Oh my God what happened? - 20 years with home education in Norway
Speech on the home education (HE) conference in Bergen Norway 28. May 2016:
Dr Christian W. Beck Univ. of Oslo, Norway
In 1994 I called Marta Straume. I sensed that there was another than myself educational academician
in Norway who was keen on HE. I was right. It was the prelude to a wild journey through the country, still lasting . Wherever we were, so did Marta with coffee in a thermos and cake.
The Christian girl from rural Ulvik and the radical 68-er from Oslo became almost a kind of Bonnie and Clyde in eduction, who went around between villagemeetings to defend closing rural schools, got underway private Montessori rural schools (almost 50 of those now) and was involved in a growing number HE matters. We had an infinite number of long phone calls with HE-ors. We were much in the media and had constant confrontations of various kinds with school chiefs around the country. The baseline in the whole thing was a common commitment to freedom in education.
That same year (1994) was the Lillehammer Olympics in Norway. We won the most. The oil money flowed into the state and people, and Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland said: "It is Norwegian to be good". We were of course also world champions in school, and the school should be even better with Reform-97 and 6-year schoolstart age.
I knew about the HE-wave in the United States and thought: This has to soon come to Norway. I had read school law again and saw that it is obligated education in Norway and not obligatory schooling. That I had never heard anyone say at Oslo University. I was so prepared that the modern HU had to come to Norway I checked district news on NRK teletext every day, to see if anything had happened.
And right enough, within a few months then came Aamli case with family Jakobsen, Skaun case with the Hansen family and Mosvik thing with families Hovd and Mountains. Now it was started. Marta and I quickly came in contact with all four families and after some time many others.
Authorities were totally unprepared for this guerrilla attack on the world's best school. That some students were in private schools got one tolerate, but do not attend school, was unheard of and illegal. It was said it was obligatory schooling in Norway. However, it was and is obligated education applicable. HE is fully legal. There were police- and child protection cases. HE-ors were simply subjected to a demonization. The government form of exorcism was at all costs to get HE students back to school.
Marta and I started in 1996 the Information for homeschooling Center in Norway (OTH). A friendly soul offered and create a website for OTH. From 1996 to 2005, the OTH annual HE-country conferences, the first in Ulvik. The same was repeated from year to year: Word of mouth passed and new people suddenly appeared from Lindesnes to Finnmark. Strange collections of anarchists, conservative Christians and families who had difficulty eg bullying in schools, and many others. Much stalwart people, personalities. It came also foreigners. At the conference at Hurum in 2003 there were HE-ors from 8 nations.
Despite the different sorts of HE-ors these years, everyone was concerned about freedom in education and all had school bosses they had to deal with. It was good to meet like-minded.
In the periode 1994-2000 increased the number of HE families from 4-5 to 50-60.
In 1995 there were three lawsuits on HE. HE-ers lost all three. The most long-standing and fundamental was The Mosvik (a kommune) case, which went all the way to the Supreme Court (2000). How important HE had been for the authorities, we saw these years. The Mosvik case and the new Education Act (1998) was driven in parallel by the same people in the Ministry of Education. HE-ers from Mosvik lost 3-2 in the Supreme Court. It was such a narrow victory that the government dropped the case and waived the fine the two Mosvik families had received.
Paradoxically, the HE-climate in Norway got milder after Mosvik
case. It was an end to the hassle of compulsory school attendance. Police reviews have disappeared and child welfare cases were fewer. The right to HE, but Supervised stood strong. HE srudents had the right to upper secondary education. But HE students did
not have the right to special education or financial aid. They did not get diplomas after completing obligated education (10 years), but written confirmation of their HE. Shared solutions with some school and some HE, was possible if the municipality allowed
it, but was rarely seen. The legal situation which now was created, one must say still applies. Norway is currently one of the more liberal countries in Europe in terms of HE.
In the US there are over 3 % HE students. In Europe there are many HE students in England (at least 37.000). Elsewhere in Europe HE is a promille phenomenon. HE in Norway, as elsewhere in the Nordic countries, a microscopically. Number of students in Norway have remained stable at 100-300 (0.2 to 0.5 per thousand) in the past 15 years. Why are there so few HE students in Norway? I see some obvious reasons:
1) The Norwegian school, despite all criticism, is at a sufficient level. Unlike, for example, Eastern Europe's confidence in the state in Norway strong, also to the public school. There are far more HE students in countries like the Czech Republic and Estonia than in Norway.
2) Outsourcing of childhood to educational institutions from early childhood, has become a cultural course. HE threatens the new Norwegian "institution-based cultural identity". The treshold for starting HE is high
Who gives HE in Norway has changed siden1994. HE is increasingly become an urban fenomen and HE-ors more likely in the different ways call themselves unschoolers.
Norwegian HE-ors today can be divided into three main groups, which overlap, with the following key words / motives:
1) Bullying, eg Valdres case Dec 2015. This is HE with necessity.
2) Religion. One chose HE to get away from a secular public school.
3) Green. One has an alternative lifestyle. Often given HE emphasizing unschooling.
One sees a dichotomy of HE in relations with the authorities. HE-ors, from the authorities, recognizable middle class, often have little supervision and seldom hear anything from child welfare. But differ one from this "normal" increases the likelihood that HE-ors experiencing a child care.
HE reminds us the basic rule for good education:
1) Someone can something (teachers)
2) Some want to learn (students)
3) Teachers and students can meet in an education
When I look back, I believe that those who gave HE, or otherwise participated in this new educational environment
during those 20 years, were pioneers. You broke simply up a cemented unitary educational system, which reached its peak with reform-97. You brought freedom into the education policy agenda. The number of students in private primary schools increased by 50
% during the period 2005-15. Number HE students has not increased. But compulsary education and not compulsory school attendance stands strong in Norway today. A leading newspaper editor apologized (December 2015) in an email that he a lead-writting had written
about compulsory school attendance, it was of course compulsary education in Norway. It was a step forward.
We see today both an extension and a narrowing of the HE-communities:
HE-ors flock in groups on facebook and communicate nationally and internationally on the Internet. In this way, HE horizon and HE community expanded. HE is a global phenomenon. Many HE-ors spouses from other countries. Many HE-ors travel around a lot at conferences, festival with more and meets other HE-ors. There is an ocean of Internet schools, textbooks, teaching videos, tests, courses, etc., everything what one had to demand of educational tools, and another for HE.
A national HE community split up into smaller groups. In Norway today has a community in the central part of the closed fb-group "HU iNorge – erfaringer og diskusjon", with many new unschoolers. A somewhat different community, is around NHUF (The Norwegian national HE org). It is small groups of HE-ors linked to more and less known religious communities. It is HE communities related to children with different needs for special education. Some Norwegian HE-ors probably has little contact with other HE-ors in Norway.
HE communities become more self-sufficient. Local and global HE communities seems inner oriented, unconcerned about the community around them and avoid criticism. HE-ors seem social, educational and otherwise self-sufficient within their particular HE communities. The world outside their HE communities are often seen on with skepticism. Scepticism are mutually between HE-ors and Society, and escalates often. Who here is hen and egg, is often dependent on the eye who see. That way, growth in HE provide more social segregation.
I must admit that I have become more sceptical to HE than 20 years ago. I see a somewhat disturbing trend:
1) There is much to criticize in school. But there are too many HE students who do not learn enough. What to learn may to some extent be discussed. But in the situation Norway and the world is today should be in addition to basic skills also some history, and social studies about democracy and state structure. Unschooling can work well, for example in dedicated green middle class communities. But there are examples of that religion and unschooling can be a cover for bad education.
2) The numerous Internet offerings to HE-ors increases. We are talking about whole curriculum packages, very often governed by private Christian conservatives universities in the United States or of alternative lifestyle organizations. Also some Norwegian HE-ors are related to such offers. These costs often total a year, more than from parents on a Norwegian private school. Here there is profit to find.
We can see a tendency for the individual freedom fighters HE in the 90s, moves towards private global "education systems". Today, HE-ors tries recruited as foot soldiers for ideological and capitalist forces. This trend is most evident in the US, but we see some of that in Norway.
Two recent examples:
1) The major global HE Conference which was now in March 2016 in Rio in Brazil. It appears externally, as the conference in Berlin in 2012, as a "neurtral" conference. But one is studying a little, it emerges that the real chif in command is HSDLA, the powerful and wealthy Christian conservatives HE-organization in the United States. Many of the Organizing Committee and of the speakers have some link to HSDLA or its umbrella organizations. It is striking that many of the world's foremost HE researchers were not at the conference.
2) The organization: "Happily family" arranged now 23 to 27 May-16 the conference: "Education: Next generation online conference", with an emphasis on free learning, innovation, mindfullnes etc. The well-known psychologist and unschoolingideolog Peter Gray was one of 25 presenters. These people hav some of their livings from “coaching” unschoolers and others to become more "free". To get into the conference website must provide their name and email address. Your route on the website is overseen by "cookies", adhering all your movements on the page. Do you use any of the material "unauthorized", it is considered as a crime against US laws. They will make money on you. Unshoolingen ends here in an absurd movement from full freedom into “steel control”.
The often referred to Christian-conservative research institute NHERI, have found that HE sudents score well above schoolstudents on knowledge tests. But anyone with a little research training can see that this is so bad methodically founded that it should be dismissed as mere propaganda. One does not really know how HE-students do it as adults. Some do it well. But evidence from the US (a few in Norway) show that HU can also be an excuse for child abuse and very inadequate education.
What direction takes HE then today?
My opinion is today, as 20 years ago that HE is a necessary safety valve in a democratic society. HE is a kind of barometer of the state of school-Norway. HE is an essential necessity. I also believe that HE can be a workshop for educational pioneering work, which the school and the entire society can benefit.
We are used to seeing on a global trend where more and more children receive school / education. This picture is about to unravel, Warrior, for example in the Middle East cancel several places education for a generation of children. But bad damage of conditions in the educational system is also happening in Europe and the US. In Ukraine, many children are deprived of school building and resources. In Detroit US teachers are on sick leave because they do not receive wages. In May 2016 was therefore 64 of 67 schools in Detroit closed. That parents take more part in their childrens education, can provide a good and cheap education for many children in many countries.
The last 20 years have HE-ors seen the state as their main enemy. We need to rethink in a new direction. Globalization with online technology, migration, capitlism out of control, and a state under pressure, gives a new situation, also for HE-ors. The new enemies are private actors looking for profit and ideological conquest, often paired. Actors are not here meant those who are part of a small-scale community, also with HE-ors but large-scale actors to create large groups and earn big money. Vulnerable and lonely HE families can be easy victims. There are currently two main actors attacking HE: 1) Christian conservatives and 2) Alternative-lifestyle. Perhaps there is also some Muslims.
It is perhaps time to defend the public secular school. I mean HE`s future should be as a segment of the public education. HE is legal so constructed today in Norway. Some kind of shared solution with some HE and some school can be good for many.
But, whatever happens in the future with HE, I have the following summary:
My work as a HE-academician was not particularly career-enhancing, but very exciting. I followed my freedom impulse and is happy about that. Among other things, I got the pleasure of meeting a lot of great people. Several of you are here tonight. Nice that you could come and nice to see you again. We have all helped to make the history category: "You think then not until you get see it."
Thank you for your attention!