It’s easy to forget or ignore that education writers and editors are themselves the products of their own individual education experiences (for better or worse) and oftentimes have to make school and education decisions for their own children.
Traditionally, journalists and news outlets keep mum about these background experiences, which is understandable. Sure, it might be awkward to admit that you went to Andover and Brown and are sending your kids to a controversial charter school. Sure, it might be difficult to explain or disclose that you left the district to find a better school, or transferred your kid to a parochial school.
And yet, I think it’s helpful for readers to know where writers and editors are coming from, and it adds credibility to their work to disclose experiences that might be relevant to the story that’s being told.
Perhaps this latest example of an education writer making personal experience into useful writing is Chicago-based education writer Maureen Kelleher’s recent piece about her child’s gender-nonconformity and the process of exposing the school and classmates to the child’s preferences:
On Bobbi’s fourth day at her new school, she wore her favorite blue skirt and purple leggings with tulle flowers at the ankles. Despite the remains of an early January blizzard, she refused to wear snowpants. When Bobbi came out the door after school, the hood of her jacket hid all her hair, like a nun’s wimple. All I could see was her face, her blue jacket, blue skirt and purple leggings. It was the first time I saw my girl.
It’s not that education stories should all be about reporters’ personal experiences, but rather that education writers and editors shouldn’t be afraid—or reluctant—to note personal experiences when they would help inform the reader or establish credibility. A sentence or a note at the end of a piece might often be enough.
And, given today’s social media realities, undisclosed background factors like where reporters send their own kids to school can be discovered after the fact. So there’s another good reason to get out in front. The Internet knows everything.