Norwegianization – experiences of schooling

This article leads on from the main article on the norwegianization policy. You can find it here. The quotations are taken from Henry Minde´s article that is linked on the previous page.


Sami children learn Norwegian at a boarding school in 1950

Experiences of schooling

How did school-children themselves experience their encounter with school? What were the consequences of the norwegianization policy for young people’s development in a critical phase of their lives?

One element common to personal school stories is the disgrace the pupils felt as they were left out of things during the first years because of their language. They did everything to avoid being ridiculed and disgraced. Pupils’ absence and omission at that time were certainly not always caused by poverty and disease, despite the notations in school protocols. The gifted pupils managed to get through school, but not always without memories which could still be painful.

Below are given some recorded experiences of episodes in the school room, or of Sami experience of schooling:

An episode was reported in a newspaper that took place during the Director of Schools Thomassen’s journey around the district in 1903. Thomassen took over a classroom lesson in Lakselv, wishing to demonstrate how the new method in educational norwegianisation, visual instruction, was to be applied in practice.

«The school superintendent shouted to one of the children: «Go out! Go out!» and when the child did not understand the foreign language, the superintendent seized him by the neck and threw him into the hall with the words «Go out!». The child was frightened and began to cry. Then one of the other children was told to go and fetch him back, again on the school superintendent’s order – which was again «Go out! Go out!» This child fared no better than the first. Then the superintendent fetched a stick and pointed around the room at various objects with it. And when the children failed to understand his foreign tongue, he banged the stick on the table. And then the children understood nothing at all, as they had become utterly terrified.»

Anders Larsen (1870-1949) from Seglvik in Kvænangen described his school experiences. What stood out in Larsen’s mind was the feeling of having been ignored and neglected:

«I cannot remember anything of what my teacher said during my first years at school, because I did not understand him, and I was certainly not among the least gifted. I profited sadly little from school. I was intellectually malnourished. My soul was damaged. These are the most barren and fruitless of my learning years. They were wasted, so to speak, and a wasted childhood can never be made good.»

In 1970, Per Fokstad (1890-1973) from Bonakas in Tana reflected on the personal consequences that the rigorous norwegianisation could have:

«Sometimes when I think about this, it is such a great pain that I can’t sleep. I stay awake at night, I feel I have to speak up. Tell this story to someone, everything that causes pain, that has been trampled down — -. There is something inside me that shouts: Don’t suffocate me! Something that needs air, that wants to rise, that wants to live. But we were branded. We were trampled down and I can never forget it. Never forget what it was like. Everything was taken away from us. Our native language we were not allowed to speak. Nobody listened to us.»

The feeling of being looked down upon by the teacher is common to those who have talked about their schooldays at all, such as this Sami woman from Skånland, born in 1924:

«When I started school I could not speak Norwegian. Had to learn. Of course it sounded broken. (…) I have to say many times, that when I think back, I was bullied many times for my language alone, the poor Sami language.»