Elitist Harvard professors say they do not approve of homeschooling

Apr 27, 2020

As parents across the country struggle to provide home-based education for their children, Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Bartholet has chosen this moment to attack homeschool families.

In the latest issue of Harvard Magazine, Professor Bartholet says “many families are simply not capable of educating their children” and calls for a “presumptive ban” on homeschooling.  She uses outdated stereotypes to describe homeschoolers as uneducated child-abusers and religious fanatics.

She calls homeschooling a “threat…to children and society.”  Homeschooling parents, she contends “want to isolate their children,” “promote racial segregation and female subservience” and similar demeaning tropes that have long since been disproven by evidence.

Their purpose is to discredit parents who favor educational choice, and to lay the groundwork for an anti-homeschooling conference she and law professor James Dwyer are planning at Harvard on June 18th and 19th.

Professor Dwyer, an exponent of extremist views, say government officials, not parents, should have final authority over children.  He says “the reason parent-child relationships exist is because the state confers legal parenthood,” and that “fundamentalist Christian and Catholic schools may be damaging to children,” because people of faith “instill dogmatic and intolerant attitudes.” 

Professors Bartholet and Dwyer clearly despise families who don’t think as they do, and they want the courts to undermine the legal right of parents to guide the education of their children.

The courts are unlikely to be receptive.  Parental rights have been recognized in law for over 100 years.  As early as 1932 the U.S. Supreme Court, in Pierce v. Society of Sisters, struck down an Oregon law prohibiting families from sending their children to private school.  The court noted that a “child is not the mere creature of the state,” but is the responsibility of its parents.

Legal attacks against families in the 1970s and ‘80s similarly failed.  Today, all 50 states recognize homeschooling as part of a wide array of learning choices, with about 2.5 million children learning at home.

A few states treat homeschooling like enrollment in private school, requiring no notice to the government.  Most states, however, have parents register with the state, with yearly assessments to make sure students are on track.

It is therefore false to say, as Professor Bartholet does, that homeschooling is “unregulated.”

Kerry McDonald is a homeschooling mother of four.  She was educated at Harvard, and wrote the book, Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children, Outside the Conventional Classroom (Chicago Review Press Inc, 2019).  She notes that about two-thirds of homeschooling identify as Christian, that the percentage of black homeschooling families doubled between 2007 and 2012 to eight percent, while the percentage of Hispanic homeschoolers is about 25 percent.

After a half-century the success of homeschooling is no longer in doubt, as shown by homeschooled students who have won the National Spelling Bee, like:

Rebecca Sealfon, a homeschooler from New York, with a graduate degree from Columbia University.  She founded Research Match, a startup that helps professors and students collaborate.  She is currently a Software Engineer at Google.

George Thampy, a homeschooler, graduated from Harvard in 2010, has a degree from the Stanford University School of Business and he is currently working at GE Ventures.

Evan O’Dorney graduated from Harvard in 2015, and he is currently at the University of Cambridge studying mathematics.

Follow-up studies show homeschoolers often receive a better education compared to the children in public schools. Homeschool students typically score 15 to 30 percentile points higher on standardized tests, regardless of their parents’ level of education or household income.

Interestingly, students at Harvard are responding to Professor Bartholet’s dishonest attack on homeschool families.  The Harvard student organization Ideological Diversity, is hosting an online conference on May 1st called “The Disinformation Campaign Against Homeschooling.”

Professor Bartholet may want to check her facts with her own administration.  Harvard Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman says, “We’ve had lots of success with students who identify as homeschooled.”

The core point that elitist critics seem to miss is that homeschooling is entirely voluntary.  Families can teach at home as they like. The best thing about school choice is that parents can decide for themselves what learning services are best, without a scolding from their betters in Boston.

The real fear of professors Bartholet and Dwyer is that, with the COVID-19 school closure, more parents will discover the benefits of educating children at home, leaving even less reason to listen to the pious sermonettes of high-brow Harvard professors.



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