ERG SES D 14, Sociologies of Education
This proposal focuses on the under-researched topic of homeschooling and attempts to develop a sociological perspective on this movement. The key assumption that organizes our work consists in considering homeschooling as an (increasingly) global phenomenon.
Introduced in the United States in 1970 (Knowles, 1992), this particular educational alternative is in expansion in numerous industrialized national contexts all around the world (North America, Oceania, Europe) (Kunzman, 2013), including in some states where homeschooling is prohibited by law, as in Germany (Spiegler, 2003). In the French speaking part of Belgium, the number of homeschoolers has doubled between 2008 and 2016 (Tilman, 2017).
Homeschooling is linked to a number of issues. The way it is being regulated (ranging from being illegal to being largely unregulated) is seen by some as shaping citizens’ rights and the democratic character of society (Ray, 2000). Some consider homeschooling as a form of “communautarism” contributing to the fragmentation of education and threatening social cohesion (Ross, 2010 ; Yuracko, 2008). Other see it as part of a more global tension opposing the role of public institutions and that of private initiative.
The vast majority of homeschooling literature originates from the United States and describes the phenomenon as linked to two groups of parents: the first one consists of progressive parents permeated with the liberal ideology who consider school education as too rigid to apprehend the singularity of their children’s needs; the second one gathers Christian conservative parents who view school education as too permissive and rise up against the secularization of society (Collom, 2005). Other studies attempt to categorize different types of homeschoolers populations. All such studies focus on differences between groups and thus fail to understand what they have in common. Indeed the key issue we wish to deal with – i.e. the understanding of homeschooling as a global phenomenon – presupposes that homeschoolers, within or across different contexts, and beyond their differences, react to a similar experience of living in advanced modernity.
In order to grasp the global nature of homeschooling, we need to mobilize a more fundamental sociological literature capable of helping us understand how this choice relates to the experience of living in our advanced modern global society. For this purpose, we turn to Luhmann, Giddens and Habermas. The three of them agree on the central proposition according to which modernity is characterized by the ever-increasing functional differentiation of society, which contributes, in turn, to a generalized form of self-referenciality. By this, we mean that each function system increasingly tends to organize itself according to its own logic (Luhmann, 1995). The outputs of the system become inputs for subsequent iterations of the system in a self-sustaining dynamic: the system is guided by the pursuit of improvement of its own results (Mangez et al, 2017). In this globalized and functionally differentiated societal context, the inclusion of the individual operates through a form of division of the self: the “in-dividual” is divided in different versions of himself depending on functional divisions (Nassehi, 2002): One is a pupil (more or less successful) in the educational system; a body (more or less healthy) in the medical system; a consumer (richer or poorer) in the economic system. But, on the scale of the society, one can nowhere, or almost nowhere, be comprehensively ‘oneself’ and recognized as such. In that sense, with the advent of our global society, it becomes the individual’s own responsibility to build himself an “individuality” beyond his participation to function systems: globalized modernity confines individuals in an everlasting “unwholesomeness” where they are not able to fully be “themselves” anywhere, with the exception of the family system (Luhmann, 1986).
Our empirical work investigated the motives and rationales that lead more and more parents to remove their children from school in our European context (and in particular in the French speaking part of Belgium). We also sought to emphasize the need of a sociological framework to better comprehend that matter. In an attempt to respond to those objectives, we worked in an inductive way and made twenty-two interviews with homeschooling actors in our context: administration, inspection, lawyers attached to the ministry of education, representatives of homeschool associations and parents. Through in-depth interviews with parents from 15 homeschoolers families, we drew family portraits, which revealed, in the parents’ discourses, indications about the multiple antagonistic (and more and more pronounced) demands emanating from different function systems. Interviews also revealed a growing distrust in institutions on the part of parents. While the lack of confidence in institutions and homeschooling have been linked in the United States, such distrust was mentioned neither in Europe, nor in Canada, where researchers rather seemed to associate homeschooling with pragmatic rationales directly articulated around pedagogical concerns (Brabant et al., 2003).
Those elements led us to formulate the hypothesis we are currently working on: the expansion of homeschooling is a response to the contemporary transformations of the educational system, and in particular to its ever-increasing self-referenciality. Indeed, beyond the differences between parents and families, the situations we have observed all refer to an experience marked by distrust and rejection of the self-referential dynamics of advanced modernity. This mistrust is directed, on the one hand, towards the school institution, which, by the increased self-referentiality of the educational system, develops a form of indifference towards non-strictly academic criteria such as self-fulfillment, happiness, religion or morality; on the other hand, towards other institutions belonging to other function systems (such as the political, medical and economic function systems). Homeschooling addresses a profoundly modern concern: it can be understood as a reaction to the modern way of organizing the inclusion of individuals in global functionally differentiated societies. Instead of being included as a person (as was the case in premodern society), the modern individual must elaborate a singular way of composing with the different function systems and thereby develop (what Giddens calls) its own “lifestyle” (Giddens, 1991). By bringing education back into the family spectrum, parents try to create “lifestyles” and coherent normative frames (Tilman, 2017), that have a threefold purpose: the first is to reintroduce into their children’s education several elements that seem increasingly absent from the educational system’s concerns; the second one is to develop an inclusive space in which one’s position is not conditioned by one’s performances; and the last one is to escape the multiple and fragmented demands emanating from the very fact of participating in modern life and its distinct function systems.
Brabant C., Bourdon S., & Jutras F. (2003), “Home education in Quebec: Family first”, Evaluation & Research in Education, 17:2-3, 112-131. Collom E., (2005), “The ins and outs of homeschooling: the determinants of parental motivations and student achievement”, Education and Urban Society, 37:3, 307-335. Giddens A., (1991). “Modernity and self-identity: Self and society in the late modern age”, Stanford university press. Knowles J. G. et al., (1992), “From pedagogy to ideology: Origins and phases of home education in the United States, 1970-1990”, American Journal of Education, 100, 195-235. Kunzman R., Gaither M., (2013), “Homeschooling: A Comprehensive Survey of the Research” Other Education: The Journal of Educational Alternatives, 2(1): 4–59. Luhmann N., (1986), “Love as passion: The codification of intimacy”, Harvard University Press. Luhmann N., (1995), “Social systems”, Stanford University Press. Luhmann N., (2000), “Familiarity, confidence, trust: Problems and alternatives” Trust: Making and breaking cooperative relations, 6, 94-107. Nassehi A., (2002), “Exclusion Individuality or Individualization by Inclusion?” Soziale Systeme 8, Heft 1, S.124-135. Mangez E., Bouhon M., Cattonar B., Delvaux B., Draelants H., Dumay X., Dupriez V., Verhoeven M., (2017), "Living Together in an Uncertain World. What Role for the School?" Les cahiers du Girsef, 111, Louvain-La-Neuve. Ray B., (2000), “Home Schooling for Individuals' Gain and Society's Common Good”, Peabody Journal of Education, 75:1/2, 272-293. Ross C. J., (2010), “Fundamentalist challenges to core democratic values: Exit and homeschooling” William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal, 18, 991-1014. Spiegler T., (2003), “Home Education in Germany: An Overview of the Contemporary Situation”, Evaluation & Research in Education, 17:2-3, 179-190. Stevens M. L., (2003), “The normalisation of homeschooling in the USA”, Evaluation & Research in Education, 17:2-3, 90-100. Tilman A., (2017), "L'enseignement à domicile en Belgique francophone : Exploration des motivations parentales", Faculté des sciences économiques, sociales, politiques et de communication, Université catholique de Louvain. Prom. : Mangez, Eric. Yuracko K. A., (2008), “Education off the grid: Constitutional constraints on home schooling”, California Law Review, 96, 123-184.
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