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Education Reporter

Homeschoolers Must Respond to
Big Media's 'Guilt-by-Association' Tactics  
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By Fran Eaton

The "guilt-by-association" smear tactic is the easiest and most common method used by opposing political campaigns to damage the public's perception of a candidate. Even raising the question of an unsavory association, whether real or perceived, can be devastating, and the candidate often never fully recovers. This "guilt-by-association" smear strategy is now being used on home schooling families.

On Nov. 14, 2003, a New York Times editorial entitled "Make Home Schooling Safe for Children" suggested that the state of New Jersey establish government supervision of home schooling families because of a tragic child abuse situation that was discovered there.

The Times editorial was not the first attack on home schoolers in recent weeks. It followed the CBS television broadcast of a two-part series in mid-October entitled "The Dark Side of Home-schooling." Dan Rather's nightly national news program aired two segments featuring tragic examples of perverted criminal activity covered up by the perpetrators who insisted they were home schooling. In one of these cases, a young girl was killed by her older brother.

The CBS series was so offensive that more than 20 U.S. Congressmen signed a letter of complaint to CBS executives. The impression created by the national exposure is that home schoolers are suspect at best and criminals at worst.

The CBS assault on home schooling preceded an October 20 column entitled "And you thought it couldn't get worse," by Chicago Tribune entertainment critic Steve Johnson. The column referred to home schoolers as part of a "pool of dupes": "There will be a third 'Joe Millionaire,' Johnson wrote, "but because it's getting harder to find truly ignorant people, it will be forced to limit its pool of dupes to gay men from repressive regimes or the home-schooled."

For me, the New York Times editorial was the last straw. I've bitten my tongue and kept my powder dry while one or two others attempted to defend home schoolers in the media. But home schoolers are too busy home schooling to spend their time writing op-ed articles and letters to the editor. That's a shame, because, as the saying goes, if they don't defend themselves, who will?

If I were a paranoid home schooling parent, I would think that these attempts by the major media to disparage home schoolers reflects a concerted effort. But I'm no longer a paranoid home schooling parent — I simply used to be one.

Now, I'm the parent of three grown children who were home schooled. I have the advantage of being able to look back at the choices my husband and I made, and know with great confidence that when we decided to teach our children ourselves, we did the right thing.

However, I'm growing weary of the attacks by the fat, lazy big guys who use their clout to defend the status quo at all costs, and attack the tenacious, determined little guys when they begin to pose what is apparently perceived as a threat. That's what is happening right now.

During the early years of our home schooling experience, my husband and I spent much of our time defending our educational choice - to our neighbors, in our church, to members of our extended family, and to our larger sphere of acquaintances.

Through the years we became fairly good at putting a positive spin on home education. It was the best way to convince ourselves and others that it is a viable choice. You either had a good reason for doing it or you were deemed eccentric or worse.

When we began home schooling during the mid 1980s, we were convinced that the public school system was using our tax dollars to evangelize to a vulnerable, captive audience the doctrines of secularism, agnosticism and atheism. Even more than the poor academic performance of the government schools, we were concerned about the lack of spiritual training our children would receive outside of Sunday School and our family's Bible discussions. We worried that the government schools would create a climate that would foster our children's rejection of God altogether, a possibility we could not bear.

As parents who view their children as a grave responsibility entrusted to them by God, we had three choices: (1) We could place our children in a God-less environment from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day where they would be taught that God is not an integral part of their lives; or (2) We could enroll them in a religious school, which would have been difficult financially for our then already-stretched budget; or (3) We could teach our children at home.

Because we believed that mothers should bond with their babies through constant interaction and reinforcement, day care was not an option for us. So we made a conscious decision to live simply rather than leave our children with strangers during their formative years. It was a sacrifice albeit one that has reaped bountiful rewards.

Home schooling then became our educational choice. While not our first choice, we are now convinced it was our best choice.

I have provided this personal background to demonstrate why I am provoked to anger by these pathetic guilt-by-association attacks that are putting home schooling parents on their guard.

It is not easy to swim upstream against a strong current. Home schooling parents focus their energy where it should be focused - on teaching their children, providing meals, clothing and shelter, and nurturing their precious spirits day in and day out.

These parents already face being ostracized by bucking societal norms. They have to fight off government incursions into their homes and private lives. They should not be subjected to scurrilous media attacks that brand all home schooling parents for the misdeeds of a few.

These media efforts to scandalize reveal the tragic, horrific secrets of a few families across the nation who, under the guise of "home schooling," keep their children at home in order to commit criminal acts on them. There is absolutely no defense for such crimes. Believe me, home schooling parents are the very people who would advocate the maximum punishment the law allows for such evil.

Nevertheless, by highlighting these extremely rare examples of parents who do wrong under the banner of "home-schooling" while providing no context, these previously mentioned media outlets are attempting to propagate a negative image of almost one million home-schooled children who are becoming outstanding American citizens and national leaders.

There are home schoolers serving in the Bush White House, staffing the Republican National Convention's upper echelons, running U.S. Senate campaigns, becoming doctors, lawyers, business leaders, and most notably of late, challenging young people from a national platform, including Miss America 2003, Erika Harold of Urbana, Illinois, who was taught at home for several years.

Brian Ray of the Home School Research Institute recently surveyed 5,254 adults who were home schooled for at least seven years. A whopping 82% of the participants agreed with the statement, "I would homeschool my own children," and 55% of them strongly agreed.

As adults, 71% of these alumni are in-volved in community service (e.g. coaching a sports team, volunteering at a school, or working with a church or neighborhood association), more than twice the number (37%) of U.S. adults of similar ages who were not home schooled.

A majority (59%) of the subjects reported that, all things considered, they are "very happy" with life, while 27.6% of the general population describe themselves as "very happy" with life. Does it sound as though these home schoolers were victims of abuse?

The Ray study also found that home schoolers are more active politically than their peers in the general population. But perhaps scariest of all to the secular religious fanatics who use the government school system to inculcate their world view, 94% of the home schooled adults surveyed agreed with the statement: "My religious beliefs are basically the same as those of my parents."

Ahh. . . that makes it all worthwhile, doesn't it? Okay, home schoolers, I challenge you to defend your choice. I challenge you to enter the public forum and tell the world why you chose home education for your children.

But, as you do, I will remind you of Jesus' words (of which an associate recently reminded me) found in Luke 6:26, "Woe be to you when all men speak well of you. . ." In other words, when you are changing the world, don't expect accolades, expect attacks. But remember, the guilt-by-association attacks mean that you are changing the world.

Fran Eaton is the past president of Illinois Eagle Forum. She and her husband Joe taught their three children at home for 14 years. Fran is also managing editor of the Illinois Leader, email: letters@illinoisleader.com.

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