Columns » John Brummett

The child comes last

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This may strike you as one of the more obvious and trite assertions ever. Apparently, though, it actually entails a remote concept.

So here goes: Education issues ought to be decided every time, without exception, on the basis of what is best for a child and never by giving greater weight to that which is bellowed by a turf-conscious superintendent or a huffy underpaid teacher or, in today's specific case, a fundamentalist religious parent who insists on keeping a child at home for schooling.

I put something similar to the immediately preceding paragraph on Twitter on Friday morning, and, in a few seconds, someone sent this reply: "Good luck with that. Never seen it happen and don't expect to."

A few minutes after that, the House Education Committee, under the thumb of turf-conscious school superintendents, narrowly voted down the bill — known as the Tim Tebow Law — to allow a home-schooled child, if testing at grade level on an every-semester exam schedule, and if his parents pay all fees, to try out for and, if deemed worthy by performance, participate in behalf of the nearest school in extra-curricular or competitive activities, be they athletics or scholastics, such as football or band competition or debate tournaments.

Tebow, for the uninitiated, was a religiously home-school athletic super-hero who, under Florida law, got to play quarterback for the local high school. Then he played on scholarship for the collegiate Florida Gators, copping a Heisman Trophy and leading the team to two NCAA national championships.

If Tebow had been in Arkansas, our law and our public education establishment would have kept him locked in his little home-school room to punish him because we resented his parents' religiously extreme and sadly polarizing decision.

That is to say we exacerbate that which we oppose.

Putting him on the local gridiron would go far toward correcting the very things we profess to find counter to his best interests. It would help to socialize him and to break through the religious polarization forced on him by his parents. It would introduce him to, among other things, the transformational influence of the secular cheerleader.

Seriously, let us pose and then answer the two general arguments against this law:

1. School superintendents complain that they would have to absorb insurance costs for transporting to competitive events these students who do not even attend the school. They complain that allowing these home-schooled students to participate in events for which his teachers trained regular students would erode the morale of both his teachers and the students.

So let us consider the central question: What element of that complaint focuses on the best interest of the child?

It is not the part about the superintendent's modest cost concerns incurred by transporting a child of a property taxpayer. It is not concern about the teachers' morale.

That leaves only the interests of a regular-schooled child who might get beaten out for halfback or for first-chair clarinet by a home-schooled interloper. But that's the real world.

2. Public school advocates and liberal-minded people say home schoolers should not be able to have it both ways, eschewing regular school but cherry-picking the extracurricular or interscholastic opportunities.

So let us again consider the central question: What element of that generally understandable gripe focuses on the best interest of the individual child?

The answer is that no part of it does.

Alas, it is harder than it sounds to think only about the child, isn't it?

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