christine clling

The Risks of A Homeschool Ban: A Response to a Harvard Magazine Writer’s Call for A “Presumptive Homeschool Ban”

Last week Harvard Magazine released an article titled “The Risks of Homeschooling,” and called for a presumptive ban on the practice.

The article starts:

“Yet Elizabeth Bartholet, Wasserstein public interest professor of law and faculty director of the Law School’s Child Advocacy Program, sees risks for children—and society—in homeschooling, and recommends a presumptive ban on the practice. Homeschooling, she says, not only violates children’s right to a “meaningful education” and their right to be protected from potential child abuse, but may keep them from contributing positively to a democratic society.”

The real risk lies not in homeschooling, but in a homeschool ban.

Here are 11 reasons why:


1. It Gives “Authoritarian Control” of Children to the Government

Elizabeth Bartholet, quoted throughout Erin O’Donnell’s article, says:

“Bartholet maintains that parents should have “very significant rights to raise their children with the beliefs and religious convictions that the parents hold.” But requiring children to attend schools outside the home for six or seven hours a day, she argues, does not unduly limit parents’ influence on a child’s views and ideas. “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,” Bartholet says. “I think it’s always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless, and to give the powerful ones total authority.” (emphasis mine.)

Bartholet thinks its dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless and give the powerful ones total authority–the parents. Instead, she wants to give that power to the government.

Giving the government control of our children, ages zero to 18, does not solve her proposed problem. Instead, she places the minimally powerful–if powerful at all–and gives it to those with absolute power.

Giving the government that power does exactly what she doesn’t want parents to supposedly do. She wants to put powerful people in charge of the powerless, and give the powerful ones total authority.

A homeschool ban would give the powerful ones total authority. Authoritarian Government Control of our children.


2. Risk of Extreme Ideology Taught to Children

O’Donnell writes:

“But surveys of homeschoolers show that a majority of such families (by some estimates, up to 90 percent) are driven by conservative Christian beliefs, and seek to remove their children from mainstream culture. Bartholet notes that some of these parents are “extreme religious ideologues” who question science and promote female subservience and white supremacy.”

This statement raises the question about who gets to define “extreme ideologies”. What if I think your ideology is extreme? Who then gets to decide what is taught?

This argument reveals that a homeschool ban is not so much about preventing abuse or ensuring education as it is to ensure that all kids are taught in the ideology the government deems is acceptable.

If the government is in charge of children and parents have no say, who will tell those in unquestionable authority to quit teaching children extreme ideology when that inevitably arises out of a society with no place of free thinking?

If everyone is being taught the same thing mandated by the same government, there’s no room for alternate forms of thinking. That inevitably gives way to one extreme ideology to arise when there are no others to push back against it.

The result is totalitarianism.


3. Promotes Discrimination

O’Donnell’s article insinuates that 90% of homeschoolers teach their kids at home to instill intolerant Christian ideology to their kids. In reality, homeschools are far more diverse than believe, as a quick Google search will reveal.

The National Center for Education Statistics says that the number one reason parents choose to homeschool is due to a “concern about school environment, such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure.” The second reason is “dissatisfaction with academic education.” The third most popular reason, at only 15.9% of responses, was “a desire to provide religious instruction.”

Diversity wise, Forbes quotes a study that says that 8% of homeschoolers are African-American and 26% are Hispanic.

Homeschoolers are hardly as homogenous as they portray, and yet, even if they were, it would still be discrimination to tell a group of people that their ideology was incorrect and the government needs to step in to intervene.


4. Kids Will Fail to Grow Up Exposed to “Democratic Values….

Bartholet says:

“But it’s also important that children grow up exposed to community values, social values, democratic values, ideas about nondiscrimination and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints…”

A homeschool ban would do exactly what Bartholet thinks homeschooling does to children.

Without the freedom to express different forms of education, instead forced into government mandated education, there is not room for tolerance of other people’s views, nondiscrimination, democratic values, or community values.

Taking away parent’s rights to educate their children is discriminatory, intolerant of other viewpoints, and takes away democratic values.

Besides this fundamental reason, Bartholet fails to give any statistics for believing this to be true. In reality, she could have done a quick search to find that homeschool kids:

          • participate in local community service more frequently than does the general population,
          • vote and attend public meetings more frequently than the general population
          • go to and succeed at college at an equal or higher rate than the general population
          • by adulthood, internalize the values and beliefs of their parents at a high rate

Bartholet is afraid that homeschooling “may keep them from contributing positively to a democratic society,” but basic research could have answered her and O’Donnell’s fears without writing the article: they often contribute more.


5. Government Rules Home & Family

Giving the government ultimate authority over education would result in the government also having ultimate authority over the home and family.

If they control education, they control how families spend their time. Families must comply with whatever the government deems as essential to education, whether that is too many hours a day at school, too much homework, or extreme ideologies being taught to children.

Parents should have the ultimate authority to decide how their children spend their days, what they learn, and what they hear. Whether that is in a public, private, or homeschool education. A homeschool ban would ensure that parents don’t have that right.


6. Forces All Students to Work At Same Pace

I grew up in the public school system, and in elementary school, I was frustrated at how long I had to wait for other kids to finish their work. By high school, I was frustrated that I didn’t have more time to learn the many things I was falling behind on.

My siblings faced the same problems, much worse than I did.

Working at a child’s own pace is a huge homeschool benefit. I know a lot of homeschool kids who start college classes at 15, and graduate high school very early–often with a two-year college degree.

Even if a child doesn’t start college early or graduate early, they have the time to work at their own pace. And they don’t have to wait around for other kids to learn at their own pace, too.

With all of that extra time, teens can start an internship for on the job training that will never be an option for traditional school kids. Or they can work, or spend time learning a specific skill.

With homeschooling, kids gain over half of their day back compared to the traditional school model. This frees them to work at their own pace, work far ahead of their peers, or spend their time learning extra things that interest them. Or simply be a kid.


7. Risks Isolating Children

Harvard wisely included an illustration of a child locked in a building of books, looking out a window of bars at kids playing. They meant to illustrate that homeschoolers are locked away, but it’s really the opposite.

Then the author directly claims homeschools “can isolate children.”

As a public school raised person, I know how isolating traditional school can be. We’re in school from early in the morning until getting home around 4 o’clock, or 6 o’clock if there are extracurriculars. Then there is a full night of homework. I’m not sure how that lifestyle isn’t isolating.

Homeschool families are also free to educate anywhere they’d like, whether that’s while visiting family members, on a long road trip, at a local state park, or across the country on an extended tour of Civil War history to learn in person. Homeschooling gives families the freedom to have time to spend with family members, close and far, and learn in person, not “locked” in a building all day.

There are also skyrocketing rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide among kids. While it’s hard to find statistics comparing the rates between traditionally educated kids and homeschooled kids, I both lived through public school and know enough public school kids to know how much anxiety school causes.

There is a strong argument that our current model of public education–too many hours in school, too many hours of homework–causes the isolation, anxiety and depression. Although isolation may be a fringe negative of homeschooling, it is sure not common or serious enough to ban homeschooling.


8. Increases Risk of Kids Facing Violence

O’Donnell writes, “She argues that one benefit of sending children to school at age four or five is that teachers are “mandated reporters,” required to alert authorities to evidence of child abuse or neglect.” Later she continues, “Bartholet doesn’t see the book [isolated case of severe homeschool abuse] as an isolated case of a family that slipped through the cracks: “That’s what can happen under the system in effect in most of the nation.”

Bartholet is worried about homeschool kids facing abuse, while failing to think about all of the violence that public school kids face.

If her logic was correct, public school kids would be at less risk of abuse from parents. But that isn’t true.

She also doesn’t think about all of the other ways kids face violence at school: bullying, assault, sexual harassment, racism, school shootings, and violent speech.

Her reasoning also directly says that she doesn’t see severe abuse among homeschoolers as an isolated case. Meaning she is discriminating once again to believe it is a common thing for homeschool parents to do.

Homeschool kids don’t have any higher rates of abuse than traditionally schooled kids. Also, public school sadly doesn’t ensure the safety of children, so there is no logical reason to include that in the unconstitutional reasoning to ban homeschool.


9. Reduces Proper Socialization

There’s a tired argument that homeschooled kids aren’t properly socialized, giving way to the stereotype that homeschoolers are socially awkward.

But every homeschool kid I’ve met has had more social skills than almost any public school kid I’ve met. And I’ve met a lot of both.

The kids who are homeschooled know how to greet me and interact with me as an adult when they’re very young children. The teens I know are incredibly respectful and engage in conversation with me.

Compare this with many public school kids who are rude to adults, or at least don’t know how to interact with them. And I’m saying this as a public school raised kid, who still struggles with knowing how to interact with people.

People can be socially awkward whether they’re homeschooled or public schooled. In public school, you are in the same setting for 13 years with people your own age. But homeschool provides an entire lifestyle of learning to interact with people who are different from you in an endless amount of settings.

If you want actual statistics, which O’Donnell’s article didn’t give you, read here about how homeschool kids are more socialized, have a stronger sense of identity, perform better academically, and more.


10. Violates Children’s Rights

Elizabeth Bartholet fears that homeschooling violates children’s rights to a “meaningful education.” And yet her call for a homeschool ban would violate a child’s rights to be governed first by their parents. Not the government.


11. Our Country Would No Longer Be Free

If we don’t have freedom with our kids, we don’t have freedom. There is nothing more that needs to be said.


Erin O’Donnell’s article shows a stunning lack of research and understanding of the true reality of homeschooling. It’s clear that Erin O’Donnell conducted no research into the real statistics of homeschooling. It’s also clear that Elizabeth Bartholet didn’t either.

Americans living in a free society should be able to decide if their children are educated in a public school, in a private school, or at home.

Together O’Donnell and Bartholet paint a picture of the false reality of an authoritarian cult driven by extreme ideology. Instead, they end up distorting reality to call for authoritarianism driven by their own extreme ideology. Except theirs would become reality–totalitarianism.

April 22, 2020


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