Early in 2020, Elizabeth Bartholet, a professor at the Harvard Law School, became notorious for advocating a “presumptive ban” on homeschooling.
The 3 to 4 percent of U.S. parents who chose to educate their children at home would have to prove to educational authorities that “their case is justified,” and if they couldn’t do so, would have their children sent to public schools.
An article about Bartholet in Harvard’s alumni magazine, reiterating a position she had taken in a lengthy law-review article published shortly before, provoked a furor among parents and young people, some of them Harvard graduates who had enjoyed successful homeschooling experiences.
Then came the coronavirus lockdown. With public schools shuttering their brick-and-mortar classrooms and teachers’ unions promising to keep them shuttered throughout the 2020–21 school year and beyond, the percentage of homeschooling households suddenly surged—to 5.4 percent in late April 2020 and to 11.1 percent by the end of September 2020. Many of the new homeschoolers were otherwise politically liberal urbanites, and the anti-homeschooling movement quickly faded as a progressive cause.
But now the homeschooling opponents are back, with a new, more specific focus: Christian homeschooling. The impetus was the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol by disgruntled Trump supporters. It quickly became identified in the media with “white nationalism” and then with “white Christian nationalism,” on the premise that white evangelical Christians were an important voting bloc for Donald Trump in the 2020 election, and many had attended a huge Trump rally on the National Mall that day. From there, it was a quick jump to evangelical homeschools.
On Jan. 15, the Huffington Post ran a scathing critique of Abeka Publishing and the Bob Jones University Press, which publish textbooks and other materials used by many homeschooling evangelical parents: “Language used in the books overlaps with the rhetoric of Christian nationalism, often with overtones of nativism, militarism, and racism.”
Days later, Chrissy Stroop, a writer for the progressive website Religion Dispatches, chimed in: “It would be remiss of us to approach the ‘where were they radicalized’ question without addressing how the Christian schooling and homeschooling movement, along with many white churches and other evangelical, LDS, and ‘trad’ Catholic institutions, fostered the subcultures” presumably responsible for the Capitol break-in.
A March 2 article in Ms. Magazine focused on “extremist, white supremacist” homeschooling curricula as “the product of a decades-long crusade to deregulate home- and private-school education, the fruits of which are visible in such phenomena as QAnon, COVID denialism, the Capitol riots …”
On April 22, numerous media outlets, including The Washington Post, ran a (now-deleted) article from the Religion News Service by progressive pastor Doug Pagitt, declaring that “homeschooling in conservative evangelical communities is a key channel for ideas to feed into Christian nationalism.”
“The conservative evangelical education system has become a pipeline of extremism,” Pagitt wrote.
On March 30, Philip Gorski, a sociology professor at Yale who studies American religious trends, wrote on Twitter: “Christian homeschooling was—and is—often—if not always—a major vector of White Christian Nationalism.” (Gorski has since made his Twitter account private.)
None of this should come as a surprise. Although opponents of homeschooling have typically raised understandable concerns—such as whether parents with limited educations are equipped to teach math and reading, or whether some parents keep their children out of school as a pretext to abuse them—their actual animus as expressed in their writings is almost always directed at parents who are too religious for their tastes. That means evangelical and other conservative Christians (who still account for the vast majority of homeschoolers), along with Hasidic Jews who educate their children in their own yeshivas.
In her article for the Arizona Law Review, for example, Bartholet referred to what she called homeschooling parents’ ideological commitment to “isolating their children from the majority culture and indoctrinating them in views and values that are in serious conflict with that culture.”
Terms such as “indoctrinate,” “isolate,” views “far outside the mainstream,” and failure to “expose” children to “alternative perspectives” or to teach them to “think for themselves”—those are commonplaces of the academic writings of homeschooling opponents. Just to make it clear whom they are talking about, these critics typically throw in a sarcastic reference to the Bible as “sacred, absolute truth.”
Until very recently, however, homeschooling opponents kept their attacks reasonably subtle. That is, they didn’t come out and say directly that what they didn’t like about Christian homeschooling was the Christian part. Then, the Jan. 6 breach gave them an excuse to do exactly that, usually without being able to back up their attacks with evidence.
Gorski, for example, admitted in a subsequent tweet that he had no idea how “big” the claimed “overlap between Christian Nationalists and Christian homeschoolers” actually might be.
It helps the critics’ cause, of course, that they and the media have redefined “nationalism” to mean mere patriotism or pride in America’s history and civilization, and “Christian nation” to mean a theocracy, instead of a country where 65 percent of the inhabitants of every ethnicity define themselves as Christians and hold some formulation of Christian ideals.
Hence the trepidation over homeschooling textbooks from religious publishers that teach civic virtue, assert that God created the world as the Book of Genesis says, and take a dim view of such progressive shibboleths as feminism, transgender activism, the “1619 Project,” and climate alarmism.
The notion that parents, Christian or otherwise, should be forbidden by the government to educate their children in the values that they themselves hold dear—or be forced to “expose” them to values that they might find abhorrent but are definitely in the secular liberal “mainstream” (advocating unrestricted abortion or same-sex marriage, for example)—is totalitarianism at its crudest.
And now that the gloves are off the anti-homeschoolers and their real aims, it’s also part of a very specific war against a large number of Christians as well.
Charlotte Allen is the executive editor of Catholic Arts Today and a frequent contributor to Quillette. She has a doctorate in medieval studies from the Catholic University of America.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.