Homeschoolers have enjoyed a healthy share of positive media coverage this year, earning places in Time Magazine, Newsweek, New American Magazine, Insight, The Congressional Quarterly Researcher, USA Weekend, The Washington Times, The Washington Post, and many regional newspapers and local weeklies.
Although there have been a few negative pieces, most reporters have treated home education as a respectable, blossoming alternative—a viable choice. It seems the growing public interest in educational choice has motivated the press to treat home schooling more objectively, avoiding bias and stereotypes.
Time reporter Nancy Gibbs writes, "[Home schooling] embraces such a range of families that it has become a mainstream alternative to regular public or private education." Echoing this, Brian Robertson of Insight writes, "[T]he stigma attached to educating in the home may be disappearing fast thanks to the soaring number of practitioners as well as some fairly impressive results." And "home-schooled kids are the best advertisement for this burgeoning approach to education," writes Crystal City reporter Carolyn McCulley.
Delivered to every member of the House and Senate, The Congressional Quarterly Researcher presented 20 pages of home education history, statistics, and legal analyses this past September. Staff writer Charles Clark notes that "homeschoolers are rapidly moving into the mainstream of education reform." Citing home school practitioners, Clark writes that "public schools have much to learn from home schooling techniques.
Interestingly, the most negative piece on home schooling this year appeared not in an American publication, but in London, England's Daily Telegraph. While the Telegraph's reporter wrote positively about British home schoolingparents, he described American home-schoolers as "subversives" out to create an "elite … superclass." Fortunately, such an extreme example of media bias is not as common today as it was ten years ago. However, despite the increasing amount of positive coverage, bias does occur.
Positive press coverage doesn't happen without work on the part of homeschoolers. In almost every case, the articles mentioned here grew out of a reporter's contact with a home schoolingfamily or support group. Although not every family will be approached for an interview, each one has opportunities to present a positive, realistic image of home education to friends, neighbors, store clerks, public officials, and others. These contacts are no less important than the "glamorous" ones with the media. In fact, they are crucial in establishing a healthy, un-stereotyped view of home schooling and the families who choose to teach at home.
You can take control of an interview by watching your vocabulary and speaking with confidence and enthusiasm. Here are several tips to remember as you talk with the media:
- Be positive about your decision to home school. Talk with conviction and energy, but be careful not to bowl the reporter over with statistics. S/he might read your attitude as nervous or over-eager. Relax.
- Listen carefully to the reporter's questions. If s/he words something negatively, turn the question around and address it from a positive angle.
- Choose your own words with care. Avoid buzzwords that stereotype. Make sure the reporter is aware of how truly eclectic the home schooling movement is. Offer to refer him or her to home school organizations or to another family with a background different from yours.
- Don't be quick to criticize public schools. Be the first to point out the many fine teachers in the public school system. If the reporter presses for your concerns about Conventional schools, talk about the red tape that ties up teachers and removes local control of local schools. These are points on which almost everyone will agree. If you do want to point out the increasing public school ills, do so in a non-threatening manner.
- Remember that you've been asked to discuss home education, not your family's church life, your beliefs on evolution vs. creationism, or your political leanings. Each of those topics could take up another interview entirely. Remind the reporter that not all home schooling parents share your particular religious beliefs or political ideals, but all are committed to quality education and involvement in their children's lives.
- Use the "Golden Rule" when dealing with all media representatives. Be fair and kind, and respond as soon as possible to requests for information. Be willing to help reporters meet deadlines by returning calls quickly, answering questions succinctly, and providing background information (statistics, studies, etc.) when appropriate.
- Be gracious. Write a note to thank the reporter for his or her time. Keep a pleasant tone of voice and a smile on your face, and enjoy the chance to share your experience!