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“Free Skool” Fires Up

by Thomas MacMillan | Nov 23, 2012 2:05 pm

(13) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Schools

Thomas MacMillan Photo At New Haven’s newest school, you can learn skills like breathing and hitchhiking, you won’t pay tuition or get graded—and being called “class clown” might mean you’re at the head of the class.

At least that would be true in clowning class, one of 18 courses available at the New Haven Free Skool, which recently opened its doors downtown at the corner of College and Crown streets.

The Free Skool is just what it sounds like.

“It’s a free school,” said Kenneth Reveiz. He’s a member the People’s Arts Collective (PAC), a group of four recent Yale grads who started the Free Skool.

The school is designed to be a place for learning and teaching “fueled by generosity and inclusiveness,” Reveiz said.

Like a couple of other recent phenomena in town—Occupy New Haven, the short-lived Free Store—the Free Skool is an attempt at reimagination. Where Occupy and the Free Store sought to re-invent political and economic systems, the Free Skool is operating on a new notion of learning and community, one where knowledge and skills are freely shared for the benefit of everyone involved.

A Winning Combination

On a recent evening, as Free Skool teacher Lolly Berger introduced three students to their chakras and led them through some yoga poses in the new classroom, Reveiz stood outside on the sidewalk with fellow PAC member Diana Ofosu (at center in photo) describing a recent Free Skool class—“Free Running/Clowning.”

“We just ran. People were doing crazy stuff,” Ofosu said.

“We were doing physical challenges, I guess,” Reveiz said. He said teacher Jeff Silks took the class to the Green, where they played Follow The Leader and clambered on benches near the fountain. The course is broadly about “bodily communication,” teamwork, and “exploring space” in new ways, Reveiz said.

While Free Running/Clowning may be among the furthest-out of the Free Skool’s offerings, Ofosu and Reveiz said they are committed to offering courses in practical skills. The school also has classes in sewing, cooking, and web design (pictured).

The spelling “skool” is intentional, Reveiz said. “It indicates a different priority,” he said. The school is about “cultivating autonomy and creativity.”

Ofosu and Reveiz said they hope to make the school not just a Yale- or downtown-focused institution. Reveiz said the school has been doing outreach in neighborhoods like Fair Haven, and teaming up with community organizations to spread the word about the new school in town.

As a result, teachers have appeared out of the woodwork, looking to teach classes in all manner of subjects. Reveiz said that so far anyone who has an idea for a class has been able to teach it. He said he talks to teachers about pedagogy and lesson planning, but that pretty much anyone can walk in and start teaching if they want to. He’s co-teaching a class called “Queer Theory and Action” with a Yale PhD student.

“It’s just so open to whoever wants to do it,” said Ofosu.

The openness is made possible by low overhead and some successful fundraising, Reveiz said. He described the Free Skool’s launch as the result of “a combination of luck and Yale privilege.”

PAC got the space with the help of Artspace head Helen Kauder, who is on the board of the Co-op Center for Creativity. That body was set up in 2009 to help connect the nearby Co-op high school to the “creative community” in town, Kauder said. The Center for Creativity leases several storefronts across College Street from the high school and is subletting one—at a very low rate—to PAC.

“It’s been awesome. We’re entirely crowdsourced,” said Reveiz. PAC raised about $3,000 through Indiegogo, an online crowd-funding platform. The Free Skool has also thrown a couple of parties and concerts, and picked up free supplies on Craigslist.

Ofosu has been in charge of outfitting the space, which now has a red floor and pink walls. Tables flip down from the walls for class that need desks, and fold away for classes that need floor space, like yoga or self defense (Mondays at 6:30 p.m.)

Freedom Will Live On

Ofosu and Reveiz (pictured) acknowledged the Free Skool’s affinity with projects like Occupy New Haven and the Free Store, but said their effort doesn’t have overt political aims.

“I think we all agree capitalism sucks,” Ofosu said. But the Free Skool is “more organic,” not explicitly oriented toward dismantling the money economy.

Reveiz said that “as an organizer and as an artist” he’s much more concerned about “what do people want?” than any kind of political agenda.

Reveiz said the plan is for the Free Skool to live on for years, unlike Occupy and the Free Store. “I’m committed to it long-term,” he said.

He said the school aims to learn from some of the mistakes of the Free Store by avoiding “infighting” and “personal problems.”

On Wednesday evening, Free Store alumnus Hans Schoenburg was setting up for his debut class as a teacher—web design. Schoenburg runs GiftFlow, a website designed to help people freely share goods and services—a lot like the Free Skool.

“I’m really impressed,” Schoenburg said, looking around the classroom. He’s been helping to get the Free Skool going, and said it’s already more orderly than the Free Store ever was. “The Free Store was chaos.”

Schoenburg predicted success for the Free Skool, which he said has been better about fundraising than the Free Store and has a more supportive landlord.

David Elkin-Ginnetti walked in with his laptop, ready for class. The 16-year-old Wilbur Cross/ECA junior said he was involved with Occupy until he had a falling out when the movement moved away from its ideals. The Free Skool, he said, is “a good way to continue the feelings and interest that Occupy brought about.”

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posted by: vc man on November 23, 2012  7:32pm

“I think we all agree capitalism sucks.”

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, capitalism is the worst economic institution, except for all the others.

posted by: KennethReveiz on November 23, 2012  8:04pm

For your information, you can still sign up for classes for this session at NewHavenFreeSkool.info—we’d love if you joined.

& as a minor note: the People’s Arts Collective is located on College and Crown.

Infinite thanks to those who have helped make this project happen, and hope to see you all soon!

posted by: Threefifths on November 23, 2012  8:33pm

Is this school like The Little Red School House in New York on Bleecker Street?


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Red_School_House

posted by: OccupyTheClassroom on November 23, 2012  11:34pm

Well done!  I will be down shortly!

posted by: SaveOurCity on November 25, 2012  10:40am

I’d be very frightened to be instructed by someone who makes the public statement “I think we all agree capitalism sucks”....the ignorance of that statement is astounding.  Most likely everything that he/she has and the security provided for later life and/or bad times are all provided by capitalism.

posted by: CedarHillAve158 on November 25, 2012  1:05pm

@SaveOur City - You commented without meeting anyone at the Skool.  While you may not agree with Kenneth’s statement, at least make an informed comment based on experience with a specific group.

My kids, age 13, 15 and I have taken approx 6 classes since they opened. A super organized program that has welcomed a not so “cool” Mom into the fold of young, “hip” and talented people.

The many questions I have had were responded to quickly and completely by phone, text and email.

My contribution has been bags of fun-size Hershey’s Cookies-N-Cream bars.  The group of students that sign up and teachers inspire positivity.

Picking up happy teenagers and being less frazzled after taking a class is testament to what I hope is long-term success.

Not sure about staying for a class after the one you signed up for; no problem, they make room for you.

Location is awesome.  My family cannot say enough good things about Free Skool and their convenient class times.

posted by: David Elkin-Ginnetti on November 26, 2012  12:41am

@SaveOurCity- Maybe yes, maybe no. I think what Diana was referring to was not what security she is getting through capitalism, but what security others have not gotten, despite their being in the same system. Millions of Americans will not have access to anywhere near the entitlements many of us take for granted. They are not protected by any safety net in this country. To think that they’re all in this position because they deserve it, that is where ignorance lies. I think the Free Skool is an attempt to subvert some of these classic notions of American wealth and entitlement to which we hold so dearly.

posted by: Curious on November 26, 2012  10:15am

Is this school *actually* affiliated with Occupy or the Free Store, or is the author just identifying it with those enterprises? 

McMillan makes it sound like they are officially linked somehow, or the same people behind both.  This needs clarification.

posted by: jayfairhaven on November 26, 2012  11:28am

this is an awesome opportunity for someone to offer a class explaing exactly why capitalism most definitely doesn’t suck. if anyone is interested in offering a primer on economic history at the free skool, i’d love to help.

posted by: Claudia Herrera on November 26, 2012  5:55pm

Thank you New Haven Kool school for expending your time on something productive as trying to help others; What’s the better gift that anyone can have? may be a little acknowledge?

posted by: Curious on November 27, 2012  1:30pm

Thomas MacMillan, is this school actually affiliated with Occupy and the Free Store, or is that your own analogy?  Please clarify.  If you’re going to approve the comment you could at least answer it.

posted by: HewNaven on November 27, 2012  2:42pm

Like a couple of other recent phenomena in town—Occupy New Haven, the short-lived Free Store—the Free Skool is an attempt at reimagination. Where Occupy and the Free Store sought to re-invent political and economic systems, the Free Skool is operating on a new notion of learning and community, one where knowledge and skills are freely shared for the benefit of everyone involved.

Curious - I think the point is that this project is similarly inspired. There are many young people all over the world who are waking up to the reality of our current economic paradigm. They are reacting, and attempting to build viable alternatives - or at least complementary systems - to deal with contemporary social problems caused by capitalism. Some groups are more graceful and capable than others, but no matter, the community will decide if New Haven is ready for such forward-thinking individuals, in whatever form they take.

posted by: Curious on November 27, 2012  2:59pm

NewHaven, I get that, but the truth is that I know some people who will engage no matter what, and some who will not get involved if this is actually run by the Occupy crowd…hence why I would like the reporter who wrote the story to clarify whether these groups are officially linked, or if that is just his opinion. 

In any case, good reporting would make the difference clear.

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