It’s ironic at a time when 56 million children in the U.S. are being homeschooled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic that Harvard Magazine would publish an article calling for a ban on homeschooling.
The article by Erin O’Donnell, headlined “The Risks of Homeschooling,” sets up one straw man after another to make the case that the government must step in to protect children from their own parents—who are presumed guilty and ill-qualified to care for their own offspring.
Elizabeth Bartholet, faculty director of Harvard Law School’s Child Advocacy Program, told the magazine that homeschooling deprives children of their right to a “meaningful education.” She cites no law that requires a child to receive a “meaningful” education (because there is no such law in the U.S.) but defines it thusly: “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.” (Nothing about reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic in her formula, it must be noted.)
In other words, she knows that homeschooled children are being taught to think for themselves, and she won’t stand for it. Bartholet is no doubt keenly aware that government indoctrination centers have been wildly successful in their quest to force-feed vulnerable children progressive values. One need only spend a short time on a college campus to understand the extent of their success. Abraham Lincoln famously said that “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.” Social and moral revolutionaries understand that society and culture are shaped in the classroom and they’ve spent the last 100 years working tirelessly to ensure that the “correct” (read: progressive) values are being imposed on children.
This is not to say that all teachers are hell-bent on brainwashing children to accept left-wing values. Most are not. The vast majority love their students and are passionate about teaching and give no thought to indoctrinating children. But education thought-leaders like Bartholet and the national teachers’ unions are determined to ensure that children adopt their liberal values, and that’s where the problem lies because they’ve managed to leverage federal funding to amass an immense amount of control over local education decision-making.
Out of one side of her mouth, Bartholet says that parents have “very significant rights to raise their children with the beliefs and religious convictions that the parents hold.” Out of the other side, she says there should be limits to the influence parents have over their children.
“The issue is, do we think that parents should have 24/7, essentially authoritarian control over their children from ages zero to 18?” she asks. “I think that’s dangerous. I think it’s always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless, and to give the powerful ones total authority.”
Left unsaid, but clearly implied, is that it’s ok to put powerful government bureaucrats in charge of powerless children because, obviously, they know better than the parents what a child needs. It takes a village to raise a child, we’ve been lectured for decades.
Never mind that, according to government statistics, “During the 2017–18 school year, an estimated 962,300 violent incidents and 476,100 nonviolent incidents occurred in U.S. public schools nationwide. Seventy-one percent of schools reported having at least one violent incident, and 65 percent reported having at least one nonviolent incident.”
But loving parents who sacrifice to teach their kids at home are the problem.
As most critics of homeschooling do, the article trots out an anecdotal story of a child taught at home not receiving a proper education (whatever that means anymore). What they never seem to mention is that in the vast majority of the tragic cases used to “prove” how dangerous homeschooling is, the victims were a) truant rather than being legally homeschooled and/or b) were known to child protective services who ignored the abuse and neglect in the home. This is not to say that there is no abuse in the homeschooling community — child abuse crosses all demographic categories involving families enrolled in every form of education. But one study found that legally homeschooled students are 40% less likely to die by child abuse or neglect than the average student nationally.
But let’s not let the facts get in the way of The Narrative.
Bartholet went on to say that while “some parents who are motivated and capable of giving an education that’s of a higher quality and as broad in scope as what’s happening in the public school,” parents should be required to prove to the government that they are qualified to teach their own children.
“I think an overwhelming majority of legislators and American people, if they looked at the situation,” Bartholet says, “would conclude that something ought to be done.”
This, despite the fact that homeschoolers:
- Typically score 15 to 30 percentile points above public-school students on standardized academic achievement tests
- Score above average on achievement tests regardless of their parents’ level of formal education or their family’s household income
- Typically score above average on the SAT and ACT tests
- Typically score above average, on measures of social, emotional, and psychological development including peer interaction, self-concept, leadership skills, family cohesion, participation in community service, and self-esteem
- Go to and succeed at college at an equal or higher rate than the general population
- Participate in local community service more frequently than does the general population, vote and attend public meetings more frequently than the general population
- Internalize the values and beliefs of their parents at a high rate
That last one, by the way, is what the moral revolutionaries in the education establishment fear most. Bartholet laments in the Harvard Magazine article that some homeschoolers are “extreme religious ideologues.”
Bartholet claimed in a recent Arizona Law Review paper that “Many homeschool because they want to isolate their children from ideas and values central to our democracy, determined to keep their children from exposure to views that might enable autonomous choice about their future lives.” Make no mistake: by “values central to our democracy” she means her enlightened (ahem) values. If your family’s values come into conflict with hers, Bartholet’s must prevail.
Therefore, she argues, there must be a “radical transformation in the homeschooling regime and a related rethinking of child rights” that “recommends a presumptive ban on homeschooling, with the burden on parents to demonstrate justification for permission to homeschool.” In the view of Bartholet and others of her illiberal ilk, parents should be presumed guilty and must prove to the government that they’re not a danger to their own children. Many homeschoolers, after all, “promote racial segregation and female subservience,” says Bartholet.
Setting aside the fact that in the quarter-century I’ve traveled in homeschooling circles I’ve never met a segregationist, the pejorative descriptor “extreme religious ideologies” has come to mean anything to the right of the post-Christian liberal Episcopal Church (if one can even call that a church anymore). If you’re a conservative Christian who believes that marriage is between one man and one woman, or if you believe, as Jesus did, that God created the earth in seven days and He created man and woman as distinct, immutable categories, Bartholet and others like her think you’re incapable of providing your children a “meaningful” education. Moreover, they fear your kids will grow up to be free-thinkers who don’t look to the government for answers to life’s moral questions. Religion and homeschooling pose existential threats to the moral revolutionaries, and the stakes for them are high. The more kids they can get in government schools for 1080 hours a year, the faster their goal of a progressive utopia will be realized and the fewer thoughtcrimes we’ll have in the U.S.
Bartholet’s interest in regulating home education is more than academic, by the way. She’s heading up a June summit at Harvard to discuss regulating homeschooling. Featured speakers, according to an article at the Home School Legal Defense Association, include a who’s who of anti-homeschooling zealots.
President Reagan warned in 1986 (when homeschooling didn’t even have legal status in most states) that “the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.'” The idea that “something ought to be done” has been used as an excuse to ram an incalculable number of godless, immoral policies down the throats of American families.
Here’s a prediction: Anti-school choice activists are going to use the coronavirus pandemic to call on lawmakers to ban homeschooling or, failing that, to demand inspections of homeschooled children by government agents. When kids finally get back to school, whether it’s this year or next, the activists will no doubt be able to point to academic regression as proof that homeschooling doesn’t work. They won’t mention that the vast majority of parents currently forced to homeschool never chose to do that, had it thrown in their laps with zero time to prepare, and are more often than not juggling their own full-time jobs while they’re trying to manage their children’s education.
Now, more than ever, we must push back against government nannies who think they know what’s best for our kids. Tell them to leave our families alone.