Everyone is a home-schooler these days, from working moms and dads with toddlers to former empty nesters whose housebound college children are trying to keep up with online classes.
This new reality has caused a Harvard professor to denounce the whole idea of home-schooling, which got a lot of people upset. Now, as the amateur research scientist I am, I realize that whenever possible, it is best to go to the primary source for your information. I read people’s opinion of what the professor wrote, but I wanted more.
Thanks to the miracle of dumb luck, I stumbled upon the primary source. It was not an article, it was a full-blown, 80-page research paper, with all of the annotations and citations one would expect from a person with a title like Elizabeth Bartholet: Morris Wasserstein Public Interest Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.
Because I have nothing else to do on the weekends (other than continue my constant battle with backyard projects), I dove head first into this academic document, wanting not to comment on comments about it, but see exactly what this extremely well-educated professor had to say about the topic of educating children and the role parents play in it.
I already know what the Church teaches about the role parents are supposed to have with regard to the education of their children. St. Pope John Paul II made that clear in his letter to families in 1994: “Parents are the first and most important educators of their own children.”
The Holy Father said a lot of other things regarding the role of parents and the role of the state in the education of children that I don’t think the professor from Harvard would agree on. When it comes to parents, Bartholet is not on “Team JPII.”
I paused for a moment before these 80 pages, thinking maybe I do not have the intellectual bona fides to challenge an esteemed Ivy League professor. But being underqualified and overconfident has never stopped me before.
And besides, for an academic treatise, the paper by Bartholet is easy to read. It isn’t dry and full of super “inside” social science phrases and hieroglyphics, but there are subtle and not-so-subtle uses of language within it that makes it clear why this paper has so been so readily referenced within popular culture. As highbrow as it is, there is nothing soft or middle of the road about her opinion.
Since I am lowbrow, I can equate the good professor’s beliefs about mothers and fathers by recalling the critical scene in Mel Brooks’ movie “High Anxiety.” In his character’s breakthrough therapy session, his mentor/therapist clears up his hyperanxiety: “It’s not heights I’m afraid of … IT’S PARENTS.”
How else could someone with or without an Ivy League diploma interpret this conclusion from Bartholet? “Many home-school because they want to isolate their children from ideas and values central to our democracy.” I did not realize so many home-schooling parents were teaching the Communist Manifesto, Che Guevara on Civics, and Das Kapital for Dummies.
For this conclusion to be accurate, the professor’s opinion of what constitutes “democratic values” must be infallible; I’d wager the milk money she believes no one is infallible.
The many comments about this paper suggested the professor believed parents were an existential threat to the well-being of their children. I thought that must have been hyperbole. I was incorrect, and I know I am incorrect because Bartholet is very precise in her language.
She considers traditional parents’ rights a “dangerous idea,” and fully believes the state’s interest is much deeper and encompassing than the last several centuries of English common law have led us to believe.
I did not home-school my own children, but I know lots of people who do, and they don’t strike me as being anything other than committed and loving parents. If some of them have crackpot ideas, the democratic value I thought I shared with even Harvard professors was that their crackpot ideas were none of my business.
But then a lot of people think I have crackpot ideas, like marriage is between a man and a woman and is an unbreakable bond, or that a baby growing inside a mother’s womb is a human being.
The most telling quote in the 80 pages of this document is when the professor voices concerns over parents exercising their democratic (and religious) rights to raise their children as they see fit and bemoans the result — that a large section of home-schooling parents are “committed to isolating their children from the majority culture and indoctrinating them in views and values that are in serious conflict with that culture.”
Other than saying “Amen” to that statement, I can only counter with words from Blessed Bishop Fulton Sheen: “Moral principles do not depend on a majority vote.”