A folkehøgskole (Folk Highschool / County College) is a Nordic phenomenon - an alternative school system.

also: Folkehøjskole (Danish) and folkhögskola (Swedish) (thanks to liveforever for pointing this out, and for proofreading this article for me :)

please note: The usage of highschool has nothing to do with the US or UK usage of the word High School. Rather, it is to be read as "Higher Schooling" or something like that. In lack of a better word, I'll keep using highschool

The Folkehøgskole:

  • Is a one-year course
  • Has no exams, examinations or tests
  • Does not use (or indeed, have) a syllabus
  • Is a place where approximately 100 people live together, aged 18 and older
  • Is a school where social cohabitation is as important as learning things
  • All learning is voluntary
  • Is free*
  • Personal development and development of thought are main goals
  • Your teachers are available 24/7 (well, almost, at least)
  • Is a school where most people end up crying when you travel home after the year is over
  • The place where you make friends for a lifetime. If you ask anyone who has gone to a Folkehøgskole if they remember anyone they went with - you're up for a story!

Very short and utterly incomplete history of the Folkehøgskole

The Folkehøgskole originally comes from Denmark. The idea comes from the danish philosopher and historian Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1783 - 1871). Grundtvig had some interresting and very radical thoughts about school. His idea was to build a simple, unassuming highschool on enlightenment/education of the people.

The enlightenment Grundtvig wanted, however, was not the sort of enlightenment that comes from the upper classes, with the motivation of sharing some of the upper class knowledge with the lower classes. Grundtvig wanted to enlighten something that already existed: The culture. Grundtvig's thought was that in all Peoples, there is a "hidden" culture, along with history, myths, and knowledge people usually wouldn't be aware of.

The school that existed in Denmark when Grundtvig was alive, didn't work like this at all. He coined the then-current school "The Black School". He claimed it was the school for the dead - he wanted to create a school for Life. With "for the dead", Grundtvig found it pointless to teach the students things they had no relation with - the remote past. Teaching in latin about things that were long gone didn't make much sense, acording to Grundtvig.

So, instead, he believed that if a school was to succeed, the school would have to awaken the natural curiosity in the students - and encourage this curiosity as much as possible. This way, students would learn what they found was interresting, by learning from each others, researching, and doing things.

To jump ahead a few years: The first Folkehøgskole opened in Denmark in 1844. After this, schools started popping up in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland. After a while, the schools started developing, and they developed common characteristics.

Folkehøgskole's today.

In Norway, there are two types of Folkehøgskole's: The Christian Folkehøgskole, and the broad-minded (or liberal) folkehøgskole.

The Christian Folkehøgskole would be pretty much the same as a liberal folkehøgskole, but it would also promote a higher degree of ethical awareness, christian moral values and prayer in the schools. There are about 35 christian folkehøgskoles

The Liberal Folkehøgskole - a more accurate description of this later. There are 45 of this type of folkehøgskole.

What can you learn on a Folkehøgskole?

Everything. There are a long range of courses you can choose from, with incredible variety. There are courses in cooking, creative writing, journalism, art, photography, video, design, graphic design, sports (such as skiing, climbing, soccer etc.), Theater, Computer sciences, Social sciences, Travel, Maritime (shipping).

Oh! This was really interesting! Tell me more about your year in folkehøgskole!

(Oh don't you all just love my titles? *lol*)

Anyway.. You asked for it...

A typical week in Folkehøgskole:

Monday, Wednesday, Friday: We'd spend time in our main classes (In my case, creative writing), evaluating the work of others in the class, working on projects, or discussing things that had absolutely nothing to do with creative writing, but who were madly interesting in any case.

Tuesday, Thursday: Electives! If you think that the main courses are wide-spread, then the electives are surely going to bend your mind.. Electives might include things such as croquis, photography, Tie-dye, philosophy, open air activities, sports, discussions, personal development, school newspaper, yearbook, Dream intepretation.. you name it!

Weekends: here we'd some times have trips arranged for us, to the nearest skiing resort, to a log cabin waaaaaay out there in the sticks, to the cinema or whatever. Other times we'd have seminars on more or less interesting topics such as feminism, democracy, wildlife photography etc.

Evenings: Of course, it is interesting to learn new things. The best part of the year at Folkehøgskole, however, was the evenings. Sitting for hours just smoking (well, I don't, but many did), discussing things, watching videos, being creative, and (most importantly): making friends.

What was this about the school being free?

Well, that's a half-truth. You pay for accomodation and food, and the government pays for the actual schooling and much of the equipment that is in use.

So.. What's REALLY so great about it?

Well - The Folkehøgskole is an institution that makes you very independent, as you get almost complete freedom. If you want to go to a bar and get plastered - that's what you'll do. If you find some people you like, and you want to sit up all night to play jazz music together, then that's what you do. If you want to go to your room and have sex with your girlfriend, that's what you'll do (you get very handy in dropping hints to your roommate for them to stay away for a while). If you want to spend hours on end in the darkroom.. If you want to go to a movie with friends..

To summarize: For youth, this is just a very strong test of independence. This, of course, is wonderful - and a valuable lesson for life :)