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Elite Imperialist Crusade Against Homeschooling

Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Bartholet sees homeschooling as a threat to child safety and liberal democracy (Harvard Law School video)

This story from Harvard magazine about the evils “risks” of homeschooling has lit up my various networks like nothing else lately. Here’s how it starts:

Rapidly increasing number of American families are opting out of sending their children to school, choosing instead to educate them at home. Homeschooled kids now account for roughly 3 percent to 4 percent of school-age children in the United States, a number equivalent to those attending charter schools, and larger than the number currently in parochial schools.

Yet Elizabeth Bartholet, Wasserstein public interest professor of law and faculty director of the Law School’s Child Advocacy Program, sees risks for children—and society—in homeschooling, and recommends a presumptive ban on the practice. Homeschooling, she says, not only violates children’s right to a “meaningful education” and their right to be protected from potential child abuse, but may keep them from contributing positively to a democratic society.

“We have an essentially unregulated regime in the area of homeschooling,” Bartholet asserts. All 50 states have laws that make education compulsory, and state constitutions ensure a right to education, “but if you look at the legal regime governing homeschooling, there are very few requirements that parents do anything.” Even apparent requirements such as submitting curricula, or providing evidence that teaching and learning are taking place, she says, aren’t necessarily enforced. Only about a dozen states have rules about the level of education needed by parents who homeschool, she adds. “That means, effectively, that people can homeschool who’ve never gone to school themselves, who don’t read or write themselves.” In another handful of states, parents are not required to register their children as homeschooled; they can simply keep their kids at home.

More:

As an example, she points to the memoir Educated, by Tara Westover, the daughter of Idaho survivalists who never sent their children to school. Although Westover learned to read, she writes that she received no other formal education at home, but instead spent her teenage years working in her father’s scrap business, where severe injuries were common, and endured abuse by an older brother. Bartholet doesn’t see the book as an isolated case of a family that slipped through the cracks: “That’s what can happen under the system in effect in most of the nation.”

In a paper published recently in the Arizona Law Review, she notes that parents choose homeschooling for an array of reasons. Some find local schools lacking or want to protect their child from bullying. Others do it to give their children the flexibility to pursue sports or other activities at a high level. But surveys of homeschoolers show that a majority of such families (by some estimates, up to 90 percent) are driven by conservative Christian beliefs, and seek to remove their children from mainstream culture. Bartholet notes that some of these parents are “extreme religious ideologues” who question science and promote female subservience and white supremacy.

And if you weren’t clear on exactly what Elizabeth Bartholet wants:

She views the absence of regulations ensuring that homeschooled children receive a meaningful education equivalent to that required in public schools as a threat to U.S. democracy. “From the beginning of compulsory education in this country, we have thought of the government as having some right to educate children so that they become active, productive participants in the larger society,” she says. This involves in part giving children the knowledge to eventually get jobs and support themselves. “But it’s also important that children grow up exposed to community values, social values, democratic values, ideas about nondiscrimination and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints,” she says, noting that European countries such as Germany ban homeschooling entirely and that countries such as France require home visits and annual tests.

Read it all. There’s not much more to it than that, though. The reporter doesn’t talk to any defenders of homeschooling.

According to the article, Bartholet blames “the Home Schooling [sic] Legal Defense Association” as basically the NRA of homeschooling, calling it an organized lobby that prevents any progress to be made against homeschooling. Erin O’Donnell, the article’s author, gets the name of the HSLDA wrong — it’s Home School Legal Defense Association — but we can forgive her because she was probably homeschooled and doesn’t know any better (/sarcasm). Anyway, if this article doesn’t convince you to join HSLDA (or renew your membership) to protect yourself and your family from what the people at Harvard and other elite institutions have planned for you, nothing will.

Look at the illustration that accompanies the piece (which, to be fair, accurately represents the point of view of the article, which is the job of the illustrator):

That poor little girl, jailed in her home, while other children frolic about. Want to know something funny? That illustration is not the original one that appeared on this article. This tweet captured the original:

The piece seems to be an advance on an anti-homeschooling conference to be held in June at Harvard Law School.

There’s some great pushback in the Harvard Magazine article’s comments. The very first comment is a strong criticism from a homeschooling atheist mom. And there’s this:

This is really tired stuff. And thoroughly illiberal.

In the utter absence of any evidence whatsoever that kids who are homeschooled are more likely to be abused or less likely to enter adulthood ready for college or trade-school, there is no logical or even ethical reason to suggest that homeschooled kids face more “risks” than kids who attend public school.

I’m a secular liberal and secular liberals are increasingly choosing to homeschool their kids. Lazy attempts (I can only hope they’re not dishonest) to create an impression that the vast majority of homeschoolers are religious fundamentalists indicate the kind of desperation one sees from conservatives warning against the dangers of sex education and gay marriage.

You should know and strive to be better than this.

Take a look at this killer response from Alex Harris, a homeschooled kid who recently graduated from Harvard Law School, and who credits his homeschooled background for giving him the means to do that (and also criticizes some aspects of the experience). Excerpt:

After graduating with the top GPA at my college, I became the first person in my known family tree to attend law school. My personal statement for my Harvard Law school application focused on my unique upbringing. I got in, I’m convinced, on the strength of accomplishments I only achieved because my parents chose to homeschool.

While Professor Bartholet may not be aware of any of this, I was not the first or only homeschool grad at Harvard Law School when I arrived in 2012. At least two preceded me. Both were named editors of the Harvard Law Review, a distinction available only to the smallest fraction of the student body. Another homeschool grad matriculated with me. By the time I graduated, there were FOUR of us on the 92-member law review board. One homeschool grad won the annual award for best student writing on constitutional law. At the end of my 2L year, I won the Sears Prize for one of the two highest GPAs in the entire class.

Because of my success at Harvard, I had the enormous privilege to serve as a law clerk—first for then-Judge Neil Gorsuch on the Tenth Circuit and then for Justice Anthony Kennedy at the U.S. Supreme Court—right after law school. But once again, I wasn’t alone. When I arrived at 1 First Street in DC, another homeschool grad was clerking for a Justice down the hall. Another followed a year later. And while the ranks of SCOTUS clerks have historically been heavily imbalanced in favor of men, both of the other homeschooled clerks were women.

Today, as a direct result of my homeschool education, I am a successful attorney at one of the premier law firms in the United States. But I’m just one of many success stories. My fellow homeschool graduates are some of the most talented, responsible, caring, well-read, and well-rounded adults I know. They have reached all levels of academia and are making the world a better place from boardrooms to living rooms, small business to big law. Professor Bartholet might even know some of them in and just never realized they were homeschooled.

As a homeschooling parent friend of mine — himself a Princeton graduate — said to me over the weekend, in reference to Prof. Bartholet’s views, there is no one quite as provincial as an Ivy League provincial. Every homeschooling parent has had to deal with views like Bartholet’s — and they haven’t only come from liberals. My own conservative family members thought, at least for a while, that my wife and I were neglectful parents because we chose to homeschool our children. And to be fair, homeschooling is not for everyone. I, personally, would be terrible at it; I say “we” homeschool our children, but it’s my wife (and the teachers at Sequitur Classical Academy, a hybrid classical school, one that’s half classroom instruction, half homeschool). There are certainly people who homeschool for the wrong reasons. Nobody doubts that, and certainly not any honest person who has been involved for years with the homeschooling movement.

And it is also true that it is possible to hide child abuse behind a homeschooling façade. But then, we certainly know that it is possible to hide abuse behind a public school façade too. As homeschoolers, my kids have never had to face the kind of cruelty that I did in ninth and tenth grade in public school. That bullying was not the fault of the public school teachers and administrators, but it still happened, and marked me for life. The point is that there is no such place as an abuse-free utopia.

The problem is that people like Prof. Bartholet think that everybody who homeschools, or at least most people who homeschool, does it because they are primitive fundagelicals who are training intentional ignoramuses to labor in the #MAGA mines, and who might be beating the children away from the vigilant eyes of the State. Bartholet speaks with the smug self-assurance of a Victorian propagandist explaining why the mission of Empire is to civilize the foreign savages.

I’m only slightly kidding. Bartholet’s agenda assumes that families cannot be trusted to raise their children absent State monitoring via public schools. Notice this Bartholet line, from the paragraph where she calls homeschoolers a threat to US democracy:

“But it’s also important that children grow up exposed to community values, social values, democratic values, ideas about nondiscrimination and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints.”

What she’s really saying here is that it’s wrong that there is any place to hide from progressive propaganda. Progressives can be as rigid, intolerant and oppressive as any fundamentalist, but they don’t recognize it because they believe that they are morally and intellectually correct. In the discussion over Catholic “integralism,” small-l, small-d liberal democrats have objected that the Catholic Church should have no say over the state’s values and practices. They may (or may not) be right about that, but what they are certainly wrong about is that there is any such thing as a neutral viewpoint. The things that Bartholet cites as virtues necessary for democratic governance are expressions of a particular point of view. She is upset that there are people in this pluralist democracy who do not share those views, and seek to teach their children according to their family beliefs, not the state’s. (Note well that the original laws against private schooling in the US emerged from 19th century fears that Catholic schools would create a fifth column of subversives.)

Recently, some public schools have adopted policies for handling transgendered students that require teachers and staffers to deceive parents of gender dysphoric children. This is really happening. The school places itself between parents and their children, for the sake of assisting children’s beliefs that they are the opposite sex. It’s terrifying. In a matter of utmost concern and intimacy, parents really cannot trust the schools. And that, in my view, is at bottom the reason this Harvard Law professor and other elites hate homeschooling: they really do believe that they know better than families, churches, and non-state institutions, what is best for children. This is about an ideology of domination masquerading as care for abused children, and for liberal democratic values. 

It is important to get that straight in your head, so you’ll know what this fight is really about. The Elizabeth Bartholets of the world really will come after us, if they are given the opportunity. I especially appreciate the speaking out by homeschooling parents who are not religious and/or conservative, but who choose homeschooling because they regard it as a better way of educating their own children. These people are not supposed to exist in the Elizabeth Bartholet model of the world.

UPDATE: This is the mindset of these people:

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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