Members of the Bradley County School Board, and the Principals Acting Thereof
A Letter Concerning the Events of the Work Session of Tuesday, August 9, 2011
On the Subject of Bradley County Homeschooled Students Playing Varsity Sports
To whom it may concern:
My name is Matt Smith. I am a recent graduate of Lee University, and a current graduate student at the same institution. I was present at the meeting on Tuesday, August 9, 2011, at which the school board considered the issue of homeschooled students residing in Bradley County being allowed to play on public school sports teams, and by extension participate in other school-based extracurricular activities.
My goal in this letter is not to address the arguments “as such” on either side in favor of or against the issue; rather, it is simply to deconstruct some of the verbal arguments given at the meeting in question. I write this letter because the meeting was not an open forum, and as such I was not in a position to address these concerns vocally during the meeting.
No personal disrespect is intended towards any person addressed in this letter; it is simply my belief that some of the arguments of the evening were lacking in logical merit, and that such ought to be brought to the attention of this Board. Some of the remarks will be addressed in an anachronous manner; this is because some later remarks are connected with earlier remarks, ergo maintaining a greater connectivity across issues when said remarks are presented anachronously.
First, the meeting was opened with remarks from Craig Thompson and Joel Brown commenting on the academic status of homeschoolers. Many statistics were presented concerning various standardized test scores of homeschool students compared to those of public school students. Later, these remarks were very enthusiastically revisited by Troy Weathers at the conclusion of the meeting, citing them as a cause for the segregation of homeschoolers and public-schoolers. He portrayed the remarks in such a way as to suggest that those who made them, specifically David Kelley of the School Board, were belittling public school education so as to create two separate classes.
I propose that Mr. Thompson, Mr. Brown and Mr. Kelley were not making such remarks in an attempt to create a distinction between home-schooled and publicly-schooled students; rather, these remarks were in fact an attempt to bridge the gap between a false dichotomy created at the beginning of the meeting, in which the concern was raised that homeschoolers in fact do not meet the same academic and intellectual standards as their public school counterparts. Initial opinions voiced in the meeting concerned the academic integrity of the homeschooling method, citing that homeschooled students might not actually be qualified to play on a high school level by virtue of not actually being educated at a high-school equivalent level in their homeschooled programs. As such, the remarks by Thompson, Brown and Kelley were in no way disparaging to public schooling; rather, they were intended to bridge a false dilemma created at the beginning of the meeting.
Further, I take specific issue with what I consider emotional showboating on the part of Troy Weathers in his closing remarks. Mr. Kelley made a comment near the middle of the meeting about the homeschool supporters in the audience being “the cream of the crop,” referring to their peaceful demeanor in standing up for that in which they believe, and the intellectual standards the homeschool community has established. Later, Mr. Weathers revisited this comment, rather angrily exclaiming, “By God, in the public school system we have the cream of the crop too!” Mr. Weathers then told a heartfelt story about a girl in the show choir at school whose Mother had cancer, and that the show choir had prayer together.
Mr. Weathers’ argument was that the show choir was integral to keeping this girl in school. This part of the argument is uncontested. He then went on to insist that if homeschoolers were allowed to partake in such activities, then homeschoolers would have pushed her out of her slot, causing her to lose interest, drop out of school and “become a statistic that counts against public school.” I find these words on Mr. Weathers’ part to be particularly problematic for three reasons.
First, the argument represents the informal fallacy of argumentum ad misericordiam, or an appeal to pity. This fallacy occurs when an emotional element is added to an otherwise rational argument; that is, the arguer attempts to exploit emotions to sway a decision in their direction. I believe Mr. Weathers to be guilty of such because whether or not the student’s mother had cancer is irrelevant to the state law pertaining to whether or not homeschoolers may participate in extracurricular activities. To put it simply, having cancer is a terrible thing, but it has no bearing on the conclusion of the issue discussed at the evening’s meeting.
Second, the argument hypothesizes much about the outcome of the girl’s life based on the assumption that homeschoolers would in fact push her out of her “slot” on the show choir. In one respect, this accusation is absurd because unlike sports teams, show choirs have no inherently set number of participants. Thus, it is reductionistic to assume that a homeschooler would have in fact “pushed” her out of a slot in the show choir. Further, it represents the informal fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc, or “in light of this, therefore this.” Mr. Weathers has literally no logical grounds on which to stand to assert that the inclusion of homeschoolers in the show choir would actually endanger the girl’s involvement in the choir. Even if it did, he has even less of a ground on which to stand to assert that she would in fact have dropped out of school and “become a statistic” if she were not involved in show choir. One can hypothesize ad nauseam, but hypothetical situations do not an argument make.
Third, the idea of a homeschooler pushing another student out of a “slot” on any kind of team, let alone one with no set number of participants, is absurd because the parent could simply enroll their child into the school and they would matriculate into the show choir as normal students. As far as the actual argument is concerned, this is a non-issue. If it were, then Mr. Weathers would be concerned with making sure that only people who need prayer make it into show choir first. I do not mean to trivialize; I am engaging in the argumentative technique known as reductio ad absurdum. The issue is not with the numbers; it is fully a class issue, as Mr. Weathers has perhaps unintentionally shown us.
Moving away from the remarks made by Mr. Weathers, I would like to address comments made by the principals of the area schools; specifically, the comments made by Danny Coggin, the principal of Walker Valley High School. When he took the platform, he made sure to preface his remarks by stating that he had nothing against Mr. Thompson, his son, or homeschoolers in general. He then stated that he as the principal of WVHS has 1,546 students under his care, and that those are the students for which he fights. “Those are my kids,” to use his words. He made it clear that he was advocating for the students of Walker Valley High School, and that these were his grounds on which to disallow homeschooled students from participation in varsity activities.
Mr. Coggin’s remarks were in fact self-contradictory. He began his argument by stating that he was not against homeschooled kids, but that he was for public school kids. He was attempting to argue that there was not an ontological difference between public school and homeschool students, but his very words betrayed an implication to the contrary. Simply by virtue of using terminology to separate the two groups, he is creating a mental gap between the two classes.
Not only did his remarks create a false mental dichotomy between public school and home-school students, but Mr. Coggin made a statement while at the platform that he had spoken with Ted Lockerby (his head football coach) and five of his coaching staff, all of whom were against the policy change and against allowing David Thompson to play football on the Walker Valley football team. The idea that Ted Lockerby was against allowing David to play is in fact categorically false, as a letter from Ted Lockerby which is enclosed with this letter will show. The letter from Lockerby is addressed to Mr. Johnny McDaniel and Mr. Dan Glasscock, formally requesting that David be allowed to play on the Walker Valley team.
This is accompanied by a letter from Tony Spencer, the chaplain for the Walker Valley team, seconding Lockerby’s request. Both of these letters cite David’s strength of character, work ethic and team spirit as reasons to allow him to participate in the Walker Valley High School athletics program.
As quoted from Lockerby’s letter, “I hope David will be able to continue working with our team now and for the upcoming season.” And as Spencer’s letter stated, “My reason for writing this letter … is to ask you to consider allowing David to play football in the school where he is zoned. He is an excellent hard-working young man that could potentially achieve great success on the football gridiron if allowed the chance.” In the face of such letters, it appears that Mr. Coggin’s statements are simply untrue with respect to Mr. Lockerby’s letter, and perhaps indicate a misunderstanding of their position on the part of Mr. Coggin.
On another issue, Mr. Johnny McDaniel made several remarks concerning the timing of this move to allow homeschoolers to participate in the varsity activities. Citing the actions of other school boards and the recency of the TSSAA’s decision concerning allowing homeschool students to enter varsity athletics, Mr. McDaniel suggested that it might be wise for the Bradley County School System to wait out the decision as other school systems had done. I would like to suggest that such an action is inconsistent with a school system who intends to promote leadership skills among their student body.
This is evident with the Bradley County School System through the presence of organizations such as Career and Technical Education, whose third tenet of purpose states, “Career Technical Student Organizations, FFA, FBLA, FCCLA, HOSA, DECA, Skills USA, and TSA, provide the students with the opportunity to enhance leadership skills through competitive events, community service projects, and individual leadership activities.” and Junior Civitan, whose second tenet states, “The emphasis of the organization is toward good citizenship, leadership development and aiding people with mental and physical disabilities.”
As an organization who intends to promote good leadership as such among its students, the idea of “sitting and waiting” seems contradictory; indeed, it screams “follow, don’t lead” to those aware of the circumstances. Would not a school system which desired to teach its students leadership desire also to lead in a major policy issue which will soon affect schools across the entire state? I ask you: What is the worst thing that could happen if David Thompson and his student colleagues were allowed to participate in extracurricular activities? The arguments against are all ridiculously weak; money is a non-issue, since the homeschoolers’ parents pay taxes that support the schools, and since all extracurricular activities that require extra funds either require out-of-pocket expenses which the student would pay, or fundraisers in which the student would participate. There is simply no satisfactory argument that has been thus far presented against the allowance of homeschooled students’ participation in extracurricular activities!
In conclusion, I must return to the words of Mr. Weathers and Mr. Coggin in response to the statistics concerning the academic integrity of the homeschooling method, and the artificial barrier created by their words. They continuously try to argue in circles concerning the equality or ontological “sameness” of public school student achievement compared to homeschool student achievement. Might I suggest that in fact, this “equality” is not grounds for exclusion, but rather a support for the homeschooled student’s inclusion? Exclusion on such a basis does not follow from their equality of academic integrity; rather, this is supporting of the idea that they are essentially the same class, and as such ought to be given the same opportunities with respect to extracurricular activities.
At this time, I believe I have addressed the arguments presented at the meeting of the Bradley County School Board on Tuesday, August 9, 2011, and have satisfactorily deconstructed the logical error therein. As such, it is on these grounds that I recommend that insofar as the arguments presented presented on that evening, there are no fair grounds on which the school board could vote against the inclusion of homeschooled students in the extracurricular activities hosted by public schools.
Thank you for your time.
UPDATE: This letter was published as a Letter to the Editor in the Cleveland Daily Banner on Sunday, August 14, 2011. Still, only David Kelley has responded to me concerning this letter since its publication. I find it interesting that they seem to think that if they simply ignore opposing viewpoints, that they will go away.