Odense Friskole – An alternative, independent school of primary and lower secondary education
Our school is located in the centre of Odense, a city with around 200.000 inhabitants, 38 primary schools and 11 very different free schools. Half of the school’s buildings are from the beginning of the century and half are of recent date. We are short of space, and the school is surrounded by blocks of flats. We try to compensate for these, not very exciting, surroundings by arranging art exhi-bitions at the school and by other initiatives to create a better environment.
The school is 155 years old and one of the few Grundtvig-Kold Free Schools to be found in a major city. Around 350 families are attached to the school. These families are scattered throughout the city. 525 children and youngsters from the ages of 6-17 years attend the school from 8.00 a.m. to 12.00/2.40 p.m. depending on the grade. They can attend the school for 11 years.
Furthermore, 170 of the children are in the school’s day care programme which is open all weekdays from 7.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m throughout the year.
35 teachers and 12 preschool teachers are employed at the school.
The school is run by the body of parents and others connected to the school. They elect the school’s governing body which takes full responsibility for the school’s activities, among these the preparation of the curriculum, the appointment and dismissal of staff as well as the school’s finances and buildings.
70% of the school’s income is Government subsidies, and a chartered accountant audits the school’s accounts according to Ministry of Education directives. The school’s parent body may use the Government subsidy at their discretion, provided the expenses can be characterized as school-related. The remaining 30% is paid by parents in the form of school fees. School fees amount to Danish kroner 10000 -15000 p.a. per child.
The parent body is free to appoint any person they consider to be qualified, irrespective of their educational background.
We want to create a school for life – and sometimes there seems to be a long way from the final goal to reality.
A living tradition
Odense Friskole is not based on any given ideology or educational principles. It was not created by an organization, but rather by a group of parents (mostly artisans) who in 1863, inspired by the ideas of N.F.S. Grundtvig and Kristen Kold, established a school for anybody who wanted to be part of it. The school is a living tradition, bearing the stamp of many generations, and to under-stand it you have to be an active part of it, so it is essential that children, parents and teachers meet often. The parents must be part of the school’s life, but not to the extent that they can arbitrarily change the school’s direction and activities. On the contrary, it is the task of the body of people who run the school to maintain traditions and the school’s basic ideas and from this precept to develop a school that is in harmony with the changing times.
The fundamental principle is that man free to shape his own life, but he is also responsible, not only to himself, but also to the community.
The child is respected as an independently thinking being, and the aim is to develop children into “complete human beings”, instead of restraining the teaching in accordance with the demands from industry or institutions of futher education.
Odense Friskole was established in 1863, when a spiritual awakening of the people took place in Denmark, inspired by N.F.S. Grundtvig, the clergyman and poet, who professed that man, being created by God, is a free and at the same time responsible being.
Moreover they were a reaction against the rigidity of the state school with its cramming and learning by heart. The pioneer was the teacher, Christen Kold, who felt convinced that children experience through their imagination and the living word, i.e narration should be given priority to academic knowledge and learning by heart.
A joint commitment
In this connecton it is very important to emphasize that we are jointly free to organize the school’s form and contents precisely as we find it right.
The demands on the school staff are considerable. Not only must we teach the children but we must influence the children without challenging the right to their own opinions. We must interact with the children in such a way that they are able, spontaneously and in absolute freedom, to think, speak and believe, but at the same time understand the responsibility and commitment of their actions. The teachers cannot do this unless parents and teachers are agreed upon the school’s objectives.
The parents do not supervise the teachers. They must trust implicitly that the time which the children and teachers spend together will be rewarding – both academically and humanly. Such confidence only springs from mutual experiences and dialogues based on the fact that the entire school is the joint respon-sibility of children, parents and staff alike. In return, the teachers must honour the confidence of the parents with professional responsibility, respect for the parents’ right to bring up their own children, the relation between education and upbringing being a fine balance and often overlapping.
Throughout the year we arrange numerous meetings, activities and dialogues with and for the parents. This is a difficult task with app. 360 homes attached to the school but it is given a high priority. We arrange lectures, singing and folk dancing, dinner get-togethers, shows, concerts with and without pupils. At least once a month all parents can participate in some activity or other at the school. We expect the parents to participate actively.
“The individual as a whole”
We see it as our job to help developing “the individual as a whole”. So it is not enough to give our pupils academic profi-ciences – to develop skills. It is not enough to teach them spelling, reading, mathematics and foreign languages. Of course these are important, but as Kristen Kold puts it: “Knowledge is a good servant, but life must come first. We must be careful for we do not know to what our teaching leads to. Knowledge makes children conceited and less complex. We have more than enough egoists and braggarts. Let us not puff up the young people with knowledge only to provide them with predatory claws to gain worldly goods”.
It is also our job to teach the children how to fulfil themselves, to teach them active participation, creativity, dancing, singing, joy, regard and respect for their neighbour. We must hold on to the fact that life is mysterious and that not every-thing can be expressed as a formula. We must maintain its complexity, the uncertainty if you will. We must try to make our children understand that there are no definitive answers to life’s fundamental questions. And so we must never stop studying them.
We are trying to create a school which appeals to children’s imagination and feelings through story-telling, dialogues, reading aloud, drama, singing, playing and creative activities. We want to maintain a tradition of story-telling because “there is a truth which can be understood only by the heart and not by the mind and story-telling is a fine medium for this”. By identifying yourself with the subject, it becomes alive and becomes a mutual experience. At intervals throughout the year, activities over and above the daily teaching are carried out, and experi-ences are passed on – inside and outside school, in groups, in the class or for and including all the shool’s pupils. These experiences can be of a personal, artistic, creative or practical nature.
Musical activities and music teaching, partly as an artistic means of expression, but above all as an activity to encourage the spirit of community, are given a high priority. Singing, bands, choirs and music lessons, performing for each other and actual concerts characterize the school year.
Children have a right to be children
We want to help safeguard our children’s right to be children. We want to give childhood and school life an intrinsic value of their own. Far too much in the traditional school system is directed towards adult life. Out of sheer anxiety about our children’s future, we must not turn them into small adults. They must not continuously be confronted with problems which even adults find difficult to solve. That does not mean that we have to isolate the children from reality. But we must help them to see the possibilities of life.
We stress our pupils’ joint responsibility for the everyday life at school. The older pupils are actively involved in the planning of activities and in carrying them into effect. It is important to learn the democratic rules and processes.
We are a Danish people
We want to pass on a common cultural heritage. It is important not to give the children the impression that the world is created by them, but that they are a part of a development marked by the passage of many generations. Therefore literature, Danish history, cultural history, hymns and songs are all an integral part of our daily life. We try to teach the children how to express their thoughts and their acquired knowledge, verbally and in writing, using a beautiful, clear and personal language.
The Danish people are a Nordic people
Therefore, we make a point of teaching the pupils the value of this historic community. We tell the stories of Nordic mythology and history, and we sing our songs so our pupils can understand our commun cultural development and what this has meant and still means to our society.
The Danish people are a Christian people
The school is founded upon Christian beliefs, which is why we tell of the Jewish mythology but with the main emphasis on the stories about the life and deeds of Jesus. Although we do not consider it to be our task to preach the Gospel to the children, we do find it important that the staff we appoint acknowledge this relation between this philosophy of life and the school’s objectives. As a natural part of the school’s everyday life, children and adults meet every day for the morning assembly where “the Lord’s Prayer” is said.
In everyday life these views are reflected in a greater number of lessons in Danish literature, history and biblical history, seen in relation to the State Schools. They can also be felt in the teachers’ greater engagement in these subjects and in joint activities across class and age levels.
An international dimension
At a time when common European ideas are developing and inter-national relations are increasing, we find it essential to pass on a common, national cultural heritage. Not as a protection but as a necessary basis.
Based upon this, we work actively on making our pupils aware of the necessity of international understanding and joint respon-sibility for the world community. Basic knowledge of world and cultural history, geography, biology including environmental education, and language lessons are major elements, as are experiencing foreign traditions and civilizations through guest teachers, visits to exhibitions and trips.
Examinations and grades
The pupils can finish their schooling with the official leaving examinations on 2 levels. We consciously strive to prevent these leaving examinations from in any way dominating the school’s everyday life. During the first 8 years the pupils neither receive reports nor grades, and there is no splitting up into streams according to ability or aptitude.
Two closing remarks
The subjects, we have mentioned here, are merely an indication of those points to which we attach particular importance. There are many other attitudes, subjects and initiatives involved which may all be found in many other Danish school systems.
Odense Friskole is a living system. It is a wide diversity where a multitude of different points of view all manifest. It cannot be put into a formula. Therefore it is difficult to describe -it must be experienced.
You are always welcome to visit our school.
Not yet the man
“- not yet the man was seen
who wise in that has been
which first he did not love.”