21. jan, 2016

Research on the Educational "Underground"

DR CHRISTIAN W.BECK: An article from the research-project: “Home education in Norway”. Institute of Educational Reseach. Univ. of Oslo. January 2016        
Research does not always go as planned. A survey about home education (HE) in 2015/16 were almost unsuccessful, because so few answered the questionnaire. Yet it emerged new important research findings.

In Europe, not least in the Nordic countries, less than 0.1 percents of parents give their children HE instead of sending them to school. In all countries, the number of HE-students is difficult to count. The phenomenon is given little attention. HE-ors going mostly under the radar, both to politicians, social scientists, and media. In quite a large extent, also to the school authorities radar, because the education takes place at home and not in school.

HE-ors are not an oppressed group that wants help from the welfare state. On the contrary, they choose themselves HE, and want the state at arm's length away. They have no political agenda, enabling them to any civic threat. Nevertheless, HE evokes strong emotions. HE forwards challenge a foundation wall of modern society school,  from within. What would happen if many breaks out of school and give HE?

When the modern HE came to Norway in the 1990s there was a hassle. The authorities were unprepared. It was wrongly said that HE-ers broke compulsory schooling. While there are actually compulsary education in Norway. HE as equivalent education for the public school, is permitted under municipal supervision. HE-ors Were reported to child welfare and police. In the 1990s there were three court cases about HE (Beck 2006). In Norway today it is somewhere between 50 and 400 HE-students (NHUF 2015) (Beck 2006, 2015).

Research on HE is termed as somewhat problematic. –HE-ors May be skeptical of HE research because they are afraid of being misunderstood and portrayed wrongly. They may also be afraid that HE research may involve unreasonable control of a government apparatus they are often in conflict with and have bad experiences with (Archer 1999).

Research on HE is polarized On the one hand you have, often Christian, proHE researchers and on the other hand counter HE researchers studying HE as a social problem (Cizek 1993). Internationally there are som, scientists located in a more neutral position between these two extremes.

In a similar survey done by the same researcher in 2002/03 (Beck 2006) responded very many, 91 percent of respondents HE parents. In 2015/16 survey, the number of responses dramatically down to 9 percent. I will in this article discuss in more detail the following question:

Is the low response rate in the 2015/16 survey a result of the HE-environment has changed since 2002/03, been digitized, split and more oriented towards a globalized HE-world?

Are HE-ors about to let their individual freedom and small-scale practice be guided by global religious and commercial power interests?

In this article I will:
1) Describe the two surveys and their various conditions.
2) Present the results of the 2015/16 survey.
3) Try to explain why the two surveys did so different response rates.
4) Make a cultural anthropological analysis of “HE-ors” under pressure.
5) Concluding remarks.

The two surveys
The purpose of the new survey in 2015/16 was to find out who HE-ors are, why they give HE and the progress of their HE. Besides examining possible changes since 2002/03. The questionnaires are relatively similar and both times addressed to HE-parents. In 2002/03, there are some additional questions. Some new ones are added in 2015/16.

Survey 2002/03
The questionnaire was sent out from the University of Oslo (UiO) by the research project: "School in a different way" in a letter to the HE-parents, with the logo of Educational Research University. It came with the reply envelope addressed to the same place, with postage prepaid. The researcher sent out the letter to the HE-parents he knew, including from activity in: Information Service for homeschooling (OTH). He had good contacts with the "HE-environment". The spread occurred at snowball method. Those who received the form, was asked to recommend to other HE-ors.

Survey 2015/16
The questionnaire was sent out first time on 20 November 2015. Dispatches were made via blog: alternativped.com, with three reminders, the last January 2-2016. The parents was asked to send the completed form as an attachment to the researcher mail address or by post to the researcher's mail. The forms were posted online on facebook (fb) page:
1) "HU I Norge – erfaringer og diskusjon", a closed group for HE-ors. Some others, also the researcher here, with. Maximum 50 of the group's 87 members (January 2016) is believed to be HE parents.
2) "Home education - mainstream tomorrow" (HEMT), an open group with 288 members (January 2016). Probably less than half of these HE. There is considerable overlap of HE-parents on the two HE-fb-groups.
3) Fb page to Norwegian homeschooling associations (NHUF).
4) The researcher's fb page with 436 friends (January 16). Most people here are not HE-ors.
The questionnaire was also sent as like member mail to NHUF members. Approximately 10 questionnaires were sent out as mail or regular mail of another person.

Dispatch Method changed from mail to online has hardly influenced the number of population reached. Most HE-ors are currently online. Anonymity for the submitted form by mail were possible also in 2015/16 survey. Missing anonymity alone is not likely to be a cause of low response rate. Changes in the questionnaire believed to have had little impact on the decline in response rates.

It was in 2002/03 sent out 140 forms. It came in 128 completed (Beck 2006). It was difficult to estimate what proportion of the population HE-ors who had responded. Authorities registered in the school year 2002/03 110 HE students in Norway (GSI). The researcher had even (Beck 2006) made a research-based census that ended with an estimate of 369 HE students, but with considerable uncertainty.

In 2015 there were 119 HE students (GSI), much like in 2002/03. It is not made any new research based counting of HE students. The GSI statistics have been difficult to verify, Today it only registered a number, at the national level. In 2002/03 there were also registered number HE-students at the county and municipal level.

It is most reasonable to assume that HE-populations in 2002/03 and 2015/16 are similar in size. The responses on the two surveys can be compared directly.

Table 1 HE-samples 2002/03 and 2015/16 (percent) (1)



Number of HE-students 2002/03 (n=128).

Number of HE-students 2015/16 (n=13) ” The Responents”

Live in urban areas



Mothers with higher education



HE given more than on year



Unschooling as motive for HE



Religion as motive  for HE



(1) It m ust be noted that the level of education in the population and the number urban areas has increased somewhat in the years between surveys. The calculation of unschoolers is somewhat different.

"The Respondents"

Respondents in 2015/16, had higher education, staying more often in urban areas than HE-ors in 2002/03. They have increasingly given HE more than one year. Number of unschoolers (2) is more than 3 times as many as in 2002/03. The number motivated by religion is slightly smaller. None of the respondents 2015/16 had unschooling or religon as the only reason to give HE.

(2) Unschooling is an educational direction where children should manage their own learning, also called natural learning (Gray 2014), (Holt 1967). 

69 percent of respondents were very satisfied with the supervision from local authorities, no one was dissatisfied. But 31 percent had little or no supervision. 62 percent were satisfied with the relationship with the local authorities. Most (77 percent) had not experienced any review of child protection from Barnevernet (BV) (Child welfare). For the few (3) who had a BV case, the matter was now abandoned.

Only 15 percent of respondents wanted "testing in basic subjects sometimes in primary-education instead of supervision". The vast majority (92 percent) believed their children "receive the necessary learning of basic skills (K06)". Most (72 percent) did not want the "Authority to a greater extent would be advicors". Most (62 percent) had some or a lot of contact with other HE-ors. Most (69 per cent) were very satisfied with their HE and no one was unhappy. Respondents spent 0-5 hours a day on school subjects-like learning and 2-24 hours on other learning.

Respondents are dedicated well educated middle class HE-ors, often with an unschooling strategy. "Learning happens all day" as one of the respondents writes. They have had stable HU over time, which they believe is going well. But they are few. It is questionable how representative they are for all HE-ors in Norway 2015/16.

“The Non-Respondents”

The respondents may be representative for an increasing urban alternative lifestyle (green) HE

Other non-respondents are estimated to constitute may be a majority-group of HE-ors in 2015/16. The 2002/03 sample may be representative of these non-respondents in 2015/16, on several factors.

Non-respondents live more often in rural aeras than the respondents, have less education and more often have religion as one of several reasons for their HE. As many probably have given HE less than one year, it is reasonable to assume that several of these also are unschoolers. Non-respondents are more likely to conflict with the municipality and are more involved in BV-cases (3).

(3) The relationship between HE and BV have gone in phases. In 1994-95 there was high drama surrounding the HE in Norway and many -HE was reviewed by BV of neglect, it was accepted that HE was a legal and not neglect. The relationship between HE and BV calmed down. With new Education Act (1998) and Mosvik case dismissed (2000) it was until about 2004 does not BV matters regarding HE (Straume 2004, 2007). From about 2005 dolls BV stuff up again. Now HE is an element in wider issues of child neglect. The cases are increasing in number. Often we are talking about students who have social problems in schools, particularly bullying.

Possible explanations for the decline in response rate
  The HE environment has changed
In 2002/03 was a dramatic decade for Norwegian HE done. It had been three HE court-cases, many media reports about HE and conflicts about HE matters. The researcher was in these years a "reserch-expert" for HE-ors who needed help, not least legally. The researcher had gained confidence in HE environments. This was beneficial for the response rate. Many HE-ors perceived the survey 2002/03 as interesting to get information about others HE-ors and HE general. In 2002/03 it was in HE environment little use of online technology. HE-ors had little contact with each other. The environment was fragmented, with isolated families. Marta Straume and the researcher had roles as cobinders of the environment and we lined environment with information on HE, also about research on HE.

Today the law around HE is more clarified. HE environment can evolve more on their own terms. Many HE-ors are very active online, and they have a lot of cooperation and communication among themselves and they communicate globally. HE-ors can online identify important info about HE, teaching materials, often against considerable payment, and for research and other info about HE. HE-ors  are often in fb-groups. The environment has become more self-supporting with information, communication, internally more supportive and become global.

The HE-ors have become more critical to the researcher
In an article about HE in  VG (Leading national newspaper) -Weekend (5. desember-2015) was the researcher interviewed (Appendix 1). I expressed support for the right to HE, but believed all HE students should be tested in basic knowledge. I also highlighted the "dark sides" of HE, the existence HU that hides both fanatical religiosity and other social disasters, eg drugs abuse. This was resented by several HE-ors. At the closed fb-group "HE in Norway – discussions and experiences" came days after several critical comments on what I had stated:
"However, we are quite puzzled by some of Christian Beck comments and do not agree that" guidance and regular tests for all "is the way to go when it comes to supervision". Another comment: "Words such as substance abuse and neglect shout very loud in such an article. It experienced generalizing and false "... .." 190 HE children in Norway - how many are issues with substance abuse and neglect? "

There were also other harsher comments. How representative these comments are for the whole HE environment is difficult to say. But it testifies to a different and more complex relationship between the researcher and HE environment in 2015/16 than in 2002/03, which could have given fewer answers.

The response rate has probably decreased because:
The HE environment has changed and the researcher's role has been another. Norwegian well-educated middle Norwegian HE-ors seems to avoid HE research. A HE-survey perceived as uninteresting. Other HE-ors, eg religious with low education in rural Norway, may be skeptical of authorities in general, HE research included.

HE-ors under pressure - a culture anthropological analysis
In the work "Purity and Danger" (2004) presents cultural anthropologist Mary Douglas theorized social order and boundaries in different types of societies. The theory can be applied to HE and research on HE. Her main point is simple. Any society, whether big or small, depends on the order in terms of social rules about how things should be done and understood. Rules should protect what is seen as right and holy, and must be kept clean. It threatens, is declared wrong, heretical and must be kept away. This can apply to religious and cultural values, social institutions and everyday social rules.

When society is under pressure, eg by increased immigration, school is given greater integrative tasks. Violation of school, even by a small minority as HE-ors may increasingly be perceived as threatening. This can provide additional resistance against and stigmatization of HE-ors and authority control of HE can be more extensive.

Conversely, with greater pressure against themselves, being HE-ors more concerned about  the HE environments inner strength and purity. One gets HE-subcultures, with communities also in other living conditions, locally and globally, such as religious, unschoolers et al. These are self-contained environments and contact with the outside world becomes less important. HE-ors might idyll identify and idealize HE. Unrealistic enemy images could occur. The possibilities for conflict and misunderstanding may increase.

The authorities have become more familiar with HE, but they want everything to be just either school or only HE (Directorate of Education 2013). HE students are not entitled to special education. Shared solution with some school and some HE is rarely accepted. HE-ors are also skeptical to shared solutions. "HE has nothing to do with school" as an HE-or said. HE should be kept clean.

The HE situation in Norway today is complex. Authorities may be open and accepting of HE for children from the educated middle class. These are recognizable and little threatening. More HE-ors can tell about growing positive communication and trust between school and HE-ors.

Meanwhile, the threshold for suspicion to other HE-ors with larger socio-cultural distance to themselves become lower. Authorities defines more easy than before HE as a social problem it must intervene in, often with child welfare. BV and school agencies in several municipalities are merged, which increases HE-ors suspected untimely collusion between authority agencies in HE-cases. "The other" stand united against "us"  the HE-ors.

Today the Norwegian HE environment seems to be two-piece. A core of 30-40, many new, active, at the closed fb page, keen on unschooling. The rest, presumably most, may have less contact with other HE-ors, or their contact is less visible to others.

Closing comments

One can see that school and HE develop in opposite directions. The school becomes more authority governed by bureaucracy and testing regimes. Cooperation with parents is increasingly formal, controlled and defined by the school.

HE as a human right stands strong in international conventions and in Norwegian law. If this right decides removed would an important democratic principle of society disappear. But what will happen to HE in the future? Having researched and followed the phenomenon HE for over 20 years, I will not make predictions, but conclude with a few comments:

Critical HE comments:
1) In the United States there are 1,770,000 HE students, an increase of over 60 percent in the past decade (IES 2013). Most are Christian fundamentalists linked to a network of textbook deals, programs, tests, curriculum, schools, with more, constituting total Christian-fundamentalist curriculum packages right up to high-school level, often via the Internet. Several Norwegian HE-ors are associated with such arrangements. Suppliers are often private Christian fundamentalist universities, eg Bob Jones University in South Carolina and Patrick Henry College in Virginia. These have both ideological and commercial interests of HE-ors.
2) The search for relations and support in HE environments can become something else when HE is a large-scale phenomenon. According to HE-ors own organization, there are over 300,000 HE students only in Texas (THSC-Ass. 2015). Most are fundamentalist Christians. For HE-ors in Texas, alone and in conflict with the world, the original individual freedom-impulse in HE quickly can be transformed into support for an alternative education system, from toe to top, with a clear religious agenda and with HE-ors as faithful foot soldiers .

3) In a study in the US compared the three student groups: 1) in ordinary primary, 2) school-like HE and 3) unschooling. (Martin-Chang 2011). On standard learning tests in basic skills (eg reading, writing and math) were group 2) best and 3) the least good. Unschoolerne will probably say that their learning endeavors largely lie outside what is measured in such tests.

But anyway, there is reason for the authorities to be on alert. Unschooling seems to work well for children with dedicated middle-class parents. But there are examples of both unschooling and religion can be ideological hideouts for poor training. Sometimes HE also hide severe neglect. Supervision of HE must provide a check on that basic knowledge is applied to HE students. HE students should be periodically tested in one way or another, on how much basic knowledge they have learned.

In  a survey on parents with children in elementary school (Beck and Vestre 2008) were identified three parent groups that are appropriate to give HE. They can be characterized by their respective keywords: 1) principle of necessity; 2) religion and 3) Alternativ (Green) lifestyle (Beck 2009).

Society benefits of HE
1) HE is necessity (Vestre 2004). Some students are so maladaptive in school, especially when it comes to bullying. It is then almost a parental duty and get their children out of hell.
2) When almost everyone goes to school, HE is needed to ensure an educational diversity. HE as an educational experiment workshop and controlgroup to school.

HE is turbulence at the edge of the education system. Turbulence can provide good conditions for innovation. However, one should avoid HE becomes more dominated by economic and religious power interests, The cemented boundary between HE and school has to break. Authorities must come HE-ors more in meeting socially and materially and consolidate HE as part of the public education sphere. Both sides can profit from it, also society as a whole. Solutions with some school and some HE should be possible. Positive communication between HE-ors and school can provide inspiration for the development of the future educational system.


Archer, J. (1999). Unexplored Territory. In: Education Week. December 8.

Beck, C. W. (2015). Hvem vil bli de neste hjemmeundervisrer I Norge (Who will be the next HE-ors in Norway? The blog: Korrektivet http://www.alternativped.com/415164193/2999495/posting/hvem-blir-de-nestehjemmeunderviserne-i-norgealte

Beck, C. W. (2009). Hypersosialisering (Hypersocialization). Vallset. Oplandske book publishers.

Beck, C. W. and Vestre, S. E. (2008). Parents opinions on school. A national survey of parents with children in elementary school. Oslo. Didakta Norsk Publishing.

Beck, C.W. (2006). The modern homeschooling in Norway - description, analysis and discussion. Dr thesis, Inst of Ed, University of Oslo. http://folk.uio.no/cbeck/dr%20philos%20avh%20Chr%20beck.pdf

Cizek, J. G. (1991). Home Education Research: On the Right Road? Paper at the annual meeting: The American Educational Research Association. Atlanta GA Aprile 12-16.

Directorate of Education (2015) Secondary Education: GSI - the Information System. https://gsi.udir.no/application/main.jsp?languageId=1

Directorate of Education (2013). Private homeschooling. Udir-5-2013 http://www.udir.no/Regelverk/Finn-regelverk-for-opplaring/Finn-regelverk-etter-tema/Skoleeiers-ansvar/Udir-05-2013-Privat-hjemmeundervisning/

Douglas, M. (2004). Purity and Danger. Routledge. London.

Gray, P. (2014). A Survey of Grown Unschoolers 1: Findings and Overview. In Psychology Today, posted June 7 .: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201406/survey-grown-unschoolers-i-overview-findings

HE in Norway - experience and discussion. Closed facebook group.

Holt; J. (1967). How Children Learn. Pitman Publishing

Institute of Education Science (IES) (2013) National Center for Education Statstics. Table 206.10 http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_206.10.asp

Martin-Chang, S. (2011). The Impact of Schooling on Academic Achievement:
Evidence From Homeschooled and Traditionally Schooled Students. In: Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science - 2011.Vol 43, No 3, 195-202. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232544669_The_Impact_of_Schooling_on_Academic_Achievement_Evidence_From_Homeschooled_and_Traditionally_Schooled_Students

Norwegian homeschooling associations (NHUF). (2016). Mailer January.

Straume, M. (2007). Thoughts after 15 years as a supervising teacher. In: Exception condition in school-Norway. Source Collection of Norwegian HE-cases. Oslo Didakta Norwegian Publishing.

Straume, M. (2004). The Mosvik case and the new HE in Norway. In Beck, C. And Straume, M. (eds): HE - start of a new educational revolution? Vallset. Opplansdske book publishers p. 27-56

THSC-Association (2015). https://www.thsc.org/homeschooling-in-texas/for-state-and-local-officials/
Vestre, S. E. (2004). Legal basis for HE. In: Beck, C. and Straume, M. (eds): Homeschooling - start of a new educational revolution? s 57-66.

Appendix 1.

Interview with Christian Beck in VG Weekend 5. December 2015:
A green trend
Home education has become a trend among affluent families with green lifestyle.
According to the School Information System (GSI), during the period 2014-15 about 120 children receiving HE.
- The actual figure is higher, says researcher in Education at the University of Oslo, Christian W. Beck, who wrote his doctoral thesis on the topic.
- Many children, for example, only registered the first year they get homeschooling. And just in Oslo there are hundreds of children who the authorities can not account for. According to my research, the figure is closer to 400 than 120, says Beck.
According to the Education Act, it is not compulsory school attendance, but compulsory education in Norway. Thus, in principle, anyone choosing to educate their children at home. Before it was highly religious families who chose this. Now, it relates more about the conscious, educated people with an alternative lifestyle.
A lot of kids go  well with their HE and I would strongly defend the right of HE. But I see now a very wide gap, which one should be aware of. At one end of the scale you have the gifted, often "unschoolerne" where kids are super ones. On the other side are those who absolutely had penetrated supervision, where intoxication or fanatical religiosity governing children's everyday life. I've seen a few horrible examples.
The municipalities are responsible for ensuring that children receive adequate learning through supervision. They should be able to summon the children to testing if it needs it. But in the 20 years Beck has worked with HE, he has not seen a single example of such a special supervision.
- Some municipalities flout, while others tend to report to the child welfare families only because they educate at home, says Beck. He believes guidance and regular tests for all is the way to go.
- Then you got weeded out the worst offenders, while one had shown the skeptics that HE is not dangerous.