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June 3, 2013

Bulgarian National TV Network Airs Documentary about Home Education

A new documentary focuses on homeschooling in Bulgaria.
A new documentary focuses on the lives of seven families who homeschool despite the fact authorities frown upon the practice.
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By Viktor Kostov
Guest columnist

Education in Bulgaria is tightly controlled by the government, and homeschooling is practically illegal. Yet it was the state-owned TV network, third-largest in the nation, that aired the movie I am a Homeschooler 10 days ago. The showing of the 50-minute documentary is yet another significant development for the young homeschooling movement in the country.

I Am a Homeschooler is a documentary of the stories of seven families from various worldview backgrounds who have chosen to educate their children at home. Homeschooling parents and kids go about their daily lives and answer questions about their choice to home-educate. The viewer also sees the opposition to the home education choice of these families, through their experiences.

A Pair of Impediments

Homeschooling is not well accepted in Bulgaria for two major reasons: a hostile government and an unaware public. Since communism, the government has a history of keeping full control of education. Even nowadays the Bulgarian constitution mandates that all must be school-educated till age 16, and even private schools adhere to government curriculum. Parents are seen as incapable of educating their children and parental involvement, even in the state-school governance, is very limited. Secondly, people simply are not familiar enough with the concept of homeschooling to see it as a viable alternative to statist education.

Ralitza Dimitrova, the film director, does not take a side in the debate; she somewhat accidentally fell upon the subject while working on a different story. A heated discussion took place during a presentation of the film last week in Veliko Tarnovo, one of the larger towns in the country. People were trying to reconcile the two opposing views—to abide with the current laws on education or to exercise one’s freedom to education.

“Face the System”

Although homeschoolers are not harshly persecuted in Bulgaria the authorities frown on the idea. Sometimes they do get ruthless, as in the case of Philip Kostov, whose story is featured in the documentary. “When one chooses to homeschool his children he has to face serious fears,” says Yavor Kostov, the father, an evangelical pastor of a small church. “You have to face the system.” When he pulled out his 12-year-old son from the public school the CPS pressed criminal charges. This heavy-handed approach brought the case to national and international attention. HSLDA members and local churches wrote letters in support of the family. The charges were dropped and the CPS backed off, yet the case remains open.

Petar Porumbachanov, also a devout Christian, shares on screen that he has had only one mild verbal confrontation with educational officials. The school principal declared to the homeschooling father: “Do you realize that children are the property of the state?”

Homeschooling is a novel idea for most Bulgarians, but there are signs that it is not rejected by all. At the premier of the documentary back in February, attended by about 400 people, viewers came to Pastor Kostov and said that they admire him for his decision to homeschool and his bravery to face the system.

So far homeschoolers have used various approaches: from staying under the radar to standing up for parental rights even when at odds with national legislation. I Am a Homeschooler proves that in Bulgaria home education is making a way into the public’s eye and mind. We expect that even in the face of opposition more concerned parents will consider to exercise our inalienable right to raise our children according to our faith and beliefs and to educate them at home.

Watch the documentary online >>

Viktor Kostov, PhD, is a missiologist and an attorney defending freedoms of religion and speech, parental rights. He and his family are based in Bulgaria.