Homeschooling in Brazil: The Demographics and Motivations of Parental Educators
Center of Quantitative Research in Social Sciences (CPEQS), Department of Sociology,
Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil, firstname.lastname@example.org
This exploratory study aims to discuss the rise of the phenomenon of homeschooling in Brazil and to understand the socioeconomic conditions, motivations, and pedagogical approaches utilized by the Brazilian parents who adopt this method. The data presented are derived from in-depth interviews with eight parents and a self-administered questionnaire given to a sample of 61 parents. The results indicate specific social standards for the Brazilian parents, similar to those found for parents in other contexts in other studies, such as a religious motivation to adopt the method. The evidence allows one to estimate the general profile of Brazilian parent educators and also reveals empirical fragility in regards to criticism of the method.
Keywords: Homeschooling, home study, informal education, right to education, Brazil
In the last 20 years, a growing yet modest population of Brazilian parents has adopted homeschooling, despite the fact that the practice is still illegal in the country. The president of the Brazilian National Homeschooling Association estimates that 700 to 1,000 families have decided to assume responsibility for the education of their children at home. This number is small yet consistent with the lack of knowledge regarding the method as well as the threat of legal sanctions against parent educators. In the last two decades, eight proposals to regulate this option have been made by federal and district legislators. Currently, a parliamentary coalition of around 200 congressmen with the same intent has been created in the National Congress.
The recent phenomenon in the country has been inspired by the home education tradition, a practice that is supported by educators such as John Holt and Raymond Moore and which already counts on almost two thousand support organizations and two million students in the United States alone (Ray, 2011). According to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), this option is legal in at least 60 countries.
The academic literature in Brazil on homeschooling is still sparse, comprised only of one case study (Schebella, 2007) and around a dozen judicial studies and philosophical arguments. Brazilian studies propose hypotheses about the topic frequently without mentioning the vigorous literature proposed in other contexts, such as the United States and Canada. The majority of declarations that are made in regards to homeschooling indicate a lack of confidence in parental educators’ pedagogical abilities or their ability to offer appropriate socialization opportunities for their children.
The existing literature in the two countries mentioned above allows us to sketch a profile of this “select population” (Ray, 2010) of families who practice homeschooling in those locations, the majority of whom are: white, middle class, Protestant, with married parents—full or almost full-time mothers and father providers—with much higher levels of education than the national average, and with more than three children. The families normally do not spend a lot on educational supplies and tend to not utilize prefabricated full-time curricula. Despite the societal standards observed, nevertheless, “families from all social origins and races are taking on the education of their children” (Ray, 2003).
Despite the fact that North American homeschoolers are “multi-dimensional” (Nemer, 2002, p. 08), they have been grouped by some authors according to their motivations to educate at home. There are those who have “ideological motivations” “pedagogical motivations,” and “environmental motivations”. The first group “desires to give the child a specific ideological vision of the world” (Nemer, 2002, p. 09). The pedagogical group wants to “educationally prepare the child in a specific way, separate and apart from the desire to instill particular views” (Nemer, 2002, p. 09). The last group wishes to protect their children from negative social influences, such as drug use, violence, peer pressure, and cliques, found in both public and private schools.
Another way to categorize the population of parent educators is by the division proposed by Stevens (2001) between “believers” and “inclusives.” This classification has a direct relationship, as the author indicates, with the cultural origins of the American movement for homeschooling.
According to Ray (2011), among the most common reasons to educate at home in the United States are: customization or individualization of curriculum and the learning environment for each child, improved teaching, and the utilization of pedagogical approaches that are different from those adopted at institutional schools.
Other studies and families present additional motives: avoid instruction that is contrary to the family’s values or beliefs (e.g., secular humanism, evolutionism); avoid “inappropriate intervention from the government” (Nemer, 2002, p. 10); encourage the innate creativity and the curiosity of the child; provide individualized attention; or provide a positive environment for learning. Belfield (2004) indicates that homeschooling is “more common in non-metropolitan areas with few private schools.”
Recent surveys and some of the more comprehensive studies conducted on the phenomenon have evaluated the academic performance of homeschooled children (Ray, 2010; Rudner, 1999). These children typically obtain higher than average scores on standardized tests (including the SAT and ACT). There is also a tradition from the mid-1980s of case studies, comparative studies, and surveys about socialization and homeschooling, literature that was revisited with studies conducted by Ray (2003) and Van Pelt, Allison, and Allison (2009) about the social life of adults who had been homeschooled as children.
These studies indicate that children and adolescents who had been homeschooled are generally successful, typically above the average in measures of social, emotional, and psychological development. In addition, they regularly engage in outside social and educational activities and with people outside of the nuclear family. Medlin (2000, p. 15), however, calls attention to the fact that some of the first studies on the topic utilized techniques that were not reliable and presented “typical errors found in a very new field.” Ray (2011) emphasizes the absence of conclusive evidence about the causality of the positive or negative traits presented by homeschooled students.
This article presents the results of an exploratory study on home schooling in Brazil. The study is a non-probabilistic survey that combined two data collection techniques: semi-structured interviews and self-administered questionnaires completed online. The target population of the study was the parents or legal guardians of the homeschooled children or adolescents. The aim of the study was to probe the societal profile for the population that adopts homeschooling in Brazil. Our intention was to contribute to the debate on the public policies regarding the practice, provide information for the design of posterior probes into the subject, and indicate possible areas of study related to education.
The data were gathered from parents who practice homeschooling through a combination of two non-sequential techniques. The parent educators were invited by email, telephone, social networks, and online discussion groups to respond to a self-administered questionnaire. The questionnaire aimed to verify basic demography and delineate the parents’ motivations for homeschooling. The researcher also selected a group of parents for either face-to-face or telephone in-depth semi-structured interviews.
Parents who would represent distinct subgroups of homeschoolers were selected according to: their beliefs (e.g., believers and inclusives); different levels of involvement in the movement to legalize homeschooling, and a variety of experiences with the practice, particularly in terms of the duration of the experience with homeschooling. The interviews were conducted mainly to clarify the parents’ subjective intentions.
The researcher developed the questionnaire by revising previous surveys designed and conducted by Bauman (2002) and Ray (2010). The structure of the instrument was adjusted for the aims of the current study and the Brazilian context. The current literature on homeschooling in the world was also utilized to modify the instruments for the study.
The questions and response options were also constructed, whenever possible, to correspond to those used in the Brazilian national census in 2010 and the Brazilian National Household Sample Survey (PNAD/IBGE) in 2008 (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, 2008), conducted by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) and by the Getulio Vargas Foundation New Map of Religions (Neri, 2011). This was intended to aid future comparisons of information on parent educators and homeschoolers with the national population of adults as well as with the population of students in the Brazilian school system. Values of monthly family income and expenses with education expressed in Brazilian real were converted to US dollars according to the exchange rate from the Central Bank of Brazil on May 6, 2014, when US$ 1.00 corresponded to R$ 2.23.
The investigation was conducted with a non-probabilistic sample composed of 62 parents from all of the five regions in the country who educate their children at home under the following conditions: they provide instruction, whether they delegate the tasks to third parties or not, to children or tutees, who are school-aged or not, outside of regular schools, and with more time dedicated to instruction inside the home rather than outside the home. Considering the recent rise of the phenomenon in the country, we felt that it was convenient to not restrict the target population to the condition that the children be within the school age mandated by Brazilian legislation (from 6 to 17 years of age). Therefore, the study included participants whose children were under the age at which they are obliged to be enrolled in school. Thirty-three parents homeschooled children under the age of 4.
The sample is entirely composed of parents who declare that they participate in some type of homeschooling. The size of the sample was affected mainly by the reservation that the families had that their supposed public exposure from the study could result in legal sanctions, despite the fact that their anonymity would be protected. The homeschooling studied is restricted to basic education (primary, elementary, middle school, and high school); it does not include higher education.
This study adheres to Lines’ (2003) definition that describes two basic types of homeschooling: independent (in which the parents determine curricula and evaluations) and home study while enrolled in educational institutions (e.g., in schools where the student only goes for exams). Only one case similar to this second type was found in Brazil. Other definitions were not utilized due to the fact that they seem to be appropriate only for the American or Canadian context (Princiotta, Bielick, & Chapman, 2004; Ray, 2010).
The sample and the interviews were conducted by the researcher, with the fieldwork taking place between April 11 and August 1, 2012. The parents who indicated that they were willing to answer the questionnaire were directed to the site SurveyMonkey®, where the instrument was hosted. The answers they chose were automatically stored in a data bank for later analysis by the researcher. The parents had the option of requesting a print out of their completed survey and none of them were allowed to complete the questionnaire more than once. For security measures, the online data collection system automatically identifies the unique IP address of each respondent through the utilization of cookies.
The questionnaire included 31 questions, which were divided into six parts: (a) demographic questions about the parents and the family, (b) educational information about the children, (c) the parents’ motivation and opinions, (d) integration and communication with other parents and support institutions, (e) experience with judicial sanctions, (f) other information/ comments. There were open-ended questions for numerical responses and comment boxes as well as closed multiple choice questions (with either a single answer option or multiple answer options).
The online survey registered the date and time that responses were submitted and, once the study was closed, recoded and organized them for later analysis. The size of the questionnaire, comprised of 31 questions, was intended to cover the maximum number of variables of interest for this exploratory study as well as to contribute to future studies on the same topic without negatively affecting the response rate. The survey took approximately 6 minutes to answer.
Five interviews with fathers and three interviews with mothers were conducted. Three of the interviews were conducted face-to-face in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais and Timoteo, Minas Gerais, and five were conducted by telephone and/or by Skype. In total, three couples and two mothers were interviewed. The interviews began with questions referring to age, level of education, parents’ occupation, and number of children. Next, there were questions about the length of the homeschooling experience, the number of children educated through homeschooling, and details about the type of homeschooling used.
Finally, the motivations for homeschooling and the opinion of the parents in regards to the conventional system of education and the role of the State in relation to education were explored. In the cases where the parents had suffered legal repercussions, aspects about the denunciation, lawsuit, and experience in court were explored in detail. The majority of the time in the interview was spent on questioning about the motivation of the parents.
Data was also collected from an important Evangelical religious leader, who has become a key person in the dissemination of homeschooling in Brazil, especially for the congregation of his church. This interview was intended to clarify: his motivations for defending homeschooling while preaching, his opinion about the characteristics of teaching in Brazilian schools, the role of the State in education, his participation in the process to legalize homeschooling, and the estimated number of his church members who are involved in this type of education as well as their socioeconomic status.
The participants’ informed consent was obtained orally before the interviews with the parents as well as the religious leader. All participants were assured that their responses would remain anonymous. The study did not have institutional financing; therefore, all of the expenses were paid by the researcher himself.
The study was exploratory in nature due to the scarcity of surveys or other empirical data on homeschooling in Brazil. The author is only aware of one other empirical pedagogical study (Schebella, 2007). The absence of empirical sociological literature on the topic impedes the discussion of results in light of other studies of a similar nature. As such, the comparison is made with national data on the Brazilian population as well as with results from studies conducted in the United States, where homeschooling is much more well-established than in any other country.
The survey revealed the presence of parent educators in at least 12 Brazilian federative units, distributed throughout the country in all of the five regions, residing in large, medium, as well as small cities and municipalities. The great majority of parents who participated in the study reside in the Southeast and South regions (73%) and a significant proportion of the parents interviewed lived in Belo Horizonte (10%), the capital of the state of Minas Gerais, in the Southeast region. According to the information collected by the Brazilian National Homeschooling Association, at the time of the study, around 30 parent educators resided in the municipalities of Timoteo, Ipatinga, and Coronel Fabriciano, all in the state of Minas Gerais.
The specific concentration of families in this state was due to the existence of a closed network of families who practice homeschooling and who belong to the same Christian church. One of the leaders of this church, who we interviewed, publicly pronounced his opinion about the Brazilian educational system from the pulpit and suggested in his preaching that parents take their children out of schools. His main motivation was political and moral: “The Brazilian government (the Labor Party Government of President Dilma Rousseff) is occupied with socialist ideology, which works to break all of society’s values in order to establish moral confusion. Their goal is to create a dictatorship and I think that the school is one of the means to which they resort.”
The Christian leader had been married for nearly 3 decades; however, he never had children. “If I had had children, I never would have sent them to school,” he declared. He learned about homeschooling through an American Protestant missionary couple whom he had met at religious conferences held in the 1980s in the countryside of the state of Minas Gerais. “My conviction on the subject has grown a lot in the last few years and I ended up encouraging many people. Many families are educating at home and now I feel responsible for giving support to these families, you know?,” the leader revealed.
According to the leader, around one-third of the parent educators in the three municipalities mentioned and 40% of the parents who homeschool in Brazil have belonged to his church. The Brazilian National Homeschooling Association, which was founded by four couples from Minas Gerais, was also developed under his influence: two of the founders belonged to his church and had been advised by the Christian leader. The researcher believes that some of the parents interviewed could have received recommendations from him to disguise their religious motivations for opting to homeschool. Perhaps this was done in order to avoid supposed judgments from the researcher and future readers of the study.
The role of this religious leader illustrates an important dynamic of expanding education in Brazil that does not take place in the schools: the first phase of homeschool dissemination, which began in the 1980s, occurred through North American Protestant missionaries who had immigrated to Brazil or who were in transit in the country. The results of the survey corroborate the relevance of religious affiliation in the choice to educate outside of the schools: 9 out of 10 of the parents who participated in the study were Christian (which would be equal to nearly 92% of the population at a national level [Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, 2010]) and 40% declared to be evangelical or belong to Protestant denominations (which is much higher than the 22% of Protestants in the Brazilian population [Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, 2010]) (Table 1).
Demographic Characteristics of Brazilian Parent Educators
Parent educators N %
Level of education
No education or E.S. unfinished 1 0.8
Finished E.S. and H.S. unfinished 16 13
Finished H.S. and college unfinished 62 51
Finished college 41 34
Christian 52 46
Catholic 8 7
Evangelic or Protestant 40 36
Other/Not declared/Don’t have 12 11
More than 1 to 2 M.S. 3 5
More than 2 to 3 M.S. 8 14
More than 3 to 5 M.S. 16 28
More than 6 to 10 M.S. 20 34
More than 10 to 20 M.S. 7 12
More than 20 M.S. 4 7
Source: Exploratory study on homeschooling, sample data, Brasil 2012.
Notes: E.S. – Elementary School; H.S. – High School; M.S. – Minimum Salary (US$ 279/R$ 622 in 2012).
The study also suggested a particular socioeconomic background for homeschooling families. The majority of the 61 parents interviewed were married (98%, as opposed to 34.8% of the national population [Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, 2010]), revealing the almost nonexistence of single parent families; and 85% of them had 12 years or more of education, a percentage much higher than the 36% of the Brazilian population over the age of 25 (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, 2010). The data indicated a gender gap in years of education: 91% of the mothers had completed 12 years or more of study, whereas only 80% of the fathers had. In the populations as a whole, the difference is smaller: 34% of men and 37% of women have completed 12 years or more of study (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, 2010).
The questionnaires also inquired about monthly family income and household spending on education. The majority of participants in the study (62%) had a monthly family income between 3 and 10 minimum monthly salaries in Brazil — one minimum salary corresponded to US$ 279/R$ 622, in 2012 – composing the so called “new middle class” of the country (Neri, 2012); and 58% spent up to US$ 90/R$ 200 per month on homeschooling their children. The annual costs for homeschooling would be, therefore, less in relation to the cost per student per year in the Brazilian public school system (US$ 1,180/R$ 2,632 in 2008 [National Council of Education, 2010]) as wells as, probably, in private schools, the data for which are not available at the national level.
In the majority of the families (we estimate around 70% of them), the mothers were in charge of the homeschooling efforts, while the fathers had jobs outside the home. The elevated proportion of mothers who were not participating in the economically active segment of the Brazilian population indicate family models that reinforce traditional hierarchies and gender roles, which probably result from the religious values of the parents.
Homeschooled children in the study were, on average, 8 years old and had begun homeschooling when they were 6 (Table 2). The two ages are coherent with the new character that this alternative presents in the country and indicates the recent constitution of the population of Brazilian homeschooled students. More than half of the parent educators adopted some model of structured learning at home, typically with curricula and pre-established hours for study. Three out of ten parents considered their pedagogical approach to be “eclectic,” which suggests the occurrence of experimentation and combinations of methods and diverse educational philosophies.
The results of the questionnaires show that after a belief in the efficacy of homeschooling, moral and/or religious motivations are the main reasons to homeschool (Table 2). The motivations that the North American literature conventionally calls “environmental” were also important. The majority of parents in the study considered the environment of school socialization to be noxious and the learning climate to be low quality. It is notable, however, that the first problem was indicated more frequently than the second, despite the fact that half of the parents had affirmed that they disagreed with what the schools taught.
The majority of parent educators who participated in the study (60%) defended the existence of public school and formal private education regulated by the government. One-third affirmed that the State should abstain from regulating homeschooling and only 10% thought that it had no role in education at all. The quantitative results presented up to now provide similarities as well as contrasts in relation to the qualitative data produced by the interviews, which will be presented next.
The eight mothers and fathers who were interviewed at length declared a variety of motivations (pedagogical, environmental, and/or moral (religious or not)) for choosing to homeschool. All of them cited negative experiences suffered at school (by either their children or themselves) and mentioned that preserving the moral values of the family was an important reason for taking their children out of formal institutional schooling. One of the parents said that his greatest worry was “to instill principles and values in his children.” Another parent thought that “family values can be destroyed” in school. One of the mothers, an artist, declared that school does not respect “the artists’ ethics, without any limits for anything” and that “the school system was like a prison.”
Characteristics of homeschooling adopted
Age of homeschooled children N %
Less than 1 year old 7 6
1 to 5 years old 36 31
6 to 10 years old 43 37
11 to 14 years old 23 20
15 to 17 years old 6 5
More than 17 years old 2 2
Homeschool method used¹
Traditional structured learning 27 55
Eclectic method 16 33
Thematic unit studies 12 24
Classical education 11 22
Unschooling 8 16
Other² 29 16
Motives for homeschooling¹
Can give the child a better education 53 91
To develop character/morality 47 81
Religious reasons 35 60
Noxious socialization environment
at school 44 76
Poor learning environment at school 31 53
Disagreement with what the
school teaches 29 50
Other³ 57 98
Source: Exploratory study on homeschooling, sample data, Brasil 2012.
¹ The percentages do not add up to 100% because the respondents could choose more than one alternative.
² Other methods/approaches include: Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Waldorf, “project studies”, “natural learning”, “teaching by interest”, Christian curricular programs, etc.
³ Some parent educators homeschool for reasons that are specific to the family. Other motives include: school does not challenge the child, the child had difficulty learning at school, distance from the school, violence at the school, education is the responsibility of the parents, respect for the child’s freedom, etc.
Three couples, all religious, spoke of a hidden curricula in Brazilian schools to “indoctrinate” students with values contrary to their own. One of them affirmed that the Brazilian government intends to “massacre the traditional family” through the schools. Through the interviews “traditional family” was understood to mean institutions and values such as marriage, spousal fidelity, and role hierarchy in the home; it was also understood to mean that the government is not interested in a religious society.
The other two couples said, respectively, that “the State molds the citizen to think in a way that they want” and that the school “indoctrinates about everything that is” and “plays moral tug-of-war” with the families. The last couple indicated that the teachers teach Marxism, evolutionism, sexual diversity, and encourage consumption without family consent. On this point, the researcher maintains the hypothesis that two of these couples, who had been more directly influenced by the religious leader described above, may have attenuated the importance of their religious beliefs in their decision to homeschool during the interview.
In the interviews, the parents also directly criticized the pedagogy and the environment in Brazilian schools. Three of the parents defended the point that homeschooling allows greater flexibility with the curricula and also allows them to meet the “individual needs” of the students. The same parent who described the “moral tug-of-war” believed that schools follow a “disjointed and unnecessary curricula” and that outside of this his children could “learn something useful, play, and have supervision.”
The mother who is an artist said that school “was very boring” for her child; moreover, the school is a location for authoritarian teachers and bullying. In total, five of the parents interviewed mentioned the occurrence of bullying at school as an important element in their choice to homeschool. One of the parents who believed in the existence of “indoctrination” in the schools criticized the high student-teacher ratio and also thought that formal institutions impeded the “natural interests of the children” and did not foster a “thirst for knowledge.”
The parent educators also revealed which type of homeschooling they practiced, how they provided socialization for their children, and their opinion about the role of the State in education. In all of the families, the parents, especially the mothers, were responsible for the education. Only one of them, however, did not receive support from pedagogues, hired teachers, or paid courses. This last family was also the one that was most removed from following the national curriculum and guidelines from the Ministry of Education. Their children studied logic, Hebrew, economics, and marketing, in addition to the traditional subjects. In this family, unlike the others, the father was responsible for the homeschooling.
All of the parents interviewed set times for their children’s daily studies and adopted didactic materials that aimed to encourage the “child’s natural interests,” “autodidactism,” and “respect for the pace of each child.” In the families where more than one child was being homeschooled, there were specific study plans for each child or adolescent. Excursions to museums, trips, and outings were common in all of the families, which also met together frequently to have educational and ludic encounters with other families or “support groups,” where the children would spend time with other children and adolescents. These events were mentioned by almost all of the parents as the main means of socialization for their children.
All of them, with the exception of one father, believed that the Brazilian State should regulate homeschooling. The motives, however, varied among: fear that without State sanctions the parents are committing a crime, the belief that “the families should not be punished,” and the desire to be able to educate at home “without worrying that some government official was going to show up” at their home. The parents that defended the regulation of homeschooling referred to some vague notions about evaluating homeschooling. Two of them suggested periodic evaluations and one defended the creation of specific curricular parameters for this type of schooling. One of the mothers who believed in the need to regulate homeschooling was worried about the possibility of an “insane intervention in homeschooling.” The only parent who disagreed with the regulation argued that the parents who homeschool are fulfilling their obligations and that “it doesn’t make sense to require that the State mandate what they should do.”
Two couples who were interviewed had already been taken to court for homeschooling. One of the two couples had been turned in by other parents in 2005 (when they had already been homeschooling for 10 years). Their seven children had to go to counseling for 6 months, during which time they were required to be enrolled in school. The psychologist’s findings did not recommend that the children be removed from the parents’ custody.
However, problems with teachers and the type of teaching at school caused the parents to return to homeschooling. “We do not accept just anything that is put on our kids, stuff that is not normal (referring to same-sex marriage),” the mother explained. In order to avoid future sanctions, the family moved to Paraguay, where they lived for 3 years. The suit against them was dropped in 2008. Today they live in the capital city of Brasilia and continue to homeschool their children.
The other couple was turned in by neighbors in 2006 (one year after beginning to homeschool their children). They were found guilty in 2007 and 2010. This was the first case in which parents had been found guilty in court for homeschooling. The denunciation resulted in two cases one c:ivil and one criminal. During the criminal trial, their two children had to be tested for learning and obtained satisfactory results.
Nevertheless, in 2010, the parents were fined for “intellectual abandonment” and had to pay a fine of R$ 680/US$ 368 (exchange rate at the time). In December 2007, in the civil case, they were required to re-enroll their children in school and to pay a fine of de R$ 4,560/US$ 2,576 (exchange rate at the time). “We were found guilty without a trial. The judge didn’t listen to us. He didn’t know the kids,” the parent complained during the interview. The prosecutor later, unsuccessfully, tried to ensure that the fine was paid. “We ignored the fine. We didn’t pay it,” said the father, who continues to homeschool his children.
In Brazil, a significant number of homeschoolers seem to advocate the following moral maxim: The right and the responsibility to educate children belong, above all, to their parents. All of the parent educators interviewed claimed the right to give a comprehensive education to their children. Two of them also alleged a type of “contract” with the Sacred Scriptures and with God, in which they were responsible for educating their children according to “His” laws.
The parents who homeschooled in Brazil, according to data from Brazilian National Homeschooling Association, have become more mobilized and integrated with the only national organization that defends the legalization of this pedagogical practice: between 2009 and 2012, the number of families registered in this organization grew 60% (from 250 to 400). The results of this study show similarities and differences among homeschoolers in Brazil and those in the United States and Canada. The most significant difference is that the average monthly family income of those parents interviewed is significantly above the national average (US$ 725/R$ 1,618, in 2011; see Cetelen Bgn, 2012), and is different from what occurs in the United States, where family income of parents who homeschool is equivalent to the national average (Ray, 2009).
As in the United States, the structure of the Brazilian homeschooling families that participated in the study were traditional, with married parents, with the majority of the mothers not working outside of the home, a significantly higher level of education than the national average, the majority without a teaching credential (78%), and the same proportion of five Protestants per one Catholic (see Ray, 2010). Besides this, they also spent less on homeschooling than the cost per student in the conventional educational system, and alleged motivations to homeschool that were quite similar to those mentioned by parent educators in the United States (Bielick, 2008; Lines, 2003; Princiotta et al., 2004; Ray, 2011) and Canada (Arai, 2000).
The phenomenon of homeschooling has grown recently in Brazil. On the internet, discussion groups and blogs dedicated to the topic have been created and receive progressively larger numbers of visitors each year, the majority of whom are parents who are dissatisfied or frustrated with conventional education. The fact that homeschooling is illegal in the country makes many homeschooling families feel threatened by possible legal sanctions, which impeded the rise of a market that offers educational services for this segment. The official recognition of this option would certainly create a favorable environment for improving homeschooling in Brazil.
The survey conducted about homeschooling in Brazil combined two investigative techniques—self-administered questionnaires and in-depth interviews—to collect data on the topic in the country in a non-probabilistic sample of 61 parent educators. The results refer to approximately 10% of the minimum estimated number of Brazilian homeschoolers, as reported by the Brazilian National Homeschooling Association. The sample was small mainly due to the fact that parent-educators wanted to protect their privacy since they were practicing a something that was still considered to be illegal in the country.
The quantitative results revealed that the parents who homeschool are found in all of the regions in the country in urban centers of all sizes. The majority of parent educators, as is the case in the United States, are married, Christian, and have 12 or more years of education. The great majority of homeschooler parents do not have teaching credentials. The reasons given for homeschooling vary, but in general they refer to moral values and, significantly, refer to the Christian religious values of the parents, who allege failures in the conventional education system. More than half of the parents defended that the State should not legislate homeschooling in Brazil.
The in-depth interviews indicated distinct motivations to homeschool, differing opinions about the role of the State in education, yet attitudes and behaviors that are quite similar in the practice of homeschooling and socialization practices for their children. The importance of moral values for the parents and negative experiences in the schools (for either the parent or the child) can be perceived in the decision to remove the children from formal educational institutions. The parents affirmed that they adopted structured models of education and tend to create opportunities for socialization for their children with their closest social network.
The data presented in this study reveal that the generalizations made by some scholars in relation to the motivations of parent educators, such as that they are individualists, (Sayão, 2012), intolerant (Colucci, 2012) or isolationists (Brasildasgerais, 2012) are lacking empirical support. The eight parents interviewed allege the desire to be integrated with the legal context in the country.
The study, however, has limits that must be taken into consideration in the analysis of the results. First, the sample has some limitations. The fact that the parents fear State sanctions, the use of the snowballing sampling technique, and self-selection of many participants as a result of the promotion of the study by a religious organization contributed to a considerable bias of the sample. Besides this, it is believed that the religious leader asked the participants to hide their religious motives so that they would not be targets of possible judgments or prejudice.
The questionnaire, which was limited in order to not affect the response rate, did not have a question about the skin color of the parent educators, the involvement of the parents in the homeschooling, and did not measure the relative importance of each type of motivation for homeschooling. The interviews were also limited by the costs involved for travel and telephone calls, which shortened the time available so that they could be conducted in-depth.
Future studies which investigate the motivations and the ideological profiles of homeschoolers as well as other studies on the psychological and pedagogical character which verify how students develop in these spheres are suggested. Practitioners of homeschooling in Brazil feel threatened by the action of the State and encounter difficulties in conducting the pedagogical approach they have chosen. The obstacles faced could be avoided by offering educational services for this segment, something which would be more probable in a context in which the option to homeschool is legal.
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Note about the author: André Vieira is an Assistant Researcher in the Center of Quantitative Research in Social Sciences (CPEQS), Department of Sociology, Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil.