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Elizabeth Bartholet

Harvard University

Elizabeth Bartholet is the Morris Wasserstein Public Interest Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Child Advocacy Program at Harvard University. Bartholet’s work is primarily centered around child welfare. She believes that “poverty and social justice are the root causes of most child maltreatment” and that early childhood intervention by social services is needed to prevent abuse. 

Bartholet is a vocal and visceral opponent of home-schooling, describing it as “near-absolute parental power” and “inconsistent” with the human rights of children. In a paper written for the Arizona Law Review, she advocates for an outright ban on homeschooling. Bartholet sees homeschooling as a danger to society, and accuses parents who decide to remove their children from public schools of promoting segregation and misogyny:  

“…parents can now keep their children at home in the name of homeschooling free from any real scrutiny as to whether or how they are educating their children. Many homeschool because they want to isolate their children from ideas and values central to our democracy, determined to keep their children from exposure to views that might enable autonomous choice about their future lives. Many promote racial segregation and female subservience. Many question science. Abusive parents can keep their children at home free from the risk that teachers will report them to child protection services. Some homeschool precisely for this reason.”

Bartholet repeats and expands on her position, claiming that homeschooling may lead to child abuse: 

“Parents can choose to teach that biblical truth trumps all, that all science is false science, that women should be educated to be subservient to men, that people of color are inferior to whites, that people with nontraditional sexual orientations or gender identities should be “cured” or condemned. Parents can choose to put their children to work, notwithstanding child labor laws. Parents can choose to beat their children, starve them, or chain them up…”

Bartholet then critiques the inability to enact any legislation due to the “outdated nature of the Constitution, 

“The U.S. Constitution with its negative rights structure is an anomaly, outdated and inadequate by the standards of the rest of the world Negative rights— rights to be free from state intervention—are particularly inadequate for children…The U.S. Constitution’s focus on negative rights represents an older western constitutional tradition, “increasingly out of step with emerging constitutional norms…”

Bartholet’s hostility towards homeschooling appears to stem from the fact that a disproportionate amount of these parents are conservative Christians and not progressives: 

“It is the religious ideologues who dominate the homeschooling movement…Nor is there any other significant advocacy organization designed to represent the views of the highly educated nonreligious homeschoolers, the descendants of the John Holt progressive wing of the homeschooling movement.”

Bartholet had been slated to appear at a Harvard-sponsored summit that was described as an “anti-homeschooling conference.” Titled “Homeschooling Summit: Problems, Politics, and Prospects for Reform,” it has since been postponed after receiving fierce backlash.  

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