife paintings have even been compared with such masters as Georgia O’Keeffe and Claude Monet.

Olivia grew up in Southlake, Texas, where she was homeschooled through high school in a K-12 program offered by Texas Tech University. This allowed Olivia to concentrate on her art career, which is what she really wanted to do. She could “just drop everything and paint” whenever she was in the mood. Homeschooling also gave her freedom to travel which she loves to do.

As a cancer survivor, Olivia is dedicated to helping others who are suffering hardships whether it’s from illness, hunger, or poverty. She volunteers for the Mark Victor Hansen Foundation, Lance Armstrong Foundation, Junior League of Dallas, Children’s Cancer Fund, Cook Children’s Medical Center, Grapevine Relief And Community Exchange (GRACE), and Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas. In 2003, Olivia was named “One of Twenty Teens Who Will Change the World” by Teen People Magazine.

Olivia’s story and artwork are featured in Mark Victor Hansen’s latest book, “The Richest Kids in America.” Mark is the co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul Series. This fall she will be accompanying him on his “Richest Kids in America” book tour. Olivia’s artwork is also featured in a book by Lisa Young called “Inspiration For Women Who Change the World.” Olivia’s own 96-page art book, “A Life in Full Bloom,” chronicles how her childhood leukemia led to her art.

When asked how she handles criticism, Olivia answers, “Everyone has their own taste. I have paintings I prefer over others. Everyone has their opinion. There are some works I appreciate, but I would never want to own. We’re all entitled to have our own opinions. A lot of times, I take criticism if it’s some other artist. I’ll look at it and take it into consideration. I’m still young, and there are people with a lot more experience. It’s how you learn.”

Visit Olivia’s official website at to view an online gallery of her paintings.


SHIMER: The Great Books College of Chicago

August 9, 2009

Shimer (rhymes with rhymer) is a private liberal arts college best known for its intellectual atmosphere, small class sizes, and Great Books curriculum. Shimer is one of the smallest colleges in the United States with only about 100 undergraduates. The college, originally founded in 1853, is located on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology, where students of both institutions have the opportunity to cross-register in selected courses. Largely unknown outside the Midwest, Shimer aims to be not a training school of the professions but a community of scholars.

I received a letter last month from Thomas K. Lindsay, Ph.D., President of Shimer College. He had previously been the director of “We the People,” a program launched by President Bush in 2002 to support the study of American history and America’s founding principles. Its capstone project was “Picturing America,” a set of 40 reproductions of iconic American art put together by the National Endowment for the Humanities. These were distributed to homeschool groups through HSLDA.

In his letter, Lindsay explains how a Shimer education builds on and completes the work begun by Picturing America: “Shimer College… is one of the few schools in the country in which all students are required to study the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, The Federalist, and all the other original sources that illuminate the moral, political, theological, and philosophic foundations of our way of life…. There you will see classes dedicated to the foundations of Western political thought, the scientific wonders of the universe, and the greatest literature of all time.”

Lindsay continues, “Shimer’s Great Books Curriculum is, I am convinced, the best approach for a home-schooled student seeking a liberal arts education. My conviction is based on my personal experience: for four years, my wife and I home-schooled our four children. Every subject at Shimer is taught from original sources; every class is a small seminar; and every professor is committed to helping students develop the skills needed for work and life. Our students investigate the questions inspired by history’s greatest minds. At Shimer, there are no forgone conclusions or politically correct answers. Students endeavor to understand the opinions of others, because they learn to listen respectfully to opposing views. Each student learns to write concisely and accurately, and to discuss and think through a problem to its conclusion. These are skills they take with them wherever they go: to their workplace, home, and community. They leave Shimer ready for any future, because they know how to listen, observe, think, and decide.”

Shimer’s academic programs feature an interdisciplinary core curriculum originally designed by Robert M. Hutchins of the University of Chicago and grounded in the Great Books tradition. The Hutchins Plan relies on close readings of original sources, called Great Books, rather than textbooks as the basis for its curriculum. Shimer remains among only a few Great Books colleges in the nation.

Shimer’s core curriculum requires three years of study in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and trans-disciplinary integrative studies. Electives are generally taken in the junior and senior years, though many of them are open to first and second year students as well. Classes are small, averaging 12 students, and are guided by one of a dozen faculty members. Students also often take tutorials with their professors, either one-on-one or with up to two other students. A senior thesis is required, and thesis writers have the option to present their work in a public thesis defense.

Shimer students develop their capacity for critical thought and interpersonal communication through careful reading of the Great Books, which offer a unique enduring educational experience andsustain a life-long passion for learning. In these classes, everyone works together to make each meeting an adventure in intellectual discovery. If you like to read and think and have meaningful conversations, Shimer is the place for you. The Socratic, discussion-driven, method is the pedagogical norm.

As a Shimer student, you will become part of a community whose purpose is to explore the great works of the Western intellectual tradition that comprise the College’s core curriculum. By studying texts that are widely thought of as “classics,” you will take part in the Great Conversation of ideas that have shaped our world. You will learn to puzzle over and appreciate beauty, analyze theories, and grapple with old and complex problems that have challenged human thinkers for centuries.

Core readings include the works of Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Descartes, Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Dostoevsky, Kafka, and Woolf in the humanities; Lucretius, Lavoisier, Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Einstein, and Feynman in the natural sciences; and Machiavelli, Rousseau, De Tocqueville, Weber, Foucault, Freud, Du Bois, Wollstonecraft, De Beauvoir, and Arendt in the social sciences.

More than 50 percent of Shimer graduates go on to graduate and professional schools. In the early 1990’s, the Ph.D. rate for Shimer graduates was the highest in the nation among liberal arts colleges; and the third highest among all 4-year colleges and universities in the United States. Shimer still ranks in the top 1% of American colleges and universities in doctorate productivity. A survey by the Harvard Educational Review ranked Shimer as among the top eleven small liberal arts colleges in the United States.

Shimer programs include weekday classes for traditional-age students, weekend classes for working adults, study-abroad tutorials at Oxford, teacher development courses, and a senior audit option for mature citizens. In addition, Shimer College is most notable for its Early Entrant Program, which caters to bright high school students who have left high school prior to graduation, and are not currently being homeschooled. One in every five students is an early entrant, some coming on campus after completing only two years of high school. Many of the college’s top students either flunked or dropped out of other schools, but in Shimer’s stimulating atmosphere came back to intellectual life.

Applicants are strongly advised to take either the SAT or ACT exam, and early entrants are required to submit an ACT or SAT score for admission. However, there is no minimum grade-point average or minimum test score required for enrollment to Shimer College. Rather, essays and writing samples are the primary criteria used by the Admission Committee to make its evaluation.

Shimer is about education in the noblest sense of the word, with a love of Great Books being the common bond that unites all students. It’s a place to learn how to think, not what to think. It’s a place to develop a breadth of knowledge in the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences that is very rare in our age of specialization, yet extraordinarily useful in today’s ever-changing world. It’s that rare place where everyone’s views are valued, where careful and caring discussion and respect for difference are the rule, not the exception.

Lindsay concludes his letter by saying: “Parents often wonder whether a school that their child is considering is worth it. The time, the financial commitment, opportunities for the future, and much more are factored in to the college-selection process. It is the breadth and depth of our curriculum that sets us apart – and makes Shimer worth it…. Shimer is a remarkable place. I hope that you and your children decide together that this is the place to visit and consider.” Visit their website at