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?