God and public-school classrooms? These clashes are hard to report and that's a fact

God and public-school classrooms? These clashes are hard to report and that's a fact

Do you remember my post a few days ago about that Katy, Texas, public-classroom dispute between a teacher and a student named Jordan Wooley? That was the KHOU story about how this 12-year-old student -- on a critical-thinking test -- declined to give the correct answer, which was that "There is a God" was a statement of opinion, not fact.

This was the rare "culture wars" story of this kind in which journalists were able to do something other than quote angry parents, followed by silence from public-school officials or statements from their PR professionals stating that school officials are very sorry that parents have chosen to get upset about absolutely nothing.

In this case, they key was that young Wooley had a chance to stand up in public and speak her mind, in front of journalists and everybody else. That public forum seemed to push this story out of the usual news gridlock in which conservative media (and conservative activists with fundraising letters) quote the concerns of parents, while mainstream journalists (and liberal activists with fundraising letters) quote the views of school officials.

This leads us to the question on this week's Crossroads podcast: Why is it so hard for journalists to write stories in which voices on both sides are quoted, with respect, and allowed to dialogue about the alleged facts in these disputes? Click here to tune that in.

As I told host Todd Wilken, this KHOU story reminded me, in many ways, of the recent disputes here in Tennessee about class activities in which very young students are required to learn and even recite key elements of Muslim doctrine -- including the Shahadah, the prayer that someone recites in order to convert Islam.

As I noted in another recent post, most of the coverage I am seeing ignores the actual concerns of the parents and acts as if this is a dispute about studying the history of Islam, period. The key is the word "Shahadah." That term shows up in the "conservative" media reports, but not the mainstream stories.

But back to Houston. After I wrote my post about the KHOU report, The Houston Chronicle weighed in with an A1 story that (a) admitted that the conflict existed, (b) that there were clashes here in how two major forces in education view the word "fact" and (c) that these kinds of classroom conflicts are not going to go away.

Let's parse a bit of this Chronicle story:

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

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.

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