"Do we have school today?" My three oldest children asked this on Monday with hope in their eyes that they might just get their first "snow day" ever. I glanced at my wife. She still had the dazed look resulting from another late night, "toddler-won't-can't-sleep" disaster. "No school," I started to say, then paused as I realized the leverage I had in this situation, "except for Latin..."
"And," my wife interjected, "spelling."
"Get your chores done, finish up your school, and get out there and enjoy the snow," I concluded the sentence. The kids beamed and the celebratory dances began. Even the pre-schooler and toddler joined in, though it made no difference to them. Little do these homeschooled kids know what they are missing!
Where we live in the Washington DC metro area, the suburban public schools announced early on that they would not be holding school all week due to the weekend snow. Granted, two feet is a lot of snow. However, I noticed that the local elementary school parking lot appeared to be cleared almost the day after the snow ended.
Likewise, perhaps since it was such a fluffy snow, the snow plow managed even to make it out to our gravel road in one of the most rural parts of the county. I briefly pondered this mystery as I traversed the snow-lined highways to work this week. As the week progressed, the mystery, like the snow, began to clear a bit.
On Thursday of the big-snow week, a newspaper ran a story about parents in the area growing tired of snow days (Some Parents Are Sick of Snow Days, Washington Post, B1, 2/20/2003). The following section caught my eye:
"Montgomery County, where 15,000 children attend magnet schools or special education programs outside of their neighborhoods, did a study in the 1990s on the question of opening some schools and not others. The study found it expensive and possibly illegal: If a special-ed student, from, say, snowy Damascus wasn't bused to his open school in well-plowed Bethesda, that would be a violation of federal law."
Are the government schools really saying that they can't allow students to come and learn at an accessible school because not everybody could make it? Has the goal of absolute equality been given almost complete precedence over the achievement of simple quality? As I pondered this thought, I thought back on my own education in government schools.
For those of us who grew up in the '60s and '70s, snow days were a true joy. Growing up in Indiana, as I did, they were also fairly rare - at least for my family. You see, it used to be that the schools would open for those who could make it.
Since we, along with most of the kids and teachers in my small town, lived less than a mile from the school, our parents would make us trudge through the snow to school because we could. As the farmers got around to clearing the rural roads (they could almost always get it done themselves before the county could get their plows to them) the farm kids would come trickling in.
Eventually, in a couple of days, most everybody would be back in school. Sure, some were a little behind, but that was just part of life, and with extra attention, they could catch up. Apparently, times have changed.
One of the reasons why homeschooling has really been successful in America is that homeschooled children are turning out to be quality young people. People often ask homeschoolers what it is that we do that results in such good kids.
One big truth often overlooked is that we are not sending our kids mixed signals. We don't tell them that education is important, but then show them by our actions that it is more important for everybody to be at the same level than to allow them to excel. We don't close the school because a small percentage could not make it. We don't bog the kids down with wasted time, waiting for everybody in the class to be done before they move on. We also don't leave them behind. If one of my kids doesn't understand something, we don't move on until they do. What would be the point? In short, we are looking for and producing quality education.
I don't fault the government schools. They are burdened with being asked to be educators as well as baby sitters. Their hands are tied by the threat of lawsuits and an overactive judicial system. But I can't sit on the truth, either. Too many kids are at risk. And the truth of the matter, at least this week, is that my school was in session, as it is nearly every day.
Tom Washburne is the Director of HSLDA's National Center for Home Education.