FEAA History

FEAA has advocated and supported the use of people’s education at a national level for 25 years. Over these years, FEAA has moved from a national resource organization to a more locally-based Western Massachusetts organization.

FEAA was founded in 1976 in Berea, Kentucky as the Folk School Association of America (FSAA) with the purpose of advocating and organizing around the Scandinavian concept of the folk school as an adult learning center. Founders Kay Parke (NY State University College at Cobleskill) and John Ramsay (Berea College)- both students of N.F.S. Grundtvig and the folkhighschool – were aware of the long history of interest and study of these ideas in North America, and took action to formally organize that interest. Berea College was among a number of institutions in the Southern Appalachian region which were based in part on folk education principles. A similar rural settlement school association had been active in the 1970s. Similarly, the Midwest region had many individual and organizational descendants of late nineteenth century Scandinavian immigrants and history.

In the early days of the Folk School Association of America, members organized annual national conferences for those inspired by the folk education models. These meetings were sponsored by regional groups, primarily in the Appalachian region, the upper Midwest, and New England.

FSAA also published a quarterly journal, Option. (See a annotated bibliography of the whole history of Option in our Resource Center.) First edited by Pamela Corley and Sidney Farr at Berea College, the journal moved to homes of the various editors, notably Kay Parke, retired to Black Mountain NC, and in the final three years, Mary Cattani, one-time Director of the Scandinavian Seminar, in Amherst, MA.

Over the years, FSAA went through a couple of name changes which reflected the organization’s broadening scope. In 1990, it became the Folk Education Association of America (FEAA), and between 2001 and 2002, it operated as the Institute for People’s Education and Action (IPEA), the name of it’s primary activity. The “Institute” was an intensive five day summer institute for students and adult education practitioners. The change in focus from folk education to people’s education reflected the understanding that folk education is but one of a number of traditions of non formal adult education, including Latin American popular education, indigenous education, and participatory research. The new IPEA settled on the umbrella term “people’s education” to describe them. [The legal name of the organization remains Folk Education Association of America.]

The gatherings that began in 1998 were designed for activists and educators to connect with one another, share ideas and experiences, and develop new skills and practices – with the goal of enhancing our collective work for social justice. Focus topics at these well-attended gatherings have included participatory action research, popular video and theater as tools for change, popular education for economic literacy, and popular education for action on the environment. Participants of these gatherings have maintained membership in our network, influencing subsequent gatherings and engaging in collaborative projects with FEAA and with one another. The first three Institutes drew between 24 and 41 people from through North America, (with heavy representation from the New England states).

The 2001 institute teamed up with the newly-forming Cobscook Community Learning Center (CCLC) in Lubec, Maine to hold its Institute in Washington County, Maine. This institute was a huge success, drawing 70 participants in a range of courses focusing on the natural and social environment of rural Maine and the building of the learning center. Between 2002 and 2012, IPEA scaled down its activities, concentrating primarily on maintaining the web site.

The newest form of FEAA – the Folk School Alliance – was established in 2014 and currently operates this website.