Record: Oz Guterman and Ari Neuman, “Different reasons for one significant choice: Factors influencing homeschooling choice in Israel.” International Review of Education, 63, No. 4 (2017): 303-318. [Abstract]

SummaryNeuman is senior lecturer of education at Western Galilee College, in Akko, Israel, and Guterman is a professor in the Department of Human Resources at the same institution. Using a mixed methods design, the authors of this article questioned 62 families in Israel about their motivations for homeschooling.

Homeschooling in Israel first appeared during the 1990s. Back then, only about 60 families engaged in the practice. However, due to growing criticism of the country’s education system and the quest for alternatives to traditional schools, there are now approximately 360 families who homeschool their children in Israel. Although there has been much research on parental motivations in the US, there has been little such research in Israel. Neuman and Guterman focus on the following two questions:

  • Do parents with different levels of education homeschool for different reasons?
  • Are their reasons for homeschooling associated with particular personality traits?

After a literature review, the authors move into the study itself. Of the 62 parents at a homeschooling meeting who participated, approximately 75% were women, and 25% were men. They had an average of 2.45 children, and 59 of the 62 respondents considered their families to be secular rather than religious. Furthermore, most of the respondents had received at least some college education, and all but three were married. As for the respondents’ children, all were of elementary-school age. None of the parents in the sample were employed as teachers by Israel’s Ministry of Education, and 90% of them eschewed the ministry’s national curriculum in favor of curricula which they chose themselves in consultation with their children. 11 of the participants could be described as unschoolers because of their preference for incidental learning in the household.

Based on their answers regarding the main reason that they chose to homeschool, the parents were divided into two groups: those who homeschooled for pedagogical reasons only (29 families) and those who homeschooled for both pedagogical and family-related (33 families). The research tools were a personality inventory, a questionnaire on attitudes towards homeschooling, and a demographic questionnaire. To gather information on personality, the authors used the Big Five Inventory (BFI), which examines five main personality characteristics: openness to new experiences, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

After running the statistics, the authors found that the mothers in the “pedagogical and family group” had obtained, on average, an extra two years of schooling as compared to the mothers who cited pedagogical reasons alone. In terms of personality traits, no significant difference was found between the two groups. Furthermore, with regard to the parents’ attitudes, there was no difference between the groups in their attitudes towards the Israeli educational system. However, there was a difference in their attitudes regarding the influence of homeschooling on their child(ren). Namely, the families who chose homeschooling for both pedagogical and family-related reasons had more positive views of the impact of homeschooling on their child(ren) than did the families who homeschooled for pedagogical reasons only. Finally, the families who chose homeschooling for pedagogical reasons only devoted a greater number of hours to learning each week, and they were more likely to follow a daily schedule than the families who homeschooled for both reasons.

Appraisal: Neuman and Guterman tried to do a lot with this study. In fact, they attempted to do so much that the results are shallow overall. For example, as the title indicates, one of the purposes of the article was to establish the factors that influence the decision to homeschool in Israel. However, the authors never discuss what these factors are. Instead they merely classify the responses as “pedagogical reasons” or “pedagogical and family-related reasons.” Given the lack of homeschooling research in the country, this leaves many questions unanswered. For example, did the “pedagogical only” families truly choose to homeschool, or did they feel forced into the decision because of their child’s special educational needs, as exemplified by this study from the UK? Since exceptional educational needs are often one of the most-cited reasons in countries with small homeschooling populations, it seems to me that this could be the case in Israel as well. However, by using the ambiguous titles of “pedagogical” and “family-related,” Neuman and Guterman do not give a nuanced view of the matter.

Another issue that Neuman and Guterman seem to consistently avoid in their studies is religion. In this study, 59 of the 62 respondents considered themselves secular, and there are similar percentages in their other studies. Given that this is Israel, a country with deep religious traditions, it seems unlikely that religion plays no role in the decision to homeschool. Is it possible that some of these people homeschool out of a rejection for the religious zeal of the national curriculum? Alternatively, is it possible that there are homeschoolers who would describe themselves as religious who Neuman and Guterman, because of their university connections, were unable to reach? Nevertheless, it is important to realize that “secular” has a different meaning in Israel than it does in the United States. While only 1% of Israelis identified as having no religion according to the Pew Research Center, 40% self-identified as secular (hilloni) Jews. In America, these would be the people who go to church on the major holidays and try to uphold some of the tenets of Christianity. They’re not quite religious, but they also wouldn’t fit with our idea of secular.

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