Andragogy in the Appalachians: Myles Horton, the Highlander Folk School, and Education for Social and Economic Justice

Andragogy in the Appalachians: Myles Horton, the Highlander Folk School, and Education for Social and Economic Justice

Dennis Keefe (Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/IJAVET.2015070102
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In the field of adult education, one of the better known concepts is that of the Six Assumptions of Malcolm Knowles. These assumptions, according to Knowles, divide the world of pedagogy, defined as the art and science of teaching children, from that of andragogy, conceived as the art and science of helping adults learn. In the realm of education for older learners, myriad schools and programs dot the educational landscape, but one particularly unorthodox institution of adult education, the Highlander Folk School, led by activist educator Myles Horton, stands out for its teaching roles in the Union Labor Movement of the 1930s and 1940s, and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. This paper looks at Myles Horton of the Highlander Folk School, his background, education and preparation for establishing his lifelong dream of using alternative education among the “common uncommon people” for learning how to solve social and economic justice problems, and this paper then focuses on the extent to which the philosophy and teaching actions of Horton correspond to the Six Assumption Framework of andragogy as delineated by Malcolm Knowles.
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The Highlander Folk School: Reputation And Legacy

A quest for practical courses for adults to work on solving their social problems was made some 90 years ago when a young man from Tennessee, Myles Horton, decided that he wanted to go into education for adults rather than for children, and that he wanted to build his own special school to promote social justice and economic democracy in the southern part of the Appalachian mountains of Tennessee. He called his school, co-founded with activist Don West, The Highlander Folk School, and, interestingly, he located it on property owned by Dr. Lillian Johnson, a former student of John Dewey. For those of us in adult education, the value of studying this small, unorthodox school is that it helps to understand education and learning partly because “if our judgments about educational change were based only on conventional histories, our vision of alternative futures would be constrained (Adams, 1972, p. 497).

Starting in the early 1930s and continuing even today (with the name Highlander Research and Education Center), the Highlander Folk School has been developing courses for adults in social and economic justice, with themes dealing with the organization of workers, the addressing of civil rights issues, the fight against poverty in the Appalachians, and the resistance to corporate environmental degradation.

As we will see from a review of Highlander's history, Myles Horton was an idealist who remained dedicated to the goal of a “new social order” based on political and social democracy. Like Dewey, he believed strongly that education is one of the instruments for bringing this new social order into being (Thayer-Bacon, 2004).

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