Wait, not all home-schooling is stupid and harmful!?

What she said.

Last summer, I did a GetReligion 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:

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.

Hmmmm, do you think I was too subtle?

I had no problem at all with the newspaper reporting on the negative side of home-schooling. That’s journalism. The issue was that the Post neglected entirely to tell the other side of the story, such as home-schoolers who make perfect scores on their college entrance exams.

Fast-forward to this week when I came across a Christianity Today blog post with this intriguing headline:

The Normal, Drama-Free, Totally-Healthy Christian Homeschool Movement

In that post, CT’s Ruth Moon suggests that in a culture that loves shock value, typical evangelicalism rarely makes news. CT is, of course, a leading magazine for evangelicals. She notes that she grew up in the conservative homeschool culture and adds:

When American Prospect published Kathryn Joyce’s recent article on the “apostates” among us, I took note. In fact, I couldn’t stop reading. It was a little like watching a train wreck with family members on board.

Joyce’s piece profiles several homeschooling horror stories—narratives of children raised by hypersensitive, overbearing parents, parents who used mental and physical punishment. The article ties those stories to the history and culture of the broader homeschooling movement, which became popular in the 1980s and spread in the last few decades to more than 2 million practitioners.

While I know the kinds of heartbroken children of homeschooling Joyce profiles, I also know the other side. For every mistreated homeschooled kid who’s grown up to be an outspoken rebel against the culture — and I know a few — I know a half-dozen young adults who grew up to go to college, get a real job, and find a healthy place in society without too much drama.

Stressing that she means not to discount the negative experiences of some, Moon acknowledges that the American Prospect piece and a recent Daily Beast article on home-schooling “do their part to shine light on the dark places of the homeschooling world.” But she adds:

These articles also remind me of the danger of letting news define our view of the world. It’s no secret that news highlights the odd, often at the expense of the normal. As Catholic novelist and journalist G.K. Chesterton noted in 1909, journalism’s biggest flaw is that it is a “picture made up entirely of exceptions.”

And later:

We often assume journalism is a mirror to reflect reality, rather than a lamp to shine into dark places. Because the news tends to fall in the latter category, the everyday graces — what Martin Luther would call the days of mundane faithfulness — are not captured, nor should we expect them to be, in the pages of your daily newspaper or on your favorite news blog.

I could keep copying and pasting, but instead, go ahead and read the full post.

Here’s my question: Do you agree that we should not expect daily journalism to reflect the everyday reality of, say, home-schooling? Why or why not?

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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.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    The news business wouldn’t be in business if it reported on the mundane, everyday occurrences. “Molly bought her groceries and paid for them in cash” would bring absolutely no readers, but “Molly bought her groceries using a stolen debit card” certainly would.

    Chesterton was a newsman himself but never thought much of the news industry. “Journalism largely consists of saying ‘Lord Jones is Dead’ to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive,” is a favorite of his quotes.

    The news industry exists precisely to report on the exceptions to everyday life; that’s why it’s “news.” However, it must balance that reporting on the exceptions by pointing out that these are exceptions — including the fact that very few home schooling families are as bad as the family the WaPo profiled.

    • wlinden

      Chesterton was absolutely right. I remember a time in the 60s when television was interrupted for a special news bulletin that… the President of Poland had died. Not Gomulka, the figurehead president.

  • RayIngles

    In the original WPost story, I couldn’t find the accusation that all homeschooling was “stupid”. What I saw was an article about a specific Virginia law that exempted religious homeschoolers from all government oversight, with examples of why that might be a bad idea. That’s simply not the same thing as arguing that homeschooling is fundamentally ‘stupid’, nor did I see any call for banning homeschooling or anything of that nature.

    • John Pack Lambert

      Hogwash, these are the people who cheer Germany’s ban of homeschooling and oppose giving refugee status to those who have fled that oppression.
      State oversight is the first step to state control which will destroy any meaningful usefulness of homeschooling.

      • RayIngles

        Um… were any of “the people who cheer Germany’s ban of homeschooling” quoted in the article?

  • John Pack Lambert

    The real dark days were when parents feared prison for trying to educate their own children. The fact that people who claim to be so for “freedom of choice” are so quick to try to force others into their mold is irony indeed.


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