The Great Subway Contest Crisis of 2008

While most Americans were enjoying barbecues and the Hanley family was watching 70 mph winds blow a stream of water up the hill in front of our house, homeschoolers were busy organizing a boycott against Subway and possibly even Scholastic. My email box had more messages related to the boycott than spam, and the forums were hopping over a holiday weekend.

In a way, it is one of those feel good moments as a homeschooler. There are just enough homeschoolers that someone, somewhere will notice any slight dealt to the homeschool community. And we are networked well enough that major corporations bend in a single weekend. And a holiday one at that.

On the other hand, what was the boycott over?

$5000 in athletic equipment for my child’s school? This is clearly meant to benefit a school. And while Nebraska may consider me a private school, as many states do, I do not hold corporations to the legalese surrounding homeschool legislation. And they are not doing anything morally reprehensible with their dollars in supporting public and parochial schools. They just don’t want to give me that much playground equipment for my backyard. HSLDA chimes in with a letter dated for the 27th:

We understand that the competition is focused on traditional public and private schools because the grand prize of $5,000 of athletic equipment is designed to be used by a traditional school and not an individual family. A potential homeschool winner, however, could simply donate the grand prize to a public or private school of their choice or to a homeschool sports league. Open Letter to Subway

Sure we could donate the equipment. But I think Scholastic and Subway want a little more assurance that the equipment is going to benefit a school. One with an enrollment greater than my family’s size. Now, the whole thing could have been avoided with a simple readjustment to the rules. Something like:

The playground equipment will go the accredited school of the winner’s choice.

Then regardless of who wins, the real prize goes where it is intended to go.

It isn’t pretty out there, and it is rare that I really see this much division in the boards I frequent. I never knew someone’s choice to boycott or not boycott could be so personal. That my shoulder shrug at the whole thing would result in impassioned defenses of how boycotting does work, and an insistence that we have to remain vigilant even in the little things. Or that those who are not boycotting would see fit to not merely state why they think it is not necessary but go so far as to belittle those who have chosen to do so.

But really, do we make this big of a deal out of other companies who choose to support traditional schools?

Why aren’t we up in arms over Campbell’s Soup? Homeschoolers have been excluded from their label drives for as long as they have been going on without homeschool message boards mobilizing for war. How about General Mills’ Box Tops for Education Program? Or Target’s Take Charge of Education? Corporations have gotten away with donating money to schools for some time without raising the ire of homeschoolers. Simply because it comes in the form of a contest, we are suddenly boycotting? And worse, flaming each other?

Update: the petition has over 1500 signatures?


Some more opinions on the boycott:

Electric Barbarella (05/26/17 link defunct), who is writing Subway asking them to please disregard the boycott.

Question the Culture (05/26/17 link defunct), who asks everyone to stop freaking out. (Wasn’t that your line with the whole California thing, too?) Anyway, a special thanks to her for giving me a title to my post.

And one pro-boycott from Sprittibee, because I like Heather. And there is an interesting discussion over there. And she tempered her title after reconsidering which I respect in anyone.

And one of the better articles I have read from American Thinker:

But why is this snub at homeschoolers even an issue? Homeschoolers face constant harassment from “officials” at the state and local school board level, as well as from teachers unions, and they are therefore more than a bit sensitive to perceived commercial discrimination. By banning homeschooled children from their essay contest, Subway has — accidentally or intentionally — placed themselves firmly in the “enemy’s camp.”

I think that is the real issue, even if I disagree with boycotting over this.

Updated to add:

A Woman on Purpose (05/26/17 link defunct) has a list of quite a few companies which do not allow homeschools, or require validation by some sort of governing body.

And Standing on Isaiah 54:13 (05/26/17 link defunct) is having difficulty with Pop Warner Football which her children have been involved in.  They have finally gotten around to changing the rules to more easily accommodate homeschoolers, but now they need some validation by a governing body.  Something that does not even exist in all states.

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49 thoughts on “The Great Subway Contest Crisis of 2008

  1. I read that this contest started in January and will end in June. And folks are expecting Subway to change the rules and the eligibility requirements? Not reasonable, IMO.

    I can’t believe that as freedom loving home educators, we are going to demand to be acknowledged and included every time a business or organization wants to sponsor something to benefit students. Of course, they’d be wise to start thinking about how they can extend a branch on occasion to home educators, because we are customers too, and the number of homeschoolers tends to grow every year. Parents are going to want some opportunities for their kids to win cool stuff too. But to pitch a fit and demand inclusion? To cry “Discrimination!” when a company offers a grand prize of $10,000 and 12 state-of-the-art computers?

    Well, I could rearrange my living room…:D

  2. Sunnimom’s point was made during the Great HSB blog award controversy as I recall, that participation in a supposedly open, publicized contest could rightfully be limited any way the rulemakers chose, even in “discriminatory” fashion, but if you didn’t want the prizes anyway, what were you whining about for not being included? — except I think Sprittibee (e.g.) was arguing the other side of that one.

  3. I don’t think a lot of people realized what the grand prize was. I know it the emails I received and the blogs I saw, athletic equipment was never mentioned.

    Once bitten, a homeschooler is not about to back down over their perceived rights being violated.

    Don’t private companies have the right to discriminate against anyone they choose? Maybe I’m wrong.

    I have a blurb in my blog as well, because the timing of it occurs at the same time, I’m having some Pop Warner football issues. Take a look and tell me what you think. I’ll link it to my name.

  4. Private companies do have the right to set their contests any way they choose. Subway and HSBA, both. 🙂 Of course, private citizens have the right to patronize or not patronize these businesses as they see fit.

    I’m not ridiculing anyone for participating. I just don’t see it as that big of a deal that these companies wanted to do something for schools. I never would have posted if it weren’t for a bizarre turn of events on a forum I’m on. From the responses, I’d say about half of those involved in the discussion were for the boycott and half against. But it got weird and abnormally aggressive, as if the position mattered to salvation or something.

  5. Christy, I think you may be right. At least in the emails I read and the blog posts on the subject, what was always highlighted was the “no homeschools will be accepted” part. I’m sure at least a few people forwarded without checking Subway’s actual contest.

  6. I don’t get up in arms about the Campbell’s labels or the BTFEs because I can just sell those on Ebay (to parents who then turn them in to their schools) and make my own money that way. 😉

  7. //The playground equipment will go the accredited school of the winner’s choice.//

    Oh come on, you don’t really believe that would have averted anything do you? Then we’d have thousands of whiny homeschoolers crying about the the “accredited” issue.

  8. That’s funny, Melanie. I never thought about trying to sell those things…but then, we don’t eat Campbell’s soup anyway. Or buy much from General Mills.

  9. Honestly, I was a bit shocked by the response. Really, discrimination? Are we that sensitive?

    Most of the message boards I’m a part of are filled with discussion and none of it is pleasant. I go back and forth between wanting to put in my two cents and just hoping it will go away.

  10. I do see a good case to be made from either POV. More than two opposed POVs even.

    But very little of what I’m reading makes a good case imo, because the folks writing up the posts and comments didn’t arrive at their POV by thinking it through first, weighing the relative importance of different factors and dealing with the reality that there ARE different factors and no clear right and wrong — just arguments. 🙂

  11. My email box had more messages related to the boycott than spam, . . .


    So they’re not the same thing? 🙂


  12. Our homeschool support group has participated in both the Box Tops for Education and Campbell’s Soup labels programs for years. We are a fairly large group, so we did go through the rigamarole of filing for 501(c)3 status, as that was what they required.

    Although responses to the Subway contest seem to be unnecessarily emotional and heated ( as is often the case!), I think the issue for most people is the perceived attitude and assumption that Homeschools are not legitimate schools, and the need to continually fight for acceptance in the public relations realm. The whole contest ad was sloppy and not well thought out. If the contest was limited to institutionalized public school children only, I don’t think the backlash would have been so bad. But to include private schools as well, and I would assume that would also include any children being educated under an umbrella or virtual public charter school program, and then to use the specific exclusionary language they did… yup, that got the hairs raised!

  13. See, it is that discussion which bothers me. I do not understand why some are so sensitive to the fact that not all of us see it as important. Of course, I don’t understand the mocking, either, but then the mocking really wasn’t a factor in the forums I’m on.

  14. JJ- I feel like such a fence straddler because my position has been that Subway did not think these rules through (in some states homeschools are private schools) and that more companies should consider home educators as part of the community, but that Subway and Yo Mama’s Cheesecake can have any contest for any purpose and award any prize they choose, and should be able to do so without repercussions. And I use the word ‘any’ as ‘any without distinction’ not ‘any without exception’. Obviously some contests could be offensively discriminatory in nature, and I leave the possibilities to your fertile imagination. 😀

    As I see it, there is a HUGE difference between homeschoolers being excluded from employment, from college, from driving a car or obtaining a discount on their insurance and being excluded from a contest whose main purpose was to benefit a school.

  15. If the contest was limited to institutionalized public school children only, I don’t think the backlash would have been so bad. But to include private schools as well, and I would assume that would also include any children being educated under an umbrella or virtual public charter school program, and then to use the specific exclusionary language they did… yup, that got the hairs raised!

    Sorry for posting again so soon, but I think this is a very valid point. Subway did not do their homework on this one, IMO.

  16. issue for most people is the perceived attitude and assumption that Homeschools are not legitimate schools

    I agree. That is why I hope this post doesn’t come across as ridiculing anyone that is participating. I really enjoyed the post over at American Thinker because I think it touches more on what the real issue is…this perceived sense that we somehow have to prove ourselves. I think people are reacting more to the perception that Subway has something against homeschools rather than wants to do something for schools.

    And I see private, parochial schools as institutional schools. I don’t mean that in a bad way…but the structure is essentially the same for most.

    I do not belong to such a homeschool organization. Where would I donate the equipment to? The little homeschool group I’m sort of attached to just because I know everyone in it, although I never seem to make it to any of their events? Drag it around in my car so people can use it?

    The prize was intended to benefit larger groups of children, and honestly I think the public schools need this more than we do. After all, my kids get to go outside and climb trees and run in fields every single day. They aren’t limited to what happens in PE.

    You are right that this causes problems for a larger group of children, but then what about the opposite. What if my family did win and I did not choose to donate the prize? Would the family of a schooled youth be allowed to keep the equipment or would they be forced to donate it to the school? Why should homeschoolers get special treatment just because we don’t quite fit the model?

    I think there were ways to word this differently, and even to include homeschoolers if they wanted to be a little more open in their contest. But I still don’t see it is such a big issue that moderators are having to step in and stop discussion because it is getting to heated and too personal.

  17. any contest for any purpose and award any prize they choose, and should be able to do so without repercussions.

    I don’t think I quite agree. We have as much right not to eat at an establishment because we don’t like their contests as they have to discriminate in who they choose to include. Now, if people were asking for Congress to step in, I’d call them a bunch of loons, too. But they are exercising their freedom of association as much as Subway is.

    I just don’t think it is worth the fervor.

    Take Frito Lay, for example. I actually am sort of boycotting them. I should write and tell them. Cheeto’s ads are offensive and that whole Orange Underground thing is promoting vandalism and harassment of others. What they are promoting is objectionable, unlike the Subway contest.

    (05/26/17 link defunct) boycottcheetos (dot) com/

  18. LOL – let’s not forget that regardless of which kids and education are included or excluded and what the prizes were, this wasn’t really a contest at all but a mere advertising gimmick exploiting kids and education.

    The main purpose was to benefit SUBWAY. Not “to benefit the schools.”

  19. Dana- by repercussion I don’t mean that each one of us should feel obligated to patronize a business that has practices we object to- by repercussions I mean the mass emails and hyperbole and cries of “Off with their heads!”

    It isn’t as if they were sponsoring a morally or ethically objectionable contest. A company should not anticipate being ‘punished’ for giving toys to kids, KWIM?

  20. “The main purpose was to benefit SUBWAY.” Exactly! Some marketing guy was fantasizing about what a lovely little scene (maybe on national TV!) he’d engineer. Cute school kids wearing Subway t-shirts and thanking the local Subway owner and the corporate suits for the wonderful prize. Then some wet-blanket says, “But what about homeschoolers. They’re always winning spelling bees, geography bees, knitting bees.” DANGIT! No Homeschoolers Allowed. It’ll ruin our photo-op.

  21. Check out (05/26/17 link defunct) isaiah5413 (dot) for a more positive outlook on opportunities for home educators.

  22. I belong to five different yahoo homeschool groups and was not happy about the reaction of the homeschoolers to this. The prize is equipement for a school. Lets be real here. Sure we could give it to a private school but whats the point? Do we have to be included in everything? Why do we fight so hard to be recognized? Do we feel initmidated? Do we feel inferior? Our loud squawking just doesnt seem to be in our best interest. It makes us sound like a spoiled child who didnt get the toy they wanted for Christmas.

    I think this letter and others like them cast us in a bad light. They said it wasnt for homeschoolers. When you see the prize its easy to understand why. We dont need to wear our feelings on our sleeves and cry about every tiny thing we see as unjust. It demeans who we are and what we stand for, in my humble opinion.

  23. “except I think Sprittibee (e.g.) was arguing the other side of that one.”

    So, for this situation, JJ Ross is arguing that an organization can run a contest and determine the rules as they see fit.

    Hypocrisy, maybe a tad.

  24. Mackey, while I did have a brief thought that “no profanity” rather than “no home schools” would have completely flipped everyone’s side on this, I don’t know that accusations of hypocrisy are relevant here.

    I don’t particularly agree with the rules of either contest, but since neither were supporting things I’m opposed to, I can’t exactly get worked up about it.

    And I happen to agree with JJRoss, at least in what she has expressed here. I do get the sense that not everyone has thought through this.

  25. Spunky has written a post about this as well.
    [spunkyhomeschool.blogspot (dot) com/2008/05/re-subway-essay-contest.html

  26. Mackey, it’s not easy to express clearly even what we do manage to think through clearly and I may not have done it very well. What I hoped to get across was that a good case can be made for one or the other and it’s really effective when you show consistency that makes sense whether or not it’s to your personal subjective advantage. It’s harder — but it can be done well, too — if you are not consistent, nullifying your argument in one case with how you argue in the next. That requires a special effort to think through what’s different that makes the difference in which principle you apply in which case, and therefore which stand you take.

    Some folks don’t manage to do it really well but at least they (me too) recognize how the unexplained appearance of inconsistency will tarnish their earlier “principle” as perhaps not so much a conviction as a convenience. So they make the effort in their argument to explain how this time is different.

    But still it’s a sort of ratioinalization and so it usually isn’t compelling. What’s rare and very persuasive to me and other academic types at least(and how I use the word “progressive”, in admiration!) is when one thinks it through before deciding what one thinks! So it isn’t a defense of one subjective position or set of beliefs, or rationalizing anything at all — it’s problem-solving, thinking through and then arriving at and proposing an honest solution or resolution of conflicting concerns that you’ve acknowledged and addressed in the argument you’ve already had with yourself.

    That’s really good thinking, imo. 🙂

  27. Dana, remember your post on analogies? It could be intersting and perhaps illuminating to throw out some other analogies for this situation and see if we can narrow it down to one we all think fits best? Sunniemom suggested that employment and college admission discrimination did NOT fit, for example, or getting a driver’s license, and I agree.

    What about Ladies Night then? I think there have been actual lawsuits about that as discriminatory, even though it’s done by private local businesses for an unabashedly profit motive that may have harmful social effects . . .or GayDays at DisneyWorld (or homeschooler days?) There are many scholarships available with exclusionary and therefore “discriminatory” criteria such as national origin, sex, religion, area of study, even hair color! Does that sorta fit?

  28. I have, thus far, managed to avoid the Subway incident altogether. (Thanks, Dana. I mighta known you’d drag me in!) 🙂

    Here is my $.03. I wrote a note to corporate Subway expressing my views. I suggested to them (ver politely)that in the future they might consider an alternative prize for homeschoolers, as many homeschooled students eat at Subway. I stated that I was certain that any insult to homeschooling was unintentional. I felt above it all when I resisted mentioning the mild case of food poisoning I got the last time I ate at a Subway.

    Then I read all of the nasty pros and the equally nasty cons written in blogs about the whole, stupid thing, and I took a Tums.

    May we move on now?

  29. Thanks, Mrs. C. Do you think we can amass that much support for homeschoolers in NH and TN who are suffering infringement of their rights at the hand of the state? TN has essentially hung a sign on their door that reads, “Help wanted: homeschoolers need not apply.” Because a homeschool diploma is not good for any government job, even with other documentation…such as a college diploma.

    I understand not letting the little things slide, but to me this really isn’t even a “little thing.” It is a marketing scheme, yes. But is it really appropriate to demand to be marketed to? I don’t get the level of outrage…but it doesn’t surprise me that corporations are going to respond. They aren’t going to have a standoff with their customer base unless they see a potential profit from it.

    The state is another matter.

  30. I’m trying to get the word out about this as well (see below). All the best.

    (05/26/17 link defunct) joelodom (dot)

  31. Good point, Dana! Why doesn’t HSLDA and other HS organizations fight laws like that? Instead they’re worried about whether my kid needs to “prove” he’s being educated at home to get a license in Missouri. Which is fine… I agree… but I think maybe Vermont is the worst HS state? Well, I have special-needs kids so maybe that’s just my perspective based on my (limited!) reading.

    OO! Too bad we don’t have a “worst state to homeschool” contest. Open only to homeschoolers to enter LOL!

  32. JJRoss, I’ve been trying to think of an adequate analogy, but it is failing me at the moment. So I offer instead Dana Hanley’s guide to boycotting and staging protests.

    Before beginning any protest or boycott, ask yourself a few questions:

    1) Who is benefited by the contest/policy/action/etc.?
    2) Does benefiting this group of people promote morally reprehensible activity?
    3) Who is harmed by the contest/policy/action/etc.?

    Now let’s look at this in this case:

    1) Traditional schools.
    2) No.
    3) No one. At least not in any real sense.

    Another thing which might be good to think through as well:

    Is it possible to start with a lesser action? Say, writing a letter to inform the person of your stance rather than drawing all guns at once?

  33. COD, sorry. I have not idea why that got held to be moderated.

    But you are right and no, I don’t think it would have really helped any.

    There was no way out of it if they wanted to make sure the equipment went to a school. Think of it the other way and you have a worse problem, actually.

    A homeschooler wins and they get to keep the equipment. A schooled student wins and they have to give it over to their school? Is that fair?

  34. Homeschoolers can participate in the Box Tops for Education Program. PEAK (Inclusive Homeschool Group) participates. You’ll have to ask Natalie how we do it though as I failed to pay attention to that part.

    I think Subway could have solved the problem of the athletic equipment by saying in the event a homeschooler won the athletic equipment would be donated to a community playground, private or public school playground or recreational group of the homeschoolers choice.

  35. I could be wrong, but I think you have to be organized into some sort of group. It still discriminates against someone like me who is not a part.

    But a playground, etc., would have worked. Except that I don’t think that it is bad to want to benefit a school.

  36. Before beginning any protest or boycott, ask yourself a few questions:

    1) Who is benefited by the contest/policy/action/etc.?
    2) Does benefiting this group of people promote morally reprehensible activity?
    3) Who is harmed by the contest/policy/action/etc.?

    There are some who do see Subwaygate as a civil liberties issue.

  37. Good grief. It simply isn’t reasonable to think Subway/Scholastic can change the rules mid stream, (although that’s exactly what the HSBA’s did last year, even though the “moderator(s)” keep denying that, saying they were simply “clarifying” the rules) and it isn’t reasonable to think Subway could make rules that would satisfy all homeschoolers. Our diversity presents a unique situation where we are all, every single one of us, schooling under different conditions, under different laws, and for different purposes. In my case, if one of my children were to enter and win, there is literally nobody to donate it to. Do you think we’re in a unique position? No. Not only are we independent from government schooling, we are independent from each other. Our way of life doesn’t set itself up to “participate” simply because we’re told we can’t – we do as we choose, and Subway can too. I’m way more annoyed that “homeschoolers” speak to the media as if they’re the mouthpiece for all of us than I could ever be at a private company that chooses to run a contest with an obvious purpose – to donate equipment to a brick and mortar school complex, not an invisible entity like a “homeschooling group”.

  38. Doc, I agree. 🙂 And the more I think about it, the more annoyed I am at the demand for the ability to donate this equipment to a homeschooling group. I don’t want to be a part of a special interest group, competing with other groups for resources and attention, which is what this sort of action pushes us toward. I just want to be left to do my thing.

    Sunniemom, I realized that looking through some of the commments. But how is that? Civil liberties is a matter between the state and the population, not privately held corporations and private citizens. If we are talking about fundamental rights, Subway has the right to do with its property as it sees fit. Of course, we all have the right to not eat there, but I think it is a little far-fetched to say that Subway has trounced on anyone’s rights by giving athletic equipment to a traditional school.

    Every contest discriminates on some basis, depending on the corner of the market the business is looking to expand into. Would it be wise from a PR standpoint for Subway to consider homeschoolers? Sure. But it is hardly an issue of rights.

  39. From a PR standpoint, it might also be equally as wise for homeschoolers to tread a little more carefully into the way in which we demand recognition.

  40. Well, it IS discrimination. But, I believe that a private company has a right to discriminate. So… I can’t complain when the discrimination is against me.

  41. Yes…but all contests discriminate. From a PR standpoint, this was stupid of Subway. Not just because of the reaction that I think is over-the-top, but what they wanted was a flyer sent home to every elementary kid in America with their logo on it. Little kids assigned to write about their sandwiches. A sort of viral marketing campaign directed at children with good feelings attached. And how much more of that could they have generated by sending a notice to a few homeschool organizations as well?

  42. I found this discussion via a search. I am VERY tired of and frustrated with these businesses that discriminate against homeschoolers. I attempted to sign up our “private” homeschool today with BoxTops. Under North Carolina law, we are recognized as a private school and are even issued a card stating so. We are also included in their database along with “other” types of private schools. Regardless, General Mills did not want to hear this and refused to issue me a school ID#. If NC law recognizes us as a private school why won’t BoxTops? I even wrote an email to them questioning this practice, and they basically said it’s too expensive to issue homeschools materials. Go figure?? Don’t they have to issue “fewer” materials to homeschools ex.) 4 vs. 400? Also, I reminded them that Pizza Hut is very homeschool friendly and don’t squable over issuing materials to us “dreaded homeschoolers.” We have homeschooled for almost eight year’s now and BoxTops still hasn’t jumped on board. We need to make this issue known, especially since homeschool families are not a “minority” as these corporations ASSume. I do not plan to patronize them when it comes to what I decide to buy. They’re basically saying–you don’t count but the PUBLIC schools do.

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