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Equal rights for home-schoolers

Updated on June 1, 2012

All we are saying...

Yesterday, Virginia lawmakers voted down the "Tebow Bill" to allow home-schoolers to participate in school sports. Although I typically do not address the same issue twice, I am publishing an op-ed the Washington Post chose not to publish on the topic, so please bear with me.

I suspect that the unbridled and immediate opposition to home-schooling that seems integral to public school teachers and administrators is born of insecurity. Less understandable is the opposition of public school parents to sharing facilities and resources with home-schoolers.

Home-schoolers are not the enemy to public schools; they are an alternative and could be a complement. Families that choose to take the reins of their children’s education do so for many reasons, including dissatisfaction with public schools. Private schools and charter schools do the same, but they do not evoke the same fear and loathing as home-schoolers, often perceived as anarchists and extreme religious fundamentalists.

Can anyone who is reasonably aware of the lack of success many public schools have demonstrated over the past fifty years argue with that appraisal? Certainly public schools have their share of successes as well. Ironically, many of the students who have achieved great success in public schools would likely have done so as home-schoolers because often they are the product of a home that encourages success and has the means to provide enriching resources and opportunities.

That battle will probably wage forever, even as charter schools and private schools—which look more like the schools we have always known—remain a popular and acceptable alternative.

The current battle that rages in Northern Virginia is whether those presumptuous enough to think that they might be able to provide an education better than the local public school should have the right (or privilege) of playing on that school’s athletic teams.

On February 17, The Washington Post’s editorial board intoned (“The Playing Field”) “Home-schoolers on public school teams is not the answer.” Then it was the wrong question.

The editorial explains: “The current ban is the result of the collective judgment of more than 300 public schools….” I am shocked! Shocked, I tell you. Public schools [in the form of the Virginia High School League, VHSL ] have banned home-schoolers from participating in public school sports. Goodness! What if 50-60 years ago Southern schools had decided to ban black students from….No, that would be absurd.

According to the Post editorial, Ken Tilley, executive director of VHSL, said “a student at the school needs to pass five subjects for credit toward graduation while the home-schooled student simply needs a letter or report card from the parent indicating satisfactory academic progress in just one or two subjects.”

Assuming that Mr. Tilley is being ingenuous, I submit that he must be ignorant of the standards the Commonwealth requires for continued homeschooling. It does not accept the parents’ assurance that their children are performing well; it requires hard evidence. (I further submit that the state board of education is no more thrilled with home-schoolers than local school administrators.)

The editorial board’s specious reasoning included “the possibility of abuse by coaches trying to lure the most-talented home-schoolers and the danger of discouraging students who might otherwise stay in school or improve their grades for a shot at a varsity jacket.”

We know how eager coaches are to recruit those home-schoolers. And, if public school students find that a home-schooler on the team discourages them from trying to improve their grades or get a shot at a varsity jacket, the team is probably better off without the delicate flowers.

In a letter to the editor on February 8, Annandale’s Nancy Carey asked whether she should “feel sorry for home-schooled athletes who dream of playing in front of a hometown crowd?” No one asked her too. The issue is not how Ms Carey feels, but one of fairness. Assuming that these families also pay to support the local schools, they should have the right to avail themselves of the facilities and opportunities, whether playing on an athletic team for which they are qualified, performing in a school play, or taking an advanced science course. They are not the enemy. The families have chosen to take control of their children’s education, which might mean classes at home with Mom or Dad (or another home-schooler’s Mom or Dad), or at the Smithsonian or a local college, or online…they have not declared war and they have a right to expect to be treated as equal to those parents who send their children off to public school with a wish and a prayer. (Ach! Retracting “prayer.”)

Ms Carey concluded: “If that’s what they want, the solution is simple: Enroll in the public school. These students don’t know what it’s like to play in front of a hometown crowd because their parents made the decision to keep them out of public school.”

Take that, heretics and free-thinkers!

On February 6, the Post’s John Kelly declared “Virginia home-schoolers can’t have their cake and eat it, too.” (I suspect that he meant that they can’t eat it and have it too. If they don’t have it, they can’t eat it.)

Mr. Kelly announced that he is against what is being called the“Tebow Bill” for various reasons. After questioning why a home-schooling parent would be honest about a child’s “grade” (Assuming that the work gets a letter grade.) he claims that his main objection is philosophical: he is looking out for kids who should be in school, socializing (because home-schoolers probably live in isolation in the woods and do not socialize as they would in math class or physics where the fun and socializing never end.) He argues that they can’t learn “to work in a group, to navigate the shoals of cliques and conflicts….some of the basics of what it means to be a citizen.”

I submit that Mr. Kelly would benefit from being schooled. Home-school children do not live in a vacuum (breathing alone would be a serious problem). They actually associate with other home-schoolers, private school students, and even a public school student or two. They have friends and neighbors and join the Scouts and go to the rec and play ball (where does he think a home-schooled baseball player or football player develops the skills that would make a public school team select him—or her?

Demonizing home-schoolers is no different from demonizing any other group that marches to the beat of a different drum. While some do so to keep their children apart from those who have different beliefs or mores, some simply think that it is a better way for their children to learn.

Why can’t we accept that?

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      Angela M. Oddone MSW, LCSW (VA), LMSW (NYS) 

      6 years ago

      Home schooling can make for unique political alliances. A very socially progressive colleague of mine home-schooled her daughter so that her education would focus more on her strengths and interests while also providing her with a solid foundation of required curriciulum. She did this in collaboration with other families who were mostly conservative, evangelical Christian families, most of whom chose to do so for very different reasons. Learning by example to collaborate among people who hold a diversity of beliefs and cultures was a benefit of home schooling for all.

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