Elizabeth Bartholet, Harvard Professors Calls for Ban on Homeschooling

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A Harvard University law professor has sparked controversy after calling for a ban on homeschooling.

Elizabeth Bartholet told Harvard Magazine that it gives parents “authoritarian” control over their kids — and can even expose them to white supremacy and misogyny.

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

Bartholet’s comments were met with backlash from homeschooling parents who said she unfairly stereotyped the practice.

“Aside from its biting, one-sided portrayal of homeschooling families that mischaracterizes the vast majority of today’s homeschoolers, it is filled with misinformation and incorrect data,” wrote Harvard graduate and homeschooler Kerry McDonald in a letter to the magazine’s editor.

“She is concerned with families having this power, while I worry about giving that power to government,” McDonald said.

Writing in Forbes, education policy analyst Mike McShane said Bartholet relied on “lazy stereotypes.”

“Banning homeschooling would thrust thousands of children who left traditional schools to avoid maltreatment back into the very schools where they were victimized,” he said.

Parental discontent with public and private schools has popularized homeschooling in recent years.

Roughly 4 percent of American children are now educated outside of the public or private school system — a higher percentage than both parochial and charter schools, according to the article.

The author of the piece, Erin O’Donnell, asserted that 90 percent of homeschool parents are conservative Christians, according to surveys.

Bartholet asserted that some of them are “extreme religious ideologues” who “question science and promote female subservience and white supremacy,” according to the article.

But McDonald said homeschoolers are now coming from all corners and “becoming increasingly diverse, both ideologically and demographically.”

She noted a marked increase in black, Hispanic, urban and secular homeschoolers as evidence.

Bartholet also cautioned that there is minimal oversight for homeschooling and that parents are able to tailor coursework as they please. “We have an essentially unregulated regime in the area of homeschooling,” she said.

The professor noted that only a handful of states require that parents who homeschool attain a certain level of education themselves.

“That means, effectively, that people can homeschool who’ve never gone to school themselves, who don’t read or write themselves,” she said.

Writing in the education journal Education Next, Naomi Schaefer Riley called Bartholet’s notion that homeschooling leaves kids subject to neglect and potentially ignorant of civics “absurd.”

Those claims, she said, are “undercut not only by how badly many of our public schools educate students but also by studies suggesting kids at Catholic schools, for instance, have greater knowledge of civics and levels of civic participation upon graduation.”

Having children taught at home can weaken checks on abuse and neglect, Bartholet said. School staff are considered mandated reporters and are legally obligated to alert officials to suspected mistreatment of students.

Without that protection, the professor said, cases of juvenile abuse can go undetected.

But McDonald countered that many parents pull their students out of school for the abuse they face within them — including bullying and violence.

Banning the practice would impact parents “fleeing a system of education that they find harmful to their children,” she said.

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