An Urgently Needed Alternative Educational Model

The Biggest Windmill in the world, it was in the 1970s,
the fuel crisis had begun, the choices were presented to us,
as if we had none, leaders of industry said they could solve the problem,
by mastering the power of the radioactive atom,
some folks in western Jutland got a notion in their heads,
They thought there might be something they could offer up instead,
a few hundred people gathered in a little place called Tvind,
And declared their will to harness the power of the wind.
soon Denmark would be known as the windmill building nation,
and it all started with some hippies at the Tvindkraft power station.

– David Rovics, folk singer.

In 1975-8, the “Teachers Groups” at the Tvind alternative high school in Jutland, Denmark constructed the first multi-megawatt wind turbine – 54 meters tall with a 54 meter wingspan – in order to offset the energy crisis and to show that there was an alternative to nuclear power and fossil fuels.

The Tvind school embodies the value system of the counter-culture and peace movement and its vision for a more just world centered on human compassion, empathy, respect for the environment, and peace.

In Winding Brook Stories, journalist-activist Ron Ridenour provides a chronicle of the Tvind school, which was founded by countercultural activists of the 1960s to instill in its students a compassion for fighting societal injustice.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the Danish government mounted a campaign to cut state funding for Tvind. Conservative education minister Bertel Haarder said that communists shouldn’t establish schools with tax revenues like Nazis.

This kind of denunciation stems from the fact that a good education almost always threatens the power structure.

It compels students to think critically, to develop solidarity with the poor and oppressed, and to conceive of alternative approaches to governance that might be widely supported.

Folk singer Davide Rovics met one of Tvind’s directors at a Pete Seeger tribute and often sings at arrangements that Tvind’s “Teachers Group” organizes. He speaks of his experience with them: “Some of the most knowledgeable, caring and shining souls have been Tvind founders, educators and students. Wherever they are, they are doing great work of many different kinds, traveling widely, with experiences in different countries. The stories are endless and fascinating.”

Gert Joelker, a teacher at the school based in Lindersvold, stated: “I see this school community as a center for humanity…to change the world for the betterment of all means to invest in creating a different system.”

Students at Tvind take math, science and language courses, and work with teachers to plan their own course of study. They are at liberty to read and report on books that interest them. Courses are offered on topics that are taboo such as the Cuban revolution and U.S. subversion.

The tuition for Tvind is 1,000 Euros to enroll plus 8,000 Euros for each year of study, which includes tuition, room and board, traveling costs, equipment and books. Students pay for this by working part time at the special schools and boarding homes where the Teachers Group have contacts with local governments.

All the students at Tvind live collectively on the campus and do all the cleaning, cooking and gardening. Drugs and alcohol are prohibited. The schedule is demanding and students are always busy. A highlight is a bus trip through western Africa where students interact with the locals and perform community service.

Many students find this experience edifying. A Lithuanian student, Justinas (Justas) Volungevicius, who is part of the Teachers’ Group, stated that for him it was important to meet so many diverse people and to “learn from them.” He added that he gained “a lot of insight into the reality of people in the world…[and] a strong feeling of injustice…I learned that there is a lot of inequality in the world and that too few do something about it. I decided that I want to be part of changing that.”

Volungevicius was part of group that traveled through Mauritania where slavery still exists, and Morocco where his group learned about the struggles of the Sahrawi people in Western Sahara who lived under Moroccan occupation.

He and another Lithuanian student came to understand how a lack of manufacturing facilities in many Sub-Saharan African countries and technology to process natural resources fueled the exploitation of these countries by foreign powers.

Guendalina Marzull, a Tvind student from Italy, traveled to Guinea-Bissau and learned about anticolonial hero Amicral Cabral, whose brother, Luis, became the country’s first post-independence president after Amilcar was assassinated.

Marzull in her journey came to understand how the poverty of Guinea Bissau was linked to its dependence on the export of cashew nut fruit, which had to be processed in Europe because of the lack of local manufacturing capacity.

She found that the Portuguese, who had colonized Guinea Bissau up until 1975, still used the country as a monoculture resource. Marzull told Ridenour that the Africa travel program “opens your eyes… [and enables you to] see big issues in global perspective.”

She and her group had a good experience offering workshops to students in impoverished rural areas whom she hoped could one day “lead their country out of poverty and neocolonialism.”

Later, Marzull helped host cultural events in Europe at youth centers, day cares, schools and in a woman’s prison where the inmates enjoyed learning about a different culture and hearing African music.

Tvind’s approach can serve as a model for American education reformers seeking new approaches in an era marred by devastating budget cuts and an overemphasis on standardized tests which have alienated many students.

Like their Tvind counterparts, American students need to be exposed to foreign cultures, encouraged to pursue study of taboo topics, and to learn to empathize with the poor and oppressed.

They further need to be encouraged to think creatively, outside the box, and to conceive of alternative policies and philosophies that can help us solve some of our major problems.

Teachers Group does have one school in Dowagiac, Michigan, a traveling folk school, “One World Center.”

Narrow minded people and those in power may want to attack Tvind and the Teachers Group. The accomplishments of the school’s students and faculty shows, however, that the values it seeks to cultivate are noble ones and represent the hope of humanity.

Jeremy Kuzmarov is the author of The Russians are Coming, Again: The First Cold War as Tragedy, the Second as Farce (Monthly Review Press, 2018) and Obama’s Unending Wars: Fronting for the Foreign Policy of the Permanent Warfare State (Atlanta: Clarity Press, 2019).