Reflections from the First Annual Wild and Wonderful Witty and Wacky Workshop Work Week at the Highlander Education and Research Center

Article excerpt

Highlander Education and Research Center's remarkable history is a source of inquiry and fascination for adult educators and community organizers alike. Scholars seeking to dissect Highlander's success have visited the Center to uncover the history, place, and methodology. Founded in 1932 by Myles Horton and Don West as an adult education center for social justice, Highlander continues to provide popular education for varying social justice movements. Its sustainability through social movement history is curious to many researchers, educators, and organizers because the survival of many popular education centers and even social movements is short. This paper is a reflection on the knowledge, skills, and attitudes experienced at Highlander's first annual Wild and Wonderful Witty and Wacky Workshop Work Week (W7). The reflection offers insight into strong educational practices for social justice.

A group of 30 eager Highlander enthusiasts gathered in New Market, TN, for the Center's first annual workshop work week May 25-29, 2009. The group was diverse, including organizers and academics from around the United States and Canada, as well as one popular educator from Thailand. The week offered an exciting opportunity to discover and engage in the spirit of Highlander through living and learning together. The group spent mornings in a circle of rocking chairs connecting through dialogue on the history of Highlander, popular education, organizing, movement building, and the history of social change. Through exchanges of our personal narratives and discussions of our relationships to land and place, the group established a safe comfortable place for teaching and learning. The "space" as it was referred to throughout the week, slowly expanded from the circle of rockers onto the sprawling 106 acres of Highlander's property. The afternoons were spent in service to the place of Highlander. As part of teams, we cleared trails along the mountain's ridge, labored in the new organic garden, thinned apples in the organic orchard, landscaped and maintained the grounds, painted recycle barrels, planted flowers, and constructed recycled pallet chairs and benches. Although these activities were a first for many of us, the teams ebbed and flowed together, exchanging and sharing insight and experience along the way. In the evenings we sang songs of justice, friendship, and struggle, and even danced! Guy and Candie Carawan, singers and activists of Highlander since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's, joined us for meals and singing. They shared stories of this spirited place and enthused in the arrival of new friends.

Popular Education

Phyllis Cunningham (1988) affirms that education can lead to social change in that "to the extent that adult educators can assist individuals in creating, disseminating, legitimizing, and celebrating their own knowledge (including cultural knowledge), social change can occur" (p. 137). Popular education, or education for social change, is the purpose of Highlander. Praxis, the dialectical unity of theory and practice, (Holst, 2002, p. 79) is the lynchpin of popular education--without it we are limited to what Paulo Freire calls verbalism or activism (2000). Adult educators recognize the critical nature of both theory and practice in the teaching and learning dialectic.

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At Highlander, the tension between theory and practice was evidenced in the roles of the academics and organizers. Verbalism, or theory without practice, lacks identity in voice and purpose for change and, therefore, remains neutral. Activism, or practice without theory, is concerned with mobilization and often neglects collective educative identity building for quick accomplishment of goals. For popular education to be successful, a balance must be struck in praxis, to promote longevity. In his autobiography, The Long Haul, Myles Horton (1998) connects education and action, ultimately favoring education. …