The Folk Education Association of America (FEAA) was established in 1976 in Berea, Kentucky as the Folk School Association of America, to advocate and organize 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) were students of the 19th century Dane, N.F.S. Grundtvig, whose philosophy lies behind the movement, and aware of the long history of interest and study of these ideas in North America. They took action to organize that interest formally with the creation of the Folk Education Association of America.
FEAA has grown through several phases of development over the years (see “Read More” below). Most recently, in 2014, a new project was created, within the long-lived national organization, by a group of young people calling their project “The Folk School Alliance,” (FSA). The group was interested in forging links with a wave of new folk schools springing up all over the USA and Canada. Over the next several years, the Folk School Alliance (FSA) emerged as the leading project of FEAA with additional projects forming as a result of increased communication and collaboration within and through the Alliance (i.e., Leading from the Roots: 2018-2022, The Folk Education Network: 2022-ongoing, North American Folk School Researchers: under-development, Black and Black-Indigenous Folk Educator CoP: under-development, and Member Micro-Loans: under-development).
The FEAA also maintains connection and partnership with its roots in Scandinavia through collaborations with the Danish Folk High School Association, the Global Network of Folk High Schools Facebook Group, and the Global Network of Folk high School Researchers (GNFR).
This latest “wave” of folk school birthing in North America began in the late 1990s and includes new and contemporary forms of folk schools, which are nevertheless still rooted in the history that FEAA was formed to represent. This resurgence amounts to a “movement,” and the FSA, under the auspices of FEAA, works to honor the extraordinary scope of this 21st century phenomenon. Together they are cultivating connections between schools, maintain a web site, social media presence ( Facebook and Instagram), and as of 2018, a facilitate virtual Community of Practice and provide support for Community-based Participatory Action Research.
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. 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 non formal adult education forms, including Latin American popular education, indigenous education, and participatory research. The new IPEA settled on the umbrella term “people’s education” to describe them all. [The legal name of the organization remained 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 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 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 project of FEAA – the Folk School Alliance – was established in 2014 and currently operates this website.