Barrett: State should halt discrimination against home-schoolers

Barrett: State should halt discrimination against home-schoolers

August 21st, 2011 by Steve Barrett in Opinion Columns

I wrote in February that the supposed loosening of the ban on home-schooled students' participation in public school sports was cynical. The rule change by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association seemed to be mainly about heading off real action by a more conservative General Assembly to bar districts from discriminating.

"[E]ven the limited number of home-schoolers to whom the TSSAA now purports to grant access have no guarantees," I wrote at the time. That's because the rule encourages, but doesn't require, districts to give home-schoolers a chance to play.

Events of the past few weeks bear out that concern -- and suggest that the General Assembly should take matters into its own hands after all.

The Hamilton County Board of Education voted 7-2 to deny home-schoolers access to public school sports, and now the Bradley County board has done the same, by a vote of 4-3.

Commendably, Jackson-Madison County and Metro Nashville will allow home-schoolers to play. Some other districts have come down on different sides of the issue.

It remains to be seen how many districts statewide will provide access, but even if most do, the unwarranted exclusion of home-schoolers by others is ample reason for lawmakers to act.

Home-school parents -- who, remember, pay taxes to support public schools -- don't want special treatment. Their children would have to try out for their chosen sports the same as other students. And they would pay up to $300 in fees to defray any costs created by their participation.

Rejecting home-schoolers despite those and other safeguards hardly puts school districts in a favorable light. It suggests, instead, that the bans are rooted at least partly in resentment toward parents who choose to educate their own children -- often with exceptional results.

Certainly not all public schools are child-wrecking factories. But what could justify forcing an academically high-performing home-schooler to accept enrollment at one of Tennessee's all-too-abundant failing schools as the price of trying out for basketball? You don't have to order the entire menu -- much less sip strychnine -- at a restaurant before the waitress will serve you a pancake.

And what in the name of kudzu is the benefit to a struggling school of packing another student into its classrooms in exchange for letting him run track? Where are those endless lectures about overcrowded, "cash-starved" schools when you need them?

There's an even bigger irony to this discrimination, though. It perpetuates in public schools the very thing of which compulsive defenders of the academic establishment accuse home-schoolers: a lack of exposure to people from diverse backgrounds. Letting home-schoolers take part in public school athletics would introduce students in those schools to youths from a radically different culture. That never occurs to those who seem convinced that education outside a government-run school doesn't count.

Or maybe it does occur to them -- and maybe that's the problem. Nothing is more dangerous to a failed but entrenched education status quo than for more and more parents and students to realize that the path of least resistance to the neighborhood public school is not always the path to success.