free school zine

the following text was originally put together as a zine to explain why and how we wanted the free school to look, it is long but worth the read.

What is education and what is the point of education?
Education is a process by which skills and information are shared and acquired. The point of education is to empower people to think for themselves and act on their own; to learn how to relate with others and their environment in meaningful and fulfilling ways; and to inspire a questioning, critical, and constructive attitude that pushes people forward towards realizing their goals and dreams. The compulsory education system has a different agenda. In 1852, Massachusetts adopted the Prussian education system with the support of Horace Mann, an education reformer that was greatly impressed by the Prussian style of schooling. This may seem like an irrelevant historical fact, but ever since then the point of education that we have set forth and the actual point of the education system have been different.
The point of the Prussian education system was to make loyal subjects to the monarchy and to train people for their roles in the military and the bureaucracy. John Taylor Gatto explains this in The Public School Nightmare: Why fix a system designed to destroy individual thought?: The structure of American schooling, 20th century style, began in 1806 when Napoleon’s amateur soldiers beat the professional soldiers of Prussia at the battle of Jena. When your business is selling soldiers, losing a battle like that is serious. Almost immediately afterwards a German philosopher named Fichte delivered his famous “Address to the German Nation” which became one of the most influential documents in modern history. In effect he told the Prussian people that the party was over, that the nation would have to shape up through a new Utopian institution of forced schooling in which everyone would learn to take orders. So the world got compulsory schooling at the end of a state bayonet for the first time in human history. Modern forced schooling started in Prussia in 1819 with a clear vision of what centralized schools could deliver:
1.Obedient soldiers to the army;
2.Obedient workers to the mines;
3.Well subordinated civil servants to government;
4.Well subordinated clerks to industry
5.Citizens who thought alike about major issues. “
After seeing the obedience that this type of education created, Horace Mann was very influential in creating an education system in the United States with many of the same goals in mind. People that could think for themselves would be dangerous to the social order; therefore this style of education became very important in maintaining the status quo. In The Tyranny of Compulsory Schooling, Gatto explains further: “In school, a washing away of the innate power of individual mind takes place, a “cleansing” so comprehensive that original thinking becomes difficult. If you don’t believe this development was part of the intentional design of schooling, you should read William Torrey Harris’s The Philosophy of Education. Harris was the U.S. Commissioner of Education at the turn of the century and the man most influential in standardizing our schools. Listen to the man. “Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred,” writes Harris, “are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom.” This is not all accident, Harris explains, but the “result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual.” Scientific education subsumes the individual until his or her behavior becomes robotic. Those are the thoughts of the most influential U.S. Commissioner of Education we’ve had so far.”
As the world tries to deal with war and environmental destruction, as well as the many other challenges facing humanity, it would seem that individual thought should be encouraged, if for no other reason than the fact that this society is in dire need of innovative, new ideas which can only come from unrestricted minds. If the public education system in the United States was not designed to help people along the way to becoming creative, freethinking, self-empowered individuals, then now is the time for alternatives. Richard Shaull, in the foreword to Pedagogy of the Oppressed, illustrates the difference between the point of education as defined in the beginning and the objective of the education system: “There is no such thing as a neutral educational process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes “the practice of freedom,” the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”
We, the writers of this zine, want to start a process through which education can become “the practice of freedom.” We want to create opportunities to educate ourselves and learn from each other in the form of a communal and self-directed network of education called a free school. Free schools are an extension of the democratic school movement and are inspired by home schooling, un-schooling, the anarchist Modern School of Spain, as well as other experiments in education. Wikipedia defines a free school as: “a decentralized network in which skills, information, and knowledge are shared without hierarchy or the institutional environment of formal schooling. The open structure of a free school is intended to encourage self-reliance, critical consciousness, and personal development. Beyond schools that offer democratic reforms to the educational system, radical experiments in non-hierarchical education with anarchist roots have given rise to temporal and permanent free schools. They are often termed “free skools” to distinguish them from what supporters view as an oppressive and institutional educational industry. Temporal free skools offering skill-shares and training have become a regular part of large radical gatherings and actions. More permanent skools in cities large and small have popped up across North America offering a wide range of workshops, classes, and skill-shares. Free Skool Santa Cruz in California is perhaps typical of a new batch of free schools that are explicitly rooted in an anarchist tradition of collectivism, autonomy, and self-reliance, and feature informal, non-authoritarian learning outside of the monetary economy. From the Free Skool Santa Cruz website: “More than just an opportunity to learn, we see Free Skool as a direct challenge to dominant institutions and hierarchical relationships. Part of creating a new world is resistance to the old one, to the relentless commodification of everything, including learning and the way we relate to each other.” These are on-going, informal learning networks that focus on skill-sharing among adults as well as children. The boundaries between students, teachers, and organizers are consciously blurred, with some free skools claiming, “We are all teachers, and we are all students.” Free skool “classes” are often autonomous workshops held in informal settings in homes, cafes, and community centers. Free skools typically offer a monthly or quarterly-produced free skool calendar.”
Decentralized Autonomous Free School
To explain more precisely what we are talking about, we will now define some terms.
Decentralization is egalitarianism in practice. We feel that people are all equally capable of being in control of the decisions that affect their lives and are in the best position to organize their lives according to their needs and desires. We feel that by concentrating decision-making power in the hands of others who may not understand people’s individual situations, the freedom to be in control of one’s own life is given up. Centralized organizations are characterized by this concentration of power, by the idea that those with power know what is best, and often by being an inefficient bureaucracy, disconnected from the people it claims to serve. By being decentralized, we reject those characteristics in favor of a dispersal of decision-making power, the idea that people are capable of figuring out what is best for themselves, and by organizing in a way that is directly related to the needs and desires of those involved. By being decentralized, we also avoid the inherent weaknesses of a centralized organization. Centralized organizations are often inflexible and resistant to change while the surrounding world is always changing. By being decentralized, we are able to change and adapt as the situation necessitates. There is strength in decentralization because each part can act on its own according to the needs of the situation without appeal to a higher authority. Also, by being decentralized, we avoid the creation of yet another organization that takes on a life of its own and requires more and more resources and energy to continue on as it becomes further and further disconnected from the needs and desires of the people. As such an organization grows, it creates its own needs and desires and then imposes those needs and desires on the people while disguising them as being the needs and desires of the people. Decentralization is a means to avoid this. We are against centralized organizations, as they tend to have top down decision-making processes and are therefore hierarchical. Power is concentrated vertically towards the top and decisions are imposed on those below. Decentralization favors a horizontal dispersal of decision-making power, to both avoid creating hierarchies that only perpetuate this unnecessary and undesirable concentration of power, and also to put decision-making power in the hands of those whose lives are affected by those decisions, thereby increasing the domain of democracy.
What is autonomous?
An autonomous space is a space in which the regulations for acceptable behavior are not oppressive and determined by its users in a manner that promotes values of respect and diversity. An autonomous individual has the freedom to make informed, uncoerced decisions. Still, an individual is accountable to both their own self and the community in which the person interacts in regards to their decisions.
Why is it autonomous?
The free school is being described as an autonomous space because it is unaffiliated with any outside forces that impose regulations on it. It is instead shaped and molded by any of its participants who wish to do so in a respectful, non-coercive manner. We are committed to maintaining a non-hierarchical structure in which all participants occupy an equal role according to their abilities and desires.
Oppressive behavior, be it discriminatory in word or action in regards to a person’s gender, social class, ethnicity, age, physical abilities, sexual orientation, or any other component of their identity is not welcome. An open-minded appreciation of differences is instead what is required of participants to promote an inclusive environment that is conducive to giving everyone an equal opportunity to explore and develop their learning abilities.
How is a traditional school not autonomous?
A traditional school is a place in which students are prepared for the workforce. Standardized tests that purport to measure intelligence are imposed on students, and it is assumed that everyone learns in the same way. There is no catering to the individual. Students are encouraged to blindly accept what is deemed as important knowledge without being encouraged to question it or even explore their own learning desires. A rigid structure exists in traditional schools that places a hierarchy on important knowledge and skills. The student is not present in the curriculum decision-making process. The student is not allowed to choose their own unique course of study, or to give input into the way the school functions.
How is the free school autonomous?
In contrast, a free school is a decentralized network in which an individual is free to explore and pursue knowledge in a setting in which skills and information are exchanged voluntarily without a rigid, controlling structure. An individual is free to choose their own level of participation and their own educational goals. Should the individual’s learning goals change, the person is free to change their course of study in a responsible manner.
A free school participant is self-reliant and learns to take personal responsibility for seeking out desired knowledge. A free school participant is self-motivated, self-accountable, and a part of an autonomous network that is directly framed by its users. Thus, a learning community modeled as a free school is successful in actually addressing and fulfilling an individual’s desires.
The “free” in free school means freedom from the restrictions that are present in a formal school setting. People are therefore free to learn what they want, when and how they want. We feel that this freedom is necessary for inspiring self-motivation and self-sufficiency. When people are allowed the freedom to decide what they want to do with their time, learning can come from a natural curiosity and a real desire to expand one’s mind. When learning is forced on people, then even the most interesting material can become boring. When people are allowed to let their curiosities and desires grow naturally, a passion for learning develops, and this passion is what we are trying to help develop. With the development of this passion, people can become more self-motivated, more independent (in thoughts and action), and more self-empowered. Another aspect of the word “free” involves money. Learning is something that happens with or without monetary exchange and yet many learning opportunities are only available to those who can afford them. The disparity in the distribution of money and resources in the education system affects everyone. We try to address this by offering the classes and workshops that are part of the free school for free or cheap. People may need to provide their own materials, but the exchange of information should be free. The free school is to be a learning network and therefore skills and information will be exchanged throughout the network, benefiting the people involved.
A school is an environment where skills and information are exchanged, and this is why we call this network a free school. Schools have a structure that facilitates this exchange and unfortunately, most schools have a structure that teaches people to be dependent on authority figures and to not think for themselves. The loose structure that we are proposing is set up to enable people to be independent. Anyone is welcome to organize a class or workshop, and anyone exhibiting respectful behavior is welcome to attend. There may be instances where attendance is limited to certain groups, such as a gender exclusive discussion group that is to be open only to those that identify as a certain gender. These situations allow people to talk about issues that pertain to the group and attempt to provide a safe space without the pressure of outside influences. Learning can take the form of workshops, skill shares, discussion groups, classes, lectures, movie viewings, book readings, field trips, etc. A calendar or zine will be printed with all of the classes and educational opportunities available. Information about the classes and the instructor or facilitator’s contact information will be provided as well. The instructor or facilitator should organize classes and workshops. These organizers can contact the writers of this zine with information about the class or workshop, and we will put this information in the zine or calendar. We do not want people to expend energy organizing a workshop or class only to have no one show up, so people interested in a class should contact facilitators so that they know roughly how many people will be in attendance.
How it Works
Note to Instructors
You don’t have to be an expert to be a facilitator or bottom-liner. All you need is an interest or desire to learn more about a subject or skill. Each class needs at least one person to bottom line it and to take care of the logistics and details.
Suggestions for Starting a Free School Class
-Identify a subject or topic that you want to address. What interests you? What kind of information do you feel is lacking in your community? Research and see if anyone else is already doing something similar. What alternative could you offer to what exists?
-Decide how you want the class to be structured. Here are some types of classes that we came up with but feel free to create your own structure.
-Skill share: Offering a specific skill, show how something is done.
-Workshop: Facilitated, one or two days, introduction for further study, reading lists and resources to continue studying on one’s own, discussions.
-Class: Longer, multiple meetings, facilitated, more planning
-Working Groups or Collectives: Discussions, meetings, no formal facilitation, group learning.
-Events, Movies, Speakers: Discussion after event, movie, or speaker.
-Meet up: People who are interested get together to do something, doesn’t necessarily have to be facilitated, interested people can meet at a place to do something.
-Research topic and also see if there is an interest in the topic in the community (try, local newspapers, http://Louisville., etc. for community interest)
-Logistics: Where do you want to have a class? When and how often? How much energy do you want to put into it? What resources do you need? How will you get them?
-Write a class description and send it to the free school organizers. Free school organizers will distribute class descriptions and schedule.
-Do the class.

2 Responses to “free school zine”

  1. Hey and hello.

    This is an amazing and inspiring page. Truly. I am trying to start a collective, zine, and free skool project in sydney australia.
    dropping a line to say how i appreciate your page and the movement on your end of the world. i was hoping, as we have JUST put seeds down into the concrete, if you would like to contribute maybe this page, or anything, of your zine into our zine, with of course mentioning and sourcing where it’s from.
    thanks much.
    and again peace and warm wishes to with you peoples.
    anonymous hippo

  2. i cant wait to get involved! i have much ideas and motivation to bring to the table. :]

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