Harvard Law Professor Attacks Homeschoolers, as She Envisions Them

Michael Farris, Should homeschooling be banned? Harvard Magazine and one of Harvard’s law professors, Elizabeth Bartholet, think so.

This is despite the fact that Harvard University admits an appreciable number of homeschooled students to both its undergraduate and graduate programs every year.

Readers are urged to conclude that there is an educational crisis at hand. Perhaps there is a crisis, but not in the homeschooling community but rather at Harvard.

Let’s deal briefly with the elementary matter of spelling and proofreading. Harvard originally spelled “arithmetic” incorrectly in its illustration of a home-prison depicting an unhappy homeschooled child. It was rendered “arithmatic.” Ahem.

Bartholet argues that homeschooling denies children a meaningful education. In so doing, Bartholet fails to demonstrate any familiarity with valid social science research. The literature demonstrates that homeschooling works very well academically—including in some ways that many would find surprising.

In public schools, family income is a strong predictor of a child’s academic success. In homeschooling, children from lower-income levels not only outscore their public school socio-economic counterparts, but they also score comparably to homeschool students from higher income levels.

The professor then argues that children are not protected from child abuse since they are not in public schools with mandatory reporters. She illustrates this concern by referring to a book written by one girl who claimed to have been raised by Idaho homeschool survivalists.

There would be a temptation to match her singular anecdote with anecdotes arising from the rare situations where public school teachers abuse children. But again, one would expect a Harvard professor to understand the logical problem raised by over-generalizing from isolated examples.

Like the vast majority of parents who choose other forms of education, the overwhelming number of homeschool families are led by good parents who are also good neighbors.

Harvard should also be embarrassed—truly embarrassed—by its professor’s absolutely unsupported assertion that homeschool students will not be able to contribute positively to our democratic processes.

I personally know two homeschool students who are Harvard Law grads and clerked for the U.S. Supreme Court. Another Harvard alum is the current solicitor general of West Virginia. I taught constitutional law to all three at Patrick Henry College. And two more of my PHC students, who were also homeschooled, clerked for the Supreme Court after graduating from the University of Virginia Law School.

Moreover, dozens of homeschooled students in my personal sphere of friends have been elected to state and local offices. One of my favorites is a North Dakota legislator whose family I defended when they were criminally prosecuted for homeschooling him.

Thousands of homeschooled students actively participate in the electoral process every cycle through a program called Generation Joshua.

Studies show that homeschooled students participate in political activity at a higher level than the norm. They are motivated by seeing their own families being directly impacted by the political process.

Perhaps the most troubling thing found in this article is a clear display of bigotry by Professor Bartholet.

She argues that a chief evil at hand arises from the fact that as many as 90 percent of homeschooled children live with conservative Christian parents “who seek to remove their children from mainstream culture.” Such people are “extreme religious ideologues” who “question science and promote female subservience, and white supremacy.”

Any form of bigotry coming from one of its professors should cause Harvard trustees to be concerned. Religious bigotry may be fashionable in some circles, but Harvard expresses commitments to the contrary.

Since Bartholet loves anecdotal evidence, let me answer her charges with my own anecdotes. But let me first explain why my stories are appropriate. Harvard’s article derides an organization I founded: the Home School Legal Defense Association. Through her smears of the movement, she implies that HSLDA is associated with her imagined ills. So, let’s see.

As to her claim of female subservience, three of the four Supreme Court law clerks I personally taught are women. A conservative Christian college producing so many talented women lawyers is not what she has apparently imagined.

And I am the proud grandfather of an African American newborn baby. My daughter-in-law is Nigerian, and my grandson is a dual citizen.

Bartholet conjures up an imaginary profile of conservative Christian homeschoolers—yet, the life of HSLDA’s founder demonstrates how little she knows about a movement she seeks to denounce.

When the pandemic is behind us, I would be happy to come to Cambridge and take Professor Bartholet to dinner. She might be surprised if she actually took the time to finally meet one of the people she misunderstands so much.

Michael P. Farris is the president, CEO, and general counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom (@AllianceDefends) and the founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association.

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