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Subway Protesters: Please call off the dogs

Apparently, emotions run high over sandwich shops and their contests. After Subway issued their apology, I thought the matter would be dropped. But I guess the apology wasn’t quite good enough. In my email box sits a message, instructing me to cut, paste and edit it for use with my local Subway store, as if I weren’t capable of crafting my own message or even deciding for myself whether I wanted to accept the apology I don’t even particularly feel was owed to me. At the heart of the message is this paragraph:

Subway’s response was simply to affirm its contest rules. I understand the grand prize is not intended to benefit one family, but no consideration was given to awarding it to area recreation facilities or parks that benefit the public should a homeschooled student win the contest.

And with it comes notification that we “choose to spend our money elsewhere from now on.” When is enough going to be enough? And just how much validation do we need from a sandwich shop? Subwaygate, as Sunniemom of A Woman On Purpose so affectionately termed it, has taken on a life of its own.

I actually found their apology to be quite amusing, albeit for totally different reasons. I couldn’t get past this line:

To address the inadvertent limitation of our current contest and provide an opportunity for even more kids to improve their fitness…

I need Subway to help improve my children’s fitness about as much as need to be included in their contests to feel validated as a homeschooler. And I really am beginning to believe that really is what this whole snafu is about: validation. Not rights. Not discrimination. Simple validation. That and the fact that the only other news Google Alerts is turning up are items like “Homeschool-Helpers English Country Dance.” Come to think of it, I wonder just how much of the outrage is directly attributable to the fact that there just isn’t much else of eyebrow-raising importance to blog about?

At any rate, OneMom hit the nail on the head in her reasons for boycotting Subway:

This issue is not just about Subway, but it is yet another symptom of a growing discrimination of homeschoolers and evangelical Christians in this country. If we do not stand against it, where will it end? Subway Homeschool Discrimination Around the Web

It isn’t about Subway. It isn’t about the contest. And slipping in the bit about evangelical Christians in response to a contest which included parochial schools shows to what extent we have staked our frustrations with society’s views of homeschooling on Subway. This is about every editorial casting us as “well-meaning amateurs,” every confrontation with an unsupportive family member, every time a stranger asks about our qualifications. All conveniently directed at one faceless entity named Subway.

With the talk of rights, freedoms and even law suits, along with the admonition to remain ever-vigilant, I get the sense that those most invested in the boycott perceive this action similarly to pulling weeds. These are the slights to homeschooling which, if allowed to germinate, will spread and eventually endanger our rights. But, as OneMom rightly points out, Subway’s contest rules are a symptom. A symptom which some have become so focused on, I am beginning to worry about the patient. That patient of course being the public’s perception of homeschoolers.

Rights are something we can fight for. When Nebraska proposed a homeschool testing bill, over a thousand homeschoolers showed up to the state capitol representing almost every county in the state. Even with what seemed like general support of the legislature and the public, the bill died in committee because one group was too vocal and too organized to let it slip through. When it is a matter of rights, we dig in our heels, put up a fight and resist compromise. That is what has gotten us where we are today.

But is this the model we should follow for every fight? It is one thing to march on the capitol; it is quite another thing to march on the general public. It seems to me we should be building bridges, not holding them hostage. Subway’s capitulation did not surprise me. What company in its right mind is going to stand up to an organized customer base over a contest? I am sure they would love to have you writing stories about their sandwiches with your children as much as they were thrilled at the opportunity to have schools send flyers home with children encouraging participation. Think what positive press they would have built with us had they tweaked their prizes a bit and sent out a press release to homeschool groups across the nation.

But they didn’t think about it because they were focused on the traditional education model and how to profit from the nation’s current focus on childhood obesity. Let’s not become so focused on Subway that we forget it is only a symptom. The real issue lies deeper and is likely not well-served through boycotts, hyperbolic speech and overly aggressive behavior on the part of our organized networks.

Added: In case you haven’t read it, Tammy over at Just Enough, Nothing More has an excellent post on the “situation.”  This I found interesting:

But if we look at our social history, it’s the emotional reactions that get heard. It’s when people cry out far beyond what is proportionately expected that things change. It’s when people are really pissed of that stories get in the news. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

As I noted above, I think this has been a successful model for dealing with the state.  I do not believe, however, that it is the best way to deal with public opinion, and while Subway had no choice but do something in response to the outrage, the real question is what this does for homeschooling in the minds of the average American, not what it does for Subway corporation’s opinion which thinks predominantly in dollars and sense.

via Mom is Teaching

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Update: OneMom asks a good question: Why doesn’t LIFE get this kind of attention? Now, really you could insert whatever your pet issue is, but abortion certainly ranks as one of the great controversies of America. Almost up there with Subway contests, I guess. But I have some ideas as to why this might have garnered more attention (and this “me” is a sort of general me, if that makes any sense. It does not necessarily reflect my actual viewpoints):

  • It affects me. Abortion affects somebody else.
  • There was hope of victory.
  • It was new. The abortion debate seems to have worn on even the most passionate.
  • Writing a letter and eating at Quizno’s really does not make anyone uncomfortable. Talking about abortion seems to make everyone uncomfortable.

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College and the homeschool advantage

The two most popular items to have made their rounds while my blog was moving servers seem to be the Subway boycott and Dr. Laura’s entry about homeschoolers and socialization. Most of the commentary I’ve seen regarding Dr. Laura’s entry, however, has included only a link with little discussion. So I thought I’d share a few thoughts of my own. Namely, I question one assertion made near the end of the entry:

Obviously, home-schooled students have additional adjustments to make when leaving their homes and entering a university or college environment: social relationship, peer pressure, classroom structure, etc. They are being forced to adapt to a social environment decidedly different from their homes or home school support groups.

It may seem obvious, but is it true? Is there a qualitative difference between the homeschool and the traditional school which should favor the traditionally schooled student, thus making the homeschooler’s success that much more noteworthy? Are there social relationships, potential peer pressure and classroom structure factors which the homeschooler must overcome given their upbringing? Or are we focusing too narrowly on the external similarities between high school and college, and not enough on the qualitative differences? Dr. Laura really only mentions two categories for comparison: the social environment and the structural environment. So I’ll start my thoughts there.

The social environment, or what is really gained by socialization?

The social environment of the traditional high school and college do, at least on the surface, seem to have a lot in common. There are large numbers of similarly aged students gaining an education through similar means. It is a diverse group, and navigating the groups and sub-groups is important for maintaining an identity in and with the group.

Peer pressure can be an issue and Dr. Laura has a point that the parental and community support given homeschoolers likely prepares them to “develop strengths and convictions that provide a bridge over the troubled waters of a multitude of challenges and temptations.” But what does traditional schooling do? Socialization is a large part of the curriculum, and it isn’t exactly the “hidden curriculum,” seeing as it often the first objection raised against homeschooling. But what is socialization?

The process whereby a child learns to get along with and to behave similarly to other people in the group, largely through imitation as well as group pressure. Answers.com

The socialization occurring in the traditional school setting is actually tuning children in to group pressures and teaching them to conform to it. I am not convinced this is the best model for teaching tolerance since the focus is on conformity. Homeschools also socialize children, but that process tends to be toward adult roles rather than into positions within the school’s groups, because the primary “agents” of the socialization are adults rather than peers.

The structural environment, or what’s in a desk?

High schools and colleges do have some important commonalities in the physical way education is set up. Large numbers of students are seated in desks, facing the instructor who delivers information via lecture and notes on the board. Students take notes, study text books and turn in their work to be graded by someone who likely is not related to them. One might imagine this to be a rather daunting transition for the homeschooler, while being “old-hat” for the schooled student. These differences, however, are merely external. Superficial. Not to mention expected.

There is more to the structure of education than the external, however. And when we look deeper into education at the college level, we begin to see things wholly foreign to most traditional American schools. One notable difference which cannot be overlooked: professors do not take attendance. No one cares if you do not show up for class. No one calls your parents when you do not turn in assignments. No one cares if you fail. Except (maybe) you. College favors the independent, the self-starter, the internally motivated. It leaves everyone else behind.

And here, where the difference matters most, the homeschooler may actually have an advantage.

Hat Tip: “Go East,” they said…

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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?

Subway contest rules

$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?

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Some more opinions on the boycott:

Electric Barbarella, who is writing Subway asking them to please disregard the boycott.

Question the Culture, 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 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 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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Structure and learning in the homeschool environment

I have been thinking a lot about this recently as I prepare to include my son in more formal learning. My daughter thrives on being given as much independence as possible. My son thrives on structure. I am trying to find some sense of balance, a happy medium. Then I found this question (spelling in the original):

The formality and structure created by going to school everyday is lost in homeschool. Monday through Friday there is a routine, a sense of purpose. No confusion or ciaos. A learned respect of the adults that are teaching them. A respect for all people is gained by following the rules in school, as do in, the rules is society. Created to maintain order. When is this learned in homeschooling? Grove Street’s Weblog (site deleted)

And that sort of united some of my seemingly disparate thoughts on the subject as I wrestled with a response.

In 1989, a rather humorous collection of essays hit the best seller list and refused to budge: All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. Obviously it resonated with Americans as it became the second longest running #1 bestseller in 23 years. But I maintained then and I maintain now that if you wait until kindergarten to learn the basic life principles he outlines in his book, you have gotten a rather late start.

It is in the family that we first learn our own worth. To share. To not hit. To clean up our messes. To say sorry. To hold hands. To respect others. To wonder.

Like Dennis in Martian Child, it is where we learn what it means to be human. And if that process is botched early in childhood, the best teachers in the best schools will find it difficult to overcome. The family is the foundation of society. If we have healthy families, we will have a healthy society. If our families are characterized by chaos, our society will be as well. All because it is the family which primarily prepares the child for and introduces the child to living in concert with other human beings…for living in society.

But what of structure and routine? The nice rows of desks, or the groupings at tables? The principal’s office? The lockers? The recess monitor with her shrill whistle calling you back in after recess. Is there not value in this? Doesn’t this prepare us for “the real world?” I’ve read multiple responses to this basic question, but I think the real issue lies a little deeper and necessitates what may seem to be an odd question.

What is structure?

1. Something made up of a number of parts that are held or put together in a particular way: hierarchical social structure.
2. The way in which parts are arranged or put together to form a whole; makeup: triangular in structure.
3. The interrelation or arrangement of parts in a complex entity: political structure; plot structure.
4. Something constructed, such as a building.

 

A school provides a structure and places that on children. It controls the environment around the child in order to encourage conformity. It is what most of us grew up with and thus it is easy to perceive it to be the only way, the right way or the best way to introduce children to adulthood and to society. But that isn’t necessarily the case.

Home education, in its ideal, also provides a structure for children although it is different in form and function. The point is more about inspiring the child and teaching the child to take responsibility for his or her own learning. It is about seeking real-world connections and developing a habit of scholarship, wonder and, most of all, ownership.

Many of us do finish the school day in less time than the public school because we have the advantage of more individualized instruction and fewer interruptions. I can see where this question comes from:

What job can you work for an hour and then go out and hug trees? Ibid.

But it really does not follow. I can as easily ask what business expects you to sit quietly and wait until everyone else in the room finishes their work before you can move on. What happens after that two to three hours it takes to finish what is in the book does not mean that education has ended. It is in this extra time that home education has the opportunity to assist a child in discovering unique talents and real world experiences.

And these unique experiences seem to be sought after by colleges these days. Private universities have been seeking out homeschooled students for some time. But now public universities are as well. The University of California at Riverside has an interesting article posted on their website with an illustrative quote.

“The new homeschool admissions program seems to have attracted outstanding students, as we’d hoped,” said Frank Vahid, a professor in the Department of Computer Science who helped establish the program. “Some applicants showed exceptional accomplishment in certain areas of study or very novel life experiences, while many also had high grades in community college courses and strong SAT scores. It looks like we’ve tapped into a pipeline of great students.” UCRiverside

We are providing universities with a “pipeline of great students.” And not just for academic reasons, but for “novel life experiences.” It is precisely this freedom from the structure of the public school system which has presented some students with the opportunity to be highly sought after.

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Why Homeschool points to an interesting article about how technology may destroy public education which provides an interesting extension to this discussion:

He makes the point that one of the things that keeps public schools going is reputation. When people work out ways to certify that a person has the equivalent of a high school education, public schools will be in real trouble.

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Mom signed my diploma and…

Addressing homeschool stereotypes tends to be about as effective as explaining to a child why the sky isn’t really blue.  It is a matter of perception rather than fact, and our own perceptions about the world rarely allow themselves to be challenged by anything as annoying as actual reality.  I understand this is parody.  And I can take a joke.  Really, I can.  But I’m still not quite sure what to make of this little bit of ridicule aimed at the Christian homeschooling community:

I cannot believe Harvard rejected my application!…

Let’s rundown my qualifications:  First, I was the valedictorian of the Alexander family class of 2008, with an impressive 3.4 GPA.  Second, I was the President, Vice President, Treasurer, and Secretary of the Alexander Family Student Council as elected unanimously by my Mom, Dad, and little sister… Phat Phree

OK, that is probably enough to get the point.  Stereotypes generally say more about those who hold and further them than they do about the targeted groups, but I have one question.

Mom, a library card and a bible put together a makeshift education at the kitchen table and colleges still seem to prefer that to what is coming out of the public schools?  Stanford actually tracks homeschool applications, flagging them with a special code so the admissions officers can take a closer look at them.

It’s [intellectual vitality]  hard to define, but they swear they know it when they see it. It’s the spark, the passion, that sets the truly exceptional student–the one driven to pursue independent research and explore difficult concepts from a very early age–apart from your typical bright kid. Stanford wants students who have it.

Looking very closely at homeschoolers is one way to get more of those special minds, the admission office has discovered. As Reider explains it: “Homeschooled students may have a potential advantage over others in this, since they have consciously chosen and pursued an independent course of study.”  Stanford Magazine

Stanford’s acceptance rate for homeschooled applicants is actually nearly twice that of the traditional applicant pool.  But they are not alone in looking out for homeschooled students.

“We find that homeschoolers do extremely well here,” said Tom Schaefer, dean of admissions at Duquesne University. “Many receive scholarships.”

“They’re some of our strongest candidates,” said Mike Steidel, director of admissions at Carnegie Mellon, which accepts five to 10 homeschooled students a year.

Many admissions officers contacted for this article said that although they receive relatively few applications from homeschoolers, the acceptance rate of those who do apply is high.  Post Gazette

See what mom’s signature on your diploma can do for you?