Abstract

Since the late nineteenth century, virtually all school-aged children have attended school; only rarely did children live and learn entirely within their homes. In recent decades, however, the practice of elective homeschooling has emerged, and the number of families opting out of regular schools has surged. Currently, the parents of nearly two million school-aged children annually eschew traditional schooling.

A small but well-resourced homeschool lobby has aggressively pressured state legislators to withdraw state oversight of homeschooling. No similarly resourced lobby exists to counterbalance these efforts. As a result, states now impose few—and in some cases, no—obligations on parents who choose to homeschool their children. These parents exercise near-total authority over every aspect of their children’s lives. Many parents homeschool to inculcate in their children their own religious beliefs and values and to insulate children from the diverse values, cultures, and identities they would otherwise encounter in the pluralistic society outside their homes.

This Article argues that it is past time to consider the principles that ought to guide state decisionmaking affecting the regulation of homeschooling in the democratic state. I show that homeschooling implicates the state’s commitments to safeguard the welfare of its young citizens, to guarantee individuals’ entitlement to determine the course of their own lives, and to cultivate a citizenry capable of engaging productively in the shared project of democratic governance with fellow citizens who themselves reflect the diversity that is an enduring fact of life in the United States.

I conclude by drawing on the political theory of education and the science of child and adolescent cognitive development to propose a regulatory compromise that is both principled and pragmatic.

Document Type

Article

Publication Information

98 North Carolina Law Review 1347-1394 (2020)

Included in

Education Law Commons

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