Protect Yourself from Misinformation

HELP! I just Googled “homeschooling in Wisconsin” and got hundreds of thousands of results! Some websites give different and conflicting information; how can I sort it all out?

Homeschooling is no different from any other topic you can Google: there is a lot of information out there and only some of it is reliable. As with any other topic you or your kids might research, when looking for homeschooling information, you can use a few simple tools to protect yourself and your family from misinformation, disinformation and people who may be looking to take advantage of your family.

Try looking at new information by asking these questions.

About SOURCES

  1. Is this resource for profit?

    Since the legal recognition of homeschooling almost four decades ago, homeschoolers have been identified and targeted as a lucrative market for for-profit businesses of all kinds. Smart consumers of homeschooling products or programs are just like smart consumers of other products: they do their research, ask questions, make comparisons, and read reviews before making a purchase. As parents, we are deeply invested in making good choices for our children, and some families have come to homeschooling under difficult or hurtful circumstances. These parents may be overwhelmed and feeling desperate for answers. Unfortunately, they may be the prime targets for disinformation, misinformation, or malinformation schemes.

    Regardless of our reasons for homeschooling, it’s always worth taking a moment to pause and ask: Does this person or company stand to profit from my situation? Even if their website is free, are they paid for in-person appearances, consulting services, book sales, or links to other pages or products? Do they benefit from my sharing their information? Is there a paid membership section of their website? Is this product or service well-reviewed by authentic customers? Where can I find out more before I commit?

    Another aspect of the internet age is that social media platforms themselves are for-profit. Their business model relies on clicks to make money, which may be passed on to the source of the article you are reading. Unlike standard journalism or advertising models that are governed by laws about fraud, social media platforms have no financial obligation to find or tell the truth. Relying on information from social media platforms alone puts you more at risk to be susceptible to misinformation.

    Of course, many for-profit businesses have provided great services to homeschooling families. It simply pays to be a smart consumer.

    1a) Does the organization or individual promote dependence on them, or do they promote empowerment and independence?

    If the organization or individual encourages you to contact them for everything, they may be promoting dependence on them. On the other hand, if they point you to resources to help you so you are able to resolve your issue or advocate for yourself, they are likely promoting empowerment and independence.

  2. Is this group or person based in Wisconsin?

    There is no federal law governing homeschooling. Homeschool laws vary widely from state to state, and Wisconsin’s law is particular to our history, and our state constitution. Out-of-state groups and individuals are often inadequately equipped to provide correct and accurate advice or information for Wisconsin families. Sometimes, what seems to be sound legal advice is in fact opposed to your rights or responsibilities here in Wisconsin. Acting on an incorrect understanding of Wisconsin law can not only put your family at risk, but can affect every other homeschooling family in Wisconsin. Take the time to familiarize yourself with our state laws, and be cautious when looking for advice from out-of-state parties.

  3. Does this person or group have a well-established history? If it’s a new organization, what can I find out about their origins, funding sources, and organizational framework?

    Whether for-profit or non-profit, the way an organization is structured can tell you a lot about how to use the information they offer. How is the organization structured: is it run by a single director or individual, a board, or a for-profit company? What are the funding sources, and how is that money spent?

  4. Is this person or group offering legal advice? If yes, are they licensed to do so in Wisconsin?

    If not, what information can you find to support following their advice? When the person or group is asked for information, do they point to an independent source, such as applicable statutes, or do they point you to something that they have written?

    It’s important to know and understand for yourself the Wisconsin laws regarding homeschooling, and it is your responsibility to be in compliance with Wisconsin homeschooling law. The words of our statutes matter, and are easy to find. In the context of legal issues, they should be referred to first.

    Some groups or individuals may appear to be providing legal support, or issuing legal opinions for homeschooling families in general. Again, since there is no federal homeschooling law, there is little “expertise” to offer on a national basis, since each state has its own laws or case law to govern homeschooling. Even within a state, unless you have personally retained legal counsel for yourself, you should not assume any group or individual is acting on your behalf on legal issues.

    It is illegal, unethical, and generally inadvisable to offer legal advice if you are not a licensed attorney advising a client. Just as doctors don’t perform medical procedures on a stranger at a party, lawyers do not offer legal advice to non-clients.

    You can quickly check for Wisconsin Bar membership here: https://www.wisbar.org/Pages/BasicLawyerSearch.aspx

    WHPA provides information about homeschooling in Wisconsin. WHPA does not provide specific legal advice to any specific individuals in the context of any specific matters. It is the responsibility of each homeschool administrator/parent or guardian to read original source material and make decisions on compliance for themselves. When you file the PI-1206 Homeschool Report with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, you take full responsibility for understanding and complying with the laws outlined on that form. WHPA does not endorse or provide curriculum suggestions or specific materials for any particular educational approach.

  5. Is this organization or person asking for any personal information about me or my family?

    Under Wisconsin law, your privacy as a homeschooler is protected. In any circumstance where your private information is requested, be thoughtful before sharing. Ask questions about who maintains your information, and how, and whether or not it will be used for marketing purposes.

    About DISINFORMATION

  6. Is it too good to be true?

    Beware of confirmation bias: the urge to believe something that confirms what you already believe even when presented with evidence that pushes against those beliefs. Too bad to be true? Rage-bait, inflaming anger, hyper partisan or scam?

  7. Can it be independently verified?
  8. Is it emotionally appealing?
  9. Does it ask me to share or otherwise engage?

Conclusions

It pays to use caution before sharing information found online. Be smart, discerning, and critical before passing on what could be misinformation to other homeschooling families.

But each of us may be what Kate Starbird (2019) calls an “unwitting agent”. As Ira Hyman, Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today about the current spread of disinformation online, “Each time we decide to share a piece of misinformation, we contribute to the spread. And people are constantly sharing misinformation. More than likely, you will see the same false news several times in your social media, as many of your friends decide to share that information. The repetition of false information will make that information feel truer (something called the illusory truth effect). If the misinformation starts to feel true, you may decide to share.” (Psychology Today July 29, 2019)

  • Whether for-profit or not-for-profit, does the person or group providing this information have an angle or some kind of vested interest? Are they framing a problem so they can sell you a solution? Are they trying to co-opt you to serve or fulfill an agenda, national debate, or issue on homeschooling? Are they sowing disharmony or fear? 
  • Think about the consequences: What happens if you’re wrong? Think about the bigger picture: How might this affect other homeschoolers if you’re wrong?
  • What to do when you find misinformation about homeschooling in Wisconsin:
    • Don’t pass it on.
    • Don’t assume the person who shared it has bad intentions; if you choose to respond, do so with courtesy. Remember no online conversation is ever private. Think about linking to or passing on the correct information in a useful and friendly way.
    • Consider letting WHPA know, if you believe that this is impacting Wisconsin homeschoolers.

 

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