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
Jason Gold
Mark Hansen
Marilyn Jackson
Carol Voigts

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Folk School Alliance

news | summer 2018

Welcome to the Folk School Alliance (FSA). 

Please email us:

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

In this issue:

PLEASE NOTE!  Two regional Folk School gatherings scheduled for September!

September 26-28 at the Danish American Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to explore “the role of the folk school in community.” For further information contact Vicky Eiben:

Also in September (dates to be announced), at South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia, Washington, another in person meeting.  For more information contact: Dawn Murphy:


Find more details in the article below.

Folk School Alliance moving into “A Community of Practice”

by Chris Spicer

The Folk School Alliance’s ever-growing network of folk education work is immersed in exciting new connections during 2018. Launched earlier this year, a grant from Fielding University’s “Social Transformation Project” - The Folk School Alliance Community of Practice: Creating Spaces for Social Transformation - has created opportunities for folk education dialogue, resource sharing, development, publications, and much more. The grant was initiated by FEAA (FSA) Board member Dawn Murphy as an outgrowth of her work as a doctoral student at Fielding. She is coordinating the grant activities, with the support of Fielding alum Project Directors Vicki Eiben (former FEAA Board member) and Chris Spicer (current Board member), and Fielding faculty member David Blake Willis.

At the heart of the grant activities are 3 forums for connection and collaboration:

The first and already underway is a series of monthly on-line meetings (using the video platform Zoom) when participants discuss a range of topics from school philosophy to nuts and bolts of folk school operational and sustainability. In the most recent meeting, 9 folk schoolers discussed the nuts and bolts of working with course instructors – from contracting issues to insurance liability to financing/fundraising. The meetings are held on the fourth Tuesday of the month and are announced on the Folk School Alliance Facebook page.

The Second forum is a in-person gathering at the Danish American Center in Minneapolis MN, September 26 – 28.  The 2-day meeting is designed to explore “the role of the folk school in community,” through discussions, presentations, mini-class displays and networking.  Vicki Eiben is coordinating this event. Contact her directly for more information:

The third forum is also an in-person gathering to be also held in September at South Puget Sound Community College in the Seattle area. Details on this event will be forthcoming – keep an eye on the Folk Alliance Facebook page for further information. Dawn Murphy will coordinate this event. Contact her at: .

The STP Grant lists a number of outcomes in the original proposal. These include:

• Increased collaboration at national and regional levels within the US Folk School Alliance membership.

• Greater connection for new US Folk Schools to the traditions of Grundtvigian Folk Education Philosophy and community development/empowerment through Popular Education.

• Video, audio, and print media resulting from asynchronous discussions and synchronous online and face-to-face meetings of the Folk School Alliance.

• Publications identifying and analyzing the trends of Folk Education in the US, with a focus on those trends impacting social transformation within the communities where folk schools are located and the potential for broader social transformation efforts through the Folk School Alliance.

Grant funds will primarily support the in-person gatherings in the Seattle and Minneapolis areas.

Journal of a Folk School Founding

This is a series by Jennifer Rose Escobar about starting a folk school at her family's farm, Happiness Hills Farm and Retreat Center, in Berea, Kentucky

Dear World,
I remember the first time I tried rappelling. I was with several other kids my age, under the leadership of a guide we all trusted completely. I was harnessed, clamped, booted, helmeted and gloved, and, since I’m always ready for an adventure, I was first in line. I knew my guide had done this before, other people less physically fit than I was had done it before, and by gum, I was going to do it. I walked up to the precipice, firmly grasping the rope that was lashed to a large tree, around my waist, through the carabiners, and dangling down the long, sheer rock face that was our descent. “OK, what now?” I asked. “Now you turn around and lean backwards over the edge.” Yes, I had seen the demo, but I hadn’t really considered what this first part would feel like. How much did I trust my rope? How much did I trust my guide? How much did I trust the other leader, positioned at the bottom of the cliff, controlling the tension of the rope? How much did I trust myself? I wanted to disappear into the forest and live a normal life of hiking the marked trails, and never, never again harness myself to a skinny little rope and lean…backwards!...over a cliff! But everyone was looking at me and I knew if I didn’t do it, neither would a few of the others, and the trip – and I – would be the poorer for it. I gulped what I felt could be my last breath of mountain air and leaned back.
That experience seems very relevant right now, as we have worked toward our first season of actual Folk School experiences at Happiness Hills. I have met with the instructors again to tweak the wording of our announcements, work on lesson plans, and gather materials. I have met several times with a dear lady who is helping with marketing, as a volunteer – bless her soul! I have talked with my insurance agency to be sure I’m covered for the crazy things we’re doing.
Harness, clamps, helmet, gloves…
I have been selected as a project for summer entrepreneurship students at Berea College, who will be designing a business model based on what I’m doing, and submitting it to a mock “Shark Tank” at the end of the summer. I have made arrangements with a delightful young man to come and be an intern here for several months, beginning in July. I have reached out to several others in my community who are already offering workshops, to form a collaborative that can be mutually beneficial to each other for marketing, support, audience development and space sharing.
Rope, anchor, guides…
When I hit “publish” on the website’s list of classes and events, that’s when the familiar tingling feeling began to happen in my stomach. And a few hours later when I responded to the first request for registration materials, it intensified. A few hours after that, I received the registration materials back via email, with payment. The moment of truth had arrived and it was time to lean back and trust my preparation, my partners, and the history of folk education. If not me, then who? If not now, then when? I accept. Me. Now.
What a rush! Just like the first moments after I went backwards over that cliff (and the many subsequent moments over other cliffs with other ropes), I’m exhilarated, unstoppable, and still a little petrified – but only a little, way, way down deep inside. LET’S DO THIS!

New Folk Schools

Southern Appalachian Folk School

This is a place where “passing down” happens. Southern Appalachian Folk School, in Jasper, Georgia, in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, opened its doors in 2018 with a mission to provide a “home place” for the preservation and sharing of their mountain culture with the world.   Following in the footsteps of the Danish folk school tradition of fostering a love for lifelong learning, and teaching the foundation skills practiced by rural farmers,  SAFS seeks to honor especially the aspect of their culture that allows for taking time to craft, observe, build and nurture until something is just right.

Pickens County, Georgia was once a thriving rural countryside fueled by the marble mining industry. Folks made their own furniture in their own wood shop,  and tools and horseshoes at their own forge. They raised crops and livestock, and hunted to feed their families. Quilts and clothes were handmade, and at night families gathered by the fire to make music and tell stories.

The founders realized that this culture was in danger of no longer being passed down through families and communities.  “Our mountain culture is the heritage and tradition of neighbor helping neighbor and skills learned from one and passed to another.  If it is to survive we must teach it. To teach it, we must have a school – a folk school.”

With the aim of eventually building a walkable residential campus for the school,  the founders are beginning with courses drawn from traditions of the various immigrant groups that settled the area in very hard times.  The skills they brought were as varied as the people themselves.  The “Scots-Irish” brought ballads and fiddle music. The Swedes and Finns brought woodsman skills and log cabin construction. The Welsh brought mining and metallurgical expertise.  The Cherokee natives of the region taught the newcomers how to plant and cultivate crops and the medicinal properties of hundreds of native herbs and roots.  

These traditions form the basis of the curriculum:   Woodworking,  Jewelry, Herbal Studies, Leatherwork, Quilting, Music,  Fiber Arts, Basketry, Chair Caning, Storytelling,  Soap Making.   These are taught by artists and craftspeople, including the founders:  Heather Poole, potter, C. Larry Wilson, potter, Debbie Brownlee, graphic artist, Rhonda Lindsey, poet, and Billy Roper, folk artist.


We use this column to bring historical and pedagogical accounts of the founding ideas and people of the Scandinavian folkhighschool to those who are creating the exciting 21st century expansion of folk schools in North America which we are witnessing.  We welcome your inquiries, suggestions, and writing as our folk school tree grows ever taller from its very deep roots. 

Grundtvig the Troublemaker 

By Mark Hansen

As the newest Board FEAA member, I thought it might be useful to share some information about a fascinating and inspirational figure in folk school history, Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig.  In my review of the recent FEAA survey results, I wasn’t surprised that Grundtvig was low on people’s interests or concerns.  Many do not know that the folk schools in Denmark grew out of his work.  As I’ve learned about NFS Grundtvig, I’ve wondered how it can be that a man who effected so much progressive change in his own country, is hardly recognized by folk school communities through-out the world.

NFS Grundtvig (1782-1873) was a Ghandian-like figure to the Danish people.  A man of great gifts, he was a theologian, leader of the Lutheran Church in Denmark, poet, scholar, historian, author, translator of ancient texts, politician, philosopher, polemicist, educator, linguist, social critic and troublemaker. Grundtvig wanted schools to serve the “those behind the plow”, “at the top of the mast”, or “in the market stall”
1, at a time when only the wealthy class were educated. His translation of ancient texts and his life-long work authoring his history of mankind, convinced him that each ethnic group, tribe, and nation on the earth had a valuable role to play in history.  He valued all philosophies and religious beliefs.  He wanted schools to show respect to the mind and the spirit of all individuals, honor their differences and value their stories. Although Grundtvig did not start folk schools himself, he was the inspiration for the very first folk schools in Denmark.

Grundtvig first came to my attention when I was a youngster listening to my grandfather, Reverend Harald Hansen, a pastor in the Norweigan Lutheran Church.  He was an admirer of Grundtvig, in spite of the fact, that the Lutheran Church in America took a dim view of the man, believing his ideas to be in conflict with its hierarchical leadership.  My grandfather liked to say that “If all the bishops were to disappear tomorrow, who would know the difference”.  He liked that Grundtvig had not been afraid to be a troublemaker in his support for the average citizen.  I turned to Grundtvig as I looked for direction as a boatbuilding instructor in the 1990s.  I was inspired by his emphasis on equality between instructor and student and showing respect for the prior knowledge and experience students bring to the classroom.  The use of story-telling to create a bond between the students and teachers was also favored by Grundtvig.   I have experienced that stories can create positive contagion that invites students into the process, creating a new awareness of self that Grundtvig called “enlightenment for life."

Although he died 145 years ago, I believe NFS Grundtvig has much to teach us today about how individuals are to be treated.  His respect and belief in the dignity of the individual, regardless of station in life, was considered radical in his time, but seems relevant today as we consider our own unequal wealth distribution.  The concepts “schools for the people”, “schools for life”3 where students can tell their own stories, and where their individual differences are respected, provide able direction as we fashion our own folk schools.

1. Borish, Steven M. The Land of the Living. Nevada City. Blue Dolphin Publishing, Inc. 1991,2004. P.172
2. Ibid,p 167
3. Knudsen, Johannes. Selected Writings NFS Grundtvig. Philadelphia. Fortress Press. 1971,1973. p. 148, 152 


News from the Board

New Board Member Mark Hansen!
The newest member of the FEAA Board, Mark Hansen, can hardly be mentioned without North House Folk School, the school he helped found in Grand Marais, MN, in 1997.  He taught there for 20 years and is still an important presence and contributor to what has become one of the most important folk schools in North America.  It grew almost overnight from a single class of 14 students Mark instructed in the craft of making inuit skin-frame kayaks in a Coast Guard boathouse, to an offering of 23 courses (with no classrooms), the acquisition of Forest Service buildings on the shores of Lake Superior, and the birth of North House.  Says Mark:  “We started North House with no funds and an all-volunteer crew. It operated on minimal funds for the first three years until we established relationships with interested people and organizations. “
Skin-frame kayaks are not the only thing Mark knows how to build, by any means. He learned the craft of wooden ski making from a master ski maker in the old Saami tradition and has taught that skill to many students.  Mark’s interests also include wooden work boat construction, from birch bark canoes to Norse prams, and toboggan and sled construction.
Mark is the grandson of a Grundvigian Lutheran Pastor and is steeped in the philosophical and pedagogical tradition that has given rise to the folk school movement. At North House he has helped create an environment that inspires lifelong learning, promoting and preserving the knowledge, skills, crafts and stories of the past and present in a student-centered environment. We are honored to welcome him to our board. 

FEAA Board News and Notes

We have a new Chair of the Board, Jennifer Rose Ramsay Escobar!  Only two months into her tenure, she has already begun to substantially help us organize the various projects of the board, so we are delighted to learn that she has not just musical, but also organizational talent.  We are very pleased that her folk school farm continues to take shape, as you can read in the article in this newsletter on that subject.  

Jason Gold is in a whole new phase with the Michigan Folk School since the acquisition of land for a campus in the Ann Arbor area.   The latest news is that an archeological site, an ancient indigenous burial ground, has been discovered where the construction on the new campus was to have been, so the building site has been moved to another location on the property.  

Dawn Murphy is hard at work on her research on the development of the US folk school movement, and is holding a series of very successful online meetings where expertise is shared among participants in the “Community of Practice.”   Read more about it all in the article in this newsletter.  

Mary Cattani has been building the web list of schools with the help of Dawn and Marilyn Jackson, our tech expert, and is taking great pleasure in watching the network grow.  Our board is staying busy and engaged!! 

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

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