RALEIGH -- If homeschooling families want to draw attention to their lifestyle and education methods when their children excel -- as in academic competitions -- they've got to accept that they will draw unwanted scrutiny when one of their own does something horrible.
Such is the case with 18-year-old Pennsylvania murder suspect David Ludwig, who abducted his 14-year-old secret girlfriend Kara Borden Sunday after he allegedly gunned down her parents in their home. Ludwig was arrested in Indiana Monday with Borden in tow, after crashing his vehicle. Both were homeschooled and, according to some media reports, "deeply Christian."
The nature of homeschoolers when they draw negative media attention is to get defensive, and sometimes appropriately so. They administered a justifiable backlash against CBS News two years ago, when the network tried to establish a "dark side to homeschooling" by trying to tie an artificial trend of child abuse to the growing educational alternative. Correspondent Vince Gonzales even foolishly claimed during the two-night report on "CBS Evening News" that "children nationwide have been put in danger -- even killed -- while homeschooling."
The major media hasn't submitted an illogical disconnect like that yet with Ludwig, and if journalists do suggest there's some kind of murder trend, then homeschoolers should respond. But otherwise the media is justified when it calls attention to the fact that both Ludwig and Borden were homeschooled.
The excellent Media Research Center seemed to take exception to that, however. On its "Newsbusters" weblog, analyst Brent Baker noted how ABC News' Elizabeth Vargas teased for an upcoming segment on the teens, "When we return, the homeschool student charged with murdering his girlfriend's parents. A small town, and a community of homeschoolers, are shattered."
Baker, in his comments on the report, suggested a bias against homeschoolers. "Can you imagine Vargas ever citing 'the English as a Second Language student charged with murder'?" he wrote.
Baker is right that that would be unlikely, but I think he's wrong in believing the media shouldn't play up Ludwig's and Borden's educational background. The fact that they were homeschooled makes the murder even more significant. Why? Because the nature of the news is that when certain types of people act in ways that are inconsistent with what the public traditionally expects from them, it makes a story more newsworthy.
Frankly, ABC News did the right thing by recognizing the significance that the two teens were homeschooled. This was out of character from what most Americans have come to expect from homeschooled children: that they are mostly intelligent, polite, respectful, well-behaved, quiet, and mind their own business. They are a threat to no one (except teachers' unions).
Contrast that with the lie CBS (gee, what a surprise that it would be them) tried to perpetrate two years ago about homeschoolers. Gonzales, Rather and company identified four or five cases in which parents who claimed to be homeschooling were abusing their children, as though the phenomenon was unique to that educational style. In each instance, however, it wouldn't have mattered how those children were being educated, because others were aware of the abuse and failed to act adequately to prevent it. That didn't stop "intrepid" CBS from uncovering homeschooling's "dark side."
I suppose this case could be added to that dire (albeit phony) list CBS compiled and the media could label it as further proof of aberrant and anti-social behavior, but it still wouldn't ring true. Homeschoolers, whether they believe it themselves or not, have built too much credibility for that to get any traction.
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