Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – Myles Horton
October 12, 2014 1 Comment
Myles Horton (1905-1990) put his thinking about adult education for social purpose into practical action and left a legacy that lives on in the Highlander Center in Newmarket, Tennessee.
Horton was born into a poor family in Tennessee. He had few early advantages but became inspired by the model of Folk Schools in Denmark. He, Don West and others founded the Highlander Folk School in 1932. It became a meeting place, an adult school for democracy and for developing leaders of the labour and civil rights movements. It grew into a hub where people learnt to organise coal miners and textile workers into trade unions. The Highlander Research and Education Center lives on and its website here has this description:
Highlander serves as a catalyst for grassroots organizing and movement building in Appalachia and the South. We work with people fighting for justice, equality and sustainability, supporting their efforts to take collective action to shape their own destiny.
Rosa Parks attended workshops at the Highlander before her iconic bus protest on December 1, 1955. Parks, an African American refused to give up her seat for a white man on a racially segregated Montgomery City bus on her way home from work. Her actions led to profound and lasting change. Martin Luther King also attended the Highlander Folk School, where the civil rights anthem, “We shall overcome”, first became popular.
Myles Horton developed citizenship schools for African American Sea Islanders in South Carolina. These spread throughout the southern USA. They helped 100,000 African Americans to become literate. This in turn qualified them to register to vote and was integral to growing the USA’s civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Horton believed fervently that ordinary people have the capacity to organise and to take actions to change their communities and the world. Speaking in 1982, at Highlander’s 50th anniversary, he said:
“The future is out there, ready to be changed. You must be creative, imaginative, and courageously dedicated for the long haul.”
Horton had an immense influence at Highlander but many other inspirational educators worked there or had links. A letter of Helen Lewis‘s 90th birthday recollections of Highlander is on the Center’s website. It shows the Center’s reach and describes connections forged between Appalachian and Welsh miners.
Like Paulo Freire, Horton linked literacy with democracy and political activism and education with a wider social purpose. The two men met in 1987 and had the idea of “speaking a book” together . Their conversations are captured in the book, “We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change”
Whose exchanges about education inspire social change on a similar scale today? Who is “making the road by walking” in 2014 and whose conversations would you like to see captured?