Cambridge, Mass. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Homeschooling critics are getting down to basics and pitting parental rights against children's rights.
In an interview earlier this month with self-directed learning advocate Blake Boles, Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Bartholet and children's rights advocate Rachel Coleman discussed "homeschooling's potential for abuse."
Referencing a common criticism of homeschooling — that children are hidden away from public view and abused by cruel parents — Bartholet recommended, as a remedy, that homeschooled children be required to attend one or two classes at a public school.
Bartholet's recommended regulation has the added benefit of addressing another common criticism of homeschooling — that it does not properly socialize children. She told Boles that homeschooled children "should have some exposure to the public schools environment ... I think they should have to take a course or two every year at the public school and engage in some extracurricular activities."
She stated her position more strongly and invoked children's rights, "Children have a right to be exposed to views and values other than those of their parents."
At the beginning of the interview, Boles asked Bartholet to share "the basic version of the message you are trying to send." To summarize her basic message, Bartholet focused her remarks on the problem of parents. "I was struck, when I looked at the world of homeschooling and the research, the degree to which parent rights are absolute, their total control over their children, and their right to be free of any surveillance or intervention."
Church Militant has reported extensively on Bartholet and her desire to limit parental rights. For example, Bartholet suggested homeschooling gives parents "authoritarian control" over children saying, "I think it's always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless and to give the powerful ones total authority."
Homeschooling advocates say Bartholet is actually promoting authoritarianism by pushing for more state control over education, rendering parents powerless.
The controversy over parental rights is a component in a number of cultural controversies, the most prominent of which is the role of public schools in sex education and transgenderism. Earlier this year, a group of 14 parents sued a Wisconsin school district over its policy requiring teachers to call students by their preferred names and pronouns and allowing children of any age to change their gender identity at school without parental consent.
While there have been surges in criticism of homeschooling over the past five decades, Bartholet and a convergence of people and circumstances are responsible for the sustained debate over the past 90–120 days.
The root of the current flare is Bartholet's plan to hold an invitation-only event at Harvard whose title, "Homeschooling Summit: Problems, Politics and Prospects for Reform," makes clear its agenda. Invitations to speak at the summit were sent out in September 2019. In the spring of 2020, Bartholet published an article in the Arizona Law Review, "Homeschooling: Parent Rights Absolutism vs. Child Rights to Education & Protection." Harvard Magazine published an extensive interview with Bartholet, "The Risks of Homeschooling."
In roughly the same time frame, Rachel Coleman, a disgruntled alumna of homeschooling, founded Coalition for Responsible Home Education. A quick review of the organization's board of directors suggests that it is not about research; it is an advocacy organization.
It was the Harvard Magazine article that set off the bomb. In an exclusive interview with Church Militant, Homeschooling Legal Defense Association's (HSLDA) Senior Counsel Michael Donnelly described what happened:
All of us have been amazed by the avalanche of coverage and support. We'd seen drafts of Professor Bartholet's article [which presents her views on homeschooling] months ago. Academics write articles like this from time to time, but we have never seen a reaction like this. There have been scores of articles and columns written across the spectrum of publications — from Washington Examiner, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal — and all universally against Professor Bartholet.
Then came the Wuhan virus that forced nearly all American families to homeschool, many of them finding that they (and their children) liked the idea of an alternative to public school education. Homeschooling experts are predicting a record number of American families will not return to public school in the fall but will try homeschooling on a more permanent basis.