If a news story, or human interest piece, has a person associated with homeschooling as its subject, do reporters tend to focus on that aspect? A 20 May 2007 story about Idaho brothers who open-carry weapons triggered that question for one blogger, and it is something I’ve wondered about myself.
Guns N’ Fishes, 9 June 2007, A Family Runs Through It
The story of the gun-toting Idaho boys made nationwide press last week, including Fox News, which made sure to begin their article with the phrase “Two home-schooled teenagers.”
As if being home-schooled had anything to do with their decision to buck society’s norms. I can’t help but think that there are many people in the media who have such a strong bias against home-schooling that they actively play up the stereotype of home-schooled kids as oddballs and outcasts.
So, do the news media play up homeschooling in stories that have nothing to do with it? To check, I searched for “teens guns” to see what Google uncovered. The results were mixed. The only thing for certain was that the story of the Idaho brothers was mentioned more times than any other individual story about teens and guns.
Idaho brothers story with specific mentions of homeschooling:
In the 11 other stories that Google picked off the Web about teens and guns, sometimes schooling was mentioned, sometimes it wasn’t. Usually if it was mentioned generally, the offense occured near a school, or the targets of the gun toters were schoolmates. The stories, as they follow, are arranged top-to-bottom as they appeared in my Internet Explorer listing of open pages (it was the easiest way to keep track of which story I’d last entered in the list below).
- Teens’ Nerf guns raise ruckus: “Their feats in “Dart Wars” are the stuff of legend among Sycamore High School students. The six-week rite of spring using Nerf dart guns as weapons has been going on for almost a decade, and students look forward to what they describe as harmless, challenging fun.”
- 2 teens found guilty in gun case: “The students were convicted of conspiracy to commit murder at Auburn Middle School.”
- Arrests foiled teens’ killing spree plot: Camden County prosecutor Vincent Sarubbi said the youths had hatched a plan in January to kill three schoolmates, “then move on and randomly kill people throughout the borough of Oaklyn.”
- Masked teens fire paintball guns at school children: He said they are likely local high school students, and may be involved in organized paintball events in the community, but police have no leads in the case.
- Teens Arrested, Allegedly Point Toy Guns At Woman (no school mention)
- Teen busted in Moonstone gun call: OPP say the incident involved two teens, appearing to carry handguns outside Moonstone Public School just as it was letting out at 3:30.
- Teen Nabbed After Gun Photos Online: Police searched the boy’s home after receiving a tip from Evergreen High School on Feb. 10, the same day he was suspended, officials said.
- Teens Charged After Police Pull Guns (no school mention)
- Two teens arrested in gun theft Teen brothers charged (no school mention)
- Teens pack guns at school camp: TEACHERS who were suspicious that children on a school camp in Victoria might have alcohol in their bags found something much more sinister instead – two sawn-off shotguns and several rounds of ammunition.
- 7 Teens Shot During Orlando Gun Fight: (no school mention)
The statistics for my quick comparison are as follows:
- 15 stories total
- homeschooling mentioned: 4
- “students” mentioned: 3
- “school name” part of story: 5 (1 overlap with “students”)
- no mention of any schooling: 4
If I’d had the foresight to mark down how many times I found each story, I’d have a little more information, but that’s hindsight, and I don’t feel like re-reading 11 pages of Google results. Still, it is significant that the same homeschooling story was mentioned four times, while I remember perhaps three of the other stories getting a hit more than once or twice.
So, is there media bias concerning homeschooling stories? A bit, but school-status appears to be so common that schoolish connections are easy to make, and perhaps to expect.
It does appear, in this instance, that any man-bites-dog story that involved homeschoolers will feature that status. Perhaps this focus has been affected by some homeschooling organizations that have worked hard to present an ultra-squeaky clean image of homeschoolers. Because the impression is given that homeschool kits include halos, anything outside that perception catches the attention of people who don’t know that we put our pants on one leg at a time, like everyone else. We’re not all scholars, or church-members, or old-lady-helpers, or anything else you can think of. The only constant is that homeschooling involves kids. I can’t even say parents are universally involved, although guardian might work. Still, there are those kids who have tutors at home, so I’m left with a universal factor of “kids.”
Any group that can be freely joined will have anomalies as part of the statistical constant. Homeschoolers aren’t 100% squeaky clean, but they aren’t 100% oddballs either, and our ranks probably reflect a membership in line with the general population. It is true that we often have educational philosophies that differ from those held by many in the mainstream, but so do the Montessori and Waldorf people, not to mention the Sudbury schools people. Still, we are not an invasion force that beamed down from Planet Homeschool.
The news media attract attention to their stories through novelty, and homeschooling is still a small enough portion of the population to qualify as novel. Like other minorities, we’ll just have to point out discrepancies when they occur.
posted by Valerie