Harvard professor under fire for calling homeschooling ‘dangerous’: 'Recommendations are tone-deaf'

Justin Chan
In The Know

A Harvard University professor has stoked controversy after she compared homeschooling to “authoritarian control,” Fox News reports.

In a recent Harvard Magazine article on the risks of homeschooling, Elizabeth Bartholet, a Wasserstein public interest professor of law and faculty director of the Law School’s Child Advocacy Program, reportedly claimed that homeschooling violated “children’s right to a ‘meaningful education’ and their right to be protected from potential child abuse.”

Arguing that the practice of homeschooling is mostly unregulated and rarely follows educational standards, Bartholet said that children are at risk of being isolated, especially in states where parents do not necessarily have to register their children as homeschooled. This can, in turn, lead to underreporting of cases of child abuse or neglect.

“Teachers and other school personnel constitute the largest percentage of people who report to Child Protective Services,” she told the magazine’s Erin O’Donnell.

Furthermore, the law professor asserted that homeschooling poses a threat to U.S. democracy, arguing that the practice limits children’s exposure to not only democratic values but also community values, social values and “ideas nondiscrimination and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints.”

“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 said.

Still, Bartholet acknowledged that parents should largely be able to raise their children in their own right, adding that she did not believe that allowing those children to attend school would somehow threaten the parents’ influence over their children’s views.

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

According to surveys cited by the magazine, the majority of parents choose to homeschool their children out of a commitment to conservative Christian beliefs, though others have other reasons for doing so, such as concerns over bullying or the quality of education provided by local schools.

In an interview with Fox News, Michael Donnelly, director of global outreach and senior counsel for the Home School Legal Defense Association, fired back at the claims, accusing the law professor of being “extreme.”

“Bartholet’s dystopian recommendations are tone-deaf and have provoked a firestorm of response from political and religious perspectives – as well they should have,” Donnelly said. “Her obvious distrust of average Americans is loud and clear.”

Mebla Pearson, a Harvard graduate herself, similarly responded in kind in an article published on Medium.

“The article argues only those whom the government deems correct can teach children; this is a blatant rejection of free thought, suppression of democratization of education, and attack on the freedoms and rights the citizens of our country fought long and hard to win,” she wrote. “This article speaks directly against constitutional rights to parent your child as you see fit and exercise free speech. It speaks directly against those ideas of liberty and freedom that are fundamental to the success of our nation.”

In addition, Bartholet’s claims run counter to Harvard’s “recent crusade of ‘diversity,’ ‘inclusion,’ and ‘acceptance,'” Pearson said.

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