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Page 7 of Mountain Life & Work vol. 08 no. 1 April, 1932

Part of Mountain Life and Work

April, 1932 MOUNTAIN Ln-t AND WORK Page 7 schools in the Danish rural and national life has caught the interest and imagination of many who hold a brief for the adult who has perhaps had neither scholastic opportunities nor desires. The result has been the application of these principles in various informal experiments in other European countries arid in America. Among these there has been since 1925 a unique experiment on this line at Berea College. It has been sponsored by Miss Helen H. Dingman, who has been a careful student and observer of the folk schools of Denmark and who has been most heartily committed to their theory and methods. Through Miss Dingman's deep conviction of their worth and the possibilities for adaptations in the Southern Mountains and through the support of President Hutchins and other members of the Berea faculty, the Opportunity School ev olved. It now seems to have passed the stage of an experiment and to have become a justified program of adult education offered by the College. The strength and the charm of the folk schools of Denmark would be hard to imagine without their setting in pleasant country seats, the simple and informal home life for the group and the unity of comradeship. To translate this atmosphere into a stirring college campus of some two thousand people was one of the first adaptations to be made for the Berea prospect. This has been done, however, to a remarkable degree, and a strong feeling of group cohesion and adjustment into the larger life of the institution seem to come rapidly each year. The students are housed, on the same floor when possible, in one of the men's and one of the women's dormitories. The meals, while in a College dining room, are at special tables reserved for this group. Their daily schedule fits into that of the campus routine and the College regulations are observed. Apart from these modifications for institutional life, the entity and spirit of the Opportunity School is kept to a high degree, due to certain influences which will be touched upon later. As the name implies, the work has been done to give opportunity for development and more abundant mental and spiritual living to men and women who have achieved a certain maturityto the "Addies" of the mountains, for instance. The Grundtvigian theory that has guided admission to the Danish folk schools has held that at eighteen there begins both a physical and mental change. The ability and desire to think of the spiritual and the abstract develop, and it is here that the ideals and urges of youth can perhaps best be caught at high tide. Experience in the Opportunity School also bears out that below this age there is an immaturity which does not fit into the scheme of comradeship and honest thinking. The groups have ranged therefore, with minor exceptions, from 18 to even 80, the average ages for the 250 who have been enrolled since 1925 being between 30 and 40. Professor E. L. Thorndyke's interesting proofs that adults are not cut off by lack of ability from the things for which they honestly long, give a psychological basis for encouraging older men and women to participate. The state school system of Denmark makes a rather rigid elementary school education incumbent upon each citizen. This is completed at fourteen. Those who look to higher academic training pursue it at a greater personal exp°nse than the mass of rural youth can afford. These last therefore remain on the farms until admission to folk or agricultural schools at eighteen. Our irregular American school system, in the country districts, gives no guarantee of compulsory grade school education, however, so that there are great numbers of men and women of eighteen and above, of a low degree of literacy. This is so painfully true throughout the mountainous portion of our country that the term "adult education" has become there strongly associated with the teaching of the fundamentals to illiterates. The roster of the Berea Opportunity School has included all degrees of mental attainment. There has been a small percentage who could read and write only with difficulty. The majority have completed a common grade school, while others have achieved high school and even college work. This mixed group makes it clear therefore that the emphasis is not on the traditional lines of organized schooling. There are no grades, credits, examinations, or required preparation. The regular students on the campus laughingly say it is "education without a sting in it." The effort in the three brief weeks of its yearly life is to give, not exact facts, but stimulation of mind and emotion; to give a gleam that can be followed. While primarily the Opportunity School exists for those who have grown of age without certain privileges, the nature of the programs can challenge any thinker, wherever he may be in the

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