Ted Carpenter was a self-described "'60s run-around activist" who was interested in adult education. In 1968 the young Canadian came to the Upper Cumberland area of Appalachia to work as a VISTA volunteer. 1 Appalachia's problems were varied and complex, and government and private programs often neglected the people of the region, concentrating instead on industrial and natural resource development. Carpenter supervised VISTA's community development programs for several surrounding counties in eastern Tennessee. 2
When his VISTA service ended, Carpenter and his family continued living on a small farm in the hills, doing odd jobs in order to remain in the region. In 1970, out of the blue, he was awarded a Ford Foundation fellowship for leadership development. The fellowship gave him the freedom to do whatever he wanted for a year, with a substantial stipend to travel, live, and study.
Carpenter was particularly interested in investigating techniques for adult community education that emphasized learning from experience rather than formal curricula--" learning with a culture around it," as he phrased it. It was a principle he found perfectly expressed by a storekeeper in Blackey, Kentucky, who said: "I've a feelin' that any kind of learnin' by adults will be incidental to their learnin' of something that they're vitally interested in. I'd just expect that more middle-aged coal miners have learned to read since they've been tryin' to find out about the black lung benefits, than in any time in history."3 During the fellowship year Carpenter studied at the Highlander Center in New Market and at the Tennessee Technological University at Cookeville. At Highlander, he was introduced to a model for understanding Appalachia4 and the new regionalism emerging from the traditional mountain culture. The University at Cookeville introduced him to video. 5
The Highlander Center was founded in the '30s, an outgrowth of