A Note to Readers
We hope that you are safe and well—and that by the time this issue is posted online and reaches your mailbox, humanity will have made significant progress in reducing the baleful effects of the coronavirus (due in part to the contributions of Harvard scientists; see page 18).
Three things to note about the July-August Harvard Magazine. First, and unsurprisingly, “The Risks of Homeschooling” (May-June, page 10) attracted many comments, mostly critical. We publish a sample in the letters columns. Many were much longer than the article itself; we could not nearly print them all and accommodate diverse perspectives, so we refer you to the online issue to sample more, at length.
Second, some of our contents are constrained by the pandemic. For instance, coverage of the tercentenary of Massachusetts Hall, and what it has come to mean to the community (page 14), was conceived as a feature, accompanied by some of the marvelous letters, official records, drawings, and artifacts in the University Archives, graciously rounded up by Ross Mulcare, archivist for outreach, research, instruction, and special projects; graduate assistant Natalie Malter; and colleagues. Having whetted our appetites, they and we were disappointed that the campus closure derailed plans to scan these materials to share with you. When conditions permit, we will work with these superb professionals to present a portfolio online, and in a future issue will share directions on how to access it.
Third, this issue is thinner than we would like. Commencement—always a significant part of July-August coverage—was reduced to a virtual degree-conferring ceremony this year (page 16). But economics played a role, too: in the devastating economic wake of COVID-19, our advertising partners are managing their expenses with special care. We in turn are being careful to husband the magazine’s resources (as the University must manage its budget: page 21), the better to serve you in the long run. Please enjoy this issue, and follow the extensive, continuing coverage of essential Harvard news at www.harvardmagazine.com.
—John S. Rosenberg, Editor
Professor Elizabeth Bartholet believes homeschooling should be presumptively banned (“The Risks of Homeschooling,” May-June, page 10). By every metric, she would have outlawed my family. My dad was a high-school dropout. My mom attended one year of college. They decided to homeschool out of deeply held religious beliefs. We had no television and went to the doctor and dentist only rarely.
And yet my childhood was wonderful. Education was woven into everything we did. My parents never missed an opportunity for instruction. They wanted their children to love learning, and there was never a shortage of opportunities beyond our formal curriculum. We spent endless hours exploring the woods around our house—or inside reading books. In high school my homeschooled friends and I put on plays, entered music competitions, and traveled the country for debate tournaments. My twin brother and I started a youth-targeted nonprofit, hosting conferences and publishing a best-selling book before college.
I’m the first person in my family to attend law school. I was accepted to Harvard, I believe, on the strength of accomplishments that were only possible because my parents chose to homeschool. Like other homeschool graduates before and since, I thrived. I was named an editor of the Harvard Law Review, was awarded the Sears Prize, and secured clerkships with then-Judge Gorsuch and Justice Kennedy after graduation.
I’m one of many such stories. My fellow homeschool graduates are some of the most intelligent, responsible, caring, and well-rounded people I know, making the world a better place from boardrooms to living rooms, small business to big law.
Homeschooling is not perfect and my own experience was far from it. But imperfections are not unique to homeschooling. There are risks to sending your children to public, private, or parochial schools. Unfortunately, it appears Bartholet singles out homeschooling based on her mistaken belief that it is driven by “conservative Christian beliefs” of which she disapproves.
As for this homeschool graduate, I can only express my gratitude that the educational choices 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.
Alex J. Harris, J.D. ’15
Speak Up, Please
Harvard Magazine welcomes letters on its contents. Please write to “Letters,” Harvard Magazine, 7 Ware Street, Cambridge 02138, or send comments by email to email@example.com.
What a disappointing, uninformed article. My wife and I have homeschooled our kids for large parts of their education. They have excelled in college and have graduate degrees. They are independent thinkers and broad learners. Our family is close and dedicated to each others’ happiness and the health of our society. I myself have spent many years dedicated to litigating for the rights of victims of abuse. I am surprised that the magazine gave a forum to ideas that have been discredited for at least 30 years.
David Vicinanzo ’81
The article did not convince me that a presumptive ban should be placed on the practice, but I agree that periodic testing by the state to evaluate progress is necessary.
The article showed a disdain for and a lack of understanding of Christianity, made blanket statements supported by singular examples, did not mention any research on how well homeschoolers adapt and turn out in life, and made the preposterous and unsubstantiated assumption that homeschooling threatens our democracy.
I would also like to point out that the German ban on homeschooling originated with the 1919 Weimar Constitution but was reinforced in 1938 by the Nazis, who effectively banned homeschooling with criminal consequences and is one of the few Nazi laws still enforced in Germany today. Also, the idea that “powerful” parents are more of a threat to children than powerful governments reflects authoritarian statism thinking which is definitely a threat to our democracy.
If Bartholet’s treatise on homeschooling represents current scholarship at Harvard, I am deeply saddened. Perhaps she should speak to William J. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid, who is quoted as saying, “homeschooling is an educational asset Harvard considers favorably when making its admission decisions.”
Ron Dugan, M.B.A ’67
I would like to thank Erin O’Donnell and Elizabeth Bartholet for creating a new conversation about homeschooling. My parents made the decision to homeschool me through a Catholic correspondence school, Seton School, based in Front Royal, Virginia. While I received a decent education, partly because my parents are both well educated, I was not prepared for life at a university, or life in general. Without going into detail, it took many years for me to deal with the consequences of being isolated as a child. At 41, there are still some issues I struggle with, but I am conquering these with the help of therapy and a supportive partner.
I hope that Bartholet’s work will help children grow up to be happy and healthy adults, who can make positive contributions to the world.
West Hollywood, Calif.
Bartholet’s views are a smear of all homeschoolers with derogatory references to “child abuse,” “authoritarian control” by parents, and to “some” of them who “question science” (isn’t science all about questioning?) and “promote female subservience and white supremacy”—stereotyping that thoughtful people avoid.
She wants homeschoolers banned or made to provide an education “equivalent to that required in public schools,” to impose conformity to government standards on a tiny movement with only 3 or 4 percent of all U.S. school-age children. We cannot tolerate this tiny amount of diversity?
Public school is all about uniformity: children segregated into strict age-groups, teacher-student ratios that stop most personal contact, standardized textbooks and tests for each grade level, readings authored by no-names for specific levels of English comprehension, all putting U.S. literacy scores at around average, with many countries doing better (National Center for Education Statistics). There’s no stretching of brains, such as when our three-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter listened raptly to a classic folk tale we read to her (via Zoom) with half the language above her “level.”
For 10 years, we homesteaded in rural Maine and ran a small private elementary school for our three sons and a few others. Among many things, we read children’s classics aloud to all, had them draw pictures to their sentences, and wrote one-act musical comedies with a good role for each student, rehearsing them meticulously and having them perform publicly. With this very un-public-school education, our three sons went to Harvard and MIT.
Lenore Monello Schloming ’59
Skip Schloming, Ph.D.
We don’t typically think of Harvard Magazine as promoting racial and religious stereotypes, so the illustration for the article shocked and saddened us. As a homeschool graduate and teacher respectively, we know it is untrue to caricature us as Caucasian Bible-bashers who imprison children inside. The National Center for Education Statistics, an agency affiliated with the U.S. Department of Education, found in a September 2019 survey that the two primary reasons Americans chose to homeschool were not directly related to any faith commitments. Counter to the ominous suggestions of the Bible figured in your cartoon, parents chose to homeschool their children because of concerns that the local-school environment did not suit their children and because of the quality of academics. In 2017, 40 percent of American homeschoolers did not identify as white.
As for being imprisoned inside, this is a patent misrepresentation. Benjamin and his brother Jonathan spent the great majority of their homeschool lives in the fresh air, whether doing homework or class outside, or at a variety of meaningful jobs and volunteering posts. Massachusetts’s enlightened homeschool code even allows students to be anywhere in the world during the school year—starting in tenth grade, Benjamin spent four weeks each academic year in China, living with a family and studying Mandarin, freeing up the summer for other pursuits.
This is a lifestyle seen by “schoolschooled” young people as remarkably free and empowering. We cannot count the number of times we have been told by such students that they would infinitely rather choose an educational option offering unrestricted freedom of movement; remarkable agency in pursuing customized learning goals and developing skills to high levels; and the respect and dignity due a unique individual with unique hopes, aspirations, and dreams. The homeschoolers we know look like the joyful children running around outside the house: excited to engage with their peers and the world around them, and committed to making a positive difference. To portray them as prisoners—in a house made of books no less—is a tragically ludicrous perversion of reality.
Benjamin Porteous ’22
Dr. Rebecca Porteous ’87
Editor’s note: The illustration for “The Risks of Homeschooling” mistakenly misspelled “arithmetic.” The artist perhaps misremembered the old mnemonic about “a rat in the house…” as if the rodent were attacking, rather than eating, the ice cream. Having flagged his error, he redrew the illustration; that version was posted online. Back to school for all of us, with apologies.
Bartholet’s feelings-over-facts diatribe against homeschooling ignores a bedrock axiom of childhood education: its consumers are the children’s parents.
The children themselves cannot be, because they are too young to make informed choices. The state cannot be, because it is too remote and insensitive to have either a psychic or economic stake in the educational outcomes. But parents fit both bills, and as consumers they are entitled to decide how and what their children should learn.
If parents, like my parents, want to exercise their choice by sending their offspring to public schools, that’s their right. It should also be their right to stay home and educate their children there. The state has no business meddling in such an arrangement.
Nat Kidder ’85
The article does grave disservice to the subject it is treating and to balanced and sober inquiry.
A picture opens the article with kids playing gleefully outside, while a homeschool girl sits sullen and lonely as she looks out from behind a barred window. The reality is any bars are on the windows and round the perimeters of our public schools, behind which walls children sit for several hours a day.
There is no serious probe to any shortcomings of public education that it should experience an increasing exodus. [Bartholet] merely paints the 90 percent who have left as a Ruby Ridge fundamentalist breeding ground of anti-science, misogyny, and white supremacy.
It is asserted that homeschooling not only violates children’s “right to be protected from potential child abuse, but may keep them from contributing positively to a democratic society.” Regarding the former, one need only think of the viral videos of school fights and bullying on the bus, not to mention mass shootings. As to their being kept “from contributing positively to a democratic society,” simply look up how many U.S. presidents were home schooled.
We go on to read that “requiring children to attend schools outside the home for six or seven hours a day…does not unduly limit parents’ influence on a child’s views and ideas.” This cannot blithely be reduced to giving up a bit of time. This is a question of conceding the whole of their formal education.
Finally, public education is touted as being of higher quality and breadth in scope. Justify this against drop-out rates and rampant core-subject illiteracy. In turn, examine the homeschool record of academic excellence.
The arguments are spun quite nearly out of whole, monochromatic cloth.
As a Harvard grad and a mother who homeschooled my four children for portions of their K-12 years, I found Bartholet’s beliefs about the dangers of homeschooling to be alarming. Our system of rights is based on natural law, which exists apart from the modern state. The primary job of the latter is to safeguard our rights, including that of parents to raise their children as they see fit. Yet Bartholet seems to view parents’ decision to homeschool as suspect, even rebellious! The tail now wags the dog.
The state is supposedly answerable to the people. However, with respect to compulsory education, parental rights have withered in favor of the bureaucratic stranglehold teachers unions now have over basic curricula and the social engineering masquerading as lessons in democracy that is increasingly the goal of the public-school system. From my experience of sending my children to public school, intellectual curiosity dies on the altar of mind-numbing assembly lines of busywork. There are good teachers, but I believe the system and methodology are counter-productive. While exposure to many viewpoints occurs, usually without sufficient critique, the only viewpoints not tolerated are traditional ones. There are legitimate reasons why Christians, and other independent thinkers, homeschool. Their efforts should be applauded.
The real danger to democracy is the current system, with its push to mold students in the monolithic image of elites, our self-appointed philosopher-kings. Yet Bartholet ascribes to the government the mission of protecting “powerless” children from their “powerful” parents, ignoring the overweening power that the state and teachers unions exercise over both. To preserve freedom of thought and critical thinking, both crucial building blocks of democracy, alternative school options, including homeschooling, must be encouraged.
Two big thumbs down to Bartholet’s ban!
Sheila Green ’85
Additional letters may be found here.
I agree with David Cutler’s analysis (“The World’s Costliest Healthcare,” May-June, page 44).
Why do shared savings programs barely reduce costs? Controlling diabetes is a universal element of these programs, but prevents complications 10 to 20 years in the future. These programs share savings when a population achieves collective clinical metric thresholds under care by numerous professionals. This muddies the incentives for individuals. I have never seen data that pegs these thresholds to better health in the population. Rather, the metrics are really financial goals for the insurer, masquerading as clinical achievements.
Furthermore, good diabetic management requires using a growing number of ever more expensive medications. Better long-term clinical outcomes come at a short-term cost, and perhaps marginal if any short-term savings. Shared savings programs won’t connect a leg not amputated in 2035 to decisions made in 2020…assuming the patient even has the same insurer.
I further invite Cutler’s comments regarding the social determinants of health (SDOH). Studies attribute 20 percent of health to health care, 20 percent to genetics, and 60 percent to the quality of housing and education, transportation, food security, utilities, access to care and exposure to violence. Rush University has incorporated a SDOH screening tool in its electronic medical record. Busy health-care professionals maintain SDOH is a societal issue outside their purview, so Rush and others have established partnerships with government agencies and community nonprofits to address SDOH. Rush has seen decreased Medicare readmissions and bed-day utilization among Medicare high utilizers. Health care costs depend on far more than health care alone.
Cutler correctly says that reducing American health care costs requires a coordinated, whole-system approach. “Fixing” health care will help, but as a society we must align incentives effectively and address all factors that affect our health.
Donald R. Lurye ’75, M.D., M.M.M., CPE
Past president and board chair,
Illinois Academy of Family Physicians
CEO (ret.), Elmhurst Clinic, LLC
Having spent almost 20 years in senior governance positions in a large, integrated not-for-profit healthcare system, I can affirm the opportunities David Cutler cites for cost reduction: administration, greed and gouging, and [being] in love with medical services. To those I would add efficiency, both in delivery and in operations.
But there is another facet to the high cost of health care: intensive lobbying by hospitals and the American Hospital Association, doctor groups, and the American Medical Association, and of, course, insurance and pharmaceutical companies. Whether it is in the hundreds of millions, or billions, of dollars, it has been, and is, relentless and aimed at the entire political spectrum. The purpose of this lobbying is, plain and simple, to protect the income and profits of its clients.
During my time in health-care governance, I heard a physician state at a conference, “American health care is the biggest cottage industry in the world.” Despite consolidations among hospitals and doctor groups, our health care is still highly fragmented. State regulation of insurance companies doesn’t help, either. While Obamacare made progress in covering the uninsured, there is a long way to go for universal coverage. Germany, by the way, has had universal health care since the time of Bismark.
The paths to healthcare reform, both in cost reduction and toward universal coverage, are strewn with many roadblocks, both political and financial. My fear is that in trying to rectify these problems we as a country will try to fix everything at once. A step-by-step approach is more likely to meet less resistance and to gain acceptance as we go along. Let us hope.
Anthony C. Leonard ’59, M.B.A. ’66
I am the father of a Harvard Ph.D, who regularly reads your magazine and who is also a retired college professor. I wish to make several observations regarding David Cutler’s article.
First of all the element of greed and gouging and excessive administrative costs would immediately disappear with national (universal) health care. But since commercial healthcare has survived in the U.S. to this day, and is here to stay for some time, let me speak about the above-mentioned problems in its context.
We all know that in any commercial venture the element of supply and demand determines the price. It is not my intention to suggest that the market was deliberately manipulated but the fact remains that the U.S. has statistically the far lowest ratio of physicians, nurses, and hospital beds per capita of all industrialized nations in the world and that this condition has persisted for a long number of decades. It is also a fact that medical science is the only academic discipline where perfectly qualified students are turned down from all medical schools on account of a low numerus clausus and consequently must change their major, or study medicine abroad, most often in Latin America—the medical school of the University of Bucharest has a whole section taught in English for American students—in spite of the fact that we have had for years a critical shortage of medical providers especially in rural areas. Consequently the essential element of competition regulating the price has been completely eliminated.
We could go on with a long list of tragic consequences of the above-mentioned situation in our present “commercial” health-care system which Americans live with, pay for, and must accept as a vicissitude of their everyday life. We should also say that medical care isn’t a commercial commodity such as shoes, cars, or other consumer goods. And things have very much changed since the local doctor came to see the patient with his satchel and charged a couple of dollars for his visit. Since World War I and particularly World War II, the complexity of medical care has made it everywhere a de facto public service except in the U.S. Consequently the problems David Cutler describes exist only in the U.S.
Paul A. Saman, Ph.D.
Professor David Cutler mentions many of the oft-repeated reasons for the high cost of US healthcare, particularly compared with Canada, but does not satisfactorily explain several of the issues involved.
I disagree with the assertion that the results of Canadian care are superior. Canadian life expectancy is supposedly better than ours, but death after hospitalization for stroke is 65 percent higher in Canada. Infant mortality is allegedly higher in the United States, but we categorize as stillborn tiny infants that many other countries call miscarriages. The causes of infant mortality are low birth weight and prematurity, often related to smoking and teenage pregnancies. Shootings and knife-wound victims require expensive medical care. Crime, teenage pregnancy, and smoking are societal problems, not medical-care deficiencies, and their costs should not impugn our health-care system.
Results of cancer treatment in the US are superior to all other countries.
Canada has approximately equal numbers of primary-care physicians and specialists; the United States has twice as many specialists as primary-care physicians. Canadians cannot self-refer to a specialist, but must first see their primary physician for specialist referral. The waiting times are excessive— from a primary-care visit to operation averages 20 weeks.
As Cutler correctly points out, Canada has fewer CT and MRI scanners than the United States. Canadian physicians do not allocate services more judiciously, they simply can’t use services unavailable because the technology has been limited by government. Predictably, many Canadians leave Canada for medical care; some 63,000 came to the United States in 2016.
Not discussed in this article is that part of the excessive cost of U.S. healthcare is due to defensive medicine. Lawsuits with large monetary awards are only the tip of the iceberg. The mere fear of liability alters clinical behavior and augments costs. A constant latent concern is “How would this play in court?”…“Doctor, why didn’t you get a stress test on this 60-year-old before taking out his gallbladder?” We have allowed this fear to subtly recast the paradigm for management of all clinical problems by virtue of superfluous consultations, repetitive testing, and slavish augmentation of hospital mandates. These changes have insinuated themselves so slowly that we are unaware of their baleful malevolence.
I agree with Cutler that insurance companies and overpaid hospital administrators increase the cost of healthcare. We have far more administrators than we need. UPMC in Pittsburgh, where I worked for several decades, is an entity that controls some 20 hospitals, had $20 billion in annual revenue, and a CEO with a $8.4 million annual salary, trailed by more than 30 deferential individuals earning more than $1 million. This compensation level is far in excess of that of the Massachusetts General or the Mayo Clinic.
Fredric Jarrett, M.D. ’67
Unfortunately, Professor Cutler’s discussion of drug prices ignores some available data. The reality is that there are two identifiable pharmaceutical industries, comprised largely of different companies which operate under very different regulatory regimes. And ignoring these differences leads to much confusion.
Using 2017 data, the generic-drug industry accounted for 90 percent of all retail prescriptions, so it supplies most of the drugs used by American consumers. The average price charged for generic drugs per prescription filled, including both the co-pay and the amounts paid through insurance, is just $26.30. Of course there are some higher generic prices, but there are some lower ones as well; this figure is simply the average. One other factor should be noted: the generic industry does little or no research and development on new pharmaceuticals. We cannot look to them for help in developing medicines or vaccines to confront the coronavirus.
The branded industry is a different matter. Although it supplies only about 10 percent of retail prescriptions, along with drugs supplied directly to hospitals and doctors’ offices, it receives more than 70 percent of all pharmaceutical revenues. And with this imbalance, its prices are much higher. The average revenue per retail prescription for branded drugs is just under $550, again with some prices higher and some lower. To be sure, much, but not all, of these revenues are used to support the branded industry’s efforts at discovering new drugs.
While branded drugs are highly priced, as Professor Cutler points out, they are not paid mainly out-of-pocket by consumers. Currently, more than 85 percent of all U.S. pharmaceutical expenditures are paid through public and private insurance, with consumer payments including both cash payments and co-pay amounts. The fact is that Americans pay for their pharmaceuticals largely collectively, just as is done elsewhere, with the main difference being our unique public and private structure.
That structure did not happen without forethought and debate; and indeed was consciously created through bipartisan legislation: the Hatch Waxman Act of 1984, along with many amendments. It has strengths and it has weaknesses, which we discuss and debate in my classes. But it is important that all such debate rest on actual data and not merely on accusations and complaints.
William S. Comanor, Ph.D. ’64
Professor, Fielding UCLA School of Public Health
Thank you for the thought-provoking article by David Cutler on the cost of health care. He makes some valid observations, and some good suggestions for dialing back medical costs in the U.S. However he misses the point. Our high medical costs are just a symptom. The underlying causes of our low life expectancy are obesity and lack of exercise. Successfully implementing all his recommendations will not address our basic health problem.
From the inception of the first living organism, natural selection has rewarded those that consumed as much scarce food as possible when it was available, and those that limited their energy expenditures to only the basics of life: procuring food, defense, and reproduction. Until now. In our new environment, these selection factors work against longevity. With our new abundance of food, 40 percent of the U.S. population is now obese. This is almost twice the Western Europe experience and 33 percent more than Canada. The constant addition of labor-saving devices continues to reduce our energy expenditure ever further.
The answer to dealing with our real health problems, obesity and lack of exercise, is even more difficult to address than the cost mechanics of our health delivery system. With over 60 years’ experience in fitness and nutrition as an avocation, I have tried endless ways to adjust diet and exercise patterns for folks who have approached me for advice. Even very intelligent people who are looking for help have largely ignored it…until the heart attack, stroke, or other untimely, and costly, event gets their attention.
I do not see fiat as a solution. A few years ago McDonald’s was shamed into serving healthy choices at many of its locations. So few took advantage of the new products that they were dropped after a short trial. City bans or taxes on sugary beverages just drive consumers to the suburbs for their sugar fix.
We could treat insurance in the same way automobile companies do: lower rates for those who practice good nutrition and get exercise, higher rates for those who smoke and are obese. However, I do not believe this approach has any hope of gaining popular support.
My only thought is education. Starting in preschool and carrying all through college, teach proper nutrition and encourage forms of exercise. Since we feed so many young students, give them only the most healthy foods. Stop cutting out recess and sports. Instead make them focal points of the day. This will be a long, difficult, and often resisted process, and almost certainly only partially successful.
Perhaps our faculty can come up with some more effective answers.
Joe Gano ’64, M.B.A. ’71
The article contains quite a few rebuttable statements. Three examples:
• Health-care administration costs are a big part of the problem, states Professor Cutler. Medicare conceals many of its administrative costs by booking them in a separate entity. Canada and other countries use similar tactics. And Medicare has fewer incentives than the private sector to ferret out uncovered and fraudulent claims, resulting in many billions paid out for those reasons. So, government healthcare does not have a cost advantage over private insurance.
• Greed, according to Mr. Cutler. I would call this by a more objective term, such as pursuit of self-interest. Whatever you call it, are people in Canada, England, and other countries less greedy? People in those countries come to the U.S. for better care and citizens of those countries tend to avoid the medical profession because the government has clamped down on revenues. That’s the pursuit of self-interest.
• Price controls are easy to implement, states the professor. Really? Governments can’t possibly deal with the complexity of an economy, so flounder when things start going wrong under price controls. Friedrich Hayek dealt with this knowledge problem in his writings. Furthermore, special-interest groups get in and manage to milk the system. Witness Nixon’s price controls; people seem to have a dim memory of that disaster.
I believe Mr. Cutler would do well to spend time with Harvard [senior lecturer on economics] Jeffrey Miron, who could suggest some free-market solutions that would entail getting government out of the health-care field instead of getting in more deeply.
Frederick L. Miller ’67
New York City
That Harvard can not provide a deeper analysis of a problem that threatens to bankrupt not only millions of persons, but the government, is a sad commentary about an institution that boasts of its contribution to the public weal. Cutler’s only substantive—if modest—recommendation is more standardization to reduce administrative costs. Much of his paper is devoted to an attack upon pharmaceutical company greed—a problem, to be sure—but even he admits that stricter controls would have only limited results. Worse, he simply evades the crucial issue of rapacity by the medical providers—that is, doctors and hospitals.
Google “fraud” along with any medical field and one will find a plethora of hits. But even those figures are largely limited to the more blatant examples of fraudulent charges to the federal government. But doctor exploitation of patents goes beyond open dishonesty. Overall, there are too many so-called specialists with grandiose notions of what they should earn relative to general practitioners. This imbalance is at its worst in those fields that have lagged in scientific advance and thus specialists have nonsignificant knowledge advantage over G.P.s.
As for hospitals, deliberately arcane charges, growth of local monopolies, ever larger numbers of highly paid bureaucrats, and the increasing transformation of doctors into hired hands leave patients at their mercy.
If any one thinks me too harsh, let me tell a true story. Some years back, new technology resulted in the discovery that the hole in the heart found in babies did not in many cases—estimated at roughly 20 percent of the population—close with time. The result was a frenzy among many cardiologists to push for operation. I know because I was pressured—and I mean pressured. I demurred on the ground that if the hole was life-threateneding for such a large percent of the population, it should have shown up in the statistics (plus my by then well-honed skepticism about doctors). A few years later I saw a brief story in The Wall Street Journal that my surmise had become medical consensus. Did any of those operated upon receive compensation or even a refund? Did any of the doctors pushing for operation despite the lack of any scientific basis face disciplinary action? DREAM ON.
John Braeman ’54
The article makes a few good points, but overiooks several others. He is correct in pointing out thatthe cost of administration, at 30 percent of the total, far exceeds the norm and much of this is rooted in federal regulations and insurance protocoIs that do not actually add vaIue. Most physicians compIain that too much of their time is taken up with paperwork; they wouid much rather spend their valuable time actually delivering care to patients.
The key sentence is “Prices rise when there is nowhere else to go.”
Heaithcare is a service businessjust like any other, and there is no reason that it should not be subject to the same market forces. Fortunately there are business modeIs already in place that point the way to a better way of doing things.
If we want healthcare to be of high quality, widely available, and also cost effective, we need look no further than the pubIic utiIities market. Most people in the U.S. have access to an abundant suppIy of clean water and eIectricity, and most of those services are provided by for-profit companies that are effectiveIy regulated.
The heaIthcare system could be structured aIong the same Iines if only the politicians would get out of the way and let the market do its work.
Scott Simpson, M. Arch. ’75
St. Louis, Reinterpreted
St. Louis, Reinterpreted
Thanks to Marina Bolotnikova for her article on Walter Johnson’s book about St. Louis (“From Lewis and Clark to Michael Brown,” May-June, page 33). My wife and I lived, worked, and raised a son and daughter there from 1947 to 1966. I remember all too clearly how uncomfortable it was, as a white math teacher at a classy white prep school, to lead white students through a crowd of extremely well-dressed, very polite black men and women, quietly protesting the St. Louis “custom” of restricting blacks to the upper balcony for orchestral or opera performances.
From 1949 to 1953, we lived in the suburb of Webster Groves, where a beautiful swimming pool had just been finished. It was funded by white and black taxpayers. But white taxpayers said their kids were not going to swim in a pool with black kids, even though the law said they could and should. The town fathers caved in and decided, despite summer temperatures close to a humid 100 degrees, to shut down the pool. In desperation I wrote a letter to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch lamenting the damages of such a bad decision. Wow! The hate mail started to fill my mailbox. “You must be a n*****,” one writer said, “or a mulatto, which was even worse!”
That led to an invitation for me to speak at a meeting of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. As I again made my plea, several angry members of the group stormed out.
Meet me in St. Louis? Lemme think it over.
Dawes Potter, A.M. ’47
New York City
Thank you for the article. I have mailed it to friends and ordered a copy of Walter Johnson’s important book.
My Harvard class held a mini-reunion in St. Louis a few years ago. We were wined and dined and told the great history of the city. Nothing was said about St. Louis’s racist legacy. It was a wasted opportunity.
The Reverend Fred Fenton ’58
Seal Beach, Calif.
I enjoyed reading the article, but unfortunately its discussion of the history of St. Louis is marred by the sloppy use of the word “capitalism” by both the author and her subject, the Harvard historian Walter Johnson. My dictionary’s definition of capitalism reads “an economic system in which private wealth, lawfully acquired by private enterprise under free competition, lies in the control of its owners: distinguished from socialism.” Ever since Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations in 1776, capitalists have argued that the primary beneficiaries of capitalism have been consumers rather than the fat-cats of industry and commerce. Bolotnikova and Johnson, by contrast, associate “capitalism” with everything they find distasteful, whether or not these have anything at all to do with capitalism properly understood.
Central to Johnson’s historical outlook is the concept of “racial capitalism,” which claims, in Bolotnikova’s words, “that racial hierarchy is built into the very fabric of capitalism in the United States.” Racial capitalism, according to Johnson, has manifested itself in the American past in white supremacy, the dispossession and murder of Native Americans, slavery, racial violence, genocide, settler colonialism, imperialism, militarism, a high incarceration rate for blacks, housing segregation, racist urban planning and zoning regulations, and corporate tax abatements for wealthy corporations. But these, as Johnson notes, were primarily due to the actions of the federal and local government, labor unions, and neighborhood associations, rather than those of capitalists, whose primary objective has been to broaden the scope of decisionmaking by private individuals and to shrink the role of government.
Johnson sees himself as an advocate for what he calls “ordinary people,” and one must therefore ask under what economic system have such people prospered the most. Why does the United States have an immigration rather than an emigration problem involving the working class? Any fair-minded person must certainly lament the travails of blacks in St. Louis, but attributing these to an abstract “capitalism” is misguided. Regrettably, this misuse of “capitalism” and “capitalist” has become pervasive in contemporary America.
Edward Shapiro, Ph.D. ’68
West Orange, N.J.
The article prompted me to buy and avidly read Walter Johnson’s book, The Broken Heart of America. The book helped me understand the origins of social practices and attitudes which I had observed growing up in the city, e.g., the absence of integration in my high school after Brown vs Board of Education in 1954 , the absurd Veiled Prophet Parade, and the unique attributes of Homer G. Phillips Hospital, where I did an obstetrics clerkship during medical school.
Although I left St. Louis in 1963, I have maintained familiarity with the city through family, friends, and return visits. My anecdotal observation is that Black racial prejudice is entrenched to this day in those people who have remained in the city, whereas others who have lived elsewhere and have had experience with integrated society appear to have greater acceptance of diversity. My conclusion is that community leadership failed to give children of my generation proper exposure to prepare for the future. Johnson’s book explains and documents the long history of racial separation in St Louis.
Sylvester Sterioff ’59
The article has “Michael Brown” in the title and refers to the killing of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, which led to the “long-awaited [U.S. Department of Justice] report on Ferguson’s police department” as the article’s lead. Michael Brown had just robbed a convenience store and assaulted the clerk when he was stopped by Officer Wilson. Brown was struggling with the officer to get the officer’s gun when he was shot. Portrayal of the incident as “Hands up, don’t shoot,” which helped to trigger rioting and looting, turned out to be a complete hoax, as thorough investigations showed. That has not stopped some, mainly politicians in furtherance of their own agenda, from describing the Michael Brown killing as “murder.”
Donald Nawi ’58
The excellent opinion piece, “What Counts” (May-June, page 5), makes clear the limitations of faculty governance in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Many if not most other universities, like Stanford, where I now teach, have a faculty senate or council that includes elected representatives from each school. At Stanford, the Faculty Senate has worked well since 1968 to consider and vote on substantive policy issues, and operates collaboratively with the university administration. There is no way an entire FAS faculty of well over 800 members could operate so effectively. It seems past time for FAS, if not Harvard, to consider a similar body.
Thomas Ehrlich ’56, LL.B. ’59
“What counts” brought to mind an observation I read in Harvard Magazine years ago and have never quite forgotten: a statement by the late Professor Samuel Beer (whose Soc Sci 2 class was a highlight of my freshman year).
My memory may not be 100 percent correct, but his words went pretty much like this: “The Harvard faculty, as with any legislative body unfettered by party discipline, can always be counted on to muster a majority against any meaningful proposition.”
Perhaps you can imagine the multitude of times I remembered this wisdom—pertinent way beyond Harvard—while sitting (suffering) through faculty meetings at the university at which I served for many years.
Ken Manaster ’63, LL.B. ’66
Professor of law, emeritus
School of Law, Santa Clara University
Santa Clara, Calif.
I was disappointed that “Healthy Plate, Healthy Planet” (March-April, page 34) did not present the other side of many issues raised. The focus on meat being a major problem is not in line with the majority of good quality evidence. It focuses almost entirely on epidemiology studies which only show correlations, not causations, and which are easily manipulated to show whatever the author’s bias wants to show. The comparison to smoking is false because for epidemiology studies to have any validity the results have to be very strong, like the 1,000 percent to 2,000 percent or more disease risk increase in smokers. In the meat epidemiology studies mentioned, the risk increases are extremely weak at only 13 percent to 20 percent. Many scientists consider those small amounts to be indistinguishable from chance, and ignore any results less than a doubling of risk (100 percent increase). Many other epidemiology and randomized trials show no risk increase from meat.
The environmental costs listed use incorrect math off by an order of magnitude, and also totally ignore that cattle raised with modern regenerative methods actually have a net positive effect on the climate by sequestering more carbon in the soil than is produced by the animals, at the same time building topsoil and vastly reducing erosion and water run off.
Personally, I followed pretty closely the almost vegetarian diet promoted in the article for 30-plus years, until I felt the negative effects it was having on my health. Eating meat again has vastly improved my health and well-being.
On the positive side, the article does mention the negative properties of processed foods, sodas, and other junk foods. But the focus on meat, a nutrient-dense whole food that humans have eaten for millions of years, unwisely and wrongly draws attention away from what I and many others believe is the real problem that should be concentrated on—the ubiquity and vast overconsumption in the modern diet of easily oxidized processed oils, refined carbohydrates, and sugars, which are the real culprits in the epidemics of chronic disease.
Ralph Boas ’70
Calling for divestment of all fossil-fuel equities is a hollow “feel good” placebo which accomplishes nothing practical in terms of combating man-caused global warming, and it requires no sacrifice by its proponents (“Divestment Digest,” May-June, page 25). Instead, perhaps supporters of divestment, including the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, will sign a petition calling for mandatory settings of all HVAC systems in dorms, offices, and classrooms at 88 degrees in summer and 62 degrees in winter. I wonder how many proponents are committed enough to the cause to experience personal discomfort/inconvenience that would make a real difference.
Dale Crane, M.B.A. ’74
Many thanks for the rather eloquent article in the May-June issue (“Will Truth Prevail?” page 27) by 2020 Harvard graduate Drew Pendergrass on his science education. I applaud his enthusiasm but have reservations about what he seems to have learned from history of science professor Naomi Oreskes.
Pendergrass has obviously been much influenced by Oreskes’s book Merchants of Doubt. I recently wrote a critique of the book’s treatment of passive smoking, an issue so entangled in political bias that the truth, which is in fact pretty clear, is hard to see through the smoke. Pendergrass has obviously picked up Oreskes’s habit of dismissing an argument by impugning the motives of the source. She describes (in Pendergrass’s words) “how a small group of contrarian, industry-funded scientists misled the public about the dangers of both tobacco and human-caused climate change. By sowing doubt, exaggerating scientific uncertainty, and creating their own institutions to publish junk papers that would never survive peer review, these individuals undermined public trust in consensus science, delaying action on dangerous problems for years” (emphases added).
A few years ago, I wrote a little book, Unlucky Strike, about the smoking issue. As a kind of experiment, aware of the charges that critics were all in the pay of the tobacco industry, I approached one or two tobacco companies to see if they would help with publication. Surely, I thought, they would be happy to support a book sympathetic to their cause. But no: they had no interest. There is essentially no evidence that scientific critics of the standard line on, say, passive smoking, are all paid to lie on behalf of the tobacco industry.
Passive smoke is dangerous according to the EPA, FDA, and Professor Oreskes. In my book, I mentioned what is probably the best paper that attempted to find an ill effect of passive smoke. The results were negative. Contrary to Oreskes’s claim about studies finding no effect, it was peer reviewed in a respected journal. No errors have been identified in it during the 17 years since its publication. Nevertheless, it is not mentioned by Oreskes and has been ignored and finally excluded from successive reports of the Surgeon General.
I recently became acquainted with some people critical of anthropogenic climate change, another bête noire of Professor Oreskes. Most are physical scientists, many are retired, hence free of work-related political pressure. None of them are associated with the energy industry; all came to their skeptical conclusions by looking at what they could find of the data and arguments.
Drew Pendergrass is right: truth may not always prevail, at least not at first. But truth should be distinguished from belief. Truth is truth; belief may indeed change with the times of culture and politics. The two should not be confused.
Verifiable truth can only come from science, conducted free of concerns about power. Mr. Pendergrass thinks that “scientists should see themselves as part of the public sphere, understanding that knowledge won’t prevail on its own.” No doubt Professor Oreskes would agree. But if scientists turn from science to persuasion and politics, science—truth—will be the loser. Scientists should be as free of political involvement as possible, if only because self-righteous social activism is much easier than science.
John Staddon, Ph.D. ’64
Duke Professor, department of psychology and neuroscience
Professor, department of biology, emeritus
Donovan Moore writes, about Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (Vita, May-June, page 38), “By looking down through a jeweler’s loupe, Payne was able to do what centuries of astronomers had tried to do by looking up through telescopes: determine what stars are made of.” But he oversimplifies here (and in the prologue of his recent biography) to the point of incorrectness, since the breakthrough by “Mrs. G.” (as we called her) was in applying recent theory on how those spectral lines on the photographic plates were formed to her own measurements, not merely by looking at the plates themselves.
It took some observational work by another young researcher, Donald Menzel, and theoretical work by Henry Norris Russell to overturn long-held beliefs that the stars’ elemental abundances were similar to Earth’s. Russell’s hesitancy on CPG’s 1925 conclusion that hydrogen dominates the stars, and later assumption of credit, would probably have been the same for a male graduate student’s thesis. When Menzel became director of the Harvard Observatory in the 1950s, he promptly arranged for Payne-Gaposchkin to be promoted to professor and doubled her salary.
Jay M. Pasachoff ’63, Ph.D. ’69
Field Memorial Professor of astronomy
I read with interest the article on Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin in your May issue, and also your piece on the “Messy Experiment” about the Radcliffe institute. I was myself one of those fellows in 1975-76, and a true rescuer it was. It enabled me to write my first book, to regain my position in academia (my former college had closed), and to eventually finish my academic career by becoming president of Framingham State University. It was quite a ride, and I owed it all to the Institute. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin was my mentor in the days I was writing that first book at the institute, and my second, which I dedicated to her, just before her death. I have written a piece (below) about my relationship with her, which was that of friend and mentor; it shows another side of that absolutely wonderful woman.
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin was a pioneering woman of great distinction: the first person to earn a doctorate in astronomy at Harvard, the first tenured woman on the faculty, the first woman to achieve the rank of full professor, the first woman to be chairperson of a department at Harvard. These academic attainments reflect a brilliant reputation established by numerous articles, books, and countless lectures. There was, however, another side to this modest, gracious woman, which had nothing to do with variable stars, stellar atmospheres, or galactic structures. That side was Cecilia as valued friend, generous mentor, and life model.
I first met Cecilia while searching for materials on Frances Trollope’s life for my doctoral dissertation. An acquaintance mentioned a woman astronomer at Harvard, whom he had met on an Atlantic crossing and who had mentioned owning some Trollopiana. These clues led to a Harvard office bursting with astronomical data and books. Dr. Gaposchkin welcomed me graciously and was at once genuinely interested in my work. Mrs. Trollope had been the good friend of her great grandmother, Julia Garnett Pertz, who for 25 years had been the center of a large circle of friends whose correspondence she had preserved, which was now Dr. Gaposchkin’s property.
To my astonishment, she offered me all her treasured family letters for as long as I would need them. She knew how important it was, she said, that a woman with a young family be able to work at home. She was delighted to know that she was being “of some use.” She invited me to keep in touch, offered to help decipher difficult passages, even to transcribe the letters. She later compiled an enormous index identifying all the people mentioned in the correspondence.
When I finished my dissertation and wanted to return the materials, I told Dr. Gaposchkin of my hope of writing a full-length biography of Mrs. Trollope some day when my four children were older. I was, at the time, also teaching full time. “But why not start now,” she said, and sent the letters back home with me again. Dr. Gaposchkin had mastered both worlds, one of revolving galaxies, the other of husband, home, and children. Why couldn’t I? Her example made that achievement seem within my reach.
Whenever I came to see her, whether to deliver a chapter for her perusal or to discuss some research problems, she greeted me with the question: “I hope you have something for me to read?” She examined my work with an unfailing eye, frequently saving me from mistakes. She was my first and gentlest critic, giving me a sympathetic audience when there was no other. When she went off on her worldwide scientific trips, she always asked if she could do some research for me. “You know,” she said. “I hate sitting around in hotel rooms, so you’ll be doing me a favor to let me help.” And so, she examined tax records, checked birth certificates, and even found Mrs. Trollope’s correct date of birth, about which all the other biographers had been wrong. With great glee, she brought me a photostat of the evidence, along with a newspaper star-horoscope for the day, which announced, “You will be of help to a friend by making a discovery.” When my biography of Mrs. Trollope was finished and sent out, she assured me, during those dark days of rejections, that if my work had integrity, it would win through in the end. And it did.
Once, Cecilia showed me an article she had come across in which a young woman wrote of the difficulty in her youth of finding appropriate role models. Nancy Drew, little Beth, “sappy nurses, and dedicated teachers,” were all that seemed possible, until at 14, she discovered a book on astronomy written by a woman. “And whether it was that she looked pretty on her dust jacket or that I had never run across a woman-anything-interesting before, or that she had the most absolutely terrific name I had ever heard, I wanted to be Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin when I grew up.”
Even grown-up women need role models. Among those nineteenth-century correspondents who wrote to Cecilia’s great-grandmother was a lady who composed poems memorializing the famous people she met and admired, calling them “Stars of My Life.” Cecilia Payne-Gaposchgkin was one of the brightest stars in mine.
Helen Heineman, RI ’74
President emerita, Framingham State University
Additional letters on homeschooling follow:
I am a long time reader of Harvard Magazine and have never felt so compelled to contact the magazine as I have today after reading Erin O’Donnell’s essay detailing Prof. Elizabeth Bartholet’s supremely arrogant and astoundingly biased take on homeschooling- “The Risks of Homeschooling” – May/June 2020. The professor’s blatantly anti-Christian and appallingly elitist attitudes on display in your august periodical is an embarrassment to the whole university.
As a credentialed math teacher, I was blessed to know many homeschooled students in the role of math tutor and I would say that a finer group of optimistic, patriotic and highly literate families and children could not be found in ANY school. To assert that the motivation to homeschool is ‘authoritarian’ is an insulting calumny based on thin evidence and presumptive ‘progressive’ ideology which holds that the state must impose its interpretation of social values of ‘nondiscrimination and tolerance’ on all students. That’s the problem – we no longer hold common values. That Professor Bartholet touts the (possibly elaborated) example of Tara Westover’s dysfunctional homeschooling experience is dishonest and gives a nod to a sensational story best left to the ladies’ book groups for which ‘Westover’s memoir Educated is fodder.
The professor of law spreads her insults far afield. Her diatribe against homeschooling presumes to abrogate parents’ authority to raise and educate their children, as is a parent’s natural right. As a Catholic, the natural family unit, as imperfect as it may be, is the basic unit of society and the locus of the Domestic Church, in which parents bear the serious responsibility to inculcate values and educate their children as they know and humbly see fit. Sadly, for many parents the ‘social values’ put forth in many local public schools are incompatible with long held traditional values, (e.g. the ludicrous ‘pronoun wars.’)
Really, I fear for Harvard with tenured professors like Bartholet in position to put forth such prejudiced and off putting policy opinions as detailed in this essay. I say to Professor Bartholet, (to quote the eco-obsessed Nordic waif Greta Thunberg,) ‘How Dare you!’
Eileen Guerin ’80
Hampton Falls, N.H.
As a Harvard alum, longtime donor, education researcher, and homeschooling mother of four children in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I was shocked to read the article, “The Risks of Homeschooling,” by Erin O’Donnell in Harvard Magazine’s new May-June 2020 issue.
Aside from its biting, one-sided portrayal of homeschooling families that is not reflective of the vast majority of today’s homeschoolers, it is filled with misinformation and incorrect data. Here are five key points that challenge the article’s primary claim that the alleged “risks for children—and society—in homeschooling” necessitate a “presumptive ban on the practice”:
1. Protecting Children from Abuse
I agree with the author of the article and Harvard Law School professor, Elizabeth Bartholet, who is widely quoted throughout, that it is critically important that children be protected from abuse. They argue that sending children to school prompts “mandated reporters,” such as teachers and school administrators, to identify possible child abuse. But many parents choose to homeschool their children to remove them from abuse at school, whether it’s widespread bullying by peers or, tragically, rampant abuse by teachers and school administrators themselves. Child abuse is horrific wherever it occurs, but singling out homeschooling parents as potential abusers simply because they do not send their children to school is both unfair and troubling. Child abuse laws exist in all states and should be rigorously enforced. 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.
2. Recognizing Homeschooling’s Diversity
One of the more incorrect assertions in the article is the statement that up to 90 percent of today’s homeschooling families are “driven by conservative Christian beliefs.” It is true that religious conservatives were key to the growth of homeschooling in the late-20th century, as the number of US homeschoolers swelled to 850,000 in 1999. About two-thirds of today’s nearly two million US homeschoolers identify as Christian (equal to the US population as a whole), but the homeschooling population is becoming increasingly diverse, both ideologically and demographically. According to the most recent data on homeschooling by the US Department of Education, the most significant motivator for parents choosing this education option was “concern about the school environment, such as safety, drugs, and negative peer pressure,” exceeding other factors such as a desire to provide religious or moral instruction. Much of the current growth in homeschooling is being driven by urban, secular parents who are disillusioned with a test-driven, one-size-fits-all mass schooling model and want a more individualized educational environment for their children. Federal data also reveal that the percentage of black homeschoolers doubled between 2007 and 2012 to eight percent, while the percentage of Hispanic homeschoolers is about 25 percent.
3. Embracing Civic Values
Bartholet also argues against homeschooling on civic grounds, saying that it’s “important that children grow up exposed to community values, social values, democratic values, ideas about nondiscrimination and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints.” Indeed, research on homeschoolers finds that they are tightly connected with their larger community and may have more community involvement and participation in extracurricular and volunteer activities than schooled children due to their more flexible schedules and interaction with a wide assortment of community members. This reinforces similar research on private education more broadly, suggesting positive civic engagement and outcomes. Moreover, public schools are struggling to inculcate a strong understanding of democratic values and civic knowledge. According to a 2017 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, 37 percent of Americans could not identify one right protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution, and more than half of them erroneously believe that undocumented immigrants have no constitutional rights. Worrying about homeschoolers’ civic education when public schools are seemingly floundering in this regard is misguided.
4. Ensuring the Proper Role of Government
The central tension between those who advocate for homeschooling bans and heightened regulation and those who don’t relates to how each side views the proper role of government. The former sees a proactive role of government in “intervening to try to safeguard the child’s right to education and protection,” while the latter relies on the historical underpinnings of our democracy, going back to the writings of John Locke and Thomas Jefferson. We are endowed with “unalienable rights” and that to “secure these rights, governments are instituted.” If a child is being abused, whether in a homeschooling situation or a public school classroom, the government should intervene to protect that child. But to single out a particular group for increased suspicion, monitoring, and invasion of privacy under the guise of “protection” is as un-American as similar attempts of the past. I agree with Bartholet when she says in the article: “I think it’s always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless, and to give the powerful ones total authority.” She is concerned with families having this power, while I worry about giving that power to government.
5. Identifying Homeschooling Outcomes
In 2018, The Harvard Gazette spotlighted three Harvard students who were homeschooled using an informal, self-directed approach to learning.
“There wasn’t much of a plan or a long-term plan going in; I just took classes I was interested in,” said one of the students, while another asked, “Why would you go to the same building every day and do the same thing every day?” The article said that the students all demonstrated a “spirit of curiosity and independence that continues to shape their education.” While there may always be outliers and more research is needed, most peer-reviewed studies on homeschooling outcomes find that homeschoolers generally outperform their schooled peers academically, and have positive life experiences.
There is room for robust discussion and debate about education and homeschooling, including what is considered effective and beneficial—and who decides. Given Harvard Magazine’s reputation for editorial excellence, I was disappointed to see this article’s emphasis on the potential risks of homeschooling without highlighting its benefits. Bartholet indicates that “tolerance of other people’s viewpoints” is a key civic value. I agree, and I hope future articles in this magazine demonstrate this tolerance.
Kerry McDonald, Ed.M. ’01
Your article “The Risks of Homeschooling” is based on assertations which are demonstrably false.
Your author writes that homeschooling “keeps [homeschoolers] from contributing positively to a democratic society.” But the statistics say otherwise. By age 25-49, over 98% of homeschooler graduates vote, compared to 40% of the regular population. Up to 70% of homeschool adults are committed to ongoing public service, and over 45% of them are vocal – they write letters, sign petitions, and volunteer in political issues.
As students, homeschoolers are out in the open. Over 95% are involved in two or more outside activities, including sports, music lessons, and volunteerism. Since they don’t learn in an age-segregated environment, homeschool students and families regularly interact with adults and children of all ages.
Most importantly, your article misrepresented the reason for homeschooling. Over 80% of these parents choose homeschooling because of “a concern about environment in other schools,” according to a U.S. Department of Education study published as recently as June, 2019. Over 6o% of parents rightfully believe they are providing a better education; homeschool student academic scores average over the 80th percentile. Parental education, family income, and state regulation have no impact on those findings.
Public opinion regarding homeschooling may vary, but the facts remain that homeschooling benefits everyone – students and society.
U.S. Department of Education. Parent and Family Involvement in Education: Results from the National Household Education Surveys Program of 2016. June, 2019.
Ray, Brian R., Ph.D. Home Education Reason and Research: Common Questions and Research-Based Answers About Homeschooling. February, 2009.
Lea Ann Garfias
Author of the upcoming reference volume, Everything You Need to Know About Homeschooling. A homeschool graduate and homeschooling mother of six, including two graduates, she has written two other books on homeschooling, including Homeschool Made Easy.
Harvard Law Professsor, Elizabeth Bartholet wants complete government control of education.
She warns in the May Harvard Alumni magazine, that “we should ban home schooling”. She claims home schooling violates a child’s right to a “meaningful education,’.
She further adds that “up to 90% of home school families are driven by conservative Christian Beliefs”. Is that bad?
The education policies of Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler, was state control of education.
How did that turn out?
Professor Bartholet has the support of union bosses and the enornous money they control. There are about 5 million members of the two teachers unions (NEA and AFT). In addition with their affiliation with the AFL-CIO there are another 12 million union members. They not only control the jobs of 17 million Americans but also the political spending of over $100 million – virtually all of it goes to politicians of the Democrat party.
Student Tests scores are only one of many measurement of achievement when evaluating different education outcomes. In New Hampshire home schooled students consistently make the highest scores in the college board examinations.
The question to be asked of Professor Bartholet – should a few highly paid union bosses, limit a parent’s choice of how to educate their children, – currently public, religious, charter school or home schooling. These union bosses control the jobs of 17 million members, forced to pay union dues if they want to keep their job. Are these few politically connected bosses better able to decide than the parents, of the best form of education for their children?
I ask readers of the Harvard Magazine, “ should home schooling be banned in the United States’, as proposed by Professor Bartholet?
David Scott ’51, M.B.A. ’53
Upon reading the article published in the online May-June 2020 issue, entitled “The Risks of Homeschooling”, I found myself rather upset and concerned about the biased and inaccurate opinion being put forth by the author, and more directly, by Ms Elizabeth Bartholet. Mrs Bartholet seems to give a personal opinion that homeschooling is detrimental to children and should be abolished, based upon not what is actually happening, but what theoretically might happen in a worst case scenario. She claims that if legislators and the American people were to examine homeschooling, that they would “conclude that something ought to be done”. Yet the article does not actually examine homeschooling, but rather puts forth a series of suppositions and possibilities regarding the results of, basically, poor parenting in general.
As both a homeschool graduate and homeschool parent, I would like to put forth a realistic account for those reading the article who have not had any actual experience with homeschooling.
First of all, Ms. Bartholet points out that homeschool parents are not required to have a teaching certificate or any formal instruction in teaching, and that parents could theoretically homeschool their children without providing them with an actual education. While I must confess this is possible, I would also like to note that it is also possible for a person to graduate from a public high school and still be functionally illiterate. In fact, in 2015, 28% of high school seniors scored below basic competency in reading in the National Center for Education Statistics report (https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/pdf/coe_cnb.pdf page 3). The most powerful factor in student literacy? Parental involvement (https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED496346.pdf). Whether we homeschool or not, our children’s success in education rests in our commitment. Requiring homeschool parents to prove their ability and commitment to the state, as Ms. Bartholet contends should be done, is no more feasible than requiring the parents of public schooled children to prove their commitment to their children’s education before accepting them into school.
In general, homeschooled parents are far and away more committed to their children’s education than the parents of many children currently enrolled in the public school system. While the legalities of homeschool legislation may seem simple to a lawyer or a professor of law, the research and effort put into legally homeschooling a child, not taking into account the effort of actually educating them, is enormous, and not something that a person would do just to be able to have their child be home and not go to school. Enough with the hypotheticals: let’s focus on what is actually happening.
Realistically, it is commonly accepted that homeschooled students score better on standardized tests than students in public school. High profile schools, like Harvard itself, actively recruit homeschool students because of their higher SAT scores and better adjustment to self-directed learning.( https://www.businessinsider.com/homeschooling-is-the-new-path-to-harvard…)
In fact, even when the Standardized Test scores are controlled for demographic influences, homeschooled students still performed as well as their public schooled peers. (https://icher.org/blog/?p=3711). While laws vary across the country, it is easy to see that homeschooling is NOT casually taking a child out of school and not providing them an education. The reality is that is not what is happening. Homeschooling parents are committed to the education and well being of their children, enough to sacrifice time and often income to ensure their children are successful. The test scores and successes of homeschooled students proves this to be fact, not unfounded opinion.
Ms Bartholet furthermore resurrects the tired idea that homeschooling removes children from mainstream culture and isolates them from influences outside their homes. Anyone with any experience with the homeschool community knows this simply is not so. Homeschoolers can and do participate in community projects and social events, and even play sports alongside their public school peers. In fact, they have fought hard to be accepted and allowed to play sports with public school children.
Homeschooling is not about isolation or fear of diversity as Ms Bartholet seems to suggest. The article claims that 90% of homeschooling families surveyed chose to homeschool in order to pursue Christian values as opposed to mainstream society, and even tries to focus on the alt-right fringe that “question science and promote female subservience and white supremacy”. While it cannot be argued that sometimes such groups do choose to homeschool, the NCES survey from the 2011-2012 school year showed that 91% of homeschool families chose to homeschool because of fears around school safety (https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=91), not religious values.
The article further paints homeschooling as dangerous because it could theoretically facilitate child abuse by keeping children away from mandatory reporters, like teachers. The article cites a tragic but sensational case of a child who was homeschooled by extremist parents in the 1990’s as proof that this could happen. Truthfully, we don’t have to look back nearly thirty years to see sensational examples of abuse by homeschooling families or families whose children fell through the cracks of “the system”, even while attending public school or in state care.
While unfortunately such cases exist, homeschooling is not in practice a means to child abuse, anymore than the purpose of public education is to protect students from their parents in general. In fact, many parents find the school environment detrimental to their children’s mental and physical health, with bullying and violence a daily threat, not only from students but from teachers. In one survey (https://childrenstreatmentcenter.com/sexual-abuse-teachers/) seven percent of the surveyed eight through eleventh graders reported sexual misconduct by a teacher or coach, not counting incidents like exposure to illicit images by an adult.
While this obviously does not mean that all teachers- or even a majority of them- are predators, it does thoroughly do away with the idea that children are generally safer in schools than being homeschooled.
Lastly, the article, using Ms. Bartholet’s negative views, takes this rhetorical criticism a step further, claiming that homeschooling prevents children from learning the social values of tolerance and nondiscrimination and is therefore actually dangerous to our democracy. While it is ludicrous to assert that children need to spend six or seven hours a day confined to classrooms segregated by age and abilities in order to learn these values, I will address the underlying concern.
Homeschool students are not white Christian isolationists who live under a rock in Montana, and have no interaction with others outside our own community. Quite the opposite.
Although it is true that 83% of homeschoolers are white, as opposed to 60% of the general population, there is still a good deal of diversity in our community ( https://nces.ed.gov/programs/schoolchoice/ind_05.asp); a diversity that is growing steadily. As stated above, homeschoolers are active participants in our community, from religious aspects, like church and related endeavors, to social media networking and political participation. Also pointed out in the article, homeschool families are very politically active, challenging laws and ordinances in the effort to be able to educate our children in the manner that we feel is best for them, in a safe environment. How being politically active and raising our children to be informed, responsible citizens is detrimental to our great Republic I do not understand, but I very much resent the implication that myself and my family would be the cause of our Nation’s undoing by our choices in education. As concerned as Ms. Bartholet may be for our children’s instruction in tolerance and diversity, I find her heavy handed call for the abolishment of the lifestyle of four percent of the nation to be extremely bigoted. I would expect better from the publications of a school that so actively recruits homeschool students.
Sitting at my desk preparing to delve into the world of Complex Analysis, I received a text from a homeschooled friend in New Jersey. Like me, he is a mathematics major pursuing teacher certification, and he recommended that I read Erin O’Donnell’s Harvard Magazine article “The Risks of Homeschooling,” humorously pointing out that the artist who created the illustration presented a caricature of home education consisting of Bible, Writing, Reading, and “Arithmatic.”
O’Donnell sums up Bartholet’s concerns stating, “Homeschooling… not only violates children’s right to a “meaningful education” and their right to be protected from potential child abuse but may keep them from contributing positively to a democratic society.” As I read the article, it was hard to suppress my frustration at the misrepresented position of homeschoolers, yet I am a firm believer in civil disagreement and public discourse that can better all participants, so I aim to answer some of Bartholet’s objections from my own experience of being homeschooled with respect, humility, and a fair amount of conviction.
Is it true that homeschooling violates a child’s right to a meaningful education? For the sake of this discussion, I would argue that a “meaningful education” consists of a student’s growth in social development, acquisition of knowledge, and ability to independently obtain or discover information. I believe that, during my 12 years of homeschooling, my parents and other parents with whom we collaborated were actively pursuing these goals. Co-op programs in which families joined to contribute their own unique areas of expertise to the education experience were extremely influential in our social development. In fact, because multiple adults and students of all different ages shared the same learning space, it prepared my peers and me to interact in the real world, where people are not segregated into classes or grades based on how old they are or how well they perform in a particular subject.
Homeschooling provided numerous occasions to interact with people who were different culturally, religiously, politically, economically. Additionally, I was not hindered in my acquisition of knowledge as a homeschooler. Despite the fact that I had to take Algebra I twice (the second time on the couch over Christmas break), I am about to graduate from Worcester State University and enter the workforce with an undergraduate degree in mathematics. More importantly, homeschooling gave me the tools to independently acquire new knowledge. Instead of being spoon fed by teachers, parents, or peers, I was increasingly encouraged to seek out answers, ask questions, and discover the art of acquiring knowledge.
Bartholet’s concerns about child abuse, while honorable and expressive of legitimate heartfelt concern for the wellbeing of students, must be answered statistically instead of speculatively. I would encourage Bartholet and anyone with similar concerns to consult academic research about these topics. It may be surprising to find that homeschooled students are no more likely than their public-school counterparts to experience physical and sexual abuse (https://www.nheri.org/child-abuse-of-public-school-private-school-and-ho…). I am not pretending that I am an expert on this matter, but given the serious nature and implications of this discourse, I would appeal to Bartholet to follow due process, assuming innocence until guilt is proven, and to consult facts rather than relying on opinions.
Finally, I would like to address Bartlett’s concern that students may not be able to participate in a democratic society. Throughout my K-12 education, I crossed paths with hundreds of homeschooled students. From co-ops, to after school bands, to speech and debate tournaments, it would be impossible to list all the students I met who were homeschooled like me. While I cannot definitively make claims for all of these people, I know for a fact that the majority of them are doing extraordinary work of excelling in their fields of study, exceeding expectations in their places of employment, and increasing their economic and political activity, generally “contributing positively” to a democratic society.
While there are many other points I would like to engage, including Bartholet’s hostility towards traditional Christian values, for the sake of brevity I will have to be satisfied with extending to Bartholet a warm, heartfelt invitation to converse more on this topic. I will openly concede that homeschooling is not perfect. Is any form of education? Certainly, the responsibilities of the parent to provide for their children must be taken seriously as there will be lasting negative impacts otherwise. Nonetheless, Bartholet does not address these concerns in a meaningful or constructive way, and, rather, presents a caricature of homeschooling which she can easily tear down and “presumptively ban.”
I am a former homeschooler. I received a meaningful education. I contribute positively to my community. My story is not unique. Bartholet’s uninformed assertions cannot be ignored, dismissed, or excused.
Elizabeth Bartholet’s Homeschool Article is shortsighted, narrow-minded and almost entirely free from the reality of homeschool parents and children. Most homeschool parents are excellent and homeschool children traditionally are above their public school peers’ averages in testing and general scholarship. My wife holds a graduate degree in Counseling and I am presently writing my dissertation. We’re not that unusual – many homeschool parents hold advanced degrees. The author is correct in one respect…children absolutely should be free from abuse and powerful, unaccountable adults which is one of the primary reasons we choose to homeschool. Additionally, the Bible utilized as a mocking illustration is quite similar to the one which was routinely quoted in Harvard’s original charter.
I can’t believe Harvard would give the platform to someone who believes homeschooling is abuse.
I homeschool my kids and I actually wanted my son to go to Harvard. I thought Harvard was an exceptional school who understood learning happened in many ways. It hurts me to see us being targeted by some lady whose believes are against the my Constitutional right to educate, teach my religious beliefs, and raise my kids the way I know is right.
Devastated. Beyond hurt and disgusting with Harvard. I hope this makes all the homeschool body that has and is in Harvard stand up for what’s is right. The liberties we have in this country are for a reason!
Park City, Utah
“The Risks of Homeschooling” (and Elizabeth Bartholet’s ALR article “Homeschooling: Parent Rights Absolutism VS. Child Rights To Education & Protection” upon which information in this article is based), is a horrible misrepresentation of homeschooling. Many of her assertions about homeschooling (and in the referenced article as well) come from assertions that are unsubstantiated in the source text(s), from data that represents a community from the 1980s and 1990s or is at least 10 years out of date, or comes from sources and studies admittedly biased toward a religious slant. Several of her examples (as with Tara Westover) are extreme examples, and not at all representative of millions of families that homeschool responsibly.
But the blatant misrepresentation is endemic in Bartholet’s information. For instance, data from the DOE’s 2012 and 2016 National Household Education Surveys Program indicates that the most prevalent reason for homeschooling in BOTH of those years was “the school environment, such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure,” far outstripping both moral and religious reasons for doing so, in both the ratings of ‘Most Important Reason” and “An Important Reason.” This stands patently at odds with the assertion made that “surveys of homeschoolers show that a majority of such families (by some estimates, up to 90 percent) are driven by conservative Christian beliefs.” (And it should be noted, that ‘estimate’ was sourced to Justin Driver’s book, where it has no attribution.)
I have my Ph.D. in Anthropology from SUNY at Buffalo, and have been an educator at colleges, universities, High-School Equivalency programs, and have been involved with the Western New York homeschooling communities at many different levels. New York has rigorous standards, and students must show academic progress and have their curriculum overseen by their local public schools. Hardly the situation presented to your readers.
I find it ironic that Harvard Magazine printed an article condemning homeschooling at a time when 51 million students have suddenly begun school at home.
I am a graduate of Harvard (’90) and have homeschooled both my children from K-12. The elder achieved national science awards and was a Presidential Scholar; she was accepted early at Dartmouth. The younger is currently deciding between Oxford and Yale.
The statistics in the Erin O’Donnell’s article “The Risks of Homeschooling” and the Arizona Law Review article it is based on are deliberately skewed to focus on the outliers – saying a “majority to 90%” are homeschooling for religious reasons emphasizes the 90% and downplays the government statistics that suggest that for some time, religiously-inspired homeschooling is becoming less dominant in homeschool circles.
Footnote 33 in Bartholet’s article notes: “In 2016, 16% of parents indicated to the National Center on Education Statistics (“NCES”) that “religious instruction” was their “most important” reason for homeschooling, while 51% deemed religious instruction an “important” reason.”
Surely, that statistic from one of the best available non-ideological sources deserves to be up front, not relegated to a footnote. But I suppose 16% doesn’t sound threatening enough to justify banning homeschooling. Since a mere 28% of high school biology teachers cover evolution in a rigorous way (Science, 2011), the tragedy of children learning science through books like Land Animals of the Sixth Day is balanced out by the superior education in sciences many homeschoolers receive.
Using Tara Westover in Educated as the “example homeschooler” is like using Liz Murray in Breaking Night (Harvard ’09) as the “example public schooler.”
I belong to a 50,000-strong secular homeschooling group. Here are a few reasons families homeschool:
Schools are unable to meet children’s special education needs, whether they be learning disabled or profoundly gifted, or, as often happens, both. Many of these families have some children in public education, while their siblings are at home.
Many minority families homeschool because their public schools have a culture of low expectations for minority students.
Geography or travel can make it difficult to conform with a typical school year schedule, particularly for military families.
Students’ anxiety about school shootings, bullying, or other issues can make it impossible for them to concentrate at school.
The amount of oversight varies tremendously by state and even by school district. There are states with no reporting requirements, and those with rigorous reporting, required work samples and public-school teacher oversight.
I am a strong advocate for public schools, but they are not the only route for education. O’Donnell’s article and Bartholet’s Arizona Law Review paper misrepresent the face of homeschooling today.
Kate Laird ’90
Author of Homeschool Teacher: A Practical Guide to Inspiring Academic Excellence
I wanted to let you know how uniformed your recent article on homeschooling is. We have homeschooled for 8 years, and have encountered numerous other homeschool families. None of which even slightly compare to what was written in your article. Our kids as well as hundreds of others in the state of Colorado participate in a once a week program sponsored by the public school system. Out of those hundreds of families, there are many different cultural and religious/nonreligious backgrounds. This article was extremely biased from the outset, and did not even attempt to hide that fact. I would think an institution of your caliber would require articles to present ALL facts, including those opposed to the author’s bias. Your author could have asked the states to see homeschoolers standardized tests scores, most of them blow public school averages out of the water. Most homeschoolers get far more “hands on” learning and real-world experiences than public school kids, and they get one on one personalized instruction. Yes, many students come from religious backgrounds, which in turn encourages, morality, kindness, compassion, respect, and patriotism. Things many folks now realize are seriously lacking in schools in America.
As a white family from the South, I have yet to meet anyone teaching their children White Supremacy! What a racist thing to write! I do see that homeschooling is more prevalent in white families, which I believe had the author been truly researching, would prove is due to income inequality. More white families tend to be middle class, and therefore can afford for one parent to be home with their children. Families of color also scale higher on the single parent bracket, which of course does not lend itself to homeschooling. Those are real facts, not opinion, which you author could have used.
I would suggest you pull the article from your publication, and issue an apology to thousands of homeschool families, you have slandered so willingly.
I was incredibly appalled at your recent article by Erin O’Donnell with ‘The risks of homeschooling”/”What rights do children have in homeschooling?” I find it the title change telling as well as the fact that the comments section are closed for the article. It seems that Harvard University of all places would have decent enough editors to notice that ‘Arithmatic” is misspelled in an article calling into question the ability of homeschoolers to educate. Especially when the article has the audacity to insinuate that homeschooling parents are an illiterate bunch of child abusers hiding behind bibles. The articles goes on to say that homeschoolers are not able to tolerate different walks of life which is incredibly rich when that is exactly what this article does. How dare people actually educate and raise their own children in their own world view like Harvard seeks to do?! The ironic thing is the article doesn’t argue that children should have the right to be educated in the way they see fit or some notion of freedom. The problem is that the power is resting in parents and not the state. When that is coming from the most powerful university in America it becomes painfully clear that it is your own lack of influence and power and not about the welfare of children. And the data, the science, is clear- it is the parent’s responsibility and there is no one better suited than the two biological parents (barring extreme/tragic circumstances) of child to raise them. For most of human history children have been educated at home and the greatest thinkers did not attend anything close to what modern schools look like.
I understand that the higher education bubble has been long overdue to burst and our current crisis is likely going to push that forward so you all are trying to do damage control but this is pretty disgusting, poorly written, an embarrassment for your editors and university at large. Imagine, Harvard University has the audacity to charge a quarter of a million dollars for an English degree and its magazine can’t even keep simple spelling errors out of its cover art for its poorly researched, embarrassingly written articles. Keep this up and you’ll bankrupt yourselves you won’t need all these child abusing illiterate homeschoolers to put you out of a job.
Good luck with your cause.
A recent article submitted by Erin O’Donnell is filled with erroneous information about homeschooling in the United States.
First I fact checked with the National Center for Education Statistics and the most prevalent reasons parents have chosen to homeschool as stated on their survey:
“The biggest factors leading parents to the homeschool option were concerns about the environment at their schools, while a desire to provide more instruction, and a dissatisfaction with traditional schools’ academic performance, also ranked high among families.”
I myself do not homeschool for religious reasons but boldly made the decision to pull my kids from the school system a year and a half ago because the school was not meeting my children’s educational needs, among other dissatisfactory reasons. They were being left to themselves in a classroom that was twice the size it should have been and led by a teacher that could not handle her responsibilities, an underpaid, underappreciated teacher. I care for teachers in our country. The supplies, the pay, the policies they work under, I would not wish on anyone. But the article doesn’t mention the stress that teachers are under and how it affects the classroom experience and their students. My daughter came home crying several times because children were being bullied in the classroom and not just by peers but by teachers.
Let me ask you, if you need to go to the restroom, do you need to raise your hands in front of 20 other peers with a hand signal stating how badly you need to go and/or what you need to do in the restroom? That seems like the jail bars to me.
Let’s see now, I wonder if the school system even knows what they are doing. Starts with FASFA testing (during my time) then moves to a completely different style of teaching, Common Core, which is now moving…, to what I ask? I want no part of it. Ten years ago we were eradicating recess time for our kids, now research shows, what we knew all along, kids need to be outdoors, they need unstructured play, they need recess. So, does that mean the school system is again changing its policies? And these are just two examples of the thousands that have passed through the school system during my time.
It seems to me, your writer, Erin, should be more focused on the school system not knowing how to educate a child.
I was also wondering, if the main source quoted in this article, Bartholet, has read the history of the beginning of compulsory education in this country?
While I do agree that child abuse cases are seen in the homeschool environment, cases of child abuse are also seen in schools and happen while children are at school by the professionals alluded to in this article. Both sides should be presented. If not, this is merely an opinion piece and not one that seeks to educate our community about the educational system today.
Now I will turn to the image of the child at home behind bars. I wonder if she has any knowledge, at all, of homeschooling. I would love the opportunity to ask her how many interviews she might have conducted with homeschooling families or children. I wonder how much research she did about real-life homeschool days and stories. I would love to see a sample of her research and her findings. As far as I am concerned, I am part of a homeschool community with hundreds of families and that is just in my little area.
Would you like to know where our children school? They do science at the nature center (the classes are out of this world amazing), we take hikes and study out in the field, when they learn about reptiles they are feeding them, touching them and vividly studying them. The experiments my kid have access to takes them to field and then back to the classroom to dissect, to study under microscopes or as a team to study the way a tree grows or how to track and study prints.
We do art classes at the city’s art museum and at the library, with guests that are real artists and book illustrators.
We attend music classes and are part of a large homeschool band, the kids learn to play their instruments as part of a team and spend hours on music each week. We have competed at states and regionals and our students always score superior and excellent. They love music, have the absolute best music teacher, and spend their time perfecting their instrument. I know homeschooled kids that play three instruments with different levels of our band program. These are amazing kids.
We do field trips and big ones! When we study space, we visit Kennedy Space Center. This year NASA hosted a class inside their educational pavilion closed to the public and it was all free for us. When we read our first Mark Twain book we went to Disney World and rode the steam ship. Because so few kids were on board they were all taught how to drive the ship and turn, an incredible experience even for me. We went on Tom Sawyer Island and knew all the places and all the characters and the kids pretended to be Mark Twain out in the banks of the Mississippi.
When we studied bugs and insects we went to Blue Springs to see the fireflies at night. When we studied Florida we went to DeLeon Springs, had a guided tour of their museum and played in the springs all day. When we did the Titanic we all went to the Titanic museum. We studied Jane Goodall and James Audubon and nature journaled in our nature preserves. We studied bees and met with a local bee keeper to see their hives. The list is endless. And this all happened just this year (and it’s not even the full list). Our field trips were cut short due to COVID19.
We attend co-ops. Kids take anatomy from nurses that worked in the field. I teach writing, and I was a writing instructor at the University of Miami, School of Communication, for years. Their teachers are dedicated. My daughters 50 states class this year had a states and capitals relay race where they taped the entire United States, all 50 states, on the floor of the huge entrance to our co-op facility. I couldn’t believe it. If I had a place to learn like my kids do, maybe I would have loved school. Maybe I would have loved every minute of learning. Maybe it would have awaked my strengths, my desires and passions. And this is just the tip of what all of our teachers do for our homeschooled kids.
Lastly, do I have authoritarian control over my kids? I think not! Nor do I have the time for that, and my kids would vouch for that. They are dropped off at activities, they are at playdates with friends, they attend functions while I work and socialize with other moms. My son still manages to get himself into all sorts of trouble, my daughter leads clubs and runs club meetings and they each pursue their own interests, as well as myself.
We homeschool because my kids have the right to a meaningful education and have the right to be protected from child abuse and gun shots that ring all across America.
This is just the very edge of our homeschooling experience. My kids have the entire community that teach them. I wonder which set of students are really being exposed to community values? To social values? And to ideas of tolerance? Those that are dropped off and sit inside a 4-walled building all day, or those being taught in the community? What do you think?
And if you read the latest research, it is homeschooled kids that score better in communication, in exams, in problem solving and show more engagement in hobbies. Research finds that homeschooled kids are more likely to take part in political events and are more knowledgeable about democratic values.
“A new study published in The Journal of College Admission suggests that homeschool students enjoy higher ACT scores, grade point averages and graduation rates compared with other college students. … Homeschool students earned more college credits (14.7) prior to their freshmen year than other students (6.0).”
I wonder if Erin read any of those articles?
And if this is actually an opinion article (as it seems to me), then it should be clearly stated. Which takes us back to my first point, would Erin be able to illustrate or reference her research findings?
Thank you for your time.
Home School Mom of 3
As a former teacher and current home school parent, let me share a few comments in response to the article by Erin O’Donnell, “The Risks of Homeschooling”
Sadly, I haven’t seen such a piece of biased reporting in a while, especially with the lack of input from anyone pro homeschooling.
And, there are plenty of pro homeschooling sources available, both in the form of studies and personal experience. However, it’s very easy to gloss over the other side when such small space is dedicated to pushing an agenda. I hope you will consider the other side of this educational option.
Plus, please note, the illustration has incorrect spelling. Oh yes, please, lets ban homeschooling says the article yet apparently can’t demonstrate proper spelling. Can we say ironic?
Why would we ever consider banning home schooling when it is probably the best educational option available? Homeschooling is not the best option for everyone and it’s not the only option for education outside of public education. But it is a great option for many and worth the time and sacrifice many have to make in order to teach at home. Let me share with you some reasons to look at the flip side of home school.
Academically, most home schooled students will test above the students that are public schooled and are well prepared for college. (1)(1a)
You see this time and again when you learn that the National Spelling Bee Champ or Geography Bee camp, among other leading champions, was a home schooled child.
This is true for my children as well. They easily score high in standardized tests such as the ACT, SAT or PSAT and come in well above the national average.
In addition, my children, along with many other children took college classes well before they graduated. In my community it is common to meet a home school student who graduates with an associates degree at the same time they graduate high school. This is not something students in public school do, nor is it something they can do if they wanted to. It is not an option for the public school students. (More on this later). Elizabeth Bartholet says children deserve “meaningful education” I defy anyone to say that my children haven’t had a well rounded education.
I would go further and say that my children’s education is more broad than those in public school. Why? well because public schools are so test heavy that if it is normal to teach to the test. If it’s not on the test, chances are good they won’t learn it. Versus one of the biggest benefits of homeschooling- if your interested in it, let’s learn about it. My daughter built solar ovens ranging from the traditional pizza box oven to one she designed herself and tested and from there learned about the sun and eventually took a class of astronomy. A friend’s son took a photography class which led to a videography class which led to making his own film which led to a script writing session with a script writer. Another friend listened to her son singing in the shower, suggested he try out for a local musical play, he did and is now singing opera. My oldest son read a book about rockets, built a rocket, joined a robotic team, taught himself programming which is now leading him into a career as an electrical engineer. Because we know, if someone is interested in something, they will learn about it; we can take a child’s interest and use that as a jump start to a deeper education. This is the norm for almost every parent I know who teaches at home. We work to stay ahead of our children and their interests parleying that into a well rounded education and sometimes careers.
I believe that those who are anti homeschooling and want to stop this practice are often those who feel threatened by the high standards home schooled students set as they dominate in educational settings.
Socially, home schooled students are well adapted to the world at large. (2) (2a)
In fact, I would say that these students are more adapted to the world at large than those in public school.
In public school we teach students tho stand in line, raise their hand to speak, and associate with only those who are their age. This is not the real world. This is simply controlling the masses. Children in the home school situation are members of churches, play groups, Scout troops, co-op learning classes, and a variety of clubs. They play with neighborhood children, they go shopping with their parents, and they volunteer at senior living homes. The point is this: students who do school at home can and do explore the larger world and meet a wide range of people in all age groups, races, religions and so on. My children, because we home schooled, were able to attend a Jewish Hanukkah dinner, volunteer at a senior center and meet a hero from World War 2, and work on a robotic team with a child who had two mothers. In my small community, that would have not happened just by attending public school. Because we home schooled my children’s’ lives were enriched with these opportunities.
I believe those who are unwilling to be open minded about homeschooling, probably don’t recognize the positive benefits of home schooling and are also unwilling to consider the risks of public school. And yes, the risks for public school are wide ranging.
Students in home school situations are just as safe at home if not safer than those in public school.
One of the arguments in your article was that children in public school are attending a place where there is mandated reporting of abuse. But, the question must be asked who watches the watchers? What happens in the reporters don’t report themselves. Why do I home school? Because I taught under the principal who was going to be over my son’s school. The principal who told me ‘bullying happens, kids need to get over it’, the principal who told me ‘leave me along five minutes with this kid and he will change’ (referring to a child who had acted up on a field trip. How about my friend’s daughter who had a teacher say: ‘look at girl’s name… poor her, her parents don’t really love her or she would have had her home work done.’ Talk to anyone who had a child in public school that moved them to home for education and you will hear similar stories.
Students are not always safer and those that watch them can’t promise them safety and often time are those that are the ones hurting our children. Bartholet says. “I think it’s always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless, and to give the powerful ones total authority.” I would agree and this is what happens in public school.
Bullying happens. And as you can see on the nightly news, schools are helpless to stop it often times. So, bullying happens. So does peer pressure to smoke, do drugs, drink and have sex. Cheating happens. It doesn’t stop there. Does anyone need to point out school shootings happen at school? As a public school teacher, I couldn’t count the number of times I broke up fights and I even had to take a knife away from one student. I was hired to replace a teacher who physically assaulted girls in his room and did so for years before it was reported. Another mother in our home school group was called at home and told ‘your daughter’s name was on a rape list’. In searching lockers for drugs at the local high school a principal found a list of girls names with points awarded for raping them, most points wins. This should make you sick.This is not ok and it happens over and over again in public school. Public school is not safer simply because teachers are mandated to report abuse they think might be happening at home.
Those who are unaware of the risks, I believe, haven’t set foot in public school in a very long time. Go try it and then tell me that public high school is the place you want to put your children for the greater good of society. Visit the high school bathroom I walked into during class time to interrupt two kids smoking dope. Let your daughter be the one on the rape list. Let your young children learn to swear before they understand the meaning of the words they are uttering. If this is main stream I don’t want to have my children as part of that.
Those schooled at home are probably more politically astute than those in public school.
The idea that because it’s ‘good for society’ as Ms. Bartholet says, is the reason to ban home schooling is ridiculous. In fact, I would put forth that this is one of the most absurd reasons to put my children in public school. I would go further to say that I am in fact raising more aware citizens of this nation than most public school students. My children have read the Constitution, The Bill of Rights, and other great documents several times over during our home schooling experience. We have taken to the road to visit where Martin Luther King gave his speeches and marched to Selma. We are not alone in this. Most parents I know who home school often work democratic ideals into their school. They attend court, travel the nation, bring their children to vote, and even encourage their children to run for office as they get old enough and show an interest. (And yes, we have fun. We have also traveled to Disney Land and Hawaii- but while we did, we took the time to learn about whales first hand, the Mormon Battalion and so on)
Additionally, we who home school are raising leaders, not followers. Why were children first taught to raise their hand in school? Stand in line? Ask permission for everything they wanted to do? Why do we give children busy work? Why do we teach children to stop working at the sound of the bell? In part to control the crowd. Also in part because schools became training grounds for the Industrial Revolution. Factories wanted workers who could be controlled by a bell, stand for long periods, follow basic directions and that is what the factory owners conveyed to schools so that is what schools did. By returning to the classical education we are raising students who can think and reason and lead. By home schooling and teaching children HOW to learn, we are raising thinking, educated members of society. What a better way to raise those prepared to participate in our society? (3)
I would put forth that those who want to ban homeschooling with the thought that we are a danger to a democratic society feel threatened by how clearly we do understand that democratic society and our role in it. (3a)
Schooling children at home, was here at the beginning of the nation. This article spreads half truths about the history of education.
This article says: “From the beginning of compulsory education in this country, we have thought of the government as having some right to educate children so that they become active, productive participants in the larger society…” but this is only partially accurate. If you are going to talk why public school was set up originally it was to keep the white upper class in power by providing the boys of white upper class families an education that included grammar, logic, rhetoric. It was not to educate ALL children to be active. productive, participants in our society. And going a step further, public schooling in the South didn’t happen until after the Civil War in many communities. It wasn’t even until 1918 that every state required school for every student, at least for elementary school. And really, that was only for the kids who could learn. Special education was not even a glimmer the nations eye. (As we know from reading about Thomas Edison.) In fact, the earliest education was at home. So no, education was not thought of as the domain of the government and it wasn’t set up to educate children to become productive. (4)
Bartholet in this article also pushes the idea that public school is traditionally the way societal values are taught, as well as ideas about non discrimination and tolerance. Really? Puritans began the first public schooling mainly to pass on their values. (4a) And that is part of the rub right? What values? whose values?
Christians turn to homeschooling because we disagree with the values being taught in school. Sex education is only one small example. Why would I want my children exposed to men in drag reading to them at age six? I can think of no good reason to have that discussion at that age. Why would I want someone I don’t know very well, who doesn’t love my children and have my values teaching them about being gay, putting on a condom or sex? Again, I can think of no good reason. My friend thought public school was just fine until a teacher told her 2nd grade class (age seven) ‘we have to talk about abortion or you will find yourself in an alley doing it with a coat hanger’. Yes really. And while the teacher lost her job, the damage was done and my friend had to have some long difficult discussions about this topic. While there is a time and a place, I would say that public school is not that place and age 7 is not that time. And that, thank goodness, is my right as a parent.
Shall we go back to the historical standard and values that girls were taught to read but not necessarily how to write? Even now in public schools girls are often over looked when it comes to science or technology or math degrees. Or shall we not go back that far- how about going back to the 1960s and do what they did… teaching African Americans and whites separately? African Americans are often, still, not given the same opportunities in education that white skinned students have. (5a)
There is a place for public school. When I had children who were school age, I was told “Schools are ok, if you really stay involved”. There are parents who don’t want to school their children at home. That is ok. There are parents who have limited options and rely on schools to provide the education their children need. Just as that is an option and it results in young adults who are educated and capable so is homeschooling.
But it is worth remembering how many students drop out of school or even worse, graduate with a diploma but still can’t read or do math. It is worth noting that if it’s not on the test, many students of public school won’t know it. If I had to be that involved and if I had to be worried about their safety, the values they would learn, and their education, I decided it wasn’t for me. (6) (6a)
I and many other parents choose to stay involved differently. It was important enough for me to put the time and effort and sacrifice into schooling them. I would say that my children and many other children of parents who teach are home are better for it. They test higher on test scores than their peers and entered college ready to learn. They are social, vibrant people with friends, careers, girl friends and boy friends. They are registering to vote as they get old enough to and they are capable of researching candidates, asking tough questions, and making educated decisions. They can explore their passions. I invite the author to join me at my kitchen table and see what I have done with my children, or visit with just about any other parent who teaches their child at home, and learn about what schooling at home is really like.
And while this got long, I’d be happy to edit for you or approve your edits for publication should you need me to do so.
“The Risks of Homeschooling” (May-June 2020) summarizes Professor Elizabeth Bartholet’s concern that homeschooling fails to expose children to “community values, social values, democratic values, ideas about nondiscrimination and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints.” Perhaps Professor Bartholet could buttress her arguments by analyzing behavior that has become almost commonplace on college campuses. For example:
• In November 2018, the College Republicans at Florida State University set out a table encouraging people to vote for their candidate. Nineteen-year-old student Shelby Shoup destroyed a campaign sign, screamed obscenities at those staffing the table, and poured her drink over a woman at the table. She was arrested for assault.
•Just this April, Syracuse University’s Student Association condemned a planned visit by conservative gadfly Ben Shapiro. In its Zoom meeting, one member stated, “We do not follow the First Amendment.”
•In March 2017, student protestors at Middlebury College blocked a talk by Charles Murray. The masked mob attacked political science professor Allison Stanger as she tried to escort Murray out of the building, sending her to the hospital with a neck injury.
In each case, college students approached competing ideologies with censorship, shouting, and violence. I would hope that these are not the community, social and democratic values that Professor Bartholet wishes to inculcate in our youth. She would doubtless agree that the students have not learned tolerance for other people’s viewpoints.
Here is a wonderful research opportunity for Professor Bartholet. I suggest that she investigate all such incidents of intellectual intolerance, and tally which of the perpetrators were home-schooled and which educated in public schools, then compare the numbers with the ratio of home schooled to conventionally schooled young adults. This might allow her to base her objections to home schooling on empiric evidence rather than a priori reasoning.
Mark Buchanan ’70
Elizabeth Bartholet wants to ban homeschooling because she perceives risks for children.
Would she ban church attendance because some children are sexually abused by priests?
Would she ban parenting because some children are sexually abused by parents?
I am close to a couple who homeschool their children. Both are MIT graduates. He is a member of Mensa. They have more than enough smarts and education to homeschool their children. Their two children are not “isolated”. They participate in networks of homeschoolers, and have many friends. They have both been accepted to good colleges and are doing well scholastically and socially. No religion was involved in the parents’ decision to homeschool; only the desire to give their children a better education than they could have received at public schools.
I was labelled a “gifted and talented” child. The worst educational experience I ever had was at a public high school, where I was held back by teachers who spent all of their time on other students who “needed more time and attention than [I] did”.
If you, as a child, could have chosen between:
 an educational experience in which you spent hours sitting at a desk, in a row of desks, mass-taught by a teacher you had not chosen and could not replace, who was a member of a powerful union and an employee of the government, where a bell signified time to move to a similar row of desks in another room; or
 an educational experience in which you could choose what to study, when to study it, and for how long to study it, from the best teachers in the world available via internet;
which would you have chosen?
Bartholet claims it is “dangerous” to give parents “essentially authoritarian control over their children from ages zero to 18”. Is it not far more dangerous to give government employees authoritarian control over their children, whose aim is to instill Bartholet’s notions of “community values, social values, democratic values”?
A teacher you cannot choose, cannot replace, and cannot fire, is a far more powerful person, and according to Bartholet herself, “it’s always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless, and to give the powerful ones total authority”.
This is not the first bad idea to come from a Harvard Law School professor, and I’m sad to predict that it won’t be the last.
Robert Allan Schwartz ’77
I was saddened by the inaccurate and one-sided depiction of homeschooling in the May-June issue.
An illustration accompanying the article misspelled the word “arithmetic” as “arithmatic” [https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/harvard-imperalist-elite-…. The article mistakenly called the “Home School Legal Defense Association” the “Home Schooling Legal Defense Association” [https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/harvard-imperalist-elite-….
The article wrongly suggests homeschooling is a mostly “conservative Christian” phenomenon lacking in diversity. But the National Center for Education Statistics said 26% of homeschoolers were Hispanic in 2016 [https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2020/2020001.pdf]. According to one estimate, a quarter of homeschoolers are secular, while two-thirds are Christian — roughly in line with America’s overall demographics [https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2020/2020001.pdf]. Jewish and Buddhist homeschoolers contacted me when I was the intake attorney for a non-profit law firm.
It’s too bad you didn’t have a homeschooler review the article, like recent Harvard Law School graduate Alex Harris [https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/harvard-imperalist-elite-…. A homeschooler would likely have caught the spelling error in the illustration, given that homeschoolers win spelling bees at a disproportionate rate [https://abcnews.go.com/WNT/story?id=130988&page=1], and are disproportionately represented on the Harvard Law Review [https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/harvard-imperalist-elite-…. Moreover, parents of homeschoolers have higher-than-average “levels of educational attainment,” according to the NCES [https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2001/Homeschool/] .
Hans Bader, J.D. ’94
Your recent article both amuses and troubles me. I write as one who was homeschooled until high school, the latter of which I attended online (from home) before being accepted to one of the most competitive health sciences undergraduate programs in Canada. Currently I am on leave from medical school at the University of Toronto to pursue a postgraduate degree at the University of Oxford on a scholarship. I have authored or co-authored papers in prestigious scientific, medical ethics, and medieval history journals.
I was amused, therefore, that your respected magazine is perpetuating, through this one-sided article with its comic cover illustration, a stereotype to which I have been subjected all my life: That homeschoolers are narrow-minded, uncultured, unsocial, and academically underperforming. As ever, this stereotype brings a smile to my face, but it also concerns me, when I consider the social power your magazine exercises.
Undoubtedly, some of us homeschoolers fit the stereotype. I have witnessed the abuses of homeschooling. Perhaps some minimum regulatory oversight is necessary. But abusus non tollit usum—unless one can demonstrate, logically, that the abuse follows from normal use or, empirically, that the abuses are insufferably more common with one option than with reasonable alternatives (e.g. public school). I should also note that one cannot argue from premises not granted; perhaps many home schoolers do aim “to remove their children from mainstream culture,” but who says that “mainstream culture” is conducive to human flourishing? That is by no means a prima facie philosophical claim (see, e.g., the work of communitarian philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity).
Additionally, when making empirical arguments, one cannot use anecdotes of children who aren’t properly socialized, to compare with the best that regular schools produce. One must compare to equivalent controls. For instance, how do we know that school children are particularly tolerant of the beliefs of the Other? They may simply share a common set of ideas amongst themselves. Moreover, child psychiatrists know well the abundance of maladaptive behaviours among regular school children, which may very well exist at higher rates than among home schoolers (e.g. drug and alcohol abuse, sexting, etc.). One cannot simply cherry-pick which outcomes support one’s case.
Finally, if anecdote is acceptable, one could list the homeschoolers who have done quite well for themselves and society: JS Bach, Abraham Lincoln, Agatha Christie, Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, Sandra Day O’Connor, the Jonas Brothers, Simon Biles, Tim Tebow, Serena and Venus Williams, etc. Judging from many on the list, arts, culture, and democracy thrives thanks in part to homeschoolers. The onus is on the one making an argument to justify it. As it is, the assertion that homeschoolers are not exposed to “democratic values, ideas about nondiscrimination and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints” is unsubstantiated, and, dare I say, intolerant of alternative views about how to cultivate the goods of family and community life.
I respect that your article is merely reporting on a peer-reviewed paper published elsewhere. Yet it behooves you even more, therefore, to ask whether it is a balanced argument, and at least to mention other perspectives or the lack of data to support its empirical claims.
I am a longtime reader of Harvard Magazine and a member of the Class of 1980. I have never felt so compelled to contact the magazine as I have today after reading Prof. Elizabeth Bartholet’s supremely arrogant, erroneous and astoundingly biased article on homeschooling- “The Risks of Homeschooling.” Her blatant anti-Christian and appallingly elitist attitudes on display in your august periodical is an embarrassment to the whole university. How could this hateful and utterly wrong diatribe be allowed by your editors?
I am blessed to know many extremely gifted homeschooled students as a former math tutor and I would say that a finer group of optimistic, patriotic and highly literate families and children could not be found in ANY public school. To insult all these fine folks is error, and worse, calumny. (Of course most public school-educated students wouldn’t know the meaning of these accusatory words, in all likelihood.)
Really, I fear for Harvard with tenured mastodons like Bartholet in position to write such prejudiced and off putting screeds as this article. I am a 61 year old Harvard graduate who will sadly miss my 40th class reunion this spring due to the pandemic. I will share my extreme displeasure with the state of the university with my classmates in a virtual fashion.
Eileen Guerin ’80
Hampton Falls, N.H.
I am a homeschooling mom, and my decision to homeschool was made out of necessity. My child has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Don’t get all preachy at me-she’s adopted from Russia. Children exposed to alcohol can seem like they function just fine; but they don’t. On average you can expect to subtract 1/3 to ½ their age from their chronological age. This creates major problems in the public school environment.
Under Common Core, children are expected to learn certain things at each grade level, but since our children with FAS (Autism, ADHD and other brain-based learning disorders too), they don’t thrive in this type of learning. Imagine for a moment that you are teaching seventh grade algebra. Now, I want you to go down the hall and grab a neurotypical second grader and bring that child into the algebra class. Now teach that second grader algebra. Did it work? No? Because a second grader’s brain isn’t ready to handle the higher math concepts that are involved in algebra.
This is a concept completely lost by our government. When my child comes home calling herself “stupid” because she doesn’t understand the math problem, and when she gets a math answer marked wrong even though the answer is right (because she arrived at the correct answer but with the wrong method of solving), I have to question if this is the right environment for her.
In the end, I decided it’s not. I don’t homeschool my child because I’m ultra-Christian and want to instill my beliefs. I homeschool because my child deserves not to get bullied. She deserves to learn at her own pace. She deserves curriculum she can understand. She deserves a dedicated mom who will do whatever it takes to make sure she gets the education she deserves.
Crown Point, Ind.
Elizabeth Bartholet’s assertion that homeschooling violates a child’s right to a “meaningful education” is exactly the authoritative position from which homeschooling parents are protecting their children.
Categorizing a virtuous pathway as an exception (“No doubt there are some parents who are motivated and capable of giving an education that’s of a higher quality…”) reveals Bartholet’s ivory tower and inaccurate view.
Public school can be a wonderful experience for some children. For others, it is an exercise in pounding their square-peg-shaped individualities through the round hole that the supply chain of government-controlled institutions requires.
When our oldest (of three) was two-and-a-half years old, we decided to homeschool because she was already reading. I was hesitant, wary of the stereotype: children raised in social isolation, resulting in chained-to-the-kitchen-table automatons who would stumble and fail to contribute to society.
Here are four important lessons I have learned after 17 years and three very successful outcomes:
1) The homeschooling community is generous, inclusive, nonjudgmental, and substantially more diverse than town-bordered red-line-dictated public school districts (not even to begin to mention Harvard-feeding pay-for-privilege private schools);
2) Yes, some of the dozens of families we have encountered are motivated (not “driven” – a loaded word) by their faiths. But never – and I emphasize never – have I witnessed, at any venue of the limitless variety of meetings or educational experiences, even the most fervent Evangelicals trying to indoctrinate their beliefs on any child or adult. To the contrary, the exposure to Sikhs, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Evangelicals, Catholics, Atheists, and Agnostics – and the calm and open answers to young peoples’ inquiries about value systems – has enriched the perspectives of our children and their friends and acquaintances. The overwhelming majority of adults who have committed to homeschooling encourage a broad exposure to the real world. Cliques are nearly nonexistent, peer pressure is a fraction of what I experienced in public school, and the joy of shared experiences and peer-to-peer teaching is close to educational purity;
3) Discipline is holding oneself to standards – different from punishment, the price a miscreant pays for misbehaving. The homeschooled child learns determination to work through difficulties while mastering rudimentary skills and adjusting to changing circumstances. So much of homeschooling resembles college – with stimulating events on varied daily agendas spread over not a campus but a range limited only by one’s means of transportation and available time. That is a life lesson learned at an early age: to adapt and find a way to achieve goals;
4) In what other circumstance are people segregated by birth year? This ridiculous 19th century notion of building routines based on factory shifts is not only obsolete but stultifying. People learn different things at individual rates. Promotion by age rather than aptitude in the public school system leads to more problems than it solves. A byproduct of the homeschooling approach is there are no age-related stigmas or baggage. Thus, homeschoolers tend to relate to people as people, from toddlers to centenarians, and are comfortable conducting conversations with anyone.
Author Erin O’Donnell and Bartholet come off as pompous, ignorant, and imperious. Bartholet has chosen to take the exception of child neglect and to express it as the rule. And to suggest that our governments regulate a parent’s decision about a child’s education? Who decides? I certainly would not trust you or anyone with a sixteen-word title to make the decision about any child our family has encountered in our broad and diverse homeschooling community.
Homeschooling, in our experience, raises bright inquisitive individuals. Independent thinkers. Self-motivators who are tolerant of others, curious, open-minded, and ready to change the world for the better.
As a Harvard alumnus and a Christian homeschooling parent, I am compelled to respond to Ms. O’Donnell’s article, “The Risks of Homeschooling.” She states opinion without facts and statistics to back up her claims. Her obvious bias negates the points she is trying to convey. There is very little evidence that homeschooling families are close minded “white supremacists” who “promote female subservience.” Her supposition that the lack of parent credentialing leads to uneducated homeschooling parents is also unfounded. I have homeschooled my 3 children in both Massachusetts and now in New Hampshire. My boys are open minded, intelligent, creative, intellectually curious, and highly respectful to children and adults alike and have a vast network of friends. They all have taken classes from teachers and tutors outside of our home education program successfully. My family is not the exception. We are the norm. We are a proud Christian family who give back regularly to our local community and military through volunteerism. In contrast, she may look instead at the relatively high incidence of sexual assault among students and between teachers and students in the public school system, something that can be proven time and again simply by watching the evening news. The issue here is that Ms. O’Donnell is using her position of power to smear a portion of the community of which she obviously has little knowledge. The parents are the ones who brought children into this world. These children belong to us, not the government or school system. The Constitution offers a free education to those in need of it, not as a draconian tool to remove parents from children’s lives in order to indoctrinate the child to the government’s ideas.
I would like to send you a rebuttal to Mrs. O’Donnell’s inaccurate article about homeschooling. Feel free to publish it in its entirety.
Thinking people take objection to the implications in your article, The Risks of Homeschooling. Harvard has been considered the epitome of prestigious and elite higher education until the past couple years, and unfortunately, this article heralds this. Not only are many of the comments in your article false, you have not cited sources so that people can look this information up for themselves. In fact, when I look up the same arguments, I find the opposite of what you have said is true. Are you trying to use the prestige of an Ivy League school to enforce false propaganda on the masses who, frankly, feel quite differently?
As one of America’s most prestigious schools, you should be doing your best to inspire an atmosphere of freedom in learning and patriotism. America is the greatest country on earth. Our founding fathers changed the world when they developed our Constitution and Bill of Rights, allowing common people to have a say in their government and granting them their God-given rights. It is a gift that has to be protected, because there are many villains in this world who would crush the Constitution simply because they love power more than people. Many schools promote anti-American sentiments, whereas homeschooling families tend to be more active in the government, more learned in our history, and more appreciative of our Constitution.
You are concerned that states don’t regulate homeschooling enough. Harvard, you say you are concerned about this because homeschoolers might have a lack of education or will be kept in abusive homes. You’ve even cited a source for this, the memoir Educated, By Tara Westover. However, you cited one person. Not a study. If you look at the statistics, you will see that in general homeschoolers do better on tests than children who attend school, and that homeschoolers “are doing well, typically above average, on measures of social, emotional, and psychological development (Ray, “Research”).” If homeschoolers lived in abusive homes, this would not be the case. Tara Westover’s up-bringing is an “isolated case of a family that slipped through the cracks (O’Donnell, “The Risks”).”
The practice of homeschooling does not isolate children, either. Many homeschoolers are more involved in their communities than children who go to school, including, but not limited to, attending church and youth group, serving within their communities, participating in sports and scouting troops, etc. Plus, many homeschoolers participate in co-ops, which allows them to see people and participate in educational and enrichment classes. Because homeschoolers are not trapped in a set schedule, they can do more, learn more, and actually visit the places they learn about. Homeschoolers are, most assuredly, not isolated (Klicka, Chris, “Socialization:”).
You also state that one of the reasons homeschooling should be banned is because, “… A majority of such families… …are driven by conservative Christian beliefs (O’Donnell, “The Risks”).” Are you discriminating against Christians? To ban homeschooling because many homeschoolers are Christians is a violation of the First Amendment. As for your comments that we “question science and promote female subservience and white supremacy (O’Donnell, “The Risks”),” please share where you got your information. It is false. Homeschooling is growing among people of all ethnic groups (Ray, “Research”). Homeschoolers also tend to be more tolerant of different viewpoints (Tuccille, J.D. “Homeschooling”) and more exposed to “democratic values, ideas about nondiscrimination and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints (O’Donnell, “The Risks”)” than kids who go to public schools (Ray, “Research”).
Finally, where would the rights of parents towards their children go? To the government? One need only to look at the last century to realize this doesn’t work. It’s a dangerous ideology, one that Hitler himself would approve and applaud you for. Bartholet’s quote, “I think it’s always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless, and to give the powerful ones total authority (O’Donnell, “The Risks”),” could very well apply to the government far more truthfully than to parents.
So I ask you, what is your true concern about homeschooling? Your article leads me to believe that it is because many of those who homeschool hold a different worldview than you. The claims you cited in your article are unsubstantiated, and that is an embarrassment to Harvard University. Many people wouldn’t be gravitating towards homeschooling if the public school system hadn’t failed. Harvard, you were founded as a Christian university, and you have fallen a long way since then. Articles like this one continue to show that you have become more of an “agenda driven” school rather than one that wishes to teach the truth.
Given my personal history as a homeschooler and my knowledge of homeschooling’s many strengths, I was appalled to read Harvard Magazine’s recent article, “The Risk of Homeschooling.” Its sensationalist language, dearth of statistics, and failure to address the positive stories and statistics related to homeschooling makes it a woefully biased and inaccurate piece of reporting, verging on propaganda.
Erin O’Donnell summarizes – and seemingly supports – Professor Elizabeth Bartholet’s argument that homeschooling endangers children – often to a staggering degree. Bartholet, who is the faculty director of Harvard Law School’s Child Advocacy Program, sets out a three-pronged case against homeschooling. She asserts that it deprives children of a right to “meaningful education,” leaves them exposed to potential child abuse, and might even “keep them from contributing positively to a democratic society.” In the face of such drastic possibilities, she advocates a ban on homeschooling. Let me address the article’s main assertions and wrap up with some personal anecdotes of my own. O’Donnell provides no data and my internet scouring has uncovered no data to support Bartholet’s claim the homeschooling threatens to leave children with a lack of “meaningful education.” Studies of academic performance frequently find homeschooled children outperform publicly schooled children on standardized tests – including the ACT and SAT. The findings remain imperfect because sample size and demographic factors leave gaps and unknowns regarding causation versus correlation,1 and a few articles report that homeschoolers perform equally with publicly schooled children or better in some subjects and worse in others.2 However, in 2018, The Atlantic reported on as growing number of black homeschooling parents who defend their choice as a means of avoiding the racial inequities inherent in institutionalized education.3 Indeed, many parents who homeschool do so explicitly to give their children a more meaningful education than public school can provide. O’Donnell and Bartholet may argue that parents who are neglecting rather than supporting their children’s education will avoid standardized tests and so fly under the radar. Referencing the horrific experiences revealed in Tara Westover’s memoir Educated, O’Donnell and Bartholet use anecdotal evidence to suggest such neglect might even be widespread. My own anecdotal evidence, as a homeschooler who never took a standardized test until the SAT, strongly differs. However, O’Donnell and Bartholet do not acknowledge the shortcomings in their data, only ignoring homeschooling’s favorable statistics and declaring the worst possibilities as if they are safe assumptions to make. They do the same in terms of child abuse. Citing teachers and school personnel as the most frequent reporters of child abuse and relying on Westover’s narrative of abuse, they imply that homeschooling may be a hotbed of unreported abuse cases, all while ignoring the Department of Education’s statistics on child abuse within school settings. In 2004, the Department released a report summarizing the findings of various studies. It summed up its research this way: “As a group, these studies present a wide range of estimates of the percentage of U.S. students subject to sexual misconduct by school staff and vary from 3.7 to 50.3 percent […] the AAUW report that nearly 9.6 percent of students are targets of educator sexual misconduct sometime during their school career presents the most accurate data available at this time.”
Differing statistical models and the fact that children may be abused at both home and school makes it impossible to directly compare abuse probabilities. However, Bartholet and O’Donnell paint going to school as the best chance for support and studying at home as a terrifyingly risky option. They ignore abuse children endure in school, never address the reality of school shootings, and entirely discount the fact that parents have a higher personal stake in their children’s health and future success than do educational institutions. Given what we do and do not know at the current time, we could as easily extrapolate a reality in which homeschooling results in more well-adjusted, less abused children.
Finally, O’Donnell’s and Bartholet’s language promotes the concern that homeschooling frequently leaves children at the mercy of authoritarian parents whose beliefs (“conservative Christian” the article notes) will undermine their children’s ability to “grow up exposed to community values, social values, democratic values, ideas about nondiscrimination and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints.” As Bartholet notes “some of these parents are “extreme religious ideologues” who question science and promote female subservience and white supremacy” – implying school does a good job of nurturing community values and will significantly diminish the influence of such parental ideology. Firstly, the insinuation that conservative or Christian ideas are necessarily at odds with tolerance and positive civic values is discriminatory. Secondly, suggesting that homeschoolers are primarily motivated by conservative Christian ideology is unfounded. Nowhere have I yet found supporting evidence for Bartholet’s claim that up to 90% of homeschooling families “are driven by conservative Christian beliefs.” In 2012, the National Center for Education Statistics – within the Department of Education – found that 64% of homeschoolers listed “a desire to provide religious instruction” as an “Important” element in their decision to homeschool. Only 17% of those respondents chose it as the “Most Important” reason.5 None of the statistics provided data on the specific religion or included the term “conservative.” Additionally, implying that homeschooling has significant or especially supportive ties with fundamentalist, authoritarian, or white supremacist ideology is sensationalist and disingenuous. Unfortunately, radical religious, right-wing, and white supremacist movements are growing nationally, but their rise is not particular to or reliant on homeschooling. In 2017, Newsweek found that white supremacists were using, in addition to the internet, high schools and colleges as grounds for recruitment,6 and a 2014 article in Slate found that hundreds of schools that teach creationism received Federal funding through vouchers and scholarships.7 Framing radical ideology as especially threatening to homeschooled children is both irresponsible and ignorant. Equally unfounded is the assumption that homeschoolers are at greater risk of lacking civic and democratic values. To a homeschooler, the irony rings loud and clear in Bartholet’s statement that “it’s always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless, and to give the powerful ones total authority.” Has she never witnessed how overwhelmingly disempowered students are within traditional schooling methods? Does she not consider how keeping children in classrooms for the majority of their day limits their experience of civic engagement, micromanages their time, and segregates them from the community at large? To close, since O’Donnell’s article relies largely on speculation and anecdotal evidence, I will sum up this response with my personal experience as a homeschooler – it is anecdotal, but it is not speculative. As a secular homeschooler, raised in Los Angeles, I had a wide social network of fellow homeschoolers – mostly secular or Jewish (religious) – and school children. My friends ranged greatly in age and experience because I was not forced to associate for most of my day with only children in my grade level. My schedule was largely my own to craft – my parents believed in self-directed learning. They pulled my brother and me from elementary school because they noticed how much meaningless busy work ate up our time and how much our creativity suffered as we focused on pleasing the teacher. We were accommodating a system designed to babysit and “educate” too many children at once. My mother, with only a High School Diploma, worked from home and served as the main consultant for our academic undertakings. My father worked as a public school teacher. Years spent educating hundreds of middle schoolers in an environment that could not accommodate individual needs and made learning a chore rather than a discovery only sold him more fully on homeschooling and self-directed learning. Every year, my parents would ask if we wanted to go back to school, and we would look at the poor children stuck all day behind fences with little power to choose their own pursuits and shake our heads. My brother and I followed a specific math curriculum but otherwise had our choice of focus in history, science, literature, foreign policy, and current events. Eager to broaden our horizons, my parents, and our fellow homeschooling parents, exposed us to numerous ideas, resources, and experiences. As teenagers, my brother, myself, and numerous of our homeschooling friends augmented our work at home with classes at the local community colleges. My brother had enough credits to graduate from Occidental College with a degree in Economics in three years instead of four. I graduated from Princeton University with a bachelor’s in English, Theater and Dance. During my time at college and afterwards, I have always noticed how much homeschooling improved the social and academic abilities of myself and my homeschooled friends – making us more comfortable interacting with people of all ages and inspiring us to undertake studies not for grades or outside affirmation but for the acquisition of knowledge and the pursuit of career and personal aspirations. Homeschooling made us highly skilled in knowing ourselves, our strengths, and our passions. We make a diverse pool: two nurses, one board game designer, one DreamWorks animation concept artist, one professional environmental activist, one PA/writer/director, one composer, one baker/artist, one recent chemistry grad, one chemistry PhD student, one script/adaptation consultant, one video game writer, one real estate assessor, one woodworker/tinyhouse dweller, and the list goes on… One thing we all have in common is an interest in and engagement with the workings of the world, society, and our democracy. As adults who love learning, we have never stopped pursuing meaningful education. Naturally, I understand how homeschooling could be used by parents to deny children access to outside influence and alternative worldviews. I understand the concern that neglect and abuse could go unnoticed. Abuse, narrow ideology, and poor education are surely realities in some homeschooling households, as they are in many other households and in schools themselves. I recommend Bartholet and O’Donnell expand their worldview. They might start by examining the ways in which traditional schooling fails children, leaving many unenthused about learning, some traumatized. They might consider how schools keep children in an authoritarian-by-design, impersonal, and disempowering environment for much of their day. They might reach out to homeschool communities to experience the wide world of alternatives. Then, they might be in a position to make regulatory recommendations. As it stands, to propose a ban on homeschooling and paint homeschooling as especially threatening to children or to the country’s civic future is either consciously deceitful or woefully ignorant of the evidence at hand.
Shannon L. Clair
That Harvard Magazine would publish such an obviously biased article should cause us all grave concern. The article fairly dripped with anti-Christian bigotry. Robert Neubecker’s illustration, depicting a child held prisoner by a Bible, was nothing more than a naked attack, not just on homeschooling families, but on Christianity writ large. Certainly Elizabeth Bartholet, upon whom Ms. O’Donnell based the article, is entitled to her views. Clearly Ms. Bartholet is a totalitarian (err “Progressive”) ideologue eager to see government schools have untrammeled opportunity to indoctrinate our children – but of course only with her view of, as she puts it, “a meaningful education.” That such people exist within academia is no surprise; their disdain for those they consider to be the lumpen-proletariat is well known. Interestingly, the article provides not a scintilla of empirical evidence to support Ms. Bartholet’s notions that government schools better educate our children than homeschooling parents or private religious schools.
What was a surprise was that Harvard Magazine would feature such a biased piece of agitprop. I urge you to have the courage to publish a formal apology for such an intellectually insulting, biased article. Readers of Harvard Magazine can recognize intolerant propaganda and deserve better.
Col. (ret.) William F. Prince, A.L.M. ’18
The article citing Elizabeth Bartholet’s research is a stunningly biased and narrow view of homeschooling as a whole, and ignores the many benefits this educational practice can and has brought to individuals, families, and society in general.
We are a family that chose to homeschool, after having been in the public school system in Germany and the US. One child opted to return to public school, a decision which was respected by our parents. Three of the four children have degrees, two have advanced degrees, and the fourth is currently working towards her bachelor’s degree in physics. We interact well with people of different faiths and political views, and seek to strengthen our community.
The statement that homeschooling violates children’s right to a “meaningful education” is false. Homeschooling is often chosen as a means of education because the public school system is failing, academically, socially, or both. A “meaningful education” is a vague term that is too expansive to be decided for every child between the ages of 4-18 in the US by a government bureaucracy, a school administrator, or a summit held by academic elites at Harvard.
For example, while attending fourth grade at a charter school my sister wanted to draw during her quiet time in class. Her teacher told her that she couldn’t; she was supposed to read during this time. My sister was an excellent reader who didn’t need extra reading time. In a discussion with the principal about this situation my mother, a former art major, was informed that drawing during quiet time “wasn’t useful.” This, and the tremendous burden of homework that extended till 8:00 pm every night, resulted in my sister being homeschooled for the rest of her elementary and high school education. She is well-rounded in her interests (still reads and draws) and was just named a Barry Goldwater Scholar for Science, Mathematics and Engineering.
Public schools spend a vast amount of time testing, testing, testing, in order to reach some trumped-up average created by a bureaucracy, instead of really focusing on what the individual needs to grow and thrive, what makes them shine, what their strengths are and where their contribution will be the greatest. With homeschooling, the incessant question of “am I keeping up?” changes to “what am I learning?” and more importantly “what am I becoming?”
Abuse, sadly can and does occur at home. It also occurs at schools. So using Bartholet’s rationale, should there be a presumptive ban on public education? Teachers can belittle, criticize, and diminish a student’s sense of self-worth to absolute nothingness. Which is one reason why parents choose to homeschool, so their child can be in a safe environment.
Of especial concern is Bartholet’s view of parents as authoritarian figures. Parents have a God-given stewardship to care for their children. They are ultimately responsible for the welfare of their child until their child has grown to maturity. They are uniquely positioned through biological ties, spiritual stewardship, and economic responsibility to promote the welfare of their children, and this reaches into the sphere of education. It is not the State’s role to “helicopter govern” parents who are seeking to fulfill their parental roles by creating the best learning, and hence, the best living environments for their children.
A young family member in Tennessee posted on FaceBook that faculty at Harvard Law School were convening a national “homeschooling summit” — to be held privately in June with the intention of considering legal action against home schooling in the US.
Assuming that Russian disinformation campaigns had gotten rather sophisticated, I reassured her and her followers on FaceBook that this was “fake news.”
Imagine my surprise when I opened this month’s Harvard Magazine to discover Elizabeth Bartholet’s article, The Risks of Homeschooling. I then found the link to the meeting described fairly accurately in the FaceBook post: https://cap.law.harvard.edu/events-and-conferences/homeschooling-summit-…
Imagine my further dismay when I went to post comments on your web site and discovered that comments about the article were closed although the May-June issue had just arrived in my inbox.
I assume that the comments were, or thought to be, part of an organized campaign to attack Dr. Bartholet and the “Risks of Homeschooling” conference.
If this is the case, I can imagine your alarm and discomfort.
I can assure you, in any event, that the following comments come unbidden from myself alone — prevented though I was from posting them in your comment section — and are are rooted in a private individual Democrat’s dismay and disappointment.
There may be an opportunity here, however.
I suggest that you and Dr. Bartholet and the Law School pause to reflect rather than to circle your wagons.
Elite educational institutions like Harvard are more necessary than ever right now. But their relationships with their fellow Americans are two way affairs.
No matter how educated we are, there is always a lot to learn.
How will you repair your fraught and mistrustful relationships with large segments of your fellow Americans?
They cannot be ignored, as your own closed “comment” section in Harvard Magazine attests.
In this instance, would you consider reframing your conference? Even if — or precisely because — disreputable, even evil, disinformation sources campaign against you?
Would you be interested in convening a conference about the “risks and advantages of homeschooling?”
Can you persuade yourselves to be curious: what works well and what is disadvantageous about home schooling in its many forms?
Brilliant as it is, Uneducated, Tara Westover’s book about her abusive home and education, is one woman’s harrowing story.
It is personal and individual.
It is not data.
If it is stories you are looking for, I suggest you be open to all kinds of relevant stories.
I’ll briefly allude to two:
A librarian I know in rural Tennessee — an out gay man, for that matter — told me that the home school mothers are his favorites at the library. He says that their engagement with their children, their creativity and their attention to the different interests and needs of their children is extraordinary. By comparison, in his opinion, the engagement of the mothers whose children are in the public school pales by comparison.
My cousin’s daughter, homeschooled in Tennessee K thru 11, was valedictorian of her High School class, though she only attended there for one year. She is an associate professor of women’s studies at UT Austin.
But what is needed is good, solid, impartial information.
Nowhere in your article, or in the announcement of the June meeting, is there a sign of curiosity or open mindedness.
A study of “the risks of homeschooling” looks only the negative aspects and considers none of the positive ones.
Wishing you and Professor Bartholet a brave new adventure of exploring people and practices that may surprise you, and dismay you as well, but which will result in a full and truthful picture of homeschooling in the United States and elsewhere.
Wishing you also the benefits of being heard after you have listened.
Elizabeth Nadas Seamans ’69
Harvard Law School Professor Elizabeth Bartholet’s intolerant comments and views regarding the homeschooling community seemed extreme and unnecessarily pejorative.
As homeschool parents of three children, my wife and I would never argue that homeschooling is a better or worse option than traditional schooling, only that it has been the right path for our family. In addition to following their curriculum, homeschool children often have unique opportunities for travel, volunteering, and development of special interests such as music, sports and the arts.
Professor Bartholet worries that homeschool students are more likely to be subject to parental child abuse. Is there a greater incidence of abuse than in families of public, private or parochial school students? Seems like an important question, but the article provides no supporting evidence. Rather the “proof” of systematic abuse relies on one isolated case from an Idaho survivalist family. While a tragic story, it is of no relevance to the millions of caring, dedicated homeschool families around the country. However, the Idaho anecdote clearly fits the stereotyped template that Professor Bartholet has constructed.
Professor Bartholet seems most upset by the fact that many homeschool families have chosen to incorporate their Christian values with their children’s education. Disturbingly, Professor Bartholet equates conservative Christians with white supremacy. This lazy view of conservative Christians is blatant and unvarnished religious bigotry. The irony here of course is that her argument exhibits the same intolerance that she accuses homeschool families of harboring.
Homeschooling does not preclude students from “ideas about nondiscrimination and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints” any more or less than does traditional school education. This is also her opinion presented as fact.
Professor Bartholet hyperbolically states that homeschooling “may keep them (homeschooled students) from contributing positively to a democratic society”. She might be surprised to learn that homeschool students have above average standardized test scores, graduate from college at a higher rate than traditionally schooled students, and have contributed to our society fourteen U.S. Presidents, four Supreme Court Justices, and countless artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, inventors, architects and athletes.
Equally unsettling is that Harvard Magazine uncritically accepts Professor Bartholet’s extreme opinions as fact without supporting data, just clichéd stereotypes. The offensive drawing that accompanies the article borders on the absurd by showing a homeschool child literally behind bars in a home prison trapped by, among other books, the Bible.
I can’t imagine how uncomfortable it must be for law school students at Harvard in Professor Bartholet’s classroom if they were homeschooled or hold conservative Christian beliefs.
Ultimately, she advocates “a presumptive ban” on homeschooling, in part, because it violates children’s rights to a meaningful education”. Considering her position of power and influence, Professor Bartholet’s Orwellian conclusion that “something ought to be done” is chilling.
David Bulger ’90
Ocean Ridge, Fla.
I’d like to add my comments to those responding to Erin O’Donnell’s recent piece ‘The Risks of Homeschooling’. It is certainly the most one-sided article I can remember reading in your magazine, but what I found most interesting was the accompanying illustration by Robert Neubecker. A white homeschooled girl is shown trapped in a home made of books, including the Bible, while her multi-culture peers frolic outside enjoying the freedom of a state-mandated education. In the print edition, the title of one of the books is clearly misspelled as ARITHMATIC, while the online illustration shows it correctly as ARITHMETIC. Was the misspelling a subtle insult directed at the uneducated Christian homeschoolers the article warns against? Was the insult rescinded after complaints were received? Or are we to believe the illustrator was just sloppy? Inquiring minds want to know.
Daniel Napierski, S.M. ’01
The report on professor Elizabeth Bartholet’s recommended ban on homeschooling makes me wonder how she can be so blind to her own smugness and hypocrisy. She says, “I think it’s always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless”. But she wants to put the powerful state in charge of the students’ indoctrination instead of their parents who, for example, may not like throwing out most of the great books of the western canon for being too Euro-centric nowadays for contemporary political correctness, or even worse, confusing 6-year-olds by teaching them to masturbate or to question their own sexual orientation and identity. Given the choice professor Bartholet presents, she should be happy homeschooling represents only 3.5% of the school population.
Herb Hogue, M.B.A. ’81
Mercer Island, Wash.
I was deeply disturbed by the article, which expresses an extremely one-sided and poorly researched perspective. As a Harvard graduate who cares deeply about education and freedom of thought, I have chosen to home educate my children. The primary reason is to give them an individualized education that nurtures their strengths, works to remedy their shortcomings, and supports them in pursuing their interests. In my experience, the public education system emphasizes conformity of thought, provides almost exclusively external motivation, and fails to inspire children to become life-long learners who value contributing to society.
Bartholet’s concern that home educated children are isolated and imprisoned in their homes is just one of many generalizations she makes, betraying a profound lack of knowledge about homeschooling. In fact, home educated children typically participate in clubs and programs. Because they interact with adults and children of all ages, instead of spending most of their time within their particular age cohort, they are comfortable and confident in social settings. Having led homeschool drama and book clubs and volunteered at the local dance school for years, it has been my experience that home educated children are typically more socially adept than their mainstream counterparts and often emerge as leaders.
If the goal of education is to educate rather than to mandate ideology or regulate children, then homeschooling for a large percentage of children may be more effective than government schools. But perhaps ideology rather than education motivates Bartholet. Although she claims to believe in the importance of “ideas about nondiscrimination and tolerance for other people’s viewpoints,” Bartholet comes across as deeply prejudiced and intolerant of differing viewpoints, even shockingly equating Christian beliefs with white supremacy. Harvard has lowered itself by publishing opinions masquerading as scholarship.
Debra Goldman ’94
Thank you for publishing the article, focusing attention on this growing movement.
Unfortunately, essentially all the conclusions it makes stand in opposition to published studies. A study published by the HSLDA (https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED535134.pdf) demonstrated that homeschooled students outperform their public school counterparts in standardized testing in every metric measured, typically by about 33 percentile points; homeschoolers also have higher AP scores (https://www.aphomeschoolers.com/readmore.shtml#howdoour). Additionally, the HSLDA study showed that the level of state control over homeschoolers did not significantly affect child test scores, nor did the parental level of education or income.
Rather than admiring Germany, a paper from the Johns Hopkins School of Education that considered homeschooling in different countries (https://edpolicy.education.jhu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Homeschool…) concluded that, rather than homeschooling being a threat to democracy, “Countries with educational policies that accommodate this form of educational choice demonstrate a strong commitment to respecting freedom and the autonomy of the family unit.”
A paper from Vanderbilt University looked at homeschooling using metrics such as social engagement, college preparation, success in the workforce, and participation in the community (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/261913034_The_social_and_educat…). It concluded that, “the evidence currently at hand leads us to be cautious about too readily accepting the claims of homeschool critics that the academic and social well-being of youngsters is harmed by homeschooling,” largely due to how positive the information to date is.
Finally, using the Westover anecdote to imply that child abuse is pervasive in the home school community was deeply offensive, nor could I find any studies to support it.
If the author’s implied goal is to foster democratic ideas, nondiscrimination, and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints, she should not herself use intolerant, poorly informed ideas to discriminate against our children’s freedom to be educated at home.
Catherine J. Peterson, M.D.
Daniel A. Peterson, M.D./Ph.D.
I am dismayed by Elizabeth Bartholet’s proposal to ban homeschooling for a number of reasons.
First, Bartholet is mistaken to believe that “a majority” of homeschooling families are primarily driven to homeschool by conservative Christian beliefs. According to a 2012 survey by the National Center for Education Statistics, parents rated “A concern about environment of other schools” (91%) and “A dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools” (74%) as “important” or “most important” reasons to homeschool. These outranked “A desire to provide religious instruction” (64%) as a primary reason.
Here in my hometown, a substantial number homeschooling families are liberal-progressive, and the reason why they choose to homeschool is precisely because they reject top-down authoritarianism and the fossilized views of lawmakers who do not understand the actual needs of children and families. When my former spouse and I decided to homeschool our four children, it was because we wanted to – as Bartholet might say – have children grow up exposed to democratic values, ideas about nondiscrimination, and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints. Yet brick and mortar schools, with their history of systemic racism, de facto segregation, bullying of nonconformist children, and whitewashing of history, are not exactly the bastions of democracy, nondiscrimination, and tolerance.
Certainly, there are unfortunate cases where “homeschooling” is a ruse used to hide abuse and neglect in the home, but with approximately two million registered homeschoolers in the United States, the relative number of cases of abuse is minuscule. It is also important to note that in a study by the U.S. Department of Education (Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature, 2004), experts estimated that almost 10% of students would be victims of sexual misconduct by a member of school staff during their school years. That is staggering. Clearly, the problem is with child abuse, not homeschooling. This also ignores one important reason why parents in 2020 may choose to homeschool: safety. Between school shootings and the current COVID crisis, homeschooling has become an attractive option.
Further, Bartholet is apparently not also suggesting a ban on private schools, although private schools in most states have the legal latitude to teach from any or no curriculum, require no testing and no teacher certification, and they can choose to refuse enrollment of students at will (Source: U.S. Dept. of Education, State Regulation of Private Schools, 2009). I currently teach at a private elementary school.
I chose to homeschool my children because I wanted to give them more of the world, not less. I wanted to give them real-life experiences, actual human diversity, and outside-the-home learning at every opportunity. My 14-year-old daughter, who has been homeschooled all of her life, is employed in two college-level internships and organizes school strikes for the climate at our state capitol building, all because she is not tied down by a daily high school schedule. In sad irony, her fellow “school strikers” were often homeschoolers and private school students, because public school students in our county would not have had excused absences had they had participated.
Finally, Bartholet says, “I think it’s always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless, and to give the powerful ones total authority.” That is exactly why I believe that lawmakers should not be able to control how families, including children, are empowered to choose their own method of education.
Melinda Stuart-Tilley, A.L.M. ’19
This public interest professor of law projects a deep distrust of families that wish to educate their own children, particularly if they are Christians. Her view that parents’ care and tutelage rather than that of government schools is dangerous to children reveals elitist nanny-state contempt for the family’s essential role as the educational foundation of a healthy civil society. The fact that Germany does not allow homeschooling at all, far from serving as what Bartholet sees as a role model for America, only reminds of the Hitler Jugend.
As a public high school student competing to enter a top liberal arts college, I recall my dismay mixed with admiration when a pair of home-schooled twins from the tiny rural village of Boonville, California, three hours north of San Francisco on a two-lane road, beat out the rest of the Bay Area and got into Harvard. They were not an isolated case. When interviewed the boys described how they had pursued their intellectual interests in what was a very permissive and encouraging atmosphere. Unfortunately, this is the opposite of how Professor Bartholet sees homeschooling.
It is most peculiar that she cites Tara Westover’s gut-wrenching memoir, Educated, as an example of the dangers of home schooling. I doubt that Ms Westover sought to criticize homeschooling because she wasn’t schooled; she was denied schooling. But 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’s father, a fringe-Christian survivalist who cited Ruby Ridge as the reason he would allow no contact with US government anything, including schools, made his daughter work in the family scrap and herbal medicine businesses and nothing more. Not only did he provide no “comparable” curriculum for his children as required by Idaho law, he forced them onto physically dangerous worksites with no training whatsoever, where they had to think fast or be killed or maimed for life. He couldn’t teach, although he could do Tara’s advanced math problems in his head. He was authoritarian, unstable, prone to violent outbursts and cruel to his wife and children; he was not a homeschooler. No wonder Tara saw a college education, for which she secretly discovered she had a talent, as a way to escape her home. Educated is an inspiring story of how one tough, smart girl survives domestic violence, not homeschooling.
Professor Bartholet believes that homeschoolers are dangerous because they might be like Tara Westover’s father, as up to 90 percent of homeschooling families are “driven by conservative Christian beliefs and seek to remove their children from mainstream culture.” She says some are “extreme religious ideologues” who “question science and promote female subservience and white supremacy.”
Apparently Professor Bartholet is unaware of the throngs of non-white-supremacist families (Black, Latino, Asian Pacific Islander, Native American, mixed race) who are disgusted with the poor quality of American public schools today and unable to pay the fees for private schools. Parents of all colors and genders make difficult sacrifices in order to teach their children at home, as it often requires one or both to cut back on paid work to devote time to studying the curriculum and helping the children meet social and academic requirements for college entrance.
Far from withdrawing from society, homeschooling parents seek out support groups, sports teams, hobby clubs, music, science and arts projects that their children can participate in with same-age kids. If many homeschoolers provide Christian teaching along with the pure academics or bring their children to church, that has always been a parental option. In the last century when I went to public elementary school, my parents enrolled me in “R.E..” the Religious Education bus that came once a week and parked on the school playground after the bell. Even today it is still against the law to prohibit religious activity on school campuses outside of class time, but government schools still try to ban Christian groups and Bible reading, and they have already succeeded in banning prayer in the classroom, replacing it with compulsory Buddhist-style meditation.
Schools are no longer teaching morality, good and bad, right and wrong, because these are considered Christian values. President Barack Obama declared that America is no longer a Christian nation, but he did not say there is an obligation to teach atheism. Nor is there, as in California, an obligation to include the practice of Islam, complete with the taking of Islamic names and the consumption of Halal food, in the public-school social studies curriculum. It may surprise dedicated academicians, especially child advocates who are seeking to protect children from religion, but America has freedom of religion, one of many reasons people have migrated to this country over the centuries. Powerful people like Professor Bartholet who fear religious belief, especially Christianity, are only one step away from persecuting it.
My mother, the daughter of Northern Baptist missionaries in Japan, was partly homeschooled because she exhausted the fine curriculum at the American School in Japan. Her father’s tutoring resulted in the ASIJ recommending that she enter Mt. Holyoke College at age 15. When I attended Wellesley College in the dim past, a full year of Bible study was still a sophomore-year requirement. Even Harvard was founded as a Christian school in the early days of America. Was this so risky?
Today the public schools do instruct on the great harm done by the Crusades, but not on Christian values such as “love your neighbor,” “do not steal,” or why and how a worldwide religion and the advancement of Western Civilization began from the teachings and sacrifice of a Jew named Jesus. The result is that children like my own daughter learn in our “mainstream culture” public schools to despise or at best dismiss Christianity’s fostering of great literature, art, music, honesty and charity.
One of the notable failures of American government today is its insistence that it, the government, knows better than parents how to raise children. Every communist dictatorship has also believed this, but all have been proven wrong. Since federal intervention in the curriculum has forced cultural relativism and political correctness onto the schools, their academic excellence has declined and shared moral standards have disappeared, alarming aware parents everywhere.
I hope that Professor Bartholet and the rest of elite academia soon come to recognize what I have seen in years of teaching at all grade levels and at universities in the US and abroad, that even if parents don’t have a college education themselves, even if they don’t speak English, even if they are Christians, if they love and encourage their children to seek knowledge those children will blossom whether in an elite prep school, a poor urban public school, or at home with a book or a tablet.
The demand for nationwide regulation or legislative banning of homeschooling betrays a statist fear of the family. The assertion that questioning science (climate change and global warming?), promoting female subservience and white supremacy are motives for homeschooling is idiosyncratic at best and race- and gender-bashing at worst. I am not saying child abuse does not exist in America; I am just saying that associating it with Christianity and homeschooling is deeply and dangerously prejudiced. Christianity teaches love, and homeschooling parents show immense love for their children by teaching themselves what the state requires, and then some.
Audie Bock, A.M. ’74
In response to “Homeschooling: Parents Rights Absolutism vs. Child Rights To Education & Protection” by Dr. Elizabeth Bartholet. One of several objections in her paper is a premise commonly touted as true, prima facie, even among the freedom loving homeschool community: education is a right.
Education is not a right. Public education is a privilege afforded by the taxpayers who have an interest in the education of the community for numerous reasons–but it is not a right. To shape it as a right, such as the right to vote or the right to assemble, prescribes an obligation by society to provide it and something that can be cherished or disdained by the rightsholder. But as a privilege, children (and their families) are the ones obligated, and those that neglect or abuse their education should be told to take a hike. In this way it is like the privilege of driving a car. Abuse the rules of the road and that privilege will be taken away and you may face severe punishment depending on the offense. Same with education—or it should be. But because people like Bartholet patently assume that it is a right uncontested, we have the broken, dysfunctional, expensive, bureaucratic, worthless institution that is public and higher education. And even as a right, education as it is provided by the government is a total violation. As Sir Ken Robinson discovered, the educational system, if it is anything, is ultimately geared to produce one kind of person: a college professor. This is perhaps why Bartholet thinks so highly of government schools, but for the rest of us sentient human beings, public education is beyond reform.
James Robert Metzger