Folk Schools are a Rising Trend in the U.S.

The 19th Danish century “folkehojskole” is more popular than you think.

“Folk school” may not be an all too familiar expression. The 19th century Danish initiative first made its way to the U.S. in the early 1920’s and only a handful of these schools surfaced in the U.S. over the years. For one, they vastly differ from traditional education. There are no academic requirements for admittance, no exams, and no grades. Second, with modern technology invading our schools, it seemed that an education involving manual labor was nearly extinct.

Things have changed. With the economic trends, a rising interest in sustainability, and do-it-yourself popularity, folk schools are making a comeback and people are looking to get back to their roots to gain core values, personal development, and maybe even a new business idea.

What is a folk school?

A folk school is an institution comprised of adult learners who receive an alternative non-formal education. The length of a typical stay is 4 months. The small community of learners focuses on popular education, ethics, morality, and democracy in a non-competitive atmosphere. Think modern day survival. The types of classes include traditional skills such as cooking, gardening, crafts, and furniture building. The original folk high schools, or “folkehojskole”, date back to the 19th century rural life of Denmark and were the cornerstone of Danish education. Originally founded by Danish thinker and poet N.F.S Grundtvig, they were designed to give the lower classes an education so they could transition to a democratic government. He called these institutions, “A school for life.” What he found, however, was that bringing a small community of learners connected by common values and experiences fostered a more vibrant society overall. Today there are over 70 folk schools in Denmark.

How is a folk school effective?

The original folk schools were based on a number of beliefs about human identity: The individual was seen as a part of a community, connected to a time, place, and culture. Today, in this intentionally small atmosphere, teachers and students learn together. This cooperative community promotes individual growth as each student is challenged uniquely in a supportive environment. The goal is maximum personal development within a societal structure. You are educationally challenged yet free to learn in your own way. Students learn core values and how to live a good life as a whole.

Are there folk schools in the U.S.?

Yes. And they’re on the rise. People from 18-70 years of age are enrolling for many different reasons. Some students take gap years after high school to learn practical skills or find that folk schools offer a way to learn a different trade or discover another career path. Others are out of work and find they need to learn something new. Adirondack Folk School in upstate New York is dedicated to the arts and culture and offers courses in Adirondack chair building. The John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina was founded in 1925, and is the longest-running folk school in the U.S. It features the handiwork of the mountain people of Appalachian North Carolina. Other folk schools can be found as far west as Washington and Colorado, as well as in Michigan, New Jersey, Texas, and Alaska and more. While coursework can range anywhere from blacksmithing, to organic food preparation, to sustainable farming, their philosophy is the same: to teach a love of living. In the process, students  gain skill experience, personal growth, and a whole new perspective in education.


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