Re: Folk Schools

Robin Martin (roses9@IDT.NET)
Wed, 28 Jan 1998 15:39:24 -0700

At 04:36 PM 1/24/98 -0500, you wrote:
>I went to your web site and read your essay on the Highlander
>School and found it fascinating. Excellent work!!

Thanks! :)

>The lack of tests and age segregation seem to bear >similarities
>to the Sudbury model. However, I am curious; apparently the
>"subject matter" that folk schools focus on (e.g. oppressive >situations,
social issues, celebrating culture and life) >seem to be moderately
specific. This makes me think that >students there must not have quite the
same degree of >freedom of choice as they do
>in a Sudbury School. If they do have the freedom to do what >they want and
the staff is not "steering" or "leading them" >into discussions, how is the
Highlander School able to >predict that students will focus on these
particular types >of issues?


Good question. While I'm not an expert on this form of schooling by any
means, I'll try to give it a stab. As I understand it, at Highlander at
least, the trends in the community is what determined the "topics" that got
discussed, and Highlander simply established a reputation for being about
social-action, so those are the kinds of people who gravitated toward it.
Also, once a group of people and a MAJOR issue was identified, as an
organization, they made the conscious choice to focus work in helping
people rally & organize themselves around those issues, by providing a
peaceful "retreat" where people could get together & engage in critical
reflection (praxis). Often, they would stick with "major" social issues
for 10 years or so, rather than jumping around and spreading themselves too

So, in some sense, Highlander is not about the sort of "freedom" that
Sudbury is about, as they were designed with very different intents. Yet,
within the overall framework of educational institutes, Highlander still
offers a great deal more freedom related to what & how one learns than most
educational institutes.

I heard one story, that at one point during some intense labor disputes in
the 30's (?), a group of distraught workers came to Highlander, and one man
actually held a gun to Myles Horton's head, insisting that he TELL them how
to solve their problems. But, Miles could not, even under this duress, as
he was committed to the idea that only people coming together as
communities can solve their own problems.

It's also interesting to note, that just prior to the big civil rights
movements of the 60's, Highlander hosted such "learners" as Rosa Parks as
well as Martin Luther King. Thus, as they work directly with people in the
community, they have always tended to be somewhat "ahead" of the social

So, anyway, while I think that some folk schools may sometimes tend to put
together "holistic" topics to educate learners about, the ideal as started
by Highlander is to allow the concerned members of the community to
"choose" the major topics which will be discussed, as well as the means for
finding "solutions." Then, the members of Highlander become like learners
themselves and are free as is anyone to offer suggestions for reflections
related to the social issue at hand.

Hope this begins to address your question. For a better answer, you can
read some of the books which I listed in the Reference section of that
online article.

Best regards,