When common people changed their attitude to school: The decrease in school absence in the inner areas of Vest-Agder between 1850 and 1890

This article examines the causes of school absence and the decrease in school absence in the inner parts of Vest-Agder between 1850 and 1890. The study’s point of departure is the implementation of the School Law of 1860 in these hardscrabble and egalitarian rural societies. The study finds that the school absence decreased by 67 percent between 1850 and 1890, and that the reduction mainly took place in two periods: Between 1860 and 1864 and from 1874 to 1878. Diseases, child labor and a lack of interest in school stand out as the main causes of school absence in the period 1850–1890. Living conditions and diseases were root causes that were inelastic, and which changed slowly during the period. The article explains the two main decreases in school absence in the period by changes in attitude among the common people. Causes for these changes seem to be social pressure, a better and more useful school and new communities, where the common people could put to use the skills and knowledge that the school increasingly gave them. Finally, the article places this local development in the context of the broader modernizing processes in the period, and argues that the common people actively contributed to the development and modernization of their own communities.