Ten clues for the legal recognition of homeschool: a paper

Avanzo un resumen del libro que ya publiqué en castellano, esta vez en inglés, para su mejor difusión.

TEN CLUES TOWARDS RECOGNITION OF INFORMAL EDUCATION: THE CASE OF HOME EDUCATION

Madalen Goiria
Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea- Universidad del País Vasco

Abstract

Informal education and autonomous learning are at the core of the new strategies at a global scale. Among them home education os homeschooling is a growing movement all around the world, showing similar characteristics wherever it is delivered. Nevertheless, there is a huge gap between those countries where home education is legally recognized and those where it is not. Following Amanda Petrie, we must realize that “Recognizing home education is a matter os democracy”.

Keywords
Home education, Homeschooling , Spanish law, legal recognition.

“European countries are increasingly emphasizing the need to recognize the full range of an individual’s knowledge, skills and competences – those acquired not only at school, university or other education and training institutions, but also outside the formal system”. This requires new approaches to validate such learning experiences (i.e. identify, document, assess and/or certify), making them usable for further studies or advancement in work. Helping people in this way could also make a contribution to smart, sustainable and inclusive growth[1].

Informal education, and home education can be considered one of the developments of the new trends that globally are generating attachments. Unfortunately, not all countries in the European Union, let alone, other parts of the world, accept the idea that Home education can be considered an integral part of the educative system, as an option that can expand the possibilities available for all kind of families.

This paper develops a way in which those countries that haven´t jet accepted the possibility of home educate can make a formal proposal to their own governments to admit this new way of understanding the integral academic development of children without schooling. It contains 10 keys that can be applied in countries where there is not a legal recognition of home education towards the harmonizing the existing system en countries such as Great Britain or France, for the rest of the European Union. The clues describe elements which could be taken into account in any negotiating process geared to design a legal framework which can be operative for the legal recognition for those families who have opted to educate their children at home, whichever reason they might have, but in any case, outside the School System be it public or private, religious or secular.

These are the 10 proposals for an European recognition of Home Education, which hopefully could be of practical for those collectives and associations representing the interests of home schooling families who might be seeking a legal recognition of their choice.

1. A negotiation process: the starting point

The negotiation process should be inspired by the due respect of the member State towards the long development of the Homeschooling Movement within each society.
The homeschooling movement in the Spanish State started 20 years ago, at the beginning of the 90’s. Before that, home educating was a matter of individual families, without any contact among them isolated, and without even knowing for sure that there were other families doing exactly the same.
Nevertheless, within the driving force of Elsa Haas, an energetic American young woman living in Spain and collaborator of John Holt’s Growing Without Schooling bulletin, some other foreigners decided that it was about time to create a self help net. It was during a Gathering of some 50 families at Peter Szil and Bippan Norberg’s house in Alfa’s del Pi where the first bulletin was launched. It was called El Buzón and it means the first step towards a movement of home educating families within the Spanish State which has been growing slowly but surely ever since.

2. The current position of the Administration

Home education should, by no means, be considered as an illegitimate way of education children, beyond the actual cases where truancy is involved and it eventually gets officially proven.
Current laws within the framework of the legal Spanish System create a labyrinth of laws and regulation aimed to clam the high figures of truancy, which also leads to very high figures of youngster which drop out or finish their compulsory schooling without having achieved basic qualifications [2].
Unfortunately, those laws and regulations are applied to home schooling families and they end up being caught in the net of Social services, Prosecutors and Court cases that should never have happened, if there was a proper legislation aimed at detecting those truant families from those who educate at home, without causing any harm to their own children. We could say that it is a matter of individual rights related to the primary right of families to educate their own children[3]

3. The social position or reaction

Any contact between the Administration and the social network of the Movement must be built on a basis of mutual trust, which has been developed before proceeding any further. Contacts between the State, be it at the level of Autonomous or Local Administration, or at the central Administration, and the legitimate representatives of the different organizations that represent the homeschooling families at any moment must be promoted without fear of a general contempt towards an option that is being recognized all over the world. Negotiations in the past, specifically when the last Education law was being written and approved, in 2006, failed due to the fears that a new confrontation would be opened between the State and the Educative Community, when, as a matter of fact, the law encountered the opposition of a big part of the school framework within the scope of the Catholic primary Schools.

4. Flexibility, as the corner stone for any regulation

Regulating homeschool does not mean that any interference might occur within the framework of the official School System, either private or public.
Spanish educational law framework is rigid. The State has the right to design the education system, providing free and universal education for all children between 6 and 16 years. To achieve that goal, the system is only of one twofold:
1. The education based on the attendance of the student to a State homologated School, being public, State funded privet or just private
2. There is a possibility for those children who can´t attend school, to study wherever they are through a Public Institution which provides education for children abroad, ill, or living in an itinerant family [4].
Legal requirements to create or fund a private school are draconian.

5. Attention to diversity

Ideological diversity and acceptance of the difference is the key towards a future recognition and the guarantee that it won´t be geared to fit the individual agenda of any give group, no matter how legitimate their proposals might be, if they exclude others. This procedure shows a dangerous short sightedness, which might doom the process towards failure.

6. Homeschool is a way of living

Contrary to what some experts on education might think, homeschool is not a method of learning and teaching but a way of life [5].
Legal recognition should never jeopardize the way of life for home educators, by forcing them to accept conditions that would lead their way of educating to become a simulation of the school system conditions. Method for autonomous learning and natural learning, which constitutes which is called unschool, must have a place too in any legal recognition of the homeschool choice, as valuable as any other to provide an education for school age children.

7. Socialization understood as building the children’s civic spirit

A different concept or meaning of the word socialization for both negotiating parties would be desirable. Home educators understand socialization as the due social life for their children on a daily basis. For the Administration, it means the participation of school age children in the democratic and social values accepted within the framework of the State at any given moment. The different perceptions of both can only lead to misunderstandings that should be dealt with in early procedures.
Socialization of the children has been the main obstacle for the homeschooling families to gain their cases within the European Court of human Rights. According to the Konrad case[8], even though it could be proven that the education that the child gets at home is better that that which is delivered at school, homeschool could not been recognized as a right for the parents, since the child is deprived of the possibility to participate in the society where he or she is living, being nurtured by the principles and democratic basis of present society.

8. Denominations are not important, what matters are concepts

It is a fact that terminology can lead to misunderstandings and the impossibility to precede towards a mutual trusting relationships. There are many terms which are used within the milieu of informal education patterns which are not always shared by all. Terms such as schooling, education, learning, informal learning, autonomous education, home schooling, home education, to mention only a few. Concepts should be taken into account and not actual wordings.

9. The family construction of home education, or home education as family construction.

Home education is a family matter. Member States should understand that parents are the final responsible for their children welfare, and act accordingly. Families should be given the right to decide which is the best way of educating their children, and only it has been proven that what they are doing constitutes abuse, should then they see removed the right to continue to do so.

10. The interest of the minor: the prevalent concern of the child

This indeterminate concept is at the core of the Administrations procedures whenever a minor is involved, and therefore will be taken into account as a priority when regulation home education comes to the fore. The indetermination of the concept should be dealt with, and be settled within the process at some point, so it will satisfy both interests of the parents and the Administration.
The interest of the minor is currently being revised and the Spanish procedures by the Social services, are being criticized by the European Court of Human Right [6]. A recent decision of the Court, condemning the Kingdom of Spain to pay a sum of 30.000 euro to a woman whose child had been taken away to a Children´s Home due to mere poverty of the mother, without any proof of physical or psychological abuse towards the child, shows the lack of regard towards human rights of the weakest. Social Services have had the monopoly of interpreting what “the interest of the minor” can be in a particular case and have been acting in accordance without taking into account that taking a child away from their parent should be the last measure, when everything else has been tried and failed.

References

[1]European Commission, Education and Training, Lifelong Learning Policy, 2012. The European Credit system for Vocational Education and Training (ECVET).
[2] Europa Press. 11 de abril de 2013. España se sitúa a la cabeza de la UE en fracaso escolar con un 25% en 2012, según Eurostat. URL: http://www.europapress.es/sociedad/educacion/noticia-espana-situa-cabeza-ue-fracaso-escolar-25-2012-eurostat-20130411140128.html
[3] Spanish Constitution article 39.3
[4]CIDEAD (Centro para la Innovación y Desarrollo de la Educación a Distancia).URL: http://www.cidead.es/
[5] Paula ROTHERMEL, CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW I: A review of home-education research
URL: http://pjrothermel.com/phd/2%20Literature%20Review.htm
[6] European Court of Human Rights, Requête no 28775/12 R.M.S. contre l’Espagne introduite le 2 mai 2012.

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Profesora de Derecho Civil de la EHU-UPV

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