Homeschooling is growing globally at a rapid pace—and no one is more excited about this growth than the attendees of the Global Home Education Conference 2018, who met in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Moscow City.
Over the course of five days, May 15–19, more than 1,000 Russian and 100 international homeschooling parents, along with policymakers, organization leaders, academic experts, and researchers from over 30 countries, met to exchange ideas about home education and the role of parents relative to governments in education. This hugely successful conference gave the Russian homeschool movement an unprecedented boost in public awareness and credibility with government officials.
How far we’ve come
During the era of the Soviet Union, homeschooling would have been unimaginable in Russian territory—but now the number of homeschoolers in Russia is growing dramatically.
This phenomenon is particularly meaningful for me. As an international relations student in college, a Cavalry officer who fought in the first Persian Gulf war, and a former U.S. Army soldier trained to meet Russian soldiers as enemies on the battlefields of Europe, the threat of the Cold War was an abiding (and seemingly eternal) truth of my formative years. So it was with awe and wonder that I watched Ronald Reagan bring down the Iron Curtain.
Being able to shake hands in friendship with former Soviet Army soldiers this May and to collaborate with them on advancing the freedom to homeschool was an experience I never could have imagined.
Where we are now: GHEC 2018
Speakers at the conference—including representatives of the powerful Russian Orthodox Church, various other Russian denominations, and members of the Russian Congress—affirmed their strong support of homeschooling as a part of Russia’s educational future.
Russian sociologist Professor Dr. Anatoly Antonov talked about the state of education in the Soviet era. Having survived persecution under the Soviet regime, he explained how the government conditioned Russian families to be distrustful of their community, friends, and anyone other than government officials. Home was just a place to sleep, families were mere cogs in the machine, and children were like “suitcases” dropped off at state schools and then returned.
Education was solely the province of the communist state. With evident emotion, Dr. Antonov told GHEC attendees from all over the world he knew there was work to be done, but the emergence of homeschooling was evidence that Russian society was recovering from the deep scars of communism.
College of Europe Professor Dr. Jan DeGroof emphasized the need for alternatives to public education. Giving parents educational choice is not only required under international law treaties on education and human rights, it is also an important ingredient for a functioning democracy.
Author, scholar, and family advocate Dr. Allan Carlson explained in his talk, “Why Homeschooling is Good for Society,” how the family is a foundational institution in a healthy democracy and why homeschooling must be respected in educational policymaking.
Although American media often portrays Russia as the most serious threat facing our country, and Russians as anti-freedom, this is not what I saw. Many Americans are not familiar with Russian history, the chaos that ensued after the fall of the Soviet Union, or the societal wounds from 75 years of communist rule. Although Russia has a different culture and history, it has emerged as a global leader on the issue of homeschooling—and I predict Russia will become the second largest homeschooling population after the United States. Although official numbers are hard to obtain, evidence suggests that it is already one of the top homeschool populations worldwide.*
A country that permits homeschooling demonstrates respect for its citizens, for educational freedom, and for the institution of the family. Recognizing the rights of families to decide how their children are educated is an important barometer of freedom and a significant function of self-governance—which is foundational to freedom and democracy. These are the ideas, after all, on which the U.S. has built our republic. It is encouraging to see a country like Russia embracing this freedom.
Even as homeschooling grows globally, social and political challenges continue. Doing something new and different—like homeschooling—can result in suspicion, fear, or repression from authorities, neighbors, or institutions.
But that’s no surprise: the burgeoning homeschool movement in the United States faced many obstacles along these lines during the 1980s and 1990s, and overcame them. And after nearly 50 years of modern homeschooling, homeschool advocates in the U.S. have gained a vast amount of practical experience and research that can provide answers for homeschoolers in other countries—such as the Philippines, the location of the 2020 Global Home Education Conference.
Ever since I became a full-time global advocate for home education, my mission has been to see homeschooling become a possibility for every family in every country. That’s not yet the case in some countries like China, North Korea, and Cuba, which claim that only the state can properly socialize children—and even in some western nations like Germany, Sweden, and Norway, which are unwilling to extend educational freedom to their citizens. But in Russia I found a sincere interest in home education and a warm, genuine welcome, and I’m excited to see homeschooling families continue to grow and flourish there.
We are each members of the global homeschooling community. I am privileged to represent HSLDA in serving you and many other homeschoolers on every continent and to be a part of making homeschooling possible around the world for every child.
* Brian Ray, “Homeschool Fast Facts,” National Home Education Research Institute, January 13, 2018, https://www.nheri.org/research-facts-on-homeschooling .