This post reviews Timothy Hagen, “Free to Learn: The Rationale for Legalizing Homeschooling in Albania” in Central European Journal of Public Policy 5, no. 2 (December 2011): 50-85 [available fulltext here]
Hagen, a professor of economics at Epoka University in Albania, here offers what is I think the first ever article about homeschooling in that country. He begins by noting that after the fall of Communism in 1991 the Albanian government began to allow private schooling. He argues here that the halting steps Albania is making toward acknowledging the right to homeschool is the right way to go and that homeschooling should take its place alongside other forms of schooling in the panoply of options available to Albanians.
Article 57 of the Albania Constitution mandates free public education to all citizens and also allows for private schooling. Historically, homeschooling has not been allowed, but Hagen tells us that a new law is being drafted that will allow it. Then he gives several arguments for why this new law is a good idea.
First, as in other countries, sometimes homeschooling is a practical necessity. For some it may be a child with special needs or a bullying situation. In Albania evidently there is a big problem with blood feuds, so parents may need to keep their sons inside the home to protect them from revenge killing.
Second, he reviews some of the American literature on academic achievement, generalizing that homeschoolers outperform students in other educational settings. Within this section he acknowledges that “factors other than the variable of homeschooling” like race and class may explain these findings. (p. 56) Hagen includes in this survey some research that usually doesn’t appear in homeschooling lit reviews about how low income children benefit from structured early childhood programs but wealthy children benefit from staying at home. Hagen concludes his survey of all this with the observation that at least we can say with certainty that homeschooling as such isn’t damaging children. While it may not be the best choice for everyone, for attentive parents with resources it can be a viable option.
Third, Hagen offers a more philosophical rationale for homeschooling–that it helps guard against totalitarianism. He cites the Communism of Albania’s past and the dictatorship of North Korea’s present as examples of how government education can devolve into mass indoctrination. Homeschooling allows ideological pockets of resistance to exist in a society.
Fourth, Hagen makes a rather ham-fisted argument that homeschooling is in accord with Natural Law. I say ham-fisted because he doesn’t seem to really understand Natural Law philosophy. For Aquinas, the Natural Law gives us three grand principles. The first is self-preservation. The second is the propagation of the species. (These two pertain to our animal nature) The third principle is the use of reason (pertaining to our spiritual nature). Homeschooling is not self-evidently part of the natural law. You can get to it by a process of reasoning from the second principle I suppose, but it’s a mistake to think that the Natural Law is this long list of things people should and shouldn’t do. It’s also a mistake to (as Hagen does) assume that human made laws like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the Convention on the Rights of the Child are expressions of Natural Law. [It's especially interesting that he uses the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as this document has come under such feverish criticism by HSLDA and other "pro-family" groups in the United States]. What Hagen wants to say is that homeschooling should be seen as a human right. He could have said that without wading into the very treacherous waters of Natural Law ethics.
After laying out his argument, Hagen considers two possible objections to homeschooling. First, how can society ensure that homeschooling parents are actually providing an education and not just using their children as labor or abusing them? Second, how can proper socialization be assured? To the first objection Hagen says that neighbors or others who worry that a family might not be teaching their children adequately or might be abusing them can report them to the police or to social services. But Hagen thinks that parents who homeschool typically won’t be the sort of parent to neglect or abuse their children. At most we need “minimal regulations, civil society, and legal punishments.” (p. 70)
Hagen has three points about socialization. First, public schools don’t hold a monopoly on socialization. Lots of evidence exists that homeschooled kids in other countries are doing just fine socially. Second, socialization is not a legitimate domain of government. People have the right to socialize with whomever they choose, or in the words of the Universal Declaration, “everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association…no one may be compelled to belong to an association.” (p. 71) Third, legalizing homeschooling doesn’t mean that kids are going to stop going to school. If a parent thinks her child needs school for social skills, she’ll send the child to school. Hagen concludes this section with a longish discussion on the topic of democratic civic formation, a topic we’ve discussed many, many times on this blog. Hagen basically thinks that homeschoolers really do want their kids to learn to love others and be tolerant. He doesn’t have any evidence for or against this, but he thinks those who worry that homeschooling will indoctrinate children into intolerance and theocracy are paranoid. Parents are no more scary than governments in this matter.
Hagen finally makes a few suggestions as to how homeschooling should be assessed or regulated. He thinks an annual test would be fine, or annual notification and submission of curriculum plan. He’s also fine with regular monitoring meetings between government officials, parents, and children. He thinks that any or all of these approaches should be done “in an atmosphere of advising and assisting families to ensure the best education for their children” rather than “with an antagonistic, inquisitional attitude.” (p. 78)
And that’s it. I found this text to be uneven. The review of the literature on academic achievement was better than I expected, and coming early like it did it raised my expectations for the rest of the piece. Unfortunately the evidentiary base for many of Hagen’s other claims was far weaker–especially his coverage of socialization and democratic formation. Most notably, however, I learned very little in this article about homeschooling in Albania. Almost all of Hagen’s article is a summary of and interaction with mostly American scholarship. I was hoping for more on what is going on on the ground in Albania. How many families are actually homeschooling? What kinds of people are they? Are they similar to the sorts of families that have been found in studies of other European countries or does the Albanian situation bring something new into the discussion? He did mention that tantalizing thing about boys being hidden their homes to protect them from revenge killings. Is this pervasive? Is homeschooling connected in any way to religious revivals that have come to Albania’s Muslim majorities and Christian minorities in the post-communist years? I wish Hagen had talked about that sort of thing rather than giving us a decent but not great review of the American literature that has already been summarized so many times.