Fair and Balanced Reporting?

(Originally posted on my previous website on 12/03/05.)

There have been a few recent news stories about homeschooled kids who have been arrested for murder. Every once in a while, news of this kind comes up, causing reporters and educational “experts” to declare, up in arms, that homeschooling makes it easier for this kind of thing to happen.

What I find interesting, is that every time a homeschooled child causes trouble, it’s in the news. Or, if the parents of homeschooled children do crazy things, it’s in the news. Then, fingers start pointing to homeschooling as one of the “causes” or at least encouraging this kind of behavior.

What these reporters and experts forget to mention is that murders and crazy family stuff happens all the time. Whether kids are in public school or private school or homeschooled, this stuff happens. It happens so often with kids that are in public school, most of them don’t even get reported. Or if they do, they get lost in the shuffle of other news which is more interesting. Public schooled kids are not somehow veiled from the crazyness that is our world. Public school doesn’t save people from their families. And, in my opinion, it shouldn’t. That’s not its job. Its job is to offer an education to children, not play domestic police.

The reason why crazy homeschooling people get so much exposure in the news, and the reason that the stories are interesting, is because it’s rare to see homeschooling kids get arrested. It’s rare for homeschooling parents to get arrested. Rare news is interesting news.

It’s also great news because it sparks a huge debate. It gives fuel for the anti-homeschooler group to antagonize the pro-homeschooling (or at least pro-educational choice) group and cause a rukus. Stories that cause a commotion, make good news.

When the news reports of a kid from such and such public school who has been arrested or hurt someone, there isn’t a huge debate about whether the school was at fault. If there is any discussion about it, it doesn’t make people question whether or not the child should have been at public school, or if the public school should be forced to stop educating children. Nor does it spark a sudden interest to increase the monitoring of how public schools teach their kids. Any suggestions of that sort are quickly ignored, because, well, they are irrelevant. But when it’s a homeschooling story, it’s unusual for that fact to be ignored, and it’s indeed common for homeschooling to be offered as a serious issue to consider when the case is discussed publically. The most widely used suggestion is to increase regulation on homeschoolers. (Which, by the way, has no correlation to homeschooling tragedies as has been shown by the fact that several states have very stringent homeschool laws. The kids in these states do no show any difference in educational success or domestic problems.)

Even though I find the undue media attention to be unbalanced and ignorant, I think that homeschoolers often overreact to the media presentation of homeschooling. This overreaction is what makes the media so eager to throw around stereotypes. It’s important to point out where the media is being unfair, and picking on the little guy. But overreacting just adds fuel to the fire. We should write letters, but be level-headed about it. Seek to educate the reporters, not reprimand them. Help them see where they are encourgaing stereotypes without going off the deep end with frustration.

It seems that we’re at the apex of media attention on homeschoolers. There are stories everyday about homeschoolers; both positive and negative. Pretty soon, readers will be saturated with this exposure, and won’t find homeschooling to be such an interesting topic anymore. It’s on the crux of mainstream, being that most homeschoolers no longer come from fringe demographics. Most families who start the homeschooling journey today, are everyday Joes, who just want the best for their kids, an individualized education and choice. Modern homeschoolers come from many backgrounds, with many different beliefs, and most often, a unique point of view of what education means for their family, which reflects nobody else’s definition. With this increased diversity in the homeschool demographic, the media won’t be able to feed on the stereotypes much longer.

Yes, I’m an optomist. I actually prefer to see things as an optomistic realist. I see things as they are, and choose to find ways to help move things along in a positive direction. I like to see the potential in a situation. And I see a lot of potential here for our current media frenzy to report about homeschooling errants to die down, and provide oportunity for real debate, instead of quickly-getting-old stereotypes.

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