Teaching a nation

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The first time the concept of school appeared in a Danish context was about the year 830, when the archbishop and missionary Ansgar taught 12 boys about preaching the Christian Gospel. For the next 1,000 years the main task of schools was to raise young people as good Christians – initially schools were run by Catholics, after the Reformation the Lutherans took over.
Several types of schools existed in the Middle Ages: monastic schools, cathedral schools and in the 15th century urban schools. Schools were only for sons of noble families, while their daughters had private tutors. The language of instruction was Latin, and the goal was primarily to educate boys to become priests. Before the University of Copenhagen was founded in 1497, boys had to travel to foreign universities if they wanted a proper theological education. A number of European universities were founded in the Middle Ages. The first was in Bologna in 1088.

Lutheran parish schools
As part of the Reformation in 1536, the state took over authority for education. The first Danish school legislation was included in the Church Ordinance of 1537, which decreed that every town build a grammar school where boys could study theology. Despite reform attempts by the state - especially under King Christian IV – grammar schools in the following two centuries were plagued by poverty, rote learning and meaningless punishment of students – known as Peblinge. Only a minority of Peblinge attended university and for this reason, a secondary school examination (examen artium) was established in 1630. It wasn't until the Poverty Ordinance of 1708 that state schools for children were established in some towns. The Ordinance also stated that poor children were permitted to attend the schools for free. In the countryside, the Church Ordinance required parishes to teach the children in the Christian faith.

God, king and country
A new chapter in Danish educational history began when King Frederik IV 1721-27 set up 240 schools that were to educate the children of peasants serving in the royal horse regiments. The schools were to ensure that the army had enough horsemen. They also marked the first opening of schools to the entire population - boys and girls. The schools marked an acceptance of the idea that it could be useful to give ordinary children basic skills and to teach them to honour God, King and (eventually) country". In 1736, the Pietistic state introduced the idea of a church confirmation, which required prior schooling that guaranteed knowledge of Christianity.

From cavalry school to Board School
During the 18th century, construction of parish schools took off. The increase led reformist landowners of the 1780s, such as brothers Louis and Christian Ditlev Reventlow, to take up the matter of education on their estates and directly with the state. Their efforts led to the establishment of the Great School Committee. After 25 years the work of the commission led to the adoption of the School Acts of 1814, which mandated general education for all children from the age of seven until they were confirmed in their early teens.
In the 19th century Board Schools were opened in rural parishes, while municipal primary schools were established in towns. Nicknamed "poor schools", municipal schools were free. The wealthy paid to send their children to schools which offered better education. Secondary schools consisted of grammar schools – which after reforms passed between 1805 and 1809 offered an expanded curriculum, and which allowed students to take exams in Danish instead of Latin – as well as municipal and private schools.

Folk high schools and public enlightenment
In the second half of the 1800s, the folk high schools became increasingly common. These schools were a special form of non-competitive boarding schools designed for young adults – and during the first decades of the movement especially for young people from farming communities. The idea was conceived of by Lutheran minister Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig and Danish teacher Christen Kold. Their first school was founded at Rødding in 1844, but the movement gained momentum in the 1860s, when three of the largest and most prominint folk high schools were built at Askov, Testrup and Vallekilde. All were deeply influenced by Grundtvig's secular and Christian thoughts. In the late 19th century a number of folk high schools not based on Grundtvig's thinking were founded. These new schools tended to focus on special groups or subjects, such as schools for the labour movement or the Home Mission, or sports colleges. For people living in rural areas, folk high schools came to play a decisive role: not only did they give them self-esteem, they learned how to argue their case in cooperative associations and they became equal members of society. At the same time as folk high schools were spreading throughout the countryside, commerce and craftsmen's associations were founding vocational schools in towns and cities.

Libraries become public
Continuing education became popular during the 19th century. The 1814 School Acts required teachers to hold evening classes for young people who had been confirmed in the church, and starting in the latter part of the century, evening schools and lecture associations poppoed up in rural areas. Thanks to the initiative of the labour movement, they also found their way to towns and cities. In the 1920s legislation setting a standard for state grants for evening schools was passed. The 19th century also saw the beginning of what was later to become the national public library system. In the countryside, small lending libraries were set up at in schools, often run by teachers and in the cities ...