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July 31, 2012
Families Hope for a Homeschool Amendment

By Juliana Starling

It has been quite a year for the homeschooling movement in Brazil. In a very short period of time, homeschooling has gone from what was thought of as an eccentricity of a few deviant families to a legitimate option all families ought to have to educate their children in a democratic country. The topic has never had so much space in the media. At first, many positive articles and analyses came out. Now we are beginning to hear the criticism. But still, many people nowadays—very differently from a year ago—have heard something about homeschooling in Brazil. They might not be willing to practice or support it, but the concept that it should be a right of parents to decide about their children’s education is gaining a lot of momentum. The political aspect of homeschooling in Brazil has grown alongside the social movement.

Status of Homeschooling

The current status for homeschooling in Brazilian legislation is undefined. Homeschooling is no longer officially banned—that is, there is no penalty established for educating one’s children at home. However, the very idea of not sending your kids to school is foreign to most Brazilian law officials. The Brazilian constitution states clearly that parents and the state have a joint duty to provide education for children. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Brazil subscribes, explicitly states that the family has the prerogative to decide on the type of education over the state. This concept is also supported in a more subtle way by the Brazilian Constitution. Yet up until very recently homeschooling had not been even considered by our authorities.

The two laws that regulate education in the country (the ECA, Children’s and Youth Statute and the LBD, Guidelines and Foundations of Brazilian Education) do not take into consideration the reality of homeschooling. These laws require children between the ages of six and fourteen to be enrolled and frequent at a formal education institution. Alexandre Magno, Legal Director of ANED (the Brazilian National Association for Homeschooling), explains that these laws are directed towards Institutional Education and that some of their requirements should not apply to home education. The purpose of these laws is to guarantee children their right to education, not to forbid home education. The Brazilian Criminal Code has also been cited previously concerning homeschooling, since it states nonattendance at school is a crime subject to punishment. However, when this allegation is aimed toward homeschool families, it is a deliberate denial of the instruction and education these parents are providing to their children. It is important to note here that the different states in Brazil are not as independent as in the US, and the laws concerning education are the same throughout the country.

Amidst this current legal scenario where homeschooling is undefined, some Brazilian families have been prosecuted under charges of intellectual negligence for failure to enroll their children in the school system and to comply with Brazilian education policy. The Nunes family in the state of Minas Gerais has become the most well-known case. After less than a year of pulling their sons, twelve and thirteen years of age at the time, from school and beginning to homeschool them, they were prosecuted with both civil and criminal lawsuits. Despite providing plenty of evidence that their children were receiving an excellent level of education at home, the parents were convicted and sentenced to pay fines and to send their children back to school. They did not comply with either decision. Other families have followed the Nunes’ example and are currently facing the same charges. The difference nowadays is that the Brazilian public is becoming more and more aware what homeschooling is and better understands the difference between home education and intellectual negligence. Many additional lawsuits have been avoided because some families have been successful in convincing social workers that what they are doing is legitimate.

Amendment to Legalize Homeschooling

In the past, two bills that would have recognized homeschooling as a valid educational option failed to pass. There seemed to be no interest on the part of the authorities, and there was no organized movement behind these initiatives. They were pretty much isolated attempts at a proposal which was not yet mature. A proposal for a constitutional amendment is still transiting the National Congress but at a slow pace. Our new strategy involves the idea to simply try and amend one education law and not the entire constitution at this time. Representative Lincoln Portela, from the state of Minas Gerais, proposed an amendment to the ECA, a law that regulates basic (K–12) education in Brazil. Instead of requiring approval by the whole congress, this type of amendment only needs to be approved by two committees—the Culture and Education Committee and the Justice and Constitution Committee. We are pleased that Representative Portela started working alongside the recently created ANED. He and his team have put together the “Mixed Parliamentary Front for Home Education,” which is a group consisting of representatives who have officially made a commitment to support the cause to legalize homeschooling in Brazil. At this writing, the group has solicited support for the amendment from approximately forty percent of the total number of representatives.

A seminar on home education has also been announced for the end of 2012. This seminar will be held at the congress facilities and will target congressmen, their staff, members of the media, and opinion-makers in general. Its purpose will be to inform people about the foundations of home education and the success it has had abroad. We hope that this event will generate further support for the amendment to the education law.

Homeschooling in the Media

The media has been fast to announce all of the political moves that have taken place toward the definite legalizing of homeschooling. Many important news outlets have published friendly articles featuring successful families. They have helped raise the public awareness of home education and its benefits. The Nunes brothers, for instance, have recently been reported to have won the Brazilian Edition of the Campus Party contest as well as other regional contests while running against college students and graduates. On the other hand, arguments well-known to homeschoolers in other countries have been aroused among critics of home education. Some claim that home educated children won't develop proper socialization, will grow up to be prejudiced, narrow-minded adults or will simply miss out intellectually. Defenders of homeschooling have been working hard to counter these arguments with evidence, but there is still much to be done.

In addition to homeschooling growing politically and in the media, the number of homeschooling families in Brazil is growing at a very high rate. Even though it is difficult to have precise numbers, due to the fact that most families are underground, the estimate is that there are currently at least seven hundred homeschooling families in the country, compared to four hundred a year ago. Even though part of this increase is likely due to more families coming out of cover, the number of families that began homeschooling in the last year is still significant. There have also been important homeschool seminars and conventions in four different states in the last year: Minas Gerais, Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul, and Rio de Janeiro. The convention in Minas Gerais was attended by over 260 families from several states.

Expectations are now high as Bill 3.179/12 proposed by Lincoln Portela progresses according to our best hopes. Brazilian homeschoolers count on the prayers of our fellow homeschoolers around the globe so that soon we will be able to win this important battle.

Juliana Starling is a board member of the newly formed Brazilian National Association for Homeschooling, Associação Nacional de Ensino Domiciliar (ANED).

 More Information

Learn more by visiting HSLDA’s Brazil page.