Homeschoolers Face Crackdown in Brazil
by Mike Donnelly • March 12, 2019
During my recent trip to Brazil, I learned that several homeschooling families are being prosecuted and are facing harsh government treatment. This persecution has swelled since a decision last year by the Brazilian Supreme Court, highlighting the urgent need for the national Congress to act on the issue. In 2018 the Court ruled that homeschooling did not conflict with the constitution, but that the federal government would need to regulate home education.
I was contacted by a Brazilian-American family who is providing humanitarian services to at-risk children. They said they were being forced to leave Brazil because they homeschool.
The parents told me that court officials threatened to take their children if the family did not enroll them in school. I was additionally dismayed to learn that when the family contacted the American consulate they were coldly told that they would receive no help if their children were taken.
Ricardo Diaz, President of the Brazilian National Homeschool Association (ANED), told me about another family in a similar situation. Brazilian authorities warned the family that if they don’t stop homeschooling, their adopted children would be taken away and they would be prohibited from adopting others.
These unsettling incidents added urgency to the purpose for my return visit to Brazil: to urge federal lawmakers to act quickly on behalf of homeschool families.
On a Mission
As HSLDA’s director for Global Outreach, I was invited to Brazil again by of one of the leading proponents of legalizing home education, Federal Deputy Alan Rick. In coordination with the ANED and Deputy Rick, I met with senior government officials and members of the Brazilian Congress. My message was simple: take immediate action to support new President Jair Bolsonaro’s initiative to recognize homeschooling.
I also shared the experience and outcomes that have been documented in over 50 years of American homeschooling, and I was pleased to find very strong support. This is a significant change from previous governments of Brazil.
Bolsonaro, for example, had announced that passing homeschooling legislation was an important part of his 100-day legislative agenda. His newly appointed Minister of Education, Ricardo Veles Rodrigo—whom I met—was himself homeschooled and supports legalizing homeschooling.
Newly appointed Minister of the Human Rights Damares Alves told me that she wants to see an executive proposal for a law—a special procedure under the Brazilian constitution called a provisional measure—to be sent to the congress as soon as possible. The measure would have the immediate force of law, and congress would be required to approve or reject the measure within 120 days.
Several senators and members of the lower Chamber of Deputies told me that they emphatically support legalizing home education. Some expressed concern about whether the newly elected Congress—with over a 50% turnover—is ready to move quickly. Others assured me that the will was there and the need to act was clear.
Bolsonaro was elected after campaigning against corruption in a special election that followed the impeachment and removal of the previous president from office. In Brazil, education law and policy are set at the federal level and implemented locally through the nation’s 27 states. In meetings with senior members of the government I was told that there was unanimous support to legalize homeschooling. The only question was what the proposed law would look like and how it would be handled procedurally.
No Time to Lose
Meanwhile, as I already mentioned, some homeschooling families face prosecution. This represents an alarming reversal, considering how in 2016 the Brazilian supreme court halted any such action against homeschoolers pending the outcome of the case regarding the constitutionality of homeschooling.
This stay, a step taken by supreme court Justice Luis Barroso, followed shortly after the 2016 Global Home Education Conference held in Rio de Janeiro. Barroso had favored finding that homeschooling was a constitutional right but was in the minority on the 11-member court. The judicial protection from prosecution provided much-needed respite to the growing movement, now estimated to include 15,000 families.
Numerous previous attempts by conservative members of the Congress to pass laws to protect homeschooling were rejected by the socialist and progressive-left majority.
As a leading democratic country, Brazil’s handling of the homeschooling issue will likely be a greater influence on other countries than even examples from the United States. More countries have governments like Brazil’s, where education policy is set at the federal level. A positive outcome in Brazil would increase pressure on rogue countries like Germany and Sweden that ban homeschooling.
A Hallmark of Freedom
In my 13 years of advocacy for home education around the world, I have come to believe that the way a nation treats parents who homeschool is a window into the soul of the country. Policies that respect the natural presumption that parents act in the best interests of their children is a hallmark of a free society. Such societies recognize the right of parents to choose home education with only minimal necessary interference. Societies that respect these rights demonstrate a mature respect for the principles of liberty and self-governance that freedom demands.
I was greatly encouraged by my visit because a recognized and growing homeschool movement in Brazil will be an important ally in the global community. The election of so many new politicians who reject government as the solution for every problem shows that Brazil is maturing as a free democratic society that respects self-governance, the rule of law, and fundamental rights.
HSLDA’s support of Brazil’s, and other country’s fledgling homeschooling movements, is crucial. Leaders all over the world tell me frequently that the example of the United States is a beacon of freedom. Our support in the form of consultation, encouragement, and—where possible—tangible financial support means the world to these young organizations and movements.
Your continued support of HSLDA through membership and donations allows us to fight for freedom everywhere. We need your help to keep this fight alive and to help our friends in Brazil. If you are able, would you give a special gift today? And if you aren’t a member, please join today!