The Folk School Alliance Newsletter
A project of Folk Education Association of America
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Folk Education Association of America Board of Directors 

Jennifer Rose Ramsay
     Escobar, Chair

Mary Cattani, Vice Chair,
    Newsletter Editor
Dawn Murphy, Secretary
Christopher Spicer, Treasurer
Kimberly Coburn
Jerry Jackson
Marilyn Jackson
Geraldine Johnson

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Folk School Alliance

news | fall 2019

Welcome to the Folk School Alliance (FSA). 

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if you have comments, news to share through our newsletter or would like us to feature your organization!

In this issue:

-International Summit 2019:
The 175th Anniversary Of
The First Danish Højskole

 -Doing Folk Education:
"Inspiration, Pedagogy, and Art"
Marine Mills Folk School

-New Folk Schools:
Life.School.House Folk School

-Journal of a Folk School Founding: 
Happiness Hills

-Olympia Folk School Brings Evergreen Learning Philosophy to Community

-New 11-Book Series:

Folk High School Education

-Board News and Notes

International Summit 2019:  The 175th Anniversary
Of The First Danish Højskole

All four officers of the board of the Folk Education Association of America  - Jennifer, Mary, Dawn and Chris - were present in Denmark for the celebration of the 175th anniversary of the founding of the first Danish folk high school in Rødding, Denmark.  The International Summit was held at Grundtvig’s folk high school in Hillerød, just north of Copenhagen, with participation of 125 people from 28 countries doing folk school work around the globe.
For one inspiring, and very full week, participants exchanged ideas and information about the work that they do and the challenges they face, made new friends from all over the world, and focused on the future of international folk high school cooperation.    The format of the conference included both plenary sessions and discussion groups, as well as a 2-day Pre-Summit program of visits to folk schools and to sites of interest in the life and times of NFS Grundtvig. 
Invited speakers presented inspiring plenary sessions, including:  Katarina Popovic, Secretary General of the International Council for Adult Education; Joy Mogensen, the new Danish Minister of Culture; Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, Executive Director of Highlander; Anders Holm, Professor of Theology at Copenhagen University and Editor of the Journal Grundtvig Studier; Edicio de la Torre, founder of the Education for Life Foundation in the Phillippines, and many other notable leaders from around the globe.  
When not in Plenary, participants joined two-day discussion sessions on one of four topics:   Building Community; Democratic Education; Life Enlightenment; and Sustainable Education.  At the end of the conference, participants gathered together to create a roadmap for future cooperation based on what had been discussed in these sessions.   In addition to the discussion sessions there were “electives,” as well: a storytelling workshop, choir and dance, international sport, and urban activities.  
And there was a lot of music, as well, in the folk high school tradition.   We sang at the start of the day, and several times throughout the day, the singing usually led by FEAA Chair, Jennifer Escobar.  On the last night, the famous  Freedom Singers of Alabama,  leaders of the civil rights movement in the south during the 1960’s and beyond,  and still together and performing with energy and heart, gave a concert that will be remembered forever by the fortunate and appreciative audience.  
It was not just the concert that was unforgettable, but the whole Summit and all who attended came away renewed in their commitment and inspired again with the spirit of the Danish folk high schools.   Congratulations to the organizers who brought this gathering to life. 
Photo caption:   The Pre-Summit group visits Vartov.

Doing Folk Education
"Inspiration, Pedagogy, and Art"

This new series by Chris Spicer is an effort to explore two aspects of folk education practice in your school. The first is raised by the question, from what (or who or where) do you draw inspiration? The other concerns the “how” of your teaching and learning – what does it look like? We’ll feature one folk school in each newsletter, hoping the ongoing exploration will nurture a dialogue within our network as more and more groups are developing their programs. We welcome your inquiries and suggestions - to Chris at

Marine Mills Folk School

At the heart of Marine Mills Folk School’s work, in Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota, is community and creation: “Our mission is to support our community and strengthen connections by inviting all people to discover the joy of creating together through traditional arts and crafts.”
The website home page for Marine Mills Folk School begins with these words: “The folk school tradition traces its origins to Scandinavian countries, with NFS Grundtvig of Denmark coining the term ‘schools for life’ as part of his philosophy of education, and of his vision for strengthening and empowering communities.”

I talked to a group of Marine Mills’ founders – Robin Brooksbank, Emily Anderson and Nanc MacLeslie – who bubble with the enthusiasm that has contributed to the fast growth of their school. Their description easily matches essential elements of Grundtvigian folk education:
  • A school for life, for “living a life of passion, confidence, and joy,”
  • Nurturing a space for strengthening community through everyone learning together. “We create “transactional collaborative experiences,” 
  • Experiencing the art of being “creators” through hands on – and reflective - skill building. We “put our brain in our hands” to become more aware of how we learn.
  • Immersing ourselves in a learning environment of natural rural beauty in a nationally protected river valley that includes Native American settlements.
It’s clear that this inspired group brought much experience and knowledge before learning about Grundtvig. They speak about “going from the gut” in steering the birth of their school in response to whatever comes up. There is a commitment to listening to everyone in the community: participants, teachers, staff, and board members.
Whether from this “gut,” or from Grundtvig, or from the collective experience of creating, they put at the heart of their work “becoming more aware of how we learn” – and going deeper, “how do we open to our own inner creator?” Such learning is a clear contrast to the typical more competitive community education programs.
Their vision statement gives us an entry into this “creator” concept: “People will honor and appreciate fellow artists and craftspeople of similar and differing cultural heritage as well as those from other times, experience the joy of creating and the restorative power of our natural environment.”
A phrase that came up in our conversations - “art as life” – for me puts their ideas “on the ground.” It includes nurturing qualities like self-sufficiency, competence, and confidence. But it recognizes the crucial link to others through a sense of care-taking and stewardship for the greater community, both natural and human. It demonstrates the deep pedagogical concept of how individual and collective development and growth are an essential symbiotic relationship.
A key challenge, in fact a central purpose to their school, is responding to the run-away, technological overdrive of fast-paced life that increasingly falls short of meeting human life and health. Marine Mills is a school for developing a life of passion, confidence, and joy – and a key way to do that is to “unplug” from the busy and tech-driven world that is our 21st century way of life. In fact, that learning goal is a direct response to how they phrase the challenge of today’s society: “We don’t know how to take care of ourselves and our world anymore.”
Doing folk education at Marine Mills connects inner development, through community engagement, to practical change on the outside. I’ve discussed the inner creator. The school also focuses attention on supporting both teachers and students to creating a livelihood from their “products.” This broad intention also supports greater economic development in the local community.
And the circle extends beyond to life more globally.  Even though this idea was offered humbly, as a “secret agenda,” it seemed a natural extension of a school for life: “through fostering connections, we aim to create world peace!”  

Chris Spicer

New Folk Schools

Life.School.House Folk School

Jennifer DeCoste, Founder of the Life.School.House folkschool network in Nova Scotia Canada sat down with us during the International Folk High School Summit in Denmark in September 2019 to share the story of this barter-based, community development project that is inspiring nimble, cost-free folkschool start ups in Canada.

"Seventy-five years ago my grandfather started CJFX - a community owned radio station in a small town in rural Nova Scotia.  His dream at the time was to use the brand new technology of radio to connect farmers and coal miners and shop keepers with the economic and social benefits of education. In 2018, I read an autobiography about his work and was inspired to start a pilot project called LifeSchoolHouse Cooperative where we are leading a resurgence of folkschools in Nova Scotia. Using old “technology” of kitchen tables we are hosting learning opportunities in communities across Nova Scotia. During the pilot year we offered our own home as a community hub, providing free space to 50+ non-professional facilitators who came to share their expertise on a broad range of subjects from Indian cooking classes to carpentry, soap making to canning, gardening and more. From inception, LifeSchoolHouse has been a barter community. This means our space is always offered for free and the facilitators are compensated only by way of bartered items brought by the class attendees, reducing the financial barrier to participation – all are welcome. The barter system and the use of casual and inviting venues has made it possible to offer cross-cultural and multi-generational learning in an organic way.”

During the Summit, Jennifer shared a link to a model of barter-based folkschooling that LifeSchoolHouse has created. Her goal is to support others across North America to use the platform of folkschool education to reduce the impact of social isolation, and to build greater connections between neighbours in communities.

"Within the first year our model required expansion because the classes we were offering in our home were filling within minutes and we had thousands of followers. Our scaling plan was never designed to offer more classes in one home, despite the demand. Instead we wanted to use this model to develop a greater skill for participatory citizenship in communities. To that end we have launched a network of support for individuals in communities who are interested in offering their own folkschools. We have built this network as a platform to develop leaders in community who know how to create safe learning spaces using the folkschool model. Our current network has grown in 10 months to include 12 regionally based hosts who use LifeSchoolHouse as a banner under which to act as community convenors, connectors and hosts.”

If you would like to know more about the LifeSchoolHouse model, visit them at  Their model is free to download at Anyone interested in applying this model is encouraged to reach out - the network is a supportive community ready to partner across North America!
Photo above:  Tarah Gibbon, a folk school host, at her farm in West Hants, Nova Scotia.
Photo below: Jennifer DeCoste addressing a session at the Summit in Denmark.

Journal of a Folk School Founding
Happiness Hills Folk School

Dear World,
This chapter in the development of our folk school could be called “hurry up and wait.” But sometimes while you wait for something bigger, good and necessary things happen. We’re in a holding pattern at the farm as far as additional facilities go, but we have been told that our request for a business permit from our county government has been approved and our license is forthcoming. While we wait for the license and for the process of requesting permits to build two additional log cabins, we have installed two adorable storage sheds, small enough that we don’t have to ask permission to set up. We intend to finish those out in the next few weeks and use them as tiny bunk houses for trans-America cyclists and… you guessed it… Folk School participants!
The process of getting the sheds delivered is always fun. Around here, a guy named Noah is the best delivery person. Noah brought both of our little sheds on the same day, before dawn. He left one in the front field while he navigated around the campfire and the entrance fence with the other one on his trailer, setting it down perfectly where we had put stakes in the lawn. He then spent the next hour making it perfectly level, lifting one side and then the other with the controls on his amazing truck, and placing cinderblocks in solid pillars underneath at regular intervals.  It was quite a process – our farm is called Happiness Hills for a reason! When at last he was satisfied, he went and got the other shed and started the process again. Before he started leveling the second shed, we shared a cup of coffee on a bench by the campfire. I like Noah – he’s a kind man who knows his trade and doesn’t mind taking the time to do things right. He has delivered a few other sheds for my family and me, and it is always nice to see him.
By the time both sheds had been set up and our little barn (which we call the BarneBarn – Danish for grandchild) was moved aside to make room for them, the temperature had climbed to nearly 90 degrees and it was time for lunch. Noah left for another job, hopefully in a shaded place, and another piece of our dream for the farm had been put in place.
Next, insulation, electric lines, interior walls and built-in bunks – a fun autumn project for our farm family!

Jennifer Rose Escobar
Happiness Hills Folk School

Olympia Folk School Brings Evergreen Learning Philosophy to Community

Stacey Waterman-Hoey had just returned home to Olympia from a trip to the Port Townsend Fiddle Tunes Festival inspired to harness the energy around the revival of American folk traditions to fight climate change.

“I was blown away because over the course of the week there were 10,000 people that came up there to learn traditional American fiddle tunes,” said Waterman-Hoey.

It was 2012 and as one of Washington’s top experts on climate change — she’d spent nearly two decades trying to influence the public’s understanding of it through data. But it didn’t seem to be working.

“I discovered that all the data and information in the world is not enough to change people’s minds,” said Waterman-Hoey.

She returned to Olympia, quit her job and went about founding the state capital’s first folk school.

A tile mosaic piece made for a tiny house
development made to house Olympia’s
homeless community hangs on the wall
at Arbutus Folk School.

Folk schools have roots in 19th century Denmark where they were developed to inspire cultural pride and to help the country transition to democracy. They began springing up in the United States in the early 1900s as American communities were struggling to bring together economic, political and educational experiences to empower citizens.

Waterman-Hoey says, they are even more relevant today, in the face of the growing climate crisis.

“The school is really directly linked to my concerns about climate change and the disruption of the global economy,” said Waterman-Hoey. To read the full article, reprinted from ThurstonTalk, click here. 
Photos courtesy of The Evergreen State College.

New 11-Book Series
on Folk High School Education

As a part of the celebration of the 175th anniversary of the Danish folk high schools,  a series of books is being published and will be available soon.   10 Lessons from the Folk High School is a series of 11 short books, of which this first stands as the introduction. Each of the subsequent volumes examines one characteristic of the folk high school – its origin and its relevance for the past, for the future, for Denmark and for the world at large – and shows how it finds expression in folk high school practice today.

All the books consist of one longer text, presenting the theme, and then 4 praxis perspectives from practitioners, for different angles on the theme. It is for use both internally among folk high schools, and also for other school settings that wish to become inspired by the folk high school.

The books titles are:
0. A Foray into Folk High School Ideology – the history - Ove Korsgaard

1. Become Yourself - to be a master of your own life - Leo Komischke-Konnerup

2. Learn for Pleasure - about a curriculum and exam-free school - Lene Tanggaard

3. Becoming a People - about popular education -Iben Benedikte Valentin

4. Learn for Life - about life enlightenment - Regner Birkelund

5. Take Responsibility - about democratic citizenship - Bjørn Hansen

6. Learn with your Body - by hand and spirit - Helle Winther

7. Sing Together - about the common song - Dy Plambeck

8. Tell Stories - about the living word - Hanne Kirk

9. Learn Together - about experience-based teaching - Johan Lövgren

10. Live Together - about residential schooling - Rasmus Kolby Rahbek

Language and publication
All the books will be published in both English and Danish. The first book is to come at the beginning of may, while the last book is published in november. From May to November the published books will be launched at different events.

Pre-order the series here:

Board News and Notes

  • Jerry Jackson recently attended the American Craft Council conference in Philadelphia October 10-12.  The theme of the conference was “The Present Tense 2019.” 
  • Chris Spicer and Mary Cattani are working on a new introduction to the 10th anniversary republication of Chris’s book, Lifted by the Heart.
  • Jennifer Escobar’s planned folk school "Happiness Hills" has recently gotten a boost from the addition of some new buildings - storage and potential dorm space (see article).
  • In September 2019, all four FEAA officers of the board were fortunate to be able to attend the Danish Folk High School Summit in Denmark to help celebrate the 175th anniversary of the first folk high school (see lead article). 
  • Former board member Jason Gold, founder of the "Michigan Folk School," announced its recent Grand Opening at Staebler County Farm Park, on October 12, 2019.  The farm is part of Washtenaw County Park near Ann Arbor. 
  • Marilyn Jackson is organizing a conference at WISR in Berkeley, "Transforming Ourselves and the World," October 24-26. 

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

Copyright © 2019 Folk Education Association of America, All rights reserved.

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