News media employees around the country routinely generate reports featuring homeschooling. Although the resurgence of children learning at home has probably passed it’s 30th birthday, editors and reporters still find homeschooling to be significant enough to warrant column-inches and broadcast-minutes. The tug-of-war about whose hand will rock the educational cradle continues. Figure the odds of reading anything today about Strawberry Shortcake, Dungeons and Dragons, or any lasting effects credited to Teddy Ruxpin.
Rarely, though, are homeschooling articles straight reports about the specifics of homeschooling that could be useful for the local readership: state laws, support groups, library hours, sporting associations. Although state laws are often mentioned, they are often characterized as either too lenient, or well-deservedly strict. The point seems to be to reassure the ‘civilian’ population that the homeschooling families are under control. By now, 27 years after the publication of John Holt’s Teach Your Own, homeschooling articles should be as cut and dried as notices about where to sign up for the community football league.
However, despite 27 years and 50-state ubiquity, homeschooling is still enough of a political football that the editorial staffs of news media set up articles in a pro-individualist or con-collectivist standoff on whether it is a good idea to allow parents to educate their own children. The pro/con viewpoint is often evident in who reporters interview for an article, and in what each person is allowed to say (through editing of a reporter’s notes).
Writers also use the human-interest technique to flesh out articles that would be bare recitations of law by including tidbits of how families homeschool. In using the human-interest approach, writers do not put together articles ‘about’ the people in them, but rather use the people to decorate bare facts. Around the people are the choices of words that writers use to insert their viewpoint between the lines. The articles are slippery customers for readers because in one paragraph Mrs. Smiling Homeschooler is telling us about her happy children, while the next line has Mr. Dour Administrator warning against children falling through cracks. Cracks of what is never specified, but the reader is still directed to gaze down at possibly unfortunate children — rarely a specific Jacob or Emily, Benny or Olivia.
When I look at homeschooling articles, I want to see something significant about homeschooling, not another litany of rules, test scores and children-who-learn-Bible-verses. (a majority of Americans are Christian — learning Bible verses is not news. I emphasize this only because reporters do) In my opinion, if reporters cannot find something fresh to add to the conversation about homeschooling then their articles fall into the category of ‘all the news that fits, they’ll print.’
To help me wade through more articles more efficiently, since the blog’s purpose is to showcase articles about homeschooling, I thought that listing specific items for review could help speed my process. It might also provide a guideline for readers who may or may not want to read an entire article. So today, I spent my afternoon writing a scoring system for elements within an article.
Because I’m looking for homeschooling articles that add to the continuing discussion about homeschooling, my weighting system favors positive information, new information, and interesting information. I set penalties for clichés and institutional school information. When articles about local schools routinely include comparisons with homeschooling, then I’ll consider decreasing my school-mention penalties. I am especially critical of counting how many homeschooled children are in a given area since few other human-interest articles point out how many ballet dancers, Ford Mustang owners, or wallpaper-hangers live in any neighborhood, city or state. Nose-counting like that is usually reserved for sex offenders or murder rates.
Please remember that I’m looking at whether homeschooling articles are about homeschooling; I’m not weighing the people about whom the writers wrote.
My list follows. We’ll see how it goes.
- Each article starts with zero points.
- Who: who are the people featured in the article?
5- point credit for each homeschooling parent or child mentioned
5-point deductions for each bureaucrat mentioned, in the absence of any pending legislation
- What: what has the reporter allowed the people to say?
10-point credit for each item of original information, 25-point credit for observations about how kind, cooperative and thoughtful someone says the homeschooled kids are
5-point deduction for each cliché (may be combined with deductions in other categories)
- When: When was the article written in relation to the community’s daily life? Has an event piqued reporterly interest, or is this a ‘slow news day’ item?
5-point credit for an event
5-point deduction for ‘slow news day’
- Where: Where were the homeschoolers featured during the article?
5-point credit for a library or college, 10-point credit for a sporting facility; 15-point credit for an apprenticeship-type area, or anything to do with horses, baking, dressmaking, sailing or astronomy because I like those things
10-point penalty for any mention of kitchen tables, 25-point penalty for mentioning school, testing, grades, GPA, NCLB
- Why: Why was the article written?
5-point credit for legislative changes, 5-point credit for homeschooling parent’s activities, 10-point credit for a homeschool group event, 15-point credit for homeschooled kids’ activities, 50-point credit for a homeschooled person’s achievements
5-point deduction for slow-news day (only 1 per article) 10-point deduction for generic educrat concerns, 15-point deduction for each instance of ’nose counting,’ 25-point deduction for comments about weird homeschoolers who aren’t socialized; 50-point deduction for ‘we don’t have that information but we’d like to have it’
- How: How were any graphics used?
5-point credit for portraits, 10-point credit for photos depicting people engaged in non-school-like learning activities, 15-point credit for hayrides, skiing (water or snow), beachcombing, camping or similar activities
5-point deduction for photos of children studying out of books, 10-point deduction for photos of schools, 15-point deduction for photos of educrats or government administrators who are not involved in active homeschooling legislation
190 credits are available
185 demerits are available
And now, I christen my point-system with the scoring of the first article:
Home is school for many kids, 28 September 2008, The Republican, MassLive.com, Springfield, Massachusetts
60 plus points combined with 200 minus points give a score of -140
I almost had to give it a fifteen-yard penalty for gratuitous nose-counting.
Update list … because one can’t think of everything all at once
Taxpayers: 25 point credit for mentioning that singles, couples, empty-nesters and retirees all pay taxes with no expectation of using the schools
- Misinformation — 10 point penalty for fecklessness
Socialization — 25 point penalty for misinformed triteness beyond the clichéd
Truancy – 25 point penalty for referring to homeschooled children as truant
Tax credits — 10 point penalty because singles, couples, empty-nesters and retirees all pay taxes with no expectation of using the schools
Symbolic style points
basis in conjunction with times such as weekly, daily, monthly, yearly: “basis” is unnecessary and writers ought to know this
opt/opting/option: this root word and its deriviatives are overused