Four years ago I sold my home and left “the most magical place on earth” (Orlando, FL) for one reason: I missed Cleveland, TN. My wife and I both came here as Lee students in the late 80s and were away for many years. It didn’t take long for the idea of “someday moving back to Cleveland” to enter our hearts. Coming back to Cleveland felt like coming home. It’s a great place to raise a family. But I’m not just another person who fell in love with Cleveland. I’m also a homeschooling dad who proudly supports our local school system with both my tax dollars and my donations to various fund-raisers. Bradley County, in my opinion, has some of the finest teachers in the country. Many of them are my friends and I admire them for the hard work and sacrifice they make each day for the children and families of this community.
So, if what I just said is true, then it certainly raises at least two questions:
- Why am I homeschooling?
- Why am I engaged in this specific conversation before the Board of Education?
The answer to the first question is complex, though certainly not complicated. As with each family in Bradley County with school-age children, our family made educational choices based strictly on our own personal goals and values. Like I said, complex, though not complicated. One family chooses Walker Valley, another Bradley, and still another Cleveland. A fourth chooses private education. A fifth chooses homeschooling. Each choice is both legally and culturally acceptable. Each choice is also extremely personal, a fact which few would dare deny or attempt to interfere with. We all love our children and make choices based on that love. And just because one family believes the educational opportunities through choice A is “better” than choice B does not make the choice a fact. It simply reinforces how personal the choice is. Our family chose homeschooling more than 12 years ago and we are both proud of and committed to our choice, just as those who choose from the options within the Bradley County public school system are proud of and committed to their choices.
The answer to the second question is also not complicated, at least as I understand it (admittedly, I’m a pretty simple southern boy, so the point could be debated).
Imagine, if you will, that you had founded a Breakfast Club here in Bradley County. Due to certain regulations that were out of your control, every citizen of Bradley County was required to pay annual dues. For this payment, your Breakfast Club offered “free” coffee, donuts, and fruit. The Johnson family takes advantage of this every morning. So do the Williams’. But the Smith family discovered they could make coffee at home that had a slightly different flavor (with the same caffeine content, of course). This flavor appealed to the Smiths, so they chose not to stop by the Breakfast Club each morning. The Smiths also discovered they they could get the fruit they like out of their own backyard. But as time went along, the Smiths realized that they simply could not make their own donuts. They lacked the experience and the resources. So they decided that they would alter their morning routine and begin picking up donuts each morning from the Breakfast Club. At least, that was the plan. Unfortunately, Mr. Johnson, who runs the Breakfast Club, feels that if the Smiths do not also want the coffee and fruit, they should not be allowed to have the donuts either.
Homeschooling families do not deny that the coffee and fruit of the Bradley County public school system is excellent and loved by many. They’ve simply made a different choice that better suits the dreams, goals, and values of their individual families. And because they contribute the same annual dues (taxes) as every other family (and because the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association deemed it to be an acceptable request), homeschooling families simply want to be given the same access to Bradley County public school system's exceptional athletics program to which every other tax-paying, law-abiding citizen has access.
In simpler words, we like your donuts. We can’t make them ourselves. We’re just asking for fair and reasonable access that does not penalize us because of our academic (coffee and fruit) preferences.
I recognize that this is a lot to digest. Should the Bradley County Board of Education graciously agree to permit homeschooled children to participate in athletics programs, it also seems clear that there will be both administrative and regulatory issues that will have to be dealt with in a timely manner. However, I am confident of the Board's ability to meet those issues head on and to handle them with fairness and grace. I am also encouraged to know that there are literally hundreds of other local school systems around the country who have made this step and who have gathered an impressive array of best practices from which to glean wisdom and insight.
Thank you for what you do for the citizens of Bradley County. I am proud to be part of the Cleveland, TN family.