The Folk School Alliance Newsletter
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Mary Cattani
Vicky Eiben
Marilyn Jackson
Dawn Murphy

Kate Parsons
Steven Rubenstein

Christopher Spicer
Carol Voigts
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Folk School Alliance

news | late fall 2016

Welcome to the Folk School Alliance (FSA). 

Please email us at if you have news to share through our newsletter or would like us to feature your organization!

In this issue:

Folk Schools Take All Forms

One of the first prominent folk schools in this country supported people who strived to acquire basic human rights through trainings, workshops, and gatherings in the south. FEAA wants to express gratitude for the work of the folks of this long-lived organization.

A social justice oriented folk school, Highlander Center, opened in 1932 in Tennessee and was known as a “beacon for organizing and leadership development” for groups involved in fighting black lung, strip-mining, unfair trade policies in Appalachia and civil rights. To this day, the folk school is a vibrant organization now called the Highlander Research and Education Center. Although it does not legally name itself as a folk school, the methods and style of education through trainings and workshops are similar to that of a folk school. A noteworthy aspect of teaching at Highlander is that teachers at Highlander were and still are led by the people most affected by oppression.

Over the last decades, Highlander has expanded its “support for young people and immigrants while supporting efforts to build bridges among African-Americans, immigrants, and poor and working-class whites across differences of races, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation and geography.” According to an article written by Andre Canty, a member of the development team at Highlander, the two areas of focus at Highlander are The Movement for Black Lives and economic transition in Appalachia. 

Canty says that Highlander's support for the Movement for Black Lives "calls for school systems to include curriculum that addresses material and cultural needs. Involved in this work is the importance of organizing whites to address racial justice." Canty continued to explain that another critical issue "to our region is economic transition. The highest rates of poverty remain in the South, exceeding the national average. This affects every facet of life for youth, including access to education, health care and healthy food...Our Appalachian Transition Fellow program invests in emerging leaders who are thinkers, doers and problem solvers in central Appalachia by partnering with cross-sector organizations in host communities. The economics and governance curriculum we have developed encourages both visionary solutions and action."

I echo Canty when I say that "social justice is a part of the American story." We are all benefactors of social justice engagement, whether we recognize it or not. And what is more "folk school" than a social justice oriented folk school, organizing around human rights issues? Let Highlander be an example to us all in the folk school movement. 

A Tribute to Larry Olds by Christopher Spicer 

Larry Olds, of Minneapolis MN - former FEAA Board member and leading proponent, teacher, organizer, and archivist of popular and people’s education – died peacefully at home on October 13, 2016. Larry was a powerful force of love and activism who embodied gentleness, fierceness and persistence to his work and life. He was a loving connector and a bridge builder.
While an adult and popular educator for his whole career (particularly through theMinneapolis Community and Technical College), Larry was at the center of national and international networking and organizational work. He served on the Board of FEAA as well as being instrumental in the development and early years of NAAPAE (North American Alliance for Popular and Adult Education). Being informed and dedicated to the “big tent” of people’s education that these 2 organizations spanned both historically and as an evolving movement in the 1990s, Larry provided the necessary bridge between their sometimes 2-separate tracks. He knew the common links between their differences as they both carried the torch of enlivening the human spirit, promoting our personal ability and responsibility to learn together and taking action for the world, fighting for beauty and social justice.
Larry presented his ideas on the intersection of folk and popular education at a “Schools for Life” conference hosted by Driftless Folk School in January 2014.
We owe a debt of gratitude for his work in gathering, documenting, and teaching the rich resources of popular and folk education. He founded and edited “the Popular Education News,” an online newsletter with a wide global readership.

During the last decade of his life, he teamed up with the Headwaters Foundation in Minneapolis to create a popular education fund to support a new generation of popular educators. Donations can be made toward this effort
In his final years, Larry was working mightily to create an archive of his lifetime’s collection of popular education materials. While incomplete, it can be glimpsed  After accessing the site, you have to scroll down through a grey zone to find some of the material.
Chris Spicer, Director of FEAA in the 90s when Larry served on the FEAA Board​, wrote:  “I am particularly grateful for Larry’s efforts in demonstrating how one can have an impact on a movement that is flung across so many geographical miles and disparate ideas. He was the consummate connector and communicator even in the face of resistance or worse, silence. At an even deeper and more personal level, he shared and inspired me with his own story of dedicated son, husband, father, grandfather, community member, landlord, caretaker, and ultimately being a care-receiver in his final battle with cancer. His personal letters kept us up to date, asking us to stay connected, to come by for a visit, and without saying it directly (although maybe sometimes), to keep on carrying on. Deep gratitude to you Larry.”
An obituary for Larry can be found at:

News from the Board:

Space for Folk

In late September I had the pleasure and privilege of attending a workshop at the Highlander Center focused on Participatory Action Research.  Following the workshop one of the most striking impressions left from the experience is the power that the creation of space holds.  Highlander has and continues to create space for conversations, expression, and creation around issues of struggle and empowerment.  As an institution grounded in the philosophy of Folk Education, Highlander intentionally uses art, music, cultural expression, and reflection to balance tension between the impacts of struggle and the call to action for change.  During my visit to Highlander between time periods of sharing change projects addressing violence and oppression the group danced, shared poetry, sang our own as well as traditional songs of challenge and achievement.  In the end, a space for creative change was present.  Folk Education in all its forms may allow space for creation.  What space do you create?  

~ Dawn Murphy

American Folk Schools

Take a peek at new folk schools!

by Mary Cattani

Another new American folk school has opened its doors! The Homer Folk School held it opening festivities on October 8, 2016, in Homer, Alaska, a town of 5,000 inhabitants on the shore of Kachemak Bay of the beautiful Kenai Peninsula, two hundred miles south of Anchorage, a town known as the "Halibut Fishing Capital of the World." The Homer area has always been a place rich in artists, artisans, and crafts people, from the indigenous First People who thrived in the teeming sea and land to the Homesteaders and people who came to live and work there. Such abundance still exists in the area, and is the well from which the Homer Folk School was born.

A first attempt in 2014 to start a folk school was not successful, but there continued to be great interest in such a project in the community, and in late 2015, a group who still saw the opportunity and need, came together to re-ignite a community folk school. After a year of planning and enlisting a collaborative Advisory Board, and partnering with the Ageya Wilderness Center, Homer Folk School was launched with an all-day community celebration that included good food, dancing and class demonstrations.

Guided by their mission to become “ a community gathering place and collaborative learning environment that teaches traditional knowledge and hands - on skills with respect for the web of life,” the folk school is community-driven and inclusive of all who want to come and learn and play in a non-competitive learning environment, as one Board member put it. Homer FS offers classes that may range from alternative energy systems to wilderness skills, from homesteading to sustainable living. In November 2016, their first full month, the offerings included stringed instruments, beekeeping, winter gardening, herbal first aid, wild plant medicine making, quilting, carpentry, basket weaving, song writing and yodeling, and traditional kayak building. Classes will range in duration from one-day, to week-long, or weekend-end long courses in a broad variety of areas and levels to interest a novice or an expert.

The Homer Folk School is proud to hold its classes at the Ageya Wilderness Center, a beautiful facility with a wide range of classrooms, a certified commercial kitchen, a shop, hi-tunnel gardening, and yurts for lodging. To read more about Ageya, and to see a short video on their summer program, go to:

Folk Schools in the News

Take a peek and check out some Folk Schools in the news!

To see a working list of folk schools in the United States, visit the Folk School Alliance's website at

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