Here at GetReligion, we love tips and feedback from readers.
So when Kevin McClain tweeted us a link, we checked it out:
Now, that sound you heard when I read the headline — "Homeschooling Without God" — was fear, trembling and gnashing of teeth. Before I clicked the link, I called my friend Linus of "Peanuts" fame and asked to borrow his blue security blanket.
Seriously, I braced myself for the kind of snarky putdowns of faith-driven home-schoolers that I've seen in some past narratives. In case you missed them, see my January 2014 post "Wait, not all home schooling is stupid and harmful!?" and my August 2013 post "WPost: Virginia law highlights stupidity of home schooling."
But against my better judgment, I went ahead and opened The Atlantic story. Then I saw the byline. That next sound you heard was me whooping and pumping my fist. Suddenly, I was in a much better mood.
When I saw the name of the writer — Jaweed Kaleem — I knew I was in for an insightful, respectful treatment of the subject matter.
In case you're not familiar with Kaleem, he is the vice president of the Religion Newswriters Association and spent the last several years as an award-winning national religion writer for the Huffington Post. In 2014, I did a 5Q+1 interview with him on reporting inside Pakistan.
Kaleem recently announced that he's joining the Los Angeles Times as its national race and justice correspondent — but he plans to keep tackling religion issues, too:
Back to The Atlantic's home-schooling piece (I'm following AP style on "home schooling" as two words): The lede sets the scene for Kaleem's exploration of non-religious families joining the trend:
The modern homeschooling movement is one of revolt. From its humble beginnings in the ’70s, led by graduates of the hippie generation who saw public schools as too constrained and religious, to its pop-cultural peak in the ’80s and ’90s under conservative Christians who wanted more God and less evolution in the classroom, homeschoolers and their parents have pushed aggressively against mainstream education.
Today, there are more than 1.7 million homeschooled kids in the U.S., roughly double the number of those at the turn of 21st century. Religious families, nearly exclusively Christians, make up more than two-thirds of them, and religious curricula and social groups dominate the community. In states where homeschoolers are required to be part of a larger “umbrella school” to meet government learning standards, those networks are frequently organized by churches.
For a small segment of parents and kids who opt out of traditional public schooling, something is changing: They are also opting out of religion. Studies suggest that young Americans are more likely than their older peers not to identify with any religion. While about one in five of all Americans aren’t affiliated with a religious group, the same is true of roughly one in three people in their 20s and 30s. And while atheists and agnostics account for just a sliver of the country’s population, more than two-thirds of them are under 50. The number of those under 18 may also be growing. In recent years, advocacy groups have successfully launched a handful of secular clubs in high schools across the country. For some of today’s kids, being non-religious isn’t special; it’s normal.
“More and more people want to teach their particular set of values and beliefs in schools and not have the state do it,” said Brian D. Ray, the president of the Salem, Oregon-based National Home Education Research Institute, who has studied homeschooling for three decades. As the number of “atheists, agnostics and secular people grow, there are more of them homeschooling, too.”
Keep reading, and Kaleem mixes a sharp reporter's eyes with a seasoned Godbeat pro's specialized understanding. That combination allows him to share precise and revealing details that — even in a story not about religion — demonstrates his understanding of religion.
Read this section on home-schooling mom Laura Smith and her 14-year-old son, Aiden, for example, and see if you get what I mean:
Sometimes, those non-religious kids even reshape their families. Smith, the mom in Long Beach, grew up in a secular Jewish home and sent her kids to the Jewish Community Center for preschool. When her sons both became atheists, she became one, too. “I’m happier with atheist children. As time goes by, it makes more sense to me,” she said. Still, there are little artifacts of faith in her family’s house. A menorah sits next to a bookshelf in the living room, otherwise crowded with Aiden's figure-skating trophies. Each year, the family celebrates Hanukkah to honor their Jewish cultural background. Aiden’s dad and Smith’s husband, Kemal, is a Turkish-born Shiite Muslim, yet like his wife, he isn’t religious. The family also celebrates a holiday from his upbringing: Şeker Bayramı, the festival after the fasting month of Ramadan that's more commonly known as Eid al-Fitr. The kids mostly like it because they get free candy, Smith said.
While he was working on his Aliens review and comic book in March, Aiden talked with his mom about everything from spelling to politics (he's a Bernie Sanders fan) to Christianity. “You know, there's one religion that makes no sense at all. I think it's called Mormon. I saw it in an episode of South Park,” he said during a study break.
“You have to realize you have friends who are religious,” his mom replied.
“I know, I know, that's why I don't talk about it with them,” Aiden said.
As a person of strong Christian faith, I disagree with most — if not all — of what Kaleem's main characters said about religion. But I appreciated the writer's rare ability to present their story in a way that made their perspective understandable to me without denigrating people of faith such as myself. There was substance, not snark, in the storytelling.
Is it too much to ask that The Atlantic might bring the same positive journalistic attributes to a future in-depth treatment of "Homeschooling With God?"
So to the reader who asked for a GetReligion analysis: There you go!
But now it's your turn:
Appreciate that feedback and the full disclosure!
If any other GetReligion readers would like to weigh in on this story — or suggest other pieces for review — we stay open 24 hours, seven days a week.
By all means, tweet us at @GetReligion or feel free to leave a comment below.