Winding Brook Stories: Communicator-Recruiter Justas

Part 1 of 17 Part Series

Justas picked me up at the train station. We rode in an elder Tvind car to the campus where I would live for eight days preparing for this series. I hoped this would be a positive story for me—being with people who actually embody the vision of liberation, and fight with the oppressed, jointly struggling to empower their lives. This would be a rarity for me as nearly all my writings reflect the evils and profiteering humans inflict upon one another and the planet.

Justinas Volungevicius (Justas for short and as play on words indicating that justice is sought) came to Tvind when 16. After six years of going through two educations, he is now a Tvind administrative-communication worker. As such, he does media and recruiting work for the various schooling processes. When The Necessary Teacher Training College class of 2017 (DNS 17) started, Justas assisted as a media aid advisor.

There were some criticisms about a few aspects of the program presented. Some thought that parts were outdated. They also wanted to improve residential conditions, and the garden. This resulted in a name change of the residential building where they live and where I would stay:  “Radical October 17”.

Justas explains:

Radical October came about because of DNS teams expressing the need and the wish to be part of making the school better. DNS17 stepped in the middle of this process. It was not a rebellion against an ‘establishment’ rather that students and teachers discuss how to improve the school. Everyone got involved out of a longing to be part of making the place and the schooling better, learning in the process what it actually takes to run the school together.

When I discuss enrollment with potential students, I ask: ‘Are you ready to face challenges? Because our program is by far from perfect. But if you choose to take ownership and responsibility of what we have and are part of creating what is missing or not good enough, I guarantee you will learn a lot.

They brought their critical ideas to the school’s weekly meeting with two teachers (also from Lithuania), and the headmaster Annica Mårtinsson. Born in Sweden, she came to Tvind a quarter-century ago to take its schooling and join the Teachers Group (TG). The staff agreed to implement the students’ ideas even though this would set back the three-year schedule by one month. The work was done in October and thereby the new name for the building.

Justas recorded some of this work for the DNS website.

DNS17 students had invited me to follow their study period this week, and to offer a half-day’s “course” on Cuba’s revolution and US subversion. These eight students come from half-a-dozen lands: three from Italy, two Portuguese, two Lithuanians, and one from Hungary.

I could tell that the building had recently been renovated, and it is kept clean. The rooms are usually for two students. I was offered a room to myself. There is enough space for two single beds, writing desk and chair, closet, and some bookshelves. Heat comes through a radiator furnished by wood cut from their forest and from wind.

Before Justas and I had discussion time, another young member of TG, also from Lithuania, Nadezda Jevdokimova, was my guide for the day. We went through the campus six schools and the residential areas, workshops and maintenance—30 buildings in all.

The school community currently have around 100 students-boarders, and 30-40 teachers, teacher assistants, administrative and maintenance workers. Each of their schools has its own leadership, board of directors, financing and book accounting. Now there are four DNS classes (with start dates 2016-19), the PTG youth school (Practical-Theoretical Basic Education), a Day School for especially needy youth in which they get some education and are boarded, and three “villas” where 15 adults can be cared for. At PTG and the Day School, a special program is designed for each student, and another criterion is made for adults at the “villas”. Every student is offered a computer. Each school has its own library. Tvind has its own printing press for posters, placards, brochures. Their hardcover glossy text and culture books are printed elsewhere.

All who are able physically and/or mentally to travel out of Denmark for one to three week annual trips can do so in groups with teachers. This is paid for with government funding. Municipality payment for students and adults needing special care helps finance the studies of DNS and other well-functioning students through their wages as many work as assistants with the boarders.

Gateway to the campus designed by architect Jan Utzon. 

Nadezda introduced me to “The President”, 51 year-old man, who has been at a Tvind Villa home for 16 years. He suffers from serious deterioration. His nickname comes from the fact that he was well educated, is intelligent and a feisty talker. He had been a soccer coach at schools. Since the villas are not at full capacity now, he has a whole building by himself. “I prefer living that way, alone. There is always togetherness if you want it, and that is fine. If I want that, I can always find it here,” he tells me with a twinkle.

Several school-boarding residences have their own ecological vegetable garden, small park and art works. While each residential group lives separately, most of them eat together especially at lunchtime. Everyone is permitted to deliver a short message at lunch time by tapping a glass.

Smoking areas are apart from the buildings. The main one is at the edge of the forest. Half of the 13 hectares is in pine trees they planted. Workshops, maintenance hall, and climate center with windmill museum contain the tools, equipment and vehicles necessary for near self-sufficiency. Tvind even has its own sewage purification plant.

Several buildings have posters or placards showing a common vision:

“Alone the world changes you; together we change the world.” “Don’t talk about the change, be the change”.

Tvind maintenance worker with special student helper in the seat hope to use parts from this old tractor for another tractor before having to buy a new one (Ron Ridenour photo)

Tvind has several annual arrangements. Around 5000 outsiders participate at events and/or visit the grounds on their own.

Winter Concert, January 26. Involves professional classical musicians, dancers and singers from all over the word performing unique compositions on Tvind’s international stage.
In winter sometimes many students take ski trips to Norway.

Earth Day, April 22, includes activities to protect mother earth.

Peace and Justice Conference, May 10-13.

Summer Camp, July, for youth with limited means to get away for the summer. Some summers there are theater performances by students and teachers.

DNS Boot Camp, July, this is 16 year-olds and up—an international event for another kind of education enthusiasts for a week of learning, connecting, action and cultural exchange.

Hot Air Balloon National Competition August 7-10. Tvind’s students have often won the national competition. They also travel to compete in other European national competitions.

“Tvind OL”, September 13-14. Students from 30+schools and care homes where TG has a presence gather for two days to compete in 60 sport disciplines: table tennis, soccer, volleyball, archery, cycling, fishing, dancing, climbing, chess, darts, athletics…

Justas Story

I got to know about PTG from my brother, who was a DNS student. He had seen a small ad in a Lithuanian newspaper about Tvind’s schools. He took the education and then taught DNS for five years before moving back to Lithuania.

I wished to be part of a social environment, and learn some life skills. I was quite a lonely child, and quite well cared for living with my mum in Lithuania. I became good at sailing, even made a national team, but I was stuck at computer games too much, and too isolated.

At the PTG boarding and day school for three years, I helped others in the more ‘needy’ category. I didn’t have to pay, rather I had responsibilities in the school which covered my costs. I took care of the sports hall, tidied up Day School after classes, for example.

I joined TG in 2013, because at that point my brother was in it. I was very impressed with the Teachers Group. Especially after having the privilege to travel the world: to Africa for a four-month bus trip. Also to Palestine, Sri Lanka, Russia. This center and college changed my life greatly. My worldview opened. I saw TG as a good way to grow as a person and be part of something that has a positive impact.

After PTG, I started DNS in 2014 and graduated in 2017.

The Necessary Teacher Training College

DNS is structured in three annual periods. The mix is half time working while learning, and half study. Year one, Global reality”: two months preparing for the four-month bus trip through western Africa. The aim is to get to know the people and to assist in projects underway. Then three months bringing what one learns to the European public. Then three months “saving up” for tuition by doing some pedagogical or other work.

Year two, European reality: six months with one’s class moving into a flat in some European city to explore ordinary people and to get jobs. Students participate in the local community and organize cultural-political events. This is followed by three months of study back at school, and then three more months in Europe doing what is “most appropriate”.

Year three, School reality: eight months of full time teaching practice in schools with care homes and or students with special needs. Student-workers are supervised by graduated teachers. One learns pedagogy, didactics and epistemology. Followed by four month study period back at DNS school. At the end, one takes the bachelor monograph exam.

A DNS slogan states: “2 teach is 2 touch lives—forever.” Special for DNS (and DRH) schooling, as the TG calls their education, is the Doctrine of Modern Methods (DMM). It has three categories: studies, courses, experiences. DMM is a digitally based system. A computer is provided each student connected to the school’s digital library containing 18 subjects each with scores of tasks.

One example of subjects is “Big Issues of our Time”. It has 50 study tasks, some for the collective and some each student can pick for himself. Some anchor themes: “We need a future that is bright, green and free”, “a new model of sustainable prosperity”; “We must decide which type of capitalism or no capitalism”; “defy and defeat capitalist globalization”; “doubt superpower politics and its constant wars”; “Lousy dictators must be substituted with non-violent revolution.”

Those are not topics and points of view found in other forms of schools.

During the studies period, which is primarily individual, the student reads on one task for hours or days, not only what is in the digital library but also suggested books. He/she writes a synopsis and sends it to the teacher. There are usually two teachers for a team of from five to fifteen student-teachers. The teacher corrects the task and makes comments. Teachers act as assistants and advisers to students. Both live at the same facilities and are engaged in every aspect of the school, including cleaning and gardening. Daily pace is quick and constant. One is exhausted at the end of the day.

Study time takes up 50% of the program. Then there is the course period, which teachers or outside experts speak on a topic, and engages all in discussions. That takes up a quarter of the program. The remainder is experiences planned and performed by the team, and others by the individual.

The school is governed by the weekly common meeting. Anything related to schooling and living conditions, complaints included, are discussed and decided upon. Adjustments can be and are made.

Back to Justas

There is so much individualism in the West; so much alienation. We must have a better purpose for living than our own careers and money. In Africa, I did investigations into agriculture and migration. We saw the poorest and richest, even hitchhiked with one very rich plantation owner. I learned that human societies are messed up, and this made me realize I needed to be part of making an impact. Africa, and the DNS schooling, gave me a broad understanding and a sense of belonging that nourishes activism.

I didn’t take this journey on my own. Other people help to guide me, to challenge me. Therefore, I believe travelling alone is not enough. To learn, we need people. Have you ever heard the saying ‘1+1 is more than 2’? Maybe it does not fit in math, but I believe this is true when we think of humans – we can do more when we stick together. We can complement each other’s weaknesses. We can motivate and challenge one another. We need to meet the people on our planet, to work with them, to learn from them and to use our collective knowledge to make life better for all. That is my life goal, and I believe that we can achieve this through education – Another Kind of Education.

This education has given me a lot of insight into the reality of people in the world, but also a strong feeling of injustice. I learned that there is a lot of inequality in the world, I found out that too few do something about it, and I decided that I want to be part of changing that. I wanted to be a teacher who fights for justice together with the people. A teacher who is not limited by the four walls of a classroom. The world is our classroom.

What makes me feel attached to DNS is that students and teachers together shape the school, and create something bigger than ourselves. One quote that stayed with me throughout the DNS program is: ‘You do not join DNS as it is, you join DNS as it is going to be.’

My role in the school is the daily running, and recruiting students for the program. DNS is a unique model for future schools. I wish to spread the idea that it is possible to run another kind of school, and we are doing it here. It makes me happy to hear people getting inspired, learning about our way of learning, or if they choose, join us on this journey.

When Justas returned to Tvind from Africa, and then set out to bring Africa to the West, he participated in protesting coal mining in Germany. His six years of schooling at the College Community encompassed a lifelong education in itself.

Author’s Observations

Most of the students and teachers eat breakfasts held in smaller kitchens and dining rooms where their schools and boarding residences are. At DNS, breakfasts are always lively with talk, body movements, facial gestures, hugs, and maybe soft music.

Marian often comes by for a fruit breakfast. He was born in Rumania but ended up in Germany for most of his youth before coming here to PTG at age 15. German social workers sent him to several of their special school but he was an uncontrollable rebel, so much so that one employee convinced the municipality to pay for his transportation and care at Tvind. Marion is now 30, a well-functioning paid maintenance worker living in a small rented house nearby, in Ulfborg.

Annie Woods initiated a FridayForFuture demonstration in the nearby town, Holsetebro. Around 50 Tvind students and teachers participated alongside a few locals. They were inspired by the Swedish teenager Greta and by their own Peace and Justice Conference last May (Photo by Jenny Jagodics)

At the common cafeteria, meals are simply marvelous. Something for every taste and particular diet: meat-eaters, vegies, gluten-free specimens. Many meals are prepared without meat, sometimes with fish, sometimes only vegetables and fruits. Annie Woods is the kitchen coordinator during her first year at Tvind’s “saving up” period. While waiting to start school with DNS19, Annie plans the meals. This is a day’s lunch and dinner menu: broccoli cream soup, eggplant bites, vegetable pie, baked potato, caramelized carrots, salad. Dinner with spinach lasagna, tomato-soya lasagna, beef lasagna, steamed vegetables and salad. Liquid is always water with lemon option, various milk products and juice.

It seems to me that the resident-students, in good health or otherwise, are well integrated. Most get along well with one another as far as I can tell, and there are arguments. Everyone in the regular school programs are constantly engaged. The overall DNS teacher council of seven educated teachers and two in training meet weekly, as do all the other schools’ teachers’ councils.

Piotr Dzialak is a young TGer from Poland. An avid reader, Piotr takes care of several administrative-coordinating matters and books. He tells me, “While we do concentrate on the collective rather than the individual, no one is left alone when in need, and all who need special attention for learning get it. We have long been accused of authoritarianism but the years I have been here, I see that we express what we wish including disagreements. Our process grows, transforms.”—revolution must be permanent say sages.

“The world is our classroom.”

Read Preface here;

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.