Pod people: A little GetEducation for GetReligion

In the 1990s, before I became a religion writer, I covered education for The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City’s daily newspaper. I wrote numerous stories on the school choice movement, from vouchers to magnet schools to charter schools.

In 1999, I won a two-month travel fellowship from the Education Writers Association to investigate school choice in Oklahoma City and other cities nationally. I teamed with The Oklahoman’s database editor Griff Palmer, now with The New York Times, on that project, which won a Dallas Press Club Katie Award for best series in the Southwest’s major metro dailies. I also reported on the findings at EWA’s national convention in Atlanta in 2000.

I bring up my (ancient) education reporting background because of my recent post titled “WPost: Virginia law highlights stupidity of home-schooling.” In that post, I characterized as “lousy journalism” the Post’s 2,500-word report on a Virginia religious exemption that allows families to opt entirely out of public education.

I opined:

The Post takes the absolute worst-case scenario — a family that goes the home-schooling route and apparently flubs it — and uses it as the overarching lens through which to view the issue. That’s unfortunate. And biased. And bad journalism.

My post sparked some interesting discussion, some of it predictable — such as a home-schooling opponent who entirely missed the point — but some of it thoughtful.

I appreciated this comment from regular GetReligion reader Ray Ingles:

To quote from the article: “They warn that the statute leaves open the possibility that some of the nearly 7,000 children whose parents claim a religious exemption aren’t getting an education at all.” [emphasis added]

Where’s the accusation that all homeschooling is “stupid”? If the subject were parents teaching their kids to drive, and the law not requiring any standards… would the existence of parent-taught Formula 1 racing champions be particularly relevant?

As my original post stated, the entire tenor of the article portrays home-schooling in a negative light. But Ray’s questions got me to thinking: How would I have viewed this same article through a GetEducation lens — as opposed to a GetReligion lens? So I read it again, trying to conjure the lessons I learned in my Education Writers Associations days.

My conclusion: The article still stinks. It’s still one-sided. It still lacks any context.

What do I mean by context? I mean that, according to the article itself, 7,000 children were home-schooled through a religious exemption. Yet this article reports on one child with a bad experience and presents it as the norm. Again, I ask, where’s the other side of the story?

Ray asked if the existence of parent-taught Formula 1 racing champions would be particularly relevant. Yes, I believe it would.

I believe real journalism would dig into the 7,000 students and try to figure out whether there are more students crashing and burning or more students growing up to be, as Ray put it, Formula 1 drivers. Surely the Post wouldn’t report on one student who dropped out of a public school and not provide any context on the number who stayed in school and graduated with honors, right?

Host Todd Wilken and I discuss the home-schooling story on this week’s episode of “Crossroads,” the GetReligion podcast.

We also spend a few minutes discussing my posts on “Not that there’s anything wrong with that …” and “Yay! Dallas papers examines heart and soul.”

Click here to listen to the podcast. As always, the Oklahoma accent is free.

About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Richard Mounts

    What gets to me is how easily WaPo could have found the large numbers of home schooled children who are accepted into colleges and universities; the large number of those same children who graduate with honors and who go on to graduate and professional degrees. As your original post pointed out, though, that wouldn’t have fit the bias: it woulddn’t have made for the same kind of story. Did you hear from anyone at the paper? Was the reporter bullied by a home schooled kid once long ago? (Sorry, just feeling a bit snarky.)

    • UWIR

      What “large numbers” of people accepted in colleges and universities because of the religious exemption are there?

  • Karlw1988

    This could be a really interesting story if it focused on wider problems in the homeschooling and religious education movements. Can we statistically compare the outcomes of students whose parents use school district oversight versus those who don’t? Why do some people oppose school district oversight? Do people support alternative ways of preventing problems like this, like private oversight organizations run by a religious denomination or a hybrid homeschool and online religious high school system?

  • UWIR

    In that thread, I wrote:

    There is no other side other story. The religious exemption is stupid. Your nonsense about Lauren is completely irrelevant, unless you can show that her parents received a religious exemption, and she wouldn’t have scored a perfect score without that exemptions.

    This is not a story about home-schooling. This is a story about the religious exemption to homeschooling oversight.

    Why did you refuse to respond to that? It looks to me that you are deliberately equivocating between homeschooling and a religious exemption to homeschooling oversight. Instead of actually addressing criticism, you just write another blog post saying the same thing. If there were a religious exemption to driving tests, and someone with such an exemption were to get in a wreck, and there were to be an article about that, would you seriously be calling the article “one-sided” because it didn’t investigate whether people with the religious exemption were becoming Formula 1 drivers?

    Tonight, 60 Minutes re-aired a piece of how there’s a loophole that allows companies to manufacture medicine while evading FDA oversight, and a company that exploited that loophole ended up infecting a bunch of people with a fungus. Was this piece “one-sided”?

  • Kristen inDallas

    I have to agree with UWIR here, you seem to be missing the point of the article. I say this as a proponent of homeschooling and religious schooling in general. Oversight is a good thing, it keeps everybody on the up-and-up. If there is a particular standard that is in direct conflict with a particular religion, then let the exemption defer to some kind of religion school guided standard. But you can’t just have no standard and no oversight. I have seen way too many kids go through “homeschooling” as a form of “don’t want my kids in the system so no one knows when I abuse them… By no means all, but if even one kid is badly harmed by a system flaw, it’s too many. If this article were about homeschooling generally, then the hole would be all the other homeschooled kids who are doing really well. But since the article is about the potential to avoid oversight, the real hole in the story is the kid with the broken arm and black eye who isn’t allowed to leave the house…

    • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

      I understand the point of the article. But my argument remains the same: Journalistically, you need to put this one extreme case into a larger context. Again, you could do an article proving that no kid should have a driver’s license because one 16-year-old got into a wreck. But that’s not good journalism — without some evidence that the one kid isn’t an aberration.

      • Kristen inDallas

        the more apt comparison would be saying that no state should allow kids to opt out of the driving test portion of the licensing requirements because this one kid got in a wreck. The article isn’t about homeschooling, it’s about standards.

      • Dingo Dongo

        Again, you could do an article proving that no kid should have a
        driver’s license because one 16-year-old got into a wreck. But that’s
        not good journalism

        But the article wasn’t about proving that no kid should do homeschooling. That’s a vile misrepresentation of the article.


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