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Harvard Law School appears to cancel anti-homeschooling summit amid pandemic

Harvard Law School appears to cancel anti-homeschooling summit amid pandemic

Established in 1636, Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States. The University, which is based in Cambridge and Boston, Massachusetts, has an enrollment of over 20,000 degree candidates, including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. Harvard has more than 360,000 alumni around the world. | (Photo: Courtesy of Harvard University)

An invite-only anti-homeschooling conference that was to take place at Harvard Law School appears to have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The “Homeschooling Summit: Problems, Politics, and Prospects for Reform” conference was sponsored by the Harvard Law School Child Advocacy Program and in cooperation with a number of anti-abuse groups. It was designed to “convene leaders in education and child welfare policy, legislators and legislative staff, academics and policy advocates, to discuss child rights in connection with homeschooling in the United States.”

“The focus will be on problems of educational deprivation and child maltreatment that too often occur under the guise of homeschooling, in a legal environment of minimal or no oversight. Experts will lead conversations about the available empirical evidence, the current regulatory environment, proposals for legal reform, and strategies for effecting such reform.”

The elite law school has not made an official announcement of the cancellation but invitees were reportedly emailed directly regarding the change of plans. Corey A. DeAngelis, director of School Choice at the Reason Foundation, tweeted on Friday both a screenshot and direct link to a Facebook update from the Coalition of Responsible Home Education, a group that was invited to present at the event, stating that the conference was no longer happening. The CRHE Facebook post has been taken down.

The apparent cancellation comes following a widely-circulated article in Harvard magazine calling for a presumptive ban on all homeschooling. The article featured an interview with Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Bartholet, who opined that children have a right to a "meaningful education" and that homeschool environments can be abusive contexts that warrant state intervention. Bartholet cited as typical the experience of Tara Westover, whose harrowing homeschooling ordeal among Idaho survivalists is recounted in Westover's memoir, Educated.

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"The issue is, do we think that parents should have 24/7, essentially authoritarian control over their children from ages zero to 18?" the professor asks in the interview.

"I think that’s dangerous. I think it’s always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless, and to give the powerful ones total authority.”

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Bartholet elaborated in the interview that some of the parents who homeschool their children are "extreme religious ideologues" who question science and are in favor of white supremacy and female subservience.

Her comments drew criticism from many, including Harvard graduates.

Following the fallout, the professor said in a recent interview with The Harvard Crimson, “There’s no way I’m for indoctrinating children in some universal majority culture.

“I think parents absolutely have the right to raise their children within their own religion," she added. "I just don’t think parents have a right to isolate their children from the larger culture.”

In a Tuesday email to The Christian Post, Mike Donnelly, senior counsel at the Home School Legal Defense Association, said that "Bartholet’s closed conference, apparently now canceled, was aimed at discovering strategies to infringe on the freedoms of homeschooling families and only invited participants who agreed with their narrow and unsupported views about the homeschooling community."

He noted that her comments in the Harvard magazine illustrate the elitist mentality that parents can’t be trusted to raise democratic citizens.

"We see a robust homeschooling movement as a vital part of any pluralistic free society," he said.

With schools closed across the nation due to the coronavirus pandemic, HSLDA said it is seeing an uptick in interest in homeschooling.

"With virtually all children suddenly schooling at home, HSLDA has created www.mompossible.org as a resource for all parents confronting school closings," Donnelly said. "Crisis schooling is different from typical homeschooling, but we have seen a noticeable increase in people talking about not sending their children back to school in the fall. Whether it's 1% or 10%, it seems pretty likely that there will be an increase in the number of children homeschooling this year." 

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