My 13-year-old boy participates in a robotics club, part of the First Tech League. He fell into it via his Boy Scout troop, and it's been a great thing. He's learning how to build and program robots, and all manner of other skills. He's having a lot of fun, too.
I noticed that the club seemed to have a revolving door: kids seem to come and go, based on their parents' decisions (or demands). One kid had to take a break because his mother worried about his homework; one kid disappeared for a few weeks because he was grounded. It puzzled me because this a sort of club that requires commitment. They hope to win the competitions they are building and programming their robots for. There's real work and real learning involved. The kids have fun, but it's not just a fun club.
It frustrated the club leader. He started this club after breaking away from the one sponsored by his high school. He's very dedicated to it, and very determined. Robotics is his chosen field for college and career. He doesn't understand the attitude of the parents, taking the kids in and out. He needs people he can count on.
So he came to me and asked if I could get him plugged into the homeschool community to find new members. He said that the homeschool clubs do really well at the competitions. He could see a difference in commitment.
We had a nice talk about it. His parents see the club the same way I (and the seminarian) do - it's an important part of learning. So it's not really homeschool vs. traditional school; it's the way of thinking about it. It's an academic activity, not just a fun thing to do when there's extra time. So of course we're going to give it a priority over some other activities. We would never dream of keeping our kid out of it as punishment. Think about that! Here's an organization that promotes learning, healthy competition, and academic skills. Participation can lead to college scholarships. Why would a parent ground a kid from that?
That doesn't even address the impact losing someone has on the club. It hinders them from their work. This is a team! Do parents ground their high school player from football right before the championship game? (That is actually a real question; I'm thinking not but maybe I'm wrong.)
Of course parents have to determine the right priorities for their kids. For some it will be strictly schoolwork - grades come first. Others prioritize participation in religious activities. One boy in the group can't participate on Saturdays, his Sabbath; mine can't go off on Sunday morning and miss church. Others will put sports ahead of everything else. This is reasonable, and right. Every family has their own way. But the team can plan ahead for that. They can't plan ahead for grounding.
It's the lack of commitment to something that requires it that bothers me. It's the attitude that this isn't important and isn't valuable because it's not school. It is school; the kids are learning and growing and gaining valuable skills. It just isn't happening in a classroom.
Maybe someday, more people will get that: learning doesn't just happen in a classroom.