Citizenship Education: a collaborative Research with Home Educators 1

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Citizenship Education:
A Collaborative Research with Home Educators 1

Christine Brabant2, M.A., Université de Sherbrooke, Québec (Canada).

Conference paper presented at the symposium “Transforming Life into Knowledge – The De-institutionalisation of Knowledge Transformation – How Home Education Challenges Our Picture of Education”, during the Post-Graduate and Young Researchers' Pre Conference/ European Conference on Educational Research (ECER), European Educational Research Association (EERA), University of Geneva, Switzerland, on September 11th, 2006.

The author was awarded a “Prize for young researchers” by the Swiss Society for Educational Research for this conference presentation.


In liberal societies, which might be characterized as pluralistic and individualistic, schools are implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, expected to socialize youth and generate among them a sense of shared values. In Quebec, Canada, explicit mention of Citizenship Education was recently added to the compulsory primary and secondary school curricula. Most parents consider that Citizenship Education belongs in the territory of school educators, but what happens with Citizenship Education when children are home educated?

This conference paper will review the recent literature, both favourable and unfavourable, that describes the social impact of home education. It will then present a research project designed to collect the perspectives of home educators about the knowledge and practices at stake in their conceptions of Citizenship Education, and simultaneously give them an opportunity to better develop and articulate those conceptions. This study is designed as part of a larger collaborative research project which aims to offer conceptual clarification and produce practical knowledge about Citizenship Education. That research is directed by Professor France Jutras (Université de Sherbrooke) and funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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In this paper, I will present a section of my research project “in progress”. As a doctoral student in the ethics of education, my interest in home education and the social stakes at play within and around this educational practice led to a literature review on the social aspects of home education and, more specifically, on Citizenship Education in a home education context. It is my hope that sharing and discussing it with ECER participants and readers of the paper will help me strengthen my analysis of the literature. In particular, this symposium on home education is a great opportunity to have discussions with researchers who are already familiar with this literature.

First, I will offer contextual information about Citizenship Education by situating the problem that this program presents in relation to home education in Quebec. Second, I will present a succinct literature review on the social aspects of home education, leading to conclusions about the implications of that literature from the point of view of ethics. Finally, I will explain why a collaborative study with Quebec home educators could bring a significant contribution to knowledge in this growing field of inquiry.

1. Problem

1.1 Explicating Citizenship Education

In liberal societies, which might be characterized as pluralistic and individualistic, schools are implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, expected to socialize youth and generate among them a sense of shared values. UNESCO’s Delors Report (1996) recommended that educational systems aim not only to formally educate individuals, but also to teach them to ”live together”. Following this recommendation, many education ministries, including Quebec’s (MEQ, 2001), added an explicit requirement of Citizenship Education to their compulsory curricula.

Yet, Guay and Jutras (2004a; 2004b) have shown that teachers feel the need for training that would enable them to better understand and implement the Citizenship Education program. Some of the concepts outlined in the present documentation on the subject are ambiguous, such as the need for teachers “to develop civic consciousness” in their students. Therefore, there is a need for conceptual clarification and production of practical knowledge about Citizenship Education. A research team from the CIRÉA (Centre interuniversitaire de recherche en éthique appliquée, Université de Sherbrooke) addresses this need in a current collaborative research project with high school teachers. My doctoral research will parallel and add to that study but will involve collaboration with home educators.

1.2 Home education in Quebec

Some observers have noted that most parents, in part because of contemporary changes in family structure and work load, have ceded a more or less significant proportion of their role in socializing children to school educators (Borgatta and Montgomery, 2000). Some parents, however, have chosen the opposite direction, and have taken it upon themselves to supervise their children’s education in part because they believe parents and family need to play an active and consistent role in socialisation. Thus, they have opted to home educate their children.

Home education can be defined as: “the education of school-aged children under their parents' general monitoring, [replacing] full-time attendance at a campus school” (Lines, 1999, p.1). In Canada, education is under provincial jurisdiction and, in the province of Québec home education has always been legal. This situation is described in the Education Act, article 15.4:

15. The following students are exempt from compulsory school attendance: […] 4) a student who receives home schooling and benefits from an educational experience which, according to an evaluation made by or for the school board, are equivalent to what is provided at school. (R. S. Q., c. I-13.3).

Nonetheless, it remains a rare practice that curriculum-makers don’t take into account. Therefore, there is no indication about how Citizenship Education can be realized “equivalently” in a home education context.

One could be tempted to assume that Citizenship Education is ultimately dependant on the social context in which teaching occurs. There is also a common understanding that Citizenship Education is the vehicle for and the object of significant social stakes, many of which home education seems to be challenging or transforming. With these preoccupations in mind, I started a literature review on the issue of Citizenship Education within home education and more widely, to get a broad view of the social stakes at play within and around the practice of home education.

2. Literature Review

In response to the research question about the conceptualization and implementation of Citizenship Education, the aim of this review is to enlighten, in a pragmatic manner, individual and collective decisions with regard to the particular context of home education. First, the state of the research and a list of the social stakes extracted from the literature will be explored. Then, with the contribution of general categories in ethics, an analysis of the framework of critical writings will be offered. Finally, I will analyse the argumentative dynamic within which the research and discourses were elaborated. The conclusions of this review will serve to orient the proposed research.

2.1 Selection of writings

This literature review makes no claims to being exhaustive, but is rather diversified in order to present writing related to the social stakes at play in and around home education. Sources culled for this review were diverse, and included governmental, scholarly and advocacy research and writings. The governmental studies are those from Luffman (1997) in Canada and Bielick, Chandler and Broughman, (2001) in the United States. The scholarly research comes from two research traditions: first, empirical educational research in the fields of psychology, pedagogy and educational leadership, such as the studies of Knowles (1991), Knowles and Muchmore (1995), McDowell (2000), Webb (1989) and Meighan (1995); and second, fundamental social research, including sociological studies from Stevens (2001; 2004), Aurini and Davies (2004), Beck (2004), Spiegler (2003), Brabant (2004) and Arai (1999) and works in the fields of political theory, education policy and public affairs from Reich (2002), Lubienski (2000; 2003), Apple (2000), Monk (2003) and Hill (2000). In addition, Ray’s research (1994, 1997, 2000, 2003) as well as the writings of Somerville (2004), Duigon (2003), Audain (1987) and Washburne (2002) can be considered as advocacy research. Most publications are North American and a few are European (Beck’s, Meighan’s and Spiegler’s). Because of the scarcity of Canadian studies on home education, less-recent literature was also included (Audain, 1987; Knowles, 1991). Also, for this first glance at the literature, meta-analysis studies were favoured when available (ERIC Digests by Aiex, 1994 and Lines, 2001; Basham, 2001; Blok, 2004; Medlin, 2000; Meighan, 1995; Ray, 2000).

2.2 List of social stakes

The results of the literature review, in terms of a list of social stakes identified within and around home education, will be presented according to three categories: stakes relating to the development of children; stakes relating to the wider social impact of the modern home education movement; then, for the purpose of focusing on the more specific question the proposed research addresses, stakes relating to Citizenship Education per se will be presented separately.

First, in terms of childhood development, authors report preoccupations about, measure, or discuss four general themes: socio-emotional skills (Basham, 2001; Gatto, 1997, in Reich, 2002; Lines, 2001; Luffman, 1997; Meighan, 1995; Stough, 1992 in Aiex, 1994), social activities (Medlin, 2000; Ray, 1994, 1997; Wartes, 1987 in Ray, 2000), preparation for adulthood (Arai, 1999; Medlin, 2000; Stevens, 2004) and social integration as adults (Knowles et Muchmore, 1995; Ray, 2003; Webb, 1989). Their conclusions will be briefly outlined in the interpretation section.

Second, the majority of the writings reviewed address the social impact of the modern home education movement. Although presenting often antagonistic points of views, they address similar and interconnected social stakes: education for social pluralism (Blok, 2004; Lubienski, 2003; Monk, 2003; Spiegler, 2003), and the preservation of social and cultural diversity (Somerville, 2004; Stevens, 2004); reinforcement of national unity and identity (Reich, 2002; Stevens, 2004), and the rejection of the imposition of a predominant worldview (Somerville, 2004; Washburne, 2002); the acquisition of competences and attitudes for democracy (Arai, 1999; Reich, 2002) and the emphasis on character development and morality (Bielick, Chandler and Broughman, 2001; Ray, 2000); the civic participation of parents in the educational institution (Apple, 2000; Lubienski, 2000; Reich, 2002a), and the empowerment of mothers in education (Knowles, 1991; McDowell, 2000); the tension between seeing education as a public good or a private good (Apple, 2000; Lubienski, 2000); consumerism in education (Reich, 2002a) and customization or individualization of education (Blok, 2004; Ray, 2000); the relationships between the rights of children, the rights of parents and the rights of the State in the education of the youth (Audain, 1987; Duigon, 2003; Hill, 2000; Reich, 2002; Somerville, 2004; Stevens, 2004; Washburne, 2002); and finally, the evolution of the public educational institution (Apple, 2000; Audain, 1982; Beck, 2004; Hill, 2000; Lubienski, 2000).

Third, very few publications can be found about Citizenship Education in home-based educational settings. Arai (1999) is the only author who has addressed the topic directly. Arai suggests that home educators offer a re-definition of citizenship and Citizenship Education, in accordance with one of the Citizenship Education models developed for schools called ”multidimensional Citizenship Education”. According to Arai’s analysis, the home educators’ model only differs in the degree of emphasis on each dimension. About citizenship, one study of adults who had been home educated children has measured their civic participation (Ray, 2003) and found it superior to the national average. Other researchers of home education mention social stakes which can be conceived of as related to Citizenship Education within home education, namely the role of the community, families, home education support groups and mothers. Beck (2004) suggests that home education could be interpreted as an opposition or a resistance to the globalization of educational systems through an enhancement of the roles of community and family in educating the next generation. Aurini and Davies (2004) connect the growth of the home education movement with the emergence of a culture of “intensive parenting” (p.19), an affirmation that somewhat echoes Brabant’s findings (2004) that the main motivation for home educating in Quebec is a desire to live a “family educational project”. Barson (2004) suggests home education support groups might be imagined as communities of practice. Knowles’ (1991) and McDowell’s (2000) studies with mother-teachers suggest a re-definition of the role of mothers in education as a result of the empowerment that home education represents for them.

2.3 Nature of discourses, judgmental frameworks and argumentative dynamics

This interpretation of the various discourses present in the literature review will bring to light the stakes at play from the perspective of ethics, which is understood here to mean the pragmatic3 process of justification of action, in a procedural perspective. Thus the objective of the present analysis is to outline possible parameters for the practice and regulation of Citizenship Education occurring within home education contexts in Quebec. The writings will be analysed and interpreted according to the nature of discourses, their judgmental frameworks, and the dynamics of the elaboration of argumentation among them.

2.3.1 Nature of discourses. For this analysis, the various writings were categorized according to the nature of their discourse and conclusions. Three categories were delineated: descriptive, interpretative and critical.

Descriptive discourse is used in governmental portraits of home education, empirical educational research, the descriptive dimension of sociological studies and advocacy research. Home educated children are described as socially competent, with their academic and social performances equal or superior to national averages. Studies that have examined the lives and civic participation of home educated children as adults suggest that they become socially integrated adults and committed citizens. In addition, studies analysing the social aspects of home education on a larger scale describe a quickly growing world-wide educational movement.

Interpretative conclusions are offered by some empirical educational research and most sociological studies. Together, these studies find a social movement deeply rooted in contemporary social currents and pedagogical trends, and a very heterogeneous population currently joined by more and more “mainstream” families. They suggest that the modern home education movement is an expression of diverse contemporary social tensions, reactions, and affirmations.

With the ethical framework in mind, the literature review becomes more meaningful when these descriptive and interpretative conclusions lead to critical discourses, which are considered in order to generate justifications and guide action. Writings in this latter category originate from authors associated with fundamental social research and advocacy research. The judgmental framework of such research and the dynamics of elaboration of the argumentation displayed in them are examined in the following section.

2.3.2 Judgmental frameworks of discourse. With the help of general categories from ethics, the critical discourses can be categorized by two types of judgment: “substantial judgment” and “procedural judgment”. Substantial judgment occurs when the practice of home education is evaluated according to given social references such as outcomes, principals and morals. This type of judgment aims at handing down a “right or wrong” sentence for particular behaviours. For example, some authors argue that home education is “right” according to scientific evidence of positive outcomes of the practice in terms of academic outcomes for children (Blok, 2004; Hill, 2000), or upon biblical prescription (Duigon, 2003). Other authors focus on results too, but argue that the positive attributes described in studies on home education cannot be confirmed due to important methodological limits. For example, Lubienski (2003) argues that the positive outcomes of home education should perhaps be interpreted as negative, considering that home educated children often come from socially favoured families, and are therefore bound to attain higher academic results. Another example of substantial judgment is the theoretical opposition of worldviews and ideologies, as happens when discourses oppose “humanistic” values in favour of “religious” values, or the pursuit of the common good over the customization of education. Substantial judgements often paralyse discussions, because of their uncompromising nature which often make positions appear irreconcilable.

A second type of judgment, procedural judgment, acknowledges conflicts between moral values and preferences, then chooses to focus on conditions that are not given a priori, which have to be created by and for living harmoniously with those differences. These kinds of discourses attempt to determine whether an action is socially adequate and acceptable, according to evolving and socially consensual instruments such as charters of rights, laws, and institutional mission statements. For example, analysing definitions and arguments offered by jurisprudence in court rulings on home education offers a better way to understand where this practice stands in relation to laws that delineate social and institutional relationships (e.g. Monk, 2003). Another example is the analysis of the interests and legitimate rights of children, parents and states. This approach is also an attempt to set a rational framework in order to conceptualize the ethics of home education and social rules to protect the public interest in education (e.g. Hill, 2000; Lubienski, 2003; Reich, 2002). A final example of a procedural judgment is found within some analyses based on the institutional mission of public schooling, its organisational structure, and the roles parents and citizens must play to maintain its proper functioning (Hill, 2000; Lubienski, 2000). As a result of these judgments, of a “formal” procedural type, when one group takes the initiative to play their role differently, they are seen as inadequate and their behaviour is judged unacceptable as they are betraying an ingrained social pact.

According to Marc Maesschalck, an ethicist whose work will be called on later on in the present research project, the limits of this last type of judgment rest in its formal, deductive approach. In lieu of this “formal proceduralism”, Maesschalck proposes “contextual proceduralism”. In “contextual proceduralism”, judgement remains of a procedural type but is strongly informed by the specific context, the specific actors and the way they justify their action in relation to this context. This pragmatic process aims at generating efficient normativity without undue generalization. Moreover, its flexibility is well suited for novel practices.

2.3.3 Dynamics of elaboration of the argumentation. Generally, the debate on the social impact of home education is built in opposition. It is sometimes structured in the manner of attack and defence. It also shows instances of self-justification – justification of home education by home educators, and justification of the educational system by educationalists. In addition, the construction of argumentation is sometimes “mentalist”: ideal schools compete with ideal home-educators, as Hill (2000) has also suggested.

It is in this contradictory dynamic that the social stakes listed in the previous results section are discussed as opposed to and exclusive of each other, rather than as similar preoccupations expressed with different orders of priorities, focuses, or languages. For example, among the stakes cited above, diversity is opposed to and excludes pluralism; learning of attitudes for democracy are opposed to and exclude character development; civic participation of parents in public education is opposed to and excludes empowerment of mothers in home education. The debate clearly elucidates the presence of opposing perceptions of the meaning and possible impact of home education.

These positions might not be irreconcilable, though, as long as actors are willing to consider education of the youth as a shared problem. This attitude opens up the possibility of developing a common perception of the problem to be solved, and of a range of acceptable solutions. A conclusion can be drawn from this: individual and collective action with regard to home education will necessitate a bridging of these equally legitimate points of view. Only in this way is it possible to produce creative and generative concepts that can encompass the complex reality of this emergent practice on the one hand, and to produce new norms in regard to this socially challenging educational movement on the other hand.

2.4 Conclusion of the review

The authors mentioned above have contributed greatly to the knowledge base that addresses the social impact of home education. They have observed and categorized the complex nature of the stakes involved in a practice that challenges the accepted conventions of education, and they have documented the legitimate perspectives of the many people whose lives or livelihoods are impacted by a family’s decision to home educate. These stakes will need to be addressed in any attempt at delineating individual or governmental action for Citizenship Education in the context of home education.

To summarize: this literature review first examined descriptive and interpretative research on the social dimensions of home education. Although scarce, the research results are rather positive about the social development of children and their incorporation into general society as adults after the experience of home education. They also describe a movement in evolution, rooted in contemporary social trends. In addition, the writing feeds a perception that, for its participants, the home education movement might be an effort to redefine the roles of the family and the community in education. Indeed, recent studies on issues related to Citizenship Education and citizenship more generally suggest a redefinition of such issues in the context of home education, with regard to the role of parents and communities in education.

Second, reading this corpus of research through the lens of ethics suggests that the judgmental frameworks of critical discourses fall into either substantial or formal procedural judgment, which could be expected to fall short of promises for practical solutions to the problem of Citizenship Education in a home education context.

Third, an analysis of the argumentative dynamics among the critical works suggests that it will be necessary to build bridges between apparently opposite points of view. The complex stakes at play in this issue and the relative novelty of the modern home education movement will require great efforts towards mutual understanding and social innovation. To address this social innovation in Quebec, this analysis suggests that it might be helpful to conduct collaborative research in order to help generate fresh, creative conceptualisations encompassing the complexity of perspectives, as well as pragmatic approaches that consider education as a shared problem to be solved –even more so when it comes to Citizenship Education.

3. Introduction of Research project

The present research should contribute to developing a framework for the practical application of Citizenship Education curricula, as useful for parents as for educational administrators. It will explore the conditions of Citizenship Education within home education contexts. Citizenship Education is seen as a key subject that could play a significant role in stimulating a dual social learning process. Indeed, a shared redefinition of Citizenship Education, its concepts and application, could engage both educators and governments in a democratic experimentation in education. This social learning in a cooperative context will occur for educators (home and school educators) through the search for solutions to the shared problem of Citizenship Education, and for governments through the experimentation of modes of coordination of such enquiries. To make this learning possible, educators first need a space to explore their conceptualisation and their actual practice of Citizenship Education.

This objective leads me towards a collaborative study with home educators. Discussion groups will be held with the participation of the practitioners at play. The aim of the collaboration with these citizens-parents is to generate a rich conceptualization of what it means to provide Citizenship Education, rather than to encourage self-justification or defensive discourse about the practice of home education. It also aims at producing knowledge about the practice of Citizenship Education within a home education context. This research might help to inform parties and suggest democratic solutions to social problems.

This process reflects a governance approach to social challenge and it is strongly inspired by the reflexive governance propositions developed by Lenoble and Maesschalck (Toward a Theory of Governance: The Action of Norms, 2003) and more specifically Maesschalck’s pragmatique contextuelle (2001). Maesschalck’s approach seems to me particularly appropriate for addressing this problem, since it is based on working with existing cooperative networks, contextual specificities, social learning processes and democratic experimentation.


This communication has discussed some recent literature about the social impact of home education, including issues related to Citizenship Education, from the point of view of ethics. It is in no respect exhaustive, but exploratory and diverse. Currently, the evaluation of the practice of Citizenship Education within home education in Quebec lacks a viable framework for reasonable implementation; in part because home educators cannot be assumed to share the institutional perspective of schools which must address this new requirement in the classroom, in part because the concept of Citizenship Education still needs to be clarified and contextualised.

This interpretation of an overview of the research corpus suggests a need for a collaborative and pragmatic approach to the problem. The research project sketched out of this first literature review is a collaborative study with home educators that will aim, through discussion groups, to produce practical knowledge and conceptual clarification of Citizenship Education in the context of home education with home educators, and explore governance solutions to the social challenges that this practice seems to generate.


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1 The author wishes to express gratitude to her research supervisors for their contribution to this paper: Mme France Jutras (Université de Sherbrooke), for her help with the concept of Citizenship Education; M. Marc Maesschalck (Université catholique de Louvain), for his guidance in the domain of ethics in general and in the interpretation of the literature review in particular; and Mr Mitchell L. Stevens (New York University) for sharing his insights about the home education movement and the research that has examined it. Many thanks also to Ms. Ann Scowcroft for her revision work.

2 Christine Brabant’s doctoral research is funded and supported by: the Trudeau Foundation, the SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada) and the CIRÉA (Centre interuniversitaire de recherche en éthique appliquée.

3 According to Habermas, Ferry and Maesschalck’s pragmatic means, in this context, a rule-based interaction of actors trying to argue the potential of universality of their point of view. (cf. Lenoble and Maesschalck, 2003, p.154 as well as p.162.)

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