Home Education Magazine
March-April 2004 - Articles and Columns
Taking Charge - Larry and Susan Kaseman
Watchdogging the Media
Accurate homeschooling information from the media is essential. Obviously, truth is better than falsehood. In addition, we are more likely to get the support we need to maintain reasonable homeschooling statutes and regulations if legislators and the general public have accurate information about homeschooling. In recent years, media coverage has generally improved. However, we still need to be alert for misinformation that sometimes appears and can do serious damage. One current example is the use of the term "homeschools" when referring to virtual charter schools, which changes the commonly understood definition of homeschooling. Another is CBS News', "Dark Side of Homeschooling." Yet another is an appallingly incorrect so-called "news insert" on homeschooling from The Legal Edge.
It is our responsibility as homeschoolers to act to prevent and correct such misinformation and minimize the damage it does. No one else is likely to act on our behalf. If we sit by and let uninformed so-called experts define homeschooling, homeschooling will, over time, take the shape chosen by those misinformed people who we allow to define it.
This column presents details on the misinformation from The Legal Edge, explores obvious and subtle ways in which it does damage, and offers suggestions for what we can do.
What The Legal Edge Says About Homeschooling
The Legal Edge is a series of approximately 90-second syndicated sound bites presented by "Attorney Michel James Bryant" that can be purchased and broadcast by local television stations. They claim to give viewers the information and advantage they need in dealing with concerns such as contesting speeding tickets. It is not surprising that they have some appeal. They seem to be an easy and painless way for viewers to gain helpful information from an expert about the fearsome legal system. However, they are too short and their author is too irresponsible for them to be relied on.
The spot on homeschooling is unbelievable. After a brief introduction, Bryant explains what parents must do:
The first call is to your local school board. Most states require the boardt's okay for home schooling.
Next, your home gets checked out. There is usually a hearing to evaluate the teaching environment and the teaching methods you plan to use.
Then expect an end of the year exam for each child to check on learning.
Fail the test and the state may make junior get additional tutoring, or refuse to allow more home schooling.
Teaching your children at home isn't easy. But it can be [sic]option now that you know the rules and have The Legal Edge.
I'm attorney Michel James Bryant. [from www.thelegaledge.com/scripts.html]
It is hard to believe this is being broadcast. We do not know of any states that require approval by local school boards, inspections of homes, or hearings to review and approve homeschools. Approximately half the states do require some form of testing, but fewer than five states threaten to prohibit continued homeschooling on the basis of test scores. It is difficult to imagine how The Legal Edge came up with this information, especially since a visit to any of the well-known homeschooling web sites would have shown how wrong it is. In addition, it is disturbing that television stations around the country broadcast such information.
Think of the thousands of people who know little or nothing about homeschooling who assume that this information is correct. In addition, some homeschoolers become concerned when they hear it, wondering if new homeschooling legislation is pending that would create these requirements.
Problems Caused by The Legal Edge Spot on Homeschooling
Such appalling inaccuracy causes problems for several reasons, both obvious and subtle.
? The spot discourages parents from homeschooling. How many parents would want to subject their family to the challenging, invasive, and somewhat threatening process of applying to their local school board for permission to homeschool, having their home checked out, and participating in a hearing to determine whether they could homeschool? This spot clearly sends the message that homeschooling can be done, but it is difficult and public school officials will decide whether or not parents are qualified.
On a subtler level, the spot does even more damage. It says to any parent who is watching, "You don't have responsibility for your children's education; the public schools do. And you may not be capable of educating your children. If you wanted to even consider homeschooling, you would need to apply to the public schools for permission, and they would determine whether you could." It promotes the idea that the state, not parents, is responsible for educating children.
? The spot on homeschooling sends the message that homeschools should be like public schools. Why else would public school officials be asked to check out and approve homeschools? But this strikes close to most homeschoolers' reasons for homeschooling. Many of us have chosen homeschooling because we want something different for our families from what public schools offer. We may want our children to be able (and even encouraged) to learn at their own pace, in ways that work well for them, and to pursue what interests them. We may want to choose the values that accompany any learning and the way in which ideas are presented. If we do happen to select an activity that is similar to what conventional schools do, we want to do it because we have decided it makes sense for us, not because public schools require that we do it. Requiring homeschools to be like public schools would limit what we can do as homeschoolers, would eliminate much of the flexibility we benefit from, and would undermine the effectiveness of our homeschools. Homeschools are very different from conventional schools: they have few students, the "teachers" know all the students very well, the "classroom" is the whole world, there are no taxpayers to satisfy so they will continue to supply funding, etc., etc. It would be inappropriate, limiting, and a big mistake to allow homeschools to be defined as small versions of conventional public schools.
? Closely related to the point just discussed, the spot clearly implies that homeschools should be under the authority of the public schools. However, it would be unnecessary to give public school control over homeschools; homeschooling is working very well as it is now. It would be inappropriate; homeschools and public schools are very different and few public school officials understand and are in a good position to assess homeschools. It would be harmful; homeschools would be limited in what they could do.
? If homeschoolers and the general public thought that homeschools should be like public schools and should be under the authority of public schools, it would be much easier for public school officials to take action against homeschoolers, as they did recently in both Illinois and California. (See our column "Use ÇEm or Lose ÇEm: Maintaining Reasonable Homeschooling Laws," HEM, March/April, 2003, at homeedmag.com/HEM/202/match.html.)
? The spot blurs the distinction between compulsory attendance and compulsory education. In his introduction, Bryant says, "Remember, when it comes to kids and school, the state likes to act as a third parent. That means making sure the education you give at home is at least as good as the typical school system education." This statement is misleading because compulsory school attendance laws require that children attend school but do not require that they receive a specific education, which is a very important distinction.
What We Can Do
? If the spot on homeschooling from The Legal Edge is shown in our local community, we can act to counter it.
To find out if The Legal Edge is broadcast in your community, go to www.thelegaledge.com and click on "Station listings." (You can also find the complete transcript of the spot at this web site.) Call the news director of the station, explain that the homeschooling spot is inaccurate and damaging, and ask that they exclude it from their contract with The Legal Edge and not broadcast it.
If the homeschooling spot is broadcast in your area, one logical action is to call the station's news director and ask that they not repeat it. However, in our experience, this is unlikely to be enough to prevent a repetition.
Another option is to ask for equal time during the news program to correct the misinformation. A homeschooler could appear on television or a letter could be sent to the station to be read on the air.
A more forceful plan is to select about three regular sponsors of the local news program that includes The Legal Edge. (If you watch the program a few times, you'll have a good idea who the regular advertisers are.) Call each sponsor and ask for the person who makes decisions about media advertising and/or marketing. Say something like:
I have noticed that you are a regular sponsor of [name of TV station]'s local news program. This program frequently includes "news inserts" called The Legal Edge. The "insert" on homeschooling is some of the worst reporting in news broadcasting I've ever experienced. Because you sponsor the news, your name and products and service are being associated with and supporting this false information. Would you please call [name of TV station] at [phone number], ask for the news director, register your concern, and ask that they not show the homeschooling ":news insert" from The Legal Edge. Actually, you may wish to broaden your request. The attorney who presents The Legal Edge, Michel James Bryant, obviously cannot be trusted to have his facts straight. Therefore, you may want to ask that the station not carry any "news inserts" from The Legal Edge.(You can refer to this column on the HEM web site at: homeedmag.com/HEM/212/match.html)
If 5 to 10 other families make this request of the same three advertisers, it will probably have an effect on the advertisers. This could be a project for a group of families who know each other or a homeschooling support group.
Another possibility would be to ask Bryant to correct his errors. However, what he presented is inaccurate and indicates that he doesn't really care about the truth. So how seriously would he take a request to correct it? How could we trust him to do a better job the second time around? Also, our contacting him would allow him to respond to future criticism by claiming that he's discussed the spot with homeschoolers.
Suppose you act but are unsuccessful in stopping and/or correcting the information The Legal Edge has presented. Will you have wasted your time? No, you will have accomplished some important things, including the following:
- You will have demonstrated to yourself, your children, friends and acquaintances who hear about what you did, and the people you contact that you are willing to spend time and energy working to prevent inaccurate information about homeschooling from reaching homeschoolers, families who are considering homeschooling, the general public, and legislators.
- You will have helped maintain the reputation that we homeschoolers have as people who believe so strongly in what we are doing that we are willi to stand up and be counted, to work for homeschooling.
- You will have impressed on anyone with whom you have discussed this matter the importance of accurate information, not just about homeschooling. You will have shown them that the media cannot be trusted, that we cannot just sit back and let things happen to us and the principles we believe in, that it's worth making an effort to replace inaccurate information with accurate.
? We can watch for similar "news" and take similar steps to counter it.
? We can make sure we know what the law in our state does and does not require. Here is just one more reason why we need to have this basic information clear in our own minds and have a copy of the text readily available. State-wide homeschooling organizations or local support groups are a much more reliable source of this information than either school officials or national compilations of state laws.
? We can share accurate information about homeschooling when the opportunity arises. Don't underestimate the power of informal conversations and personal contacts. How many times have you mentioned to someone that you are homeschooling and had them respond by saying, "Oh, yeah, our neighbor's daughter homeschools her kids, too"? It's worth taking a few minutes to explain what is required in our state and why increased regulation would be unnecessary and even harmful.
? We can use this example as a wake-up call or a reminder that we need to think carefully about other information we get from the media and "experts." If broadcast information can be this wrong about homeschooling, how wrong can it be about other topics as well? We need to find reliable sources for information, use them, and be very careful of information that comes from other sources.
False information such as that presented in the spot on homeschooling from The Legal Edge can undermine homeschooling in obvious and subtle ways. If we don't act to counter such information, we allow homeschooling to be defined and shaped by irresponsible people who present such information.
© 2004 Larry and Susan Kaseman
March-April 2004 - Articles and Columns
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