In a piece on the NRO homepage yesterday, Fred Bauer offered some excellent thoughts on an anti-homeschooling article from the most recent issue of Harvard Magazine, which featured the arguments of Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Bartholet. His response was incredibly thorough, but I have a few additional thoughts on the subject that stem, at least in part, from the fact that I myself was homeschooled for most of grade school.
Here’s how Bauer helpfully summarizes Bartholet’s view:
A prison composed of “reading,” “writing,” “arithmatic” (yes, “arithmatic”), and the Bible. That is how an illustration in the latest issue of the Harvard Magazine portrays homeschooling. While other children run and play outside, the poor homeschooler squints out between the bars. (An updated version of this illustration changes “arithmatic” to “arithmetic.”)
The story accompanying this illustration focuses on an argument by the celebrated Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Bartholet that homeschooling “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.” Because of the dangers of homeschooling, Bartholet recommends that it should be presumptively banned either by the courts or various legislatures.
Drawing on an article of Bartholet’s, published in the Arizona Law Review, Bauer notes that the law professor’s opposition to homeschooling “turns on the questions of values” and “reveals the way that certain modes of political thought that prize autonomy can end up undermining pluralism.”
Indeed. But pluralism isn’t the only thing Bartholet undermines. Her argument tramples on our country’s liberal tradition and long-standing respect for pluralism, to be sure, but it also peddles harmful notions about what homeschooling is, how it affects children, and how a flourishing society should view the choice to educate children at home.
Bartholet isn’t the first to posit that homeschooling is some kind of insidious evil; homeschoolers have a long history of struggling with local and state governments, even when their educational methods are, by any objective measure, comparable to what children would receive in a traditional school. When these anti-homeschooling arguments arise, they generally are founded on the often unstated premise that keeping a child out of traditional school is tantamount to abuse, conflating thousands of innocuous homeschooling families with the few outliers such as those described in Tara Westover’s bestselling memoir.
Having wielded this falsehood to presuppose the existence of a grievous problem, Bartholet offers a predictable solution: more government control. More troubling than Bartholet’s obvious opposition to pluralism is her premise that the prevailing majority view of modern society is objectively correct and that, as a result, it ought to be forced on every child by state authority regardless of what parents believe.
In short, Bartholet’s view is that elite educators necessarily know better than parents and that it would be a disservice to children to let them be taught by the people who gave them life. How can we expect children to flourish, after all, if their parents teach them that man and woman are created in the image and likeness of God rather than that gender exists on an infinite spectrum and that they must choose their precise location on that spectrum — though be careful, it might change on any given day! — starting at the age of four.
Ultimately, Bartholet’s argument is thinly veiled anti-religious bigotry coupled with a healthy dose of privileged elitism. It assumes, first and foremost, that homeschooling is merely a front for religious zealots to indoctrinate their children with backwards, anti-science beliefs based on Christianity’s horrific, outdated teachings. And though she doesn’t acknowledge it, the result of her ban on homeschooling would be that wealthy parents can continue to avoid public schools by sending their children to expensive private institutions while a dearth of school-choice policies and a lack of financial resources leave lower-income parents with no options at all.