After he left the presidency of Harvard University, Derek Bok offered this anatomy of the soul of American higher education today: “Universities are like riverboat gamblers and exiled royalty: their desires are never satisfied.”
But Harvard Magazine has now upped the ante, going far beyond an insatiable desire for mere money. The May-June 2020 edition of the magazine calls for the abolition of the family. Not in those words exactly, of course, given the bad odor the phrase has acquired: “the abolition of the family” is “arguably the most infamous demand of The Communist Manifesto,” written by Marx and Engels. But totalitarianism by any other name still destroys the family, and this appears to be the intention of the article.
Written by Erin O’Donnell, and appearing on the Harvard-linked website of Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Bartholet, the article, titled, “The Risks of Homeschooling,” announces, with great alarm, that “a rapidly increasing number of American families are opting out of sending their children to school, choosing instead to educate them at home. Homeschooled kids now account for roughly 3 percent to 4 percent of school-age children in the United States, a number equivalent to those attending charter schools, and larger than the number currently in parochial schools.”
What could be more horrible than parents educating their own children? For Harvard Magazine, apparently not much. For Bartholet, homeschooling “not only violates children’s right to a ‘meaningful education,’ and their right to be protected from potential child abuse, but may keep them from contributing positively to a democratic society.”
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Given just how evil Bartholet finds homeschooling to be, her “solution” to this perceived problem isn’t unexpected — she “recommends a presumptive ban” on parents educating their own children.
Along with a lack of uniform national regulations governing homeschooling, argues Bartholet, parent-child instruction “can isolate children.” From whom? From those she labels as the “’mandated reporters,’ required to alert authorities to evidence of child abuse or neglect. ‘Teachers and other school personnel constitute the largest percentage of people who report to Child Protective Services,’” she notes. And this is deemed essential, because “not one of the 50 states requires that homeschooling parents be checked for prior reports of child abuse.”
What is the science-based evidence for the child-abuse dangers that she sees as a concomitant to homeschooling? Instead of evidence, Bartholet opts instead to provide one anecdote, that being the sad case of a “daughter of Idaho survivalists who never sent their children to school.” Although this girl “learned to read . . . she received no other formal education at home.” Instead, she “spent her teenage years working in her father’s scrap business, where severe injuries were common, and endured abuse by an older brother.” Bartholet, O’Donnell writes, doesn’t see this “as an isolated case of a family that slipped through the cracks: ‘That’s what can happen under the system in effect in most of the nation.’”
“Most of the nation”? This is a strong charge, one to be taken with the utmost seriousness. But when we take a serious look at national studies of this subject, rather than the heartbreaking single account cherrypicked by Bartholet, we find the following. In 2018, Brian D. Ray, Ph.D., published the study, Child Abuse of Public School, Private School, and Homeschool Students: Evidence, Philosophy, and Reason, for the National Home Education Research Institute.
Ray’s national study, in marked contrast to Bartholet’s mere assertions, finds that, “based on empirical evidence to date, there is a remarkable rate of abuse of U.S. schoolchildren by school personnel (e.g., teachers, coaches, bus drivers, administrators, custodians)” — that is, Bartholet’s much-cherished “mandated reporters.” Moreover, Ray’s study finds that “the multiple laws, regulations, and policies related to public and private schools result in a very small fraction of abuse incidents by school personnel ever being reported to law enforcement or child welfare personnel.”
Granting that there is “limited empirical evidence available to date,” what we do know at this time “shows that the rate of abuse of children in homeschool families is lower than in the general public. There is no evidence that it is higher in homeschool families.”
Ray’s study repeats a question we all should ask Harvard: “’Why impose regulations on families who already are prone to a lower fatality rate than the rest of the nation? There appears to be no good reason.’”
Perhaps not a “good reason,” but there appears nonetheless to be a reason for Bartholet’s proposed purge of the family. Ray raises it when he notes that, although there is no empirical evidence for increasing government control over homeschooling, “there is evidence that certain proposals for increasing government control over homeschooling would infringe on the basic historical and classical liberal freedoms and U.S. constitutional rights of homeschooling families.”
But if the available evidence shows that homeschooling is no more dangerous to children than public or private schooling, this does not dispose of Bartholet’s other claim that parents educating their own children “may keep them [their children] from contributing positively to a democratic society.” Why?
Here, perhaps, we find Bartholet’s deepest motivation. She tells us in an Arizona Law Review article that “surveys of homeschoolers show that a majority of such families (by some estimates, up to 90 percent) are driven by conservative Christian beliefs, and seek to remove their children from mainstream culture. Bartholet notes that some of these parents are ‘extreme religious ideologues’ who question science and promote female subservience and white supremacy.”
And there you have it: Although Harvard Magazine did not title its article, “The Abolition of the Family,” its diagnosis of and prescription for our perceived ills parrots Marx and Engels’ project in every jot and tittle.
Don’t take my word for it. Consider instead this summary of Marx’s take on the family by one who should know — the Marxist-sympathizing journal, The Nation. In a piece whose title conveys its thesis, Want to Dismantle Capitalism? Abolish the Family, The Nation tells us that, “the family, Marx and Engels noted, was where patriarchy and capitalism worked in tandem to produce willing, alienated workers, where women became little more than ‘instruments of production’ for the men who lorded over them.”
Marx’s women, who are but “instruments of production,” sounds an awful lot like Bartholet’s “female subservience,” does it not? That is because they are the same.
But wait! Bartholet next insists that parents should have “very significant rights to raise their children with the beliefs and religious convictions that the parents hold.” What does she mean by “very significant [parental] rights” over their children? Not much, apparently, because she immediately adds, “The issue is, do we think that parents should have 24/7, essentially authoritarian control over their children from ages zero to 18? I think that’s dangerous.” Bartholet goes further, adding, “I think it’s always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless, and to give the powerful ones total authority.”
Bartholet is right. But for the wrong reason. She is right that “it’s always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless, and to give the powerful ones total authority.” But, to “remedy” this asymmetry in power, she urges that we forbid concerned parents the loving act of educating their own children, replacing them instead with government-approved “powerful people”—people whose power over our children will grow geometrically if the country decides to follow Bartholet’s family-despising counsel.
Bartholet is also right for the wrong reason when she claims that “authoritarian control over their children from ages zero to 18 . . . [is] dangerous.” But homeschooling is an exercise in parental control, whereas the monopoly of “mandated reporters” (reporting on parents and their children) is not only “authoritarian” but smacks of the totalitarianism called for by Marx and flirted with by Bartholet.
So, in the final count, it is not parents teaching their children that I consider especially “dangerous.”
Instead, what I find truly dangerous is the anti-family ideology promulgated by the likes of Bartholet.
Written by Tom Lindsay for Forbes, April 21, 2020