Court Report

We’re Aware of Media Critics, and We’re Still Defending Homeschool Freedom

We’ve received a number of emails from members and friends of HSLDA who are concerned about The Washington Post’s recent series on homeschooling. The articles discuss a variety of topics, including concerns about the safety of homeschooled children and the validity of research on homeschooling achievement, as well as calls for more government involvement and regulation.

We want to assure you that we are aware of these articles and engaging where appropriate.

One of the articles in this series, published on December 2, was headlined, “What home schooling hides: A boy tortured and starved by his stepmom.” Although the article should have been more accurately entitled, “The Failure of CPS,” the Post’s reporting laid the blame for this child’s unconscionable death on homeschooling.

I want to emphasize that homeschooling is based on the conviction that every child is precious, and that parents are their children’s first and fiercest protectors. So it is an unspeakable violation when parents harm their children rather than love, guard, and nurture them. Our hearts are with the victims of this terrible harm, and we have been working with homeschool organizations across the country to help adopt policies that protect children.

On December 12, Peter Jamison interviewed me for what would become the last article of the 2023 series. The topic was HSLDA’s approach to legislation—what kinds of regulations we advocate for, what types we oppose, and why.

I carefully explained that HSLDA advocates for freedoms that enable parents to make educational decisions that prioritize their children’s academic and emotional well-being. It is not just homeschoolers who have discovered that education is most effective when it is nimble and tailored to each child’s individual needs. This is why we oppose legislation and policies that apply generic bureaucratic requirements to unique children and families.

As homeschooling continues to grow, we can expect more resistance and criticism. I recently described this kind of scrutiny—and what I expect to see in the next few months and years—in a speech at our national conference for homeschooling organization leaders.

Here is an excerpt from that speech, given in September 2023, that I feel is helpful and appropriate for our current situation.


This year is HSLDA’s 40th anniversary. At times like this, it is good to take stock.

The good news is that homeschooling today is freer in America than it has ever been. Legal barriers continue to roll back, as they did in Ohio and Vermont earlier this year.

Homeschooling is also more socially acceptable than it has ever been as more homeschooled kids grow into responsible adults and take their place in society. We’re witnessing second- and third-generation homeschool graduates begin homeschooling.

Consider that 40 years ago homeschooling was either illegal in some states, incorrectly prosecuted as illegal in many others, and strongly disfavored in the rest.

Forty years of combined effort from local homeschool groups and HSLDA has brought us to this day. It has been an honor for me to play a small part in working to secure and protect homeschool freedom, and to make homeschooling possible for millions of families. That the boundaries of freedom have expanded, with fewer and fewer states still embracing antiquated laws, is to be celebrated.

But pendulums swing. First one way and then the other.

There are no guarantees that freedom, once secured, is safe forever. And we know how important it is that we are not caught standing off guard. It is critical for us to anticipate and prepare for whatever may come our way during the next 40 years.

While I do not wish to cry “wolf” at every turn, I also do not want to be caught unawares.

If you believe, as I know you do, that homeschooling matters and that it is worth fighting for, you know that we will not go gentle into that good night.

In 2018, I gave a speech at an HSLDA conference, entitled “The Civic Virtue of Private Home Education.” I am reminded of that title today as it relates to the historical origins of homeschooling, and the growth of homeschooling—not just in the number of children being educated, but also the growth of our collective role in society—and what that could mean for how we look at our work in the future.

My thesis is that homeschooling has grown from a successful social movement to an enduring institution. An enduring institution that can help shape our culture; an enduring institution that can help form the character of our children, our families, and our communities.

Third wave

But first, I want to flash back to 2010 and an article written by our founder, Mike Farris, that he called “The Third Wave of Homeschool Persecution.” He described the three waves as attempts to “curtail or crush the homeschooling movement, specifically the Christian homeschooling movement.”

The first wave argued that homeschooling could not provide proper academic instruction. The second involved that all-too-familiar question, “What about socialization?” Even back in 2010, those arguments against homeschooling had lost a lot of traction.

But the “Third Wave” of Mike’s title involved “an argument that is essentially true … homeschooling parents are effectively transmitting values to their children that the elitists believe are dangerous to the well-being of both these very children and society as a whole.”

In “Third Wave,” Mike cited several law review articles that decried the liberty of parents to raise and educate children and pass on deeply held values and beliefs, the very reason that many of us decided to homeschool in the first place.

While nothing much happened to put the recommendations in those law review articles into place, fast forward 10 years to 2020 and we see that the academic thirst for rolling back homeschool liberties has not been slaked.

In March of 2020, a prominent Harvard law professor named Elizabeth Bartholet published a law review article arguing that homeschooling is such a bad practice in America, carried out by such a bunch of backwards clods, that it should be presumptively banned. Not just regulated more rigorously, but banned altogether.

I suspect that she believed that her premise and her policy recommendation would be met with high praise—so much so that she planned a summit at Harvard to advance the policy.

But two things happened that demonstrated that Bartholet’s claims weren’t so. First, homeschooled students at Harvard, alumni, parents, and dozens of academics who study education and homeschooling immediately decried not only the premise but also the poor quality of the work in Professor Bartholet’s article.

And, as I wrote at the time:

“According to my fancy word-search tool, Professor Bartholet mentioned Home School Legal Defense Association 113 times in her 80-page article. And she made a pretty good case that HSLDA is an especially effective advocacy organization. To be fair, she casts our effectiveness in darker terms than we would. If her portrayal of HSLDA had been a political ad, we would appear in a grainy black-and-white photo, and, as ominous bad guy music plays, the sinister voiceover would say, ‘HSLDA—brutal, extremely aggressive, extraordinarily powerful, unreasonable religious ideologues.’”

Because Professor B. had been so kind as to cite the work of HSLDA 113 times in her article, which one critic called an “80-page screed,” we returned the favor by publishing a series of essays, which we later printed in the form of a book called Homeschool Freedom: How it Works and Why it Matters.

In what must be one of the best, or, depending on your perspective, worst examples of bad timing, The Harvard Crimson magazine publicized the good professor’s law review article just as public schools all across the land closed en masse because of COVID-19.

In keeping with the times, the Crimson article went viral. For all the wrong reasons, if you were Professor Bartholet. Because suddenly, the whole world was homeschooling.

And nobody talked about banning it.

While we can put the COVID-19/Bartholet skirmish in the win column, our ideological opponents have not left the field. And they aren’t likely to, as long as families choose to homeschool for reasons that are contrary to the values of large swathes of the prevailing culture.

Fourth wave

In what might perhaps be a fourth wave of homeschool scrutiny post-COVID-19, we are beginning to see more negative portrayals of homeschooling—particularly Christian homeschooling—in well-written and highly produced popular publications.

Earlier this year, The Washington Post published, front page above the fold, a deeply reported story about a young couple who described being harmed by their Christian homeschooled upbringing. They had left the faith and were publicly critical of their parents.

As the second article in the series, the Post also published a deeply reported profile of our founder, Michael Farris, and the role he has played in advancing parental rights over his long career. We knew it was coming. We knew it wouldn’t be a puff-piece by Farris admirers. But when it landed in our inboxes, it wasn’t a complete hit-piece either.

Still, the level of attention and the resources devoted by one of the nation’s highest-circulation newspapers gives us pause. It causes me to ask, “What are these guys up to?”

The third article came out. Again, high quality, but then this: “‘Parents who are not motivated by religious freedom might be more open to regulation,’ said Anne Holton, professor of education policy at George Mason University. ‘The parents who are in it for other reasons may be less resistant.’”

And Amazon Prime famously streamed the docuseries, Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets, in June. The scandal involving the Duggar family and Bill Gothard was almost a decade old, yet the series had the biggest debut of any documentary series ever produced by Amazon Studios.

Then on October 8, 2023, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver focused on homeschooling and HSLDA’s role in removing barriers. Although it did mention some of the positives of homeschooling, the episode spent a considerable amount of time focusing on abuse and neglect.

The third wave that Michael Farris wrote about in 2010 involved clunky, barely readable law review articles that didn’t sink very far into the hearts or minds of the culture.

And in 2020, Professor Bartholet’s clumsy continuation and attempted justification for banning homeschooling got a lot more publicity than those previous attempts, but was fairly laughed off the stage. It was embarrassing.

But this fourth wave, while similar, is vastly more effective. It is more relatable and accessible, and it comes from the heights of popular culture. These fourth wave productions are presented compellingly for an audience that may not know any homeschoolers. These new efforts more subtly advance the narrative by implying that because some homeschooled children experience abuse or neglect, homeschooling itself is intrinsically harmful and dangerous.

This new fourth wave scrutiny from the lofty heights of the popular culture compels us to become better at telling the complex stories of homeschooling; to be more mature in how we tell our stories.

The homeschooling community has grown and expanded over the past 40 years and includes people from all walks of life, backgrounds, and belief systems. Our audience has grown, but our message will never change…


And what is this message? That homeschool freedom is good, but not just for its own sake.

With great freedom comes great responsibility. As parents, we must remember that God gives us children so that we can shepherd and nurture them. They are not products of our little homeschooling factories. They are themselves. And yet homeschooling remains one of the most powerful ways to help prepare children to take their place as productive members of society. In this way, homeschooling serves as a civic virtue.

As I wrote previously for the Court Report:

HSLDA believes that the homeschool dad singing the ABC song to his 4-year-old son; the mom leading the weekly co-op; the volunteer organizing speakers for the state homeschool convention; and a merry band of dedicated homeschool advocates in Purcellville, Virginia, personally assisting families of all backgrounds every day, are all playing a part in creating a vibrant society and an environment of freedom that promotes human flourishing.

To that end, it remains our mission to make homeschooling possible for every parent willing to take up the great challenge and the great responsibility of faithfully teaching their children.

Jim is an attorney, litigator, and homeschooling dad who has helped HSLDA win a number of landmark cases establishing and protecting homeschool freedom.