Harvard Conference Defends Homeschooling

News: US News
by Kristine Christlieb  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  April 27, 2020   

Students push back as elites target home-based education

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A graduate student at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government is taking on two law professors who are convening a "private ... invitation-only" conference that focuses on the "problems" of homeschooling.

Professor Elizabeth Bartholet and Professor James Dwyer

Slated for June 18–19, The Homeschooling Summit: Problems, Politics and Prospects for Reform is a gathering of lawyers, social workers and activists convened by Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Bartholet and William and Mary School of Law Professor James Dwyer.

The professors' agenda is a matter of public record. A Harvard Magazine profile reveals that Bartholet is recommending a "presumptive ban" on homeschooling. Dwyer, meanwhile, believes:

The state needs to be the ultimate guarantor of a child's well-being ... The reason parent-child relationships exist is that the state confers legal parenthood ... It's the state that's empowering parents to do anything with children. To take them home, to have custody, to make any kind of decision about that.

Cevin Soling, who has earned two masters degrees from Harvard and is a current student at Harvard studying journalism and public administration, is organizing an open invitation conference, The Disinformation Campaign Against Homeschooling, via internet conferencing platform Zoom on May 1.

There were always two camps — the alternative education folks and the religious conservatives.

Soling tells Church Militant he isn't coming to the defense of homeschooling from a religious perspective; instead, for him, it is a human rights issue. Soling says he attended an exemplary, public, suburban high school, an experience which he says he "absolutely hated," primarily because he found it to be "an assault on my dignity." Since then, the author and documentary filmmaker has had his lens focused on the deficiencies of compulsory education and the advantages of self-directed learning.

The Threat From Establishment Elites

Soling admits that Bartholet is an "esteemed professor" and has a "great history" of advocating for children and adoption, but says that when she attacks homeschool families, she has "chosen the wrong target." The abstract of Bartholet's most recent publication, "Homeschooling: Parent Rights Absolutism vs. Child Rights to Education & Protection," summarizes her position:

Many homeschool because they want to isolate their children from ideas and values central to our democracy, determined to keep their children from exposure to views that might enable autonomous choice about their future lives. Many promote racial segregation and female subservience. Many question science. Abusive parents can keep their children at home free from the risk that teachers will report them to child protection services. Some homeschool precisely for this reason. This article calls for a radical transformation in the homeschooling regime and a related rethinking of child rights. It recommends a presumptive ban on homeschooling, with the burden on parents to demonstrate justification for permission to homeschool.

The charges of racism ("promote racial segregation"), sexism ("female subservience"), anti-intellectualism ("question science") and child abuse are what got to Soling.

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"It is unfortunate when stereotypes are being used to suppress a legitimate alternative to compulsory education," Soling explained.

Within 10 days of seeing the article in Harvard Magazine, Soling was on it. He had gathered all the necessary university permissions, invited the speakers, arranged for the internet meeting access and sent out the press releases for his counter-conference.

Milton Gaither

In addition to Soling, the conference speakers include Cevin Soling, Corey DeAngelis, Kerry McDonald, Patrick Farenga, and Peter Gray. Like Soling, the speakers he has invited aren't necessarily advocating for homeschooling out of religious conviction.

Milton Gaither, a historian of education at Messiah College and author of Homeschool: An American History, explained to Church Militant that from the beginning of the homeschooling movement, there were always two camps — the alternative education folks and the religious conservatives. Allowing libertarian advocates for educational alternatives to take the lead isn't necessarily a bad thing, he advises.

Soling, whether deliberately or not, is getting his message out first. His conference in defense of homeschooling, scheduled for May 1, will be putting the mid-June conference attendees on notice that homeschooling advocates are vigilant.

Max Eden, a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute, believes they are wise to be watchful. He believes legal concepts are being refined in preparation for future legal challenges. He wrote this warning in City Journal:

Bartholet's proposed ban on homeschooling would never win at the ballot box, as she knows. She laments how the Constitution "with its negative rights structure is an anomaly, outdated and inadequate by the standards of the rest of the world." But she expresses hope that litigation campaigns may lay the groundwork for an eventual national ban. It wouldn't be the first time that coordinated progressive litigation has yielded profound, counter-majoritarian policy change.

"With elites like Bartholet and her colleagues pushing their vision of family subordination to the state," Eden added, "homeschool parents have good reason to be on guard."

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