Skip to Full Menu

Providing information, education, and training to build knowledge, develop skills, and change attitudes that will lead to increased independence, productivity, self determination, integration and inclusion (IPSII) for people with developmental disabilities and their families.

Bengt Nirje on Normalization

Produced by David Goode / The Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities
Produced in 1993.

Folk High Schools

Bengt Nirje: Folk high school. That's a Danish, Swedish Norwegian that was enacted around 1840s, 1850s to allow people who had never gone to school, or had little schooling in that adult age to improve their learning. In all kind of organizations, political organization, unions, teetotalers organization, churches, held their own folk high schools where people could go for a year or two to learn about more about what they wanted to do, more about being successful or law, legislation and their rights and so on. And that was a way of schooling for politicians within the community and in the counties. It was a very important role.

We have about 90 folk high schools in Sweden. In Denmark there's about 60. And there's many, many people there. It's very good. It's the university for people, for people who couldn't [Inaudible] and go to a regular university, they learn to do this. They were their own cradles of democracy in the last century and still are[Inaudible]. So that [Inaudible] we were in such a place. And we did that because we felt there were no needs to change the approach in them.

So we got…we were made into groups of four or five people, and we had 24 hours to solve a problem. And we could use our telephone call and we could use the library of the folk high school up in the wilderness. And then 24 hours… And that's how the group had function of it. And then we would take a breather and do something else. And then once again new groupings do the same thing. And that proceeded.

Three times we did that. And we had things that we had never dealt with before. How to reorganize the drainage in a fairly complicated agricultural setting. How to reorganize the fire brigade in a middle size Swedish city. I happen to have some expertise in that because I was in a fire brigade as a 15 year old. When you are called into the fire brigade, you go. [Inaudible] And then to make a final recommendation to a parliamentary committee. And so, and so you had nothing… we had to deal with otherwise. I had never experienced such a high emotion, intellectual high. Because it's absolutely amazing how, what we could solve, what we could do when we were working together.

And my other folk high school course. There are now 19 [Inaudible] folk high schools that have year long courses for handicapped. Over 4000 mentally handicapped in Sweden out of these over 40,000. Ten percent have gone to folk high schools for a year. And same as [Inaudible] have gone to folk high schools. And we're doing it since 1967, you see. And that's, of course [Inaudible] in the community. And this enables you to handle your courses in parliamentary technique, how to care for your own jobs, how to elect your vote, how to be a chairman, secretary and treasurer, how to make decisions. And that is important.

©2021 The Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities
 370 Centennial Office Building  658 Cedar Street   St. Paul, Minnesota 55155 
Phone: 651.296.4018   Toll-free number: 877.348.0505   MN Relay Service: 800.627.3529 OR 711   Fax: 651.297.7200 
Email:   View Privacy Policy   An Equal Opportunity Employer 

The GCDD is funded under the provisions of P.L. 106-402. The federal law also provides funding to the Minnesota Disability Law Center,the state Protection and Advocacy System, and to the Institute on Community Integration, the state University Center for Excellence. The Minnesota network of programs works to increase the IPSII of people with developmental disabilities and families into community life.

This project was supported, in part by grant number 2001MNSCDD-03, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects with government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official ACL policy.