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The Washington Times
March 10, 1998

Crucial Lesson: Share in Success of Another

By Michael Farris
The Washington Times
March 10, 1998

Tara Lipinski paced in eager anticipation as she waited for the judges’ results.

On the ice, she had shown the world a smooth, sophisticated image as she jumped, twirled and elegantly moved through her final routine. The results were posted. The whole world watched a normal young teen-age girl squeal and jump in absolute delight.

No one criticized Tara’s emotional outburst. Americans, at least, took special pride in her reaction. We like to see normal children win gold medals, world championships, and national honors. It’s part of our egalitarian tradition. Anybody willing to work hard in America can succeed—not just those born rich and famous and trained in exuding an air of near-professional sophistication.

Last spring, most Americans saw national T.V. news reports of a home school girl from New Jersey, Rebecca Sealfon, jumping and squealing with exuberance. She had just won the national spelling bee, eliminating hundreds of others with her superior performance. She, too, was the talk of America.

But unlike the universal acceptance accorded to Tara, the reaction to Rebecca included many critical voices that blasted her because of her excitement. In an appearance on “Capitol Gang,” Margaret Carlson of Time magazine, sniffed, “Send this irrationally exuberant child to a public school.”

Home schooling produced great academic results, the critics begrudgingly admitted, but look at their social skills. Yes, your children may be smart, but they are social freaks. Your way is inferior after all, critics sniffed in self-satisfaction. If your children were in public schools, they would know how to behave in a better, more appropriate fashion when they win.

The educational chauvinism reflected in Mrs. Carlson’s criticism of Rebecca is reminiscent of the bigotry shown to black athletes as they broke the color barrier into professional sports. When the establishment couldn’t criticize their athletic performance, they focused on the off-field behavior of black athletes to suggest that whites were superior after all.

It took until 1997 for a black golfer to wear the Green Jacket at the Masters. Watermelon jokes immediately followed— from a fellow pro, Fuzzy Zoeller.

Mrs. Carlson’s bigotry may not have been racial like Mr. Zoeller’s, but it is bigotry nonetheless. It is a reaction from a member of the prevailing order who simply can’t stand the idea that people coming from another segment of America will prove themselves to be superior.

Most Americans reacted to Rebecca in much the same way they did to Tara. They enjoyed her delight and admired her success in the contest. I had dozens and dozens of non-home schoolers congratulate me on Rebecca’s success.

What I had done to deserve congratulations was a bit of a mystery to me, but I received the compliments as a desire to communicate a message of good will to all home schoolers: “We accept you because of your individual merits and efforts. We don’t care if you do things a bit differently from the rest of us.”

Let me give some unsolicited advice to Margaret Carlson, the National Education Association and other members of the education establishment who feel compelled to assuage their crumbling feeling of superiority by criticizing home-schoolers.

Grow up. Open your minds. Stop the bigotry. Home-schoolers are here. We’re not going away. Sometimes we will win. Sometimes we won’t. We will squeal when we win. We may shed a few tears when we lose. We’re normal. We’re part of America. Get used to it.

Michael Farris is the father of 10 home-schooled children and chairman of the
Home School Legal Defense Association

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