Snapshot of Homeschooling: Bulgaria and Romania
The checkpoint between Romania and Bulgaria is still guarded, but not by machine gun-toting communists anymore. In fact, the cooperative Romanian-Bulgarian security teams, while they do carry guns, don’t seem to be overly concerned with the increasing flow of traffic across the somewhat dirty and smelly section of the Danube that lies between Calarash, Romania, and Silistra, Bulgaria. Bulgaria and Romania have recently joined the European Union and are working towards implementing the regulations for freedom of movement among member states.
Courtesy of Gabriel Curcubet
At a homeschool conference in Romania, parents browse curriculum. BELOW: President Georgi Parvanov has been chief of state of Bulgaria since 2002.
Peter Porumbachonov, a historian and a leader in the infant Bulgarian homeschooling movement, met me at the Bucharest airport. Traffic in Bucharest was all it is reputed to be—drivers are more aggressive than those in New York, Boston, or D.C. by a long ways—and I was relieved to reach the Serdika Hotel in Silistra, the site of the fifth annual Bulgarian homeschooling conference. The conference was an opportunity for dozens of homeschooling families to gather to encourage one another in a country where homeschooling is considered illegal, but that gives little evidence of the kind of aggressive persecution of homeschoolers that exists in the western European democracies like Germany and Sweden.
Peter noted that because Bulgaria is small (its population is about 7.5 million compared to over 21 million in neighboring Romania), people—both neighbors and government officials—tend to know each other and not get too uptight about parents teaching their children at home, even though the law requires children to go to school. Conference attendees included more than just Bulgarian homeschool families—there were also families simply exploring the concept of home education, and several Romanian families who took advantage of the relaxed border restrictions. The group included many Christian families and a Muslim family.
For both Bulgarians and Romanians, dissatisfaction with the secular nature of the public schools was a common factor in why attendees wanted to homeschool. In Romania, homeschool advocates have attempted to engage lawmakers in discussions to pass laws allowing home education. To date there has been no success in this area, so parents must enroll their children in foreign-based correspondence schools. The Muslim family commented that although they had different religious views than most of the conference participants, they felt more at home there than at their neighborhood mosque where their imam and friends have criticized them for their desire to homeschool. The desire of parents to homeschool crosses all national, ethnic, and religious bounds.
I was greatly encouraged by the enthusiasm of the attendees and their desire to provide for their children's education at home. I was invited to speak to the group for several hours on the history of homeschooling in America and Europe and on the issues facing homeschoolers in other parts of the world. Although there was much said (and probably lost in translation), I tried to encourage them with the stories of American and European homeschoolers who are fighting hard to obtain and retain their freedoms in an era when government seems to be getting more invasive. I told them that they were doing the right thing for their children, that there were many homeschoolers in America praying for them, and that they should take courage with the words of one of America’s founders, Samuel Adams, who said that “it doesn’t take a majority to prevail, but rather a tireless minority keen to set brushfires in the minds of their neighbors.”
THE DESIRE OF
I also spoke at two churches and to over 500 people in Romania, encouraging them to consider the possibilities offered by home education. Many approached me afterward to tell me how much they appreciated the message and that they were going to consider whether or not homeschooling might be the right thing for their children.
In my international advocacy work, I always try to stress that homeschooling is a natural right of parents. Indeed, families have been designed so that parents can mentor, disciple, and educate their children. While in some countries formal education is far more institutionalized than in the United States (for example, China has millennia of history in which formal education outside of the home is recognized as the only way to get ahead and to bring great honor upon the student’s family), there are always pioneers who are pulled towards the benefits of home education and who are willing to brave the dangers, face the criticism, and make the sacrifice to homeschool. Encouraging fledgling homeschool organizations in other countries and supporting our fellow homeschoolers who are under threat of sanction should make us appreciate the freedom with which we are blessed in America, as well as make us mindful of our duty to help those in need. What better use of our resources than to help all homeschoolers, both in our own country and abroad?