Amerikansk højskoleformand: "Our situation has improved under Trump"

Publiceret 10-12-2020

UDLAND Joe Biden erstatter snart Donald Trump i Det Hvide Hus. Vi skrev til Jennifer Escobar, der er formand for USA’s højskolenetværk The Folk School Alliance og leder af et nyt højskoleprojekt i Kentucky, for at spørge, hvilken betydning valget får for dem.

Af FFD's internationale afdeling

Please provide a short description of your folk school?

Happiness Hills Farm in Berea, Kentucky had its first folk school experience in 2018, with a blacksmithing weekend. Since then we have hosted a few individual gatherings for music, dance, and painting workshops. Our family and friends/colleagues have been in deep conversation about establishing a ten-week session for young adults, which we will call “Learning for Life”. We had planned to offer the first session in January 2021, but COVID got in the way and we have postponed opening until January 2022.

Our learning sessions will include “life skills” such as accounting, auto maintenance, home maintenance, family & relationship dynamics, wellness, and spiritual health, along with experiences in music, dance, painting, woodworking, stonema- sonry, forestry, cooking, and storytelling.

Is the new political landscape with Joe Biden as president going to change your conditions and role as folk school compared to the Trump presidency?

I don't think the political landscape will change what we're doing here, except I'm afraid our property taxes will go up – they usually do when there's a Democrat in charge. Unfortunately, the idea of "taxing the rich" often includes higher taxes on people who own land and buildings. We're not a nonprofit organization here because we're doing this on our personal farm, rather than on a site that belongs to an organization with a Board of Directors.

As a regular business, we receive lots of income tax breaks because our expenses are always higher than our income, but even those tax breaks are generally less under Democrat leadership. There are some good things that Democrats support, but the bottom line is that their leadership is always more expensive for property owners and small businesses. Honestly, our situation has improved under Trump and we're concerned about what a Biden presidency will bring economically.

How does your folk school observe and approach the challenges of polarization in the American population?

Every election cycle seems to bring more polarization to our society. Americans are not alone in our experience of this polarization; the world seems to be suffering from it as well, and it is promoted by a news media that is obsessed with conflict and “spin”. I know that folk schools are uniquely able to bring together people of different backgrounds, opinions, and perspectives, and create a balanced and beautiful experience for them which changes them for the better.

Læs også: Vi lever i et eksistentielt tomrum

We have fewer and fewer safe spaces for people to speak their true opinions. Many times the spaces that promise to be "safe" are only safe for one side of the issue, and people – especially young adults – exist in the "quiet desperation" of unspoken concerns and unanswered questions. Our family and our farm are uniquely able to facilitate an open atmosphere where people feel welcome to speak and be heard – which is the only place to start if we truly want to reach understanding across our divides.

What is the most important contribution that you as a folk school can provide for the American society?

Young adults in America are less likely to go straight from high school to college than they were a decade or two ago, when college was a foregone conclusion, especially for "smart" kids. Some might blame the cost of education, but I'm not so sure. Colleges and universities are comparatively expensive here, it's true, but with scholarships offered in plenty, students are usually able to find an affordable path.

My observations of my own children and the high school and college students that I teach on a regular basis have led me to other theories, and I believe that a folk school for young adults would be very, very welcome among that population right now. In fact, I think it's exactly what that population needs right now!

I'm a bit of a renegade in my thinking, but I am following in great footsteps – most of the people who have done what turned out to be deeply meaningful things for their fellowman have been renegades, including Grundtvig! I think young adults want a place away from their family home where they can spread their wings but don't yet have to commit themselves to a field of study or to a multi-year obligation.