Harvard Graduate Responds to Proposed Ban on Homeschooling

Harvard Square as seen from a nearby building (click for credit)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about an anti-homeschooling summit that was being held at Harvard Law School. Well, over the weekend, I got several emails and Facebook contacts that contained an article written about one of the summit’s organizers, Professor Elizabeth Bartholet. The article discusses a paper she recently wrote in the Arizona Law Review. That paper

…calls for a radical transformation in the homeschooling regime and a related rethinking of child rights. It recommends a presumptive ban on homeschooling, with the burden on parents to demonstrate justification for permission to homeschool.

Once I read the article and the abstract from Dr. Bartholet’s paper, I started planning the rebuttal piece that I was going to write. After all, my first exposure to homeschooling was having homeschool graduates in my Ball State University chemistry and physics courses. They impressed me so much that I started researching home education and eventually started working with homeschoolers. Today, I am a strong advocate of homeschooling specifically because I have come to the conclusion that it is the best model of education available to parents in the United States.

Fortunately, there is no need for me to write that rebuttal article, because an excellent one has already been written by Melba Pearson,
a homeschool graduate who also graduated from Harvard. I encourage you to read the article in its entirety, as well as one of the articles (published in The Harvard Crimson) that she links to. However, I must leave you with the closing paragraph of her article, which succinctly explains why Dr. Bartholet’s idea is not only absurd, but profoundly anti-education:

I excelled at Harvard because I was homeschooled, and of that I am proud. It is deeply disappointing that Harvard is choosing and promoting an intellectual totalitarian path that calls for a ban of the liberties that helped me and countless others succeed, for it is those liberties and ideals that have made America the great nation it is today.

14 thoughts on “Harvard Graduate Responds to Proposed Ban on Homeschooling”

  1. My granddaughters were homeschooled and because of Coviid-19 the oldest is finishing her Masters in Education degree which she chose to create a website. Her sister is also doing online college because of the expense and they both are getting good grades which I think came from homeschooling and working online as well as having a good curriculum.

  2. Great response! The homeschooling movement here in Southern California is totally blossoming – something probably nobody expected 15 years ago.

    In a way it kind of reminds me of the health food movement. When I worked at a vegetarian restaurant / natural supplements store we served a very small section of the overall population but it always surprised me how diverse our clients were. Regular people, colorful people, young people, old people, hippies, Christians, artists, politicians, lawyers, scientists, right wing, left wing, “hate all politics”, moderates, etc.

    As an outsider my premonition about the health food community was that it was a homogeneous hippy culture. (This was also 20 years ago) I found out it’s anything but. My premonitions about the home school community was that it was mainly composed of anti-social oddballs and right wing zealots (AND produced poor academic results.) Getting to know them has proved me incredibly wrong. It also revealed some deeply held prejudices I had against those who chose to buck societal norms with regards to education. I encourage anyone who has an issue with homeschooling to go out and meet some families who do it well. When done well it produces incredible results.

  3. I can honestly say my parents taught me more than public school ever did, at least in academia. My parents taught by example, not because they were into homeschooling, but it’s what their parents did. A little here, more that. Always questions, always each of us were important, not part of a can of sardines. Public school taught me how to raise pot, what poppies make the most milk, bennies, black beauties, and racism. If a child was raped, it was assumed it was their fault. You either were part of a gang, and this school was middle-class!, or you were a victim. A jock, but I had a strong sense of right and wrong and backed the nerds and others who more than once saved me, as well. By the time I left school, most kids carried knives and always walked the halls in twos and threes. Semi-rural area, between two major cities, not far from NYC. On moving to Arizona, it was worse because liberals claimed control here, as well. peace to you.

  4. This is indeed the kind of article I’d have written just out of college. Indeed, the American air is so suffused with this kind of thinking any number of people could write it in their sleep, as publications like National Review and The Federalist are full of trite references to liberty, freedom, and the liberal pragmatism of the roil of checks and balances and intellectual diversity. With the correct skillset one could write a machine learning scraper bot that generates these pieces.

    Unfortunately, all it does is reassuringly preach to the crowd. No doubt if Bartholet read this thing, she’d find it not even worth discussing. And rightly so, for it doesn’t at all deal with Bartholet’s argument: that it is better for society, and for children, if we ban homeschooling, because that better accords to what is good for us as humans—with our actualization of ourselves as free beings. She has a conception of the good that, upon reading the abstract of the aforementioned paper, clearly draws upon the Rortian pragmatism that considers democracy prior to philosophy, and has an anthropological vision at odds with bare liberal proceduralism—because instead of buying into the contradiction that a government can be neutral on what is good for people, letting them decide thus for themselves, Bartholet doesn’t believe morality is relative. (From the Harvard Magazine piece: “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.”) Neither Pearson, nor you so far, Dr. Wile, have actually rebutted what people like Bartholet are arguing. She likely doesn’t care if homeschooling produces nice academic results if it doesn’t comport with her vision of human freedom. Even Pearson likely understands this, for if 50 percent of America desired to “live under Sharia law,” and 90 percent of homeschoolers were of the same conviction, she’d express a somewhat different opinion of “intellectual diversity.” (She’d likely start to call for better education, rather like Bartholet.) Considering the size of the sample space of intellectual orientations, and the ones on offer that obtain in reality, we can more than safely say that intellectual diversity is silly.

    A better argument would address Bartholet’s conception of humanity, and state that it is evil, not just wrong about some of the data. The good, and the authority, of the family is inherent to what it means to be human, and for government to divide it is to go against realist anthropology—to violate human nature and the common good. “Freedom” and “rights” are absolutist government’s tyrannical insertions into the familial sphere, where such notions don’t obtain. It is unfortunate American “conservatives” have forgotten how to speak thus.

    And, of course, it is because I was homeschooled that I was able to escape both puerile American right-liberalism and the academy’s left-liberalism.

    1. Of course, that is nonsense, Jake. A bot could never produce such an excellent rebuttal. And yes, it is an excellent rebuttal. It probably wouldn’t affect Bartholet in any way, but that’s because Bartholet doesn’t seem to care about evidence. As a scientist, I care about evidence. Indeed, I became an advocate of homeschooling specifically because of the evidence. Pearson’s evidence-based article should be thought-provoking to any evidence-based person.

      And yes, her article most certainly does deal with Bartholet’s argument. It provides evidence against the idea that homeschooling is depriving children of a good education. You might not like the evidence, but that doesn’t affect its quality. If you wrote a rebuttal using the tactic you suggest and had Bartholet read it, I am not sure that she would find it worth discussing, either. Some people simply are too narrow-minded to consider alternative views, and although I don’t know her, Bartholet strikes mes as that kind of person. I honestly don’t care whether or not Bartholet is affected by anything I or anyone else writes. I care about what people who are willing to weigh the evidence think, and Pearson’s article will definitely be influential to such people.

      You claim that, “if 50 percent of America desired to “live under Sharia law,” and 90 percent of homeschoolers were of the same conviction, [Pearson would] express a somewhat different opinion of “intellectual diversity.”” I can’t say for sure, because I don’t know Pearson. However, based on what she has written, I seriously doubt it. She seems to genuinely value intellectual diversity, whether or not it aligns with her views. It’s unfortunate that there aren’t more people like that.

      Of course, I value evidence because of my scientific training, which is why I don’t care to label perspectives as “American right-liberalism” and “academy left-liberalism.” I simply prefer “makes sense in light of the data” and “doesn’t make sense in light of the data.” To me, that’s the best way to make decisions.

      1. Suppose a bot can’t write such a thing—which I imagine neither you nor I knows, though it is quite conceivable these days. I could easily have written it myself, its structure being trivial and replicated at every right-liberal media outlet in the country. You need only go over to National Review‘s website to confirm this.

        Now, evidence that the earth is round is not the same as evidence that it orbits the sun. Bartholet cares about what she calls child’s rights. If homeschooling produces good results sometimes, or even a lot of the time, she’s not going to care if it also produces an evil society. I think many Americans have the same opinion of Nazi Germany.

        Confront Bartholet’s argument. Read her whole paper, and direct people to the Harvard Magazine article. I’m sure I find her work as loathsome as you do, if not more, because I’m even further from her philosophical perspective. But I don’t believe in sidestepping it.

        1. Since I did not refer to a National Review article, I have no idea why you are fixated on that publication. I don’t read it, so I cannot comment on its quality.

          I am not saying that evidence for a spherical earth was evidence for geocentrism. There was evidence against geocentrism hundreds of years before the scientific revolution. One obvious piece of evidence, which existed since Ptolemy, is that no one could agree on where Venus and Mercury were in the geocentric system, because the observations made of their motion in the night sky were incompatible with them being ANYWHERE in a geocentric system.

          Pearson’s article and my article do not, in any way, sidestep Bartholet’s argument. They attack it head on. We present evidence that homeschooling does not deprive children of a quality education. That’s important. There are probably other ways to address her article, but I am interested in an evidence-based approach, which is why I recognize the quality of Pearson’s article.

        2. Absolutely nothing you, or Pearson, has said, addresses this, which is straight from the Harvard Magazine article:

          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.

          In the United States, Bartholet says, state legislators have been hesitant to restrict the practice because of the Home Schooling Legal Defense Association, a conservative Christian homeschool advocacy group, which she describes as small, well-organized, and “overwhelmingly powerful politically.” During the last 30 years, activists have worked to dismantle many states’ homeschooling restrictions and have opposed new regulatory efforts. “There’s really no organized political opposition, so they basically get their way,” Bartholet says. A central tenet of this lobby is that parents have absolute rights that prevent the state from intervening to try to safeguard the child’s right to education and protection.

          Bartholet maintains that parents should have “very significant rights to raise their children with the beliefs and religious convictions that the parents hold.” But requiring children to attend schools outside the home for six or seven hours a day, she argues, does not unduly limit parents’ influence on a child’s views and ideas. “The issue is, do we think that parents should have 24/7, essentially authoritarian control over their children from ages zero to 18? I think that’s dangerous,” Bartholet says. “I think it’s always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless, and to give the powerful ones total authority.”

          When Bartholet talks about “democratic values, ideas about nondiscrimination and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints,” do you say she has no evidence that she would interpret as indicating homeschooling produces results that go against such values? Does Pearson address what Bartholet calls the right of the government to educate people to become a certain kind of citizen? (I note that Pearson doesn’t mention that Bartholet’s statement was “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,” not simply that “90% of homeschooling families are conservative Christians,” as Pearson suggests.) What if Bartholet doesn’t care if there are homeschoolers that produce results she’d have to admit were impressive, and thinks that whatever abuse arises out of homeschooling arises naturally because it gives parents undue authority over children? Then it doesn’t matter if schools are abusive too, or worse; she’s okay with that, because she believes government should have such authority even if it causes abuse, but parents shouldn’t.

          Further, when the article mentions homeschooling “as a threat to U.S. democracy,” do you think Bartholet and Pearson have the same idea of “democracy” in mind? Pearson very clearly presented a notion of democracy against the Rortian pragmatic definition Bartholet is using. I wouldn’t be surprised if, were Bartholet to respond to Pearson’s article, she’d by say that even the situation Pearson believes obtains is bad for “democracy.”

          Finally, when you use words like “excellent” to describe an article, you are providing an order on the sample space of articles, or relevant articles. One can go out in the world and sample articles to see whether your ordering obtains. It does not. Pearson’s article is rote. National Review is relevant as it produces many similar articles in the exact same vein, with the exact same facile perspective. While Pearson’s article might function as a simple introduction to why some of the facts aren’t as Bartholet claims (perhaps it is “excellent” at that), it’s of little use in the debate Bartholet has presented us. Just as Martin Cothran’s article might have been useful for laypeople, but was pretty simple when it comes to serious rebuttal. And if these things are useful only as lay introductions, you shouldn’t conflate them with serious responses, which is what you’ve done.

        3. Of course Pearson’s article directly addresses Bartholet’s argument. It’s in the VERY FIRST LINE of what you quote:

          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

          Bartholet claims that homeschooling does not necessarily provide a “meaningful education equivalent to that required in public schools.” Pearson and I specifically address this, indicating that the education homschooling provides is SUPERIOR to that required in public schools. The fact that you are unwilling to see this is very odd, to say the least.

          Yes, Bartholet has NO EVIDENCE for her view. In fact, the evidence says quite the opposite. And yes, Pearson DIRECTLY addresses Bartholet’s assertion of the right of the government to educate people to become a certain kind of citizen. She addresses it by discussing her success at Harvard. Harvard is trying to produce such citizens, and Pearson was successful there. Thus, homeschooling produces the kind of citizen that Harvard wants, so there is no need to involve the government. Once again, this seems obvious to me.

          It doesn’t matter whether or not Pearson and Bartholet have the same idea of what a democracy is. The issue is what kinds of citizens are produced, and Pearson’s article addresses that directly, regardless of whether or not you want to accept that it does.

          And once again, you are utterly wrong that Pearson’s article is not excellent. It clearly is. Just as you did with Cothran’s article, you decided that you didn’t like the approach that was taken, so you simply panned it. Certainly, there are many ways to argue against Bartholet’s view (any view, for that matter). Since Pearson didn’t argue the way you thought she should argue, you decided her article was like articles from the other publication with with you seem obsessed. If that’s the way you want to look at things, that’s fine. It’s just not an effective way to change people’s minds, and it MOST CERTAINLY is not excellent!

    2. Jake I think you make some valid points but seriously neglect that the rebuttal Dr. Wile’s student posted (and chorus of disapproval elsewhere) are mainly in reaction to the popular level article published by O’Donnell (and not directly to the academic paper by Bartholet.) In O’Donnell’s article she certainly conflates the “fruits” of homeschooling with an altruistic moral necessity (that would require no validation in the form of an apples to apples comparison.)

      Regarding Bartholet, O’Donnell states –

      “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” and “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.”

      I think it’s plain to see that the insinuation here is that homeschooling is not equivalent to public schooling in both an academic and communal sense. In light of this, the rebuttal Dr. Wile posted makes a great case for negative

      All that being said, I agree with you that your rebuttal better addresses the overarching Kantian argument that it is the moral duty of the state to disposses individuals of the right to sole authority of their children. I think O’Donnell’s article purposely obfuscates this – it’s not a popular sentiment to simply state that “the state has the duty and therefore the right to indoctrinate your children”

      1. The O’Donnell article is pretty clear that Bartholet is against absolute parental authority, and believes the state has the right to educate people into certain kinds of citizens—and that she doesn’t like the kind of citizens homeschooling creates. That Bartholet is wrong about some of the data affects this not at all.

        1. Of course it affects the issue directly. If the data say that homeschooling produces the right kinds of citizens (and more often than the government-run schools), then Bartholet’s position is incorrect.

        2. I would agree with Dr. Wile here. The overall argument (that the state is better suited to make citizens) is buttressed with arguments that homeschool produces inferior results in education and socialization (and on a secondary level, that it produces more at home abuse).

          For some reason Jake you seem to think it not useful to offer counter evidence to this. Not sure why. Everyone knows if the buttressing falls the building falls.

          I think your approach is definitely useful and indeed necessary. Especially if the buttressing is strong. For instance what if communist China could prove that totalitarian communistic control created some kind of utopian educational institution. I’d guess in this case the only recourse would be to argue that totalitarian state control is in itself evil.

          The interesting thing here is that God doesn’t seem to allow these scenarios to play out. There are always bad fruits and good fruits which can be (and need to be) illuminated. In reality China may produce academically superior students, but the drawbacks of such a system are too numerous to count – if they were fewer then the philosophical argument starts to shine…. if there were none then the philosophical argument is probably rendered useless.

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