Q: Are homeschoolers really all that different? What are some of the common values that bind them together?
A: I've traveled to over 30 countries and most continents in my role as director of global outreach for HSLDA. I found that, although there are cultural and linguistic differences, homeschoolers also share many similarities and challenges.
In my experience and in the findings of international researchers, parents are generally motivated by a desire to give the very best education they can to their children. And though there are differences based on the country and region, the specific reasons parents around the world give for why they homeschool map very closely to the reasons parents here in the United States say they choose this option.
One difference is that homeschoolers in other countries face challenges that are more daunting than the ones Americans face today—and even the ones we faced during the early years of homeschooling here. I believe part of the reason for this is that US culture has a much greater regard for individual liberty and parental responsibility than some other countries.
Q: Some of the countries represented by the researchers at the Harvard panel have restrictive homeschool laws. France, for instance, requires homeschool families to be visited by government officials. Will restrictions ease as homeschooling grows?
A: In many countries where homeschooling is just getting started, homeschoolers are facing the same questions that were asked years ago here in the United States: Is it legal? How can parents who are untrained and without formal education credentials teach their own children? What about socialization?
After several decades and millions of children being successfully homeschooled in the US, we’ve been able to provide research and insight to those policymakers and leaders in society who are willing to listen and to show them that homeschooling works. I expect the same thing will happen in other countries.
There are some special challenges. In Europe, for example, homeschoolers face a much harder battle to attain regulatory freedom than in Africa, where schools are much less powerful as an institutional force. And in some countries where homeschooling is essentially banned—like Germany and Sweden—governments have been unwilling to learn from the positive experience of others.
Q: The researchers at the Harvard panel lamented what they called a dearth of data on homeschooling. However, in places such as France and Quebec, researchers are trying to collect data through government officials—who represent institutions homeschoolers have opted out of. Is this a problem?
A: It is true that homeschoolers can be fiercely independent. And in many places, homeschoolers tend to be a bit uncomfortable providing data to government or even private researchers. Especially in situations where the legal status of home education is unclear, homeschoolers will tend to want to be left alone and to not bring attention to themselves.
This does affect the availability of data for researchers, but but many researchers through the years have figured out creative ways to connect with homeschoolers and gather needed data. It’s also true that more research—like the studies being highlighted in this Harvard webinar series, can help homeschool movements, especially in countries where there are hostile policies.
An additional catalyst for homeschool research is the Global Home Education Exchange Council, which I helped start nearly a decade ago. It has a robust research committee and has been holding regular research webinars for over a year. These webinars can be accessed online.
As homeschooling grows globally, as more people see and experience its effectiveness, and as it becomes more accepted, we’ll see researchers’ questions shifting from “How well does it work?” to “How does this work so well?!”
Q: Where are we seeing homeschooling grow the fastest? And what is contributing to that growth?
A: Homeschooling is growing fast in countries like Brazil and Russia.
In Brazil, for example, President Jair Bolsonaro has taken a personal interest in the issue and has made it a priority to pass a law clarifying that homeschooling is a legal alternative for all families in the country.
In 2018, Brazil’s supreme court recognized that while homeschooling was not against the Brazilian constitution, explicit exemptions for homeschooling from the compulsory traditional school attendance laws were needed to clarify its legal status. This has already happened in several cities and a state in Brazil, which voted recently to recognize homeschooling.
In African countries, the idea of homeschooling is also rapidly becoming more well-known.
On the other hand—as mentioned by Harvard panelist Philippe Bongrand—in France, President Emmanuel Macron has proposed a highly restrictive measure that has been somewhat moderated by the legislative process in the French National Assembly. His original proposal would have essentially banned homeschooling; currently the law would change the procedure from parents declaring that they were going to homeschool to requiring that they receive approval from the government.
French homeschool organizations and other civil society members have mobilized to oppose this infringement on the rights of parents to decide how their children are educated. International human rights law recognizes that parents have a prior right to decide how children are educated and that countries must respect these rights in accordance with their international human rights obligations.
Q: What’s your take on the future of homeschooling?
A: Homeschooling is a renaissance in learning for families. Research like that presented at a Harvard webinar on May 20 shows that homeschooling prepares students to engage society and assume roles that enrich their communities. And, as University of Oklahoma professor Daniel Hamlin pointed out during that session, most homeschooled students characterize their educational experience as overwhelmingly positive.
This educational approach is catching on all over the world. I see significant growth for homeschooling in the coming decades. With growth will come challenges, which is why HSLDA encourages and supports organizations like GHEX that offer international support to homeschoolers and organizations like ANED in Brazil, homeschoolsupport.ru in Russia, and the Pestalozzi Trust in South Africa that provide support on a national level.
People engaged in homeschooling must band together to defend their right to provide their children with this kind of educational freedom. My message to fellow homeschoolers is that together, we can help each other advance this great idea and equip more children to flourish with the opportunities that homeschooling offers.
Homeschooling has a bright future.