On the CARN-ARNA-Highlander Study Day: A Reflection * July 30, 2016
2016 ARNA Conference attendees had the option of participating in a historic CARN-ARNA Study Day on June 15. The event was held at the Highlander Education and Research Center outside of Knoxville. This legendary setting provided participating ARNA members and action researchers and practitioner-researchers from around the Americas with a first-hand experience of an extraordinary place which has served as incubator, nurturer, and return drawing board for many of the most significant struggles for social justice in the United States over the past 80+ years. From labor organizing, to fighting against the destruction and pollution of rural communities by petrochemical and mining corporate giants, to developing strategies for the Civil Rights Movement, Highlander has been there as a beacon of light and a brewer of hope.
This announcement is simply to encourage all those who attended the Study Day in June to keep studying the work of Highlander and the lives of the people who created it and fought to keep it alive and well over the decades. For those wishing to learn more about the wonderful work of Highlander, I offer a few comments about two books. In 1990 Brenda Bell, John Gaventa and John Peters edited We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change, which recounts through lovingly transcribed recordings, a week’s worth of conversations between Myles Horton, a founder of Highlander, and the Brazilian educator, social reform visionary and radical thinker Paulo Freire. The conversations took place at Highlander in 1987. I find myself returning to this book again and again for inspiration, comfort, and hope regarding current struggles for social justice, including ARNA’s struggles with finding a voice in the development of knowledge democracy.
In 1991, Eliot Wiggington, a former Highlander Board Member, edited Refuse to Stand Silently By: An Oral History of Grass Roots Social Activism in America, 1921-1964. Wiggington edited and wrote an introduction to the book. His introduction provides a brief description of the Highlander approach to organizing and to adult education in relation to organizing. It is worth a read, as are the many oral histories of grass roots organizers included in the book.
A big part of what is now needed within the action research networks in the Americas and beyond is a renewed sense of the long haul in this work. Let’s do our best to learn from those who have come before by becoming more familiar with the earlier writing so that we better understand the continuities and discontinuities in making a road by walking.
Lonnie Rowell, Chair, ARNA Knowledge Mobilization