Homeschooling has moved from an educational choice that seemed weird to many (even questioned as legal, requiring a Homeschool Legal Defense Association) to a well-networked, mainstream educational alternative boasting numerous academic successes. I know many people who homeschool their children, including my wife. One of our children has special learning needs better suited for now to the focus and pace of sole instruction. My wife, an elementary education major in college and formerly a first grade teacher in a Baptist school, is fit for the task of homeschooling our youngest daughter. But we are doing so more by necessity. Our other four children attend ECS. Three of them attended Shelby County Schools (Farmington and Riverdale) before ECS. We have nothing but fond memories of their experiences in those two county schools and praise for those who taught them.
The reasons for homeschooling are varied. A friend of mine draws a distinction between “homeschoolers” and “those who homeschool.” By “homeschoolers” he means those who adopt a fortress mentality toward their family, insist on homeschooling as the only way to educate meaningfully, and categorically denigrate public education. I know firsthand that this culture exists within homeschooling. Why those who truly fit the “homeschooler” profile would ever want their kids on public school sports teams I can’t say. Perhaps some do, but it seems to me inconsistent with homeschooling as protectionism.
Not all who homeschool do so from protectionism, however. Again, the reasons people choose to homeschool are varied. Some want to give their children an education that integrates their faith but can’t afford parochial school. Some who homeschool have no religious affiliation but want the opportunity to uniquely shape their children’s learning. Some live in the zone of a failing or underperforming school to which they rightly don’t want to send their children.
There are those who say that giving up school sports is part of the price one pays (alas, no education is really free, is it?) for homeschooling. But an adversarial tone rings through that perspective that seems to regard homeschooling with a kind of polite disdain. Except within homeschooling circles, homeschooling is often and easily subjected to rolling-of-the-eyes caricatures, as if “everyone knows” those who homeschool are overly-sheltering, socially awkward, or just arrogant or strange. That may be true of some but it is not true of most. There are athletic leagues in which homeschool teams participate in such sports as basketball and soccer, and the competition is high-level. I credit the organizational resourcefulness and volunteerism homeschooling communities display in overseeing athletic leagues for themselves. My sister and brother-in-law have been at the forefront of such efforts in Nashville and it requires a lot of commendable sacrifice.
But although I can empathize with the desire, I can’t fully endorse the lobbying for homeschooled kids on public school teams. I know there are coaches eager enough to win to welcome good athletes from homeschooling if permitted. And it is permitted in other places. Tim Tebow was homeschooled but played on a public high school football team in Florida. His success story (and a few others as well) is appealed to by those in favor of homeschooled students participating in public school athletics. I’m not persuaded, though.
As a former high school and college athlete I know a lot goes in to team camaraderie, including the shared sense of “our school.” This is particularly acute in smaller towns, such as where I’m from, where the town’s sole high school athletic program is seen to represent the whole community. But if one doesn’t “belong to” the school except via participation on its team(s), I think the athlete is a functionary when he should be a representative. A homeschooled athlete seeking a spot on a public school team is not like a walk-on in college, for the walk-on is enrolled at the school. I support homeschooling but I also support public school systems drawing the line for participation on their teams at enrollment in their schools.