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Accepted Paper:

The “living word” lives on in Wisconsin  
Julie Shackelford (The International People's College)

Paper short abstract:

A century ago, the Scandinavian folk high school tradition deeply influenced the success of the Progressive Movement in Wisconsin. Its influence lives on today in a variety of ways, offering inspiration and a model to follow during this current era of precarity, uncertainty, and crisis.

Paper long abstract:

The paper adds to a relatively small but growing body of anthropological research examining the spread and transformation of the unique Scandinavian folk high school idea beyond its traditional Northern European borders. The state of Wisconsin has been chosen as the case study, a state located in the upper Midwest region of the United States that is known both for its historically high level of Scandinavian immigration as well as for being a leader in the U.S. Progressive Movement (late 1890s-late 1910s). As a native of Wisconsin, who is of Scandinavian descent, and who has been working as a folk high school teacher at The International People’s College in Denmark for the past seven years, the analysis presented here is based on a variety of methods including auto-ethnography, formal and informal interviews, and material-discursive analysis.

While it is relatively well-known and well-documented that Scandinavian-Americans in Wisconsin were very active and influential in the Progressive Movement of the time, the question of why has remained elusive for scholars (cf. Kazal 2006). This chapter suggests that the Scandinavian folk high school tradition and the values it instills – such as lifelong learning, self enlightenment, and active democratic participation – just might provide a key to unlocking the mysteries of that unique moment in U.S. history, as well as offer a model to follow for the current era of tumultuous American politics and neoliberalist policies in education and beyond.

Panel Hist05
Untangling the uncertainties of 'the living word': considering folk schools and informal education communities
  Session 1 Saturday 10 June, 2023, -