Illustrated by a drawing of a child in a prison-like house made of books labeled “reading,” “writing,” “arithmatic” (the misspelling was later corrected), and “Bible,” a recent article in Harvard Magazine calls attention to the dangerous threat supposedly posed by homeschooling. The article, drawing upon arguments set forth by the Harvard law professor Elizabeth Bartholet in a legal journal, notes as particularly troubling that most of these parents are “driven by conservative Christian beliefs.” Fred Bauer dissects Bartholet’s position, which is based in part on the importance of diversity and pluralism:
[According to Bartholet], children have an affirmative right to a quality education that reinforces certain “democratic” values. She argues that homeschooling usually does not afford such an education, so it should be presumptively banned. . . . While the major thrust of Bartholet’s article targets homeschooling, she also calls for more regulation of private education. At the end of this article, Bartholet writes of the effort to “impose some control” on private religious schools, such as yeshivas in New York.
[Bartholet’s] approach is in real tension with the project of living in a pluralistic society. . . . The United States is a diverse place. Its public schools can incorporate a vast array of individuals and cultures, but its proliferation of educational models (public, private, and home schools) also gives testament to the range of American life. This wide variety of institutions speaks to the range of possible approaches to education within this country—from Amish schoolhouses to Catholic schools to Orthodox yeshivas to Muslim homeschoolers.
Moreover, [Bartholet] writes about the importance of exposing students to a variety of views but fails to address the way mandatory public schooling could itself close off some views. A secular child raised by secular parents who then goes to a secular public school might not be that exposed to religious viewpoints. Should he be sent to a monastery for a few months each year in order to understand fully a worldview based on obedience to religious authority?
While Bartholet might lament those parents who “want to ensure that their children adopt their own particular religious and social views,” one of the central elements of parenting is raising children within a certain set of traditions. Moreover, any form of parenting will end up imparting some set of values and views. . . . Environmentally conscious parents might want their children to recycle in adulthood; many religious parents hope that their children will carry on that religious tradition to the next generation. Children might, of course, reject those values, and part of parenthood is also accepting the choices of children as well as nurturing in them the ability to make well-informed choices. Nevertheless, that instruction in concrete traditions plays a central role in childrearing.