Folk Schools Take All Forms
One of the first prominent folk schools in this country supported people who strived to acquire basic human rights through trainings, workshops, and gatherings in the south. FEAA wants to express gratitude for the work of the folks of this long-lived organization.
A social justice oriented folk school, Highlander Center, opened in 1932 in Tennessee and was known as a “beacon for organizing and leadership development” for groups involved in fighting black lung, strip-mining, unfair trade policies in Appalachia and civil rights. To this day, the folk school is a vibrant organization now called the Highlander Research and Education Center. Although it does not legally name itself as a folk school, the methods and style of education through trainings and workshops are similar to that of a folk school. A noteworthy aspect of teaching at Highlander is that teachers at Highlander were and still are led by the people most affected by oppression.
Over the last decades, Highlander has expanded its “support for young people and immigrants while supporting efforts to build bridges among African-Americans, immigrants, and poor and working-class whites across differences of races, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation and geography.” According to an article written by Andre Canty, a member of the development team at Highlander, the two areas of focus at Highlander are The Movement for Black Lives and economic transition in Appalachia.
Canty says that Highlander’s support for the Movement for Black Lives “calls for school systems to include curriculum that addresses material and cultural needs. Involved in this work is the importance of organizing whites to address racial justice.” Canty continued to explain that another critical issue “to our region is economic transition. The highest rates of poverty remain in the South, exceeding the national average. This affects every facet of life for youth, including access to education, health care and healthy food…Our Appalachian Transition Fellow program invests in emerging leaders who are thinkers, doers and problem solvers in central Appalachia by partnering with cross-sector organizations in host communities. The economics and governance curriculum we have developed encourages both visionary solutions and action.”
I echo Canty when I say that “social justice is a part of the American story.” We are all benefactors of social justice engagement, whether we recognize it or not. And what is more “folk school” than a social justice oriented folk school, organizing around human rights issues? Let Highlander be an example to us all in the folk school movement.