Homeschooling in Russia? An increasing number of families are choosing this method of education in the former Soviet state just as the United States has seen a homeschooling trend in recent years.
Homeschooling has existed in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union, when some people in Eastern Bloc states adopted it as an educational option, but it is slowly becoming more popular, according to Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) Global Outreach Coordinator Lauren Lee Mitchell. Mitchell reported that while American home school advocates are concerned with offering their children a moral education in the face of increasing governmental restrictions on religious liberty at schools, many Russian home school families are motivated to protect their children from school violence. In addition, gender roles have become more traditional in Russia, in part because of a backlash to Soviet feminism. As a result of these factors, homeschooling is more common than might be expected in this state that denies many other rights.
Mitchell presented her research at the June 6 event entitled “Safety in Tradition: Homeschooling’s Unexpected Rise in Post-Soviet Russia,” at the Institute on World Politics. A homeschool alumna myself, I am passionate about educational liberty as a human right. I arrived eager to hear Mitchell’s research on the surprising growth of this method of education in a state that denies many other human rights. She presented some fascinating findings. You can find the video here, but following are a few of the highlights.
Mitchell believes the first reason for the growth of homeschooling in Russia is a cultural reaction to its Soviet history. She explains that one of the ways in which the government controlled education in the Soviet Union was through “Parent Committees” which would shame parents socially when their children misbehaved at school. When the Soviet Union collapsed, homeschooling was an easy transition for many in the Eastern Bloc states. Because of a complete repeal of communist education, legal educational liberty was the immediate consequence. In the Western Bloc states, however, law on this liberty was not as clear. Over time organizations similar to the Home School Legal Defense Association have clarified or omitted such laws to allow for more educational liberty.
The second reason Mitchell credits for the growth of Russian homeschooling is what she calls “The Fear Impetus.” Due to shootings and terrorist attacks, parents in Russia fear for their children’s safety at school. In 2004 Russia suffered a horrific school hostage crisis – the Beslan massacre – and many parents cited this as their reason to homeschool. The Littleton, Colorado Columbine High School shooting resulted in similar trends. School shooting incidents are rising in Russia as they are in the U.S., and Mitchell cited statistics showing the rate of homeschooling significantly rise after such attacks.
Third, Mitchell attributes the growth of home education in Russia to the backlash from Soviet feminism and a return to old traditions. There is a likely connection, Mitchell believes, between Russian nationalism, or “Russianness” and the movement to educate at home in a family atmosphere. Russians typically hold traditional family roles. The Soviet Union had restructured the role of women and the family unit in the name of liberation. Now, Mitchell reported, 78 percent of Russians say the woman’s place is in the home. “Traditionalism was a way of rebellion against the state…. How interesting that the conservatism of pre-revolutionary, pre-1917 social life, traditional gender roles, could be so revolutionary against the Soviet state,” Mitchell says.
In her conclusion, Mitchell emphasizes that despite the desire of the homeschoolers around the world to protect educational liberty, we must pay attention to cultural differences. “Just because you might be the same in title, ‘advocates for homeschooling,’” she explained, “you also each have such different factors at play.” According to her research, she attributes the Russian homeschool phenomenon to “a unique mixture of cultural reactions, escapism, and a return to old traditions.”
During the question and answer session, one person asked about the current level of support homeschoolers receive from the Russian government. Mitchell answered that, currently, the government strictly regulates educational standards – similar to Common Core in the U.S. While the Russian government still carefully restricts homeschooling, “their primary concern is [about] the un-schoolers, those who do not want to involve their children in any sort of schooling, even at home,” Mitchell explained.
She also answered a question about the difference between Russia and other post-totalitarian states like the former East Germany that outlaw homeschooling. “I have personally dealt with three different asylum cases from Germany over the past six months…,” she responded, “so there is a post-totalitarian country that is so opposite from Russia in this regard that the only explanation I can make is the fact that Russia has these unique factors underlying the homeschool movement that Germany can’t relate to as much.”
“There is truly endless research that could be done,” she concluded, “on these other post-totalitarian states that, to this day, still outlaw homeschooling.”