Harvard Prof. Under Fire for Bashing Homeschooling as Parental ‘Authoritarian Control,’ Calling for ‘Presumptive Ban’

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — A Harvard law professor is coming under fire after she characterized homeschooling as parents having “authoritarian control” over their children and called for a “presumptive ban” on the practice.

Elizabeth Bartholet, a Morris Wasserstein public interest professor of law and founder of the Child Advocacy Program, recently told Harvard Magazine that while parents have “very significant rights to raise their children with the beliefs and religious convictions that the parents hold,” sending their children to school does not limit those rights.

“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,” she stated. “I think it’s always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless, and to give the powerful ones total authority.”

The magazine pointed to her views as recently published in the Arizona Law Review, where Bartholet called for a “presumptive ban” on homeschooling and stated that it is “a realm of near-absolute parental power” and a “regime [that] poses real dangers to children and to society.”

In her 80-page piece, she characterized some homeschool parents as “extreme religious ideologues” who question evolution, suppress women and espouse racist views. Bartholet cited, for example, the “Quiverfull” and “Stay-at-Home Daughter” movements as concepts that deprive girls of opportunities by “confining” them to their homes and fathers/husbands.

“A very large proportion of homeschooling parents are ideologically committed to isolating their children from the majority culture and indoctrinating them in views and values that are in serious conflict with that culture,” she wrote.

“Some believe that women should be subservient to men; others believe that race stamps some people as inferior to others,” Bartholet claimed. “Many don’t believe in the scientific method, looking to the Bible instead as their source for understanding the world.”

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Read her paper in full here.

In her remarks to Harvard Magazine, Bartholet further opined that it is a threat to democracy for homeschooling not to be regulated so as to ensure that the level of education is equivalent to that of public schooling, citing among other matters, teaching on “nondiscrimination” and “tolerance.”

“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 told the outlet. “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.”

Bartholet also expressed concern that “people can homeschool who’ve never gone to school themselves, who don’t read or write themselves.” She said that the allowance of staying at home could hide child abuse cases whereas teachers would otherwise be on the lookout for signs of mistreatment.

While also conceding that some parents may be “capable of giving an education that’s of a higher quality and as broad in scope as what’s happening in the public school,” she still felt that the burden should fall on parents as to why they must homeschool.

However, homeschooling advocates are now pushing back against Bartholet’s views, including one Harvard graduate who was homeschooled herself.

“Homeschooling, and the lessons and characteristics I learned and honed during the first 18 years of my life, prepared me to succeed — no, excel — at one of the most difficult and prestigious universities in the world,” wrote Melba Pearson for the site Medium. “The idea that a government, already so inefficient and inadequate in so many areas, can care for and educate every child better than its parent is wrong.”

She noted that studies show that homeschoolers test as well or higher than their public-schooled counterparts and that public school students have higher rates of being bullies, drop-outs or suicidal.

“Statistics consistently demonstrate higher levels of abuse, bullying, suicide, and drop out rates in children and young adults who were educated in the public school system,” Pearson argued. “Homeschoolers are frequently more ‘community minded,’ ‘socially aware,’ ’empathetic,’ and ‘democratic’ than those publicly educated.”

“There are always outliers, but given the thousands of students in public schools who are bullied, abused, and end up committing suicide because of their educational atmosphere, I am shocked more isn’t being done to address those issues first,” she opined.

Mike Donnelly of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) likewise told Fox News that “Bartholet’s call for a presumptive ban on homeschooling because she considers American homeschooling parents too ignorant or too religious goes against the weight of decades of scholarly research on homeschooling which demonstrates positive academic, civic and social outcomes.”

Deuteronomy 6:6-9 reads, “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart. And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house and on thy gates.”

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