The Reflective Community: Learning processes in Norwegian folk high schools
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This thesis presents a study of learning processes in Norwegian folk high schools. The folk high schools play a decisive role in Nordic educational system as alternative pedagogical institutions. The Danish roots of the schools can be traced to the theologian N.F.S. Grundtvig and his ideals of a learning that develops not just the mind but the whole student. Based on an empirical study of two Norwegian folk high schools, this thesis asks what learning processes take place in these schools. From an initially wide research question, the study narrows its focus to two related concepts linked to the history and identity of the Norwegian folk high schools. The sub-questions of the study ask how values and religion can be seen as a part of the learning processes of the schools. The theoretical framework of the study connects to sociocultural theory, with a special focus on the critique and development of Etienne Wenger’s theories of social learning. The theoretical construct defines values and religion from their use in practice. The dialogical or monological discourses of values and religion described by the students in the empirical material become central in the analysis of the study. The empirical study was carried out as a qualitative study influenced by ethnographic field studies. The period of active fieldwork lasted from August, 2014 to May, 2015. The empirical material includes a) document studies with a focus on documents exhibiting the basic values of the two schools, b) observations characterized by progressive focusing, c) interviews both with mixed groups of students through the school year and final interviews with prefects, and d) the writing of reflective texts by students at the end of the year. Three sub-studies (presented in three articles) each refer to one or two of these parts of the empirical study. After the initial document study, the empirical fieldwork sought to map the experience of students in the two schools. The empirical material was designed to provide a picture of students' experience of the folk high schools and, through this, of the meaning negotiated by students at the two schools. The findings of the study show how a student’s former identifications become secondary in the processes of identification and dis-identification with the practices of the schools. The schools are found to represent a boundary-oriented pedagogy characterized by a shared negotiation of meaning. These characteristics created an openness for students to follow an outward as well as an inward learning trajectory in reference to the values of the schools. The discernible identities of the school’s staff in areas of values and religion and dialogical discourses in the school community were found to constitute central parts in the learning processes. These findings describe the distinctive learning community that the folk high schools represent, as conceptualized in the title of the thesis: The reflective community.