When I was in high school, purity balls marked the passing of another year, conferences taught me not to hold hands until I married, and women discussed whether pursuing a career would betray their God-given calling to marriage.

I was in the thick of conservative homeschooling culture. When American Prospect published Kathryn Joyce's recent article on the "apostates" among us, I took note. In fact, I couldn't stop reading. It was a little like watching a train wreck with family members on board.

Joyce's piece profiles several homeschooling horror stories—narratives of children raised by hypersensitive, overbearing parents, parents who used mental and physical punishment. The article ties those stories to the history and culture of the broader homeschooling movement, which became popular in the 1980s and spread in the last few decades to more than 2 million practitioners.

While I know the kinds of heartbroken children of homeschooling Joyce profiles, I also know the other side. For every mistreated homeschooled kid who's grown up to be an outspoken rebel against the culture — and I know a few — I know a half-dozen young adults who grew up to go to college, get a real job, and find a healthy place in society without too much drama.

I say this not to discount the experiences of those who have been hurt by the patriarchal and overbearing bent in some homeschool settings. Those hurts are very real, and I hope with all my heart that those people find the healing they search for. I pray that such cultures have less and less power to harm as the practice of homeschooling spreads and gathers cultural diversity. Articles like Joyce's and this Daily Beast article by Michelle Goldberg do their part to shine light on the dark places of the homeschooling world.

These articles also remind me of the danger of letting news define our view of the world. It's no secret that news highlights the odd, often at the expense of the normal. As Catholic novelist and journalist G.K. Chesterton noted in 1909, journalism's biggest flaw is that it is a "picture made up entirely of exceptions." Journalists, he said:

cannot announce the happiness of mankind at all. They cannot describe all the forks that are not stolen, or all the marriages that are not judiciously dissolved. Hence the complete picture they give of life is of necessity fallacious; they can only represent what is unusual. However democratic they may be, they are only concerned with the minority.

Article continues below

We often assume journalism is a mirror to reflect reality, rather than a lamp to shine into dark places. Because the news tends to fall in the latter category, the everyday graces — what Martin Luther would call the days of mundane faithfulness — are not captured, nor should we expect them to be, in the pages of your daily newspaper or on your favorite news blog.

When you read the headlines, it becomes easy to forget that many homeschoolers fall nowhere near the fundamentalist Christian camp outlined in Joyce's story, and that even many who do buy gifts from Vision Forum and send their children to Patrick Henry College are sane, loving, empowering parents. They're not the ones we hear about.

It's nothing new for evangelicals to be social oddballs and, therefore, media darlings. We've been accused of brainwashing our children and indoctrinating them in "Jesus camps," put in the media spotlight for trust in faith healing, and caused controversy for encouraging Christians to marry young. We make headlines for snake handling, reluctance to support possibly abortion-inducing drugs, and high rates of marriage among college couples.

These things are more or less worth noting, and some of them merit critical questioning. However, it's also important to remember that they don't give the whole picture.

While news has always emphasized the odd, the Internet makes it even harder to access a fair picture of the world. Research shows that most people who access news on the Internet choose overwhelmingly to read news that fits in their existing interests, whether those be political leanings, geographic interests or other pursuits. We look for stories that line up with our preexisting interests and conceptions of reality, and we're unlikely to venture outside that comfort zone.

Even when readers do try to consume news from across the spectrum, Google's algorithms tailor results to searchers' past preferences. You're stuck inside a "filter bubble" you might not even realize exists. Headlines are written, edited, and rewritten to generate maximum clicks, and even feel-good news sites like Upworthy are guilty. Whatever news you're reading, including this blog post, has been carefully selected by the Internet to tug at your heartstrings, raise your ire, or inspire shock — anything to get one more pair of eyes to engage the story.

In the end, as followers of Christ, we're called to know the truth. The whole truth is rarely found in any one place, even in the most compellingly written and well-researched investigative news report. The news can point us to the truth, but it's often just a start. So next time you read a story that shocks or saddens you, take a moment to think. Offer a prayer both that justice may reach the dark places of the earth, but also that the unsung stories of normalcy would continue unimpeded. And take a moment to celebrate the unwritten stories of mundane faithfulness.