Harvard Law Professor Says Homeschooling is Dangerous, Parents Should Not Have 24/7 Authority Over Their Children

Elizabeth Bartholet
Wasserstein (public interest professor of law
and faculty director of the Law School’s
Child )Advocacy Program,

“A rapidly increasing number of American families are opting out of sending their children to school, choosing instead to educate them at home. Homeschooled kids now account for roughly 3 percent to 4 percent of school-age children in the United States, a number equivalent to those attending charter schools, and larger than the number currently in parochial schools. 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. ‘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 says. In a paper published recently in the Arizona Law Review, she notes that parents choose homeschooling for an array of reasons. 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. ‘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,’ she says, noting that EUROPEAN COUNTRIES SUCH AS GERMANY BAN HOMESCHOOLING ENTIRELY and that countries such as France require home visits and annual tests. ‘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.’”

Erin O’Donnell, “The Risks of Homeschooling,” Harvard Magazine, May-June 2020