Some supplementary information to the introduction at the training in June.
Historical setting for the movement creating the Folk High Schools: Scandinavia as poor countries, education for the privileged, meaningless to the poor.
Clear parallel to situation in many of the countries we work. – Not at least when it comes to the pedagogical methods and the “oppression of the mind”., ref Norw school history.
Some extracts from Grundtvig's educational ideas and the background for the Nordic «Folk High Schools», of which there are about 350-400 today.
N. F. S.Grundtvig, 1783-1872.
Danish minister, Member of Parliament, poet, writer and school-founder. Graduated with a degree in theology in 1801, he was familiar with the classical languages and philosophical methods of his time.
He strongly disliked the school-system he had met, claiming that their root learning and methods had a deadening effect on the students. He called the school-system for «the school of darkness».
Grundtvig was a «Poet for the people» - he adressed all people of Denmark with his poetry, not just the cultured class. He would by his poetry «sing a higher life into them». Poetry was for Grundtvig not art, but a «life-giving power in every human soul, a mighty influence in promoting the common life of an awakened people».
He discovered the hard way that books cannot rouse a people whose spirit sleeps. Among other activities he translated the large latin Saxo «Denmarks Chronichle» into Danish – but it gained no interest from the poor. He found that only a living voice speaking the mother tongue could «awaken» and move people. Travelling the country, gathering people and giving speeches became the most important task to spread the ideas before the schools based on «the living word» were started.
These people's meetings became an active means of awakening by the «living word». Throughout the country groups where formed who got together in meetings and gave speeches on central themes like history, science, political economy, poetry and religion. Singing was also important. At a time there were about 1000 groups that met regularly throughout the country.
The view is that these people's meetings had greater influence in promoting the culture of the rural population than the whole of Denmarks written litterature. Since almost all of the leaders of these groups are «disciples» of Grundtvig, it follows that his strong personality in many ways had an even greater influence on the character of the Danish people half a century after his deathe than at any period during his life.
His influence, however, would not have penetrated the people's life very deeply, if the inlightenment had been spread only by means of meetings and lectures. A centralization of the work was necessary, and this took place when permanent folk high-schools were created (p 87).
Grundtvig's educational ideas must be interpreted in the historical context of the poor country Denmark was. It had been suffering the loss with France against England, and the period between 1814-1824 was one of the most power-stricken periods in the history of Denmark. But it was also getting a new constitution, and had recently had a reform of land rights. Denmark was in the time of Grundtvig slowly working its way out of poverty.
In 1832 he published «Nordic Mythology», where he contrasted the legalistic rationality of Roman approach to life, to the way of life in Norse Mythology. He then stressed the significance of oral communication - «the living word».
Grundtvig understood that the way of working needed to be institutionalized, and called for a «Civic and noble academy – a higher institute for the culture of the people and for practical competence in all major subjects» (148). By higher he meant adult in contrast to children, but also that the school should include «Higher» arts, especially language, knowledge and history of the people and their culture. He meant that the whole of the adult population was in need of enlightenment and inspiration, not just the elite or selected few. The historic culture of the people would offer the greatest resources for cultural growth.
The educational method would be free and personal communication, based on «the living word» and dialogue - «living interaction» - it would be an education for life, characterized by freedom, life and “naturalness”.
The first scool was started in 1844 in the area close to Germany, and it became a significant factor in the struggle against the encroachment of the German language and culture. Grundtvig himself never became directly involved as an educator in a school except as a guest teacher.
«The scool for life», 1838
His concept of the traditional school is «school for death» - focused on dead languages, grammatical perfection and sacrifice of life – giving only what he calls «book-knowledge». In many ways, he says, «we completely destroy the adolecent's vigor of body and mind with the result that he finds ways of withdrawal. We thwart the development of human nature by defying its laws..... All such schools become workshops for dissolution and death where the worms live high at the expence of life itself». (p 152-153)
In contrast to this school he sees «the school for life»:
• The chief educational goal is the task of helping to solve real problems of life.
• The teaching should be about life and promote purposeful living
• It should meet the needs of adult Danish citizens.
• It should give the courage to stand against those (scolars) who found it important «to move away from Danish barbarism to the classical world». (p 154)
As he says: «Our country and people are very poorly served by erudite men who shun their mother tongue».
The school should contribute to educate civil servants who think and speak Danish language and who love and know their country and its fundamental laws. This can only happen if they enter into living contact and personal interaction with students of their same age.Through experience they will acquire a far different kind of knowledge than what can be found in any textbook. The same potential for educational and cultural achievement is discoverable in both cottage and manor house – both poor and rich should attend the school.
The Danish Folk High School «must necessarily teach the language, history, statistics, political science, legislation and administration of the fatherland – but this is not enought», he says. (p 161). There must be room for the life itself, and this means the life of the people. There must be concern for the very core of this life, its natural conditions, its diverse vocations, requirements and industries.
They who attend should return to their communities and tasks with increased desire, with clearer views of human and civic conditions particularly in their own country, and with an increased joy in the community of the people. This would encourage participation in all great and good things...
Grundtvig was concerned that peasants and citizens who were elected to the Parliament should have a solid knowledge of their culture, history and social order. But this was also a concern for all people of Denmark, so that they could live a good life of «enlightenment». Thus he did not want to establish schools just for future politicians, he wanted to «develop the folk-life in all its fullness». (p 83)
Central elements: (p164-165)
Grundtvig lifts up the following central elements of the teachings:
• The mother tongue - «If our mother tongue is not miraculously revived, it will soon be extinct. Inasmuch as the mother tongue is the soul of the people..... treatment of and information about the mother tongue is a major concern of the Danish high school...
• Ballads, proverbs and maxims – must be revived, dusted off, launched and promoted
• Great Danish books - «will undoubtedly be promoted without my recommendation»(!). He warns about the fear an abundance of books can create in them who have to read them...
• The history of the fatherland
• The constitution of the country
• The legislation of the country
• Administration and municipal affairs – the school should serve as «a nursery for civil servants».
In a speech to the National Assembly in 1848 he put it this way:
«This school will aim at awakening their national consciousness, nourishing their love of country, instructing them in related areas at an early stage, and teaching them whenever feasible that we all, individually and collectively, and regardless of our social rank and occupation, belong to one people and as such have one mother, one destiny, and one purpose».
He stressed that the school must meet the need of the times. He also underlines the objective of the school in a letter to a friend:
«To awaken, nourish, and enlighten that human life, which is presupposed in Danish youth, this is the one and only objective of the Danish high school of the people. If it uses the means that further this objective, it will be distinguishable form all other schools, high and low.
All of these have some form of book-learning as their objective, usually without any challenge to such learning’s benefit or harm for the total human life of the student and certainly without consideration for the unique conditions, virtues and faults, advantages and disadvantages.....
If the schools are to be changed, these schools will, above all, need good teachers who can and will put the change into effect. Such teachers we can gain only by the education of young adults at a high school of the people.» (p 173)
He further states that he as an old «writer» has been cured of the superstition that the pen can create change and make people come alive. Therefore he is very clear on the choice of teachers – one should select «the liveliest possible as teachers».
Thinking on education
Grundtvig is the ideological father of the folk high school, though his own ideas on education had another focus. He advocated reforming the ailing Sorø Academy into a popular school aiming at another form of higher education than what was common at the university. Rather than educating learned scholars, he believed the university should educate its students for active participation in society and popular life. Thus practical skills as well as national poetry and history should form an essential part of the instruction. This idea came very close to implementation during the reign of Christian VIII, whose wife Caroline Amalie was an ardent supporter of Grundtvig. The death of the monarch in 1848 and the dramatic political development in Denmark during this and the following years put an end to these plans. At the time, however, Kristen Kold, one of Grundtvig's followers, had already established the first folk high school.
Grundtvig's ambitions for school reform were not limited to the popular folk high school. He also dreamed of forming a Great Nordic University (the School for Passion) to be situated at the symbolic point of intersection between the three Scandinavian countries in Gothenburg, Sweden. The two pillars of his school program, the School for Life (folk high school) and the School for Passion (university) were aimed at quite different horizons of life. The popular education should mainly be taught within a national and patriotic horizon of understanding, yet always keeping an open mind towards a broader cultural and intercultural outlook, while the university should work from a strictly universal, i.e. humane and scientific, outlook.
The common denominator of all Grundtvig's paedagogical efforts was to promote a spirit of freedom, poetry and disciplined creativity, within all branches of educational life. He promoted values such as wisdom, compassion, identification and equality. He opposed all compulsion, including exams, as deadening to the human soul. Instead Grundtvig advocated unleashing human creativity according to the universally creative order of life. Only willing hands make light work. Therefore a spirit of freedom, cooperation and discovery was to be kindled in individuals, in science, and in the civil society as a whole.