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Est. April 5, 2002
Apr 02, 2020 - Issue 812
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In the Danish Educational System
Learning is Debt-Free and Lifelong!

"Denmark’s public and private investment in the
evelopment of new qualifications and skills is one
of the highest in Europe. The idea is to maintain a
highly qualified and well-educated workforce that
can succeed in a global knowledge economy."

It seems like months ago, and it has been for China and some countries in Europe. I remember a week of errands, including shopping for groceries and taking my cat to the vet for his shots. I kept track of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and was alarmed at the number of deaths, particularly among the elderly. Dr. Li Wenliang, one of the first doctors to respond to COVID-19 patients in the city of Wuhan and who had tried to warn of the seriousness of this illness, dies on March 6, 2020. Citizens in China protest.

The drastic measures taking in Wuhan, China reminded me of Camus’ The Plague. Just as I considered re-reading the 1947 novel, I receive an email from my local library. March 12th. “A message...” with a banner, reading “OPEN.” The library system has taking precautions—the libraries have been sanitized. The risk “remains low.”

The two days later, “A notice...” The libraries will be closed from March 16th to April 6th.

And while COVID-19 registered as serious business for many around the world, for Trump, it was nothing more than a flu-like thing. Watch it “miraculously” disappear, folks! There’s something so menacing about governments for whom the denial of reality is paramount in overwhelming the mindset of its citizenry. But sometimes, these governments are not always successful.

It’s been a week now, beginning on March 16th, when we in Wisconsin were told to practice “social distancing,” that is, stay six feet from the nearest person. Pick up groceries or get medical care if necessary. Otherwise, stay home. Isolated, preferably.

It’s a new norm, just that quickly. And yet, it seems like a very long time ago, there was another norm.

I still refuse to purchase a television. I have my laptop. I read books, long articles online, investigative pieces, or in-depth coverage of an art or music or science topic. I searched for lectures on science and the arts, including those in which authors give lectures at the last few remaining bookstores. I listen to podcasts. YouTube viewing of Star Trek, the original and TNG, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and M.A.S.H. work for me in the evening to keep stress of living while black in America at bay.

I did this before the pandemic. So neighbors know I’m far from a white, conservative, Christian—someone black but at least going about life with the familiar qualifying credentials.

On Friday of last week, I had to make a quick trip to the nearest grocery store, where employees are doing their best to keep items on the shelves. Still no Purell or disinfectant wipes, but luckily I have enough for another two weeks. But when I returned home to my building for senior, I encountered three neighbors in the lobby, not necessarily practicing “social distancing.” I want to try and do so without coming across as that one who properly takes all this Coronavirus business seriously. You know it in your bones, as it’s hard and hard to escape, even while hearing and reading about the need for unity. Unity.

Did you hear about the tanker?

The tanker?

Apparently, a tanker with the label “COVID-19” on its sides overturned on some road. See the video on the Internet!

I’m not searching the Internet and clicking on this bait.

But before I reach my apartment, another neighbor informs me that I need not worry about anything: “God” will solve the problem!

While at the store, I heard from a fellow shopper that “He” has a plan to rid the world of evil.

I have friends, former students twenty years ago, who are now teaching in other states. I say, teaching, but it’s safe to say that they are doing their best to teach, that is, to educate for an academia that is now so beholding to a business model, if not outright corporate, that it’s a struggle to be an effect teacher to students paying an arm and a leg for their education. Stressed students, stressed young teachers—both groups struggling with student debt.

My younger friends tell me that as of last week or the week before, they’re teaching online instead of in the classroom, and it’s much harder—more time consuming considering the lack of health insurance, adequate salary, and job security.

Who’s enabling the unity of greed and ignorance?

I think about education; I don’t need to be standing inside a classroom or listed as faculty on some college’s payroll. I read the emails of my friends and, given that I have a little more free time, I imagine what it would be like to live in a country that values education. Real education. Education that serves the citizens, serves to produce citizens who won’t inform fellow citizens about a tanker filled with the COVID-19 virus.

Currently, in the US, 69% of seniors graduating from a 4-year institute has on average $29,000 in student loan debt (Student-debt Statistics). In the last few days, House Representatives Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar have introduced a bill to eliminate $30,000 of debt per borrower.

In 2020, this is where we’re at—begging fellow Americans to think in order to end suffering, and save lives? How much sense does it make to structure an educational system that forces young people from the economically poor, the marginalized, and the working class for wanting to attend college? Why are young people forced to live stressed out by collection agencies tracking them down, even while struggling to locate meaningful employment? Here we are still promoting systemic levels of greed and ignorance.

The total debt for all students with outstanding loans is $1.7 trillion dollars (CNBC, 2020). Last year, according to Forbes, when the debt was at $1.5 trillion that was the “highest ever.” From my friends I hear their stress before the pandemic as they coup with the “business model” in academia and with students becoming increasingly strung out from having to borrow so much to receive an education.

Only in a profit driven country like the United States of America—and Trump wants to make it “great” again by handing off the country to his friends on Wall Street.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the LA Times reports that “gun sales are surging” in this country, especially in states hardest hit by the pandemic! California, New York, and Washington—folks are buying guns and ammunition. These aren’t the only locations, the article continues, for, sales of guns are up in areas less-affected with first-time buyers leading the surge. There are American doctors in desperate need of masks; hospitals in need of more ventilators; and, above all, fellow citizens, testing for this virus, but who are dying. And the purchase of a gun comes to the minds of many Americans?

This is the beginning of week two: Most Wisconsin’s residents are at home. Traditionally a hunting state, where residents love their arms for tracking down deer, I have yet to hear about surging gun sales. I would like to be optimistic, but I know change doesn’t happen over night.

As I recall, long ago when we had those Democratic presidential debates, Joe Biden tried to scare Americans by suggesting that the idea of a “revolution” isn’t want people want. “‘People are looking for results.’”

Looking for results…?”

Always Wall Street on the minds of our politicians while many Americans struggle and suffer. And die. Always thinking, profits. Profits! Profits!

What’s changed?

Yes, I do think a lot about education, free for all. And lifelong education. In terms of transforming a system that doesn’t work, we should begin with relieving students of debt. And then look for not returning to business-as-usual, that is, profits for Wall Street.

I heard some podcast or I read an article in which the discussion was about lifelong learning. I was curious, and looked up the subject. Lifelong learning isn’t a novel idea; in fact, it’s practiced where most countries put the wellbeing of their citizens above profits for educational institutions and bankers on Wall Street. Denmark is one of those countries.

According to, most education in Denmark “is tax-financed and free of charge for the student.”

Let’s start with daycare. It starts when the child is nine months of age, followed by public kindergarten where the staff, with degrees in early childhood, teach the “basics,” that is, “letters and numbers.” Most of the child’s day is spend on “free play” and outdoor activities. By the age of six, the child is ready for formal schooling.

As young students, the Danes are introduced to working in groups, rather than focusing on re-producing hierarchical structures. Students greet their teachers by their first names: “The educational approach in Denmark avoids class ranking and formal tests.” Instead, working in groups is valued as beneficial to all. The emphasis is on problem-solving, rather than memorization.

In addition, students are taught “to challenge the established way of doing things,” so as to counter the development of group-think.

Tuition for all children under the age of 16-years old is free. However, some parents may opt to send their children to private, that is, “Jewish, Christian, and Muslim” schools. International schools, such as “English-language schools, French-language schools, or German-language schools are also available for students to attend.

Denmark isn’t a communist state, but “all schools are required to follow the national government’s basic requirements for primary education.”

A nationwide test is given just before students graduate from primary education so students—valued—don’t find themselves falling in an ever widening gap. Those with “strong abilities often select a gymnasium for their secondary education, where they can focus on languages, sciences, math or similar subjects to prepare them for university.” However, a path to “high-paying,” skilled jobs such as “metalwork, electrical technology or mechanics” is an option along with business schools for those students interested in leaning accounting or software development. Still others may be interested in “theatre or sports along with their academic requirements.”

After completing secondary education, Danish students “choose from a variety of tertiary options, including a standard university that grants bachelors, masters, and PhD degrees.” University college awards BA degrees in “hands-on subjects” such as social work, public arts, architectural academies as well as the Royal Academy of Music.

Statens Uddannelsestøtte or SU are available to full-time students, from the government, even if the student is working to pay expenses while studying. “It is common for Danes to begin working in their future job roles while they are still in the process of education, either as a paid praltikant (intern) or apprentice.”

Education in Denmark does not stop with graduation.” Danes with degrees continue to attend extra classes to improve job skills or begin a hobby. In fact, one out of three Danish adults, between the ages of 25-64, enroll in some kind of continuing education course, sometimes to improve work skills, or to return to work if unemployed.

Denmark’s public and private investment in the development of new qualifications and skills is one of the highest in Europe. The idea is to maintain a highly qualified and well-educated workforce that can succeed in a global knowledge economy.”

However, not all lifelong education is about preparation for the professional world. Many adults in Denmark enroll in “cooking, painting, foreign languages, music or dance” classes “just for fun” since most are “publicly funded” course while others are offered for “a minimal fee.”

The people’s high school or the folkehøjskoler or højskoler have been offering education to “ordinary” adults since 1844. The goal of these institutions is to help adults develop skills needed to “thrive as citizens.” Inspired by “the influential Danish educational leader Neils Grundtung (1783-1872),” to offer higher education in rural populations in union with the cultivating of the urban intellectual elite, these seventy højskolers specialize in subjects such as “film, design, sports, theatre, and politics.” Spread out throughout the country, these schools are voluntary, and there are no grades or exams. “Many offer live-in courses” for a week or more, and while they are not tuition-free, prices are low and the cost of attending includes room and board.”

Will the future be the same, business-as-usual? We have a COVID-19, healthcare, homelessness, and climate change for openers, problems that need the attention of all, regardless of nationality or ethnicity. Will we continue with the nonsense of “alternative facts” and “alternative realities”? During this pandemic, Americans have no excuse not to think of ways to respond to an ideology that re-produces greed as a virtue and ignorance as bliss, an ideology as much a threat to life as the Coronavirus.

Imagine maintaining such a culture of learning here in the United States! Let’s talk about unity and not offer merely empty, if not rhetorical, cliches. Imagine this country actually valuing idea of democracy! It can happen! It is happening!

Why not in the United States? Editorial Board member and Columnist, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has a Doctorate in Modern American Literature/Cultural Theory. Contact Dr. Daniels.
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