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.
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.”