Rabbi Simcha Wasserman, an esteemed mentor of my husband’s and a revered teacher of thousands, once gave my husband an unusual blessing. He said, “May God protect you from those who believe they are acting for the sake of Heaven.” His eyes twinkled as he spoke, but there was deep sincerity behind his words.
Those who believe that their motives are entirely pure, selfless and represent the only truth are dangerous indeed. Those who deliberately use the language of morality, selflessness and idealism to bamboozle others are likely even more dangerous.
I do not know Professor Elizabeth Bartholet or whether she believes that she is acting only for the public good, but having read her essay in the Arizona Law Review warning about the potential abuses of homeschooling and recommending judicial action to counter parental authority, I do know that her thinking is dangerous indeed. As the Faculty Director of the Child Advocacy Program at Harvard Law School, she is in a position to do great harm.
I could nitpick with various parts of Professor Bartholet’s words. I imagine that my definition of religious ideologue differs from her when she claims that, “It is the religious ideologues who dominate the homeschooling movement,” and I certainly see bigotry hovering when she speaks with palpable dislike about “the number of homeschoolers who are religious, or for whom religion is a primary reason for homeschooling…” I might even find it rather vague and unscientific to present a range for those homeschoolers from “over half to 90%”. Considering that America is a largely religious country, I would venture that there are many government schools whose makeup is composed of parents and teachers who also “are religious.” I certainly get the impression that she would love to eradicate religion from America (at least Christianity) in her search for an enlightened, brave new world.
However, I don’t want to focus on the details of her arguments but rather on a question that societies do need to answer. Do we pass overarching legislation limiting individuals in order to solve problems created by the aberrant actions of a tiny minority at the very lowest levels of society or do we encourage individual freedom and allow greatness to grow? We cannot do both.
Good people, among which I include myself and you, recognize that homeschooling could theoretically be used as a shield by evil and/or sick parents. Homeschooling also allows parents to pass on their values, whether or not they conform to the latest popular and politically correct notion. I’m pretty sure that Prof. Bartholet would not approve of the values and religious beliefs of millions of homeschoolers whose children are now grown, contributing and thriving members of society, including my own. Since good people can and do differ on values, let’s focus on an area we can all agree: children should not be physically abused, defining abuse as gross and criminal harm. Protecting the children of those parents is the ostensible goal of Professor Bartholet.
That goal faces two insurmountable problems: The first one is that in Professor Bartholet’s world, government and public employees are all noble, incorruptible, capable, diligent and worthy. If only that were so! Are there parents whose children need to be protected from them? Yes. Are there teachers whose students need to be protected from them? Yes. Are there parents who may have the best desires but who are not capable of successful teaching? Yes. Are there licensed teachers who are graduates of Schools of Education who are not capable of successful teaching? Yes. If the goal is to protect children, then homeschooling cannot be singled out. Too many American students who attend government schools are damaged in the course of their student years and way too many graduate while functionally illiterate and incapable of flourishing in society.
The second problem I’d like to highlight is that if we accept Professor Bartholet’s seemingly reasonable argument that homeschooling allows parents to “hide” their children away so that no upstanding citizen will see abuse, then outlawing homeschooling is not enough. After all, why should parents be able to abuse their children for five years before they reach kindergarten age? Even lowering the age of compulsory schooling to three or four leaves too much time for evil. The logical conclusion of thinking that the government must 100% protect children from evil/sick parents is that parents should not be allowed to take children home from the hospital (obviously, home births need to be outlawed) without a home inspection and other documentation. After all, we do those things before allowing for adoption or foster parenting. If we are meant to ignore the reality of government ideology and failure that allows some foster children to be tragic victims of a broken system, then why should all children not be so protected?
There are even mothers who harm their children in utero through drinking or using drugs. Perhaps pregnant women need to be isolated and under government supervision. (Obviously, in the eyes of most of the elite, if the mothers want to harm their babies by aborting them, the government should help, not hinder that desire.) You see where I am going. Either we assume that the government is not only benign but omniscient and saintly and treat all parents as if they are suspect and potential Satanic reincarnations or we form a society that trusts its citizens while trying its best to isolate dangerous individuals.
Am I taking things to an extreme? Yes. Over the years, we have seen example after example of ideas that were dismissed as far-fetched and absurd turn into legally protected mandates. “That will never happen,” is not a belief on which to dismiss logical conclusions when one follows a train of thought.
It is futile to attempt to achieve a perfect world on this earth. Yet, that is the siren song of socialism. In that worldview, children ‘belong’ to the government, not to their parents. Amherst law professor, James Dwyer expresses this idea when he says, “The reason parent-child relationships exist is because the State confers legal parenthood…” This is the system for which Professor Bartholet is advocating. Personally, I believe that my children are a blessing from God given to my husband and me, not a gift of government.
A society can have freedom and greatness or succumb to the false promise of utopia. Despite all my imperfections as a homeschooling mother, I choose to raise my own children, and I want to live in a country where I trust most of my fellow citizens to do the same.