Reportback from the North American Free Skool Conference & More!
Marc from Portland Free School here, giving you a reportback from the recent North American Free Skool Conference that took place in Santa Cruz, California.
I'll also give an update and reflect upon the Free School here in Portland and ask for your involvement in strengthening our network of radical, autonomous, and empowering education. This includes submitting your classes in time for our June calendar, which will already be full of great workshops from the Portland Anarchist Bookfair, the Village Building Convergence and the Pedalpalooza bike festival. Attend our orientation & meeting on May 26 at 6pm to find out more and get involved, we'd love more teachers and volunteers in our organizing collective. And you'll always find info at our website: http://portland.freeskool.org/
Free Skool Conference Reportback
Free Skool Santa Cruz hosted the first ever North American Free Skool Conference in conjunction with the Santa Cruz Anarchist Convergence [ http://santacruzanarchist.org/] on May 7th - 11th. Much of the activities took place at the corner of Pacific Ave. and , where a hub of radical groups and alternative businesses have formulated over the past few years. These include the nonprofit Bike Church, the emerging Free Geek-like Computer Kitche, and also new SubRosa Infoshop, which played a central role in collaborating with the Free Skool in hosting the conference.
The four days of workshops, which also took place at a few other nearby locations, covered all topics related to Anarchism, both in theory and practice. But a specific track was also devoted to topics related to free skools, with workshops in Free Skool for Kids, Free Skool Mutual Support Networks, Deconstructing Public Education, Free Skools and Anarchism, Starting a Free Skool, and a picnic. Free Skools came from such places as the San Francisco Bay Area and as far away as Minessota's Twin Cities, with many more emerging and getting their first steps at the conference.
While not a free skool workshop, the presentation on tactical organizing provided a useful framework to understand the role of free skools in our movements. The presenters gave examples of recent upheavals in other societies, such as Burma, where the exiting government left a power vacuum. Since there was not enough alternative structures already in place to fill this vacuum, another brutal government was eventually able to step in. By building our networks in the present day, we can form something substantial enough to fill the vacuums of the future. When capitalism in North America crumbles, will we be ready or miss the opportunity? As one of the presenters noted, "free skool is creating alternative culture." By organizing within intregal forms of society, such as education, we are ensuring to create not just a movement of theories, but one that surrounds our lives and is rooted in culture. Much of this, the presentation concluded, rests upon us stepping outside our comfort zones and coordinating with other movements - more on this when I reflect on our situation here in Portland.
In our free skool workshops on mutual support and Anarchism, free skools came together to look further into what defines us as free skools and how we can work together more in building our movement. Just as some use the word "school" versus "skool," there exist slight variations in our visions. Many see the value in free skools lying in their radical politics and structure, while others focus more on their model of alternative education. One could easily make the argument that these concerns are intricately linked, but many questions still arise that seem to cause friction between the two.
One example that came up in our discussion was the idea of certification, or providing documentation of one's learning to help a person make a living in the world. While it could be considered fairly radical to provide alternatives to diplomas and degrees for the job world, many question the larger need to try and fit our education into such an oppressive system as the job market. But what about creating alternate economic models that could provide a venue for us to benefit one another with the use of our skills and knowledge? It becomes clear that education is just one piece of the puzzle and we need to continue to make more alternate models of living to support one another in our individual efforts like free skools.
On a more practical level, the free skools attending the workshop agreed that there is much we can do to support one another in the realm of sharing resources. We hope to make it easier to share the types of materials we use to run our free skools and publicize them. We have also agreed to produce a collaborative zine publication, which will bring our experiences and insights together. We also see the obvious value in having more regional gatherings events like the conference we were attending or larger skillsharing events (like Portland's recent Fermentation Festival). Many educational groups do tours across the region and even the country - we could help them make connections with the free skools along their path.
Reflections for Portland
For us here in Portland, we should especially look toward our allies North in Olympia, where they had a D.I.Y. Day last weekend, for more collaborative events. In Olympia there are multiple Free Skools, with the Rad Skillz collective being present at the conference. There are more opportunities to the South in Eugene, where a free skool there has been formulating.
Back here in Portland, the Free School has had challenges that are all too common, such as transition of volunteers, funding, outreach, etc. Portland is a sizable city with a flourishing DIY culture - from guerilla gardens to food not bombs, from freak bike building to cob benches, from open source computer skills to zine publishing, from wild edibles to yoga - there is no shortage of things to learn in an alternative learning environment. Most of these activities have a group or organization that is already organizing classes around them.
So one may ask, is there a need for a Free School? The answer is a loud Yes! An enormous need remains because while a notable culture of learning exists among the micro communities that revolve around these groups and organizations, Portlanders are largely unaware of the diversity of opportunities available to them - the learning can be insular and only available to those already participating or aware of these groups. With our Free School calendar we offer a centralized resource for all of these. More importantly, education is an intimate, dynamic, and empowering experience with topics as varied as the people on this earth and their interests. Free School emphasizes our power to teach each other and not need to depend on institutions - even small groups - in our learning. One person who has a passion in a particular topic and is able to share it with just one other person is a successful class. The Free School provides a model that celebrates the teacher in all of us, It also creates forums for us to interact with one another and create powerful connections in our search to understand the world around us. So among many allies who are doing similar work, the place for the Free School remains at the grassroots, looking to bring people together one by one, while networking with venues and other movements in mutual aid. For example, why not have a cooking class collaborate with Food Not Bombs? Or a writing group producing a zine for a local cause?
One collaboration of recent years has been the Grassroots Media Camp ( http://pdxmediacamp.wordpress.com) where we've worked with all kinds of teachers and local justice organizations in bringing a weekend-long event of hands-on skill shares, media workshops, presentations, discussions and gatherings aimed to empower people with tools and skills to express themselves. The camp made a direct effort to emphasize the inclusion of those who are traditionally excluded from media representation, creation and production. It brought together artists and activists in an empowering forum that cross-pollinated across our movements. Now the group has transformed into the Grassroots Media Collective to help facilitate these kinds of events year-round. Contact email@example.com for more info on this.
We'd love more volunteers - absolutely LOVE it. Our organizing collective has grown and shrunk over the years and right now is a perfect time to jump in. There are lots of tasks we need help with: helping teachers, creating our calendar and distributing it, other publicity, coordinating larger events, and more.
We'd also love you to offer a class. People have taught classes in everything imaginable: board games, yoga taught in Spanish, webcomics, bike mechanics - you name it. Currently desired classes include knitting, screen printing, writing and Linux, to name a few.
To find out how to volunteer or start a class, we're having our next orientation and meeting on May 26 at 6pm @ The Waypost Cafe 3120 N Williams Ave. You can read more on our website here: http://portland.freeskool.org/?q=node/1125
We'll be looking at planning for June's classes and also the Portland Anarchist Bookfair, the Village Building Convergence and Pedalpalooza bike festival - all of which will have much free education going on. We'd also like to plan a Free School Summer Picnic for everyone to gather and meet each other.
And you can always contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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