Prof. Elizabeth Bartholet, Director of Harvard Law School’s Child Advocacy Program, projects a deep distrust of homeschooling families, particularly if they are Christians (Harvard Magazine, May-June 2020). If parents’ teaching is “dangerous” or “risky” as she claims, government schools’ decades of watering down of the basics in favor of politically correct social education reveals today’s preference for “safety” over excellence.
Some years ago I recall my dismay mixed with admiration when a pair of homeschooled twins from the tiny rural village of Boonville, California, bested all San Francisco Bay Area high schoolers and got into Harvard. They were not an isolated case. When interviewed the boys described pursuing their intellectual interests in a very resourceful and encouraging atmosphere. Unfortunately, this is the opposite of how Professor Bartholet sees homeschooling.
She cites Tara Westover’s gut-wrenching memoir, Educated, as an example of the dangers of home schooling. Although it is true that Idaho’s homeschooling requirements are far more liberal than those of, for example, Florida, where parent record-keeping and public-school district evaluation and approval are required every year, Westover was not homeschooled. Her father, a fringe-Christian survivalist who cited the Ruby Ridge massacre as the reason he would not allow contact with US government anything, made Tara work in the family scrap business without schooling. Not only did he provide no “comparable curriculum” for his children as required by Idaho law, he gave them no training for unsafe worksites where they had to think fast or be killed or maimed. He couldn’t teach, although he could do Tara’s advanced math problems in his head. He was moody, prone to violent outbursts and cruel to his family. No wonder Tara saw higher education, for which she secretly learned she had a gift, as a way out of her abusive home. Hers is an inspiring story of a very tough, smart girl escaping domestic violence, not homeschooling. Like Janet Reno before her, Bartholet reads an enormous cultural threat into behavior that is aberrant, not reflective of a widespread trend, and her overreaction is itself the threat.
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