In an article Retort covered in April, Harvard professor Elizabeth Bartholet took to Harvard Magazine to warn readers about “… an essentially unregulated regime in the area of homeschooling” and calls for a “presumptive” ban on homeschooling.
Responses were swift, from all directions, and unkind.
Many critics have taken to virtual message boards and online publications to speak out against her views. A quick Google search yields headlines like “Harvard’s Lazy Attack on Homeschooling” in Forbes, “Harvard Law School Professor Shows her Prejudice Against Homeschoolers” in the Wall Street Journal, and “Harvard Professor Wants To Ban Homeschooling Because Christians Do It” in The Federalist.
To stem the flow of negative criticism, Harvard deployed one of its own to defend Bartholet, Lindsey T. Powell, patent administrator.
As a product of religious homeschooling herself, Powell acknowledges that “many of my ‘unique opportunities’ would have been available to me in a traditional school setting.” Nevertheless, “…even with these experiences, [homeschool] came with a dangerous sense of isolation and an inappropriate self-emphasis on productivity to compensate for missing out on ‘normal’ rites of passage.”
She goes further: “Any adequate rebuttal to Bartholet must at least consider the many homeschooled students who do not attend college, and those who, like myself, suffered painful social isolation because of homeschooling.”
Fair enough. It is also true that any adequate defense of Bartholet must grapple with these realities:
- A presumptive ban is in practice the same as an all out ban; perhaps worse
- All schools, home and otherwise, operate in ideological bubbles, except some are chosen while others are required
- More then 95 percent of U.S. K12 students don’t attend homeschool, yet political polarization is as extreme as ever; how is it then that homeschooling encourages intolerance but other school don’t?
- While a homeschool prom or graduation may not be as glitzy as those in large high schools, every year millions of public school students never graduate at all
- Do the authors have similar feelings about other ideological education approaches such as Waldorf or Montessori? Must those be banned as well?
- What evidence suggests that the homeschooling problems described are more or less prominent in public or private school settings?
A more rigorous, facts-based defense of Bartholet would be much welcomed. Until then, Bartholet’s proposal, as James Mason the VP of Litigation and Development for the Home School Legal Defense Association states, “comes from a worldview that’s kind of antithetical to traditional notions of liberty, especially the right of parents to raise, nurture, and educate their children.”