Homeschooled Harvard Alumni: Excuse Me, Professor . . .

By publishing an article highlighting Professor Elizabeth Bartholet’s call for a presumptive ban on home education, Harvard Magazine may have actually done the homeschooling movement a favor.

Though it listed the alleged “risks of homeschooling,” the piece didn’t bother to quote anyone involved in home education. Homeschoolers have remedied this oversight by announcing in various media just how wrong Bartholet’s claim—that homeschooling isolates children, violates their rights, exposes them to abuse, and makes them bad citizens—is.

“Today, as a direct result of my homeschool education, I am a successful attorney at one of the premier law firms in the United States,” wrote Harvard Law School graduate Alex Harris on his Facebook account. “But I’m just one of many success stories.”

He could have been referring to fellow graduate Melba Pearson.

“Harvard was the very first school I ever set foot in,” she blogged in response to Bartholet’s views. “Homeschooling, and the lessons and characteristics I learned and honed during the first 18 years of my life, prepared me to succeed—no, excel—at one of the most difficult and prestigious universities in the world.”

She, in turn, was echoed by the hundreds of replies to the article on Harvard Magazine’s Facebook page.

“I am a second-generation homeschooler, as is my spouse,” Charity Berwick shared in a typical post. “We are motivated to homeschool as we loved the freedom, fun, flexibility, and wonderful educations we received at home!”

Tracy Stevens Carey wrote: “After 17 years of homeschooling, our school will be closing with the graduation of our third daughter, who will be heading to college. I would not trade the time I had with them ‘24/7’ for anything. The oldest two graduated college (one goes to law school this fall). Contrary to the article’s implication, [my children] definitely learned how to be independent thinkers.”

Like the homeschool movement itself, responses to the article reflect a rich and diverse range of backgrounds and opinions. Many, just as we do at Home School Legal Defense Association, affirmed the right of scholars and policymakers to disagree with homeschooling supporters.

Homeschool advocates are clearly united, however, in pledging to resist restrictions on home education, inspired by a characterization that they see as tone-deaf, ill-informed, and prejudiced.

To quote Melba Pearson again: “The article argues only those whom the government deems correct can teach children; this is a blatant rejection of free thought, suppression of democratization of education, and attack on the freedoms and rights the citizens of our country fought long and hard to win.”

Kerry McDonald, another Harvard graduate who has studied and written about homeschooling, responded by highlighting “five things the article got wrong.” Among these, she argued that narrowing educational choices could actually hurt children looking to escape abuse or neglect in more traditional school settings.

She wrote: “Banning homeschooling, or adding burdensome regulations on homeschooling families, who in many instances are fleeing a system of education that they find harmful to their children, are unnecessary attacks on law-abiding families.”

Forbes education writer Mike McShane expanded on this point by relating how homeschooling is increasingly becoming a haven for families and students who are sometimes described as at-risk or struggling.

He cited the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) as identifying “two of the fastest-growing segments of homeschooling in America: families of children with special needs and minority families. In that NCES survey, almost 11 percent of homeschooling parents say that they do so primarily because their child has a special need of some sort.”

McShane concluded: “Banning homeschooling would thrust thousands of children who left traditional schools to avoid maltreatment back into the very schools where they were victimized. It will narrow the options available to families to find the environment that best meets their child’s needs. And it will undermine the very pluralism that our nation is founded upon.”

Alex Harris closed his own response with a similar sentiment, though stated in a much more personal way.

He wrote: “I can only express my gratitude that the educational choices that were made for me were made by the two people in this world who knew me best, who loved me most, and who sincerely wished the very best for me and my siblings. Thanks for the sacrifices, mom and dad. They were worth it.”

—Mike Smith

Photo credit: iStock.

17 thoughts on “Homeschooled Harvard Alumni: Excuse Me, Professor . . .

  1. Thank you for this article. My husband and I both have graduate degrees from a prestigious university and, like many of our peers in the tech industry, choose to homeschool our daughter. We were disgusted by Harvard Magazine’s decision to smear homeschooling, especially considering they have so many homeschooled students and alumni. I wish people would acknowledge the driving force of Bartholet’s criticism, which is her bigotry toward people with different religious belief systems. Since when is that acceptable in an educational environment?

    Watching Harvard promote someone like this has been an excellent reminder of why we all need to support HSLDA financially, however. Keep up the good work!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I think I could demonstrate that I am providing my children a great education. I assume the parents of the kids who ended up at Harvard or other good universities, or who succeeded in other ways, also could show it. So Bartholet’s position doesn’t bother me. And I assume parents who are addicted or mentally ill and who don’t send their children to school because of indifference or not wanting teachers to see the effects of abuse or neglect would not be able to show it, so their children might be protected. I think if we respond in a way that makes it look like we are completely indifferent to children who are suffering, it kind of proves her point about the values some homeschoolers are instilling in their children. There must be some good middle ground. IMHO.

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    • Seems to me that you make a lot of assumptions Mr Strom. Seems to me that your position is akin to those who take no issue with unconstitutional government surveillance because “you shouldn’t be worried if you have nothing to hide”.

      As a second generation homeschooling family I take great issue with your assumptions and with the stance of Harvard university (via the poorly thought out article published by Elizabeth Bartholet). I don’t have to prove anything to anyone about the education I am providing for my children, anymore than I have to prove that I am feeding them decent meals, clothing them or putting them to bed. The state does not own me or my children and I will not allow their oversight in my home. I am a fit parent and unless PROVEN otherwise I will claim my fourth amendment right, as well as the natural right of a PARENT to raise their children as they see fit. Our constitution states that any powers not delegated to the government belong to the people. The government has no rightful claim on the parenting practices of families. Any parent in their right mind should be outraged at this blatant attack on our rights, and should be adamantly opposed to letting big brother get their foot in this door in any way shape or form.

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      • Kalee, your response presupposes that school district monitoring of homeschooling is unconstitutional. The US Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected that view, so are we talking about Kalee’s Constitution or the US Constitution (which, by the way, mentions parents’ rights precisely nowhere, and which Justice Scalia viewed as not conferring any rights on parents)? And it is a cheap rejoinder to the contention that some children need state officials to monitor their situation to say that the state doesn’t own children. The state monitors my driving on a regular basis; that doesn’t mean it owns me or my car. You also don’t own your children. No one owns them, except perhaps themselves; they are not property. I’m sure you are a great parent, but many people whose children are not attending a school are struggling with addiction or mental illness. I care about them, and who else but some state agency is the right entity to protect them?

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    • The problem is with the forces we are dealing with is this: give them an inch, and they think they are rulers. They’ll want a little more oversight, then a little more, and we will one day find homeschooling either under the control of government or banned outright. I’ve been an auditor for a quarter century, and I can tell you this… if you give someone with an agenda or goal in mind enough information about anyone, you can make a case against them. This is why due process exists.

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  3. Mr. Smith, I hope you will send this column to the dean at Harvard. Especially in this era of zero tolerance for bigotry, this professor should not be allowed to discriminate against homeschooling.

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  4. With schools shutting down and turning to online venues because of COVID-19 we’ve all seen a post or two of parents saying how tough it is for them to school their children at home (being forced into changing your child’s education is not what I see as homeschooling). In our 10 years of homeschooling we have met many people and realize that homeschooling is not for everyone but we’d also argue that we’ve met racist people who have not been homeschooled. Would we blame classroom teachers for children who do not excel, drop out, are bigots etc? Perhaps the talking points of the original article are actually applicable to traditional or public education and point to flaws in that system or lifestyle. Again COVID is showing flaws to the traditional system and really showing that homeschooling families are really everyday heroes taking on a task that is not easy.

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  5. So, the next headline would be that Harvard professor claims that Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, for example, among many people famous people and leaders of this great country, is a bad citizen?

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  6. Here is what I believe is a very applicable analogy.

    It is very well documented that children who grow up without fathers are at greater risk for depression, dropping out of school, drug addiction, suicide, etc. The risks of disadvantages are substantial.

    So, tell me, what do you suppose would happen if we proposed having Child Protective Services inspect the homes of fatherless children quarterly? This is what someone in Illinois proposed (unsuccessfully) be done for homeschooled children. After all, what do they have to hide? What’s wrong with a little oversight to make sure there are no drugs or abusive boyfriends there, given the increased risks? I will tell you what would happen, most everyone would oppose it, even those who disagree with raising children without a father. In fact, there would be outrage, and rightly so. Why? Because you just don’t get to forgo due process, violate their privacy, search their homes, without just cause.

    This analogy is more than fair, especially considering that homeschoolers are more likely to outperform, whereas fatherless children are more likely to underperform. Even so, just because you disagree with a parent’s choice does not mean you can strip the parent of their rights and due process, nor does it render the child state property.

    Abuse and neglect are illegal, as they should be. Crimes that all of us absolutely agree should be prosecuted. I would wager anything that if homeschooling was used to cover up a neglected and malnourished child, HSLDA would offer no defense to the abusive parents. But like any crime, there should be due process, and you don’t punish the innocent, especially when they so consistently outperform the alternatives.

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    • It’s an interesting but inapt analogy. Being fatherless per se does not make any child completely dependent on parental provision of any basic good or isolated from everyone outside the family. Some homeschooling (not all, or even most) does that to children. I worry about the children for whom that is true, and I am not content to wait till the consequences of neglect or abuse come to the attention of someone outside the family, perhaps only after the child has endured it for years. And to prevent that seems enough justification for the burden on me as a homeschooling parent, because, really, a couple of meetings a year, some time spent putting together a portfolio or administering an assessment tool, is nothing compared to the suffering some children endure. I talk with my children about this, and they totally agree.

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      • Paul,

        I share your concern. In no way do I take the risk of isolation and abuse lightly. My concern is with government overreach, which never seems too much at first, until it’s too late. I am also very concerned with the social justice warrior types, those who believe homeschooling is dangerous in and of itself, who happen to be child welfare workers or other government monitors who testify to abuse where it does not exist. Go to the HSLDA page on YouTube and you’ll see cases where parents were separated from children, handcuffed, arrested, etc. without cause.

        They will base their efforts around things like abuse and isolation, but that isn’t their real concern… the statistics do not back that up. Much like how pro-choice advocates prefer to focus the discussion on cases of rape and incest to make pro-lifers look heartless, but in the end they think abortion is fine due to inconvenience.

        How many children get bullied in school? How many have been shot in school? How many engage in sex at too young of an age, with the risks of STDs and pregnancy? How many teachers have inappropriate relationships with students? How many schools continually fail to properly educate children, particularly poor and minority children? We just pump more and more money into the system, meanwhile we take a alternative with superior results and convene Summits to attack and ultimately make it mandatory by law.

        I don’t believe more government meddling in private education would save children. After all, children do not start school until 5 or 6, which is pretty late to detect malnourished children. Perhaps evidence of wellness checks by a doctor would be better for the children.

        Basically, we’re telling people that lifeboats are inherently risky, and they better get back on the Titanic. Iceberg? What iceberg?

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      • Thanks, Jay. Yes, problems in all arenas of childrearing. All should be addressed, while keeping government within bounds. In any area of life, state actors might try to overreach, for any number of reasons–care of the elderly or mentally ill, domestic violence, food safety and medical care, etc.. Complete rejection of state oversight doesn’t seem a responsible position in any of these contexts. The people who think that’s the right position with homeschooling tend to talk about their children as property/things/appendages. That’s not loving, respectful, or consistent with what Christ said about children.

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  7. Let me say something else about another exchange. The United States Supreme Court and the judicial system as a whole cannot be trusted.

    I’ll also add another point: The United States Supreme Court and the judicial system as a whole cannot be trusted.

    The United States Supreme Court concocted a right to slaughter the unborn, though the constitution is silent. Even the pro-choice side of the aisle should understand this should be settled legislatively.

    The United States Supreme Court took it upon themselves to define marriage nation-wide, even though the constitution is silent. Even if you agree with gay marriage, having it decided by an un-elected unaccountable court is a bad idea.

    The Texas courts ruled that James Younger’s father cannot even voice disagreement with his 7 year old son’s transgender conversion, must less stop it… and I doubt the current United States Supreme Court would overturn it.

    I could go on and on, but let me end with one final, very important point, and read it very very carefully: The United States Supreme Court and the judicial system as a whole cannot be trusted.

    And while your at it, please do not place any trust the judicial system.

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  8. Ironically, the same people who tell us that 1 in 4 women will be raped in college want to use the power of the government to send more people to college.

    Question: What kind of person encourages their daughter to go a place where she has a 25% chance of being raped?

    Answer: Either a sadistic monster of a parent, or the he kind of person who exaggerates exceptions in order to further another agenda.

    Yes, I know college is different than K through 12. But consider this: A 2004 Report from the US Department of Education estimated that 1 in 10 students in government schools would experience school-employee sexual misconduct by the time the graduate high school.

    So, at a time when homeschoolers decidedly outperform government schooled children, we want to send them to environments where they have a 1 in 10 chance of being mistreated by educators, to say nothing of the rampant bullying, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and sexual experimentation.

    That isn’t protecting children. That’s Bartholet’s Studies (BS for short).

    Like

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