With the economy a-shambles and Davis parents trying to bake-sale their way around a $4 million education-funds shortfall (more on that later), the time has never been better for cheap learnin’. Well, what’s cheaper than free?
Now entering its second year, the Davis People’s Free School offers classes like Bikes are for Bitches (and Ladies), Intel and Counter-Intel for Activists and I Want to Eat Your Brains (A How to View Zombies Workshop). From the description: “Watch zombie movies. Eat snacks ya brung. And … discuss what zombies are trying to tell us (commentaries on consumerism, hetero frameworks, revolution … ).”
Says Chuck Parker, one of the Free School’s founders: “We’re looking to do two things that are kind of radical. One is truly free education.” The other, he says, is to create a “decentralized, deinstitutionalized educational outlet that’s free for the community, by the community.”
Got a skill and the urge to impart it? Teach a class.
“Everybody has something to bring to the table,” says Parker. “So anyone can teach a course. We all have something we can share.”
DIY seems to be the order of the day. One can learn how to create energy-saving “thermal curtains,” a worm bin for vermicomposting (“You’ll soon be making compost and have hundreds of wormy friends!”) or homemade kombucha (“Sometimes called the fountain of youth”—and last quarter’s most popular class).
The Free School’s worst failure? “We had a How to Build Your Own Head-Scratcher class,” says Parker. “Nobody showed up for that.”
Free Schools (or Free Skools, as sometimes known) generally reject the commoditization of knowledge and have a bit of a radical bent. Hence Killer Coke Campaign: “Learn about the evils of the Coca-Cola Co. and how we as community members and students can stop its influence in the world around us and the university.” Sessions are informal and held in whatever space can be scrounged up. Some classes have been canceled at the last moment, so check the Web site before attending.
Out of necessity, of course, there is a loose hierarchy to the school, crowned by the four folks who run it along with Parker. That also means not all subjects are, in fact, welcome. (According to Parker, a class put on by the College Republicans, for example, would not be allowed).
The wife nixed the idea of me attending Beyond Monogamy (“Love many more people, be a better lover to each of them, and find your own needs delightfully satisfied”). So I settled on Interacting with Authority, which took place in the living room of a downtown co-op. Approaching the house in the dark, I noticed two police cars idling in front. Had Interacting been already broken up by the authorities? Or had some cops been invited for a realistic role play? Neither. Sitting on couches around a coffee table were Parker, Morgan and Marg, the “leaders” of class. The overwhelming smell of curry wafted in from the kitchen. We had a lively, sometimes unfocused discussion, heavy on the feminist critical theory. You got the feeling that we could have passed the two hours dwelling entirely on the theoretical—about the nature of power and so on, until one student complained about the annoying authorities at his job. Look for a new job, we all agreed.