This week again I have asked a guest to review for me. In this case it was because the article is written in Spanish. Thankfully, my sister Gretchen Abernathy is a professional translator with many years of experience translating Spanish language theological scholarship into English. Here follows her expert summary and evaluation of a recent piece by three scholars from Spain. I have again cross-posted this review on the ICHER website. I’m encouraging my readers to familiarize themselves now with that site, for soon I’ll be moving over to it exclusively.
Record: Elizalde, M., Urpí, C., and Tejada, M., “Diversidad, participación y calidad educativas: necesidades y posibilidades del Homeschooling”[“Diversity, Parent Involvement and Quality Education: Needs and Possibilities of Homeschooling”], in Estudios sobre educación, vol. 22 (2012), pp. 55-72. [Available here]
María Ángeles Sotés Elizalde, Universidad de Navarrra
Carme Urpí, Universidad de Navarra
María del Coro Molinos Tejada, Universidad de Navarra
Summary: Elizalde, Urpí and Tejada, all representing the Universidad de Navarra in Spain, discuss in very general strokes the phenomenon of homeschooling in Spain and in a few other select countries, evaluating the issues of diversity, parental involvement and quality therein. Starting from the basic premise that education is necessary for children, especially in countries where millions of children and girls in particular have no access to basic formal education, they observe the irony that as baseline literacy needs are met in environments of material abundance, other problems arise: discipline, lack of motivation and mistreatment among students. The authors suggest that, given the transition from precarious to prosperous formal education in developed countries, the time is ripe to evaluate how homeschooling offers a positive pedagogical response and alternative that should be awarded legal credence and greater public acceptance.
The picture of homeschooling in Spain is quite different than in developed English-speaking countries. For example, the first large-scale conference on the matter was held in Spain in 2010, and there is no mention of this approach to learning anywhere within Spanish legal code; whereas homeschooling in the United States of America. is a topic of national and state legislation and has been a subject of debate for decades. In discussing diversity, the authors point out that homeschooling in the United States demonstrates a small degree of diversity in demographic (mainly non-Hispanic whites and parents with advanced educational degrees) yet a wide variety of approaches and personalized styles (cooperative learning groups, online schooling, hybridization with the public education system). Parents in the United States also report a wide range of reasons for their choice to homeschool, ranging from religious motivation and dissatisfaction with other educational options to catering to the special needs of their child. In the United Kingdom, parental motivation seems more centered on dissatisfaction with safety, quality and the social milieu of traditional schools rather than religious or political reasons. Evaluation of homeschooling in Australia poses great difficulties. While it is a known and recognized practice, there is little documentation about the degree of true homeschooling given the confusion with distance learning.
Outside the English-speaking realm, homeschooling enjoys freedom in certain developed countries (Norway, Finland, Denmark) while certain welfare states either discourage it (Sweden), ignore it (Spain) or outlaw it entirely (Germany). In Spain, the minority that practice homeschooling do so on the margin of legality, in an ambiguous state of being tolerated yet not included, consulted or valued within the national educational dialogue. There is little firm data, but most parents in Spain report pedagogical motivations behind their choice to homeschool, and very few reference political or religious reasons. When homeschooling is addressed in public discourse, the authors report that authorities attempt to pass measures that “normalize” homeschooling practices to enforce a uniform cultural identity and integration.
The authors then acknowledge the need widely recognized in general society for greater parental involvement in traditional models of schooling in order to secure the children’s success, and they offer that homeschooling can and should be seen as a positive example and response of such involvement, as opposed to a threat to traditional schooling. Based largely on a discussion of homeschooling in the United States where there are standardized online evaluation tests for homeschoolers, the authors point out that homeschooling students by and large enjoy great success in admission to respected colleges; even in Europe the competencies demonstrated by homeschooling students that go beyond their mere academic achievements are recognized and sought out by universities. Given the success of homeschool students, the authors pose, it would make sense to evaluate what exactly the parents are doing (their involvement) as they guide, support, and evaluate their students’ knowledge and competencies.
While there are standards and measures for evaluating the quality of the homeschool education itself in the United States, no such parameters exist in Spain. Attempting to apply to homeschooling the quality controls and standards used for Spanish public education becomes a ludicrous endeavor since the legal values and restrictions have nearly nothing to do with the homeschool context. Instead, the authors offer personal, cultural and labor conditions to mediate the success of homeschooling: a favorable balance between family life and parental occupation; the existence and development of parental pedagogical skills (willingness, guidance, supervision); the flexibility to personalize education to the child’s needs and abilities; and a way of rewarding, celebrating and encouraging the student. The authors further acknowledge the relational benefits that can result from the joint effort between parent and child in the homeschooling venture, a bond that simply cannot be reproduced in the traditional school setting.
In conclusion, the authors argue that, from the position of homeschooling as a legally ignored minority in Spain, homeschooling is not a demonstration of laziness. Rather, the economic, professional and personal demands it places on the parent should earn it legal recognition and public esteem such that homeschooling parents are considered contributing members of society that aid rather than diminish the greater goal of educating all the nation’s children.
Appraisal: The authors do not break ground here or shed brilliant new insights into the history, study and practice of homeschooling, yet they respectably articulate the struggles of an ignored minority in Spanish society. They are clearly biased in favor of the option to homeschool, arguing that many immigrants find that the rights and freedom they enjoyed in their country of origin regarding the education of their children are greatly reduced or entirely impeded in Spain. The authors praise the sacrifice, flexibility, dedication and hard work of parents who homeschool, thus reclaiming the value of the practice in the face of the state’s tolerance, at best, and, at worst, disdain and accusations of antipatriotism. While the authors run the risk of painting too rosy a picture of the stereotypical homeschool family (highly educated, sacrificial Caucasian parents who enjoy rewarding relationships with their well-rounded, academically successful and socially well-adapted children), they are writing in a context that places little to no value on such parental involvement in the first place. Presumably their audience needs both education on what is possible within homeschooling and encouragement for the job already being done well.
Of particular note in regard to the extreme minority in which homeschoolers find themselves in Spain is the use of terminology. This article is written in Spanish. Yet throughout, the authors have maintained the use of the English-language term homeschooling, used thus in italics, even in the article title! In the first usage they offer a translation into Spanish, “escuela en casa” (“school at home”), written in quotation marks. The two Spanish homeschooling conferences referenced in the article, both held at Universidad de Navarra, are chronologically titled “Congreso nacional sobre educación en familia – Homeschooling” (National Conference on Education within the Family – Homeschooling”). That is, apparently the only organized effort at bringing together homeschooling academia in Spain combines both a Spanish rendering and a verbatim English term. The fact that there is no accepted, widely adopted equivalent term for “homeschooling” in the Spanish language demonstrates the extremely short history and limited practice of this educational approach, at least in the public, legal sense currently understood as “homeschooling.”