Folkbildung – The Nordic Secret

In Bin by Göran Gennvi

The New York Times columnist David Brooks writes an article about ’The Nordic Secret,” in early February 2020, referring to Lene Rachel Andersen’s and Tomas Björkman’s ambitious and well-written book, with the same title (link to the article here). They put the finger on the significant and transformative change the Nordic Countries went thru from the beginning/mid-1800. From being among the poorest nations in Europe to now, some of the leading welfare states on the planet. David lifts the importance for a society to systematically support lifelong inner development, to strengthen our inner capacities to interpret better, understand, take responsibility for, and contribute to an ever more complex world. In times of rising polarization, we need to cultivate empathy and the possibility of the ongoing expansion of our circles of belonging. David Brooks writes: ”When you look at the Nordic Bildung model, you realize our problem is not only that we don’t train people with the right job skills. It’s that we don’t have the suitable lifelong development model to instil the mode of consciousness people need to thrive in a complex, pluralistic society.”

The word Folkbildning (folk education) first appeared in the Swedish language in 1805 with the meaning ”improvement of the education of the lower classes.” Folk means people, and bildung means learning. Put them together, and you get the word folkbildning, the Swedish form of non-formal adult education. Bildung defines it as the opportunity to learn for its own sake. What matters is the desire to learn rather than the demands set by the outside world. Learning is a lifelong process of our own responsibility and our own initiatives. And it encompasses much more than learning in the formal education system, under a certain period of our lives. Folkbildning strengthens and enriches people and thereby the whole of society.

The state has provided financial support to folkbildning since 1912. It is agreed that folkbildning should be run separately from the state, but financed by public funds. All political parties recognize the importance of folkbildning to Swedish society. The idea has been that free education forms the openness and respect of all people, regardless of gender, age, religion, ethnicity, and social and economic background. Common to the various branches of free education based on their own activities and a non-authoritarian relationship between leaders and participants.

The purpose of transformative coaches is to help clients build capacity, to be prepared and better adapt to the disruptive changes coming — a rapid change driven by technological transformation, climate change, political- and economic instability, etc. The Learning Labs act as a supporting infrastructure to create psychological safety, an essential element for deep learning and transformation. A supportive infrastructure made such a substantial and positive change of scale in the Nordic Countries, already in the early nineteenth century. Now we are in an age where shifting paradigms to create a better future is more important than ever, a value change for survival.

Nature Academy’s Learning Lab provides methods and tools for building transformative capacity. Three levels, Self, We, and Wider We, are present in the whole process. 
Self – Internal Awareness training – to see and be aware of the forces always roiling inside the self — the emotions, cravings, wounds, and desires. When seeing those forces and their interplay, we can be their master and not their slave. Waking up and growing up, meaning the complete moral, emotional, intellectual, and civic transformation of the person.
We – high social trust and psychological safety – when people are spontaneously responsible for one another in the daily interactions of life, is when the institutions of society function well. The critical element in designing learning circles is to create a safe container and invite diverse experiences and perspectives into the circle so deep dialogues can occur.
Wider We – a sense of belonging in a wider circle. From family to town to nation to the global family and all living beings in nature — and an eagerness to assume shared responsibility for the whole.

The Learning Circles (the Study Circles) were a social innovation and made a huge positive change in the Nordic Countries since the early nineteenth century. In 1894, the first Swedish study association was founded and started what has been called ”Sweden’s first study circle” in 1902. Ever since the first circle, study circles have been a meeting place for increasing knowledge, inner development and involvement. Inspired by these excellent results, and the urgent need for capacity buildings in the times we are facing now. How can we together develop our next global social mutation possible for survival?

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