In my previous two posts (here and here) I reviewed the first three parts of Homeschooling (Current Controversies). In this post I’ll finish out part four and make some concluding comments about the anthology.
Part four addresses the question, “Should Homeschooled Children Have Access to Public School Resources?”
There are three entries answering “yes” and three answering “no.” First comes Pennsylvania’s Democratic Governer Ed Rendell’s sensitive and articulate explanation of why he signed into law Senate Bill 361 which allows homeschooled children across the state of Pennsylvania to participate in extracurricular activities at their local public school. The Bill passed in both the House and Senate by large margins. Rendell signed it in 2005 and it went into effect Jan. 1, 2006. You can read this entry exactly as it appears in the book for free here.
Next comes an abridged version of the FAQ section of the Alabama EqualAccess’s “Tim Tebow Bill” website. [complete, updated version is here]. Tim Tebow is of course college football’s premier player, the star quarterback of the Florida Gators, multiple award winner, universally admired for his Christian character and sportsmanship on and off the field. He was also homeschooled throughout his elementary and secondary years, but thanks to Florida’s liberal laws was able to play football for Nease High School, where he was dubbed Florida player of the year twice. Tebow is thus the perfect posterboy for any political initiative to legalize homeschooler participation in high school extra-curriculars. Despite four years of activism, however, the “Tim Tebow Bill” has not to date made it out of committee for a vote before the Alabama legislature. (I should mention in passing that a second “Tebow Bill,” this one in Kentucky, was introduced in January 2009).
The last “yea” voice is an article from the Daily Herald out of Provo, Utah. Its original title was “In Our View: Let Home-School Kids Participate” and you can read it here. It’s an editorial supporting what was then Senate Bill 37, advocating (among other things) allowing homeschoolers access to public school sports teams. The bill failed in 2008 but is up for consideration (as SB 61) again this year.
The first voice opposed to homeschooler access to public school resources is that of Valorie Delp, Assistant Managing Editor of blogs at families.com and homeschooling mother of five. In this piece, originally a blog post at families.com (which you can read here), Delp argues against homeschooler participation in public school activities because of the entanglements with the State such participation would entail and because such participation would endanger the integrity of homeschooling.
Sherry F. Colb, a professor at Rutgers Law School and frequent commentator for findlaw.com, presents a more rigorous critique, which you can read as it originally appeared on findlaw.com here. She first argues against the claim (made in several of the above entries) that since homeschoolers pay taxes too they should get these services. Her counter is that paying taxes is not the same as paying public school tuition, for, indeed, people without children pay taxes too. “There is no direct correspondence…between payment and services, when it comes to taxes.”
Next she takes on the argument for a cafeteria-style approach to public education (explicitly advocated by Alabama EqualAccess above). Colb counters that “the menu approach” to public school disrupts and undermines “the seriousness of the overall endeavor” of public education and does not take seriously enough the responsibilities of students to the school in its rush to emphasize student or family rights.
But, homeschoolers will respond, extracurriculars are not the same as art or math class, for they are independent of the curriculum and optional even for public school students. Colb grants that this is the strongest argument homeschoolers make and notes that the Supreme Court in Board of Pottawatomie v. Earls (2002), a case upholding the mandatory drug testing of all students participating in extracurriculars, based their decision on this distincition between the compulsory nature of the curriculum and the voluntary nature of the extracurriculum. But, Colb maintains, schools still place all sorts of conditions on extracurricular participation, from GPA to disciplinary record, and homeschoolers should have to meet these too.
Finally, Colb fears the blow to school spirit and morale that is implied in homeschooler participation in extracurriculars. She summarizes the potential homeschooler attitude like this, “we don’t think your school or you have much to offer us, in terms of intelligence or morality, but we like your basketball team, so here we are.” Homeschoolers on this reading just want to use public schools for their own private ends without committing to them or to the communities they represent.
Despite her views, Colb concludes by recognizing that a growing number of states seem to be moving toward this more consumer-oriented, cafeteria-style model of public education and hence are opening up extracurriculars to homeschoolers.
Finally we have Preston Williams, a columnist who writes weekly about high school sports for the Washington Post. His article appeared originally in the Post in February 2008 [available here]. It makes many of the same points made by Colb and adds that a pro-homeschooler school sports policy raises the possibility that a coach could have a player who is struggling academically simply drop out and declare himself a “homeschooler” to avoid ineligibility due to a low GPA or behavioral issues. He also nods in the direction of Delp’s article by noting that such a development would likely increase government regulation of homeschooling (for instance, to be eligible to play, homeschoolers might have to take extra tests to prove academic parity with public schooled students).
The book ends with a nice annotated list of organizations concerned with the various issues covered in the articles.
Overall I found this collection a bit disappointing. Anyone who has bothered to read all three of these posts has noticed that nearly everything included in the book is available online for free. Previous incarnations of this book tended to include articles with more heft. Those included this time are, with only a couple of exceptions, ephemeral newspaper op eds or blog posts.
Having said that, the book does do a nice job of honing in on some of the important recent controversial issues. Perhaps one reason the book is not as good this time around is that there is less and less controversy to report. Though there are occasional flare-ups, on the whole a peace has settled on the land in terms of homeschooling politics. The fundamental questions are largely settled. The most interesting section in this book was the last one dealing with homeschoolers and public school sports. This is a timely topic where there is still vigorous disagreement and debate, even among homeschoolers. But the old standbys of homeschoolers and socialization or whether or not homeschooling is good for kids and for America–these debates are pretty tired and predictable by now.
A final point to make is that this book’s recent history and current incarnation illustrates a larger trend currently hounding the publishing world. As the internet has matured and grown dominant, paper publishers are having an increasingly difficult time legitimating their existence as content providers. The 2009 Homeschooling (Current Controversies) offers nothing you can’t get on the web for free with just a bit of searching. Why would anyone pay the sticker price for it? That, in a nutshell, is the dilemma of newspapers and publishing houses across the country.