One of the best parts of the role of president is that I get to represent an organization with a thirty-year legacy of advocating for educational freedom. There is a growing educational reform movement in America, which means increased public dialogue about alternatives to the status quo. NCHE has many opportunities to represent homeschoolers in NC and to impact the school reform movement and the public opinion of homeschooling. We have participated in leadership events such as Leadership Charlotte and Leadership Raleigh. We have been asked to serve on educational advisory committees in Raleigh, and we are often interviewed by the media.
I want to share with you a recent event in which I participated as a representative of the leadership of NCHE, and therefore, by extension, as a representative of the homeschool movement. This was an event in Charlotte, the only North Carolina event on a School Choice Week national tour.
National School Choice Week started January 26. Over 5,000 events across the country were planned by hundreds of local, state and national organizations to highlight and raise awareness of the benefits of expanded educational freedom and to advocate for additional education reform.
As part of the week, National School Choice Week organizers developed a Whistle Stop tour across the country. The Whistle Stop events were bipartisan and designed to draw media coverage to the benefits of educational freedom. The tour had fourteen stops, one of which was in Charlotte at the Carolinas Aviation Museum on January 28. The event was organized by Parents for Educational Freedom in NC (PEFNC.org), and the agenda included representatives from independent school and charter school organizations, NC legislators and Governor McCrory.
The main focus of the event was clearly to highlight the positive impact that a variety of educational organizations, such as independent schools and now charter schools, have on our community. NCHE was honored to be invited to participate in the event. In the invitation to NCHE, PEFNC explicitly expressed that school choice advocates consider homeschoolers to be a significant part of the educational reform community. In short, homeschooling is the length parents will go to exercise their fundamental rights of educational choice, and its success is the proof that more active parent participation in educational decisions is good for children. I was therefore honored and privileged to represent NCHE, to participate in the program and to speak briefly on the fundamental educational freedom that homeschooling signifies. The packed agenda was two hours long and included speeches by the many groups and several performances by school choirs and bands. I was eventually told I would have two minutes to speak. I had a planned speech, but after arriving at the Aviation Museum, I was so awestruck by both the significance of the event and the aviation artifacts in the museum, I changed my plan. There is a full-scale model of the first plane developed and flown by the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk. In addition, the museum includes the actual Airbus A320-214, used for US Airways Flight 1549, that Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger landed on the Hudson River on January 15, 2009—the famous “miracle on the Hudson.” We sat inside the museum underneath the fuselage of this enormous plane.
The speeches were inspiring, and so when it was my time to speak, I decided to wing it and tried to quickly articulate a metaphor for educational freedom from transportation history. Noting the Whistle Stop Tour theme, I compared our current school system to trains, and noted how they had served our country well during a time of rapid growth. But then I noted that progress has made train travel almost obsolete, for now we have planes. I asserted that taking to the air, and so the sky, to me, represented a kind of freedom, a freedom that has elevated us into a space in which there are new possibilities, some only dreamed of, like a trip to the moon. I then argued that homeschoolers recognized these possibilities years ago, and that we were happy that the rest of the country was starting to dream with us. My little metaphor was rough and from the hip, but I felt like the room received it warmly. Later, I was pleased to see that a Charlotte newspaper article covering the event that focused almost entirely on Governor McCrory (and rightly so), briefly quoted my speech. I say this to draw attention to the fact that homeschoolers in NC are a recognized and respected part of the public dialogue that is the public education reform project, a project that has been going on for years and that will likely continue for many years. Our public system of education was not built overnight, and something so engrained into the American psyche is difficult to challenge. But I do believe real reform is happening across the country, and homeschoolers should be proud of the legacy we have as co-laborers and even leaders in the reform movement. I was privileged to have participated in the School Choice Week event, and NC homeschoolers are privileged to have such a great history and legacy of reform.