SCHOOL AND ITS RECEPTION
IN THE UNITED STATES:
Harold W. Stubblefield
In the interwar period, the term adult education became widely used in
the United States.
Americans seriously began to consider the importance of education in the adult
years and how those educational needs might be best met. Adults were not
without opportunities to learn, but no national effort had been focused on
adult education. In this venture of national scope, Americans were without
precedent but not without example.
They found these examples in other countries--particularly in England,
other Scandinavian countries, and Germany-where
adult education had become a national movement, and adult education had taken a
particular form. The Danish Folk
High School was one form that
attracted the attention of many Americans, not only in the interwar period but
in the 19th century as well.
The Danish Folk High School (DFHS) resisted the pattern of
transplantation that occurred with English adult education forms, such as
learned societies, the Young Men's Christian Association, university extension,
and the social settlements. Once transported to the United
States, these institutional forms adapted to
American conditions. Their origin became obscured, and they were then
incorporated into the American institutional structure. The DFHS proved,
however, to be less adaptable to American conditions. This paper examines how
the DFHS as an educational idea and institutional form was transported to the United
States in the 1870s-1930s. This process has
thus far been an unexplored part of the American experience in educational
Contemporary interpreters sometimes describe the DFHS as a version of the
American free university, distinguished by the absence of entrance
requirements, examinations, or certification. How the DFHS came into being is
an often-told story and does not need to be repeated in detail here, but it is
important to understand the nature of the folk school (and the historical
context in which it arose) that Americans attempted to transport to their
Nikolai Frederik Severin
Grundtvig (1783-1872), Lutheran pastor, poet, hymn writer, and historian, gave
birth to the idea of the folk school, which his followers implemented. The Grundtvigian ideological system and folk school emerged
from a turbulent period of Danish nationalism, democratic change, and economic
crisis. Grundtvig's ideas helped to restore national
pride after disastrous military defeats of the 1860s, to rebuild a depressed
economy, and to equip the peasants for suffrage.
Michelson's (1969) analysis of how the Grundtvigian
religious movement contributed to economic change is instructive. After 1828,
following Grundtvig's resignation from church office,
he began to articulate his ideas in print, and they gained acceptance among a
group of people who became active in his behalf. Persons applied the name
"Grundtvigian" to these ideas and the
theology that accompanied them, and the name became common in Denmark.
Grundtvigians valued self-expression and regarded
conversation as recreation. They possessed strong egos and had few doubts about
their own country and their role in building it. They did not fear innovation
and believed in showing people what they could do. On the other hand, they were
also dependent on one another, cooperated in common endeavors, and compromised
to make the situation work for others.
Grundtvigians developed several mechanisms for
implanting these ideas: singing, the "meeting," the church, grammar
schools, and the folk schools. Of these several mechanisms, the folk school has
been linked to the establishment of cooperatives, which resulted in Danish farm
prosperity. Credit, as Michelson (1969) cautions, does not belong to the folk
schools. The folk schools could not have existed during that period of Danish
history except as part of a wider Grundtvigian
community, and they were only on of several mechanisms by which the Grundtvigian idea system was disseminated and internalized.
The folk schools did not teach economics nor advocate cooperation. Yet, the Grundtvigian ideas predisposed people for structural
change, which did involve cooperation.
SCHOOLS AND AMERICA
BEFORE WORLD WAR I
Danish immigrants soon transported the Grundtvigian
folk schools to the United States.
Between 1820 and 1870 Danish immigration numbered only 22,634, but 31,771 Danes
emigrated to the United
States between 1871 and 1880. The number
continued to increase in the decades that followed, before World War I (Larson,
1980). The first Danish pastors came to the States in 1871. The following fall,
a Danish seminary to train mission pastors coming to the United
States opened at Askov Folk
School. At the same time, in the United
States, the Mission Society and the first
Danish church paper were founded.
At a meeting of Danish Lutheran ministers in Chicago
in 1876 the idea of establishing a folk school in the United
States was first proposed. The plan to open
a school in Chicago did not
materialize, but interest continued, and in November 1878 a school at Elk Horn,
Iowa opened. Between 1882 and
1911 folk schools opened at Grant, Michigan;
West Denmark, Wisconsin;
Kenmare, North Dakota;
and Solvan, California.
In 1921 the Dalum
opened in Alberta, Canada.
These schools were short-lived, and none survived the Depression. The Grundtvigian branch of the American
supported them, and pastors who came from Denmark
with folk school experience served as principals. The folk schools clearly
served to prevent these Danes from being assimilated into the "melting
pot." Because the Grundtvigian Lutherans wanted
to preserve Danish culture in America,
the schools remained closely tied to the Danish colonies. They attracted no
publicity and thus made little impact on the larger American society.
American educators learned about the DFHS through their travel in Europe
and their study of educational systems there. One such traveler who visited Denmark
in 1896 later recognized the relevance of the DFHS to rural education and to
the Appalachian Mountains. He was Philander P. Claxton,
who served as executive secretary of the Conference for Southern
Education and Professor of Secondary Education at the University
of Tennessee before becoming U.S.
Commissioner of Education in 1911.
Claxton believed that the church mission schools in Appalachia
had outlived their usefulness and that now the curriculum should be adapted to
the life of the people. In 1908 Claxton found a way to promote the DFHS as the
new model through the work of John C. Campbell and his wife, the former Olive
In May of 1908 Campbell
attended the National Conference of Charities and Corrections in Richmond,
Virginia as the guest of Mary Glenn, chair
of the section on needy families and their neighborhoods. Campbell
was then 42 and at a turning point in his career. For health reasons, he had
recently resigned his position as President of Piedmont College, and he had
just returned from Europe after six months of
vacationing with his new wife.
At the conference he heard Bruce R. Payne, Professor of Secondary
Education at the University of Virginia,
call for an expert study of the region. After the session, Campbell
expressed to Mrs. Glenn his agreement with this need and his desire to
undertake such a study if resources were available. Mrs. Glenn relayed this
information to her husband, John Glenn, who was Director of the Russell Sage
Foundation. Campbell presented a
proposal for the study which the Foundation funded in 1908. Campbell's
study continued until October 1912, when the Foundation established a Southern
Highland Division and Campbell became the Division's Secretary.
Claxton had also attended the Richmond
conference, but it was in Knoxville
in October 1908 that he talked with Olive Dame Campbell about the "grown-up"
schools in Denmark
and Sweden (Whisnant, 1983, pp. 127-130). Claxton urged the Campbells to investigate the folk
schools, and in 1909 Campbell began
to make inquiries of persons in Denmark
and of principals of Danish-American folk schools. The Campbells wanted to visit Denmark
but the outbreak of the War prevented it.
When Claxton became U.S. Commissioner of Education in 1911, he
immediately had pressure to deal with the problem of rural education and
illiteracy. The 1909 Country Life Commission Report claimed rural education was
in crisis, and the 1910 Census data reported widespread illiteracy,
particularly in the south. In the winter of 1913 Claxton dispatched three
persons to Denmark
to study the applicability of the folk school to education and economic
development in rural America:
Harold W. Foght, one of the Bureau's specialists in
rural education, and L. L. Friend and W. H. Smith, special collaborators in the
Bureau's Rural Education Division. The reports of Foght
and Friend, submitted to Claxton in 1913 and published
as U.S. Bureau of Education Bulletins in 1914, endorsed the applicability of
the folk school model to the Southern Highlands.
Foght solicited information from John C.
Campbell about Appalachia to include in the report, and
he also reported on Cora Stewart's literacy "moonlight" schools in Kentucky.
Foght believed that the Danish folk schools were most
appropriate where American conditions were most like Denmark.
The Foght and Friend reports were, Shapiro (1978)
claimed, "the most important body of information concerning the folk
schools published before the 1920s" (p. 234). Educational reformers turned
to these reports for information about the Danish example in redirecting rural
Evidently Foght's contact with Campbell
in late summer or early autumn of 1913 marked a turning point. His interest in
the DFHS as a model for an alternative education for mountain life was tied to
the emergence of Appalachia as a distinct region with a
distinct, but not inferior, culture and concern about how best to preserve the
culture and equip persons to live in it. In 1914 Campbell
attended several conferences where he called for the Danish folk schools to be
adapted to mountain work, and he and his wife became leading advocates of the
Danish folk schools in the United States.
Nothing, however, resulted from the Campbells'
advocacy before the World War.
ADAPTING THE FOLK
SCHOOL TO AMERICA
IN THE INTERWAR PERIOD
Campbell died in 1919, but
before his death he had begun, at last, to organize his survey data and
experiences into a book length interpretation of the Southern
Highlands. His wife, Olive Dame Campbell, completed the
manuscript, which was published in 1921 as The Southern Highlander and His
Homeland. In it she reflected her husband's strong belief in the value of
Danish-type folk schools for the Southern Highlands and
advocated their establishment. In 1922, supported by an American-Scandinavian
Foundation fellowship, Olive Campbell went with her sister, Daisy, and
Marguerite Butler of Pine Mountain Settlement School to study the Danish folk
school (Whisnant, 1983). Going about her task
diligently, she later distilled her observations into a book, The Danish
Folk School: Its Influence in the Life of Denmark and the North (1928).
In 1925 Mrs. Campbell founded the John
C. Campbell Folk
School at Brasstown, North Carolina.
By 1930 the school's basic programs were in place: a demonstration farm,
cooperatives, a community program, and a residential school. Campbell
called the school "a venture in adult education" that attempts
"to adjust to existing conditions in North Carolina
the basic principles of the Danish folk school" (Campbell, 1930, p. 251).
Americans had turned to Denmark,
she claimed, because they had had little experience with adult education for
Despite the Campbells'
high expectations, the Southern Highlands did not prove
receptive to the Danish-type folk school. The John
C. Campbell Folk
School has survived as a mountain
handicraft center, but the residential school, while it operated, was never
large nor well supported. Campbell
helped initiate a folk school at Berea
College (1925-1950), but the
College provided little support and depended, instead, on the volunteer efforts
of staff and faculty.
What Claxton, the Bureau of Education investigators, and the Campbells had believed to be the educational solution for
the Appalachian Mountains proved not to be
transportable. Others would also learn the difficulty of transporting this
educational innovation. During the interwar period other schools patterned
after the Danish model were organized. In 1923 Soren
A. Mathiasen founded Pocono
near Henryville, Pennsylvania,
the first non-Danish folk school in the United
States (Mortensen, 1977; Schact,
1957). The problem of financing proved insurmountable, and Pocono closed in
1930. Mathiasen apparently remained optimistic about
the receptivity of Americans to such a school, and in 1934 he founded the American
at the Van Courtland Center in the Bronx, New
York City. The school closed in 1945, probably because
Mathiasen's poor health made it impossible for him to
A local group of Danish-Americans, who held the title to Ashland
in Grant, Michigan,
attempted to revive the school in 1928 under the leadership of an American
educator. The school operated until 1934 (Landis & Willard, 1933; Larson,
At the age of 75, Jens Jensen fulfilled his dream of operating a folk
school when, in 1935, he established The Clearing in Wisconsin
(Takemoto, 1987; 1988). Born in 1860 in the Danish province
Jensen was a product of the folk school movement for cultural preservation,
attending first the folk school in Vinding in 1879
and then Tune Agricultural
School, a common educational
sequence for Danish farm youth. Emigrating to the United
States in 1884, he finally settled in Chicago
where he had a successful career in the Chicago Park District and was a leading
proponent of "native" landscape architecture. Jensen incorporated
several Danish folk school traditions in The Clearing program. The Clearing did
not address economic and social issues. Rather, Jensen implemented the Grundtvigian idea, seeking, in Takemoto's
words, to "develop the inner self and foster moral character, civic pride,
and a democratic spirit" (1988, p. 424). After Jensen's death in 1951, the
folk school phase of The Clearing ended.
Other adaptations occurred in universities. In 1931 Chris L. Chistensen, Dean of the College of Agriculture, University
of Wisconsin, redesigned the Farm Short Course after the model of the Danish
folk school (Schact, 1957). Christensen, in a visit
to Denmark in
1922, had seen how the folk schools had helped Denmark.
On November 13, 1936
the University of Minnesota's
Center for Continuation Study was dedicated. Harold Benjamin, the Center's
first director, had previously taught at Danebod, the
International People's College in Elsinore,
Denmark, and the
Danish-American folk school at Askov,
Minnesota (Alford, 1967). He linked the University's
center to the Danish folk school by following its example of using a
residential setting for general education.
A GENERAL THEORY OF ADULT EDUCATION EMERGES: THE
DANISH FOLK SCHOOL IDEA OF EDUCATION AND AMERICAN PROGRESSIVE EDUCATION
In the nascent adult education movement of the interwar period, Joseph K.
Hart and Eduard C. Lindeman share credit for incorporating elements of the
Danish folk school idea of adult education into an American theory of adult
education. Their educational theory was primarily informed by progressive
education, and both had written books on community organization supporting
democratic participation before they began to build an adult education theory.
One has only to read Hart's published works, beginning with Educational
Resources of Village and Rural Communities (1913), to understand why the
Danish folk school idea so captivated him. Hart visited Denmark
in 1925 while education editor of the Survey Graphic after he had
already established himself as an authority on education through books written
while he was professor at several universities. What Hart discovered in Denmark
revalidated his own vision of education and society: the school using the
community educatively, a community social
intelligence center for dealing with community problems, citizen control of the
community through community councils, and adults applying scientific method to
Hart reported his experience in three articles in the Survey Graphic in
1926. These were later published as Light From the
North (1927a), a book that did much to make the DFHS known to Americans. In
his book, Adult Education (1927b), Hart devoted a chapter to the Danish
experience and returned at the book's conclusion to the "Danish People's
Colleges" as an example for Americans. His articles on the folk schools
were part reportage, part analysis of his educational pilgrimage, and part
criticism of the American educational system and regressive thinking.
Hart (1927a) was impressed that at a uniform early age Danish young
persons began to study important issues and examine the meaning of life. In
these five-month terms, students began to develop a
"life-hypothesis," a basis for their lives to be tested in the
reality of the community. Students also had to grapple with the forces that
govern community life-including traditions, culture, and institutional
prerogatives. He admired the cooperative spirit that pervaded the life of the
people: they were individualistic but cooperative. The Danes had achieved their
success, which Hart witnessed in 1925 through preservation of their culture,
history, folkways, and communities, coupled with the application of science. In
the Danish experience Hart had found the social education he had sought
unsuccessfully in America:
an education that developed and released a social intelligence capable of
promoting social change.
Lindeman presents a more difficult case to interpret. In 1920 Lindeman
for the first time, and that experience apparently made an indelible impression
on him. David Stewart (1987), Lindeman's biographer,
has argued that Grundtvig's educational ideas greatly
influenced Lindeman, and he applied them to the American situation after first
stripping the ideas of their Danish nationalistic and Lutheran religious
trappings. The development of Lindeman's adult
education ideas appears to be more complex than that, for the Grundtvigian views found reception in a mind already
fertile with other ideas.
Lindeman came to Denmark
with ideas about adult education derived from his experience with the
Cooperative Extension Service and his ten years of applied research on
community organization. He published his research findings in 1921 in a book
entitled, The Community. In the early and mid-twenties when his ideas about
adult education formed, he participated in two major applied social science
research projects dealing with individual and group behavior.
Lindeman saw adult education as more than institutional programs to
enhance the freedom of individual learners. He was interested in the dynamics
of social (folk) movements with an educational base. In Denmark
(and also in the other Scandinavian countries, in the English workers'
education movement, and in the folk school movement in Germany
after the War), he found a living example of the power of such folk movements
supported by an educational base. When Lindeman formulated his ideas about
adult education, as I have noted elsewhere (Stubblefield, 1988), he derived
generalized criteria for defining adult education from the Danes and Germans.
For him, adult education was "individual growth through learning in social
medium for social end" (p. 146). This restrictive definition, in effect,
excluded the most common forms of adult education in the United
Lindeman's most mature statement about adult
education, The Meaning of Adult Education, appeared in 1926. It
represented a synthesis of progressive education, applied social science, and
principles of the kind of adult education that supported social (folk) movements.
The adult education theory that emerged addressed the new America
whose most characteristic features were urbanization, industrialization, and
Others also found the DFHS example combined well with progressive
educational theory and established institutions based on this view. One was
Royce Pitkin, founder of Goddard
Vermont, and the other was Myles Horton,
founder of Highlander Folk
School, Monteagle, Tennessee.
Pitkin, a native of Vermont,
worked on his master's and doctorate in education at Columbia
University in the mid-twenties and
early thirties (Benson & Adams, 1987). There he learned of the DFHS through
the work of Edgar W. Knight, professor of education at the University
of North Carolina, whose study of
Danish culture in 1925-1926 had resulted in a book, Among the Danes, which
included an account of the effectiveness of the DFHS. Pitkin
became interested in adapting the folk school idea to residential adult
education and in relating educational institutions to the community.
Particularly influential in developing Pitkin's
educational philosophy were progressive educators: John Dewey, William
Kilpatrick, Harold Ruggs, and Boyd Bode.
Pitkin was able to implement his dream of a
progressive school when he founded Goddard
College in 1938. At Goddard he
immediately began ongoing residential adult education programs. In January,
1939, the first academic year for the college, four schools for adults were
held; later the program expanded. Goddard
College continues today as an
innovative undergraduate college, with nontraditional graduate programs and
adult residential programs.
In the Highlander Folk
School--now the Highlander Research
and Education Center--both
the form and idea were fused through the crucible of Myles Horton's vision and
experience. The Highlander Folk
School is an American original
(Glen, 1988). Horton, born in Savannah, Tennessee,
entered Cumberland University
at Lebanon, Tennessee,
in 1924. During his college days he encountered segregation and worker
powerlessness, two structural aspects of American society that Highlander would
address. His most decisive experience occurred in the summer of 1927 when he
led a Vacation Bible School for the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. at Ozone,
Tennessee. To his surprise, he found that the adults whom he invited to attend
evening sessions had insight into their situation when given the opportunity
for discussion, and they could find answers on their own. This experience at
Ozone became the nucleus of the idea of Highlander (Bledsoe, 1969).
In the fall of 1929 Horton enrolled in Union Theological Seminary in New
York to continue his search for an
"education" appropriate for the mountains. At Union
he formed a lifelong friendship with Reinhold Niebuhr,
a theologian and critic of capitalism. Horton visited settlement houses, Brookwood
and utopian experiments. All the time he read books on how to
build a social order.
While in New York, Horton
also came across Hart's Light From the North and
Lindeman's The Meaning of Adult Education. Adams (1975), in his account
of Highlander, written in collaboration with Horton, claims that Lindeman and
Hart were "perhaps most directly influential on Horton's Ozone
Project" (p. 14), for in Hart and Lindeman, Horton found Americans who
made a case for adult education as an agent of social change.
His quest carried him in the fall of 1930 to the University
of Chicago's Graduate School of
Sociology for studies with Robert Parks and other researchers on the urban
community and to several visits with Jane Addams and Alice Hamilton at Hull
House. While he was in Chicago, in
the spring of 1931, Horton first heard about the Danish folk schools from Aage Moller, a Danish-born
Lutheran minister. It was Moller who suggested the
folk school as a model for Horton Enok Mortensen,
pastor of an all Danish congregation in Chicago.
Attracted to this idea, Horton began immediately a study of Danish culture,
language, and the folk schools. Among the books was Campbell's
The Southern Highlander and His Homeland (1921). He thought Campbell
too romantic about mountain life and people, but he took seriously Campbell's
views of the folk schools.
Horton's interest led him in September, 1931, to Denmark
to see the folk schools for himself and to assess how they had achieved the
results attributed to them. By then he had stopped searching for a model
school, dissuaded in part by the failures of Danish-Americans to transplant the
folk school in America
(Horton, 1983). By Christmas night, 1931, Horton had resolved the issue, and he
wrote down his thoughts. Everything could not be worked out in advance, but he
would open a school and let the institutional form develop as the mountain
people and factory workers evolved an educational program. In May, 1932, he
returned to the United States
to raise monies for his school and to seek a location. At the Blue Ridge
Assembly in North Carolina,
Horton met Don West who would become a co-founder of Highlander. West's
background was similar to Horton's. He entered Vanderbilt
University in 1928 and became
interested in the folk school through Alva W. Taylor and Joseph K. Hart. He
then spent a year in Denmark,
returning to Vanderbilt to complete his degree in 1931. For his thesis he
conducted a sociological study of rural Knott County,
Kentucky, and he concluded that the Danish
style education system was the solution to their social and economic problems.
Horton and West discussed their ideas for several days and decided to be
co-directors of a new school. Horton had the money, and West
had the location, the farm of Lillian Johnson at Monteagle, Tennessee.
The Highlander Folk
School opened in the fall of 1932.
West left the next year, and it was Horton who shaped and guided this fledgling
venture in adult education.
In some respects the early development of Highlander resembled the Campbell
folk school. Horton and other staff provided educational and recreational
programs for the community, initiated a residential school, and organized
cooperatives. But there was a difference. Highlander supported the emerging
southern labor movement, and Horton shaped Highlander's education program to
support his social philosophy of economic democracy (Horton, 1938).
Horton believed that political and economic power had to be challenged to
release the common people from domination. That belief was certainly not unique
in the Depression years or in other periods of American history. But there was
a difference in Horton's approach: the people with the problems would have to
work out their own solutions, not the experts who had unsuccessfully attempted
to solve the problems of the Southern Highlands. Instead
of giving solutions, Highlander helped common people acquire an educational
base to gain control of their own lives. In the evolution of the Highlander
idea, Horton called his year's experience in Denmark
"an organic part of Highlander" (Horton, 1978, p. 74), particularly
the spirit and radical ideas of the folk school, but he did not repeat the
mistake of others by replicating its structure or method.
What impact, then, did the Grundtvigian
educational philosophy as institutionalized in the DFHS have upon American
adult education from 1910 through the 1930s? Many Americans were attracted to
the folk school as an educational form, but their efforts to transplant the
folk school to America
failed. The schools lacked financial support, and young adults had other
educational alternatives. Perhaps more important, an American cultural basis
could not be found. Grundtvigian ideas and the folk
school found most receptivity among those committed to the progressive
educational tradition, the American philosophy most compatible with Grundtvigian educational philosophy.
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