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Dawn Murphy

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Folk School Alliance

news | spring 2017

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:

Circle Pines Center - Feature School
Herman and Inez Duke Tate of Chicago with a very early Circle Pines sign.

From the Ashland Folk School to Circle Pines Center: A Legacy of Progressive Education in Michigan

The Ashland Folk School in Grant, Michigan was created by a distinct immigrant group -Danish immigrants- in the 1880s under Grundtvigian ideals and with a goal of the preservation of Danish identity. In time, though, it evolved into a space for folks much less culturally homogeneous. Concern for the preservation of Danish culture lessened as the concerns over social and political issues in America became the guiding force in the lives of Danish immigrant families. After closing for a time because of anti-immigrant sentiments after World War I, Ashland reopened in the late 1920s no longer exclusively Danish. Commonality among participants was no longer chiefly ties to life in the old country, but rather, commonality was found in life in America. As such, Ashland came under decidedly non-Danish leadership in 1927. The next two directors, John Kirkpatrick and Chester Graham, would serve to steer Ashland in a progressive and American direction. Progressive ideas in education, society and politics now poured into the school. It became a place not just for Danish Americans to feel comfortable but for individuals from other groups to feel comfortable as well. The traditional folk school program of singing, dancing, recreation, and discussion was being carried out at Ashland now amongst a racially, religiously, and ethnically diverse body of participants. Its Grundtvigian past attracted American progressives throughout the late 1920s until its close in 1938 with such figures as John Dewey and Arthur E Morgan who lent their endorsement in Ashland promotional literature, and the unionizing work of folks like Walter Reuther of the United Auto Workers. In its last decade Ashland had become a part of the American progressive circles that later would become the Civil Rights Movement.

In his autobiography Chester Graham relates that Ashland outgrew its building by the spring of 1938 and needed more space to accommodate the number of participants it was attracting. Feeling that its growth was being hindered, Graham found the recently built Civilian Conservation Corps’ Chief Noonday Camp in Middleville, Michigan and pursued renting it for the 1938 summer season. By late spring the Ashland building had been condemned by the local fire marshal and programming was never to resume there again. In the course of the move from Grant to Chief Noonday, the folks from Ashland became a cooperative, decided to call themselves Circle Pines Center, and leadership was transferred from Chester Graham to David Sonquist. After renting Chief Noonday camp for a few summers, the newly created Circle Pines Center cooperative had purchased its permanent home in nearby Delton, Michigan. It has enjoyed this Civil War era farm of nearly 300 acres as home ever since.

As safe places for the experimentation of radical ideas both late Ashland and early Circle Pines had the distinction of being “a home away from home” to many. The progressive social and political ideas of Ashland carried to Circle Pines with the many significant social, cultural and political organizations, figures and ideas that came to and through the early Circle Pines, such as Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman, James Farmer, and many others who were a part of a weeklong conference of the progressive National Council of Methodist Youth at Circle Pines in 1941. (One of the efforts of the National Council of Methodist Youth was putting an end to conscription.) David Sonquist, Chester Graham, and others, tapped into the Danish tradition of cooperation to foster and promote the cooperative movement in the American Midwest, in the form of consumer, farmer, and recreation cooperatives, by conducting week long camps on cooperation at Ashland throughout the 1930s. These efforts, too, carried from Ashland to Circle Pines with the decision to establish the project that would become Circle Pines Center as a cooperative the moment it left Ashland and began at Chief Noonday Camp. An integrated and inclusive safe place to learn, enjoy and grow, as both individuals and members of a society, in a noncompetitive and cooperative way seems to be what the leaders and participants involved with Ashland sought to continue in Circle Pines.

Nearly 80 years in, Circle Pines Center has a long history of cooperative education with its youth summer camp which has been operating since its first summer at Chief Noonday Camp in 1938. Among other long running programs are the maple syrup weekends, apple cider weekends, Spanish immersion weekends, and the more recently created weeklong People’s Institute and the three day Buttermilk Jamboree. The People’s Institute seeks to revive an old tradition at Circle Pines of extended adult discussion with a call to action around difficult issues like climate change, immigration policies, and human and animal rights. The Buttermilk Jamboree is both a music festival and a folk school experience for about 1600 people of all ages, young and old. June saw Buttermilk’s 7th year.

Work projects in the garden, trail building, maintenance, and construction, as well as experiences in animal care, food preservation and many other traditional arts are an ongoing part of life at Circle Pines. Programming is always enjoyed by both the membership and the larger public from all over the United States and beyond. In addition to all the learning and sharing that participants experience there is also a good deal of rest, relaxation and physical recreation to be had on the beautiful grounds with walks in the woods, berry picking, plein air drawing and painting, swimming and boating, folk dancing, group sing-a-longs, poetry readings and winter skiing and snow shoeing. Throughout the decades progressive thinkers have come to Circle Pines Center to experience cooperative learning in a relaxed, rural setting with an amazing and important history. Learn more about Circle Pines Center at


Christyl Burnett has been a friend and neighbor to Circle Pines Center since 2001. This article is part of a larger paper she working about the early history of Circle Pines.

The Circle Pines farmhouse in 1939 or 1940. This farmhouse still is the center of life at Circle Pines.
Director Sonquist and early 'Piners' review site plans drawn by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Finnish American Folk School - New School
Heritage Center to Launch Finnish American Folk School

A new folk school in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan has defined a special mission for its work!  “Although our region maintains a strong ethnic pride in its Finnish roots, the loss of language and traditional arts and crafts has left many among our residents very little onto which they can attach their ethnic identity,” says Finnish American Heritage Center Director, Jim Kurtti. So he and his staff at Finlandia University’s Finnish American Heritage Center are spearheading an effort to establish a Finnish American Folk School in the Upper Peninsula’s Copper Country, Hancock, Michigan, bringing experts from Finland to reintroduce traditional crafts to the region.

To begin, programming is centered on traditional Finnish celebrations–January’s Heikinpäivä festival, the Juhannus (Midsummer) events in June, and the new Festival Ruska each fall. Initial courses at the folk school will connect experts in Finnish traditional folk arts, both from Finland and from the Upper Midwest, with people interested in learning and sustaining traditions, who will then become the next generation of tradition bearers in the region.

The first year began with the re-introduction of the folk instrument, the virsikannel (psalmodikon) to the Finnish community. This one-stringed instrument was used particularly in religious contexts.  In June premiere Finnish fiddler Arto Järvelä will share his vast knowledge of the Finnish fiddling and other folk music in a series of presentations during Juhannus ’17. In September, a master boat maker will conduct class for making a traditional Finnish boat, using facilities in local high school, with opportunities for community members as well building a Finnish-style wooden boat. Kurtti explained:  “Our community is disposed to and interested in Finnish programming.  We simply need to …develop ‘new’ local tradition bearers.” This exciting process will begin at the folk school in September 2017. 

Florida Folk School - New School

The Folk School at the Florida Maritime Museum launched in January 2017

The Folk School at Florida Maritime Museum, located in the historic commercial fishing village of Cortez, launched in January 2017. Classes seek to teach heritage skills, that were traditionally passed down from generation to generation. Due to the expanding geographic distance between families, a new way of passing on information to new generations needs to emerge.


The mission of the Folk School’s parent organization, the Florida Maritime Museum (FMM), is to collect, preserve and share traditional knowledge, cultural artifacts and personal stories specific to Florida’s maritime heritage. The Folk School enables FMM to take this mission a step further with hands-on classes formulated to not only learn and preserve classic skills, but to share stories, build community and grow appreciation for the history of Cortez and the greater surrounding area.


Some of the skills and crafts offered include: making soap, making Kombucha (a fermented tea), basic and advanced fermentation, crochet, hand-coloring photographs, pine cone quilting, canning and more. Looking back to Cortez’s fishing heritage, some classes have a distinctly maritime theme including: shell mosaics (a traditional craft of sea shell cultures which produce a beautiful result), and knot tying and net mending (without the knowledge of knots or ropes, there could be no net making for fishing).


With a focus on providing a supportive environment, the Folk School provides a place where anyone can come to learn skills that instill the community with a sense of pride in the local culture.

Aa Strand - Danish Folk High School Feature

Aa Strand - Kursus og Retræte/ Aa Strand (Creek beach)- Course and Retreat Center

“Old Wine in New Bottles”

For a little more than one and a half centuries, the ideas and philosophies of N.F.S. Grundtvig have been alive in Denmark and have created an enormous impact on our whole society, its people and institutions, specifically through the idea and practice of the folk high schools.  It seems that the philosophies and beliefs of Grundtvig supported a balance in Danish society between a commitment to a greater whole, and a great respect of the individual, leaving both parts equally important. My generation has lived the benefits of this history and mindset.

However – the times they are a’ changin’ – and the transition, through rational, into a more global mindset and structure, seems to be a difficult one for both our country and its individuals and demands are high. People stumble with stress and fear.

Therefore, to help respond to this challenge,  a group of people, most of us with a Grundtvigian background, have started what we call “Aa Strand- Course and Retreat Center,” in order to bring back that balance, but hopefully in a new sphere. Our goal is to:

  • Run Aa Strand- Course and Retreat Center with a focus on promoting wholesome thinking and openness in the individual as well as in society.

  • To create a cozy and simple course and retreat center surrounded by beautiful nature, peace, and a good opportunity for contemplation.

  • To rent out the center for course and retreat leaders and others who can support the goals of the institution, and who wish to hold courses/retreats in relaxed and peaceful surroundings.

  • To be an active participant in a situation where our society is facing bigger and bigger developmental and human challenges.

We hope to host lots of courses and retreats that can support healthy lives for individuals through education and stillness. We hope to host many teams of teachers, workers, therapists, etc. who need to pull the plug for some days on their busy lives to develop some new ideas. All in support for more openness and wholeness both in the individual and on our beautiful, common planet. Once the frame is set, we plan to run our own silent retreats for individuals, focusing like Grundtvig – on our hearts. <3


*Mette Hoejland, is a folk High School teacher at Nordfyns Hoejskole, teaching the main class, “Global Future.”   As of very recently, she is also the leader of a new project, the “Aa Strand Course and Retreat Center,”  focusing on creating a good space for contemplation of openness and wholeness in the society and the individual.

News from the Board

Board Happenings

For the past 8 months, the FEAA Board has been meeting "over coffee" coast to coast for a "Skype style" monthly meeting.  Much has been accomplished as we work to improve our outreach to the many new folk schools that have emerged in the last decade, and continue to emerge across the country.

One of our projects, this newsletter, hopes to include articles about historical folk schools, pieces about the philosophy of folk schools, interviews with established and new folk school people and their programs, and news from around the country.  We're working to bring you inspiring coverage of folk education, as well as to increase our connections with each other as folk educators. And we’re on the lookout for those inspired folk educators who want to reach out beyond their own schools and think about a place on our FEAA board.

And of course our board members are continually involved in conversation with folk school advocates wherever we find them. Marilyn Jackson is developing an on-line program called Community Conversations. Newsletter editor Mary Cattani is traveling to Washington State to visit some folk schools in the Northwest.  Vicky Eiben and Dawn Murphy, and others, will attend the American Association of Adult and Continuing Education (AAACE) conference in Nashville, Tennessee this fall. Carol Voigts and Chris Spicer are gathering historical leads and stories of folk schools connections to be used in future newsletters.   So the circle keeps widening and the Board is excited about new folk school life emerging.

~ Carol Voigts
Folk School Roots: The School for Life Book Review

Broadbridge, E., Warren, C. & Jonas, U. (2011). The School for Life: N.F.S. Grundtvig on Education for the People. Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus University Press, 440 p./illus. (audio CD included). ISBN: 978 87 7124 002 3: $64.00 (hardcover). 

Reviewed by: Dawn Jackman Murphy, Marie Fielder Center for Democracy, Leadership, and Education, Fielding Graduate University, Santa Barbara, California.

For those English-speaking communities interested in the origins and history of folk education and adult education in Scandinavia, The School for Life: N.F.S. Grundtvig on Education for the People provides a charming and much-needed entry point. Broadbridge, Warren, and Jonas, take the reader or listener (an audio CD is included with the book) on an exploratory journey through Grundtvig’s seminal writings on education and life and connect his philosophies to the long and robust history of folk high schools and adult education in Scandinavia and beyond.

Would it surprise you to know that Grundtvig and his theories of education and learning sprang from the influences of the American and French Revolutions, as well as his experience with sterile and mechanistic instruction? The editors and translator invite readers to share in Grundtvig’s frustration with the educational opportunities of the time (see “The School for Death” (p. 195)), and to celebrate his ideas of the ‘historic-poetic’ and his call for a “different kind of learning [that] not only extends to all that is knowable, but embraces it as a living idea and with a common purpose” — the enlightenment of human life (p. 62). The democratic ideals let loose in the 18th century helped to form an enduring educational approach that at its core emphasizes empowerment for peoples and set a structure for cultivating community.

This book is organized in three sections; it opens with Ove Korsgaard’s essay addressing Grundtvig’s philosophy of enlightenment and education, continues with chronologically presented samples of Grundtvig writings, and ends with a Clay Warren essay focusing on international reception of Grundtvigian educational ideas.  The book draws from Grundtvig’s poetic mythologies, song lyrics, philosophical and anthropological musings, and responses to events of the time. The editors and contributing essayists illustrate his impact on the people and civil society of Denmark while inviting the reader to entertain broader connections to contemporary conceptions of adult learning (andragogy) and lifelong learning. Considering the prolific nature of non-English analysis and resources on Grundtvig (largely Danish), the editors have done an exceptional job of selecting broadly, while providing illuminating extracts that tell the story of the conceptual birth of schools for life through the growth of the “folk high school.”

The committed reader will have no trouble in devouring the essays and engaging with Grundtvig through Broadbridge’s translation; the length of the book (440 pages) does, however, present challenges to the casual reader. The editors solve this problem by including an excellent audio recording with the text. Have you always wondered whether you are pronouncing “Grundtvig” correctly? Well, while you travel through time, song, and philosophy with this book, you will also emerge with a strong hold on the pronunciation of the name of its inspiring focus courtesy of Broadbridge and Warren as the readers.

For years, I have encountered the photograph of Grundtvig by Adam Lønborg taken just five days before his death. From this photo, I gathered only the sense of a serious and stoic mind.  What I have found instead through this book and its translations is a vigorous, passionate, and inquiring mind fit not only for the transformational times of the 18th and 19th centuries, but one that can inspire the transformations of the 21st century as well.

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

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