An upcoming conference at Harvard University offers an excellent opportunity for anyone interested in homeschooling to explore its astounding growth—and gain insight into ways for shaping its future.
The online event, scheduled for May 6 through June 17, is free and open to the public. Register here.
As one of the organizers explained, the goal is to look at homeschooling in a scholarly manner.
“The purpose of the conference is not to advocate for or oppose homeschooling,” said Dan Hamlin. “We’re trying to bring together the best empirical research on homeschooling in one place.”
Hamlin teaches at the University of Oklahoma. His research into home education includes a paper published in 2019 by the Peabody Journal of Education that looks into whether homeschool students have access to important information and experiences he describes as “cultural capital.”
To arrange the event Hamlin is working closely with Paul Peterson, a prominent scholar who has directed several programs at Harvard and has helped conduct extensive research on school choice.
The May–June conference differs greatly from the Harvard event planned for last year, which was eventually canceled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Data collected by the US Census Bureau since then indicates that millions of American students have switched to homeschooling.
“We have a fair amount of empirical evidence to suggest that homeschooling has maybe doubled,” said Hamlin.
In light of that fact, this year’s Harvard symposium plans to take a broader look at homeschooling—and invite questions and comments about the educational option. It will be hosted by the university’s Kennedy School of government, as opposed to the Child Advocacy Program. Topics include diversity in homeschooling, whether homeschooling prepares young people for life, and to what extent homeschool students are socially engaged.
Hamlin said a good portion of each session will be reserved for audience participation, through a moderator.
“For the final session ,” he added, “we’ll have a little fun and talk to parents who homeschool for different reasons.”
Looking at the Law
There will be a place for debate. The conference agenda opens with a panel discussion of the question: Is it time for a change to homeschool law?
Among the experts invited to participate in the panel are Harvard law professor Elizabeth Bartholet and HSLDA Senior Counsel Mike Donnelly.
Though Bartholet stirred controversy in 2020 by issuing severe criticism of homeschooling, Donnelly said he appreciates her agreeing to participate in this year’s event because doing so allows for dialogue on what has become a crucial component of American education.
“I’m excited about the conference, and about being part of it,” he insisted. “This year’s event promises to provide the sort of objective scholarship you would expect from a prestigious university.”
Donnelly added that he believes events like this one at Harvard will benefit homeschooling by bringing to light research on how the option works so well for so many families.
“We have nothing to fear from serious, empirical inquiry,” he said. “In fact, it would be surprising if homeschooling did not attract the attention of serious scholars, because it’s an important social movement.”
And though the conference is not meant to advocate one way or the other regarding homeschool policy, Donnelly said the discussion it engenders should promote HSLDA’s position that freedom is the best approach.
“Our view is homeschooling doesn’t need to be regulated to be successful,” he explained. “If there’s a need for any change, then it’s for a continuing evaluation of the lack of justification for regulating homeschooling. Those who propose additional regulation don’t have any credible evidence that homeschool children are at risk or that regulation would achieve any benefits.”
For more information and to register, visit the conference webpage.