Greenleaf writes:

I have in mind the lives of two great culture shaping gradualists…

 This morning, Gentle Reader, I will share with you the second of the two great culture shaping gradualists – Nikolai Frederik Severn Grundtvig.

Nicolai Frederik Severn Grundtvig (1783-1872)…was the passionate advocacy of the Danish Folk High Schools that significantly raised the quality of life of his country and left a lasting imprint on all of Scandinavia.

 There emerged in Grundtvig a firm faith in the wisdom and hardihood of the Danish peasants that would remake the Danish Culture…

 He conceived of the Folk High School for Danish youth as ‘schools of the spirit.’  These were residence courses of a few months for the farm youth.  They were taught in the Danish language at a time when the so-called ‘cultured’ people spoke and wrote in German and were abandoning their own culture.  Those cultured folk saw Grundtvig as a confused visionary and contemptuously turned their backs on him.  But the indigenous leaders among the peasants heard him and responded to his vision.  They built the schools, at first with peasant resources but later with a government subsidy.

 The teaching was all oral in what Grundtvig called ‘the living word.’  …he personally did extensive research to recover and make available the ancient Nordic myths which, along with Danish history, gave to these eager farm youths a solid background in their culture that was needed for their later creative leadership as adults. 

 No social or economic ideology was taught and no blueprint for a future design for Denmark was suggested.  Grundtvig, a Bishop and a man of deep Christian faith, advocated that the schools should not be explicitly Christian.  Such faith, he believed, could only find a congenial place in the psyche of one who was thoroughly grounded in his culture.  Grundtvig never himself founded or operated a Folk High School although he lectured widely in them.  He gave and sustained the vision.

 The consequence of Grundtvig’s fifty years of passionate advocacy of his vision and making his home a center for sustaining the spirit of the folk school movement was that, in the next generation, the farm youth who had been inspirited and culturally rooted by the schools remade the rural economy by producer and consumer cooperatives on the model taken from England and became a new political force in assuring a sane society.  Today, 100 years after Grundtvig’s death, there are 400 active Folk High Schools throughout Scandinavia.

 …As I reflect on Grundtvig’s life, his last fifty years are seen as an example of the power in an idea when it is passionately advocated and supported with spirit as the central focus of a life. 

 Again, gradualism at its best. 


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