Adults in a classroom setting look at an Ipad together.

Mia – August 27, 2018

The last two weeks have been a blur of shopping for school supplies and settling back into the academic routine after a lazy summer. One big change is that Jake, my eldest, is now in middle school, where he is getting used to changing classes, eating lunch in the cafeteria and contemplating a much wider range of classes and extracurricular activities.

Even my younger kids, Astrid, a fourth-grader, and Alex, a second-grader, seem more independent and on top of things this year. So, I’ve decided this is a good time to invest in my own continuing education by taking an adult education class at our local community college.

It was a tough decision because so many of the classes appealed to me. I debated taking Arabic, but decided I’d rather study Danish, the language of my heritage. Alas, it wasn’t offered. I mulled the many photography classes before finally deciding on a writing class. I’ve enjoyed writing these blog posts for you as a descendant of one of The Danish Home founders and decided I’d like to try my hand at a novel, so “Writing Fiction—Get Started!”…here I come.

Long after graduation, many adults choose to continue their educational pursuits. In Denmark, lifelong learning may become mandatory.

I can thank our friend Farfar at The Danish Home for providing the inspiration. He and his fellow residents have been on the go this summer, taking in lots of cultural and educational activities – “learning by doing,” Farfar said. They experienced Danish artistry by visiting the Art Institute of Chicago to see the Georg Jensen: Scandinavian Design for Living exhibit and hunting six huge wooden trolls—the work of artist Thomas Dambo—at Morton Arboretum in Lisle.

Farfar and his friends also toured the Adler Planetarium, the John Hancock Center (now 875 N. Michigan Avenue) and the Volo Auto Museum. Each new adventure seemed to lighten Farfar’s step and heighten the sparkle in his bright blue eyes. He couldn’t wait to tell me about touching a moon rock and a piece of Mars at the planetarium, the fantastic views from the 100-story Hancock Building, and how much the lustrous Georg Jensen silver designs reminded him of his boyhood in Denmark.

His excitement was contagious, and it reminded me of the enduring value of educational experiences not just for kids, but for all of us. “You’re giving me an idea,” I told Farfar on my last visit. “I think it’s time for me to go back to school, even if just for fun.”

“That’s the Danish way, Mia,” Farfar said with a wink. “Denmark believes in lifelong learning. And besides, learning new things keeps you young. Look at me!”

We talked about Denmark’s Folkeskoles—folk high schools—which began offering free evening courses for adults in the second half of the 20th century. Denmark also established community colleges, known as voksenuddannelscentre, for full-time students or those interested in taking only a single class, with an emphasis on general adult education. In the 1960s, the Danish government also began to provide retraining programs for unskilled workers through arbejdsmarkedsuddannelserne, which literally translates to “labor market education.”

Two grand, old-style white building stand next to one another.

Danish folk high schools like this one began offering evening classes for adults in the latter part of the 20th century.

In 2000, Denmark re-calibrated its adult and continuing education programs to include a more direct collaboration with business and industry and establish a more coherent system that allows adult students to move through a sequence of programs—general adult education, advanced adult education, diploma and master’s degree—and also requires practical professional experience for advancement.

In recent years, a Danish legislator has proposed mandating adult education for the elderly, arguing that few people can manage a lifelong career on just what they learn when young. Farfar told me he isn’t sure making this a requirement is a good idea. “But I think I would be a better student now than when I was a boy,” he laughed.

That has occurred to me, too. I’m excited to start my writing class and even look forward to the homework, despite leading a much busier life today than when I was in school. Who knows? Maybe next I’ll dive back into math, which was always my least favorite subject. You’re never too old, right?