Now that Alex Harris is a father, he appreciates his parents’ wisdom in addressing their children’s educational needs individually.
“The people who made the choices about my education were the two people who knew me best and loved me most and truly desired my good and the good of my siblings,” said Harris, a homeschool alum and a graduate of Harvard Law School. He spoke out after his alma mater—Harvard, that is—published an interview with law professor Elizabeth Bartholet, who argued for a ban on homeschooling.
Harris and his six siblings grew up largely off the grid, with no television but with plenty of books and outdoor exploration. His parents were not well-educated themselves. But Gregg and Sono Harris, early homeschool leaders, took the task of educating their children very seriously, imbuing lessons into daily life.
“By every metric, we are the people Professor Bartholet would outlaw,” Harris wrote in a letter to the editor of Harvard Magazine. In the latest issue, Bartholet discussed a paper she wrote in the Arizona Law Review claiming homeschooling is unregulated, deprives some children of a “meaningful education,” and isolates them in abusive environments.
Outraged Harvard alumni who were homeschooled themselves responded almost immediately. They called Bartholet’s scholarship one-sided and poorly researched. Many of them published articles refuting her claims and offering alternate perspectives.
Bartholet perhaps drew the most ire by asserting that allowing parents total authority over their children’s schooling is inherently unsafe.
“I think it’s always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless, and to give the powerful ones total authority,” she said.
But homeschooled Harvard alumni repeatedly pointed out that Bartholet erroneously assumed powerful state actors like teachers are inherently safer for children than family.
“No one doubts that abuse occurs in homeschools,” wrote attorney and Harvard alumnus David French on his blog. “It happens. No one should also doubt that abuse occurs in public schools. I’ve seen that with my own eyes in my public school childhood. The law prohibits abuse in both contexts, and it is imperfect in preventing it in both contexts.”
Bartholet explicitly called out the Home School Legal Defense Association in her article, stating legislators hesitate to constrain homeschooling practices due to the advocacy group’s overwhelming political clout. HSLDA Vice President of Litigation and Development Jim Mason considers that a compliment.
“We’re actually glad that she raised our name in the article,” he said. “We’re quite content to be the people who help homeschooling families.”
Mason also pointed out that Harvard missed an opportunity to join an evolving national conversation in a meaningful way due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It is kind of ironic,” he said. “I think that the law review article had been a long time in preparation, but it was launched in a time when everyone has their kids at home and many people are considering homeschooling.”