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Virginia home-schoolers can’t have their cake and eat it, too

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Back when I was a budding thespian at Rockville High School, the drama teacher — a creative whirlwind named Orville Bell — decided to do something radical: He opened auditions for the spring musical, “Oklahoma!,” to students from a nearby all-girls Catholic school. I guess he figured the girls there were getting tired of doing “The Women” every year.

I was the second cowman from the left, and if it weren’t for my dance partner from Holy Cross, I may never have learned how to pronounce “Siobhan.”

I think there was some grumbling among a few Rockville parents, but because pretty much everyone who goes out for a musical gets in and none of the three girls were in featured roles, it wasn’t a problem.

What was a problem was next year, when Mr. Bell cast a college student as El Gallo in “The Fantasticks.” Everybody knew the college student would be a great El Gallo, but surely someone at Rockville should be given the chance at the lead. Mr. Bell backed down.

I thought of this episode when I heard about the bill before the Virginia General Assembly that would allow home-schooled students to try out for and play on public school sports teams. It’s nicknamed the“Tebow Bill,” because apparently that’s what Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow did in Florida.

I’m against the bill for various reasons.

There are administrative drawbacks. If students are required to maintain a certain grade-point average to be eligible for extracurricular activities, who’s to say the home-schooled kid’s principal, homeroom teacher or guidance counselor — i.e., Mom, Mom and Mom — isn’t going to bump up Jimmy’s English grade from a C to a B just so he can start at wide receiver?

But my 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.

“I was disappointed to not have the opportunities that others did,” said a 17-year-old Leesburg home-schooled soccer player.

You do have the opportunities. Yes, taking advantage of those opportunities would mean trading your living room for a classroom, and I can see why you might not want to do that, but life is full of difficult choices. You can’t always depend on others to make them easy for you.

I’m not against home-schooling. I’m against people wanting to pick and choose the parts of a public education they agree with.

Insert typo here

When writing about mistakes, it is almost guaranteed that you will make some. And so it was with Sunday’s column.

My tweak about the “Thai-style chile” potato chips — I think it should say chili — prompted a few readers to say there’s nothing wrong with chile. Turns out my dictionary says chile is acceptable, though chili is preferred.

I also wrote that in the so-called Wicked Bible, the word “not” was omitted from the Seventh Commandment, making it okay to commit adultery. Several readers pointed out that the Seventh Commandment deals with stealing. It turns out there are several different numbering systems for what’s called the Decalogue. One list’s adultery is another’s thievery. Best just to shalt not.

For previous columns by John Kelly, go to postlocal.com.

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