The War on Homeschooling

Benjamin Keagle (L), 17, helps his brother James Keagle, 10, during a homeschool assignment in St. Charles, Iowa, September 30, 2011. (Brian C. Frank/Reuters)

In response to More Thoughts on Homeschooling and Harvard Magazine

About Elizabeth Bartholet and homeschooling, Alexandra de Sanctis writes: “Though she doesn’t acknowledge it, the result of her ban on homeschooling would be that wealthy parents can continue to avoid public schools by sending their children to expensive private institutions while a dearth of school-choice policies and a lack of financial resources leave lower-income parents with no options at all.”

Most wealthy families do not avoid public schools by sending their children to expensive private schools. They segregate themselves geographically in affluent neighborhoods, where the high cost of entry and heavy tax burden perform the role of tuition and private-school entry requirements — exclusion. You can pay for exclusivity through tuition or you can finance it through your mortgage, but the result is the same.

Bartholet is pretty open about her program, which has less to do with ensuring equal educational opportunity across socioeconomic groups (ho, ho!) and more to do with extending the surveillance state, lest unsupervised proles make child-rearing decisions at odds with the priorities Bartholet would prefer to see enforced.

The conception of the public schools as a coercive and homogenizing moral force is fundamental to the mandatory-education project — our very first public-education law (known by the wonderfully evocative title “Old Deluder Satan Act”) was explicitly anti-Catholic in its intent, as were many of the public-education laws (Blaine amendments, etc.). Like our Puritan forebears, contemporary progressives believe that what keeps the infidels from the One True Faith is mostly ignorance, which can be cured through coercive indoctrination.

Leaving poor families with no choice in educational matters is, from that point of view, the great selling point of abolishing homeschooling and other alternatives — not a regrettable tradeoff.

We talk about the “separation of church and state,” but the Left is very much interested in evangelism and in using the apparatus of the state to that end. Homeschooling is one of the few authentically radical movements of any consequence in contemporary American life, and the desire of powerful people such as Elizabeth Bartholet to inhibit it is very strong.

I’d like to see more separation between the schools and the criminal-justice system. Instead, we will continue to use the education system as an instrument of surveillance and coercion to bully poor people into uniformity with the cultural and aesthetic preferences of Harvard professors, one more on-ramp to child-protective services, family court, jail, etc.

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