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.

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