First Regional Folk School Meeting:
Upper Midwest Region
The first regional meeting of the new folk school movement in the USA, organized by the Folk School Alliance of the Folk Education Association of America, and supported by a grant from Fielding Graduate University, was held September 26-28, 2018, at the Danish American Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The meeting was organized as part of a Fielding-funded project, the Folk School Alliance Community of Practice: “Creating Spaces for Social Transformation.” The project is led by FEAA board member Dawn Murphy, a PhD student at Fielding, and a Dean at South Puget Sound Community College, and Vicky Eiben, former FEAA board member, Professor of Education at Viterbo University in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, and Chair of the regional meeting.
The gathering was attended by 32 people from 20 folk schools in the upper midwest, one from Alaska, professors from Fielding and the U. of Wisconsin, and FEAA board members. In both plenary and break-out sessions over the days of the conference, such vital topics as fundraising and marketing, and courses and scheduling were addressed, topics taken from surveys of the membership before the meeting. Much useful information was shared by experienced leaders of well-established folk schools with new schools whose first classes have yet to be offered. A plenary panel of experienced folk school people focused on the question of sustainability of folk schools, emphasizing support and participation from the community, as well as giving support to the community. Gaining the involvement of community members both as teachers, staff, board, and “friends of the folk school” seems fundamental to building sustainable interest. As conversations developed, the role of folk schools in the community became one of the recurring themes of the gathering.
As both marketing and fundraising are of central importance, both were discussed, together and separately, and such recommendations as the importance of creating strategic partnerships were mentioned, as well as raising money from a full range of activities and events from selling craft and food items in a school store, market or fair, to grant-writing, to auctions, to finding donors and donor agencies. The advantages of non-profit vs. profit status for schools were debated.
The growth of the movement in the USA in recent years was frequently discussed as it is in an article in this newsletter by Dawn Murphy: “Finding Grundtvig in the US Folk School Movement.” There Dawn also presents some ideas folk school people have voiced as to why the movement is growing so rapidly at present. However, the question of defining what is a folk school was left to be pondered for another day.
Conference photos by David Blake Willis
Finding Grundtvig in the Modern US Folk School Movement
by Dawn Jackman Murphy
Marie Fielder Center Fellow
Fielding Graduate University
Marie Fielder Center for Democracy, Leadership, and Education
In the last two decades the United States has seen a dramatic increase in the number of organizations being founded as folk schools. At the beginning of the 1990s there were only twelve active nonformal education organizations with ‘folk school’ in their title or with documentation of a tie to the Danish folk high school model. Historically in the United States, only one to two such organizations or folk schools were founded each decade, however during the 1990s this began to change. Nine folk schools were founded during the 1990s and this 75% increase only hinted at a much larger movement. By the year 2010, an additional twenty-two schools had been founded and in the last eight years the dramatic upward trend has continued.
The Folk Education Association of America (FEAA), on a hiatus since 2002, returned in 2014 and began tracking the modern U.S. folk school movement. As of July 2018, the Folk Education Association of American and its new project, the Folk School Alliance, has identified 82 currently active organizations including two in Canada, who either identify themselves as a folk school (through their name) or who have connected themselves to the folk school movement through the Folk School Alliance. This means that from 1990 to 2018, there has been an almost seven-fold increase in the number of folk schools in the United States.
Given the dramatic increase in folk school founding in the last three decades, the modern US folk school movement can be described as very young. 69% of active schools are less than eleven years old and 43% are less than four years old. Additionally, most schools, if not all operate as non-governmental, non-profit or non-business entities and receive no municipal, state, or federal funding. In practical terms this means that the founders and initial supporters of these schools begin by investing their own savings and the donations of others in order to operate the schools. From an organizational development perspective these schools fall into the first two stages of development, that of Existence and Survival.
The twelve pre-1990 schools were located in two regions of the United States, the Midwest and the South. These two areas continue to be the regions with the highest density of folk schools, however nearly all regions of the United States now have folk school representation. A mapping of North American folk schools can be found through the Folk School Alliance website at http://folkschoolalliance.org/folk-school-links/ . The map shows that the Mountain and Southwestern regions of the United States have very few folk schools. This may change as the high rate of folk school founding continues.
The modern folk school movement in the United States varies from the previous phases of folk school founding not only in its dramatic upward trend, but also in terms of the inspirations and motivations behind their creation. Specifically, the Danish American Folk Schools and the U.S. Folk School Adaption periods had direct connections to Denmark either through Danish immigrants or school founder visits to Denmark. The period beginning in the 1970s was a time of innovation and experimentation and perhaps, a fermentation period, for the Modern U.S. Folk School Movement we are seeing now. The direct ties with the Danish roots of folk education are not as clearly defined, however in a review of school websites and social media, the strands of Grundtvigian influence are evident. Twenty-seven of the eighty-two active schools, 34%, explicitly call out their connection to Danish folk school traditions or to Scandinavian heritage and school models. Evidence of Grundtvig’s influence can also be found in the format and offerings of the U.S. folk schools. In a 2017 Folk School Alliance survey, schools were asked, “What is the focus/foci of your school/organization? (check all that apply).” The table below provides the responses.
Focus or foci of the school / organization
(% of total Responses)
Arts and Crafts
Nature, Environment, or Ecology
Regional Cultural and/or Historic Preservation
Economic Development Including Micro-prenuership
From the table above, it appears that although most modern U.S. Folk Schools emphasize the historic poetic through a focus on “traditional skills” and “arts and crafts,” approximately half of the respondents also included focus areas such as “community development” and “regional, cultural, and/or historic preservation”.
With the emergence of the Modern U.S. Folk School Movement, the Folk Education Association of America has once again found purpose and sees its role to once again serve as support and a facilitator of community-based, learner-led education. The FEAA’s 2017-18 strategic plan, targets five ambitious goals: (1) Build a cohesive and collaborative network of Folk Schools; (2) Cultivate a sustainable FEAA leadership group that reflects the folk school community; (3) Build FEAA’s internal capacities; (4) Expand participation in Folk Education to the non-traditional participant; and (5) Create and maintain a Folk Education philosophical roots, past achievements, and current innovations resource repository. The FEAA has moved forward in each of the goals described, however the area of most advancement is in building a cohesive and collaborative network of Folk Schools.
Earlier this year, the FEAA and Folk School Alliance schools partnered with Fielding Graduate University’s Social Transformation Projects to launch the Folk School Alliance Community of Practice (CoP). The CoP brings the Folk School Alliance school leaders together through Web 2.0 tools including a private social media group space for asynchronous discussion threads and monthly synchronous web conferencing meetings. As of July, over 40 schools have interacted through the social media group and 35 schools have been represented in the monthly online meetings. The CoP project will also include two face to face regional meetings set to occur this fall in Minneapolis, MN for Midwestern schools and in Olympia, WA for Pacific schools. Within each of these interactive spaces, the FEAA will be providing information regarding Grundtvig and the roots of folk education.
The inevitable question that comes with the awareness of the magnitude of the Modern U.S. Folk School Movement is, “Why?”. The answer as this point can only be guessed at, though some of the folk school leaders have shared their options. Here are a few.
People feel socially disconnected and economically disempowered. There is an interest in simplifying life, increasing our ability to make our own useful and beautiful things and providing for our own needs. There is a growing feeling of unease about our reliance on the global economy and awareness of our impact on a fragile ecosystem. Our economy and education systems are increasingly enriching a few, while leaving dissatisfied lives for the many. ~Stacey Waterman-Hoey, Arbutus Folk School Founder
I feel that there is a pull within us to return to the tactile and tangible in this very technological age... to reconnect with our grandparents’ knowledge, and to find new spaces of community that align with our interests and vision for the future.~Kara Grupp, Three Pines Farm Founder
Marble mining is the local industry and we used to have a wealth of artisans who used that as their medium. One day we woke up to discover the old ones who had those marble carving skills were gone.~Rhonda Lindsey, Southern Appalachian Folk School Founder
People hunger for authentic connections with others and the true satisfaction of creating something with one’s own hands. We build community.~Geraldine Johnson, Aspire Artisan Studios and Folk School Creative Director
Through a Glass, Brightly
Remarks about Lands of the Living Conference
by Clay Warren
The Lands of the Living international symposium on the influence of N.F.S. Grundtvig was held August 1-4, 2018, at the University of London. Organized by Brad Busbee of Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama, and Anders Holm, Copenhagen University, the symposium participants sang, shared stories, presented and engaged in dialogue about work done around the world in the tradition of Grundtvig’s folk high schools. Representatives from the U. S. included: Clay Warren of George Washington University, Joy Ibsen, writer and musician, Vicky Eiben of Viterbo University, and Dawn Murphy of Fielding University and South Puget Sound Community College. Presenters Vicky and Dawn were representing the Folk Education Association of America/Folk School Alliance. Following are the personal reflections of Clay Warren, one of the leading scholars of Grundtvig and the folk high school movement who also presented at the symposium. Intro by Dawn Murphy.
Following this opening, six breakout groups were formed to discuss the following questions: (1) Regardless of where located, if the educational institution is called a folk high school, folk school, or people’s college, what should be a “common aspiration” – i.e., what should be its educational mission? (2) Regarding the students’ learning, what main takeaways should be central to the student experience? The groups’ compelling answers are listed at the end of this piece.
I thoroughly enjoyed this conference. Highly knowledgeable speakers from Bangladesh, India, Baltic States, Hungary, Finland, England, USA, Nigeria, Philippines, Japan, South Korea, China, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (in that order) gave presentations that were both informative and, in many cases, inspirational. It was interesting to learn that the number of “people’s colleges” in existence today is at an all time collective high. For example: Denmark (70) – down from its previous high, Norway (80), Sweden (154), Finland (73), Iceland (3), and USA (77).*
A second highlight, in my view, was the spirit of the conference. Anyone who has spent time in a Grundtvigian-style folk high school will know there is a soft, welcoming personality orientation inherent in its practitioners, as was true of conference participants. As a result, it was simply fun to spend time among such folk. We were reminded of Barack Obama’s tribute to Highlander FHS at the Nordic State Dinner in 2016 and its importance to the American Civil Rights Movement. Engaged conversation and singing were prevalent, not only group singing in the morning, but occasional bursts of song during the conference (where part of Supertramp’s Logical Song from a lively presenter refreshed our energy). And humor was also abundant along with plenty of pith, as in these quotes:
-“I’m not sure what I’ve learned, but I’m sure I’ll never forget it” (remark from a FHS participant passed on to a LOTL participant).
-“[After eight years of imprisonment and many more devoted to people’s education] I’ve learned it’s important to live between honesty and hope with patient impatience.”
-“The ideology of a FHS is something that has an impressive, mysterious, and indescribable power.”
Personally, I’d worked closely beside, or interviewed, or quoted, or read about many of the conference attendees. I will mention just one – Dr. Knud Eyvin Bugge. Such an important Grundtvig scholar, I interviewed him at his home in Vedbæk more than 20 years ago (the interview published in 1998 as a chapter in Democracy Is Born in Conversations), and to my delight, Knud and his wife Ilse both were present at the London conference, despite his now being a nonagenarian. Can I sum this up by saying egeshegedre?!
LOTL Plenary Group Feedback (edited), as reported by the named spokesperson.
Group #1 (Vicki)
Question 1: Folk schools should consider what is needed in a particular context, and focus on “education for life,” on being part of a community, on human “being-ness,” and on students’ empowerment to see themselves as part of history to make the world a better place.
Question 2: Students should acquire personal development, knowledge embedded in a historical life, skills, and a sense of hope.
Group #2 (Hanna)
Question 1: A FHS should build awareness of our shared responsibility for the earth, its people, and life together.
Question 2: A student should come away with independent development, growth, and empowerment as a human being in the critical, yet positive, human interaction requiring mutual respect of all.
Group #3 (Thor)
Question 1: FHSs should help students become a chief in their own life, so that they can become active citizens; and, they should help students achieve practical skills in a better and more useful way.
Question 2: It is important that students acquire specific skills that can help them in the future; but, it is also important for students to acquire general skills (“general learning”) that can result in individual empowerment and liberation.
Group #4 (Søren)
Question 1: A FHS should facilitate personal development in a learning space where you mirror yourself in a supportive community.
Question 2: As a student, you gain life skills, confidence, engagement, a sense of belonging, empathy, and dreams for your future.
Group #5 (Edward)
Question 1: A FHS is constituted by story-telling (especially personal stories and sharing of failure), talking and listening, achieving agreed “rules” of the classroom, teaching “home” as key, maintaining respect and care, operating with teacher and student as equals (this “journey” is important), and giving and receiving praise.
Question 2: A student will learn that enlightenment will bring its own doors; will engage in cooperative movement and democratic citizenship; will possess increased self confidence, hope, and ambition for one’s own life; and may come to value the power of the unexpected achievement.
Group #6 (Joy)
Question 1: Goals/purpose of folk schools: (1) empower the individual, (2) prepare and teach people how to live in community.
Question 2: How to help students accomplish these goals: (1) They will work on identifying their individual gifts and possibilities; (2) they will study cooperation — history and content of effective communities.
*Since this writing, 20 more folk schools in the USA have been identified.
Marine Mills Folk School in Marine on St. Croix, MN,
offers its first classes on October 6, 2018, beginning
with the following classes:
~A preserving and pickling class “In a Pickle and a Jam”
~An entry-level class on hand-sewing everyday goods in leather
~Wooden boat building
~Soap and lotion making
~Sashiko Stitching, a Japanese stitching technique, ideal for mending and repairing or adding visual interest to a garment
More classes are scheduled in the following weeks and months such as weaving, photography, and Saami bracelet making – while most classes are for adult learners (beginning to advanced), some classes have been designed as ‘intergenerational’ so that adults and children can learn together.
The folk school is located in Marine on St. Croix, a village founded in 1839 on the St. Croix River that was the site of the first commercial sawmill in what would become the state of Minnesota. The school’s name is a nod to the lumbering heritage of the area, as the town was first known as ‘Marine Mills’ but was later changed to its current name to emphasize the natural beauty of the area. Marine Mills Folk School is sharing space with ‘Marine Area Community School’ at Wilder Forest, offering arts & craft classes on weekends and evenings when the grades K-6 students are not on campus.
The mission of the new folk school is to: provide opportunities for lifelong learning that strengthen community through hands-on educational experiences which reflect the culture, natural environment, history and traditional arts and crafts of the St. Croix Valley and cultures & communities that call Minnesota home
The learning atmosphere is an unplugged, deliberate approach, with an emphasis on intergenerational learning that is fun, collaborative and restorative.
News from the Board
FEAA Board News and Notes
Marilyn Jackson helped organize the annual conference in early October at the Western Institute for Social Research (WISR, wisr.edu) in Berkeley, CA, The Future of Transformative Learning at WISR: Building Partnerships Locally and Beyond. Mary Cattani and Chris Spicer participated by Zoom to give an overview of FEAA. Chris talked about the Grundtvigian roots of the folk school movement in the USA, and Mary about her experience with Scandinavian folk high schools, and about the growth of US folk schools today. Marilyn has introduced us to WISR, and is hopeful of some collaboration. For example, students could study folk schools in a course or degree program created collaboratively with WISR and FEAA. These studies would involve writing and action research, work/involvement and expansion of knowledge around this subject.
In October, Jennifer Rose Escobar made a concert tour of Denmark - eighteen concerts at eighteen venues in twenty days! Accompanied by her family on the tour, and her daughters on stage, Jennifer presented music from her recent CD, "Harmony in the Valley," on which she sings a variety of traditional folk songs with her daughters, Isabel & Lydia. The CD was recorded at her Happiness Hills Farm, in the Red Lick Valley near Berea, Kentucky. For more information on Jennifer's CDs, go to her web site: https://jenniferroseescobar.wordpress.com/products/
Dawn Murphy co-chaired with Vicky Eiben (former board member) the first FEAA/FSA upper midwest regional meeting, part of her research project for a PhD at Fielding University. She has just been awarded a grant in the amount of $200,000 through the Corporation for National and Community Service, for her research into the growing folk school movement in the USA, to study the economic impact of folk schools. Congratulations to Dawn for this much-deserved recognition of her impressive accomplishments and acknowledgement of her future contributions.