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‘A dangerous idea’: A Harvard professor makes an unconvincing argument against homeschool

Americans love their homeschool freedoms and aren’t going to give them up

Elizabeth Bartholet has some concerns about homeschooling. As she argued in a recent paper, it’s “dangerous” to give parents too much freedom to homeschool their children. Homeschooled kids, she argues, are at significant risk for abuse, for substandard educations, for civic antipathy—many homeschoolers are even “less likely to volunteer” than industrially educated ones! Perhaps most horrifyingly, she writes, “many religious homeschoolers object in principle to some core goals of public education.”┬áThe mind reels.

Bartholet thinks American government should essentially abolish homeschool; specifically, as she puts it, states “should deny the right to homeschool, subject to carefully delineated exceptions.”┬áThat is extraordinarily unlikely to happen, simply for the reason that homeschooling families do not want it to happen; homeschoolers are a remarkably powerful interest group in America, underscoring how so many families see it as a critical aspect of their well-being.

The vast majority of homeschooling households, of course, are responsible, loving, civic-minded, and in no way worthy of the paranoid suspicion that Batholet heaps upon them. When homeschoolers see arguments like this—in which they are associated with the horrific abuses and sub-par standards of a small minority of their group—they understand instinctively what is going on here. People like Bartholet are not so much interested in regulating homeschool but in attenuating it to the point that it’s basically just an extension of a government school: Same oversight, same curricula, same rigid standards.

That won’t do. Society works best when families are free to choose the best path for them. Some of them will choose government schools; some will choose private ones; others will choose homeschool and approach it in various ways. All three of these options have various benefits, negatives, pitfalls and weaknesses. The idea that we should cherry-pick the absolute worst examples from each category and use it to justify heavy-handed regulation is not a cogent argument. Bartholet should probably go back to school.

MORE: Homeschooled students still face bias in college admissions

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