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free-school-sign-400x300What if school was full of things that your were dying to learn?  Where students are teachers and teachers are students?

A parallel development to London’s protests and counter-movements against the deep cuts in education, social programs, and the public-sector-at-large is an emergence of  “free schools” –– voluntary places of non-hierarchical alternative education that take place in the occupations and include workshops, classes and discussions as well as reading groups.

Some of these occur as spontaneous classrooms in public spaces, reminiscent of 1960s “happenings,” such as the events created by the University for Strategic Optimism.

Black Horse PubOther seek more permanent sites, albeit squats, such as the  Really Free School (previously the School of Temporary Thought), now housed in the old pub Black Horse pub in central London, not far from many of the city’s universities.

“Surrounded by institutions and universities, there is newly occupied space where education can be re-imagined. Amidst the rising fees and mounting pressure for ‘success’, we value knowledge in a different currency; one that everyone can afford to trade. In this school, skills are swapped and information shared, culture cannot be bought or sold. Here is an autonomous space to find each other, to gain momentum, to cross-pollinate ideas and actions. […]

The school is open daily from 10am to 10pm and runs classes all day long, taught by other fellow students, or teachers or anyone else who wants to impart knowledge and skills. Classes can include anything from film screenings to French lessons for protesting to “practical barricade making” to radical reading groups, squatters rights, and meditation.

The space has emerged as an important place of contestation and learning in the movement. It is non-authoritarian, anti-hierarchical and thus questions power dynamics in society by pushing values of collectivism, self-reliance, critical thinking and autonomy. It stands as a place of resistance against dominant institutions and the increasing commodification of…all things in the world ever. Learning is revalued outside market forces and knowledge becomes the most important tool of resistance. Finally, as the school is always housed in squatted places (it moved from one empty mansion to another one of which belongs to Guy Ritchie), the place itself questions how we as a society value land and housing by turning empty places – allowed to stay empty in the name of capital accumulation for the wealthy – into places of learning and collaboration for all that come….free of charge!

To get a better sense of the way it works, check out this great little video explaining what the Temporary School of Thought was and the Really Free School continues to be:

[this video has been removed by its original host.  Check out this recording from the Really Free School which provides a similar idea]

I leave you with “A Call for Celebration” by Ivan Illich sent out by the Really Free School when they were forced to leave Guy Ritchie’s house. It beautifully encapsulates the sentiment behind their ideals and I believe, a growing sentiment here in the UK which is borne out of all these forms of direct action and spaces of resistance. There is a contagious feeling that another society is possible and that we the people must shape it ourselves. And as our latest chant goes “London, Cairo, Wiscon-sin, We will fight We will win!!”

A Call to Celebration

I and many others, known and unknown to me, call upon you:

    • To celebrate our joint power to provide all human beings with the food, clothing and shelter they need to delight in living.
    • To discover, together with us, what we must do to use mankind’s power to create the humanity, the dignity and the joyfullness of each one of us.
    • To be responsibly aware of your personal ability to express your true feelings and to gather us together in their expression.
    • We can only live these changes: we cannot think our way to humanity. Every one of us, and every group with which we live and work, must become the model of the era which we desire to create. The many models which will develop should give each one of us an environment in which we can celebrate our potential — and discover the way into a more humane world.
    • We are challenged to break the obsolete social and economic systems which divide our world between the overprivileged and the underprivileged. All of us, whether governmental leader or protester, businessman or worker, professor or student share a common guilt. We have failed to discover how the necessary changes in our ideals and our social structures can be made. Each of us, therefore, through our ineffectiveness and our lack of responsible awareness, causes the suffering around the world.

Read the whole thing here.

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