Indiana newspaper relies on one-sided HuffPost report on school vouchers program

I'm just not sure where the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette newspaper comes out on moral, cultural and religious issues. That is relevant, I believe, because knowing that might explain just how an Indiana newspaper would come to work with New York City-based website HuffPost (neé The Huffington Post) to cover a major story in the Hoosier state.

While it's not unusual for news organizations to sometimes work together, the HuffPost takes a far more strident stance on many topics -- especially those linked to religion and culture -- than most dailies would. My journalistic question, first of all, is, "Why? Why buddy up like this? What do the readers gain?"

Headlined "Far-right, faith-based views rule in textbooks," the piece, bearing the byline of a HuffPost reporter, takes a decided viewpoint on issues that are probably very important to many in the state: school vouchers, faith-based education and, yes, the free exercise of religion. From the story:

Taxpayers in Indiana are footing the bill for student scholarships to schools that push ultraconservative and sometimes bigoted viewpoints.
More than 30 private schools participating in Indiana's school voucher program use textbooks from companies that teach homosexuality as immoral, environmentalism as spiritually bankrupt and evolution as an evil idea.
Of the 318 private schools participating in Indiana's Choice Scholarship Program -- a voucher program that uses public funding to help students afford private schools -- 36 use at least one textbook or piece of curriculum created by either Abeka or Bob Jones University Press. That's part of the findings of a HuffPost analysis, in conjunction with an in-depth look at vouchers with The Journal Gazette. ...
Abeka, a textbook company, is affiliated with Pensacola Christian College, a far-right religious university in Florida that bans “dancing” and “satanic practices” in its code of conduct. Bob Jones University Press is affiliated with its eponymous university, which outlawed interracial dating until the year 2000.

For starters, I'd imagine that it is the textbooks that allegedly "teach homosexuality as immoral, environmentalism as spiritually bankrupt and evolution as an evil idea," and not the publishing companies themselves, as the second paragraph seems to assert. #AmEditing

But it's not just sentence construction that's lacking here: there's little context provided. The article rushes by the fact that perhaps 11 percent of the voucher-related schools in Indiana are using these textbooks. That would suggest that roughly 89 percent do not use the texts, a number that could also be stated as an overwhelming majority.

Moreover, as opposed to the 1.1 million students enrolled in Indiana's public schools (K-12). the few thousand students in the voucher schools using the allegedly biased textbooks seem rather minuscule. But, still, the HuffPost and the Fort Wayne paper are pearl-clutching at the prospect of a Christian worldview being taught (yes, with tax dollars) to presumably Christian youngsters in a Christian school:

About 4,240 students receive scholarships funded by taxpayer dollars to attend schools that use the Abeka or Bob Jones curriculum via the state's voucher program, according to 2016-2017 data from the Indiana Department of Education.
The discovery that dozens of these Christian schools use curriculum that pushes a specific worldview adds to critics' concerns.

It appears to have escaped the attention of the Journal-Gazette's editors that many Christians (as well as Orthodox Jews and Muslims) believe "a specific worldview" is being "pushed" in the state's public schools, and that this secular worldview might be objected to by said believers.

In other words, this is part of a very familiar debate between public schools and their critics.

This article offers very little information on how the voucher program works in Indiana, leaving readers in the dark about many key elements. Those wanting to know more would have to turn to an Indianapolis Star Q-and-A published six months ago that offers what I'd consider highly useful details and insights on the program.

What we have from the Journal-Gazette and the HuffPost is polemics masquerading as journalism. The reporter and editors involved don't like the conservative Christian textbooks a tiny number of K-12 students in Indiana are being exposed to, presumably at the behest of the parents or guardians who've enrolled the youngsters in those schools. Thus, the effort must be cast in a sinister light and opposed, with next to zero attempts at a balanced, accurate debate.

That's OK for the editorial page, but not, I believe, for the news pages. This is what one expects from HuffPost, but not from a mainstream daily newspaper.

This kind of reporting, which demonstrates a near-total lack of desire to understand the viewpoint of the parents involved -- let alone the students -- would earn a grade of "F" were I a journalism professor grading this as an assignment.

I'm at a loss to explain why the daily newspaper in Indiana's second-largest city would publish this kind of reporting on an important topic. One can only hope for better going forward.

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