Sometime this week Virginia lawmakers are expected to vote on a law which would allow the state's "tens of thousands of" homeschooled kids to play sports on public school teams; in fact it would prevent public schools from being part of any intramural-type organizations which barred the presence of homeschoolers.
HB 947 is known to its friends as as the "Tim Tebow law" because the Denver Broncos quarterback was homeschooled in Florida, but played on his local school's football team after pushing for the bill which gave him permission to do just that. Said bill is expected to pass in in the State House, having already cleared the House Education Committee.
Fourteen states allow for homeschooled kids to play public school sports. Thirteen more allow kids to play with certain conditions attached.
So, who are the folks objecting to this bill? (You know they're out there.) Various news reports summarize objections along the lines of: hey, public school kids have to keep up certain academic standards to do extracurriculars, why do those pajama-clad-until-noon, weirdo spelling champs get out of that? The Governor of Virginia supports the bill, but the 60,000-strong Teacher's Association is not keen for reasons both tentatively practical (public schools say their belts are tight enough as it is) and school spirit-heavy (you didn't want to be a part of this whole experience, so no, you don't get to play soccer!).
Washington Post columnist John Kelly is also displeased with this legislative notion. After mentioning the problem with Teacher Mom or Dad grade-inflating so that little Josiah can be the school's starting quarterback, and comparing the bill to Kelly's old drama teacher casting students from a girl's school and a college student in high school plays, the columnist continues:
[M]y main objection is philosophical.
School does a lot of things, just one of which is educating students. School is a place children learn to get along, learn what it means to work in a group, to navigate the shoals of cliques and conflicts. It’s where you learn some of the basics of what it means to be a citizen.
We often despair about our public schools in this country, but they’ve been a common experience for millions of us. If you happen to not agree with that common experience, you might decide, as is your right, to home-school your child.
You may have all sorts of reasons. Perhaps our public schools are too secular for you. Or maybe our public schools aren’t rigorous enough for you. Maybe our public schools aren’t safe enough for you. Maybe you love your children more than the rest of us love ours and you just want them around you all the time.
Whatever the reason, you’ve made a decision. You have the courage of your convictions. Except now, supporters of this bill want to loosen their convictions a bit.
“They just want to try out,” the bill’s sponsor, Del. Robert B. Bell (R-Charlottesville), told The Washington Post’s Anita Kumar. “They just want a chance to participate with their friends, their neighbors, their community members.”
Guess what: They do have the chance. They can go to public school.
And the vital point, which everyone else who objects to the bill seems to be making in one way or another:
I’m not against home-schooling. I’m against people wanting to pick and choose the parts of a public education they agree with.
Libertarians or homeschoolers who vehemently dislike public schools are often accused of being purists, but the people making these arguments are real hard-liners.
One choice is being opened up to students here, the choice to be homeschooleled and also to play sports with kids their own age. Even without the compelling hey, my parents pay the taxes which help this school exist argument, what's so terrible about one more choice for kids and their families? Kelly's column is carefully in favor of homeschooling's legality, but he really doesn't seem to like the practice, he's more wearily resigned to it.
Bob Cook over at Forbes.com is initially less snotty about the fact of homeschooling, but this attitude of "you made your education bed, now lie in it" still lingers throughout. That gets real, as the kids say, about here:
I just find it so rich that homeschool advocates are more than happy to run down public schools and explain why they’re just not good enough for their little budding geniuses, yet they’re begging to lean on and cherry-pick the public school for things they can’t provide.
"So rich" is a pretty strong rhetorical cue. Cook thinks homeschoolers are elitist egg-heads! But he then goes on to make the point that private school families have to pay taxes but are not offered this option.
But why aren't they? If a private school doesn't have a football team or a soccer team, but the local school does, well, why not let kids get their chance to play? Or even let each school decide instead of mandating at the state-level, which the Tebow bill admittedly does?
Maybe that's a bad idea, but having just celebrated School Choice Week at Reason DC, I'm feeling particularly keen on choosing. The columnists and other dissenters say kids can't have an education buffet, but why can't they? Why can't they take physics at school, but read history at home, or any another variation?
I suggest that with super-optimism and a general love of freedom but also, dammit, if you want the parents' tax dollars, there should be some education options. Parents pay, so you had better let in a thousand homeschooled Christian dorks so that they too can be future football stars who provoke an ire I cannot began to understand. That's fair. And that's one small step towards real school choice.
(Still, in my day in Pennsylvania we played touch football in the park near the house where we had our homeschool group. We didn't need no dad-gummed public school for that. Sometimes we didn't even have shoes. Really, there was a memorably muddy spring day in about seventh grade where we all played shoeless.)