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Check Your Assumptions At the Home-School Door

Thursday, March 5, 2009

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

Reston

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

Chantilly

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 extracredit@washpost.com.

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