Living with Children: In defense of homeschooling

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In his November 1863 address at Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that the men who lost their lives on that battlefield had done so in order that “government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.” Lincoln was restating a principle first set forth in the Declaration of Independence, a principle essential to the preservation of our historically unique form of government.

Then and now, American political and cultural tensions have boiled down to an ever-escalating tug of war between those who believe in the power of government and those who believe in the Founders’ original vision. Exemplary of the former is Harvard law professor Elizabeth Bartholet, quoted in a Harvard Magazine (May/June 2020) article titled “The Risks of Homeschooling.”

Bartholet’s animus toward homeschooling is palpable. She believes it exposes children to abuse, not to mention inferior educational standards, not to mention undemocratic values, not to mention “authoritarian control” exercised by parents who largely believe in female subservience, white supremacy, and a biblical view of creation. She wants it outlawed.

Bartholet opines, “I think it’s always dangerous to put powerful people [parents, that is] in charge of the powerless [children], and to give the powerful ones total authority.”

Yes, well, so do I. Every feature and expression of democracy is fraught with potential danger. Human nature is not a pretty thing, and the ugliest expressions of human nature are almost always committed by people in positions of power.

But history teaches that the greatest abuses are perpetrated by those who deny the realities of our nature and harbor utopian visions. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Brandeis put it best: “The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”

Bartholet essentially advances the proposition that government is a more trustworthy caretaker of children than their parents. It is “dangerous,” she says, for a child to spend his entire day, day after day, with his parents. With that absurd notion, she qualifies as a well-intentioned person of zeal who is dangerously lacking in understanding.

On the basis of an uber-small number of homeschooling parents who abuse the right to direct their children’s education, she would assign all children to the vagaries of a government-run bureaucracy that is – as are all bureaucracies, ultimately – more interested in self-preservation than the preservation of our flawed but unsurpassed system of self-rule.

In a rebuttal to Bartholet, Focus on the Family president Jim Daly asks, “Can fair-minded people not acknowledge that parents have every right to choose their child’s educational route?”

Indeed, fair-minded people can acknowledge what fair-minded jurists have affirmed, but people who believe in “government of the bureaucracy, by the bureaucracy, and for the bureaucracy” are not fair-minded. Their well-meaning zeal so narrows their point of view that, as in Bartholet’s case, the big picture ultimately disappears.

When all is said and done, the best regulator of the homeschooling parent is other homeschooling parents, motivated by desire to preserve their own and everyone else’s freedoms. Long may they run.

[Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com. Copyright 2020, John K. Rosemond]