Homeschoolers all look the same to me

HomeschoolingI'm sure all of you have your countdown clocks going for the first major event in 2008 -- the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses! So much drama, so many television commercials, so many cliches and platitudes. The Los Angeles Times published a story about former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and his roving army of homeschooled children/precinct captains. I'm still waiting for a story to explain how someone can be endorsed both by teachers unions and homeschoolers. The New Hampshire arm of the National Education Association endorsement of Huckabee gave Huckabee its first ever endorsement of any Republican. And teachers unions are notorious for opposing homeschooling. Politics creates strange bedfellows but usually those bedfellows have noncompeting motivations. The Times story doesn't mention Huckabee's endorsement from the New Hampshire NEA but it does delve deeply into the support he receives from certain homeschoolers in Iowa and other early primary states:

As other candidates have found over the years, home-schoolers' flexible schedules make them invaluable volunteers. High school-age students can call a halt to calculus to set up chairs for a town hall meeting, or put off biology for a day to stick mailing labels on the latest campaign flier.

In the evenings, families pile into minivans to canvas door-to-door. Parents often send their children to make the pitch, so the whole experience becomes part of their education, like a civics class come to life.

"You get a family where there's eight or nine children . . . you have a team right there. Put several of those out helping, and doing it for free, and that does a lot," said Justin LaVan, 35, a Des Moines lawyer and father of five who serves on the board of the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators.

The story does a good job of talking to actual homeschoolers and explaining how it is that a relatively small percentage of the population can be so helpful to candidates. But as GetReligion reader and homeschooler Sharon D. pointed out, the story has some basic reporting problems. Take this, for example:

About 9,000 of Iowa's students are home-educated. Nationwide, the number is 2 million and rising steadily, according to Michael P. Ferris, who runs the national home-schooling association. Home-schoolers are distributed fairly evenly among the states. Though an increasing number are ethnic or racial minorities, the majority of families are evangelical Christians.

The national homeschooling association? The? How about "a" national association. The group Ferris founded, the National Homeschool Legal Defense Association, is but one group that represents the interests of homeschoolers. There is also, for instance, the National Home Education Network.

The last line of the excerpted paragraph is also troubling.

It is written to appear that being an evangelical Christian is at odds with being a member of an ethnic or racial minority. I don't think the data would support the notion that these groups are mutually exclusive. There's also the problem that a figure is dropped in the story without a source -- that a majority of families who homeschool are evangelical Christians. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that unspecified religious or unspecified moral reasons are the primary motivation of a sizable 30 percent of parents who homeschool, but any contention that a majority of homeschool families are specifically evangelical Christians should be sourced.

Decades ago in my home state of Colorado, Christians of various stripes as well as other religious adherents, secularists and parents of children with special needs comprised local homeschool associations. Many had religious or moral motivations for homeschooling but not all were evangelical. It may be true that a majority of families who homeschool are evangelical Christian but I would like to know more about the proof for that figure. Sharon has one final comment to add:

Finally, if most trivially, can everybody please update their stylebooks? I haven’t seen a homeschooler hyphenate the word in many years. Why are newspapers determined that they must?

The Los Angeles Times story is a good one and helpful to understanding a key factor in Huckabee's standing in Iowa. But reporters need to be careful when writing about homeschoolers and see them as the incredibly diverse group they are.

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