The import(ance) of Grundtvig

1.2.2005

No other person in recent times has meant so much for Denmark as N.F.S. Grundtvig. No less he means for other countries. No one has had such a versatile influence as he. His thoughts regarding mankind, freedom and living interaction are still a living inspiration. That’s why the people from many countries in the world are greatly interested in Grundtvig’s ideas. “Grundtvig cannot be exported, but he can be imported”- this phrase is often repeated by the Danes, who caution against promoting his ideas and the folkehøjskole in other countries, especially in the South. But on the other hand, t he need for a universal historical understanding of the development of the international community is greater than ever.

In 1997 in Hamburg (Germany) UNESCO’s 5-th International Conference on Adult Education took place. In his speech at the Conference the former Minister of Education of Denmark Mr. Ole Vig Jensen said: “… a country cannot develop its welfare, unless its population is educated”.

A classical example of, or experience of, the possibility of bringing a hitherto excluded group of a population into society, and by means of enlightenment and adult education bringing them from passivity and hopelessness to become active citizens for the benefit of both themselves and the society – is posed by the story about the origin and work of the Danish Folk High School in the second half of the XIX century. And the inspiration of Folk High School Movement was given by the great Danish thinker and educator N.F.S. Grundtvig.

He had a vision of a completely new and different culture, based upon the people’s spiritual life.

In Russia there were some universal thinkers and educators with similar views. It is the state of a human being that was in the focus of their discussions. Issues concerning human’s mind, freedom and responsibility were more important for them than the theory of knowledge.

Grundtvig’s Educational Ideas in Comparison With the Ideas of Russian Educators

In this respect it would be worth to mention how much Grundtvig’s educational ideas have in common with the ideas of Russian thinkers and educators who expressed them in different times of the history. It would also be worth to analyze why those ideas have never been put into life in Russia, but were adopted in Denmark, and greatly influenced not only the educational system but the democratic development of the country on the whole. Lidt her om nødvendigheden

So, let’s follow these ideas.

1. Folk/people’s education . Grundtvig’s Folk High School ideas are based on the concept of folk/people. To Grundtvig a folk, or a nation, is a group of people with an inner consciousness that they belong together by virtue of a common language, common history, common traditions and habits. The people do not exist by virtue of itself; it obtains its existence only through reflection. Thus, self-reflection and existence are two aspects of the same matter. It is reflection that creates the experience of co-existence, of a common room, of a collective identity. He considered the widening of people’s education to be a base of people’s development with the main aim: – to arouse their spiritual potential and personal development; to cut the gap between elite and grassroots with the help of spiritual development.

Russian educators knew the concept of folk/people’s education too. N. Novikov (XVII century), V. Belinsky, N. Pirogov, K. Ushinsky and L. Tolstoi (XIX century) advocated the similar idea. Moreover, N. Novikov offered the same subjects at school as Grundtvig did: the mother language, history and geography. He also wrote about the importance of training the “moral actions”. N. Pirogov was against getting a profession at school: “Those who get the profession at school can’t be spiritually developed” – he writes. According to K. Ushinsky the education must be created by folk itself, and be based on the folk traditions. He also considered the mother language to be the basis of education.

2. Freedom . Freedom is in Grundtvig’s focus. Freedom based on spirit and humanism. According to Grundtvig a person can be spiritually and mentally developed only when he/she is free. The Russian educators I. Betzkoi (XVIII century), N. Chernyshevsky, N. Dobrolyubov and A. Gertzen (XIX century) spoke about the free education as well: “We must provide freedom in education for displaying the person’s best qualities, which the active citizens must have”. “We must educate a humane free individual who is to be responsible for the life of the society”.

3. Enlightenment . According to Grundtvig enlightenment is the means of such kind of education, because it is an active process, in which a person spiritually develops his/her inner self; finds the sense of life, and in which the necessity to be a member of the democratic society is created. The key task here is to understand how we can become “ourselves”, and what the relationship is between that “self” and others in a binding human community.

And again the Russian thinkers, N, Novikov and I. Betzkoi (XVIII century), A. Gertzen (XIX century), P. Blonsky, S. Shatzky and A. Makarenko (XX century) also spoke about the importance of enlightenment in a person’s spiritual development, in a person’s development in and through fellowship, as they considered the individual and the society to be inseparable. They also offered the school for life.

4. The forms of education . According to Grundtvig it is only “the living word” that is able to awake the sleeping soul of a man and to inspire him/her for the action. It must be done through dialogue, discussions, excursions and trips. L. Tolstoi (XIX century) created a school for the grassroots where he put the “living word” forward.

5. The aim of the school : to learn how to be a human being, nothing else! The same is to V. Belinsky, A. Gertzen, N. Pirogov, A. Radishchev, who stressed the importance of educating active citizens orienting their activity to be of benefit for both the motherland and for the society.

6. Religion at school . Grundtvig was against the religious education at school. “A student must not be taught Christianity at school. A student must understand the highest assignment of a human being; must understand his/her own life. The Russian thinker V. Belinsky was also against religious education at school.

7. The relationship between school and the students’ parents . The harmonious relationship between school and the students’ parents is the base of the free schools in Denmark. Parents who make decisions concerning the function of the school. V. Belinsky, P. Blonsky, S. Shatzky and A. Makarenko also stressed the great importance of the family in educational process.

Sh. Amonashvili is the most prominent person in the field of education at the late XX-early XXI century in Russia. He constantly repeats the words “school for life”. Not only his educational ideas but also his philosophical ones have much in common with those ideas of Grundtvig. “The school is a place, where a student must be spiritually developed”, – he often repeats these words.

It’s natural that each country has its own mission and its own way of development. But the fact that Grundtvig’s ideas and the ideas of the Russian thinkers have so much in common, unites these countries. Grundtvig’s ideas were put into life in Denmark, Russia is still moving to its way. The difference perhaps lies in what Grundtvig and Berdyaev wrote concerning freedom and responsibility. The Danish people became aware of their freedom to and took the responsibility for the life in the society through the Folk High School Movement. The people made a peaceful Cultural Revolution with the help of dialogue. Russia used to move by a revolutionary way. Even now when many changes have taken place in the Russian society democracy is introduced with great difficulty. First of all: the people can’t use the given freedom in a proper way. They simply don’t know how to use it. And the politicians are concentrated on their own interests. They can’t make a dialogue.

Referring to Ole Jensen’s words, with which this article is started, then Russia can’t develop welfare because its people are not yet so well educated.

Grundtvig in Russia

There are many people in Russia who support a democratic way of development, and they do everything they can.

In Russia, modern adult education started in the mid-nineteenth century. The first Sunday schools were established in 1859, and already by 1860 there were 200 Sunday schools in Russia and in 1905 more than 1600, with some 89000 students. Reading rooms, reading circles, evening courses and people’s universities also sprung up to serve the educational needs of the (mainly urban) population.

No evidence could be found that Grundtvig’s educational ideas or the Nordic folk high schools were known in Russia proper before 1917.

The people’s universities, which existed at that time, bear no resemblance to, nor do they claim any relationship to, the Nordic folk high schools. The people’s universities in Russia fulfilled a dual function: on the one hand, general cultural education and teaching of natural sciences, and on the other hand, political education. The First World War destroyed all the existing people’s universities in Russia. The Russian Revolution of 1917, and the ensuing civil war, which lasted until 1920, were not the times for widespread adult education. Other than that, until the 1950s, the focus of adult education was abolition of the widespread illiteracy, academic upgrading of the working class and vocational education. From that time on, adult education in the Soviet Union started to broaden to serve the cultural and general interests of the population, especially through people’s universities. The Soviet Union had developed its own special brand of adult education, which is exported and forced in the 1950s upon its vassal states in Central and Eastern Europe. There is no evidence of any knowledge of Grundtvig’s educational ideas and the folk high schools in Russia during the more than seventy years.

Among the first Russian attempts to establish a folk high school was a project in the Murmansk region in 1990s (the initiator of the project is Antonina Sidorovich). However the organizers found it economically very difficult to establish a folk high school in this Northern region of Russia. They did manage to start a Family Art School for young children in which the children and their parents “learn to understand the strength and pleasure in creating something together”.

In 1991 in the city of Zhukovsky (Moscow region) a free school based on Grundtvig’s principles of freedom and democracy was created (initiator is Lidia Shkorkina). The school had 50 children and was operated by the parents who hired the teachers and had a final say about the school programme. The tuition fees were very low and parents who could not afford to pay could contribute their work on upkeep instead. There was some financial assistance from the municipality. Unfortunately, when the municipality withdrew its support in 1997, the school had to close for economic reasons.

Since 1992 different ways of spreading Grundtvig’s ideas in Russia have been carried out through Interregional Association of Education (till 2001), and the Russian Chapter of Association for World Education (Russia AWE Chapter – from 2001 up now).

The result of 12 years of activity is, that more than 300 Russian teachers visited Denmark on seminars and courses, and about 3000 Russian teachers, doctors and scientists took part in our joint seminars and conferences in Russia. The following things struck the Russians most of all in the Danish society: openness, kindness, trust, respect of each other, hospitality, modesty, keeping the historical and cultural traditions, natural behavior, responsibility, social security, lifelong physical activity, creativity, tolerance, patience, conditions for self-realization, ability to co-operate, the readiness to have a dialogue, possibility for lifelong learning, variety of educational institutions; power doesn’t seem to spoil people, and mayors and politicians are servants of the people.

30 young Russians have been studying at Danish folk high schools. In his report one of the Russian students wrote: “If all young people in the world had studied at this kind of school at least for two weeks the wars would be stopped in the world”.

A better world is possible

No other person in recent times has meant so much for Denmark as N.F.S. Grundtvig. No less he means for the other countries. No one has had such a versatile influence as he. His thoughts regarding mankind, freedom and living interaction are still a living inspiration. That’s why the people from many countries in the world are greatly interested in Grundtvig’s ideas. “Grundtvig cannot be exported, but he can be imported”- this phrase is often repeated by the Danes, who caution against promoting his ideas and the folkehøjskole in other countries, especially in the South. But on the other hand, t he need for a universal historical understanding of the development of the international community is greater than ever. Therefore, there is every good reason to be interested in the general view of Grundtvig´s educational programme, that is to say, the universal historical triad: the individual, the people, and the universal. In Grundtvig´s own words it is important to promote enlightenment, which is able to “show the deep coherence between the individual, the people, and the life of all generations.”

As a result of the pedagogical and historical school approach to Grundtvig´s educational programme, the universal dimension has not been seriously examined. However, the time is evidently now ripe for a closer study of Grundtvig´s educational ideas in their entirety.

Is there a Grundtvigian moment for grassroots empowerment in this age of globalization? In this age of globalization, we may not yet have a Grundtvigian moment. But there is a Grundtvigian vision.