Elizabeth Bartholet moderates a panel discussion. Elizabeth Bartholet is the Morris Wasserstein Public Interest Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Child Advocacy Program (CAP), which she founded in the fall of 2004. She teaches civil rights and family law, specializing in child welfare, adoption, and reproductive technology. Before joining the Harvard Faculty, she was engaged in civil rights and public interest work, first with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and later as founder and director of the Legal Action Center, a non-profit organization in New York City focused on criminal justice and substance abuse issues. She is the author of many publications on child welfare.
Bartholet is a classic villain right out of an Ayn Rand novel. She recognizes the alarming possibility that kids might grow up Christian, or worse: Republican via parental influence. If kids are home-schooled that means they will miss out on crucial brain-washing and indoctrination at the hands of liberal teachers.
Elizabeth Bartholet, Wasserstein public interest professor of law and faculty director of the Law Schoolâ€™s Child Advocacy Program, sees risks for childrenâ€”and societyâ€”in homeschooling, and recommends a presumptive ban on the practice. Homeschooling, she says, not only violates childrenâ€™s right to a â€œmeaningful educationâ€ and their right to be protected from potential child abuse, but may keep them from contributing positively to a democratic society.
â€œWe have an essentially unregulated regime in the area of homeschooling,â€ Bartholet asserts. All 50 states have laws that make education compulsory, and state constitutions ensure a right to education, â€œbut if you look at the legal regime governing homeschooling, there are very few requirements that parents do anything.â€ Even apparent requirements such as submitting curricula, or providing evidence that teaching and learning are taking place, she says, arenâ€™t necessarily enforced. Only about a dozen states have rules about the level of education needed by parents who homeschool, she adds. â€œThat means, effectively, that people can homeschool whoâ€™ve never gone to school themselves, who donâ€™t read or write themselves.â€ In another handful of states, parents are not required to register their children as homeschooled; they can simply keep their kids at home. …
She views the absence of regulations ensuring that homeschooled children receive a meaningful education equivalent to that required in public schools as a threat to U.S. democracy. â€œFrom 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,â€ she says. This involves in part giving children the knowledge to eventually get jobs and support themselves. â€œBut itâ€™s also important that children grow up exposed to community values, social values, democratic values, ideas about nondiscrimination and tolerance of other peopleâ€™s viewpoints,â€ she says, noting that European countries such as Germany ban homeschooling entirely and that countries such as France require home visits and annual tests.
In the United States, Bartholet says, state legislators have been hesitant to restrict the practice because of the Home Schooling Legal Defense Association, a conservative Christian homeschool advocacy group, which she describes as small, well-organized, and â€œoverwhelmingly powerful politically.â€ During the last 30 years, activists have worked to dismantle many statesâ€™ homeschooling restrictions and have opposed new regulatory efforts. â€œThereâ€™s really no organized political opposition, so they basically get their way,â€ Bartholet says. A central tenet of this lobby is that parents have absolute rights that prevent the state from intervening to try to safeguard the childâ€™s right to education and protection.
Bartholet maintains that parents should have â€œvery significant rights to raise their children with the beliefs and religious convictions that the parents hold.â€ But requiring children to attend schools outside the home for six or seven hours a day, she argues, does not unduly limit parentsâ€™ influence on a childâ€™s views and ideas. â€œThe issue is, do we think that parents should have 24/7, essentially authoritarian control over their children from ages zero to 18? I think thatâ€™s dangerous,â€ Bartholet says. â€œI think itâ€™s always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless, and to give the powerful ones total authority.â€
She concedes that in some situations, homeschooling may be justified and effective. â€œNo doubt there are some parents who are motivated and capable of giving an education thatâ€™s of a higher quality and as broad in scope as whatâ€™s happening in the public school,â€ she says. But Bartholet believes that if parents want permission to opt out of schools, the burden of proving that their case is justified should fall on parents.
â€œI think an overwhelming majority of legislators and American people, if they looked at the situation,â€ Bartholet says, â€œwould conclude that something ought to be done.â€