A recent CBS “news” program “The Dark Side of Homeschooling” was a frontal assault, by smears and innuendo, against individual freedom and independence. As a coffin was carried into a cemetery, we were told that homeschooling can hide child abuse, which can lead to death. Such drama provided no information about homeschooling. But it offers an important lesson about the power of principled opposition to such attacks–a lesson that businessmen should heed.
In terms of method, the program was a fairly standard assault on anyone who acts independently of government control. It selected an aberration (isolated instances of child abuse), and then extended such deviant cases across the range of its target group. By claiming that child abuse is a “dark secret” of homeschooling, the program linked all those who educate their children at home with abusers, implied some sort of conspiracy among homeschoolers, and equated freedom with death. No facts are used to show any of this. By innuendo, the stage was set for further attacks against all homeschoolers, and for advocacy of government control over children and homes.
This is similar to many smears against businessmen as a group. By treating a crime (fraud) as the essence of business activity (productive work), commentators have been able to equate productive businessmen with criminals. All businessmen can now be considered guilty until proven innocent.
For homeschoolers, as for most businessmen, the real story–the government’s attacks on freedom through forced taxation and regulation, and the attempts by committed individuals to break away from the coercion–was buried under layers of obfuscation. There was a blatant attempt to link homeschooling with death, in the minds of viewers–as businessmen are now linked with crime.
But, in the case of homeschoolers, something went wrong. Instead of passively accepting that CBS had a “right” to defame anyone it wishes, the homeschoolers fought back. CBS news phone lines and email address were overwhelmed with protests against the program. As the President of the North Carolinians for Home Education (NCHE) wrote:
“There is room for difference of opinion, even principled opposition, towards homeschooling in the media; however, the selective reporting, misrepresentation, and insinuation used in this report cannot be tolerated. It is crucial that CBS, and others who are watching, understand that if they wish to choose a compliant group to slander in the name of their agenda, homeschoolers are the wrong ones to target.”
The key point is that homeschoolers refused to remain “compliant.” They reacted with forthright indignation to an assault on their independence. CBS News has been forced to deal with principled opposition, something they are not used to. This has forced them to actually deal with the homeschoolers, not merely to smear them with impunity.
The philosopher Ayn Rand stated the issue at stake here as “the sanction of the victim.” Attacks against the good can succeed, she observed, only insofar as the victims grant that their attackers are acting properly. Should the victims withdraw their sanction–should they refuse to concede the moral high-road to those trying to destroy them–then the attackers will collapse. In other words, without the “compliance” of the victims, there is no story. The NCHE statement is admirably correct.
Homeschoolers are, by and large, not a wealthy group. Most are parents who are struggling to escape from public education. They do this even though they are physically forced, through taxation, to pay for the schooling of strangers. Theirs is a story of independence and freedom, values that revered by many Americans, but are obviously antithetical to CBS news. It was as independent persons, acting under their own individual initiative, that they refused to sanction the homeschooling story.
Imagine what would happen if American businessmen, and their customers, reacted as strongly when businessmen are smeared. Imagine if millions of people overwhelmed email and phone systems demanding that CBS find some other “compliant group” to slander. Suppose businessmen and their customers saw the way that Martha Stewart has been treated, and understood the profound injustice involved in equating her with a crook. How much power could businessmen wield if they began to cancel their advertising contracts until CBS introduced a modicum of objectivity into its reporting?
The CBS attacks on homeschooling, as on business, reveal the same basic motives: hatred of independence and freedom, and the promotion of socialization and government regulation. Homeschooling is bad, social workers made clear in the story, because education in the home is not “visible to society,” and is “unregulated.” The same arguments are routinely made against businessmen. But, the difference is that homeschoolers value their privacy, freedom and their independence, and have defended those values. This is the real story in the CBS segment.
Let businessmen observe that forthright opposition from homeschoolers has led CBS to retreat from innuendo and smears. Such principled opposition is the only protection that Americans have from predatory government regulators, and their advocates in the media. Government schools will not teach students how to understand this issue. For such a lesson, one needs a homeschool.
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