Brazil’s homeschooling industry suggests: Spank your children

The book has also been sold via the company Simpósio Online de Educação Domiciliar (Simeduc), a platform for homeschooling products and services. The firm is owned by homeschooling advocate Gaba Costa, who helped introduce the ultra-conservative Christian US homeschooling programme Classical Conversations to Brazil.

Another ANED partner company, Comunidade Educação no Lar, sells an online course with two whole modules on authority, obedience and correction, including extracts from Quaresma’s book.

Beyond the book, lectures and texts by Quaresma recommend lines to feed children who are questioned about physical violence at home: for instance, that corporal punishment is a private matter.

She also suggests disability should not be a reason to exempt children from physical punishment.

The 2020 court decision also ordered the removal of “biblical discipline” content published by Quaresma on her social networks and website. But a text published after the decision and others dated 2014 describing how to use the rod are still online on her website, Mulheres Piedosas. Quaresma appealed the ban with no success.

Quaresma told us she couldn’t comment on her book as she is “facing a lawsuit arising from a complaint by the Public Ministry [prosecution office]”. She said homeschooling was a good option for Christian families unable to get Christian schools that suit them. But, she said, “the discipline that the Bible teaches has nothing to do with homeschooling. They are two completely different things.”

A Classical Conversations tutor and mentor for homeschooling families, who asked to remain anonymous, told us that spanking children was good biblical practice.

“The Bible says ‘discipline your child, but do not kill them with discipline’,” she said. “The Bible contains verses that direct us to use the rod. But when we say this, outsiders think we’re talking about massacring [our children].”

Some parents “guide their children by taking things they like away from them, others use a rod,” she added.

Violence against children

Domestic violence against children is common in Brazil. A 12-state survey by the Brazilian Public Security Forum revealed that “mistreatment” was the second most reported offence (after rape) against under-18s in 2019 to 2021. The vast majority of the victims (90%) were under 15.

Mistreatment is abuse used as a means of correction or discipline, according to both the criminal code and the Code of the Child. The third most reported crime was bodily harm in a context of domestic violence. In total, the survey estimated that 137 crimes against minors are reported daily, with high rates of under-reporting.

Only three of the seven homeschooler parents we were able to interview for this investigation considered corporal punishment to be cruel or inappropriate.

A 38-year-old woman from the southern city of Florianópolis, who spoke to us on condition of anonymity, began homeschooling her three children in 2018.

She did not beat them, she said – but she expressed understanding for “families that are going to use the rod of discipline, in the sense of smacking their children aggressively,” something she didn’t see as a problem.

“People from all walks of life, regardless of their religious beliefs, are going to act in the way that they see fit in order to educate their children,” she added.

But an Evangelical homeschooling promoter who has opposed corporal punishment in a YouTube video, and spoke to us on condition of anonymity, argued that the Bible had been misinterpreted.

“If a religious leader says you can smack a child, then people will believe that biblical discipline is about hitting your children,” she said. But many Christians “listen to any outdated thing,” she added.

The reasoning of those who use or defend corporal punishment, on top of the religious justification, is that schools are also places where children can suffer abuse, even if it’s outlawed.

“Unfortunately, schools nowadays fall well short of expectations, especially since the pandemic,” argued a 34-year-old graduate in pedagogy and mother of four who spoke to us on condition of anonymity. She also cited “gender ideology” and violence in schools among reasons she had turned to homeschooling in 2019.

Brazil’s homeschooling bill

ANED has been challenging the law that makes school attendance mandatory for under-17s since 2010, lobbying for state-level legislation and defending homeschooling parents in courts. Several cities and two states, Santa Catarina and Paraná (2021), passed homeschooling laws, but state courts suspended them.

In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that parents would not be allowed to take their children out of school to teach them at home until federal legislation was passed.

But Bolsonaro’s election the same year was decisive in strengthening ANED’s position, according to the group’s website. Legalising homeschooling was one of the president’s key promises for his first 100 days in office.

He didn’t deliver on that promise, but Bolsonaro returned to the issue this year to appeal to conservative constituencies as he seeks re-election. A bill to amend the general education law and introduce rules to govern homeschooling was speedily passed this May in Brazil’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, and is now being considered by the country’s Senate.

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