Homeschooling Internationally: Theoretical Approaches and Practical Phenomena

Marek Budajczak

University of Adam Mickiewicz, Poznan, Poland, putaiszy@amu.edu.pl, homeed@poczta.onet.pl

Keywords: homeschooling, home education, schools, public education, compulsory education, international, law, case study, Poland

 

Homeschooling in its inherently social character is, so to speak, “bound” to the home in two distinctly different senses.  Firstly, it can be identified with the metaphorical home fireside, where both parents and their children sit and interact (or more precisely teach and learn from each other). Secondly, in some broader sense of the expression, it could be understood as a homeland – be it fatherland or motherland – matter. Because of those two types of relationships homeschooling must be perceived, essentially and primarily, as an intra-national entity. Nevertheless this kind of education transcends a country’s borders in many ways and does so quite frequently nowadays. As such, it happens to be an inter-national entity as well. The complexity of  these intertwined, intra- and inter-national relations for homeschooling may be examined from several differing theoretical and pragmatic perspectives. Some of these perspectives will be explored and examined in this article, in an attempt to present a consistent and exhaustive cognitive outcome.  The purpose of this paper, then, is to frame a systematic approach to the many dimensions of “internationality” in the artifacts and processes of homeschooling, while reserving the “heart” of homeschooling for intra-national politics and morality.

 

Constituent Terms and Ideas

 

It seems both necessary, and pragmatically useful as well, to delineate a set of fundamental categories concerning home-based education. Although the presentation must be made in a sequential order, it is worth noting that all such categories seem to form a logically consistent net of cognitive instruments or an internally congruent semantic field (Eco, 1986).

The genus proximum for a classical, genus-differentia definition of “homeschooling” (and all its synonyms like “home education” or “home-based learning” accordingly) would be the general notion of “education” (http://en. wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeschooling, 2012, 1/6).

“Education,” as defined by the dictionary, is the kind of human activity through which knowledge, skills and attitudes are imparted by teaching persons and acquired by the learning ones (dictionary.reference.com, 2012, 1/6).  As all kinds of human activity – the physical, the communicative, and even the mental ones –  are socially preconditioned and mostly preceded in social contexts, in the presence and with the involvement of other people, it would seem obvious that education, and, therefore, homeschooling, is an inherently social undertakings (Vygotsky, 1978).

Of special importance is the aforementioned social preconditioning of any human activity. Both education and homeschooling are subordinated to sets of rules governing deeds of every participant (each being concurrently a member of different social groups with various interests); these rules are directed towards other people and the person him or herself in such contexts. One might even divide or categorize the rules according to their special traits. However, the most important social rules may be categorized as follows: the rules of social freedom vs. the rules of social compulsion.

The first rules point toward autonomous – which does not mean socially irresponsible – functional choices by a human subject, out of the possibilities within a social situation (with the acceptance and implementing of those choices into reality, or refusing to take the opportunity to benefit from the situation, as possible choices). The oppositional rules are generated heteronomously, and because of that they are a matter of functional necessity for every member of society, not being then a personal “subject” of action, but a social “object” (subject to the people who are socially armed with decisional powers and who are socially enabled, when needed, to use instruments of coercion against that “human object” not willing to act according to those rules; Budajczak, 2004). It is not the purpose here, of course, to discuss the rationality of such politics (i.e., the distribution of power among people in a given society), but only to admit its earnest presence in the social life, which is often silenced in the public sphere. Following are examples of such a strategy, or, at least, the state of affairs.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the interstate (more than international) community of United Nations Organization at its summit in New York, 1948, determines in Art. 26, paragraph 1, that: “Everyone has a right to education” (e.g. http://www.un.org/en/documents/ udhr/index.shtml, 2012, 1/6). Therefore — and not only for the general canon (the essence) of the Declaration, but also because of the fundamental meaning of the written phrase — every man and woman, or more precisely every citizen of a country that ratified the document, is vested in the personal freedom of choice in his/her reference to the social means of education.

Notwithstanding such an interpretation of the cited passage, in the same article and point, is its third sentence, in which one may discover the following additional statement: “Elementary education shall be compulsory” (e.g. http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml, 2012, 1/6). This statement appears to be a completely and totally opposite statement compared with the first one cited and discussed.  In this latter statement, education is a kind of social unsolicited duty, and not an activity conducted under personal free will.

Even if the composed meaning of both those sentences in the overall body of the international Declaration creates a really consistent political-educational situation for almost every human being (e.g., freedom for elders and compulsion for minors), the pragmatic outcome of the legal formula determines that socially, in its actual functioning, education is a compulsory activity for the most part in today’s world.

Everywhere in the world the social structure that imposes educational compulsion on its children and their legal guardians, and especially their natural parents (urging them to place their children in some educational setting), is the State, acting so by its own authority. At present the State is the most powerful social entity globally, which in its own territory is absolutely sovereign, and which interacts with other States (being sometimes friendly, sometimes hostile, and sometimes detached from the other ones).

As a result, the important part of the educational phenomenon of homeschooling must be linked, as is true for education in general, with intra-national human (citizens-officials) relations, and only to a lesser degree with international relations: from bilateral to the global.  Homeschooling, then, has a predominantly intra-national character. It is also true, however, that homeschooling has become an important international phenomenon.

In terms of England’s Education Act of 1996 (chosen as an expressive example) education, treated as “compulsory,” may be “received” (another social, legal euphemism) by a child “either by regular attendance at school or otherwise” (www.legislation.gov.uk, 2012, 1/6). In many countries nowadays the main form of that “otherwiseness” is just homeschooling: educating children cognitively, functionally, morally, and sometimes spiritually in the context of their own families, where home constitutes the center of educational resources for them or, at least, the managerial headquarters for such education. The other form is education in small communes (e.g., kibbutz education; Spiro, 1966).  Homeschooling, as an educational option or alternative, still remains a matter of a State’s regulation, and as such is a form of education conducted under social compulsion.

 

Trans-National Political Aspects of Homeschooling

 

Besides the fact stated here of the predominantly national or intra-national character of homeschooling, homeschooling sometimes crosses a country’s borders becoming an international fact. One may traditionally divide the main dimensions of social life into three spheres: the political, economic, and cultural.

The order of the enumeration accepted in these spheres is a rational one. It would seem that the very heart of every group and society’s functioning is political. It is related not only to regulating the scope of participation in social power within the social grouping, but also to deciding how and what to do in the field of economy, and in the field of culture of that grouping.

Politics itself in its turn is composed of three forms of power: the legislative, executive, and judiciary. In the following sections, the importance of these powers and their links with homeschooling in its international context will be examined.

 

Homeschooling and Legislative Powers

 

Legislative procedures exist to give the country’s society a consistent set of normative acts, enabling and directing citizens to act according to the chosen values. In different countries there are different legislative bodies – congresses and parliaments – that create (and sometimes change) the laws. Of primary importance for people around the world are those laws that are created by their national legislators – the constitution and its derivatives. The legal conventions accepted by international bodies have only a minor political power within the States and Commonwealths.

First of all, there is a need to draw a picture of the global situation of educational compulsion. According to the information by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education there are about 66 countries in which education is not compulsory at this time (www.right-to-education.org, 2012, 1/6). Some of these countries are unable, often because of the internal political situation, to grant the proper measures to compel parents and force their children to attend school lessons, or to offer children open access to schools, due to economic conditions within that country.

There are also such situations like the one in Malawi, where the minister of education, Professor P. Mutharika, claimed in early 2011 that compulsory education (forcing people to go to school) is socially “inappropriate” and that the better solution is the universal mode of education, engaging all social agents in creating an educationally constructive environment,  including parents in homeschooling (www. malawidemocrat.com, 2012, 1/6). In such legal conditions of educational freedom, homeschooling may be just one of the educational choices made available.

It would be worth recalling the process of adopting the final redaction of UDHR text in 1948. Seven countries, and especially Lebanon and India, refused at the time to accept the situation where both freedom and compulsion stand together in one article of the Declaration, treating it as logically inconsistent and giving the State too much freedom to introduce arbitrarily chosen programs over parental refusal of them. However, eight other members of the decisive body within the United Nations, including the USSR, affirmed the compulsory formula, stating that some other UDHR regulation safeguards parental power over their children’s education (Tooley, 2004).  For this reason, the dominant model of education in the contemporary world is the compulsory one. Most of the countries (many had enacted it much earlier than the UDHR under discussion) introduced the educational obligation in their territories.

There are at least three forms of this educational duty. In some countries, it is obligatory for a child or teen to attend a special social educational institution with professional workers, called school, whether it be a government school or a private one (the latter being approved by public authorities), both these environments are other than the pupil’s family home. In those countries homeschooling is not possible, unless it is conducted as an underground or guerilla activity, and families interested in it sometimes suffer intense persecution (Taylor & Petrie, 2000).

How many countries forbid (or rather exclude) homeschooling at present? No one really knows that number exactly because of a lack of systemic information in this regard. It is a problem still waiting to be researched. However, we can point to two groups of countries where homeschooling is practically illegal (formally not banned, but in reality impossible to be practiced). To the first group belong such anti-homeschooling countries as Northern Korea, Byelarus, and Cuba (here also belonged the former – under Gaddafi’s regime – Libya). The common epithet for those countries is “a totalitarian regime.” In the second group of non-homeschooling countries, one may count such nominally democratic countries as Slovakia, Brazil, and Germany. Is there any social trait that exists in common within these different countries? It seems possible to note here the effect of socialist governments with their clear statist tendency. In Germany, for example, the banning of homeschooling is an inheritance from the democratic Weimar Republic Constitution of 1919, merely supported and extended by Hitler’s regime (and the ideology of Nazionalsocialismus), and not changed from 1938 (Martin, 2010).

The strange thing is, that although all those countries ratified (with the reservation they are not legally binding!) at least some of the fundamental international rights’ conventions (i.e.,  the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966; the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, 1966; and/or the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989) wherein both the priority and freedom of parents in choosing the means of moral and religious education considered suitable by them is granted, those same countries in their internal legislatory politics ignore these parental rights. The most evident here is the disconnect between the educational non-homeschooling laws of Germany and those adopted by the country regulations of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (in force from 2007). In Article 14. P. 3. of the document, the following unequivocal statement is found:

The freedom to found educational establishments with due respect for democratic            principles and the right of parents to ensure the education and teaching of their children in  conformity with their religious, philosophical and pedagogical convictions shall be respected,  in accordance with the national laws governing the exercise of such freedom and right. (www.europarl.europa.eu/ charter/pdf/text_en.pdf, 2012, 1/6)

On one hand, it seems necessary that Germany’s government should respect the rights of its citizens, but, on the other hand, the reservation in accordance with the national laws governing the exercise of such freedom and right allows this necessity to be circumvented. It would be difficult not to consider such a situation (and the consistency of the legal rule accordingly) as a straight hypocrisy, parallel to the one of simultaneity of the internationally adopted human right and compulsion of education.

The remaining two forms of educational duty might be demonstrated in the examples of Poland and the USA.  In Poland, where the contents of education are treated as compulsory, an obligatory, State generated program of teaching/learning (Ustawa o systemie oswiaty – The System of Education Act – www.men.gov.pl/images/stories/pdf/…/ tekst_ustawy.pdf, 2012, 1/6), exists.  In the USA, it has been impossible to come to an agreement on a common program for all pupils, and, because of that, educational attendance was made compulsory so students would be present at lessons (http://education.stateuniversity. com/pages/1878/Compulsory-School-Attendance.html, 2012, 1/6).

Both solutions might be fulfilled in different social settings, and here the opportunity for homeschooling emerges. However, the space for educating children at home could be determined by legislators of a country as a spacious or a restricted one. Hence, there could be countries where the educational opportunity is practically unlimited, and those where government demands exist (from a few only, and those being relatively unobtrusive, up to many of them and burdensome). With the former we could count some states of the USA, United Kingdom (with respect to its regional regulations), and Portugal. To the second type belong all the rest of the countries.

It would be worthwhile to examine additional information regarding this particular situation, specifically the nationwide research conducted in the USA by B.D. Ray (1997), in which all the regulations of homeschooling by state were divided into three levels (degrees): low, moderate, and high. In the first level, there were no state requirements put on homeschooling parents.  In the second level, those requirements take the alternative or combined forms of notification sent to the state, or achievement test scores, and/or some other professional evaluations of the student’s learning.  Finally, in the third level, the state additionally demanded curriculum approval by the state, teacher qualifications of parents, or home visits by state officials. Of special importance concerning the mentioned research study in this point is the relative lack of differentiations (no significant difference in statistical terms) between homeschool students’ basic battery scores depending on their living and learning in states with those three degrees of regulation. Hence, the maximization of state control over homeschool families (at least in the USA) should be interpreted as educationally ineffective (unprofitable), and economically prodigal. This unique research statement may be treated as creating a clear suggestion for educational policy towards homeschooling in the intra- and international contexts as well.

National regulating of homeschooling might be, and sometimes is, supervised and commented upon by some international human rights bodies, although they are powerless in mandating any needed changes in the national laws to make them consistent with the international human rights conventions. They also operate with little impact on intra-national policies in the field.

The Special UN Rapporteur on the right to education (the international official designated just for the purpose of monitoring the global situation of the right to education), during the period of 1999-2012, made only one comment on homeschooling, in the 2002 Annual Report to the UN Commission on Human Rights (http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G02/100/12/PDF/G0210012.pdf?OpenElement, 2012, 1/6). In the third part of the document entitled: Protecting human rights in education one may find these statements:

The freedom of parents to choose education for their children may not be recognized nor    the rights of the child as the subject of the right to education. The notion of home schooling is unknown in many countries, let alone regulated.  Its examination through the lens of the rights of the child seems long overdue, and the Special Rapporteur will study its human rights dimensions and report to the Commission.

At this time, no further steps have been taken by the Special Rapporteur in this area.

What is more, the Human Rights Council by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights — in its 2006 edition (and only there) of the Compilation of Special Procedures’ Recommendations by Country — mentioned homeschooling as a valid option (vide: A/HRC/4/29/Add.3) in its recommendations for Germany:

It is also recommended … (g) That the necessary measures should be adopted to ensure that the home schooling system is properly supervised by the State, thereby upholding the right of parents to employ this form of education when necessary and appropriate, bearing in mind the best interests of the child. (www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/ chr/special/docs/2006recommendations.doc, 2012, 1/6)

This international pressure did not bring any positive legislative outcome for Germany’s education laws, however.

But from the other side the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (which also implies an international educational context), while citing a critical text by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (2010) under the title Germany: Whether Home-Schooling is Legal: Consequences for Families and Children Who Do Not Follow Related Laws, adds the following disclaimer:

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States. (http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/country,,IRBC,,DEU,,4dd2296a2,0.html, 2012, 1/6).

It is evident, then, that not all international human rights agents perceive their eventual engagements for the part of homeschooling as the proper ones.

If one were to sum up questions of the legality of homeschooling in the contemporary world, and comparisons of national legislatory procedures around the world, it could be stated that the situation in this respect is far from being explicit and stable. The legal rules are often inconsistent and give precedence to the rules of educational compulsion over the educational freedom of citizens of most countries. These rules are likewise fundamentally unstable – they might be changed at any time by the state legislatory bodies. Additionally, while it is always possible to optimize any legal formula, and the legislatory procedures are generally directed towards reaching the ideal solutions, in practice there are many obstacles along the way. Different economic, cultural, and political interests bring forth still new attempts to change the legal status quo of homeschooling. The effects might better, or worsen, the situation of parents and interested in educating their children independently of state coercion, and those children themselves choosing to be educated free of state coercion..

 

Homeschooling, State Administrators, and Judiciary Systems

Irrespective of the actual form of legal regulations of homeschooling in a particular country, the practice of doing it is always a matter of these regulations, interpretations, and implementations by the state officials (school administrators, teachers, school psychologists, and the like). It happens, and not infrequently, that administrative decisions and procedures concerning homeschooling by a family of nationals are incompatible with the national laws in this respect or even violate those laws. The negative experiences of several Polish families could serve as good examples here (Budajczak, 2004).

The administrative courts (where the category of courts applies) investigate citizens’ complaints against state officials’ misdemeanors (or rather their acts perceived as such by the former). The rulings of those courts, often after a relatively long period, are occasionally marked by a personal bias of a particular judge (or a compromised opinion of a jury) against (rather than for) the homeschooling issue.

Traditionally, all such problematic situations with homeschooling — sometimes resulting in financial fines put on parents or legal guardians of a homeschooled child, or even the threat of removing the child from parental custody, combined with possible imprisonment — are displayed by the engaged parties within the countries’ borders. However, sometimes the range of burden of oppression experienced by a homeschooling family that is unable to solve its problems in cooperation with the state officials and/or the adequate national judges, and sometimes the assertiveness of such a family, push it into the realm of transnational procedures.

In Europe, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg presented the complaints of homeschooling families from Germany, Sweden, Norway, and other nations several times. It was a pity that the Court declined to undertake some of those complaints because of their formal deficiencies, or ruled against the complainants, prompting verdicts aligned with the country’s indisputable independence in the field of educational policy (http://www.helium.com/items/1418824-european-court-of-human-rights-germany-france-england, 2012, 1/6). Sometimes it happened, however, that some other State offered its help to the family that was endangered or deprived of their human rights. The most renowned examples involve the cases of two German families – the Leuffens and the Romeikes.

In 1993, a German mother – Renate Leuffen – after her defeat at the European Court of Human Rights, accepted a proposition of help from English state officials and transferred with her son, Danny, into the territory of the UK capital, London, receiving personal care from the HM’s Inspector of Education. Because of the lack of bilateral – English-German – agreement on the automatic extradition of minors, the problems of the family found the solution satisfying (for them, of course, and not for the state of Germany that was persecuting them) (Monk, 2004).

The second family’s name is Romeike. The parents of the family, Uve and Hannelore, after having no possibility for homeschooling their children in the territory of Germany, decided to make their complaint to a national court, as well as the European Court of Human Rights. After the rulings were negative toward them they received support from the Home School Legal Defense Association, the U.S. non-profit organization that for almost 30 years has been defending and advancing the rights of homeschooling families. The Romeikes moved to Tennessee, where they received in 2010 – as the first German family since World War II  –  political asylum because of being persecuted in their country of origin for home educating their own children. This case, however, is still pending because of the later appeal by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (http://www.hslda.org/hs/ international/Germany/RomeikeBrief.pdf, 2012, 1/6).

 

Transnational Non-Governmental Organizations and Personal Cooperation in the Context of Homeschooling

 

There are many forms of social activity concerning homeschooling that engage groups and individuals from different countries. Contacts and co-operation that interfere with politics at the state level usually begin and evolve in national contexts. As grassroots activities they are often provoked by the citizens’ dissatisfaction with the functioning of the state agendas, and especially in the educational domain. Parents as citizens feel they must organize to defend their rights against oppression by state functionaries or to optimize the existing conditions of homeschooling.

Homeschool associations around the world join their efforts to reach the aforementioned goals. Since the personal and social advantages of homeschooling are most evident in the USA, both because of much scientific research conducted there and the vast pragmatic experience of its American practitioners, the socially strong groups of support and self-protection from that country actively engage in political processes in other states. HSLDA, mentioned above, after spectacular successes at the national level (and especially after mobilizing American homeschoolers in the defeating of H.R.6 in the year 1994), on many occasions contacted political and educational authorities in foreign countries to make homeschooling an accepted option both generally and specifically for some oppressed families. These interventions apply to many countries and their people, among them being Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Brazil, and many more.

 

Worldwide Economic Consequences of Homeschooling

 

Homeschooling, in its essence, appears to be a cultural activity connected with spreading and assimilating knowledge generated by human beings and obtaining the competences in dealing with the knowledge. From the very beginning homeschooling, has also been related to many economic factors, such as technologies, instruments, infrastructure, division of labor, material needs of humans, money, and so on. Homeschooling parents and their homeschooled children need different products and services, and, according to the size of the homeschooling population, they might be more or less an interesting target group for different groups of entrepreneurs.

Nowadays, because of globalization tendencies in economy and culture (and especially the growing domination of the English language in international communication and science),  didactic or instructional resources and tools – hardware and software  (sometimes in highly organized packages, as well as special educational methods, all produced, created, or developed  in English-speaking countries) — are sold in traditional and more often in electronic format, or offered online, to many customers in countries other than the one where suppliers have their main residence. When the buying power of a particular family is not enough to meet all their educational needs, help may come from some special supporting groups – for example, foundations – or even single families and individuals. This support takes different forms: free educational packages, reduced or free fees and charges, and also direct financial aid. Research conducted by the author revealed this kind of transnational support has been experienced by many homeschooling families (Budajczak, 2004). Let us mention here only the many interactions on the part of different foreign families by the aforementioned American Home School Legal Defense Association.

The other economical dimension of homeschooling is conducting it while being a travelling worker abroad with his or her family. The group may be divided into professionals with a relatively stable work location, like soldiers in foreign bases or doctors on their missions abroad, to highly mobile specialists such as circus performers, river barge workers, or actors.

Finally, there is a need to remember the economic-political aspect of homeschooling. This form of social organization of a minor’s education was and sometimes still is treated as a threat to corporate interests of teaching professionals and school system workers. The political influence of that large segment of work force in every country, often organized and led by national teachers association’s leaders, reveals itself to be significant in exercising political power. Worth also mentioning are parliamentary careers of former or actual teachers, loyal in their legislative activity to their own social and corporate environments, as well as voters who are teachers. International contacts between teachers unions might be useful in disseminating ideological reservations towards homeschooling, and reservations based on economic conservation of interests of the group.

 

Homeschooling and the Melting Pot of World Cultures:

World languages and Homeschooling

 

The main medium and instrument of every culture is its national language. Homeschooling as an educational phenomenon found its name and descriptions in many languages in contemporary use. In the Wikipedia – the Internet socially created encyclopedia – one may find (as of 2012, 1/6) 28 articles on homeschooling in different natural languages and one in an artificial language (namely: Esperanto). In the list of articles, there are main languages (excluding Chinese) from various parts of the world (except sub-Saharan Africa), and especially from Europe.

In the same regard, worth mentioning is children and their learning of foreign languages. In comparison to other school students, homeschoolers more often learn, and use, in their daily lives different foreign languages. The most common reasons for that fact might be (a) connected with the cultural ambitions of parents valuing linguistic competences for their children; (b) international parenting urging the respect of the cultural backgrounds of the  mother and father of a child; (c) the migration of some families from their countries of origin to the countries allowing homeschooling (e.g., German families often flee to neighboring Poland or Switzerland, or the UK); (d) staying for longer periods of time abroad for work purposes; or (e) the pragmatic benefits of reading and communicating in foreign languages.

 

Scientific Research and Theories of Homeschooling

 

In the second decade of the Third Millennium, scientific research which examines the process and benefits of educating children at home are relatively plentiful. Besides popular studies of homeschooling, there are also many scholarly books and articles, both research-based and theoretical. Among the latter, there have been examinations of various systematizations within the many aspects of homeschooling, along with refined ideological disputes on the “pros” and “cons” of it (e.g., McDowell & Ray, 2000). All the propositions give their valuable, albeit occasionally controversial, contributions to the development of human consciousness regarding the homeschooling phenomenon.

More convincing, however, are the scientific statements or assertions based on empirical evidence. Of the biggest value are research studies conducted by researchers such as  B.D. Ray, G.J. Knowles, P.M. Lines, L.M. Rudner, S.F. Duvall, L.A. Taylor, A.J. Petrie, and A. Thomas. An important source of research findings is the journal Home School Researcher (a peer-reviewed publication of the National Home Education Research Institute)

 

International Communication and

Homeschooling Lifestyle Worldwide

 

Both traditional and electronic media serve as casual “seeders” or disseminating instruments for contemporary homeschooling. According to the developmental phase of homeschooling in a particular country, mass-media of the latter type relate to the phenomenon in different ways. If it is a period of homeschooling pioneering in the country, some public and private media only “discover” the phenomenon and treat it as some imported wonder or eccentricity without much concern. When it gradually evolves, all media — daily and weekly newspapers, and main television and radio stations — demonstrate the ambition to catch a unique picture of it, along with some international links in order to not to remain behind their media rivals. When national homeschooling reaches its mature stage and becomes a standard educational alternative, then, with the exception of some spectacular event, it ceases to be a matter of interest for media curiosity-hunters.

Within the national homeschool movement, information on this kind of education circulates in different forms. Traditionally, there are leaflets and regular publications, and, today, group and personal websites, blogs, chatting rooms, and forums. If the language used in those communicative spaces is known by many, and also foreign people, the international context for them emerges. A very special initiative with a broad spectrum of communication engagements is the HSLDA’s International Department website, previously led by Chris Klicka, and now under the guidance of Mike Donnelly, Esq. (http://hslda.org/hs/international/, 2012, 1/6).

People from different countries, however, may contact one another not only in virtual reality, but also may meet directly to socialize in their places of living or in large groups of explicitly supportive character. Such meetings might gather even a few hundred participants. Here can be mentioned the traditional yearly meetings of the Home Educators’ Summer Festival (HESFES) in England, started in 1998, and more situational ones like the Home Education Conference in 2011 in Spain. For the fall of 2012, there is planned the first Global Home Education Conference (GHEC 2012) in Berlin, Germany. It is hoped this conference will create a platform for the global co-operation of homeschoolers from all parts of the world advancing the idea of homeschooling worldwide.

 

The Cultural Politics of Homeschooling

 

There are many axio-normative perspectives that might be used in evaluating the cultural character and worth of homeschooling. It might be looked upon, for example, as connected with cultural change theories. Some authors operating within such frames suggest that human knowledge (and especially of the scientific type) undergoes systematic evolution that gradually closes in on the very truths on the nature of the world and humans in it, and hence fulfills the hopes of Enlightenment (the perfect rationality). This evolutionary theory runs in parallel to the modernization theory concerning progressive changes in managing reality by laymen directed by state approved experts. If one of the best (or rather evaluated as such) achievements of humankind is socially highly organized education in the institutional setting of school, performed by educational specialists, then homeschooling counteracts this desirable evolutionary process, or at least creates unfavorable obstacles for its course. In this meaning, homeschooling might be seen as anti-modern and a devolutionary or even counter-evolutionary process. Here the epithets of intellectual backwardness and primitivization, for the presumably natural tendencies of homeschooling, appear. However, both assumptions of ultimate value of mental and instrumental evolution might be simply false if only perceived from some different axiological point of view. Some ideological differences, if not openly approached by the oppositional parties, remain permanently unsolvable. Only one of the conflicting perspectives may reign in social reality in a given political period.

In the same regard, and as inconclusive final remarks for this present article — related to religious motivations for commitment to homeschooling, and side by side with a multitude of engagements and supportive actions of different small and bigger faith communities also in overseas areas — it would be worth examining the first official comment on homeschooling by the Holy See, the highest authority of the Roman Catholic Church, the biggest religious community in the world, both national and transnational in character in its functioning. In the 1997 Report to The Committee on the Rights of the Child, in the part titled “Child’s Right and Duty as regards Education and Parents’ Duties and Rights”, the Head of this Church spoke as follows:

Every child, in virtue of his inherent dignity as a human person, has the inalienable right to education including on matters which pertain to the responsible exercise of his rights (e.g. privacy, freedom of expression, access to information, freedom of association, freedom of religion,  and so forth). The parents’ duty and right to educate their children includes the free choice of schools or other necessary means (e.g. including homeschooling), in keeping with parental moral and religious convictions (e.g. parental duties and rights are violated when educational programmes or classes are imposed by the State over their objections).  (www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/docs/ CRC.C.VAT.2_en.doc – 2012-01-31)

 

 

 

 

A Case study: The International Relations of

Polish Homeschooling

 

Homeschooling in Poland has its own special history course. It started as the underground activity of Polish people trying to save their national culture by means of education against the imposed languages, cultures, and school systems of neighboring invaders – Prussia, Russia, and Austria. Soon after regaining its national independence in 1919, an educational law was introduced that enabled Polish citizens to homeschool their children. This law survived for only 20 years, until the outbreak of the WWII. Under Hitler’s regime (1939-45), homeschooling was again a guerilla form of education among Poles. The communist’s (1945-89) regime monopolized national education and made homeschooling illegal in the territory of post-war Poland.

In 1991, only 2 years after the collapse of communism in Poland, the national Parliament passed the System of Education Act that encompassed the homeschooling opportunity for Polish families. The solution was justified in part economically and historically, and also by the international comparisons. Although the needed laws existed in this regard, the first Polish parents became interested in homeschooling their children only after reading the translations of two sociological books by Roland Meighan, or as a result of contacting their English speaking faith communities. Those pioneers started their at-home education in 1995.

The response of school officials from the National Ministry of Education was immediate. They offered the Parliament a sequence of amendments restricting homeschooling rights in some crucial aspects of it. The main change introduced was subjugating families exclusively to public school directors in the vicinity of their place of residence. Only those directors might issue permission for homeschooling.

Along with this situation (from 1999 on,) the first Polish research study on homeschooling, granted by the National Research Committee, was conducted comparing the social conditions of educating children at home in the USA, Great Britain, and Poland. This study was possible only as the result of the international help and co-operation of a Polish researcher with his eminent American and British colleagues, especially B.D. Ray, PhD. The outcome of the study was a scholarly book entitled “Edukacja domowa” (The Home Education) which was edited twice in 2002, and again in 2004. It was the first research publication on homeschooling in continental Europe.

The Polish homeschooling movement owes much to American homeschool organizations and single homeschoolers, and also different faith communities. The most active here was the Home School Legal Defense Association. The organization contacted the Polish Minister of National Education to convince him of the need for legal changes in Polish educational laws. It supported some Poles, oppressed by the school system officials, in their efforts to get formal confirmation of their children’s education according to the American educational rules.

The Polish homeschoolers tried to optimize the legal conditions themselves, too. They asked the Legal Defendant of Children’s Rights and the Polish Ombudsman to urge the Ministry of Education and the Parliament to introduce the mentioned amendment allowing any Polish school – public and non-public – to give applying parents its permission for homeschooling. The law was introduced in 2009, and the difference proved to be dramatic. Before September 1st, 2009, there were less than 50 children homeschooled in Poland. Two years later, at the beginning of the school year 2011/2012, there were some 1200 of them in the country.

However, other legal changes of the System of Education Act 2009 amendment presently in force are not friendly towards homeschooling (e.g., the demand to present to the school director the opinion of a psychological-educational counselor in order to receive his/her permission for homeschooling).  Parents from other European countries come to Poland to homeschool their children here. They are of German and Dutch origin (those fly from the oppression in their own countries) or American, British or Canadian citizen, sometimes even with multinational citizenship because they find in Poland relatively positive legal conditions for homeschooling.

These social conditions however, at least in Poland, are not solid and stable ones. It seems possible to distinguish two general tendencies in the national dynamics of homeschooling worldwide. They could be named the “German way” vs. the “American way.” The first one tends to completely eradicate homeschooling from social life. The second one works on stabilizing homeschooling as a legal and voluntary educational option.

 

Conclusion

 

The main goal of this article was to present a systematic approach to the multidimensionality of the international contexts of homeschooling at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century. Some phenomena, as well as some processes of homeschooling, are clearly international in their characteristics. Nevertheless, at its social core homeschooling seems to be a matter of intra-national human relations. Hence, because human relations are primarily political and moral issues, homeschooling itself is necessarily a case of human guidance and goodness.

 

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