Harvard Law Professor Wants to Ban Homeschooling
Harvard Law Professor Wants to Ban Homeschooling
Written By Laurie Higgins   |   04.22.20
Reading Time: 9 minutes

An article written by freelance writer Erin O’Donnell and published in Harvard Magazine has justifiably gone viral among the diverse homeschooling communities operating in the United States—for the moment the freest nation in the world. The article, titled “The Risks of Homeschooling,” is accompanied by a cartoon illustration of half a dozen children romping joyfully outside while one child locked behind the prison bars of her own home looks forlornly and longingly out at them. One of the exterior walls of her home depicts books with the words “Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Bible” to ensure readers know that the prison guards are Christians.

O’Donnell’s article is far less important than the work of the woman about whom O’Donnell is writing: Harvard law professor Elizabeth Bartholet, a long-time opponent of home-schooling and proponent of feminism, abortion, and the near-absolute autonomy of children. Too few people, it seems, are reading Bartholet’s deeply troubling Arizona Law Review article “Homeschooling: Parent Rights Absolutism vs. Child Rights to Education & Protection” on which O’Donnell’s article is based and in which Bartholet lays bare her subversive plan to radically refashion American society according to the philosophical, political, and moral fever dreams of leftists everywhere. Bartholet issues an explicit call for a “presumptive ban” on homeschooling. While Bartholet claims to be concerned about homeschooling in general, it’s clear from her article that she has a particular antipathy for Christian homeschoolers.

While Bartholet belches out some gaseous but tactically useful words of concern about potential abuse of children by fringy parents and cites some fringy anecdotes to becloud the issue, her real goal is not to end physical abuse but, rather, to undermine parental authority, increase the power of the state, and remake the Constitution into a living, breathing leftist phantasm.

Bartholet argues that “Appropriate education. … makes children aware of important cultural values. …  [H]omeschooling parents … are not likely to be capable of satisfying the democratic function.”

Homeschooling parents will likely be not only taken aback by that claim but also confused by it. What, they may wonder, are those “important cultural values” and what renders homeschooling parents incapable of satisfying the democratic function. While Bartholet doesn’t specifically identify the “important cultural values” on which the democratic function relies, it’s not difficult to infer what they are from oblique statements like this:

[T]he current homeschooling regime is based on a dangerous idea about parent rights. … [t]hat parents who are committed to beliefs and values counter to those of the larger society are entitled to bring their children up in isolation. … This legal claim is inconsistent with the child’s right to what has been called an “open future”—the right to exposure to alternative views and experiences essential for children to grow up to exercise meaningful choices about their own future views, religions, lifestyles, and work. … [E]xposure to the values of tolerance … has been seen as a primary goal of public education from its origins.

Since tolerance has been redefined by leftists to mean “affirming leftist sexuality dogma,” has “tolerance” really been the primary goal of public education from its origins?

To be clear that she wants the nation’s children to be indoctrinated with leftist sexuality dogma, Bartholet also criticizes families who want to teach their children “that people with nontraditional sexual orientations or gender identities should be ‘cured’ or condemned.”

Interestingly, here is what one of the studies Bartholet cites—the Cardus Education Survey—says about religious homeschoolers and the value of tolerance in the “democratic function”:

We might expect that the private and familial approach of education would fail to prepare students for effective participation in a democracy. But we don’t find any evidence for this. … [H]omeschoolers are more willing than public schoolers to extend freedom of speech to those who want to speak out against religion. And we don’t find any difference in the extent that homeschoolers favor greater tolerance for non-Christian religions in American society. Relatedly, some might expect that religious homeschoolers would socialize students into more authoritarian orientations to public life. However, on one of the measures often used to capture authoritarian orientations, respect for authority, we don’t find that homeschoolers are any more supportive than public schoolers are of the notion that one of the main problems in the US today is the lack of respect for authority. It seems that one of the strengths of homeschooling, which may be related to the counter-cultural minority status of homeschooling, is robust support for democratic principles of individual freedom and freedom of expression.

When she likes Cardus findings, Bartholet calls them “good social science.” When she dislikes them, Bartholet dismisses them as “advocacy.”

Repeatedly and ironically, Bartholet frets that,

homeschooled children miss out on exposure to others with different experiences and values. … 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.

Never once does she mention the ideological monopoly on sexuality that perverts public education and results in pervasive censorship of resources that express dissenting views. Nor does she critically examine her assumption that the role of education is to affirm the views and values of “majority culture.” Did she hold that position in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s?

In her section on the “Child Maltreatment Piece of the Homeschooling Picture,” Bartholet writes that the “very isolation of so many homeschooling families puts children at risk. Child maltreatment takes place disproportionately in families cut off from the larger community.” First, Bartholet provides no evidence of the percentage of all homeschooling families or of religious homeschooling families that are “cut off from the larger community.” And then, as evidence for her implicit claim that homeschooling poses a danger to children, she cites in a footnote her own book written over two decades ago on systemic problems with the child welfare system.

While discussing her alleged fears regarding socialization, Bartholet says nothing about the serious socialization problems in public schools that range from drug and alcohol use; sexting; and social contagions related to eating disorders, suicide, cutting, and gender dysphoria.

Bartholet cites a study by the pro-regulation organization Homeschooling’s Invisible Children, which is an affiliate of pro-regulation organization Coalition for Responsible Home Education, as evidence that homeschooled children are at greater risk of death, but the study itself concludes that “This finding does not yet reach the threshold for statistical significance, so at this point we cannot say conclusively that homeschooled students die from child abuse and neglect at a higher rate as other students.”

Would increased regulation increase safety for children? Does regulation and oversight by Big Brother guarantee child safety? How does Bartholet account for the abuse of children in highly regulated government schools by school staff? As a result of that abuse, is she calling for a presumptive ban on public schools?

Bartholet has a game plan that she defends in part by employing the bandwagon fallacy, arguing that “Many countries ban homeschooling altogether, others fail to legally recognize it, and many impose significant requirements, often including required home visits and annual testing.”

Get with the European program, you philistines!

Bartholet believes that,

The homeschooling movement’s claim that the current regime is justified by absolute parent rights is morally wrong and inconsistent with growing recognition worldwide that child human rights have equal status with adult human rights. … The movement relies on adult freedom of religion rights to oppose regulation affecting religious homeschoolers. But such rights should not trump child rights to exposure to alternative views, enabling them to exercise meaningful future choice about their religion.

So, while Bartholet wants to prevent Christian parents from inculcating their own children with their religious worldview, she wants to ensure that government schools are allowed to inculcate other people’s children with only leftist sexual views and, in so doing, prevent those children from being able “to exercise meaningful future choice” about sexual matters.

Bartholet’s proposes a “new regime” for homeschooling that would require permission to homeschool, which would be granted under only very narrow circumstances, and would require that homeschooled students still attend government schools part-time:

The new regime should deny the right to homeschool, subject to carefully delineated exceptions for situations in which homeschooling is needed and appropriate. Parents should have a significant burden of justification for a requested exception. There is no other way to ensure that children receive an education or protection against maltreatment at all comparable to that provided to public school children. … When exceptions are granted, children should still be required to attend some courses and other programs at school.

Bartholet’s fervor for mandating that Christians teach leftist views to their own children extends to Christian private schools as well:

Some private schools pose problems of the same nature as homeschooling. Religious and other groups with views and values far outside the mainstream operate private schools with very little regulation ensuring that children receive … exposure to alternative perspectives.

Bartholet points to three obstacles to her plan to achieve absolute autonomy for children and destroy the family: The Homeschool Legal Defense Association, organized parents, and the U.S. Constitution. She attacks all three and offers a plan for circumventing the U.S. Constitution until such time as it can be changed.

She argues that “state constitutional provisions on education provide a strong basis for challenges to the homeschooling regime,” and that “State court decisions based on state constitutions can eventually provide evidence of the kind of national consensus that often helps the Supreme Court find new meaning in the Federal Constitution.”

In an email to this writer, constitutional attorney Joseph A. Morris, who served as assistant attorney general of the United States under President Ronald Reagan, writes that Bartholet’s screed is “one of [the left’s] most important and most powerful attacks, against the family. … Bartholet’s article is a call to arms to the left to attack parental authority by means of a frontal attack on home-schooling.”

Mr. Morris offered too the larger context from which Bartholet’s “call to arms” emerges and summarizes her dangerous strategic plan:

Since the time Marx published The Communist Manifesto, the left has understood that to prevail against the civilization of the West—made strong by the organic relationships we generally describe under the rubrics of faith and family—it must seize control of the minds of children at the earliest possible time. Parental control of schooling, either by supervising how others educate their children or by doing it themselves, is a major obstacle to this prime tyrannical goal.

Bartholet marshals every argument, including (1) the asserted inferiority of home-schooling against the governmental product; (2)  the asserted roots of the modern home-schooling movement in racism and religious benightedness; (3)  home-schooling as a mask for child abuse, including child sexual abuse; and similar horribles.

She seeks to awaken and mobilize every constituency that would join the battle against parental authority and home-schooling, including public sector (teachers’) unions, which have direct financial stakes in forcing children into government schools; child-protection advocates; opponents of racism, religion, particularity of every stripe, and binary sexual worldviews; and progressives in every category.

She is not content to argue that, in protecting parental authority and the rights of home-schoolers, American courts have lately misinterpreted and misapplied the provisions of the United States Constitution. Her enterprise is far more ambitious than that. She proposes to take on the evil United States Constitution itself, and to use home-schooling as a good battleground on which to launch that war.

The heart of her legal argument will be found on page 59:  “The U.S. Constitution with its negative rights structure is an anomaly, outdated and inadequate by the standards of the rest of the world.” In two or three rather clear paragraphs on that page she makes her case against the American constitutional tradition and sets her gunsights squarely on the Constitution itself, hoping to overturn it by using the case for “affirmative rights” of children to education free of parental domination (and thus, of course, open to domination by someone else!). To this end, then, she marches off to praise foreign constitutional traditions, even of other democracies, that Americans have rejected since founding modern constitutionalism in the 18th century.

This article was meant to be a clarion call to arms, seeking to mobilize her radical confreres in all Marxist domains and the progressive left in general. The article is being widely touted throughout the legal and academic communities.  It is already on the nightstands of teachers’ union presidents, leftist community organizers, mainstream media editorial writers, and crafty plaintiffs’ lawyers from coast to coast. Once the pandemic ends, the 2020 elections are held, and State legislatures convene for their 2021 sessions, leftist think tanks will spoon-feed cookie-cutter legislation to “progressive” State senators and representatives to begin the long project of abolishing home schooling, by overburdening it with regulation to the point that parents collapse of exhaustion, or by outright prohibition, if necessary.

The publication of Bartholet’s article in a law journal, even an obscure one, gives it a veneer of “mainstream” legal scholarship. I have no doubt that she will soon have a publisher for a full-length, less technical version of the article as a book meant for a wide general readership.

The drumbeat of anti-home-schooling editorials will begin in the editorial pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post within months, and certainly in time to attempt to set agendas across the land in the 2021 State legislative season.  

We should thank Erin O’Donnell for bringing to wider attention the insidious efforts of Ivory Tower leftist Bartholet to exploit the U.S. Constitution and state constitutions to ban homeschooling or regulate it into submission to leftist assumptions.

Listen to this article read by Laurie:

Read more:

Public Schools Failing Illinois Children Academically

American Students Are Failing: You Can Thank Public Schools

IFI depends on the support of concerned-citizens like you. Donate now

-and, please-

Laurie Higgins
Laurie Higgins was the Illinois Family Institute’s Cultural Affairs Writer in the fall of 2008 through early 2023. Prior to working for the IFI, Laurie worked full-time for eight years in Deerfield High School’s writing center in Deerfield, Illinois. Her cultural commentaries have been carried on a number of pro-family websites nationally and internationally, and Laurie has appeared on numerous radio programs across the country. In addition, Laurie has spoken at the Council for National Policy and educational conferences sponsored by the Constitutional Coalition. She has been married to her husband for forty-four years, and they have four grown children...
IFI Featured Video
Stop Doctor-Assisted Suicide in Illinois
Get Our New App!