|About Ron Ridenour|
Cover and photos by Jette Salling. Winding Brook at the Tvind school center and Zimbabwe sculpture, one of hundreds on the Teachers Group campuses in Denmark, England, Norway, Michigan (USA), and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
WINDING BROOK STORIES
TABLE of CONTENTS
1. Communicator-Recruiter Justas
2. Student Francesco
3. Student Guenda
4. Practice Teacher Simona
5. Day School Headmaster Birthe
6. Author Ron
7. Veteran Teacher Anna
8. Veteran Teacher Gert
9. Student Fatima
10. Student Mihaela + New Teacher Greta
11. New Teacher Lucas
12. Former Teacher Sven Erik
13. Songwriter-singer, activist David Rovics
14. Student Maksim
15. Fighting Capitalism with Capitalism
Another kind of education!
Fighting with the poor to end poverty and wars!
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
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, UK 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 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.
Tvind Windmill and school campus
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: https://www.tvindkraft.dk/en/david-rovic-the-biggest-windmill-in-the-world.html)
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
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 teacher 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 four 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.
“The world is our classroom”
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. https://www.dns-tvind.dk/radical-teachers/
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.
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 hoping to use parts from this old tractor for another tractor.
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. https://www.dns-tvind.dk/dns-boot-camp/
Hot Air Ballon 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…
“I got to know about PTG from my brother, who was a DNS student. He had seen a small add 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.
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, Holsetbro. Around 50 Tvind students and teachers participated alongside a few locals. They were inspired by the Swedish teenager Greta and by their Peace and Justice Conference last May.
at Friday For the Future demo in nearby town Holstebro.
Photo by Jenny Jagodics, DNS17 student.
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
& 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.
in front of a shelter built by boarding school youth at the Tvind school
center beside Madum Brook--Winding Brook. Photo by author.
Francesco Maria Antonicelli (28) was born and raised in Bari, at the boot of southern Italy. Francesco dropped out of university just three exams away from earning a bachelor’s degree in literature. He’d had enough of “surfing through life with my navel in the lead”. Recklessly heavy into drugs and alcohol, he sought something bigger than himself.
We met at Tvind’s International School Center (School Community) located in Western Denmark resting beside Madum Brook. This is his story, how he decided to “fight with the poor”.
Francesco has been in this program three years. He has one year left to complete the education and exams to earn a bachelor monograph at the Necessary Teacher Training College (DNS).
“It’s not that I rebelled against my parents. My father is a taxi driver, and my mother is a teacher and housewife, and were always supportive. In fact, my mother was proud when I protested the war against Iraq at the local NATO base and was removed by police. I was only 12 but I already knew that the capitalist system uses wars for profit and to rule the world. I flirted with anarchism, but it was mostly a lifestyle, which became self-indulging and unruly. I later joined the Communist Refoundation Party, a split from the original Communist Party. But there were always internal crises and splits. I lost patience.”
Bari “Little Pearl Harbor”
That NATO base where Francesco demonstrated, the Gioia del Colle Airbase, was under fascist control during World War II. The British captured it in October 1943. The US air force also used the base. It was nearby at Bari harbor that an unintended, tragic coincidence occurred that caused Bari to become known as “Little Pearl Harbor”.
Bari (population then 250,000) became the only European city to experience chemical warfare in the course of World War II. The public, however, was kept in the dark until 1971 when Glenn B. Infield exposed this in his book, “Disaster at Bari”. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and General Dwight Eisenhower had ordered records of the only chemical mustard gas explosion destroyed. Some records kept hidden were declassified in 1959. Gerald Reminick wrote another book, “Nightmare in Bari: The World War II Liberty Ship Poison Gas Disaster and Cover-up.”
This is taken from Reminick’s book.
“On December 2, 1943 about fifty ships lay waiting at Bari, Italy for their cargoes to be unloaded. Suddenly, the German Luftwaffe thundered down…the raid became the worst bombing of Allied shipping since Pearl Harbor two years earlier. In fact, this attack became known as Little Pearl Harbor. [27 cargo and transport ships were destroyed]. A U.S. Liberty ship [John Harvey] laden with a top secret cargo of [60 kilo tons of 2000] mustard gas bombs received a direct hit and exploded, killing the entire crew and spreading its deadly toxic cargo across the water and through the air of Bari. More than one thousand Allied servicemen and more than one thousand civilians were killed…[US government silence about having mustard gas, its lies and cover-up is the cause for mustard gas seeping] through the world’s oceans today.”
Francesco says we must take responsibility and fight
“We can’t just rely on political parties to change the world for the better,” Francesco tells me. “We must also take individual responsibility and act too. I was into music and theater and I met a wonderful Italian artist. He had taken the Traveling Folk High School 10-month course. I looked into that and decided to take the three-year Necessary Teacher Training College program instead.”
DNS costs 1000 Euros ($1,125) to enroll plus 8000 Euros ($9000) each year of study. This includes everything: tuition, room and board, traveling costs, equipment, books. Most of them who join don’t have all that money so time is allotted to work at places in DNS’s network of partners like the special schools that need teacher assistants, caretakers for boarding schools, workers to collect and sort used clothing for UFF-Human, and other places. DNS and 24-month Traveling Folk High School (DRH) don’t just offer these jobs to pay for the education. Working is part of education, teaching and learning from other students and workers.
For admission, one must come up with the enrollment fee. For the rest, the school assists with finding employment for students for a year before starting the program. Francesco took this opportunity at a municipality-sponsored school for youth with special needs. The care home/school pays the teachers, assistant teachers and caretakers. Workers who are also doing the Tvind or Lindersvold DNS or DRH schooling then save up most of their wages to pay the program costs.
“I could make the enrollment fee but I needed to work for tuition, traveling and living expenses. I also needed to learn English and, at least, some Danish. The school administration helped me find an assistant job at one of the special needs schools, at Hellebæk on the east coast. I was there from August 2016 for a year. Those of us in the ‘saving up’ period met once a month for three days at Tvind to keep in contact, and come gradually into that environment.
“It was a crucial year for me, a revelation, fruitful, and I think for the children. We got along and they helped me learn their language. My threshold of explosion broadened. Not just a job, a life.
“Part of the education for the school community, including if possible those with special needs, is to travel and see something they otherwise would not. In my case, I was able to take five students for nine days to a farm close to my family in Bari. This was a great challenge for everybody concerned. The kids got their hands dirty working with the animals and the garden, and the farmer’s family, and my own, fell in love with them. There were complaints and some tears but we felt happy most of the time. I don’t usually think of ‘happiness’ but I did because the kids were happy.
“My family and some of the kids still keep in touch. One of them now has his own musical band even though he still lives at the Hellebæk boarding school-home. Another one is studying at a regular school. They are all flourishing.”
Madum Bæk and Vikings
Madum Brook babbles, winding over ocher-covered rocks around Tvind, through the fields of grain and into a lake with the same name. I wondered why the name “Madum”, confusingly similar to madam, and why “Tvind” as well? The local historical archive worker did some research and came up with this bit of history.
From late eighth century to 1066 Scandinavian Norsemen (Germanic people)
dominated north-central Europe. This was the Viking Age infamous for
its brutal raiders with long boats and large sails. Viking warriors
made the best swords with which they murdered, raped and plundered people
throughout northern Europe, down to France and Italy, over to Ukraine
and even Russia. In northern England they slaughtered monks, royalty
and lay Christians. When not killing they traded with some people, and
learned Old English. The word meadow became madum. When some Vikings
settled in western Denmark, they gave that name to the brook (“bæk”
in Danish) and lake in the meadow area where Tvind is now. The first
recording of this is in a bishop letter from 1274. By then Denmark’s
royalty had become Christian, a religion the last Viking leadership
adopted. So the parish in this area took on the name Madum for its church
and district as well.
In the local Danish dialect of that time, Tvind had two meanings: twisting and binding—the brook twists, winds, and a rope is twined, weaved. The anti-capitalist teacher-warriors who settled at this place wished to bond and thus kept the term Tvind for their school cooperative/community. And when they built the world’s largest windmill, it was named Tvindkraft (Tvind Power).
Traveling to Africa
After a year at Hellebæk, Francesco joined the DNS 2017, September 2017. “We were 14. We’re down to nine now. We started studying Africa. Each DNS class either buys a used bus or takes over the previous class’ used bus. We fix whatever is needed for the West African trip,” Francesco explains. “A used bus is always decided upon not just because it is cheaper than a new one, but because it is part of the education, a survival part of learning to live with ‘self’, in a ‘team’, all within ‘environments’. I trained for the driver’s exam and became one of the chauffeurs.
“In our preparation period, we learn that while we won’t
understand everything we can focus on various environments and living
conditions, and learn some skills useful to survive and to build bridges.
I usually feel somewhat outside modernity. I’m more anachronistic,
closer to ancient Greeks where the term comes from. But with this school
community, I felt and feel less so. I even began writing again, stream
of consciousness to help me understand today’s world.”
Francesco had known Guendalina well before coming to Tvind. She followed him and is part of the team as well. Guenda studied philosophy and graduated with a masters. (Her story comes next.)
“Guenda and I have talked a lot about philosophy—human beings past, present and what is in store for our future. Will there be redemption for our sins? Through this process, and especially here, I am much less self-centered, which is nearly a requirement in modern Western society in contrast to learning to live and connect with all humans.
“The African trip is conceived of as professional, political and personal. We realize that ‘fighting with the poor’ is not the same as ‘fighting for the poor’. We reject the white-guilt paternalistic syndrome. A good pedagogue is not a ‘savior’ but a guide; not a leader but a mover.”
The 14,000 kilometer round trip by bus is challenging in many ways. There are always repairs to be made, sometimes by the team, sometimes by paid mechanics. The bus becomes the team’s bedroom and kitchen. They make toilet stops at facilities They also sleep in tents beside the roads.
The four-month trip is the travel-educational experience itself plus assisting in some projects, which TG supports in Senegal and Guinea Bissau. They also engage in investigations into local and national conditions and customs along the way.
Once crossing from Spain to Morocco the team learns something about
the Sahrawi people in Western Sahara, which is still under the thumb
of Morocco against UN laws. Mauritania had helped Morocco keep this
people down but turned over their “territory” to Morocco,
because the expense was too great. The Sahrawi Polisario national liberation
front also cost their occupiers too many lives. Western Sahara had long
been a colony of Spain.
The most dramatic part of the travel from Denmark to Guinea Bissau for Francesco was in Mauritania where he and two others formed an investigation team to learn about slavery.
Slavery in Mauritania started long before European colonialism and continues today. Although outlawed in 1981 by presidential decree, yet not criminalized until 2007. According to native abolitionists, not a handful of slave owners have been punished.
Descendants of black Africans, called “black Moors” and “Haratins”, captured during historical slave raids serve lighter-skinned “white” Berbers or Berber-Arabs. Many of the latter are offspring of slave-owners through centuries. “Chattel slavery” of adults and children are full property of their “masters”. Regardless of the new law, slaves can be bought and sold, rented out, and even given away as “gifts”. Slavery exists not only in rural but also urban areas, and women are most affected. Women slaves are often kept for sex and live with the domestic animals. Some “masters” won’t let them pray because once born into a caste they are unworthy of having a god-Allah.
Mauritania is nearly totally Islamic, Sunni Muslims. Abolitionists are often jailed—accused of being anti-Muslim or anti-Islam. Abolitionists and other critics of slavery assert that between 10% and 17% of Mauritanians are enslaved. Some place the numbers as low as 40,000 others as high 600,000 of a 4.3 million population. http://www.stoppingslavery.org/slavery-in-mauritania.html
”Usually, local people open up to us, because they surmise that we are not tourists, not normal white travelers, because we don’t dress up and we travel and live in an old bus,” Francesco says. “When we saw kids praying by a road in southern Mauritania they showed fear in their eyes once we stopped to talk. Communication was mainly through gestures, but our teammate Louisa from Morocco speaks some Arabic. She got the impression that they had never seen white folks.
“A Western-dressed, light skinned black man came. He spoke English and French, and so could we. We asked him who these kids were and their names. He said: ‘It is not necessary to know their names.’ We thought he didn’t know their names himself but he was clearly a ‘master’.
“It turned out that he didn’t live there but came for visits,
because his family owned the land where the children were. He called
them ‘beasts’, literally, beasts. At first, he was forthcoming
with information. Without qualms, he told us that ‘beasts’
were not paid for working but received shelter and food.
There was no official registration of their birth, which is one reason why there are no accurate figures of how many people are in castes, which ‘qualifies’ them to be used as slaves. Their status was determined hundreds of years ago. A few ‘lucky’ ones are considered worker castes, because they are used for a specific kind of task. The ‘masters’ don’t let any vote.
“While he talked, the kids just watched, sheepishly. They were dirty and wore tattered rags. We saw the bourgeois man make a mobile phone call. Soon, a police car pulled up. The police told us we had to move on but not before we were to take selfie photos with their telephones. They said it was too dangerous to hang around here,” Francesco ends this experience here.
“When we got to Guinea Bissau, the team I was in installed an
irrigation system at a teacher training school run by ADPP Guiné
We had learned how to do this from a farmer in Senegal. We bought the piping and a pump and made the system. Another DNS 17 team of three built a playground from recycled materials, much of it picked up from trash. The DNS class before us had built an oven there.
“During this time, most of us slept in the bus; others in one room provided for us.”
“The Guinea-Bissauan DNS students and teachers are a lot like
us in Denmark. Their lives are dedicated to this work—fighting
with the poor—on a daily basis. Hardly any free time. Yet we could
tell that they felt they are fulfilling something important for them
and their countrymen. They don’t have much material or money so
the fact that we European DNS students come through for a few weeks
at a time, year after year, with a few skills and a bit of money is
definitely useful, and we are comrades at the same time,” Francesco
Upon returning to Denmark, Francesco and his two Italian compatriots brought their African experiences to people in Denmark, Lithuania and Italy. Two other DNS17 teams did the same elsewhere. Francesco’s team came up with a unique method of communicating: “meet the others”, showing photographs and drawings of people they had met in Western Africa, and then asking the audiences to choose who they would like to hear about.
People they had met on their journey had made most of those drawings about the word, “happiness”. Tvind student-teachers took these to cultural centers, libraries, social centers, housing squatted by homeless, secondary schools, even an occupied former police stations which rebel-minded youths had taken over.
“This gave personal names to people who could have been caught
up in the migration crisis, and some were,” Francesco says. “One
good example of why some people fled their land is that big corporations
had forbidden them to fish their waters. The fish ‘belonged’
to the capitalists not the native peoples.”
Francesco’s team traveled those three months by hitch-hiking, riding trains and buses. In Italy, they stayed at his family’s home. Elsewhere, they “coach surfed”. Their expenses, which they had earned in “savings up” period, were minimal.
During the second “savings up” period, Francesco returned to the special school at Hellebæk, whose students were glad to see him again. He also worked in the local, popular café.
For the European Reality period they decided to live and find work in Malmo, Sweden. They rented a cheap three-bedroom flat with four beds in each. Francesco and his two Italian compatriots could easily find work in eating establishments. Others got part time or temporary jobs cleaning, assisting in pedagogic work, one got a painting job, and two couldn’t find anything for three or four months.
“This was yet another real challenge. We were 12 people then from six countries,” Francesco says. “With our common economy principle we put our wages in a pot for all our needs. Each gets a bit for pocket money. We had no problems with that. Bed intimacy was modest.
“Most of us worked part time and we all continued doing our study tasks, such as: life style sustainability, world history from the early civilizations east and west, contemporary Europe. Collectively we decided who does what chores and who prepares what for our cultural and political events. We reached out to the community we lived in, bringing to as many people as possible our African reality and what the School Community has to offer.”
Francesco’s long black hair and beard shake enthusiastically.
“We organized open house events, workshops and forums, and screened movies. We did some actions, too, like the ‘dumpster dive action’, in which we take food thrown out by markets whether they make it convenient to do so or not. We got most of what we ate this way.
“We participated in Friday for Future climate actions. At one rally, the Swede teenager Greta came and we spoke with this empowering girl.
“I think we created a positive network, one that might endure. We keep in contact with many we met in Malmo. Two of them came to the May 2019 Peace and Justice conference.”
Back to Tvind for a three-month study period: social science, history, sustainability and natural science. At the time of this writing, each classmate is to decide what to do that is “most appropriate” for their education for three months—how to develop towards becoming a productive teacher and global citizen. There is a budget set aside from the wages they have collectively earned for this, enough so they can travel somewhere again either alone, in pairs of groups.
When they return to Tvind they will have eight months of teaching practice. Francesco thinks he will return to the special school at Hellebæk. Another possibility is taking a bus back to Africa to be an assistant teacher at one of their DNS colleges.
Francesco spoke of what he has learned so far: “Activity, experimenting, broadening my knowledge, and the common economy are the greatest lessons for me. I just love it. No matter what job I get at the end of my education here, I will always be a teacher somehow. Learning about the world and engaging others to make a healthy life for one and all is what life must be about. I still have to find my way of doing it but I know it will come.”
Guenda classmate in DNS 17. Photo by Jenny Jagodics.
Born into a working class Italian family inspired by art and music,
Guendalina Marzull (30) never lacked human warmth. Her three year-older
sister became an artist, while teenage Guenda thought of becoming a
social worker after reading “One Child.” This memoir by
psychologist Torey Hayden concerns abused children.
Guenda comes from Bari where she met Francesco Maria Antonicelli when they were young students. Her parent are both post office workers. Her mother is from Sicily. There, daily life often is filled with Mafia horrors. Even as a child, Guenda supported those who challenged Mafia brutality. She thought of becoming a judge after they killed some judges. Nevertheless, it was philosophy that drew her most.
“We were all independent. We could do what we thought best, but we always cared for one another in my family. As such, I took up activism and philosophy quite early in life, hoping to connect, hoping to help others connect in a loving environment,” she tells me gently.
“I am today who I am, in part, because I was fortunate to have great teachers. Philosophy felt natural to me. Reading these exciting outlooks opened my mind to think critically, experimentally. Though we humans often see ourselves as separate, we thrive best when connected.
“I followed my passion into activism and education. You can’t be really good at something if you don’t follow your love.”
Guenda took her first philosophy class in high school, age 15, and continued into university. She felt such respect for this world of thought that she bought new books about philosophy instead of used ones.
Although Guenda leans towards anarchism, she is “realistic” enough to have supported the “common good” democratic socialist idea and its parliamentary center-left coalition. This 2012-3 electoral effort of the Democratic Party/Democratic Centre/Italian Socialist Party/and Left Ecological Freedom Party was distinct from mainstream politics in that it encouraged “social movement as legislators”. These parties earned majority seats in the parliament but could not form a government.
Associated with this movement are the philosophical and political theoretical ideas of Ugo Mattei and Toni Negri, which have been introduced in several European cities at “Talk Real” seminars and you tube presentations.
Guenda was then juggling philosophy, occupying abandoned buildings, and conking out in a life style of drugs and alcohol.
“I was reflecting too much on human beings and not acting enough with humans. I was torn between wanting to go further with academia, becoming a professor of philosophy, or being myself. There were too many rules in academia,” Guenda says frankly.
The seriousness of the study of philosophy, its universal language, its holism grabbed her intellect, also her feelings for humanity. But it was far afield from human struggle.
She received her masters of philosophy, in 2017, after five years of study.
“I felt dry. Not knowing where to go. A friend showed me an article
about a traveling college education somewhere in Denmark. I looked up
its announcements on facebook. I took a chance and did a skype interview
and then a three-day observation stay. I got hooked on Tvind and the
Necessary Teacher Training schooling,” she says.
To pay for the DNS college she worked half-a-year in one of Tvind’s three Villas with disturbed adults, several with psychological-social disorders.
Each adult is evaluated to ascertain what specific program would be best for him or her. This is called ITP (Individual Designed Project). It differs from the STU (Specially Designed Youth) programs for disturbed youth that offer some academic and life style educational courses. Tvind started this residential care program for adults in 2004. Municipalities began using it in 2006, and since 2014 the program comes under DNS.
Guenda confronted many challenges with these adults, at the same time
learning Danish and English, and coping with Scandinavian winter.
“Persistence and authenticity, learning who I am deep down—these were qualities and introspections that matured me. This ‘saving up’ period is so useful. I felt ownership of my education. People only attending normal schools have no idea what they miss learning,” she says.
“The African preparation time was exciting, fast and furious. My African experiences revolved around investigating who these people are, learning about them through their music and other arts. The Moroccan “gnawa” music reproduces the sounds of chained slaves, reflects upon the pain—a healing ritual.
“I met a Russian-Italian woman in Senegal who founded schools for children. She lives with the local people and is so tough—she inspired me greatly. Another woman from Gambia was still going strong at 81. It took her ten years to get the first theater built in Gambia, but she persisted and it is now a beautiful place for everyone, for people who never had such a space.
“Best is to fight with many for the common good. But if you can’t find others to struggle with then one can find solo ways of making change on an individual basis. The point is to act!”
Guinea Bissau Liberation
Guenda looked into Guina Bissau (G.B.) history to learn why there is so much poverty, internal divisions and corruption. Why when liberation leaders led by the intellectual Amilcar Cabral and his half-brother Luis were progressive, and sought a socialist economy and egalitarian way of life?
Amilcar was an educated agricultural engineer, poet and theoretician influenced by Marxism. He associated with Angola’s liberation leader Agostinho Neto, who led the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). Both men were close to Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. In fact, Amilcar Cabral is viewed as Africa’s Che.
Amilcar, Luis and others formed the African Party for the Independence of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde. They also engaged in guerrilla warfare like MPLA.
Just months before the “Carnation Revolution”, in Portugal, Amilcar was assassinated in an internal feud encouraged by the colonialist government. His brother became the first president of an independent Guinea Bissau (1974-80). He too was assassinated, in 1980, in another internal strife. Among several antagonisms is racism imposed upon Africans by white Europeans. The Cabrals were lighter skinned black Africans than most others in G.B. Their mother was from Cape Verde, whose people Europeans treated less brutally and “integrated” them through sexual relations. These islands were uninhabited until Portuguese colonialists settled there in the mid-15th century. White settlers created a population of mostly mixed European-Africans, as well as Arabs and Moors.
CIA analysts and many white politicians use the color-based variations
to rationalize why Africans fight one another. Of course, economic advantages
and disadvantages due to skin color nuances fostered upon the African
peoples is not something that the white Establishment likes to admit.
“Guinea Bissau is full of contradictions. There is chronic fighting and stagnation—not something easily stopped. Most of their food is imported, and they are stuck in this monoculture economy. Yet I feel quite attracted to the people,” Guenda says, her strong ivory teeth showing.
“There are less than two million people there; half-a-million in nearby Cape Verde. After liberation, they couldn’t protect themselves against economic and political invasions by outsiders: white Europeans and North Americans, and some Africans as well. One domination ousted; another enters. It is the global market and its implications that take over.”
Was there anything the people could have done better anyway?
“Yes, but it is not for me to answer that,” the philosopher concludes.
Guenda didn’t get much involved in the African DNS schooling, although she viewed it positively. She concentrated on investigations but did participate with a playground group. “It was a powerful experience to witness that we could make something attractive, fun and useful with so few materials, most of which came from trash,” she says.
Guenda also felt secure realizing she needed so few comforts not only to survive but also to feel good. ”My comfort zone is not delicate as my visits to the toilet areas can prove. I was often too excited to fall asleep when bedtime came. I learned another important tool, writing. I started writing at night to stop life, to rethink and harbor the good moments of the day.”
Back to Europe
Guendalina’s time reporting on Africa to Europeans and then experiencing “European Reality” along with the entire DNS17 class in Malmo encompassed more challenges that, when met and passed through, deepened the collective and the individual’s sense of worthiness.
In Malmo, Guenda worked as a waitress. She often came home near midnight to a house full of roommates and local people whom they had met at their presentations (see Francesco’s story). Guenda enjoyed their company, and to see that other Europeans were shedding their masks.
“We also talked bullshit sometimes,” Guenda admitted.
She had always worked since age 17, earning money cleaning, picking grapes, waitressing. “But I was absorbed with life without seeing the meaning in it. Now I was integrated with other people, feeling proud of these times without being concentrated on my navel.
“I didn’t have specific expectations of what I wanted to change in my life. I just did it! My daily life changed totally. I no longer suffer about meaningless things. I overcame that weakness of feeling lost, of having no perspective—a quiet ocean of nothingness,” Guenda explains.
At this writing, Guenda’s class started their last travel period, engaging in “appropriate time”, thinking of the future.
“DNS promotes activism. This schooling helps one to think and act not primarily for yourself. Although the ‘I’ is engaged, it thinks of what can help the community. DNS teaches skills for your life, and that are useful for others. DNS does not violate the self, one’s values. It simply shows that to best feed our bodies, our minds, and our hearts is to feed others as well.
While it is good to follow one’s instincts, one needs a bigger perspective.
“I would like to have in my future something like what DNS has done for me up to now. Not to be alone, to be working, fighting with others for a real future for everyone. I am really attached to my homeland, to my origins in Italy, but it is not enough in itself—this Latin passion, impulsive, spontaneous behavior. I look forward to learning where all this will lead me,” Guendalina reflects.
Practice Teacher Simona
Simona Navadonskytes, student teacher DNS17. Jenny Jagodics Photo
Simona Navadonskytes, born in Lithuania, 1991, is working with DNS 17 class as part of her third year practice teacher training. The educated teacher is yet another Lithuanian (daughter of two Russians), Svetlana Kosenko. She was a student in the DNS13 class, and this is her first job as a teacher. She is in the Teachers Group (TG).
I wondered why there are so many Lithuanians at Tvind, also at the Traveling Folk High School (DRH) in the Danish sister school at Lindersvold. Lithuanians number one-third of the three dozen DNS and DRH students now. I met Jonas, also Lithuanian, at Lindersvold. He was making a video documentary of the DRH program. Jonas and his wife had taken DRH training on the Caribbean island-state of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
These islands (pop. 120,000) gained their independence from Britain in 1979. This island-state joined the pro-socialistic Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), in 2009. Started by Cuba and Venezuela, in 2004, today there are nine member states.
Jonas helped make a video documentary of the program there, and later was offered his current task. He told me why so many Lithuanians leave their Baltic homeland.
“We were part of the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union
for two centuries. Since we got our freedom (1990), we are having a
difficult time finding our national identity again. Several people became
criminals and formed a kind of oligarchy, just like many did in the
new Russia; some of them members of the Communist Party, too.
“When we joined the Economic Union (2004), many of these criminals traveled around Europe preying on other peoples, unfortunately. Others, myself included, traveled throughout Europe and abroad seeking new experiences, new jobs, a new life. So, some have ended up with Tvind and Lindersvold, and sister schools.”
Simona is part of the first “free generation”, she tells me. Her family and friends sought to find a new way of living and looked westward. She studied psychology, and graduated college with a bachelors. Then she traveled to Canada before deciding what next.
“I wanted more education but not in the ‘normal’ setting. Searching internet, I stumbled onto DNS through facebook. I came to Tvind to check it out. I liked the community lifestyle. My background approximated Tvind in that we lived in an extended family in a small rural village. Here, I felt a ‘calling’, if you will.”
She enrolled and went to work at a special school to earn her tuition for DNS16.
“My psychology training was a bit useful there but not much. The staff put me together with a teenage girl who had various disorders, including problems with eating and lack of self-worth. At first, I felt this was too much of a challenge. We counselors and assistants had to get police training to learn how to restrain her, because she would try to harm herself. We achieved some success, helping her to express herself through dancing. I realized how lucky I was to have caring parents.
“During that year, we were three DNS16 students ‘saving
up’ at this school. I am in total agreement that it is best to
work for education, as part of education, rather than having all the
money upfront or loaning it. This method and this campus allows one
to feel you are part of something bigger.
“During the African study period, we bought an old Danish bus (1986) for the four-month Western African trip. We only got as far as southern Spain before it broke down.
“The bus stopped at night on the highway not far from Malaga. We were towed to a mechanics garage. The owner was so sweet. He let us stay in his garage in the bus. We used his bathroom and we made our meals in the bus, usually, where we slept too. We worked with a mechanic to replace the engine. The replacement was an old ship engine. We got a big break in the expenses.
“We were 13 students and two teachers. We did a bit of studying during those ten days in Malaga. We investigated the educational system talking to people involved in it. Three of us were Spanish speakers so we got along.
“The yellow bus was our comfort zone. It was part of the pedagogy aspect of our three traveling conceptions—plus the personal and the political—fighting with the poor. When local people see 15 people traveling and living in what appears to be a school bus—and usually the Tvind buses are just that—their guard falls by the wayside. We experienced this as well in our time in Africa, because we had more breakdowns although not as serious as the loss of our engine.
“This form of traveling helped us be accepted, and allowed our investigations to bear fruit. We were not viewed as typical white middle class tourists. This enabled us to see who Africans really are and how little we know about their world. Western politicians and the media distort their reality, and manipulate us to consider them as ‘backward’ people. But their poverty or lack of skills is not anything biological, rather is caused by continued colonialization, albeit neo-colonialism without direct ‘ownership’ of their countries,” Simona says quietly yet pointedly.
“Our investigations dealt with the problem of slavery in Mauritania, women’s rights, food sustainability, why there is so much poverty in lands of plenty, why there is so much corruption, so much debt, and the civil servant mentality.”
Simona emphasized that the major economic problem is the lack of manufacturing facilities and technology to process their natural resources: minerals, fossil fuels, natural fruits and edible plants.
“All our classes that spend time in Guinea Bissau, for example, do some work with the cashew nut fruit. Until very recently there was no manufacturing processing in the country of this all-important food source. The fruit is usually exported to Europe where processing occurs. There is some manufacturing in Guinea Bissau, but the plants are owned by foreigners, usually Portuguese. The Africans are made to do the hard work for nearly no wages, and thus are kept in poverty and without formal education for the majority, or just a few years in primary school.”
Eighty-five percent of the two million population is dependent on the cashew nut. The country achieved independence in 1974, due to the “carnation revolution” led by progressive Portuguese military officers and civil resistance to the clerical fascist governments of half-a-century.
The Portuguese still use G.B. as a monoculture resource: the import of unprocessed cashew nuts. Like all colonialists, as well as most neo-colonialists (and even the former Soviet Union), third world countries were/are kept poor, in part, by denying them the technology to process their natural products. Unfortunately, national governments have been unstable since 1974, political corruption is rampant, and governments do not help their people build their own factories to process cashews. Another downside is that this monoculture destroys the natural forests of other types of trees and plants, just as occurs in tropical countries with palm oil.
The work of processing is hard labor and time consuming. Without a factory process, each nut must be taken from the fruit by hand, dried in the sun, then roasted, cooled down and then baked before it can be eaten. Some small farmer-families do this work in their backyards but there is little profit in it, and the nation as a whole does not benefit. What usually happens is that the nut is taken from the fruit by hand and simply shipped abroad for processing. One can eat the fruit or wine can be made, but foreigners don’t partake in that. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=du1MN-LoQ-k
“Africa is the high light of the three-year program, without a doubt. It opens your eyes, gives one strength to go forward. It forces your mind to think critically, not to take things for granted, to see the big issues within a global perspective. It really does teach you to learn how to learn. You ask yourself: what does it mean to be a teacher? Beyond being a job, it is a mission, a whole life.
“For African DNS student-teachers, this education means that to them too, but they are also bringing basic knowledge to their youth in rural areas where they might otherwise not even learn to read and write. With the DNS perspective, some children also learn to become leaders with stamina, helping to lead their people out of poverty and Western neo-colonialism. Otherwise, normal school teaching is usually indoctrinating so that youth are made to accept their lot,” Simona explains.
“When we returned to Tvind we did our ‘bringing Africa to Europe’ experience. In Lithuania I had 15 events at youth centers, day care center, primary and secondary schools, the university where I graduated, and a women’s prison,” Simona says.
“At the prison, the women heard something quite distinct from their own lives. We did a sensory journey: tasting African foods, hearing African music, wearing their clothing. The women really enjoyed this.”
Simona then returned to Tvind and participated in the Peace and Justice
Conference. She expects to work at the Hellebæk special school
managing interns after graduation. It may be that Simona will return
to Lithuanian with an idea in birth for a new school community.
“At Hellebæk social village, I experience trust, a fulfilling development. Students enjoy being at this beautiful location. We are four-five teachers and interns for 10-12 students,” Simona concludes.
Me as “course expert” and study group observer
Since the study topic this week was on historical events in whic
h students pick one or two areas to study and present, Cuba-US history became a choice for some. My expertize in this case was the fact that I had lived and worked in Cuba for eight years, and written six books about the country and the ongoing US attacks against it. My favorite teacher and mentor is Che Guevara. He didn’t write much but his long letter-essay, “Socialism and Man in Cuba”, entails a vision I cherish most. Here is my favorite passage: https://www.marxists.org/archive/guevara/1965/03/man-socialism.htm
“Society as a whole must be converted into a gigantic school…To build communism, you must build new men, as well as the new economic base…Let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.
"Perhaps it is one of the great dramas of the leader that he must combine a passionate spirit with a cold intelligence and make painful decisions without contracting a muscle. Our vanguard revolutionaries must idealize this love of the people, the most sacred cause, and make it one and indivisible… One must have a great deal of humanity, and a strong sense of justice and truth in order not to fall into extreme dogmatism and cold scholasticism, or an isolation from the masses. We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.”
This study period week also dealt with how to decide what to choose to study, and how to present it to the whole group and to the two teachers and “experts”, such as myself.
Students discussed how history can be known, and how it is written—by the winners of wars and empire leaders thought most. Yet the losers have memories that often are passed on for generations. Anthropologists surmise that this hand-me-down history can last about 25 generations, or 500 years. Nevertheless, accuracy cannot be taken for granted, and usually the causes of events passed down are missing.
Important also is the role historians play. Can they be objective, or do they cater to employers or to a political ideology? What about our own historians, our own writers? Can we be trustworthy, or do we leftists also fall into the category of “true believers”, who fudge on accuracy, on telling the whole truth as much as it can be known?
The bus accident
The next course I was to present was cancelled suddenly, because the Tvind school bus was hit by a car. Thirteen upcoming students in DNS19 class were riding in it. The bus landed in a ditch, and several youth were injured. There were no deaths but two had minor operations for fractures. Kitchen coordinator Annie’s face was swollen blue and one eye closed, but she will recover. An elder couple were in the other car and had to be hospitalized for a time.
Headmaster Annica, who arrived at the scene quickly, later explained to fellow DNS students that the accident was due, in part, because of the rain and a harrowing curve. DNS19 students were on a day’s tour to a special school north of Tvind when this happened.
It was heart-warming to hear how effective and caring the emergency and health personnel acted. Ambulances and firemen were alerted by drivers who saw the accident. They all arrived within a few minutes. The older pair could not get out of their car until metal was cut away. A helicopter came to take them to a hospital. Ambulances took several students to two other hospitals. Police were helpful and polite. A psychologist was summoned and in the coming hours spoke with all accident victims, one by one. He also advised Annica how to handle the students when they returned to the college campus. And when they did return later that day or the next, they were met with warmth without “interrogations”.
This was the worst vehicle accident Tvind had experienced since its beginning. Despite this frightful event, all five youth who were visiting the school to assess whether they would join DNS19 or DNS20 or not, and who were on that bus, decided to take the schooling. They were from Germany, Hungary, Slovakia and, yes, two more from Lithuania.
Day School Headmaster Birthe
confers with student who pops into her office.
Birthe Norskov is an educated Danish teacher, the only Tvind-related
teacher I interviewed who is not in the Teachers Group (TG), and the
only one who lives on a farm.
“Our farm we live on counts 48 hectares. In addition, we have the 46-hectare farm that previously belonged to my parents. We don’t grow anything now besides grass for the animals and the making of hay for the winter. We have 11 horses, five cattle, eight pairs of geese and 30 young ones that we slaughter for Christmas, an uncountable number of pigeons, likewise with hens and chickens. Finally, we have cats to make sure that we don’t have mice or rats,” Birthe tells me cheerfully.
“My husband is an agronomist and was my teacher when I went to agricultural school. The minute I saw him my horizon was in flames and I knew he was the one. It took some time to convince him (a couple of months) and we are still together after 36 years. We have no children, by choice. I don’t like the idea of somebody else being dependent on me.
“I have made this dual life, one can call it, because I thrive
with both of them. The farm is for me and my husband’s needs and
pleasures. The Day School is for my practical needs, too, and my desire
to be useful for other people.”
Birthe came forth in 1955, the first of two children born to a couple of farmers.
“I have always been loved and for that reason life has come easy to me. My childhood was without any obstacles and adversities. My brother was born in 1963, so I lived the life of a single child for quite some years. My parents have always been poor and that has taught me moderation and frugality, and I’m grateful for that—qualities that have made my life lighter in many ways,” the energetic woman tells me.
“I enjoyed school and did well. I specialized in physics, math and chemistry, and finished in 1975. Then I travelled to New Zealand and found work there. A wonderful country and a wonderful place for me to mature. Well, once back in Denmark again, I started to train as a bio-analyst at the hospital in Viborg. After graduation, I worked at the hospital, and in following years I was also active in the trade union both as a member of the general board and as local president.
“In 1990, I decided that it was time to change careers. I enrolled at university in Aalborg and graduated with a degree in English and pedagogy, in 1994. I found a job teaching English at gymnasium in Viborg. Here I worked for five years until I started at Småskolen Christianshede (a Teachers Group-related school with troubled youngsters). In 2018, I was asked to take over the daily leadership of the day school here.”
The only drawback with Birthe’s farm life is that she is also
glad for her work as headmaster at Tvind’s Day School. This means
that four days a week she drives 200 kilometers back and forth.
Tvind started the Day School in 2002. It receives most of its students from the local municipality. There are two categories: needy youth (18-24 or somewhat older), who are able to take a two-year post-secondary trade school program for the job market. They can take the final examination but it is not obligatory. The other category is for youth (some younger than 18), who may not be able to handle normal educational courses. Some of them have not learned simple survival skills, such as how babies are made.
These youth are primarily taught life skills: how to express themselves so that it makes an impact on themselves and others. Additionally, they are encouraged to learn how to cook; how to keep themselves and their immediate environment clean; to take care of their health; learn elementary first aid; perhaps how to communicate with officialdom, which is becoming increasingly more difficult for most citizens.
The Day School also offers youths, who are capable of learning, what the Teachers Group believes is essential for all, what they call “solidarity humanism”. The regular courses for the more capable include: Danish literature and other art forms; Danish and European history and politics; the English language; UK and US history and politics; world social studies; mathematics, geography, biology, chemistry, religions.
Topics could also include: music and poetry as a means of expressing political and social necessities, like: peace and equality, why there is poverty and how to eliminate it, what is the “American Dream” and why that ideology harms other peoples, what was the Cold War all about, and why another one will be catastrophic for humanity and the planet.
The Day School currently has 14 students in both categories.
“PTG and Day School cooperate closely, but they are two different units. Day school is an internal Tvind school, and every resident can participate in it,” Birthe explains this somewhat complex structure, which aims to provide for each person’s special needs.
“Both schools practice STU [Særligt Tlrettelagt Ungdomsuddannelse
or Specially Designed Youth Education for each student], plus normal
education courses, life style, traveling. PTG is the residence for both
groups of youth. Madum Brook nature project is a program at the Day
School. It is a practical programme focusing on environmental issues.”
Some of the troubled youngsters have: ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity); OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder); Asberger (Social Interaction Disorder); autism, drug dependencies, criminal backgrounds, and violent home life. Municipalities pay for these youths’ boarding care and schooling at Tvind, and have the duty of inspection.
“Many kids who come have little self-esteem,” Birthe says. “Some young persons cannot express themselves adequately or even look another in the eyes. We have helped many to trust us such that they can relax enough to raise their eyes and look into ours. It means something wonderful when the child can see adult eyes that do not mock him, that do not reject him. He is then not afraid to open his mouth and speak.
“Everyone can learn something if they are given a chance,”
All students can take an annual three-week trip to another country, if they wish and are capable. Last time they travelled to Malaysia on a study tour they called “saving the planet”. The students helped pick up plastic caught in mangroves. This experience led to a teacher-student unique remake of a famous Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, “The Little Mermaid.”
They were rehearsing when I was there. The original story (1837) is a journey of a young mermaid, who is willing to leave her life in the sea in order to gain a human soul. Day School’s version: the mermaid wants to become human and seeks out the octopus (witch), who will help her kiss a boy. At the same time, her father and fish friends show her that plastic is overcoming their sea and they will die out because of that. The Little Mermaid meets her boy, but he is also against polluting the sea. They see fish entwined in plastic. The Little Mermaid is torn: give up her roots, marry a human; or return to the sea and clean up the trash with her family. Guess how it ends.
How does Birthe gage success of the schooling at Tvind?
“Our main aim is to help each person learn to conduct their own lives. It is not possible for many. The least that can be achieved is that each young person acquires some knowledge, some skills that allows him/her to cope better than without this education and care.
“Some of our troubled youth have passed the trade high school examinations and obtained work. One has even become an engineer, another worked with others to rebuild a museum. The latter boy had inadequate parents, stupefied in drugs and alcohol, who did not take adequate care of him. He wrote us a letter: ‘You people did not give up on me. You helped me believe in myself.’”
Common Ownership and Municipality Feedback
Practically every municipality sends “special”, “needy” youth, and many adults needing special assistance to private care homes and schools, and many do so to Teachers Group-related schools. Most of the facilities at these schools are owned by Faelleseje (Common Ownership). It is a small business firm started by TG, in the 1970s, to comply with an increasing government demand that buildings where authorities send special students be owned by a private firm. Today Faelleseje owns around 50 buildings (schools and boarding homes), and five ships. It also owns some buildings in England. The municipalities pay rent to use their buildings. The price fluctuates according to “free market” illogic. Last year Faelleseje earned around $5 million for rents at 35 schools/boarding residences. To meet strict government requirements, Faelleseje’s director and one other board member are not members of TG. Most of the other firm’s six to seven board members are in TG. All schools and boarding homes are legally independent of one another but there are obvious connections, and whatever they may be are legal. The key connection is a joint approach to schooling, and a belief that all people ought to struggle to end poverty and wars.
That said, government civil servants have been encouraged to be suspicious of what Tvind/Lindersvold/Teachers Group are all about, including if they are competent to care for these especially needy people. Teachers Group is watched more closely than all other private entities in this business, and some civil servants refuse to send their “clients” to these places. Therefore, not many social workers want to talk to media people about relationships between clients and Teachers Group schooling and care centers.
One who did speak with me is best protected by being anonymous, but, as is said in the media business, I know who this educational advisor is, who oversees “client” students and inspects the Day School.
“Many at my work disdain Tvind and Teachers Group,” she
begins. “I ask them what do they know to be wrong with what Tvind
does with our clients? Although nothing is forthcoming, I am seen as
being too close to that ‘fuzzy’ world.
“What I see is that these very socially challenged youths are improving their lives here. This small, integrated society strengthens them. The mix of ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’, of people of many skin colors, nationalities and languages is healthy, and helps heal most wounded kids,” she tells me.
“And the school and boarding care personnel are receptive to any critiques we come up with. Whenever we point out something that could be corrected, they listen and comply if it is not against their own professional values.
“I come here often and I see the youth thriving. It is a pleasure to come here. The food, the surrounding nature, the art works, the concerts—all this besides the classroom work and practical workshops—is healthy for them. They are more stimulated.”
“You know what?” the social worker says, smiling, “A boy here recently took and passed the trade school education final exam with the highest marks. He is so much healthier today than when he came. His horizon is beyond himself.
“Some of the children and young people here have complaints. Most of it goes along the lines of not wanting to get up on time for classes. A few have left, but they are welcome to change their minds and return. I don’t know of a better offer.
“Many want to continue here after the three-year assignment, but that is up to other people in the municipality hierarchy to decide, and there is always the question of our budgets, which the national government is constantly cutting back year after year,” the social worker concludes.
Birthe speaks of her future
“I sometimes think of retirement, but I also want to hand over the Day School in good shape to the next leader. That means that we have to find that person before I retire. Anyway, I think that farm life would fill out my time easily once I decide to step down.
“I’m very attached to the farm where I was brought up. When my father died (nearly three years ago) and my mother moved to a flat in Viborg, I simply had to buy the farm, and paid my brother half its value. I couldn’t live with the thought of some random person taking ownership of my fundamental background. That’s one reason why I am not in TG. I like being an ambassador for Tvind and TG, but I have no wish to join. I treasure my own money, my own time and my own decision-making. I’m a social person but also personal in many aspects, and not interested in engaging in living in a collective,” Birthe concludes.
Angry me protesting war and capitalism at “Time for Peace” rally, in Copenhagen, summer 2015.
I was nearing the end of my time at Tvind when I met two dozen Tamils
from India from the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and one
Tamil woman from Sri Lanka. Several of them had worked in India for
the world’s largest wind turbine builder, Vestas, and had immigrated
to work at its headquarters in western Denmark. Tamil couples came with
their children to see Tvind’s windmill, which had bested Vestas
turbines in the 1970s, and to hear Alan Lund Jensen, Tvindkraft (wind
turbine) caretaker, tell the story.
What an irony that I should meet Tamils here, yet just more evidence that one cannot escape from this globalized world saturated with human-made tragedies.
In late May 2009, Amarantha, representing the Latin American Friendship Association in Tamil Nadu, wrote me out of the blue. I did not know her nor the Tamil people’s struggles, but her group had read some of my writings about Cuba and the progressive ALBA alliance (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas with 10 member states). She asked me to look into the Sinhalese governments’ genocidal war against her people in Sri Lanka, which had just ended. Specifically, she hoped I would bring to Cuba and ALBA a protest against the role they had played, perhaps inadvertently, in politically supporting this genocide.
“It is a great shock for the people of Tamil Nadu to find that Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia, among other countries, have supported the Sri Lanka Government in annihilating the Tamil population in the Island nation…
“We here in Tamil Nadu celebrated the 80th birthday of Comrade Fidel by releasing eight books on Cuba’s achievements in various fields” [over several years this solidarity group had translated 25 books about Cuba and ALBA countries into Tamil]…
“We are struck dumb and rendered disheartened and disillusioned by this act by those countries of Latin America on which we have pinned our hopes for the future.”
I was most reluctant to act upon her request. I had recently returned
from several months in Cuba, during which I had joined the 50th revolutionary
anniversary celebration. While I had made criticisms of aspects of the
government’s economic direction and the lack of workers’
power, Cuba was my favorite country and revolution. However, I could
not in good conscience disregard this request from what was obviously
a comrade organization deeply distressed by what appeared to be an immoral
and opportunistic policy by comrade governments.
Merely conducting a minimal of research, I was appalled by what I was learning, even heartbroken by the immorality of leftist governments, many solidarity organizations and left political parties. After two years of research, article writings, verbal and written protests to Cuban, Nicaraguan and Bolivian officials, I wrote the book, “Tamil Nation in Sri Lanka”. It was the most complicated and agonizing writing of my life. Just trying to understand what had happened and why between the two major peoples (Sinhalese and minority Tamils) since Sri Lankan independence from Britain, in 1948, was incredulous, absurd and insupportable. So why did Cuba/ALBA side with the bad guys? Here is the first paragraph of the first chapter of my book.
“I think that the governments of Cuba, Bolivia, and Nicaragua
let down the entire Tamil population in the ‘Democratic Socialist
Republic’ of Sri Lanka, and betrayed proletarian internationalism
and the exploited by extending unconditional support to Sri Lanka’s
racist government. [They did so] on May 27, 2009 when signing a UN Human
Rights Council resolution praising the government of Sri Lanka for ‘the
promotion and protection of human rights,’ while condemning for
terrorism only the Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam, which had fought
the government in a civil war since 1983 until their defeat on May 19,
2009”. (See note)
The answer as to why these socialist governments did this is much too complicated and historical to explain in this writing. In brief, they were motivated mainly by geo-political opportunism. To make this perennial schism between Sinhalese and Tamils all the more incomprehensible, all governments rightist and leftist either did nothing or supported the Sinhalese—mainly Buddhist—against the Tamils—mainly Hindu plus minority Christians and Muslims. Yet the conflict was not just religious, nor did economic outlooks matter much. The Yankees and Brit partners, naturally, always sent war weaponry and other material support to the Sinhalese, as did many European governments. The Zionists even sent their own pilots and war jets. Moreover, China also assisted the Sinhalese, and to a lesser extent Russia. In fact, in the last years of the civil war “Red” China backed the Sinhalese with more war and economic aid than any other government. China later received its dream commercial shipping harbor at the most strategic site in Sri Lanka, Hambanthota.
Speaking with Tamils at Tvind brought me back to their tragic reality. In 2011, I experienced Sri Lankan Tamil’s agony first hand in Chennai where I met some during a solidarity-book tour. It hurt deeply hearing of the moral misery rendered these people by socialist governments.
Quite a relief it was to spend that afternoon with my hands in the soil. Friday afternoons, DNS classes conduct “school management: main area cleaning, grass cutting, shopping, and gardening. We were 27 in all, including four teachers. Headmaster Annica Mårtensson brought her seven-year old son to the common garden. He clearly enjoys weeding and planting.
Most of the half-hectare of garden land was already sown. Now we sowed peas, onions and carrots in the remaining soil. Other schools have smaller gardens on the campus.
The common chicken area is cleaned this day as well. Twelve hens managed by two roosters lay just enough eggs for breakfast. Chickens here eat mostly kitchen leftovers. They don’t have enough fresh greens but enough space so that they don’t hack one another.
A local carpenter, Henning, has been hired part time to be the chief caretaker for the common garden. This “normal” 50 year-old family man has fallen “in love with these people,” he tells me. At day’s end, Henning hugs me.
I was sweating refreshingly, and decided to walk the nearby trail beside Madum Brook to the farmer neighbor. I found Gunnar Joergensen in an enormous barn where he milks his 300 cows. He takes a break from wheel-barrowing hay to talk with me.
“We’ve been here since my great granddaddy’s time. He bought this land in 1896. My family is the fourth generation. This is home. I don’t need to travel, although I was in the US for some months driving those gigantic combine harvesters. But that is not my style,” he confides.
”We reorganized our farm in 1997 to meet organic requirements, and our daily milk yield rose by two liters to 35 liters.”
Gunnar was happy to go into details about his farm and his Holstein cows after I told him I had lived and worked on an ecological collective farmland (Svanholm) in eastern Denmark for three years. I raised two flocks, one after another, of 2000 hens and some chickens for meat. Their area was near 100 Jersey milk cows, each requiring one hectare of land.
“We have 450 hectares for our Holsteins. They need more land than Jerseys, because they are much larger. We also have land for grain feed but still need to buy some,” Gunnar says.
“We have a good relationship with Tvind folk. In the beginning, they were open. But once the government got after them they closed inward. We have never had any problems with them. In fact, we hire some of their students and borders to help out on the farm, and they pay us the going rate for leasing the garden plot.
“They take good care of their property, the land and buildings. They even sanitize their own wastes. In recent years, they have been reaching out to the surrounding community. I regret that I am too busy to attend most of their annual arrangements.”
Sculpture Park from Zimbabwe
One of hundreds of Zimbabwe sculptures that Tvind
and UFF/Human People to People have bought
UFF-Humana (Development Aid People to People—see more about UFF
in Maksim’s story, number 14 in this series) support to Africa
includes assisting with the sale and display of some of the world’s
finest stone sculptures made in Zimbabwe. The word Zimbabwe means “house
of stone”. Sculptures are made from spring stone and opal, among
the best of serpentinite stones, containing magnesium and ferric minerals.
They come in many colors and can be soft or very hard.
Volcanos 2.6 billion years ago cast up this remarkable bedrock in an area now known as The Great Dyke. Rocks here are unlike any others in the world, and are perfect for shaping sculptures. During four centuries in the middle ages, artists in the kingdom of Zimbabwe made sculptures and then suddenly stopped. Remains that have been found are bits of stone birds, perhaps the Chapungu eagle, which probably had spiritual meaning.
Five centuries were to pass before a few men began to make stone figures again, this time to symbolize their culture and their need to be liberated from the British Empire. In the 1970s, a white farmer helped start the Chapungu Sculpture Park, near Harare. In the 1950s, the first sculptors were unskilled men. A few women have since taken up what has become a professional art.
These stone figures of animals and people are known locally as Shona sculpture after the largest tribe engaged in this art. Since its rebirth, an art movement has begun to attract would-be artists from Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia. Many skilled artists teach newcomers. Some works maintain the raw stone and some are polished. The best artists have been compared with classical Greek and Roman sculptors. Some Zimbabwe works stand beside those of Henry Moore and Rodin. Picasso and Braque were inspired by Shona art.
Tvind and Lindersvold are supporting these artists by buying their artworks. Tvind has a collection of over 100 of these sculptures distributed all over the campus, and other schools where Teachers Group teach have several too.
Artists are paid one/third the sales price upfront and the rest when sold. HPP supports the Friends Forever, which the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe co-started. Since 2004, Friends Forever organizes hundreds of exhibitions, promoting sales in galleries and museums—from Barcelona to Boston, from Moscow to Boserup, Denmark.
Practical-Theoretical Basic Education High School
I was invited to share a grill meal with PTG High School students and personnel. One student’s parents drove from Germany with juicy local sausages for the occasion. We were a score of people at the high school’s long veranda under a seven-meter high roof designed by the Danish architect Jan Uzton. He is a friend of Tvind and the Teachers Group, and designed their associated Humana People to People Federation headquarters in Zimbabwe as well as Teacher Group’s convention center in Las Pulgas, Mexico.
Before us is a large grassy area for ducks, chickens, two donkeys and a horse cared for by these students. It was twenty years ago that TG began this school. This Practical-Theoretical Basic Education is unique and so effective for many troubled youth that the regional government has been sending up to ten “needy” youth and 15 well-functioning ones (16-24 years old) on high school scholarships here ever since 2002—and that, despite The Establishment’s disdain for Tvind/Teachers Group. The boarding high school program is three years, but some youth can stay on if they wish and if regional social workers agree or have the ever-diminishing funds.
The boarding school is large: classrooms, office, 26 residential rooms,
large living room with fireplace, TV and billiard table. They have a
grand kitchen, and adjacent is a cinema. The whole school community
is invited to watch a film of choice once a week.
All students are encouraged to become as self-sufficient as is possible. They individually and collectively plan weekend meals; organize the Tuesday café cozy time, which could be a karaoke gathering; wash clothes and bedding; see to it that everyone gets up on time; engage in gardening and other practical chores.
The educational program is tailored for each individual’s needs and desires. They can take courses that regular high schools teach, such as mathematics and languages, as well as pick subjects outside that framework. The scholarship students take the regular high school curriculum, and graduate once passing examinations. Some special students take exams as well. Everyone who wishes takes annual study trips to either India or Africa, and a ski vacation in Norway.
PTG employs educated teachers and DNS student-teachers, and the scholarship youth also assist their special class mates. Students can choose their own teachers and adult advisors. Here, one learns to resolve conflicts together and without violence, using a dialectical approach to relationships and learning. The school attracts a diversity of people, mostly from Denmark but also from other countries. Many come precisely to broaden their horizons.
Paradise Madum Brook Nature Park
A new addition to the school community is Madum Brook Nature Park project.
Before Tvind was sanctioned by the state government in 1989 (more on
that in next piece), Tvind had built a large swimming pool close to
Madum Brook. Since there was no pool in the neighboring town of Ulfborg
its residents were welcome. Years later, the town built its own, and
Tvind’s pool was abandoned. Instead, the beautiful forest and
brook have been embraced for other common joys: a treehouse, an overnight
shelter with bonfire, a bridge over the twisting rill, a kilometer-long
dirt path, and an apple orchard.
Madum Brook treehouse built primarily by Day School and PTG students with other Tvind hands, 2013-6.
Work began in 2013, and while the Day School-PTG paradise project is basically completed there is weekly upkeep and plans for growth. A recent construction is the mellow goldfish pond with spring water from Madum Brook, which people can see from the boarding schools and adult villas.
The treehouse is a favorite for all. Seven meters high, it is built on four sturdy tree columns. Its 5X5 meter-platform can hold an entire class. One climbs 25 steps up a metal-wooden ladder to the platform where a 3X4 meter-hut welcomes one and all.
On both sides of the narrow creek a panoply of foliage unfolds: yellow-white-pink-violet lupine, daisy, dandelion, poppy, anemone, and elder flowers—their delectable juice a cooling summer gift.
Beneath the majestic treehouse, anthills dot the soil. These busy creatures
scurry about adding pinecones and needles to form mother earth mammary
From this height, one sees and hears the brook trickling along. One tunes into black bird love songs, lecturing starlings, cawing rooks, and cheerfully chirping thrushes and nightingales. Frogs croaking from the brook lift eyelids closed gently to best hear our flying kin. Sometimes neighboring cow mooing accompanies the thrilling concert.
Anna Hoas was to drive south to Tvind sister school at Lindersvold quite close to where I live. At that time, she was commuting between these places on a weekly basis. Anna had taken on the task of being a guide, so I decided to tell her story. Teacher Group members are always busy doing their specific tasks so I took this opportunity to interview her as she drove me home.
Note. See my Tamil writings on my website: www.ronridenour.com in the years 2009-14, and my book “Tamil Nation in Sri Lanka” (New Century Book House, Chennai, India, 2011). It is relevant to know that before young Tamil rebels took up arms, Tamils had resisted genocide only by using Gandhi’s non-violence methods for three decades, but to no avail.
I have had 13 books published, among them are: “Yankee Sandinistas: Interviews with North Americans Living & Working in the New Nicaragua” (Curbstone Press, Connecticut, 1986). I worked in liberated Nicaragua for many months, and a bit in liberated Bolivia. I was a press relations worker for President Evo Morales at the climate summit conference in Copenhagen (COP 15), in 2009. I have written six books about Cuba (“Backfire: The CIA’s Biggest Burn”), and one about liberated Venezuela, “Songs of Venezuela”.
My most important book is, “The Russian Peace Threat: Pentagon on Alert”
Veteran Teacher Anna
Anna Hoas Stop War Demonstrator
“Thanks to the businessman’s Rotary Club, I joined the anti-capitalist
Teachers Group,” Anna Hoas tells me during our car trip from Tvind to Lindersvold. She worked then with communications at Tvind’s sister community. I was finished at Tvind and would be spending a few days investigating Lindersvold’s Traveling Teacher’s High School (DRH).
Anna is from Sweden anno 1961. Her comfortable, secure childhood mirrors that of white Western members of the Teacher’s Group (TG). Most of them did not join this radical group because of the “generation gap” theory, rather deciding as a moral choice to “fight with the poor”. The Establishment “humanitarian” entrepreneurs counter such morality with “charity for the poor.”
Anna was born and raised on Sweden’s largest island, Gotland. This Baltic Sea island-province has long maintained a stable population of around 55-60,000 people (Sweden: 10 million)—farmers and fishers. Its 8000-year populated history includes the Viking period, clearly in evidence by rune stones with pictorial motifs, a fortress, and 65 kilos of silver treasures found recently—the largest Viking treasures ever found—that these Vikings had traded and plundered for.
Anna’s father was a popular criminal detective; her mother a teacher, who practiced collective pedagogy. Her parents saw to it that Anna enjoyed a well-rounded education, which included learning about and appreciating nature’s beauty and its useful gifts.
In her teens, Anna learned that not all people in the world benefit from the social-economic gains Scandinavian workers had extracted from the owner class, fearful that the producing class would take the path of the Russian Revolution.
Although she felt protected, and had no personal need to fight for a “better life”, Anna used her privileged background to stand with those not privileged. Through pen pal letter writing, she heard about people being murdered, tortured and imprisoned by brutal dictatorships, such as Chile’s Agosto Pinochet. This led her to write letters to political prisoners through Amnesty International. She stood with literature and AI money collection containers in front of liquor stores on the island.
“I saw photographs of six journalists Franco had garroted. One woman looked like me. I also learned how South African activist Steve Biko was beaten to death in an apartheid jail cell. I saw and heard Sally Mugabe [wife of Zimbabwe’s liberation president from UK] present Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle at my high school when I was 17—indelible images,” Anna says.
“About that time, the Rotary Club sponsored me in a student exchange trip to Australia. Here I learned how authoritarian white privileged males can be. While I was used to hitch-hiking in Sweden and experiencing an independent lifestyle, Australian women were not allowed to do that, nor could they partake in pub drinking-lifestyle.”
Upon returning to Sweden, Anna was ready for learning a new way of life. Coincidentally, she saw a poster for the Tvind Traveling Folk High School and that led her to enroll in a sister school in Halden, Norway (now at Hornsjoe and known as the One World Institute). It started in September 1978, and received state accreditation and funding until 1983 when the state regretted and ended funding. No wonder! Teacher Group-led school outlook is that of the Greek polyhistor ideal: acquiring knowledge in many fields, embracing a holistic view of the world. https://www.oneworldinstitute.eu/
The Norway school has had traveling education programs from 10 months to two and even three years. (See upcoming stories about similar schooling at Lindersvold, Denmark).
Anna took the traveling training program in 1980-1. Her study group flew to Peru and hitchhiked to Brazil during the military junta period (1964-89), which the US had assisted overthrowing a democratic government and supported harsh military rule. Her group also toured a bit of Cuba.
“One of the things that impressed me about Cubans was the genuine curiosity and internationalism of young people. When some schoolchildren heard that I came from Sweden, perhaps they were 12 - 13 years or so, they immediately launched into a discussion about Olof Palme. The former Swedish Prime Minister was now working for the United Nations on the issue of disarmament. What did I think about that? I hadn't really heard about it, but they were happy to share what they knew,” Anna recalls.
Then they flew to Merida and hitchhiked all the way from the Yucatan
to Laredo Texas, 2,500 kilometers. “Mexico was simply a transit
country to get to the US. So, we broke up into small groups of two or
three and hitched rides with truckers who were very friendly and talkative.
It was quite easy,” Anna says.
However entering into the “greatest country in the world, the United States of America” was a different matter altogether.
“It was too creepy to hitch-hike in the south with guys driving
pick-ups with shotguns hanging in the rear window and confederate flags
as bumper stickers. My group purchased an old Chevrolet, which lasted
to New York. We gave it to some guy we met on the street.”
What Anna and the other youths saw in the US shocked them. By that time, the war against Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia had ended and Ronald Reagan reigned.
“The love of the military, of their wars we witnessed was simply
appalling,” Anna tells me. “We couldn’t find any peace
movement. We did meet some black Vietnam veterans in Washington DC who
criticized that war. There had been great protests. But war, in general,
was still accepted. And we just couldn’t fathom the depth of racism
and inequality throughout the country. Twenty years later I was with
another student-study tour as a teacher, and we visited the infamous
Mississippi Parchment Prison as part of our study into the death penalty
and political prisoners.”
The Parchment Farm, as it is called, opened over a century ago as a work prison only for blacks, who earned the state money suffering under slave labor. In 1961, the prison was used to punish Freedom Riders, black and white youth protesting discrimination on buses. At one time, the prison held 300 of these resisters to racism, and forced them into chain gangs.
“The conditions we saw were sub-human,” Anna continues. “Yet the guards were proud to show us around. They had no humility about murdering people there. They even invited us to see their gas chamber and said we were welcome to go inside if we wanted—yuck!”
When young Anna returned to the school in Norway, she was so energized by the determination the teachers possessed in the Teachers Group that she joined. At that time, 1982, she was 20 years old and raring to fight against wars, racism, poverty. Her first class took a study tour to Zimbabwe.
“I have been told that in the early days at the Tvind campus,
it was hard times for the left in that there were so many eager people
with conflicting ideas, especially about strategy and tactics,”
Anna says. “Some of the participants at the courses wanted TG
to write up an ideological doctrine, even to form a political party,
and many meetings were simply verbal marathons. Some people were disappointed
that TG was more interested in just implementing a communal lifestyle
instead of talking about theory.
“No doubt that Amdi [Mogens Amdi Petersen] was a key figure then. He did have knowledge about lots of things, a lot of good ideas that he was passionate about. Of course, he would stand his ground in discussions. There were others with quite extreme notions, such as throwing furniture out because such possessions were ‘bourgeois’, but we grew out of those extremes,” she says.
Unknown to Anna and the whole school community, the political police (PET-Danish Security and Intelligence Service) had been tapping TG members telephones between 1979-81, attempting to connect someone with “terrorism”.
Anna met some Danish TG teachers who had just started special schools for especially difficult and/or abused young people. Anna joined the “cool” teachers’ small schools program.
These new schools for youths (13-18 years old) with troubled backgrounds began attracting many of them. Due to the unique education, many of them improved their lives. Sailing the Atlantic on a schooner, or riding in mini-buses across many countries, troubled Scandinavian youths were learning about new people and cultures, and learning to take responsibility. They also studied academic subjects, and partook in drama productions, even Dario Fo and Bertolt Brecht plays, and learned to fly hot air balloons.
Anna said that effectiveness evaluations made determined that if such youth stayed in this program for more than two years, improvement rate increased by 72%. That meant they were more stable, less abusive to self and others, not overdoing alcohol or drugs, and through with the tough guy milieu.
Government Seeks to Shut Down Tvind
By then, DNS (The Necessary Teacher Training College), developed at Tvind in 1972, was under attack. In 1989, Bertel Haarder, the Education Minister in the Conservative Party-led government, had decided to close some of the smaller, mostly progressive free schools. The one he most wanted to erase was DNS. He cut state funding for DNS schooling. TG had to invent a new mode of funding the education as a private and independent college. So, the state did not achieve closing down DNS.
On March 21, 2018, “Altinget”, parliament’s newsletter, reported that Haarder admitted: “Yes, I have been instrumental in restricting certain freedoms,” referring among others to his decision to stop funding DNS education. “Freedom presupposes a certain goal of common values.” https://www.altinget.dk/artikel/bertel-haarder-ja-jeg-har-vaeret-med-til-at-indskraenke-visse-friheder
Haarder, Denmark’s longest seating minister, added that he did not regret restricting “certain freedoms that I have previously praised”, including equal rights for all religions and cultures—Muslims—and even political viewpoints, first and foremost Teachers Group. In the same breathe he acknowledged the necessity of forbidding Nazis, Communists and Islamists the right to establish schools with tax funds.
Haarder thereby placed enthusiastic and dedicated teachers seeking an end to poverty in the same moral and political category alongside Nazis—responsible for World War II and the murder of around 80 million people—and Danish Communists as well. The Communists had led the fight in Denmark against these Nazis. These three quite disparate groups was Haarder’s “Holy Trinity”.
Haarder also announced that his “Liberal” party was not really “liberal”, but rather a “party of people sharing common values”. Only creatures born white skinned, and who hold “common values”, are granted rights that all others are forbidden. Haarder had his “Good Danes”—adherents of Martin Luther feminist-burning Christianity and capitalism.
Incidentally—as if this matter is only an “incident”—when Haarder discriminated against Tvind schools, the Conservative government had just called for an early election, because it refused to abide by the majority decision made decades ago that Denmark would not allow any country to carry nuclear weapons on/over/in its territory. The rule was that captains of war aircraft and ships capable of carrying atomic weapons must be advised in writing that they cannot bring them to Denmark. When the Social Democratic party demanded that the Conservative government deliver such a letter to the captain of a US war ship known to carry such weapons, and which had docked at Copenhagen’s harbor, the government refused to abide by majority rule. It called for an early election, yet won anyway.
The “Liberals” then cut out some of the “Tvind schools” (DNS) but not all school programs, which included anti-capitalist information. Not good enough roared the next government, the alleged “Social Democrats”. They decided to smash the anti-capitalist schooling institution entirely—all except the special small schools for youth and adults suffering various disorders.
In 1995-6, parliament investigated schools belonging to the “School
Cooperation Tvind” three times and in three reports found nothing
Social Democrat-led government appointed a “social liberal” party leader, Ole Vie Jensen, education minister. Jensen’s party (RV) had many teacher members and voters, who felt that the Teachers Group pedagogy was catching on with too many young people—a threat to their professional lives. Some speculated that this revolutionary education could even threaten the existence of capitalism through peaceful means. Something drastic had to take place.
Special Anti-Tvind Law
Ole Vie Jensen introduced Law nr. 506, the special “Tvind law”, on June 12, 1996. The two socialist parties in parliament opposed it, as did most lawyers and a few bourgeois politicians on the basis that it was unconstitutional to make a separate law only for one educational organization. One of the stipulations in the bill was that the affected schools could not appeal in the courts.
After Jensen assured the parliament that his proposal met constitutional
requirements, the bill passed with 89 for 20 against, two abstentions,
while 68 members disdained to even attend the parliament. The rationale
for the law was that 32 schools affected were not “independent”.
This meant 1,580 Danish students and 300 foreign students were left
in the cold, and the school community lost $20 million in state finances.
All of the “after-schools” and trade schools closed down,
but the steadfast TG would not let the state close their DRH schools
The mass media backed the capitalist lawmakers. The daily known for being “liberal” (liberal as in New York Times, Washington Post) ran an editorial comparing “Tvind schools” with Al Capone.
Some of the affected schools brought a court action despite the prohibition, but it was rejected. However, the Supreme Court accepted the challenge. In their deliberations, all 11 judges agreed, and some angrily, that the parliament had violated the 1848 constitution, which is based on the principle that all are equal before the law, and that the parliament cannot decide what is constitutionally legal—that is what the courts are for.
This is the only time in history that the Supreme Court turned down a parliament law. Nevertheless, the politicians were generally unimpressed. They refused to refund the schools they shut down or extend subsidies to the new ones begun on a private basis.
With the Supreme Court victory, several schools petitioned to get the government subsidy back. Parliament refused, and the courts denied their case, because some rules had been changed for all “free schools”, and the high court demanded extravagant court costs just to present their case.
When parliament made its special anti-Tvind law, many TG members were
dismayed with the arduous consequences. Half the 200 members of Teachers
Group left Denmark to start somewhere else, and a few simply left the
community. About 100 stayed in Denmark and started from scratch to establish
a new set of institutions based on funding from local authorities or,
in the case of continuing the DRH schools, private financing mainly
by students they could recruit. Most of the DRH students then came from
Court Case Against Tvind and Amdi Petersen
Teachers Group had not capitulated. Time to take greater measures to annihilate them.
“It really is like Jim Jones and Jonestown, where everybody is in the same reality and everybody is in a parallel world, and they have sworn an oath to create a better world,” said Danish attorney Poul Gade, who prior to entering private practice was the chief prosecutor in the charities fraud case against Petersen.https://www.revealnews.org/article/us-taxpayers-are-financing-alleged-cult-through-african-aid-charities/
Amdi Petersen had to be imprisoned because he was like Jim Jones, and Al Capone? Yet not even the Establishment contended Amdi had killed anyone, let alone poisoning 918 people, of whom 909 died. Amdi hadn’t even lived in Denmark for many years when he was incarcerated in Los Angeles for seven months during an extradition trial. Before that trial ended, Amdi agreed to return to Denmark to face charges of embezzlement, fraud, and tax evasion.
Police had raided Tvind and other schools where TG members worked, and confiscated 81 computers. The state attorney general’s staff spent nearly $2 million on accountant fees to find evidence of criminality, and found nothing. Then they spent $12 million on the court case over three years with 170 days in court.
On August 31, 2006, the court found seven of the eight charged innocent of all charges. The one found guilty had already confessed to minor charges of transferring funds from one account to another relating to collective property and not individual profiteering.
Innocent were: Mogens Amdi Petersen, Kirsten Larsen, Poul Joergensen, Ruth Sejeroee, Marlene Gunst, Christie Pipps and Bodil Ross Soerensen. Steen Byrner, who had been responsible for the daily economy, was sentenced to one year suspended imprisonment and two years probation. All but Poul Joergensen then returned to other countries where they had been living.
The government was so angry that it had so little evidence and lost the case, it appealed to a higher court, which granted its petition. So, they retried the only previous defendant who was still in Denmark, and found Joergensen guilty of transferring funds from humanitarian projects to TG-related purposes, but again without personal benefit. He was sentenced to two-and-one-half years in prison for that and for tax evasion. Four years went by before a new government decided to send out an arrest order for Amdi and the others for a retrial.
Merethe Stagetorn was one of the lawyers in the first court case against the eight. She comes from an Establishment family, and is nationally known for her judicial expertize and sense of justice.
She told the Establishment media, “I really think well of Amdi, his thinking and that of the others at Tvind. Their schooling started with new thinking, and some of that is now in public schools.” (“Berlinske Tidende”, December 31, 2015)
Stagetorn said that some TG members have left the community, and complained about aspects of it and some leaders, such as Amdi. But, she added, “Like in any family that splits up there are always some who are bitter.”
“These teachers are all so painstakingly careful and thoughtful,
and Amdi is a worldly man. That court case was the case of my life.
It was extremely challenging and will go down in Denmark’s history,”
In 2010, Stagetorn really broke with Establishment manners when she took the post of director of “Fælleseje”, the firm that owns buildings, ships and other properties where TG work at various schools. In a 2014 biography of her life, Stagetorn explained why she took on that task:
“I wanted to show that the Teachers Group had done nothing wrong…I respect them for their integrity, their intimacy and their interest in other peoples…They also have enormous knowledge about literature and lead a very active cultural life. I met them also as people who burn so honestly with a goal of changing the world by helping people in need, and I never felt they had a hidden agenda or told polished truths, such as we lawyers otherwise experience.”
She added that she had been with many TG teachers over a four-year period and did not witness any “luxurious living” as the Establishment likes to claim, as if the powers-that-be do not live such lives. Nor did she ever see any of them drink spirits or take drugs.
“I don’t know why the Danish system isn’t strong
enough to accept Amdi as part of its diversity…I do see that they
are too closed an enterprise, and there is a lack of accessibility.
I asked Amdi about that and he said that they had tried to be open,
to reach out for a long time but met too little sympathetic response.
Well, I sympathize.”
A police director, Jens Kaasgaard told a journalist for a regional newspaper, Jesper Markussen:
“That was the biggest single case I was involved in and it filled a lot in those years. But then [the Justice ministry] appealed and I haven’t been involved since…We thought then that we were saving the world, which [Tvind/Amdi] had placed in danger. In reality, we policemen were being used in a game.” (“Holstebro Folkeblad”, January 9, 2014).
The whole purpose of the character assassination against this one man is what we can see in many parts of the world. Make an effective leader into a cult figure, a villain that the majority can be propagandized to hate, thus hiding what that person actually stands for, which is what the powers are dead set against. We see, for example, how the Western powers vilify President Vladimir Putin to hide the reality that he stands for world peace and sovereignty for his people.
Steen Conradsen told the Holstebro newspaper reporter that Mogens Amdi Petersen “is part of the fellowship, but the image that he sits on the other side of the earth and rules everything with an iron hand just doesn’t hold. No one can rule free people that way.”
This regional newspaper actually published a balanced and long article
about “Tvind” that day (January 9, 2014), because it was
Amdi’s 75th birthday. Conradsen, a veteran TGer for 43 years,
was allowed to explain his view. What upsets the Establishment about
Amdi/Tvind/Teachers Group, he said, is that 3000 people (anno 2019)
wanted to live collectively, sharing their economy, skills, knowledge
and intelligence with one another in a long struggle to end poverty
“Nobody wants to write about our pedagogy, about all that work we do for the weakest of youth, or the enormous tree planting project in Africa we are engaged in right now. You only come when a scandal can be concocted or when you can bring in the Amdi trump card.”
Back to Anna
“After the anti-Tvind law, we saw there was a need for juvenile delinquents who otherwise were often put in jails, because the state had no special schooling for them. This was a forerunner to PTG” [Practical-Theoretical Basic Education],” Anna explains.
Anna began teaching at the PTG school the same time that Denmark’s Establishment asked its global protector to arrest Amdi in Los Angeles. Anna remained at PTG until 2016. She was with the Madum Brook Nature Project, which used fallen trees for building blocks.
Anna recounts how much the PTG student-borders love the OL Tvind games and the hot air ballooning. As I write, “Hot Air Balloon Team Tvind” just came in second out of 12 teams in the annual Denmark contest. Last year, “Tvind” team won the Danish championships. Aside from the competitive spirit, the hundred or more participants have a ball at this inviting campus.
“It is at our common meetings where we decide what to do, what and how projects can be created. The same as with the Madum Brook nature project in which students are intricately involved. Our process is not nearly like that in the normal, bureaucratically run schools. Our students are glad that there are adults willing to listen to them, and then to act,” Anna says.
PTG and Day
School built this shelter by Madum (Winding)Brook where everyone is
I’ve been interviewing Anna off and on for some days. Right now, we are sitting in a café at a gas station having just filled the tank. Her phone rings. She speaks in English with a former student.
“You know, some of our graduated kids, who had been involved in gangs, are pressed to return. Several of them keep in touch with us. This guy wants to leave the country to get away from that milieu. So, we can advise them about school programs we know about somewhere in the world. That’s what this phone call was about,” Anna tells me.
Anna speaks about how many of her students have had the opportunity to travel and do something good while at her school. Students are active in the process of choosing a destination for their study trips, so when the “refugee crisis” hit Europe in earnest, in 2015, a group of students that had initially planned to go to India changed their plans.
“At a common meeting we quickly concluded that it was a no-brainer to take the trip to India, and instead we chose to make ourselves useful at one of the Greek islands.”
So, the group spent time as volunteers at the island of Chios, assisting a local solidarity organizations, which gave support to newly arrived refugees in the form of food, clothing and activities for the children.
While I am drinking my first beer in eight days, and Anna a juice, her phone rings again. An African young man, who was at PTG, wants to enter another travelling high school trip to Africa. Anna gives him some pointers.
“I get calls quite often. Many former students keep in touch with one another. That is what is important to me—working with people in the cold, on the margin. If you are privileged you have a moral obligation to share what you know or have access to with those who need those resources. It is not their fault that the system promotes inequality and poverty.
“We must introduce our own privileged people to others’
real world so they can see, so they can feel how unfair it is, so that,
hopefully, they will do something about that.”
Having spent more than 30 years working with marginalized youth—implementing inclusive pedagogy in an attempt to empower them to pursue their quest for a good life—Anna decided to call it quits.
“I felt that I spent most of my time contesting immoral and often unlawful decisions taken by local authorities about cutting funding for these youngsters in need of our support. We were making good progress but in many cases the needs of the young person were disregarded in favor of ‘saving’ money. This was very upsetting for me, so in the end I decided to quit.”
Anna took a year to reconsider her options. When she returned to work, she took on communications and recruitment. Anna decided to use her proficiency in the IT world to setting up websites and advertising on the social media. This work had its tensions, too, but she wasn’t responsible directly for others’ specific needs.
How does Anna Hoas feel about TG life, now after 37 years in this collective?
“Teachers Group world is secure, in all ways. Here there are no outcasts. We all are allowed to make mistakes, and there are always people to pick you up. It is a great comfort to be in an environment where learning is always present, learning about new people, new cultures, new languages, new solutions.
“Had I not lived here I would have missed so much wealth of knowledge, of life. If one of us in our work does not make a success of some project, well, there is someone else to step in. Each of us does not have to have 100% success for the collective to have success. There is always a fallback.
“In that way, we are not susceptible to the anxiety that the individual worker has if she loses a job, a business venture, or a marriage. We build greater resistance. We keep popping up, going onward. Makes one feel brave.”
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