A Little Learning Is A Dangerous Thing . . . for Journalists
What Links May Come [part of a continuing series]

CBS News' Homeschool Hatchet Job, Part II

I was not at home last night -- I was teaching my weekly insurance law course -- so I was not able to catch the second segment of the CBS Evening News' self-importantly horrified report "Home Schooling Nightmares." [Again, the link is to the network's print version of the story; a link to the video is available on that same page. My take on Part I of the series is the next post down this page.]

Not content with basing their first segment on a two-year old, entirely unrepresentative case, CBS used its second segment to expand its misleading parade of horribles, even going so far as to trot out the notorious Andrea Yates mass-bathtub-drowning case (and to feature Ms. Yates' photo prominently with the Web version of the story). Here's the passage in which CBS tips its hand to show its preferred solution to this supposed problem, which is -- what else? -- more regulation:

In eight states, parents don't have to tell anyone they're home schooling. Unlike teachers, in 38 states and the District of Columbia, parents need virtually no qualifications to home school. Not one state requires criminal background checks to see if parents have abuse convictions.
The logic of that last item is particularly odd: even assuming that criminal background checks for homeschooling parents -- as opposed to, say, checks of all parents or annual reporting to the local constabulary by every citizen -- made sense in the first place, how does CBS propose to "protect" an only child or the firstborn in a family, before whom these highly suspect parents had no opportunity to be convicted?

And while I'm on about this, the inner hobgoblin of my little mind asks: can anyone reconcile for me the distinction between CBS' attitude toward regulation of homeschoolers [ongoing investigation based on a presumption of possible guilt is a good thing] versus its attitude toward the post-9/11 Justice Department [ongoing investigation based on presumption of possible contact with genuinely guilty and dangerous people is the End of Our Constitutional Rights As We Know Them]? I'm just asking, don't you know.

I will mention here one other gap among many in the CBS story, which only serves to further misinform viewers who have no contact with homeschoolers: CBS implies that all or a large majority of homeschooling families "go it alone," retreating into their trailers, tents and townhouses to educate their children with virtually no outside contacts of any kind. This is a false impression. Most homeschool families have active lives in their community. Those homeschoolers who started the process out of religious conviction -- a large group in the homeschool world, but hardly the only one -- generally have a high profile in their church and in church-based organizations, if nowhere else. More secular homeschoolers also have lives in which they and their children constantly interact with the outside world. An ever-growing number of homeschoolers regularly send their children out of the home on a regular basis for at least some portion of their schooling, to attend classes in subjects that the parent does not feel qualified to teach him/herself. The number of homeschool support organizations that make such classes available, as well as the number of "outside" classes organized by groups of homeschooling families, increases daily, as does the number of families electing to homeschool one or more of their children.

I could go on, but we'd be here all day and CBS and its viewers would not be any better informed. But you, gentle reader, know better now, don't you?

Not incidentally: Welcome to Joanne Jacobs readers and thank you, Joanne, for the link. More on the CBS story, and more on homeschooling generally, can be found at Daryl Cobranchi's Homeschool & Other Education Stuff, Izzy Lyman's The Homeschooling Revolution (for whose link this Fool also says "Thank you") and at further links on those sites.

And to correct an inaccurate impression I may have created yesterday: to call me a "homeschooling dad" gives me too much credit. The day to day workings of our sons' education -- including tracking down the wealth of resources for assistance, curricula, classes and support that is out there in abundance when one goes looking for it -- has been the province of my indispensable wife. As I tell it to anyone who asks: She's in charge of curriculum and I run the financial services office.

Update: Additional comment on CBS and homeschoolers' response to its story, reported live from the guillotine, can be read here. And do I need to say "thanks for the link"? You bet I do: thanks for the link, O lively guillotinistes.

Just one more: Somehow the last time I passed through there, I failed to notice that Kimberly Swygert's Number 2 Pencil has also checked in with some thoughts about the CBS story. This now seems to have been pretty fully through the wringer as a "they're out to get homeschoolers" story. Someone -- perhaps I'll do it if I can find the time to say something worthwhile -- needs to consider CBS' performance from the standpoint of Journalism. It seems to me that the connections CBS was trying to draw are so tenuous that this would have been just plain Bad Reporting regardless of the particular subject matter.


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