Monday, April 20, 2020
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Monday, April 20, 2020. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Homeschooling—A Threat to American Democracy? Harvard Magazine Presents the Argument
Just at the very moment when millions and millions of American parents found out that they were unexpectedly homeschoolers after all, Harvard Magazine has decided that this is the right time to run an article in its May-June issue entitled “The Risks of Homeschooling.” The reporter is Erin O'Donnell, but the main figure behind the argument is Elizabeth Bartholet. She is the Morris Wasserstein Public Interest Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. She's also Faculty Director of Harvard Law School's Child Advocacy Program.
But you need to note that this article by Erin O'Donnell really isn't about risks in homeschooling. It's a broad side argument to abolish homeschooling and it also basically recommends a complete transformation of American law and morality to remove parental authority and parental choice as the key issues, determining issues in the education of children and instead in the name of children's rights and with an argument based upon especially international law and precedents, call for homeschooling to be basically abolished, exceptions to be allowed only in extremely rare circumstances. But more than anything else, the argument itself deserves our attention.
O'Donnell begins the article, "A rapidly increasing number of American families are opting out of sending their children to school, choosing instead to educate them at home." Now, the interesting thing is, let's just pause here, is that she's clearly not referring to the COVID-19 crisis. She's not pointing to the current moment when children are not in school unexpectedly. She's arguing that the homeschooling movement is itself rapidly increasing, but she sees it as a threat. She tells us, "Homeschooled kids now account for roughly 3 to 4% of school aged children in the United States." Interestingly, she tells us, that that's roughly equivalent to the number of American children who are attending charter schools and she says "larger than the number currently in parochial schools."
But she gets right to the point when she introduces Professor Bartholet and says that the professor "sees risks for children and society in homeschooling and recommends a presumptive ban on the practice. Homeschooling," she says, "not only violates children's rights to a meaningful education and the right to be protected from potential child abuse, but may keep them from contributing positively to a democratic society." Professor Bartholet said, "We have an essentially unregulated regime in the area of homeschooling." O'Donnell went on to explain, "All 50 states have laws that make education compulsory and state constitutions ensure a right to education." But Bartholet said, "If you look at the legal regime governing homeschooling, there are very few requirements that parents do anything."
Now, as the article unfolds in the Harvard Magazine, Professor Bartholet argues that it is important that children go to schools so that they may be observed by "mandated reporters, teachers in particular." She says, "Teachers and other school personnel constitute the largest percentage of people who report to child protective services." But the most important issue she cites is ideological. As O'Donnell tells us, in a recent paper published in the Arizona Law Review, Professor Bartholet "notes that parents choose homeschooling for an array of reasons. Some find local schools lacking or want to protect their child from bullying. Others do it to give their children the flexibility to pursue sports or other activities at a high level. But," she says, "surveys of homeschoolers show that a majority of such families, by some estimates up to 90%, are driven by conservative Christian beliefs and seek to remove their children from mainstream culture." The next statement by the professor is key, arguing that some of these homeschooling parents are "extreme religious ideologues who,” as explained, “question science and promote female subservience and white supremacy.”
O'Donnell summarizes, "She views the absence of regulations ensuring that homeschooled children receive a meaningful education equivalent to that required in public schools as a threat to US democracy." Professor Bartholet basically says that homeschooling is a specter that is now threatening the American experiment in democracy. She says the homeschoolers have become an incredibly powerful political force. That's undoubtedly true. She also says that parents should have "very significant rights to raise their children with the beliefs and religious convictions that parents hold." But, says O'Donnell, "Requiring children to attend schools outside the home for six or seven hours a day does not unduly limit parents' influence on a child's views and issues."
Professor Bartholet said, "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." The professor went on to say, "I think it's always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless and to give the powerful ones total authority." Now, before we turn to the very lengthy article that was recently published in the Arizona Law Review by Professor Bartholet, we need to understand what she's saying here. She is saying that our democratic values—“our” becomes a crucial issue here—are endangered by a notion of parental authority that makes parents actually authoritative in the lives of their children.
And here's something else to note. Ever since the beginning of the Common School Movement in the United States, particularly under the influence of figures such as John Dewey in the early 20th century, the movement came as an effort to at least partly, as Dewey argued, remove children from the religious and sectarian prejudices of their parents by putting them in a common school that would develop a common culture. The schools would become a socializing agent and of course there was an ideological component to this as well.
John Dewey was also one of the founders of the American Humanist Association and one of Dewey's principles for developing the common school and its influence in developing a common culture was a replacement for Christian theism that he called a common faith. Furthermore, those who have been trying to bring about an absolute revolution in Western societies have found that it is the indomitable strength of the natural family that is the greatest obstacle. And if you're trying to reshape society, you have to aim yourself at the young. You want to gain as much time and influence amongst the young as possible and thus you can see why those who've been trying to push for a more, they would style it, progressivist agenda in the United States have seen the public schools as the great ally and you'll understand why they've been so successful in reshaping the public schools into incubators for this kind of ideological experiment.
They've not been successful evenly across the country, but that is the general pattern in which the public schools have been going and it is deeply rooted in an ideological history. I would see three major barriers or obstacles to this progressivist agenda in the public schools, one of them is the fact that the American experiment in public education has been based in local control of the schools. And local control, though not absolute, has meant that individual communities have had a lot of say historically in the curriculum of the schools and the hiring policy of the schools, but we also need to understand that those who are trying to push a progressivist agenda have been very successful, especially with the mandates that come with federal funding. And the federal funding is a reciprocal process in which the taxpayers in a state send money to the federal government that sends it back by its own formula to the states, but sends it back with stipulations.
The second major obstacle to a progressivist bent in the public schools has to do with the fact that the teachers and administrators, the teachers most importantly, are drawn from the local community almost by definition. And that means that if you're looking at a school in Alabama, the teachers are going to reflect Alabama. If you look at teachers in Manhattan, they're going to be more likely to reflect Manhattan. And especially across the heartland of the country, the fact that so many local citizens have been involved on the school boards in the school administrations and on the teaching faculties, that has been a major obstacle.
But the biggest obstacle to a progressivist direction for the public schools and beyond for America's youth is the fact that American parents do have significant rights in deciding where their children are going to be educated and how their children are going to be educated. But if nothing else, American parents need to know what the agenda is. And it is important, before turning to the law review article, to recognize that the article appeared in the Harvard Magazine as if this should make just common sense to the readers of that magazine.
The Educational Agenda of the Elites: Why the Main Argument Against Homeschooling Is an Argument Against Christian Homeschooling
The bias against Christianity and Christian parents is reflected in this article not only in the text, not only in the timing, but also in the art that is accompanying the articles by Robert Neubecker. It shows children outside of school that is shaped like books for the wall and an open book for the roof and the books that constitute the right wall are entitled reading, writing, arithmetic, and Bible. Perhaps the most important thing to note is that the Bible is included here as if it's the one thing that doesn't belong. But the other thing to note is that the word “arithmetic” is misspelled.
Now, you can draw one of two conclusions about that fact, either: a, the illustrator accidentally misspelled arithmetic and none of the editors at the Harvard Magazine noticed, or b, it was an intentional effort to be condescending towards Christian homeschooling parents as if those parents can't spell arithmetic. It's also been pointed out that the one child inside this house or school is looking out through bars as if in prison.
In her article recently published in the Arizona Law Review, Professor Bartholet writes, "Homeschooling presents both academic concerns and democratic concerns. Appropriate education helps give children the academic skills needed to participate productively in society as adults through employment. It also makes children aware of important cultural values and provide skills enabling children to participate productively in their communities and the larger society through various forms of civic engagement." She continues, "Even homeschooling parents capable of satisfying the academic function of education are not likely to be capable of satisfying the democratic function."
Now, on the one hand that could be academic prose that reflects academic condescension towards homeschooling parents, but it is more likely a backhanded rejection of the worldview of those parents. In the early pages of the lengthy law review, Professor Bartholet argues that there is a very important ideological background to the reluctance of many Christian parents to enroll their children in the public schools. They want to protect their children from, as one list appearing in the book says: secularism, atheism, feminism, and value relativism, which they see as inconsistent with the values they espouse.
At this point, the law review article sites Michael Rebell, author of the book Flunking Democracy. He's the one who made the argument that Christian parents want to avoid exposing their children to secularism, atheism, feminism, and value relativism, which he says are "inconsistent with the values they espouse and undermines their ability to inculcate in their children their beliefs in the sacred absolute truth of the Bible." Now again, the whole point here is to present that belief in the sacred absolute truth of the Bible as ridiculous and anti-democratic.
What about the legal basis for homeschooling? Professor Bartholet doesn't believe that there is much of an appropriate legal basis. Of course, this brings to mind cases such as the US Supreme Court decision in 1972 known as Yoder. As I've mentioned many times, that case arose because Amish parents were asserting their own parental rights over the education of their own children and the Supreme Court of the United States, in that decision, recognized that it is parents who have that authority and can make those choices.
By the time Bartholet concludes her article, she argues that court should clarify, redefine, or reverse decisions such as Yoder and make clear that children have rights. But here's what's so interesting: Children, of course, can't make those decisions for themselves and that means if someone else will have to make that decision for them and that's where those on the progressive side of our cultural equation intend to be, the ones who will stand in for the rights of children.
Near the end of her article, Professor Bartholet writes, "Constitutional doctrine should recognize that children have enforceable rights to an appropriate education and to protection against maltreatment. This would mean that legislators could be required to enact legislation protecting those rights and it would mean that if legislatures impose significant restrictions on homeschooling, courts would uphold those restrictions." But I want to draw attention to the fact that as she concludes her argument, Professor Bartholet is not primarily concerned about United States law or the United States Constitution. It's very important to recognize that she is extremely interested in international law. We should also note that most of the international precedents that she cites are from Europe.
Arguing for the practical abolishment of homeschooling, she said that not doing so would be "inconsistent with international law, with the way other countries think, the way they structure constitutional rights and duties regarding education and child protection, and the way they regulate homeschooling." Now, this is a major ideological divide in the United States. It comes down to a basic question. To what degree should the United States Constitution be interpreted by or modified in accordance with other constitutions in other nations? Primarily we should see the very state-centered constitutions when it comes to parental rights and education that are found in many of the most secularized nations in Europe.
By page 59 of her article, she's arguing that international law provides a model for the United States. She cites precedents in the Netherlands. She also cites Germany and Sweden. On The Briefing, we've discussed one notorious case in Germany where Christian parents have actually had their children removed from the home simply because they insisted on homeschooling. The German constitution and the German courts recognize no parental authority for parental choice in the education of their children, period. And that is a clear European precedent, although that is also not true uniformly, even in an increasingly secularized Europe.
As she concludes the law review article, she argues for a general presumption against homeschooling with the burden on parents to justify exceptions. She then writes this, "When exceptions are granted, children should still be required to attend some courses and other programs at school, including for example civic education, arts, and physical education, and extracurricular activities." She says in this paragraph, "This is important to ensure exposure to alternative views and values, a broad range of activities, socialization, and contact with mandated reporters."
We know where she stands when it comes to parental rights, what about religious liberty issues? It is very interesting that her article includes this statement, "Monopoly controlled by parents or by religious groups is very different from freedom to resist monopoly controlled by the state." She says in this paragraph, "Religious and cultural groups that deserve to survive will survive even if their children are exposed to the larger society's views and values."
Just to understand what she's saying there. She's saying that the religious groups that deserve to survive will survive. Now, that's interesting, isn't it? In her view, what should be the religious groups that should survive? Well, they would be the ones that of course would join the progressivist agenda. By her definition, those deserving and surviving religious groups will be the ones who aren't threatened "even if their children are exposed to the larger society's views and values."
Now honestly, if you were looking for evidence that there is a plot to try to subvert parental authority and if there is an agenda to try to enforce one new worldview on all the children of the United States through the public school system and by mandatory attendance in those schools, well, this is exactly the kind of evidence that you would be looking for. And of all things, here right in the middle of a pandemic, it appears not only as a pretty massive law review article in the Arizona Law Review, but as a promotional piece, a feature article in the Harvard Magazine's May-June 2020 edition.
The irony is rich, and ironic is probably the best way to describe this because it is unlikely that the article had anything to do on its timing with the COVID-19 crisis and the pandemic. But the fact is it now appears right in the midst of that pandemic. Even as I said, oddly enough, millions and millions of American parents are homeschoolers when they never expected to be.
You recall that a few days ago on The Briefing I mentioned that article in the Wall Street Journal by Matthew Hennessy. The headline: “The Virus Makes Homeschoolers of Us All.” He's the Journal's deputy editorial features editor. But the interesting aspect of that article is that Hennessy was arguing that many parents who didn't volunteer to be homeschoolers but now find themselves to be, may also discover two things. Number one, that they really like being with their children, and secondly, that they see the strength of homeschooling.
The Assault on Parental Rights Won’t Stop with Homeschooling: Why Christian Schools Will Be the Next Target of the Secular Elites
But next, as we try to order our thoughts concerning parental authority, parental rights, parental choice when it comes to the education of children, well, let's consider the fact that there is no one right Christian answer. There are homeschoolers. There are those who send their children to Christian schools, to private schools, who send their children to the public schools and a number of permutations thereof of all those combined. There are consortium schools and there are network schools. There are all kinds of things that are options out there, some of which were not envisioned just a few years ago.
The important thing here to recognize is the assault upon the parental rights and authority when it comes to homeschooling will represent an equal threat to parental choice and parental authority and other educational choices. We've increasingly seen parents shut out of many public school decision making, curriculum shaping decisions. And furthermore, we have seen in many cases even an opt out provision denied for Christian parents when it comes to sexual education or now sexuality education. We have seen curriculums revised in some states that require an opt out for sex education where the topic is simply redefined as health education, especially when it comes to the T in LGBTQ, but increasingly the entire array, and parents are just cut out.
But as we're trying to order our thoughts according to a biblical worldview, we come down to the understanding that all Christian parents are homeschoolers in the first sense, which means that according to a biblical worldview, every single Christian home is the first school for the children in that home, the first school. Not necessarily the only school, but it is the first school. Parents are teachers, period. And some parents, many Christian parents, will make the decision that they want to educate their children in their home. They want to take that first school model and continue it throughout the elementary school, middle school, and high school experience of their own children.
It is also true that some parents, Christian parents operating in a biblical commitment and according to a biblical worldview will make different decisions for different periods in their child's life. They might make a decision for the first few years, make another decision for middle years, and yet another decision for say the high school years. They might also make different decisions for different children in the same family. But it's extremely important to recognize that it is parents, Christian parents to whom I'm speaking, who have the primary responsibility and should have the decisional authority when it comes to making the choice about where and how a child is going to be educated.
The agenda that's reflected in the argument from Elizabeth Bartholet at Harvard University, Harvard Law School, it's an agenda that says parents are going to have to take a back seat to society and the society is going to make the decisions related to the education of the children in that society. Just recognize the kind of state-ism that really does represent, and also understand that the elites are absolutely confident that if someone gets to make those decisions other than parents, they will have the power and the authority to make those decisions, make no mistake.
But you need to note something else. An assault here on Christian homeschooling, and notice the main argument was against Christian homeschoolers, that is the same kind of argument that will be extended to Christian schools, schools that seek to operate on a school model, an institutional organizational model based upon Christian convictions, Christian doctrine, and a Christian biblical worldview. Because the same kind of requirements that will be made of homeschooling children, that the state's going to have to have at least part of their time to do what the state wants to do with the children, that is going to be extended to Christian schools inevitably.
We need to understand that in this context, the modern American context, it is going to take all of our conviction to keep Christian schools Christian, any of them. Notice, as I pointed out, that the model to which the American elites are looking is the secularized model of Europe in particular and those countries that have no constitutional recognition of parental authority to do anything other than get their kids dressed and send them to the government schools.
Perhaps the two most shocking statements made by Professor Bartholet in these articles is: first, that Christian parents have no particular right to protect their children from being presented with alternative worldviews at the very earliest ages. Just notice this. That's an explicit argument in her article. On the other hand, Christians should respond, that Christian parents not only have the right but the absolute responsibility to teach their children in accordance with Christian conviction and to guide them into understanding the world in a way that's consistent with that Christian understanding and the Christian truth claim.
But the second extremely shocking and revealing statement is the fact that America's tradition, constitutionally and otherwise, when it comes to legal homeschooling needs to be replaced with an international model that is clearly tilted towards the secularized societies of Europe. But just remember she said that the religious groups that deserve to survive will survive. We've already learned that, haven't we? Secularized religion is absolutely no threat to a secularized society, and that turns out to be the most important point.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
It's very timely for me to point out that for several years, Boyce College has offered high school students the opportunity simultaneously to continue in their high school studies and to earn college credit from an uncompromising Christian worldview curriculum through Boyce College's dual enrollment program. Especially right now in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and its interruption in the normal academic cycle, we want to serve students even better by expanding our dual enrollment offerings, allowing students to earn college credit online right now.
Our next online eight week session will begin on May the 11th and will include an array of courses interesting and helpful to high school students who, just remember, simultaneously will be college students. To learn more and to apply online, please visit boycecollege.com/dual. That's boycecollege.com/dual.
For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.