In November of 2012 two important conferences, one in Berlin, Germany and the other in Madrid, Spain, were held. Both were concerned primarily with fostering a political climate of openness to home education in European countries.On November 1-3, 2012, about 170 delegates from around the world converged on Berlin to attend the Global Home Education Conference 2012. The conference’s general tenor and feel is ably summarized by Harriet Pattison of the University of Birmingham in the Spring 2013 issue of Other Education, available here.
The conference produced a document called the “Berlin Declaration,” available here.
While the conference was largely organized by the North American advocacy organization HSLDA (the Home School Legal Defense Association), it was attended by a wide range of home educators representing various pedagogical and ideological commitments. Another summary of the proceedings can be found at the website of the far-right U.S. magazine The New American, available here. It should be noted that there has been some criticism of this conference for being a thinly-disguised attempt by HSLDA to export its aggressive American-style political activism to other countries. You can read some of this sort of sentiment here.
On November 29-30, the Third National Conference on Family Education/Homeschooling was held in Madrid. As this conference was held in Spain by and for Spanish speakers, there has been scant coverage of it in the U.S., and it is difficult to find English-language information about it online. However, Carme Urpí of the Universidad de Navarra attended the conference and graciously provides for us the following summary of the conclusions reached there:
Conclusions. Third National Conference on Family Education / Homeschooling. Madrid, 29-30 November, 2012.
1. – The legal recognition of homeschooling is simply the acceptance of the educational pluralism that should characterize a democratic and advanced society. This required recognition by the legislature must be compatible with systems of inspection or regulation implemented by the competent authority, by consensus and with respect to the reality of family education in our country.
2. – We advocate that the state protects families who choose this educational model and thus putting an end to the cases of persecution that have been carried out in the past by both the public prosecutor and the administration.
3. – Knowing that family education has proven in many countries a successful model of academic and human development and it is also a choice born of social initiative that is therefore much cheaper than state education, we offer our cooperation to the authorities for the promotion and dissemination of this educational option.
4. – We reject the criticism leveled at homeschooling as an obstacle to socialization. Schooling at home, however, fosters group and community participation in sports, solidarity and cultural associations, as it is well demonstrated by studies and field work carried out. These studies also show that the profile of families who educate at home is plural and is identified with the average household in the state.
5. – We believe that this criticism springs from either those longing for educational monopolies or those who aspire to instrumentalize education to achieve ideological achievements. Homeschooling, on the contrary, puts as its primary objective the wellbeing of infants and youth and protects the right of parents to choose the educational option they want for their children.
6. – Homeschooling is perfectly compatible with other forms of education and does not represent any criticism to state schools or those carried out from civil society, other than the desire to uniform people by some of its defenders. Many parents who choose family education they do not do so for all their children. Homeschooling, on the other hand, with its achievements and peculiarities, serves as an incentive for improved flexibility in the traditional schooling system.
7. – We argue that the recognition of homeschooling in Spain is certainly a step forward in the way of progress to secure better mental, psychological, social, and academic achievement for future generations. The future seems to demand ever greater levels of creativity, diversity and excellence, and family education is a tool that can effectively contribute to achieving those goals.
In Madrid on December 1, 2012.
Other contents of the conference were
• The educational function belongs to the mission of the family. In the family humans discovers themselves as a persons. The irreplaceable responsibility of families in the education of children occurs in three dimensions: the upbringing, socialization and personalization ethics. Parents are the first teachers and educators. Parents educate, and in doing so also educate themselves.
• Children find in family individualized attention. Attention, affection, support, active surveillance and protection, are the pillars on which to build the relationship with children. The mere academic instruction received in school often does not provide the personal attention that every child needs to develop her or his potential and capabilities.
• Values education. In this society that instills countervalues and in which principles seem not make sense anymore, family education is as important as the work of the various professionals for the treatment of abnormal behavior of children.
• Education is a preparation for life, not just a prelude to working life. Parents, family and the community where the individual is inserted, are the primary agents of such education. They are the most interested to commit the best of themselves, to meet the needs of the young and assist in their particular perfection which in turn would lead to the good of all.
• All education should avoid totalitarianism. Totalitarianism is not only a state problem, parents should educate their children to be good citizens, instilling constitutional values such as freedom, justice, equality and respect for pluralism.
• Homeschoolers do not respond to an archetype. There is a widespread belief in our society that homeschoolers are part of a monolithic group with a single thought and the same sociological composition. This is simplistic view. The homeschooling movement has nothing to do with that vision.
• The constitutional court has restricted the right of parents choosing a narrow interpretation of the freedom of parents to educate. Nevertheless homeschooling is a parental choice, and the legislature is called to act to grant it. It is not true that only through the establishment of independent schools or the attendance to public schools may this freedom be protected. This thought is based on a narrow concept of socialization that are inextricably linked to the school system only.
• There are nevertheless new European guidelines. There is a new perspective of the Council of Europe: resolution 1904 (2012) “the right to freedom of educational choice in Europe” that defends freedom of parents to follow their religious, moral or teaching convictions in the education of their children. This has impelled the countries of the old eastern bloc to regulating homeschooling and thus allowing educational freedom and plurality.
• We claim the state as a rights guarantor. We must overcome the prejudices against the state as a regulator. Public power placed under suspicion means pushing people to work outside the system. Logically, this position must be overcome by the invocation of a system of personal rights that take precedence upon state action. It is necessary to collude the interest of the child, parental rights and the mission of the state, to overcome confrontation upon family education. Something very possible since democracy and law are founded on social values as freedom.
• The is no justification for criminal or civil actions against homeschoolers. The lack of attendance to school of children homeschoolers is not the result of passive or nonchalant attitude of parents towards their children, there is no fraud or negligence, but on the contrary, an excess of zeal and care in the course of duty to educate. The criminal penalty, a last resort, applied against family education, is denatured. There is no here disrespect or disobedience nor criminal intent.
• School is not the only option to exercise the right to education. Homeschooling is not against other forms of schooling. Furthermore, family education recognize the right that protects the state to propose some specific content in the educational curriculum. We remind that education is instrumental and thus can be diverse and plural. Diverse options may be at hand to educate children without causing neglect or damage while being subject to civil liability.
• We advocate for more educational flexibility in Spain. Following the most recent recommendations of the OECD to improve the quality of education, in Spain is needed an education law that allows for greater levels of flexibility and for organizational and management autonomy for both schools and families, in order to provide effective care to diverse educational needs, including homeschooling.
Milton Gaither, Messiah College, author of Homeschool: An American History.