N.F.S. Grundtvig was a Danish Lutheran minister who proposed a new form of adult education. His teachings eventually led to the Danish folk high schools, outside of the mainstream Danish education system. These schools are open to all over the age of eighteen, noncompetitive and confer no diplomas. There are no exams or marks given.
Grundtvig spoke of “the living word” as the communication of personal life between the teacher and the students. The teachings must live in the life of the teacher and be actively responded to by the students, or the words taught are dead. These schools do not exist for the learning of academic subjects or for vocational training, but for learning about life itself, gaining insight and practical ability. This is education as a living interaction between teachers and students.
These schools nurtured a sense of Danish peoplehood and are credited with creating a cultural and intellectual climate that enabled Denmark to unite in resisting any collaboration with the Nazis.
Grundtvig borrowed the concept of the living word from Christianity and applied it in a secular setting. The Danish folk schools take many forms today, some are quite radical, some are Christian. Others focus on music and sports; there are also schools for retired people.
What would this emphasis on the living word look like in a Christian setting? That will be my next topic.
It is a high German notion that life is explainable before it is experienced, and that it must submit itself to change according to the dictum of the learned. Wherever this fanciful idea is incorporated into the educational structure, all such schools become workshops for dissolution and death where the worms live high at the expense of life itself. I completely reject this fanciful notion and maintain that if the school, as an educational institution, is to realize its potentialities for benefiting life, then this school, first of all, should not give the highest priority to purely intellectual activity or to its own institutional status, but set as its chief educational goal thetask of helping to solve life’s problems. Secondly, the school should take a realistic approach to life, it should strive to teach about life and promote purposeful living.
N.F.S. Grundtvig, 1838. Grundtvig was the founder of Denmark’s folk high schools