Almost all countries have schools in addition to their public school system. A common trait among them is that they were started as schools for youth of upper-class families. In some places they are schools for the maladjusted or handicapped. Often they educate the students towards certain religious or political views.
Characteristic of the free Danish schools (folkehøjskoler) outside the public school system is that they, since 1844, aimed at the ordinary citizen from the middle of the population and that the educational idea was applicable to all political and religious schools of thought.
From its start the folkehøjskole was especially for rural young people. Long afterwards youth from other classes of society became students. Today the students at a folkehøjskole come from all walks of life and have all types of educational backgrounds.
The idea, originated by the poet and minister N.F.S. Grundtvig, and influenced in its realization by the educator Kresten Kold, is still so successful in the Danish society that every year thousands of young people attend the folkehøjskoler precisely at the age when they should be most tired of school.
With a touch of Poetry
In the word folkehøjskole (Folk High School), folke (folk, common people) is the most important.
The substance of the word cannot be translated into other languages. The meaning cannot be conveyed by using the English "folk" or "public". In its various combinations the word contains a philosophical, educational and political idea created by Grundtvig in his poetry; and there are still traces of poetry in the realization of the idea.
"Folke" in its Danish context, just as the words "fate" and "feeling" is difficult to localize in the linguistic landscape. It lies in Danish thought and actions almost as the country's only mountain with a substance that, so to speak, has not been shaped by human lips.
Daily life at a Folk Highscool
But we can describe the surroundings of the mountain as they are reflected in everyday life at a folkehøjskole.
Here we meet the highly skilled person who likes his work and knows it down to the smallest detail, but nevertheless wants to break away from specialization and look at his work in relation to the rest of society and life as a whole.
On the other hand, we also find one who wishes to change occupations, and who seeks inspiration and courage for this change in the classroom situation, and through interaction with the many other students in the same situation.
Here we meet one who is fed up with school - who has studied "just to be finished" - and one who never had enough in school, or of school.
Here is the beneficial encounter between one who sees the højskole as a transition from the secure home to independence and one who has never felt at home - anywhere.
Here we meet one who has never taken time - or had a chance - to be young among other young people and one who will not give up his youth too soon.
Here is the meeting between generations, between man and woman, all walks of life, all professions and occupations, all schools of thought, all religious beliefs, all political ideologies,
- and with those who have not yet developed their life philosophy or formed. their opinions.
Without catering to what is popular
More than a hundred years show that the højskole is avantgarde without catering to what is fashionable.
Life isn't designed with a compass and ruler - neither are the folkehøjskoler. Few people have a straight path through life. Every day still has its problems that cannot be solved at specialized schools or with encyclopedias. The folkehøjskole starts where other forms of schooling stop.
Throughout decades the Danish State has subsidized the folkehøjskole financially without in any way asking the højskoler for political or moral support in return. Neither the State, individual departments nor organizations can influence the folkehøjskoler. Their freedom is not only protected by the Constitution but even more so by Danish tradition.
Included in the freedom of the folkehøjskoler is also the right to be different. But if students choose at random among the eighty folkehøjskoler, they will still find the fellowship which comes from the interaction between student and teacher - also outside of the classroom. At a folkehøjskole one lives, eats and experiences together.
Fellowship around a topic
The folkehøjskole acknowledges itself to be a school. This means that there is work to be done. This means that there is fellowship that arises from a common concern about a subject or problem.
But in choice of subject, in rules of conduct, in historical and religious views, in atmosphere in and outside of the classroom, and in many other ways, the folkehojskoler are very different from one another. Most schools are in session for four or six months. The students also receive subsidies from the State for a stay at a folkehøjskole.
An early start
The folkehøjskole had its beginnings under an absolute monarchy in Denmark but was endowed with the strongest qualities of freedom any type of school can command - freedom for the individual student, teacher and school in relation to the State.
The folkehøjskoler are Scandinavia's only really great universal educational idea. The father of the idea, Grundtvig, was ahead of most with his free new thinking. His legacy, the folkehøjskole, is Steiner without mystique, Neill for adults, Montessori without goal oriented praxis and even more:
A poetic pedagogy where man, knowledge and convictions are synonymous with you and me.
There are about 80 different Folk High Schools in
Denmark, which are located over the entire country.
They are private, self-govering institutions receiving State grants. Courses vary from school to school, the shortest being one week, the longest ten months. All schools are boarding schools.
© Poul Erik Søe. Udgivet af Højskolernes Sekretariat 1974.
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