Horny dads at a prom: Too juicy to get the whole story

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Let’s talk about Clare, the homeschooled teenager in Richmond, Va., who was thrown out of a prom because of her dress. The facts are …

Well, actually, we don’t know many of the facts, whatever you may have read in “news” accounts. Nearly all of them are based purely on her blogging rant about the flap.

In one of the most shameful abuses of social media ever, story after story takes as gospel truth how the girl conformed to the dance dress code, yet was thrown out by horny dads and intolerant chaperones. Even The Telegraph in London had to get in on the act, from across the Atlantic.

The Telegraph’s may be the cheapest, most garish version:

A teenager in America says she was forced to leave her prom after fathers complained that their children would experience “impure thoughts” towards her.

The fathers, who were acting as chaperones at the dance, complained that she was dancing provocatively and her skirt was too short.

Clare Ettinger from Virginia, described how her dress was checked to see it met the dress code requirement of being longer than the fingertips when her arms were by her side.

However despite meeting the requirement a female chaperone told her to keep her dress “pulled down” down so it didn’t look too short.

She then gets told by a female chaperone that “some of the fathers had complained that her dancing was too provocative, and that she would cause the men at the prom to think impure thoughts,” the Telegraph says. Clare says she felt “violated,” that it was “sick and wrong,” and she wants ticket refunds for herself, her date and the friends who came with her.

The Telegraph then contacted the school authorities and the prom chaperones for their side. No, sorry, I mean they didn’t call anyone. They quoted no one but Clare — effectively lowering news to the level of gossip.

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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:

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