Elizabeth Bartholet has Found an Ally as the Anti-Education-Choice Crowd Attempts to Rebrand Themselves

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“Parents have rights, but I believe children have rights, too—to an environment free from exploitation and to a meaningful education.” — Katherine Stewart author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism

There’s a new article making its rounds in which Ms. Stewart, an activist, attempts to brand those of us who took on Harvard’s anti-parent’s rights campaign against unrestricted home education as “abusive” and “extremist.” The article is full of zingy one-liners and broad-stroked dismissals of those who feel that the rights of parents trump the “rights” of government as it pertains to the raising and educating of their children.

The first thing Stewart does is tell her readers that she’s prepared to be brutally and unfairly attacked by extremist zealots the way that Bartholet, the Harvard professor who preceded her, allegedly was.

Bartholet told me she was immediately inundated with many hundreds of angry and threatening messages and was the subject of a series of negative articles posted on the website of the Home School Legal Defense Association, or HSLDA, a home-schooling advocacy group with hyperconservative leanings founded in 1983, whose founder, Michael Farris, is closely allied with other religious right leaders.

In a way, the abuse proved one of Bartholet’s central theses: that much of home-schooling advocacy right now is in the hands of a small but belligerent minority who believe that parents have absolute rights over their children and that any form of regulation amounts, in the words of some home-schooling families, to “tyranny.”

So now parents who think that it’s tyrannical for government to not only take their money to pay for an education system that they’ve opted out of, but who also believe it is their job and not the state’s to educate their kids, are being painted as somehow crazy and belligerent? Last time I checked, forcing people to pay for things they don’t want (or use), and attempting to significantly limit their natural rights (like the rights of parents to oversee the upbringing and education of their own kids) is a pretty accurate definition of tyranny.

We live in an upside down world, don’t we?

None of this is particularly new, but as you continue reading her article, you realize that what Stewart is attempting to do is rebrand the anti-education-choice messaging as being not anti-homeschool per se, but rather anti-religious-zealots-who-ruin-it-for-everyone-else. She essentially says, “Look, I like homeschool. I might even want to homeschool my own kids. But any reasonable person who isn’t a total zealot will see that I, and Ms. Bartholet, are right here. Anyone who isn’t secretly defending the rights of parents to abuse and neglect their children will obviously agree that homeschooling needs to be regulated and programmed by the state.”

She ends the article by saying,

I appreciate that little of this will bring along the parents’ rights absolutists. But that’s OK. Parents have rights, but I believe children have rights, too — to an environment free from exploitation and neglect, to a meaningful education and to a chance to make a positive contribution to the world. Those of us who share these convictions should consider how to make homeschooling work for the many it can help without risking harm to the defenseless. And we must not allow the far-right faux-outrage machine to derail the conversation.

This messaging is a classic tactic of statists when their first angry and loud demands aren’t met with acceptance. The next step is nearly always the painting of those who don’t accept what they want as extreme, violent, abusive, or by attaching them to a group that is already viewed as one of those things. Once you know that this is the game, it’s easy to see through it—and to help others reject it as well.

I will say this: I am actually encouraged by this article. It tells me that we advocates of education-choice and the rights of parents to raise their own children without permission from the state are winning. The fact that millions of families are already homeschooling (or choosing some form of alternate education), and that up to 40% of non-homeschool families are considering making the switch to homeschool, has people like Stewart and Bartholet shaking in their boots. And now, instead of claiming that children who are homeschooled are somehow disadvantaged when their parents aren’t regulated, they’ve resorted to making emotional pleas and claiming to be victims of abuse themselves.

It’s more important than ever that we continue to spread the messages of education-choice and the protection of individual rights—and, particularly, the rights of families to make choices without heavy handed government regulation. I know that homeschool isn’t for everyone, and I know that some families are in a really tough place right now because they liked the way life was before all of this craziness started—they’re feeling backed into a corner and they don’t really love any of the choices they have right now.

All any of us can do is make the best of the situations we are in, and use the resources we have at our disposal to meet the financial, educational, and emotional needs of our families right now.

If you are looking for resources to help navigate the 2020 school year, I suggest you get in touch with local homeschool Facebook groups (you might be surprised at how many people are experiencing the same concerns and doubts as you). There are also microschools such as Prenda where skilled teachers and tutors host in-person and virtual classes for kids whose parents may have to work, or who want to homeschool but still keep a lot of the things they saw as perks of public education. There’s also Unschool.School, a network of experts in their fields who teach online and in-person classes on a broad range of topics. Their motto is, “Parents decide. Educators provide.”

That sounds like a pretty ideal setup to me. 😉

Of course we also offer a ton of resources for parents who want to take a hands-on approach to educating their own kids. We’ve got our award-winning Free Market Rules economics curriculum that delivers weekly, ready to teach, age-specific lessons for kids age 5-17 (with loads of extra content, and a parent’s guide, to help parents brush up on their free market knowledge). We have books for teens, books for grade school age kids, a card game for the whole family, and a brand new podcast that covers tons of topics that parents and kids can listen in on and discuss as a family.

And… more content to come in the months ahead!

It seems like for every article by some anti-education-choice advocate that starts making its rounds, a dozen new resources for alternative education come available—and that’s a really beautiful thing!

It’s almost as if the market has a way of providing exactly what the people want and need.


— Connor

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Textbooks don’t teach this; schools don’t mention it.

It’s up to you—and our books can help. Check out the Tuttle Twins books to see if they’re a fit for your family!