Winding Brook Stories

Preface to a 17 part series

This series of teacher-student stories, interspersed with journalistic materials and writing, is aimed  at showing how thousands of mainly white Europeans and Americans from both continents together with millions of Africans and peoples from India struggle to eradicate, or greatly reduce, poverty by “fighting with the poor”. They do so out of “solidarity humanism” by using a unique and radical schooling—“another kind of school: learning by doing”—and through concrete development projects for sustainable agriculture and environment; community development; and improving the health of people by preventing-treating HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other epidemics.

What is unusual and noteworthy about these radicals, in contrast to most Western radical-revolutionary-communist groups and political parties, is that they have survived, are even growing and making progress, and doing so despite much political opposition, including by media not only in Denmark but also in the US and elsewhere.

On July 1, 1970, a team of ten young teachers and 40 students started the DRH (Danish letters for The Traveling Folk High School). Under the leadership then of Mogens Amdi Petersen, they hired the Rantzausminde Efterskole (literally “afterschool”, the equivalent of the 10th grade) on the Danish island of Fyn. They renovated five buses to travel back and forth to India (Nepal)—a seven month hands-on, practical-theoretical educational-solidarity trip.

Students studied the background and history of the countries they were to visit. Once returning they traveled Denmark to learn its reality and bring to Danes what they had learned in India. Later on, they elaborated their studies so graduates of 9/10 to 24-month DRH studies could become Development Instructors (DI). Since then they have brought their knowledge and practical solidarity to people in many countries. Today, the curriculum includes learning English well, at least some Danish, global affairs, political science, international and economic development.

Many of these educational pioneers started the “Teachers Group” (TG). They took ideas from several radical and revolutionary groups seeking an end to capitalism’s greedy economic system, an end to its exploitation and oppression of workers and others, an end to their wars for profit. They supported liberation struggles against colonialism, especially in Africa.

Teachers Group made a life style commitment as a family of teacher-revolutionary comrades that includes living with a common economy, common time and common distribution. All earnings are shared. Each individual takes a like sum for personal expenses, which varies depending upon needs, and the larger portion pays the common bills, and helps finance agreed-upon projects to advance their ideas. Even rarer for radicals was/is their firm commitment from the get-go not to imbibe alcohol or any drugs, including marijuana, neither on the premises nor during their educational travels, and that means all teachers and all students. They learned that alcohol and drugs impair people’s abilities to work smoothly together, and get in the way of effective work habits.

When accepted as part of TG, one decides to hold together through thick and thin. The minimum commitment asked for is five years. Many make a decision for life. If a member decides to leave, so be it, although in the early days there was substantial pressure to fulfill the time commitment made.

TG’s first mentor was the revolutionary Ukrainian pedagogue Anton Makarenko. Makarenko, together with colleagues, ran a farm-school for difficult children, rebels without a cause. The teachers managed to turn most of the juveniles away from a destructive trajectory by combining hard work and disciplined education. Gradually the youth participated productively. The fields were cultivated for self-sufficiency, and craftsmen were hired to train the youth to build workshops. Makarenko often read aloud to the youth.  He later wrote several books. “The Road to Life” is best known. He argued that humans are both natural and cultural beings, and that we can transcend our nature by consciously taking decisions and actions on moral and social-philosophical issues.

The Teachers Group soon moved to an empty hotel on another island, Fanø, and DRH was expanded. Three teams were sent off in 1972, and four teams each year thereafter. In their view, traveling is an education in itself, even an art that “takes your mind and soul to new heights, it confounds you in the process, and it lets you contemplate life and how people live it.”

In August 1972, TG bought a country house with 13 hectares of land (half in pine trees) near a little rural town, Ulfborg, in west Jutland. The farm garden was called Tvind (Its history comes later).

TG members developed a new four-year educational program (sometimes three years), DNS (Danish letters for The Necessary Teacher Training College). They called this education “necessary” in order to adequately meet the “times are a changing”—bringing more relevant knowledge to youth, help mobilize them to meet the new demands and challenges:  reduce inequality and poverty, eliminate racism and wars. Not only a political statement then but also now.

In September, the first seminar started to educate students to be primary school teachers (later on to become teachers for secondary classes and beyond). At first, the Ministry of Education approved DNS as a pilot scheme in which 80 students were to complete the seminar, in 1972-76. The first teachers were DRH “veterans”.

Denmark has a uniquely liberal law that grants state economic support to what is called, “high schools”—privately run free schools, which individuals, groups or organizations can create by meeting minimal rules. These schools are for students who have finished the required nine years of government “folk” schools. This concept began in 1844 as an alternative to traditional government schools. Its founder, N.F.S. Grundtvig, was a theologian-philosopher, poet-politician, who also influenced the first constitution enacted in 1848.

Teachers Group developed other educational programs for many types of students, including those with “special needs”. At the Tvind campus today, one of them is PTG (Practical-Theoretical Basic Education), which is a boarding school for especially “difficult” youth mixed with well-functioning youth. PTG employs educated teacher-caretakers, plus DNS student assistants, who also get help from the well-functioning youth. Municipalities send special needy youth to this boarding school.

In addition, there is a Day School for children who otherwise would be in the regular primary-secondary classes but who need special attention. Sometimes there is one or two teachers and teacher assistants per pupil. Many of the children have been abused or abandoned by parents or by inadequate foster parents. Here they learn what they otherwise would in “folk schools” plus a bit of Teachers Group’s solidarity views on humanity.

Tvind also has a special “residential offer” for adults with social-physical-psychological difficulties. These programs include specially designed care and curriculum for each individual.

At the root of Teachers Group education is teaching that solidarity and peace are essential for all human beings. It is no wonder then that The Establishment soon characterized the TG as subversives who must be stopped. There have been many criticisms of their methods (to be presented further on) even a law prohibiting any state funding, which the Danish Supreme Court overturned; and a court case claiming that its original leaders had embezzled money from some projects and placed funds in others, and had evaded paying taxes. All but one of those charged were found not guilty. The government later appealed the court’s decision after the absolved defendants returned to where they were living, most of them in Zimbabwe.

Despite the fact that the government does not support the DNS and DRH more politically oriented schooling, and propagandizes against the Teachers Group, between 30 and 50 municipalities (around half the nation) send “clients”, “patients” to these other schools simply because Tvind (and sister school Lindersvold) have become good at these specialties.

TG did not organize a political party nor embrace a particular ideology with leading figures—not Marx-Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, Hoxha, Tito, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, Fidel or Che. Albeit, TG’s DRH and DNS educational programs do incorporate some Marxist teachings within contemporary contexts, and they do advocate an economy based on cooperation and equality.

Some revolutionaries criticize TG, and organizations where they work, for seeking government aid to help finance projects that they wish to support, and they raise funds from corporate foundations and NGOs to which some leftists snub their noses. (More on this later on.)

What no one can condemn them for, not even The Establishment and its mass media, is Tvindkraft (Tvind Power). Built between 1975-8, the wind turbine is 54 meters tall with a 54 meter wingspread, at the time the world’s largest. Four hundred people began the construction. Through the years several thousands participated, and around 100,000 people visited Tvind to watch the process. When the mill was completed, it had only cost the equivalent of $1 million in today’s value—paid for out of Tvind teachers’ salaries. It still operates today and provides all Tvind’s electric needs.

The Teacher’s Group offered the designs and ideas to anyone, but the state didn’t want them because it was committed to going with nuclear energy. Nevertheless, the Danish people soon rejected this idea, in part because Tvind showed that windmill energy was possible, cheaper and much better for the environment. Tvindkraft is the basis for all of Denmark’s famous windmills. It took the largest windmill company, Vestas, 20 years to make a windmill as powerful as Tvindkraft. (US American political folk singer-writer David Rovics wrote a song about this.)

In 1977, TG started UFF-Humana (Development Aid People to People) to collect, sort and sell used clothing, in order to finance various projects. This was the beginning of what became the Humana People to People (HPP) organization. The first aid was given to Zimbabwean refugees in camps in Mozambique and the first development projects were established in Zimbabwe in 1980. Today, Humana People to People has 30 national associations working with around 8000 employees in 45 countries of Europe, the US, Latin America, Africa and India. There are around 1000 long-term sustainable development programs, which reach between eight and 14 million people yearly.

The Teacher’s Group has grown to 3000 members. There is no one leader rather a council of Teacher’s Groups at each facility where they work. Teachers Group practices the principle of not making decisions based on polls. Discussions take place until everyone agrees. This consensus ruling has sometimes resulted in long and conflict-ridden meetings until the most “articulate” and most enduring persons win. That phenomenon was typical of many left groups but is less so today.

In Denmark alone the schools that Tvind started have numbered in the scores. Today, Tvind school community is the only Danish school that teaches TG’s pearl program, DNS. An associate school, The Travelling Folk High School in rural Lindersvold, teaches two programs of 10 and 24 months. In nearly 50 years now, schools where members of TG teach have graduated around 1000 DNS teachers and 45,000 students in all, including those with special needs.

Traveling Folk High School courses are also offered at the One World Center in Michigan, at Dowagiac where the Pokagon band of the Potawtomi people are headquartered; One World Institute in Hornsjoe Norway; College for International Co-operation and Development in Patrington England; and Richmond Vale Academy in Eastern Caribbean (St. Vincent and the Grenadines).

African DNS schools use the basic program that Tvind school community created, and adapted it to their own local/national needs. The traveling part of the education is limited to other parts of their own country or to an African neighbor.

I have read and skimmed through the two basic African DNS textbooks. The older one designed for three African countries is 400 pages, and the newer Mozambique One World University textbook is 680 pages. Much of the material is taken from Tvind’s newest Denmark edition (2011) of 480 pages. It is not just a matter of the amount of words, of course, but the curriculum, the worldview is comparable to all the schools.

Since 1993, Humana People to People has been at the forefront of educating African and Indian teachers, who commit themselves to work in public primary schools, sometimes that they help construct. More than 42,000 teachers have been educated in Mozambique, Angola, Malawi, Guinea Bissau, Zambia, D. R. Congo and India. The teacher training colleges have DNS programs spanning from one to three years, and all except those in India are boarding schools.

In 1998, One World University was started in Mozambique and now teaches DNS in all 12 provinces. This university is recognized, and partially financed by the government. OWU has graduated around 1000 teachers with a bachelor or masters degree. DNS schooling exists in 14 colleges in Angola with some 6000 teachers graduated. Malawi is launching six DNS colleges and has graduated around 2000 teachers. Guinea Bissau is constructing seven colleges with a goal of graduating 840 primary school teachers annually. Zambia is committed to building eight schools; one is now operating. Congo Democratic Republic has one DNS college with scores planned. There are DNS schools in 18 locations in three states of India.

I spent two weeks at Denmark Teacher Group-run DNS and DRH schools observing some classes, interviewing many people, assisting in the kitchen and garden, and then many weeks reading about what they do, their history, and what their critics say about them. My viewpoint is that these people are dedicated to changing the world where poverty and wars no longer exist. In so doing, they have made many good choices and some I would not. Readers who know my writings probably can say I am too idealistic. I hope that all readers can count on my non-neutral objectivity.

Ron Ridenour is an anti-war activist and author of 12 books. His latest is The Russian Peace Threat: Pentagon on Alert, Punto Press. Read other articles by Ron, or visit Ron's website.