Danish Folk High Schools
What it means to be human…
Long long time ago, in the beginning of 19th century, at the heart of the development of public education, Nikolaj Grundtvig travelled to Oxford and Cambridge searching for ideas how to improve learning in Denmark.
He visited places recognized for stable culture, high academic achievements, but it wasn’t academia that Grundtvig wanted to bring back to Denmark. He was looking for something universal, that is eternal for all human being. Something that works in all settings and involves all social classes. What inspires people to share knowledge and learn together?
Grundtvig believed the university should educate its students for active participation in society, so he designed a concept of “Oxford and Cambridge” for Danish farmers, where people learned to live together, work together and co-create. While the whole Europe was rushing to get independent as soon as possible and often swinged back to dictatorship, Grundtvig chose a different path. He chose patience and evolution instead of revolution aiming to educate all social classes, including farmers, to bring society to the next level. His ideas laid the foundations for Danish Folk High Schools, which became the place of adult education where people were learning main things about democracy. In these schools, students learned to live in small society with shared responsibility. They learned to work together, support and understand each other, while appreciating tolerance and freedom of speech. They also studied poetry, history, religion, nature and searched for the balance of all mentioned above.
So what is the role in education and society that Danish Folk High Schools are playing now? It is a place where you are welcomed as you are, based on your motivation and not your grades, where you can try out things you really care about and are interested in. The whole community is there to support students and help them to fulfill their dreams. Danish Folk High School is a boarding school, usually chosen by youth coming from their secondary education. Students come here to take a break up to a year, before making career and life decisions. This is a place to experience what it takes to live in small and diverse community where active participation, responsibility and co-creation for the common good are at the heart of the culture.
All the boundaries between people, whether it is their age, social class or status, almost disappear. The relationship between students and teachers is very different from other educational institutions – it is based on friendship and support. Teachers in Danish Folk High School help students learn what they want learn, rather than teaching them what should be learned. The essence of learning is understanding what it means to be a human, where head, heart and hands find the balance.
So 200 years later after Grundtvig went to England, we travel to Danish Folk High Schools to get inspired as did Grundtvig in his journey. What will be the things that we will co-create and bring back to our countries? What is really needed in our society now and how can we respond to that? What will be the stories that will be told 200 years from now?
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