Homeschoolers and Ideologues

Samuel James:

Harvard professor Elizabeth Bartholet’s attackon homeschooling is the kind of argument that would, if a few nouns were changed, be right at home in the very fundamentalist subcultures she detests. What her ideas lack in empirical evidence they compensate for in ferocity. 

To Bartholet’s credit, she says what she thinks. Where other critics of homeschooling twist themselves into knots to avoid “othering” those loathsome evangelicals, Bartholet lets the cat out of the bag: “Many homeschooling parents are extreme ideologues,” she said in a recent interview with The Harvard Gazette, titled “A Warning on Homeschooling.” She made it clear that by “many” she means “most” and that by “ideologues” she means evangelical Christians. The problem, Bartholet, says, is that evangelical families are “committed to raising their children within their belief systems isolated from any societal influence.”

The danger is both to these children and to society. The children may not have the chance to choose for themselves whether to exit these ideological communities; society may not have the chance to teach them values important to the larger community, such as tolerance of other people’s views and values.

Bartholet’s interview is just the latest example of her anti-homeschooling activism. Late last year she published an article in the Arizona Law Review that accused a large percentage of homeschooling families of secretly abusing their children and called for a blanket criminalization of most forms of homeschooling. This year, that article became the topic of a feature for Harvard Magazine. The piece’s accompanying illustration was striking: A group of happy and playful children, but in their midst a sad, solitary girl looking at them from behind the prison bars of a chimneyed house made from huge books labeled “Reading,” “Writing,” “Arithmetic” . . . and “Bible.”