Progressive Education in the 21st Century – Second Edition
Edited By Susan F. Semel, Alan R. Sadovnik and Ryan W. Coughlan
Chapter 7. “The Answers Come from the People”: Education for Democracy at Highlander Folk School
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“THE ANSWERS COME FROM THE PEOPLE”
Education for Democracy at Highlander Folk School
Laura M. Westhoff
In the summer of 1928, twenty-three-year-old Myles Horton, future founder of Highlander Folk School, crisscrossed the rugged landscape of the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee serving as an itinerant youth minister for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).1 While he had grown up in a household of limited means in the lowlands of western Tennessee, the deprivation he witnessed in communities hidden up remote hollows and on mountain plateaus left him contemplating the meanness of extreme poverty, the ethical dilemmas, and the political dangers of economic inequality. One evening in the small mountain town of Ozone, he invited community members to an evening discussion. What happened that night occupies a prominent place in Horton’s accounts of the origins of Highlander Folk School. He reported that as the adults began discussing community problems, they turned to him to provide help. Caught off guard, Horton admitted he did not have answers for them. Instead, he suggested that they likely had enough experience to come up with solutions themselves. Horton watched as the discussion deepened, later reflecting that he learned a key lesson that would guide Highlander’s Folk School’s educational programs for the next sixty years: “you don’t have to know the answers. The answers come from the people.”2 It is not surprising in retrospect that Horton selected this story as Highlander’s origin—even if it...
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