Subway and Scholastic Contest Excludes Homeschoolers; Homeschoolers Get Mad

Subway and Scholastic announced a writing contest to win $5,000 worth of sporting equipment for a school. In their contents rules, they state the following:

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. Contest is open only to legal residents of the Untied States who are currently over the age of 18 and have children who attend elementary, private or parochial schools that serve grades PreK-6.No home schools will be accepted.

A homeschooler caught wind of this exclusion, and word spread fast through online communities that Subway was discriminating against homeschoolers. In the span of three days, there have been letter writing campaigns, calls to action, blog posts and articles denouncing Subway because it “hates homeschoolers“.

Subway obviously misunderstood the homeschooling community. They put together a contest that explicitly excluded homeschoolers, but did not do their research into what “home school” means. Instead, they relied on a cursory social definition (i.e. homeschoolers alone in their homes not being involved in anything organized). They also did not do enough research to understand that many states don’t have homeschoolers at all. By including “private schools” but excluding “homeschoolers”, their rules aren’t legally coherent in these states.

It is fairly clear why Subway chose to exclude homeschoolers. The prize is intended for a large group of kids who will use it on a regular basis. They did not want the prize to go to a single family. Excluding groups of people from prizes is common practice in contests like this. There are contests that are open only to girls, contests open to only residents of certain states, there are contests that exclude anyone working in the media industry.

However, when was the last time you saw a specific minority restricted from a contest? This is where Subway made their gaffe – they did not recognize that homeschoolers are a minority group. The emotional outcry that is coming from the homeschooling community is akin to a minority response – you’re not allowed to exclude us without a damn good, obvious, legal and fair reason.

The response from homeschoolers, by and large, has been emotional. One homeschooler even started a petition to boycott Subway unless it changes its rules for this contest. Knee jerk emails and letters have been popping up all over the blogosphere and email lists. Homeschoolers are not happy, and they aren’t going to sit down and take it.

Then, sprinkled amongst the anger and incredulity, there have been a few brave souls who spoke up and said, “Has anyone stopped to ask why?”, “Perhaps we should talk to them reasonably,” and even, “So what?”

Unfortunately, these calls for sanity have been met with argument and more emotion. It doesn’t seem that the letter-writers and boycott-creators actually want to talk reasonably, not even within their own community.

Fortunately, there have been a number of homeschoolers who have written reasonable letters to Subway. Subway claims to recognize its mistake, and has promised to do the proper research in future promotions, because it’s too late to change the rules right now.

I’m not so sure if that’s true. The rules aren’t all that clear in the first place, and one could argue even now, that if a homeschooler from a state where “homeschoolers” aren’t defined in the law, wins this contest, that they are eligible. A homeschooler in California, for example who is enrolled in a ISP or has their own private school at home, is eligible under the “private school” qualification. Does adding the stipulation “no home schools will be accepted” actually mean anything? Does taking out that stipulation in the rules actually mess things up? I’m thinking not.

A few questions to be asked about this situation

1) How important is Subway’s gaffe? I ask this, because from the outcry that has been going around internet, it would seem that this little contest is pretty damn important. Is this a real threat?

2) How effective is the emotional reaction to Subway’s exclusion? At first, I thought that the emotional outburst of the homeschooling community in reaction to this contest was wasted effort. But if we look at our social history, it’s the emotional reactions that get heard. It’s when people cry out far beyond what is proportionately expected that things change. It’s when people are really pissed of that stories get in the news. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

However, I have to question the long-term results of this kind of reaction. Homeschoolers get annoyed when people write us off, and think of us as extremist, isolationists, or social retards. Well, I have to say, that these perceptions come from somewhere. Writing letters to Subway that say, “Perhaps you should have had a homeschooler write your contest rules so they would catch all the missspellings,” or, “Are you excluding homeschoolers because you are afraid that homeschoolers will win all the prizes?” or “I’ll never eat at your establishment again, and you made my son cry,” (these are all actual things that people have claimed to have written to Subway,) does not help our image. In fact, these emotional knee jerk reactions make us look like idiots.

3) Do level-headed letters to Subway make a difference? Several leaders in our community have come forward volunteering to write letters and explain to Subway why their rules are unfair and probably wouldn’t hold as legally binding. From the letters that people have received in response from Subway, it looks like they now understand their mistake. They are continuing to give the same response of, “We’ll do more research next time.” It is these leaders in the homeschooling community who have a sliver of a chance to really change the minds of Subway, and perhaps work with them in the future. Anyone who writes a calm, clear and serious letter to Subway is a leader in our homeschooling community. Subway certainly won’t ask the knee-jerk letter writers for help in understanding homeschool laws and community needs. Knee-jerks might get Subway scared of us, but they won’t encourage companies like this to work with us.

4) What does it mean that Subway even thought about putting this exclusion in their rules? This is an example of mainstreaming growing pains. Even just a few years ago, it would be surprising to see a large company like Subway consider homeschoolers as a potential demographic. We were too fringy and small beans to get any attention in a large national contest like this that was aimed at public schools. But today, we are emerging into the educational community as a legitimate educational entity—an entity that is still marginal and unpredictable, so mainstream media and large companies don’t really understand who we are. They know we’re out there, but don’t know what to do with us.

We’re going to see more of these kinds of gaffes as our culture becomes more comfortable with our homeschooling existence. It’s not a matter of if, but when will the next unresearched exclusion be. When we are met with these social assumptions about who we are, we have to then choose how to react. It’s how we respond to these kinds of large-culture gaffes and infractions that show how we are adjusting to being a part of the larger educational community.

Where is the homeschooling community going?

My conclusion from all of this, is that it doesn’t matter how homeschoolers respond to exclusion or discrimination – whether we wave flags or make repeated reasonable arguments, we’ll eventually get to a place where there will be less push on us, less pressure, less discrimination. The big question isn’t whether we’re becoming more well-known and accepted into larger society as “normal”.

No, the question is how do we want to be involved in the larger cultural context when we get there? Do we want to simply be left alone like the little brother who everyone is nice to, but everyone knows not to entrust with anything really important, because he’s got a temper and doesn’t play well with others? Or do we want to be a part of the family phone-chain when Aunt Margaret has to be admitted to the hospital?

In the political context, I have no vested interest in either outcome. I’m much more interested in personal strength, and making sure that we all have the freedom to have the choice of how to educate our kids. Whether or not we are taken seriously by the public schools or the media, doesn’t really concern me, except that we don’t lose our freedoms. And certainly, this Subway gaffe, no matter how it’s handled, won’t have a direct effect on anyone’s freedom to homeschool.

However, I do find it interesting to see how many people say they want to be accepted and understood, but don’t offer that same courtesy to others. What shocks me is when people get upset for not being understood, or to be excluded, then turn around and react in the same way as if when they do it, it’s OK, because, see, they are somehow better. I just can’t get on board with that perspective, even when it’s coming from the very people I hope will always have the right to educational choice.

The truth is that we never really have power until we are able to see it from the other side’s point of view. When we truly understand that, from a “That could be me if I had different experiences,” point of view, then we have power. We understand them, and they don’t understand us. We’ve got the upper hand, and can express ourselves in ways that gets us what we want, and then we gain their respect.

Listening is a two way street. People listen to us, when we listen to them. Period. Nothing has taught me that more than the go-around we had with our Democratic representatives here in California. It was through listening to them, understanding their needs and showing them where we have the same goals, and making it clear that we really want to help them (while, at the same time helping ourselves), that we have bridged the gap from writing us off as crazies, to being worth listening to, by many of the Democratic representatives. We have created ties that would not have ever been made had we jumped up and down, sent nasty emails and letters, or cried out.

In other words, we have a choice between being mature, and immature. Immature works well. Just ask the mom who gives candy to kids who scream in the grocery store. It works great! But it also creates resentment. People don’t like to be forced into things. There’s a time and a place for forcing companies, people, politicians into things, but it has to be chosen wisely, because each time we do that, we lose the opportunity to have someone on our side. We get what we want, but we have a stronger, more annoyed enemy.

A lot of people are mad. Is it worth it?

All that said, I’m very curious to see how all of the Subway contest outrage turns out. Will hollering and screaming do the trick? Will homeschoolers get good mojo and good results from the petition? Will the those who wrote sensible letters gain support from the Subway corporation? Or perhaps, even after all of this energy and venting, none of it will matter in the long run?

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14 Responses to “Subway and Scholastic Contest Excludes Homeschoolers; Homeschoolers Get Mad”

  1. Heather Young Says:

    You know, I could really care less about Subway’s contest. My kids wouldn’t be entering it even if it were open to home schoolers because we don’t, in general, do contests. I care that the government sees and accepts my right, and my childrens’ right to be free and to an education that suits them–not an education that suits the government and our culture. I don’t care that a company doesn’t understand what home schooling is because a company does not take away our freedoms, government does. And frankly, I don’t think it will make a big difference in the long run, I am more concerned that our legislatures, judges, and other government officials recognize our right to freedom and, as I say to my kids, push their noses in.

  2. Shauna Says:

    It’s nice to see a reasonable response to this. I’ve seen so much hand-wringing and angry rhetoric about this in the past few days that it makes me embarrassed to be a homeschooler.

  3. Maria Says:

    Good response. I’m a little weary of the HS diatribes against Subway. But you make a good point that the squeaky calm and concise wheel could get the grease….er mayonnaise in this case. I also hadn’t thought of the HS’ers as burgeoning minority. Growing pains indeed. We should be happy for them.

  4. Obi-Mom Kenobi Says:

    Like Shauna, I’ve been embarrassed by the angry outbursts, proposed boycott/petition and the assumed “bias” of Subway against homeschoolers. I read the restrictions and didn’t see it as discriminatory at all. Thankfully, I’m seeing more and more, “Come on people, get a grip” posts these days about the Subway contest.

  5. Alison Broadbent Says:

    Oh Tammy, May I call you when I’m in a sticky situation and can’t think of a snappy response? Not that this is ‘snappy’. I appreciate the well thought out point of view; looking at the issues dispassionately even when I know you are passionate about the subject. Passionate about homeschooling. Not Subway.

  6. Doc Says:

    Corporate Subway is far removed from your local, independently owned franchise. Boycotting them won’t hurt the corporation. That’s just common sense. A reasoned letter writing campaign would be appropriate, especially considering that the contest has been going for almost 6 months. Actually, Subway probably did consider homeschoolers, and had they included them – with the stipulation that the prize go to the individual’s co-op or other organiztion, it still would have discriminated against the many many many homeschoolers who do not belong to any such group, or belongs to a group that meets casually. The fact that homeschoolers themselves assume that we all belong to some organization we could donate this prize to bothers me more than Subway simply running a contest the way they want. Subway is very popular in Canada – yet where is the outcry from both Canadian traditional and homeschoolers? US homeschoolers are becoming an embarrassing annoyance, first with the screeching about “California Bans Homeschooling” and now this. Homeschoolers are shrill in their defense that they “think for themselves”, yet in practice, they follow like ignorant sheeple any controversy that appears to be negative towards homeschooling. Email forwards, message board cross postings, and silly blog rantings – we are ALL judged by this ignorant behavior. It’s just a silly contest, co-hosted by a book company that markets heavily to the public schools, and by a sandwich maker – it isn’t the end of homeschooling. This contest, had it never surfaced as “anti homeschooling” would have ended in two weeks, and homeschooling would go on, just as it has in California.

  7. sunniemom Says:

    Great blog post, Tammy.

    How important is Subway’s gaffe? I think what troubled me most about this contest is just what you pointed out- they did not research home education at all, or they would have seen that their rules did not take into consideration that homeschooling statutes vary from state to state. They didn’t consider that they were excluding what could be a significant percentage of their customer base. And they didn’t even proofread their ad. 😉

    How effective is the emotional reaction to Subway’s exclusion? It might be effective, but it sure ain’t mature.

    Do level-headed letters to Subway make a difference? I think so, and I am all for folks letting businesses know when they do something that could alienate some of their customer base. Just don’t use the words ‘discriminate’ or ‘bigot’ or ‘hate’. Please.

    What does it mean that Subway even thought about putting this exclusion in their rules? Ditto answer #1- they had no clue as to what the legal ramifications of their contest rules would be. They assumed that HSers aren’t part of any organizations that could benefit from the prizes.

    But- they obviously had traditional schools in mind, and I am not offended if a business wants to do something to benefit schools. This was not intended to be a slap in the face of home educators, and attempting to play ‘victim’ just makes homeschoolers look petty.

  8. Melanie Says:

    Great post, I enjoyed reading it. I hadn’t even thought about the legal issues of what about states where there are no ‘homeschools’ but students are considered to be enrolled in a private school.

    I don’t think that if they had included homeschoolers, with the stipulation of giving the prize to a school or group, that it would necessarily have discriminated against homeschoolers who aren’t part of any group. The rules could just as easily allowed the winner to choose the facility for the prize to go to, or have stipulated that in the event a homeschooler won and didn’t have a particular facility in mind to donate to, that the prize would go to the school the winning child would attend if they were enrolled in public school. Everybody’s happy, and everyone looks good.

  9. Zayna Says:

    Wow, I started here and ended up lost in the blogosphere trying to follow this story. Frankly, seems to me it’s a lot of brouhaha over nothing.

    We have Subway here in Canada which makes us ineligible on two counts and I couldn’t possibly care any less.

    Seriously, I’m more concerned about Daughter getting into college than I am about a silly contest.

    I will agree that rants, sarcastic diatribes and accusations of deliberate and malicious discrimination makes all homeschoolers appear off their rocker or as you put it, “makes us look like idiots”.

    As always, love your down to earth, let’s check our reality meters perspective.

  10. The Vinyl Villager Says:

    Ill throw in my two cents, for whatever its worth. The whole point of their contest is to bring fitness to children. The grand prize is (if I recall correctly) $5000 worth of equipment for the child’s school.
    Now, if that goes to a homeschooled child–how many children get to benefit from it?
    Whereas if it goes to a public school or a parochial one–maybe 100s of kids get to benefit from its use.
    At least I imagine thats what their thinking was…

  11. Mrs. Taft Says:

    I think this whole thing is silly. I am embarrassed to be counted among “homeschoolers” if this is how they conduct themselves. Talk about a chip on the shoulder!

  12. Dana Says:

    The squeaky wheel gets the grease…

    True, but it really depends on how you view this situation. This isn’t like a state government intruding on rights, or excluding homeschoolers (like TN). There, a loud and organized protest is the only real course of action.

    But I don’t think that item in the homeschooler’s activist portfolio is the best way to change public opinion. Showing up by the thousands to march on the public will not favorably change public opinion.

  13. Principled Discovery » Subway Protesters: Please call off the dogs Says:

    […] In case you haven’t read it, Tammy over at Just Enough, Nothing More has an excellent post on the “situation.”  This I found […]

  14. Analise Says:

    Nothing discourages me more than the manner in which
    homeschoolers handled this Subway issue. There was a huge export of unprofessional emotions unleashed on
    Subway and Scholastic for their error. All this did was
    make homeschoolers look like some group of maligned
    malcontents who lack effective communication and
    interpersonal skills necessary to resolve conflicts. I, for
    once, am ashamed of how my home-education peers
    handled this issue and hope they consider earning the
    respect they so earnestly demand next time!! Anything
    less never elevates homeschooling in the eyes of the
    nation – it degrades public opinion all around!


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