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Harvard law professor seeking to ban homeschooling should celebrate educational diversity, not attack it | Sutherland Institute


Opposition to greater freedom and diversity for educational options for children is nothing new. In fact, among the education establishment elite, it goes back to the beginning of the modern public school movement. Sadly, such criticism often cloaks a personal prejudice against individuals and groups, such as parents, who establish educational diversity.

Harvard law professor Elizabeth Bartholet recently described a growing movement among parents to educate their children at home as depriving children of their rights to a meaningful education and to be protected from child abuse, as well as “a threat to U.S. democracy.” She further alludes to homeschool parents as being uneducated, illiterate and dangerous, and criticizes their religious beliefs.

Bartholet’s views have been criticized as not being grounded in fact or a correct understanding of the law. Her idea for a preemptive ban on homeschooling may be unconstitutional given Supreme Court precedent, and in Utah it flies in the face of the legally recognized fundamental right of parents to be the “primary person responsible for the education” of their children. But her approach of criticizing parents for how they teach their children falls in line with a tradition of stated or implied bias against parents as primary educators that has long existed among a certain subset of public education advocates.

One of the founding advocates of America’s modern public school system was Horace Mann – known as “the Father of the Common School.” As a leader of the Massachusetts public school system during the 19th century, he advocated for positive reforms to public schools, such as encouraging education among the masses and embracing diversity in public school student backgrounds. He was also motivated by a belief that parents were incompetent.

From a hundred platforms, Mann had lectured that the need for better schools was predicated upon the assumption that parents could no longer be entrusted to perform their traditional roles in moral training and that a more systematic approach within the public school was necessary.

Another influential public education advocate was John Dewey, a philosopher whose professional career spanned from the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. Like Mann, Dewey had positive ideas for schools: experiential learning for students and viewing education as a means for a student to achieve his or her full human potential. He also shared Mann’s bias against the home as a place of learning. In The School and Society, Dewey said regarding public schools:

It is simply a question of doing systematically and in a large, intelligent, and competent way what for various reasons can be done in most households only in a comparatively meager and haphazard manner.

For Dewey, the “meager” and “haphazard” instruction of parents to their children creates the necessity of public schools. Both Mann and Dewey viewed parents as obstacles to the proper education of children.

Whether Bartholet recognizes it or not, her description of homeschooling and parents who choose to educate at home adopts the anti-parent bias of Mann and Dewey. From the 19th century to today, there is a well-documented prejudice against parents in the thinking of a particular subset of public education advocates. Most often, this bias lacks a complete understanding of the facts.

Rather than attacking Americans for choosing how their kids will best be educated, we should be celebrating it. We should also be trying to expand its reach, so that even those of limited economic means can be uplifted by and prosper through educational freedom. By extending the reach of freedom and opportunity for individuals and families, we illustrate what it is that truly makes America great.

This content was originally published here.

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