Better Angels

"...all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature." ---Abraham Lincoln, First Innaugural Address

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Thanks for nothing

I'm always sensitive to the portrayals of homeschooling families in the media so I was interested to see the story of Jan Rankowski, a 9 year old Maine boy with Asperger's Syndrome who has been barred from the local playground.

Turns out Jan, who is being homeschooled this year after being "mainstreamed" out of his special ed classes, wanted to go play with the school children during recess. The town apparently has only one playground, which the school uses. According to this Boston Globe article, Jan had played on the playground for a year without incident until the school began documenting his behavior without informing the family and determined that his agressive behavior was unacceptable and dangerous to the other children. The parents are now suing the school for access to the playground.

I don't know who's right in this case. As a homeschooling parent I have certain biases, which this story mostly confirms. My main rule of homeschool/school relations is "the less, the better." I turn in my paperwork, they send my approval letter and that's it. But the Rankowskis seem to have other ideas. The AP story reports that "The boy's parents say they hope their lawsuit will force schools to treat disabled or home-schooled children the same way as other children. " Fair enough, in theory, but this isn't an issue of the school treating a homeschooled child unequally. He was allowed to participate in a school activity, and like any child, the school is obligated to make sure he obeys the rules set out for that activity. Whether or not he was able to is not the question. If I decided to send my children to recess at the local school, the school folks would have every right to make sure they were behaving the way they expected the other children to behave, whether or not they were disabled.

In the Globe, the Rankowskis paint a sad picture of Jan's life without recess:
Sitting at a wooden picnic table outside their home, Jan's parents said they blame the school for leaving their son without daily playmates for the last seven months.
He is increasingly isolated, holing up with his computers, gaining weight, and struggling with social skills.

This just doesn't ring true to my experience as a homeschooler. I seek out activities and playmates for my children. It's my responsibility, not the school's to makie sure my kids get a well rounded experience, both academically and socially. If my kids can't read, or don't have access to a chemistry lab at home, or don't have anyone to play with during school hours, it's not the school's fault! They took the child out of school. Now they need to take responsibility for his education, in all areas of life.