Grundtvig on education, politics, church

Grundtvig on education

Grundtvig said: “Life without movement might be good enough for carrots and cabbage heads that are not used to any better …” (Statsmæssig Oplysning, 1983)

Grundtvig formulated his thoughts on folk high schools through the 1830’s and 1840’s. The first folk high school was built in Rødding in 1844 by a private group.

The school in Rødding was the first of many folk high schools to be built in Denmark. Today there are about 80 folk high schools. It was important to Grundtvig that learning is motivated by curiosity and the desire to learn rather than exams or tests, this is still the ideal for the Danish folk high schools today.

However, not just the folk high school, but the whole of the Danish school system has been influenced by Grundtvig’s thoughts on learning for life, not for exams.

Rødding Højskole, first folk high school in Denmark, photo by Hubertus45, wikimedia 

Grundtvig on politics and democracy

Grundtvig said: “Free to believe, to speak, to sing, I wish for all that live in the land …” (Bøn og Begreb om en dansk Høiskole, 1840)

When the Danish constitution was written in 1848-1849, there was much skepticism about democracy, and Grundtvig, who was loyal to the king and the Danish monarchy, was originally one of the skeptics. However, as democracy would inevitably reach Denmark, Grundtvig saw the need for educating the Danish people. Especially the farmers needed to be prepared to be able to secure their interests in the new democracy. Grundtvig feared the political parties would fight for the advantage of specific groups, rather than the common good.

Despite his skepticism, Grundtvig became a part of the Constituent National Assembly which gave Denmark its first constitution in 1849 and was also elected for the first Danish parliament.

Grundtvig got much of his political inspiration from England. Grundtvig made three study-visits to England (1929-1931) and was impressed with the freedom and the civil and religious liberties he experienced in England. The English education system contributed to Grundtvig’s thoughts about folk high schools in Denmark.


Grundtvig on the church

Grundtvig said: “The church is for the sake of the people, the people do not exist for the sake of the church …” (Folket, Folke-Kirken og Folke-Troen i Danmark, 1851)

Grundtvig was a firm believer in freedom within the church. Firstly, citizens should have the freedom to attend a church of their own choice and not necessarily attend the local parish church. A law on “sognebåndsløsning” allowing this practise was passed in 1855. Secondly, pastors and congregations should have a high degree of freedom to practice their personal interpretation of Christianity and different views on Christianity should be able to coexist within the church.

A law on “valgmenigheder og frimenigheder”, free congregations with affiliation to the Danish Church, was passed in 1868 and gave room for many free, grundtvigian congregations. These free congregations also had the right to choose a pastor of their own liking. A revolution in a society that formally appointed pastors to the churches without asking the local congregations. From 1903 however, members of the Danish Church democratically elect a board to take care of f.in. the appointment of a pastor in their local church.

Also, Grundtvig focused strongly on the spoken word, as well as hymn-singing. He wrote 1500 hymns and is the single largest contributor to the Danish hymn book today.


Grundtvigskirken, Grundtvig’s Memorial Church,  photo by Hans Andersen, wikimedia


The Danish Church in Vancouver has a collection of Danish hymns in English, including some written by Grundtvig

More on folk high schools: The Danish Folk High School Association

Find articles/summaries in English on Grundtvig and his thoughts in Grundtvig-Studies