KHOU takes a quick, and sadly typical, trip into another public classroom culture war

Rare is the week in which your GetReligionistas do not receive some kind of note from a reader pointing us toward a news report in which there are claims that conservative Christians have suffered some kind of discrimination at the hands of the agents of "political correctness," usually public-school officials.

It's pretty clear that the correspondents are primarily upset about the contents of the story, as opposed to the efforts of journalists to cover it. In other words, these readers want GetReligion to publicize or protest THIS CASE, as opposed to critique the coverage.

Now, don't get me wrong. Often the coverage of these stories is pretty lousy, and that's usually just as true in alternative "conservative" media as it is in the mainstream press.

The basic problem is one that reporters face all the time: Once the conflict begins, public officials tend to stop answering questions and hand things over to their public-relations teams. This leaves journalists with quotes from one side of the story -- the angry activists -- and that's that. Some journalists turn this around and only quote the public officials, thus assuming that the people complaining about discrimination are totally out of line and have no facts on their side.

A classic Catch-22.

Consider this recent story from KHOU about an all-too-typical conflict in a public-school classroom in Katy, Texas:

A Katy seventh grader has some strong accusations. She says her teacher asked the class to deny God exists.
Jordan Wooley says it all happened during a class assignment and now the school is apologizing.
Katy ISD says the teacher that came up with the assignment is distraught, and ... the principal determined the assignment wasn't something that was necessary for students. But it's still not sitting well for Wooley.

OK, this is where we run into a rather typical problem when dealing with complaints by students and their parents, which is keeping the precise details consistent. At least in this case -- see the image above from social media -- we have a copy of the assignment to examine. However, note that for some reason this copy of the test does not have the student's answers on it, nor does it have a grade by the student.

So here is the KHOU version of the conflict:

Wooley originally answered the question 'there is no God' in two ways.
"I said it was fact or opinion," said Wooley, adding she answered that way because "based on my religion and based on what I think and believe, I do not think it was a common place assertion."
Wooley says her seventh grade reading teacher at West Memorial Junior High School said both her answers were wrong and that she had to admit God wasn't real.
"It was really confusing to me at first because I didn't really know what to do, so the first thing I did was tell my mom," Wooley said.

So the correct answer was that this was a "commonplace assertion"? And where is the answer that clearly states that God is not real?

Here is a another media report -- quoting Wooley again --  from The Daily Caller. Now we have another common problem that drives journalists crazy, as in second-hand material about alleged events involving other students:

Wooley said her friend put God as “fact” on the assignment, and the teacher crossed it out several times and told her it was “completely wrong.” A different friend got so upset that she threw everything off of her desk.
“Another child in my class had asked the teacher if we could like try to put what we believe in on the paper, and she said you can if you want to get the problem wrong, which you’ll fail the paper if you do,” Wooley said. “I felt like this was really wrong, and I didn’t feel like it was fair for my faith and my religion to have anything to do with what I’m learning about in school.”

So parents call authorities. Then the authorities contest basic facts in the testimony, in this case claiming that this was a non-graded assignment that was created to start discussions, period.

The KHOU story ends with a classic "we are very upset that people became upset with no cause" statement from the educational bureaucracy. 

... Katy ISD released a statement saying, in part, that the assignment was intended to encourage critical thinking and dialogue and not question any students' religious beliefs.
"Still this does not excuse the fact that this ungraded activity was ill-conceived and because of that, its intent had been misconstrued," Katy ISD said in its statement. ...
Katy ISD says it's crucial not to vilify the teacher without knowing her and her Christian faith.

Then there is this strange kicker, which you can just imagine playing out on television.

We went to the teacher's home for a response but she never came to the door.

So what did we learn here about journalism? In this kind of case, reporters almost have to have some kind of physical evidence to show that the conflict was real. It also helped that, in this case, there was a chance to witness public testimony by the offended student. At least there were publicly stated claims of fact to quote.

But you can see why many reporters hate covering these kinds of stories and simply wish that they would go away?

Education-beat reporters live and die on their relationships with local school officials and you know that the simply act of covering this kind of story will have ramifications. And with officials basically shutting down discussions of the basic factual questions, it is almost impossible to cover this story in a balanced, fair-minded way. Was this a graded test? Where did the test come from? Did other classes do similar tests? 

Thus, the stories evolve into "conservative" media products that are ignored by the mainstream because they are "conservative" media products based on the words of easily offended religious people.

(Cue: audible sigh) And the cycle goes 'round and 'round. 

IMAGE: From @JoshChapinKHOU on Twitter.

Please respect our Commenting Policy