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Check Your Assumptions at the Home-School Door

Dear Extra Credit:

Did you purposefully misrepresent Daneen Smedile's letter of Jan. 15? Her letter addressed how she got over the guilt of sending her son to school instead of educating him at home. Your choice of headline tarnished her words by being inflammatory: "Parent Says Some Things Can't Be Taught at Home."

You must know that you are dangling a red flag in front of bullheaded home-schoolers like myself. The headline suggests that we read Smedile's letter as a critique of parents who educate their children at home. With the filter you applied, I am blinded to her personal story and see only the topics that push all home-schoolers' buttons: socialization of our children, and how home educators can be trusted to teach our kids what they need to know.

Please drop your use of cliches about home-schooling families. Schools don't have a monopoly on teaching kids how to behave in a group, what the words in the Pledge of Allegiance mean, or even how to write neatly. When people wonder whether my daughter has friends or participates in group activities, this is code for asking whether she has a "normal" childhood. When they ask about how I know my daughter is learning, they are discrediting my judgment and abilities.

I promise not to write to you about classroom bullies, jaded and ill-prepared teachers, or the perceived necessity to "teach to the test." I will leave those topics to those of your readers with firsthand experience. If you want to know what my daughter is learning at home, just ask. I can provide you with a list that is remarkably similar to Smedile's.

Louisa Tran

You are right to note that the headline would have been truer to the spirit of the letter if we had added two words at the end: "By Her." She spoke only of her personal inadequacies and said she had nothing against what you are doing with your child. I like the idea of a list showing what you are teaching in your home, compared to what Smedile says would be beyond her. Please send right away.

Dear Extra Credit:

I was sorry to hear of Ms. Keen's unfortunate experience with unfavorable home-schooling regulations in Maryland ["Excluding Home-Schoolers Benefits Nobody," Jan. 22]. Here in Virginia, we are fortunate to have favorable home-schooling laws. However, home-schooled students aren't allowed to participate in after-school sports or other school-sponsored activities.

A recent change in legislation allows home-schooled students in Virginia to take up to two academic classes at the high school serving the student's attendance area, as long as parents apply to enroll their child by June 1. Placement at that school is not guaranteed, as it's on a space-available basis. Since most of our public schools are over-enrolled, it might not be much of an option for many home-schoolers.

I would love to take advantage of this new legislation for my home-schooled daughter, but unfortunately, our high school operates on a block schedule system. Classes are different every other day, and are designated as A or B days. Given the fact that most weeks have an odd number of school days, one week might have an ABABA schedule, and the next would be a BABAB.

Why is this a problem for us? My daughter has regularly scheduled commitments, such as volunteering at the library every Thursday morning. For example, if she enrolled in a Spanish class at the high school, she would have to give up any activities that would interfere with a class that has a 50 percent chance of meeting on those days. We also take advantage of dual enrollment at the community college, where classes have set days and times. Basically, enrolling for even one class at a block-scheduled high school would create a logistical nightmare and severely curtail other activities that are an integral part of my daughter's educational experience.

Anna Grieco

Until I read your thoughtful letter, I never thought of the conflict that block scheduling might create for home-schoolers. My view on this is stuck where it has been for some time. You pay taxes that support the public schools, so you should be able to use them. I think home-schooling parents do the rest of us a favor by keeping their children at home, leaving a bit more space for our kids. If your child wants to join a school team, we should welcome her aboard, particularly if she has the skills of Heisman Trophy winner and home-schooler Tim Tebow.

Dear Extra Credit:

I disagree with the idea that home-schoolers should be able to take some classes and participate in extracurricular activities. Extracurricular activities, including sports, are as much about building community as they are about providing activities for individual kids. Including nonstudents in them detracts from that mission.

Home-schoolers should avail themselves to the activities offered by local recreation departments. Schools are for students. School choice, including the choice to home-school, is a wonderful thing. But it's a choice. Parents have to decide whether having fewer social, athletic and recreational options is worth the gain of academic control. These parents want to have their cake and eat it, too.

Sean Tipton
Takoma Park

As I said above, if home-schoolers weren't paying taxes supporting us non-home-schoolers, I might agree with you. But they are. Also, shouldn't community builders welcome newcomers, particularly kids who want to help the team?
Please send your questions, along with your name, e-mail or postal address and telephone number, to Extra Credit, The Washington Post, 526 King St., Suite 515, Alexandria, Va. 22314. Or e-mail

By Washington Post Editors  | March 5, 2009; 3:00 AM ET
Categories:  Extra Credit  
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I have really mixed feelings on this. Yes, I agree with your point about parents paying taxes, but I pay taxes for other things I chose not to use. A few years ago , my child and a few friends tried out for a school drama production. None of the 4 (full-time) students got chosen, but a home-school student got a part. Perhaps I was a little cranky at that point since it was the third time my child had been cut from a school activity that year...My point is should't the students who attend the school full-time have a little priority?

Posted by: MLC1 | March 5, 2009 7:41 AM | Report abuse

"if home-schoolers weren't paying taxes supporting us non-home-schoolers, I might agree with you. "

Private schoolers are paying taxes supporting non-home-schoolers, too. So should a kid going to a prep school be able to demand services from public schools, too?

I pay taxes for golf courses and other municipal services I don't use. I can't demand money back on that basis.

We pay taxes for public schools and the students who go to public schools. Students who choose not to go to public schools ought not to be able to pick and choose the services they wish to consume.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | March 5, 2009 12:05 PM | Report abuse

I most definitely agree with Sean Tipton's letter in today's column. Participating in a school activity means you should be participating in school. In order to participate in a sport you need to maintain a certain GPA. If you are absent on a particular day, you cannot attend practice or play in the game on that day. If you are subject to detention for whatever reason, you do not participate during your period of detention. Leave the home-schoolers to form their own clubs/activities. Or join the rec centers or try out for the more competitive club/travel sports. I don't care if you pay taxes or not. You made a choice, so deal with it. Besides, hanging with the public school kids might negatively influence your child.

Posted by: judithlother | March 5, 2009 1:56 PM | Report abuse

This seems pretty close to "home" schooling. And endorsed / provided by a county.

There are plenty of publicly funded / provided social opportunities.
And if your specific choice is not available, why not be the leader? then your child / student will get the benefit of leading a team instead of just being on / in one.

There are too many people that think "homeschooling" means your child is secluded from the rest of the world.

Posted by: robjdisc | March 5, 2009 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Aside from varsity athletics and competitive performing arts groups, most extracurricular activities have room for anyone able to put in the time commitment. I know that back when I was editor-in-chief of my high school's literary magazine, I would've welcomed any student willing to help out, homeschooled or enrolled full-time at the school.

Posted by: CrimsonWife | March 5, 2009 4:44 PM | Report abuse

The "homeschoolers are paying taxes too" thing doesn't fly with me.

Here in Texas - the state pays the district a set amount per student per day. If a child attends "part time" we don't get the money to pay the teachers, for AC, and other costs associated with the school. If Homeschoolers are going to attend either the state or parents needs to pay for that child to attend.

Posted by: kaherbert | March 5, 2009 9:01 PM | Report abuse

I have a job where I supervise many teenagers, some home-schooled. Some are home-schooled because their parents want to make sure their children never hear any dissenting religious views, some are home-schooled because their parents think they will learn more, and some are home-schooled because they were advanced in some subject and the teacher expected them to "dumb down"--hide their knowledge until they had been officially taught by a teacher. (One, for example, was punished for writing in cursive in the first grade; the teacher admitted his writing was perfectly legible, but cursive wasn't taught in the first grade.)

The one thing they all agree on is that their conventionally schooled friends all seem so unhappy at school, complaining of teachers who don't know the subject, of meaningless assignments, of pressure to participate in activities they aren't interested in, of an unpleasant or unhealthy physical environment, of bullies, and of teachers who put them down in front of the class for knowing something unusual or for not going out for the teacher's favorite sport. (One teenager, discussing with me the President's view that the school year would be longer, said, "That will just increase either the dropout rate or the suicide rate.")

In view of this, why is there any debate about home-schoolers participating in the public schools--who would want to?

Posted by: opinionatedreader | March 10, 2009 7:01 PM | Report abuse

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