Sunday, August 14, 2011

Elected Officials, Personal Bias, and Discrimination

The last few days have been packed with drama and emotion. Here in our local county, the School Board had before them the issue of allowing homeschoolers access to public school athletic teams. My husband wrote a great blog post urging them to allow access and addressed it to the school board. A local university grad student was at the workshop where this issue was discussed and wrote and open letter to the board disassembling the arguments they offered in the workshop. For a look at the illogical, irrational and ludicrous statements offered (that the student very eloquently rebutted)and to get a feel for the tone of that meeting, be sure to read his article/blog post. It was published as a letter to the editor in Sundays paper.

I personally do not have a student in secondary school who wants to play, but as a leader in the local homeschool community as well as someone invested in the furthering of our cause everywhere, I took a personal interest. I came away from both the workshop and the actual board meeting itself irritated, aggravated, frustrated, angry, belittled, and feeling very discriminated against. I pay taxes into this local economy, just like every other law abiding citizen. My taxes entitle me to certain rights or benefits in this community. Just because I choose not to take advantage of all the benefits extended to me should not necessarily exclude me from the rest. To be excluded from benefits I pay for because I don't choose the whole package is nothing less than discrimination. Pure and simple.

If my tax dollars should open the door for those benefits, which in this case was access to public school athletics, what stands in the way? The elected officials that serve on the school board. At the Tuesday workshop meeting, there was certainly a prejudice present among certain members of the school board. The discussion, while not supposed to center around the 'merit of educational choice' but rather the equal access homeschoolers ought to have to athletics, repeatedly cast doubt on the process of homeschooling, questioned both ability and results of teachers (parents) and suggested that regardless of our tax dollars, our educational choices made us ineligible for inclusion in sports programs. There was no real logic in the vehement opposition to homeschooling and sports inclusion voiced at that meeting. While I understand that they are the 'stewards' of the public school system in Bradley County, I believe forward thinking folks should begin to recognize that there is 'more than one way to skin a cat.' The education of ones children is a highly complex and personal decision. We are blessed to live in a country where we can pursue a variety of educational options and find the perfect fit for our children and families. Public schooling isn't wrong or inferior, just different! However, the reality is that there are some on the school board and in administration who are vehemently anti-homeschool and decidedly pro-public school. As elected officials, shouldn't they be more open minded? Isn't it their duty to represent all their constituents?

That's probably what frustrated me the most...the clear personal bias that colored many remarks as well as the ultimate decision the board handed down. If we're honest, that equals nothing more that pure discrimination. I understand that everyone brings their world view to the table and we all have experiences that shape our perceptions and opinions. However, I believe that part of being an adult is being willing to take in new information as it becomes available and changing my viewpoint if the new information calls for it. In this case, new information was presented to the school board in many ways...via e-mail, by letters and phone calls and even by personal appointments with administration. Yet the personal bias many on the board held prior to these meetings was held to so tight fistedly, that some were willing to tell outright lies to defend their position. That does not show open-mindedness or even a willingness to engage in an exchange of shows a juvenile predisposition to bullying in order to get your own way. I really expected more out of my elected officials.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Should homeschoolers be allowed to play public school sports?

You'd think Tim Tebow would have changed a lot of minds on this issue...but alas, here in my little corner of the world, the school board is voting this week on whether to allow it or not.

I attended the school board meeting both to show solidarity with other local homeschoolers and to get an education on how our school board feels about homeschoolers. Boy did I get educated!

Part of the problem stems from an 'us vs them' mentality. You cannot go into a meeting with the people who steward the local school system and imply that while you have nothing against public education, your choice to home educate somehow makes you better than them. We know that the statics bear it out...and any educator who thinks long and hard about how students with personal tutoring attention excel would have to concede that the *way* homeschoolers are educated (lots of personal attention and tutoring) would naturally be reflected in higher test scores. However, I believe the merits of educational choice should NOT have entered the argument yesterday.

Instead, the talking points should have centered around the principle of discrimination going on here. We pay taxes to support the local economy...our taxes go into all kinds of different community programs...the library, the roads, the parks and recreations system and the schools. Now granted, they (the schools) are not getting *extra* money because our children are not enrolled, but we are still paying for the facilities they use for school. It's also important to note that the school board is comprised of elected officials. I want my representative to be aware that even though they sit on the board for the public school system, the decisions they hand down have the potential to affect ALL students in their district. I believe votes were won and lost yesterday!!

The point that they get tax money from us, but they do not get *extra* enrollment money comes into focus here: The school system is already required to offer help, counseling or intervention programs for 'special needs' homeschoolers. Those kids are not enrolled either, yet the schools are already obligated to give them help if their parents ask for it. They are not getting extra funds from those kids, yet that program costs the school a LOT of time and money because we are talking about specific intervention speech therapy or intensive special needs on one student teacher time kind of programs.

This issue of sports is nothing like that program, it has the potential to bring in money because athletic and extra curricular programs are generally not in the budget... that's why there are fundraisers, booster clubs and parents paying out their nose for the kids to be involved. It doesn't cost them (the schools) any extra time...the program is established and extra man power or time investment will not be needed to accommodate homeschooled students. The arguments yesterday, while continually stating they were not arguing the merits of educational choice, boiled down to just that. "You've chosen to homeschool, so you don't get the benefit of the wider community education arena." I'm sorry, but that's just wrong.

As to the question of displacement, over and over it was said that if we enrolled our kids in school, they would welcome them. At that point displacement becomes a moot issue...if our child is talented enough to displace a current student, they would displace them whether homeschooled or not. That argument also stretched common sense when they suggested that an entire team might be composed of HS students there-by robbing PS students of the opportunity to participate. It's ludicrous to think that a coach or teacher (in an extracurricular activity) would select all HS students in any scenario...the last sob story yesterday of the student who 'needed' the 'connection' that choir offered her because of her home situation...a touching story to be sure, but the argument that those kinds of kids would miss out takes a caring teacher completely out of the equation and stretches common sense and personal touches in favor of proving a point on principle. Then there was the point about a student *outside* the school zone being on a sports team would be disruptive to school spirit, would make the student feel disconnected from the wider 'school' community and be a potential hindrance to the team since they wouldn't have a relationship with that student in the halls. This argument falls terribly flat when you consider that there are students from the neighboring county listed on our sports rosters here every year. Their county doesn't offer the same extracurricular sports activities we do, so they are allowed to participate. How is that any different from homeschoolers participating?? Pure hypocrisy at it's finest.

The other concern they mentioned over and over was the question of accountability. How can they trust that parents are actually doing their job? It's as if they have never heard of standardized testing or portfolio review. While we don't have a legal requirement for portfolio review here in TN, I think most families willing to pursue this option would welcome a review of the coursework their child is doing as long as the school district didn't make the review taxing, burdensome or impose some extra onerous restrictions on what the student should be doing or learning in order to participate. A quick review of the TSSAA policy suggests that there are already standards in place and the school board simply needs to recognize and comply with them in order to allow homeschoolers to play. No need to re-invent the wheel here, just follow what's already been thought through and laid out.

Based on the tone of the room yesterday, they will probably vote against it. And while it will be sad to lose this local battle, I don't think it will be long until it will be mandated and legislated in Nashville...and then the school board will have to comply. Both city (who is completely against the idea right now) and county schools will have to open their doors and welcome homeschoolers no matter how they really feel.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan

Free spirited. Fun loving. Flies by the seat of her pants. Spontaneous. Open ended. Flexible.

These are all descriptive phrases that others have used to talk about me at various points in my life. What you don't see there are words like...scheduled, consistent, on time, reliable, dependable, orderly, organized. Why? Because those words do NOT describe me. Oh how I wish I were more of all those 'grown-up' traits, especially when the responsibilities I have begin to overwhelm me.

I have always resisted a schedule. Truth be told, I have a planner graveyard going in a box in the garage. It has always felt so stifling to be 'told' what to do with my time! I *do* like to be flexible and spontaneous! I want to drop everything and have coffee with a girlfriend who needs to chat. I'd love nothing better than to declare it a silly holiday and take my kids out for milkshakes at the drop of a hat.

What I have come to realize is that living this way is neither effective or productive. I was definitely created with a bent for people and relationships over tasks and keeping busy. I recognize that and am trying to find a way to embrace my love for people and pursuing friendships and balance that against the demands of homeschooling my children and managing my the demands outside my home that I have become involved in. Most are important things that are a natural extension of what I do at home like helping lead our local homeschool support group, speak at monthly meetings and teach at our co-op. Some reflect my desire to help others, like serve on a community board for storm recovery (our community was hit hard by the April,2011 tornadoes). ALL take a level of commitment and intention that I sometimes feel is above and beyond my natural abilities!

Praise the Lord that "in our weakness, He is strong." I couldn't do so much of what I do with out the daily grace of God. I hear young moms say all the time, I could never do what you do, I don't have the __________!" Fill in patience, organization, ability, belief in myself that I could actually TEACH my name it, I've probably heard it. Let me tell you something: I CAN'T DO THIS EITHER! I'm no hero or saint. My house is messy, my kids rooms are dirty (one more than the others...her room gives me hives!), we have cereal or mac and cheese for dinner a lot more than we should, we sleep in, clean laundry is moved from the bed to the basket to the bed again before it is ever folded and put away.

What I have found when it come to those daily responsibilities is that a checklist is a good thing. It gives a sense of purpose to the day with out restraining one to an hourly schedule. It helps a free spirit like me (who would frequently be distracted by facebook or twitter or sparkly things) stay focused and intentional. And I actually get things done! It gives the best of both worlds though as a 'list' system lends flexibility and leaves room for spontaneity while still giving direction and purpose to the flow of your day/week/month.

What do YOU do to stay organized while still embracing who you really are??