What is a Free School/free skool?

A free skool is a decentralized network in which skills, information, and knowledge are shared without hierarchy or the institutional environment of formal schooling. Free skools are explicitly rooted in an anarchist tradition of collectivism, autonomy, and self-reliance, and feature informal, non-authoritarian learning outside of the monetary economy.

The roots of Free Schools/free skools can be traced back to La Escuela Moderna (The Modern School), a progressive school created by Fransesco Ferrer i Guárdia, a free-thinker, educator, and anarchist, that existed from 1901-1906 in Barcelona, Spain. The school’s stated goal was to “educate the working class in a rational, secular, and non-coercive setting.”

In the early 20th century, inspired by La Escuela Moderna, Modern Schools (also called Ferrer Schools) were established in the U.S. With day-time academic classes for children and night-time continuing-education classes for adults, they were rooted in the anarchist, socialist, and labor movements in the U.S. at that time. Their goals included promoting secular, class-conscious education to the working class. The first Modern School, the Ferrer Center, was formed in New York City in 1911.

Why is this group called, “The New Orleans Free School Network?” Why isn’t it called “free skool” like other similar organizations?

One reason we have included “Network” in the title is to differentiate us from the New Orleans Free School (read on for more details). Another reason is to emphasize the fact that we are not a formal, isolated entity, but a network of people who believe in free, community-organized education.

Not all Free Schools use a “k” to purposefully misspell “school”, but many do. This is to distinguish these types of organizations from regular public or private schools and to connect to a larger community of similar entities. NOFSN chose not to use a “k” because we feel that this type of misspelling, although we understand its purpose, may alienate or discourage some people from pursuing us as an organization, and we want to reach as broad a community as possible.

Is there a central organizing body of Free Schools?

There is no central organizing body, as this would be antithetical to the general mission of the Free School. However, there is a large network of Free Schools all around the country and around the world, and we communicate with each other for help and inspiration!

How did the New Orleans Free School Network get started?

In the winter of 2010, a group of volunteer activists got together to start a Free School in New Orleans based on our knowledge of other Free Schools around the country and our perceived need for this type of education in New Orleans.

Where is the Free School?

Nowhere! Or everywhere! Or anywhere! There is no physical location of this organization. Teachers hold classes in public parks, community spaces, or private homes. The Free School is and can be anywhere the community is!

Is the Free School Network different from the New Orleans Free School?

There is no relation between the New Orleans Free School Network and the New Orleans Free School. The New Orleans Free School opened in the late 1960’s as an alternative to mainstream childhood education in that it “placed more emphasis on freedom than on structure” and “on individual needs [more] than on the achievements of the class as a whole.” While it started as an independent school, it eventually became a part of the Orleans Parish Public School system. The New Orleans Free School closed in 2005. There is a documentary about the New Orleans Free School that you can find here.

What does the “Free” in “Free School” mean?

NOFSN operates with as little money as possible. We are funded mainly through time and effort. None of our teachers or organizers are paid for their time. We have no grants and no current plans to apply for any. We host occasional fundraisers that draw a small amount of money, which we use for printing flyers, buying envelopes and stamps to mail literature, and reimbursing our teachers for necessary class materials and supplies. There are some wonderful community resources that help us raise a little bit of money as well, such as noladiy.org’s weekly Punk Rock Takeover.

You can help us out by donating to the organization. 

Why isn’t there a class on XXXX? Can you teach a class on XXXX?

NOFSN does not directly provide classes to the public; we are an organizing body that serves as a resource for community members to teach each other. If you have an idea for a class, teach it! You do not have to be an expert, have a degree, or even know very much about a topic in order to facilitate a class. And you will be amazed how much you can learn about a topic both in preparation for teaching the class and in actually teaching it. All you need is a passion to learn and an ability to organize, and we can help you with the latter. You can also talk to members of your community who may possess the skills or knowledge concerning the topic you would like to see taught, and encourage them to teach a Free School class.

How can I submit a class I’d like to teach/facilitate?

Tell us what you want to do and when you want to do it. Fill out the class proposal form online or find one at the Iron Rail Book Collective at 503 Barracks Street in the French Quarter. We can also mail you a class proposal form and provide the return enevelope and postage if you'd like. Just e-mail or call us with your mailing address.
Due to production time (printing and distributing of the calendar each month) we ask that proposals come in by the 15th of the month for the subsequent month. Feel free to contact us by e-mail or phone if you would like any assistance with ideas for classes or how to go about organizing them. 

What do you mean by facilitate? What is the difference between teaching and facilitating?

“Teaching” may bring to mind a traditional classroom setting, where one or several people (teachers) are imparting information to another group of people (students), with the assumption that the teachers have more acquired knowledge or experience concerning the topic being taught.

“Facilitating” conjures images of one or several people hosting a discussion group or leading a workshop, whereby information is shared more freely, and the role of the facilitator is simply to provide some organization to the event and not necessarily to impart information.

Both of these styles are valid and valuable. There are many different ways to share information, and they are all welcome as far as NOFSN is concerned, provided there is an underlying understanding that we are seeking to break the traditional classroom hierarchy that so often exists in schools.

In other words, there is nothing wrong with imparting information, nor is there anything wrong with facilitating a class concerning a topic you may not know much about.

The idea is that everyone’s knowledge and experiences are valuable teaching and learning tools; that is, we can all teach and learn from each other, no matter how much knowledge or experience any one person may have.

What does non-hierarchical mean?

Creating a non-hierarchical setting has to do with power dynamics. In a hierarchical structure, some people have more power than others, and can make decisions that affect everyone without necessarily including the needs or desires of those without power. In a non-hierarchical setting, while someone may have more knowledge or experience, that does not mean that their presence in that setting is any more valuable than anyone else’s or that they cannot learn from those who do not have the same level of knowledge or experience.

I want to organize a class/group/event but I need/want to ask for a small donation. Can my class be on your calendar?

We reserve our paper calendar for classes proposed to us which do not charge any fee or ask for any donation.

We know, however, that there are many valuable learning opportunities in this city that cost a few bucks ($10 or less) or operate on a donation-basis (which usually implies some sort of monetary exchange). Online, we have an ALMOST FREE calendar. We would be glad to add your group or event to that page!

How can I help organize the Free School Network?

There are many ways! We hold weekly organizing meetings. Anyone and everyone is always invited to attend these meetings. For the current time and location of the organizers’ meeting, check out the calendar, call 504-484-9418 or email: nolafreeschoolnetwork@gmail.com.

We ALWAYS need help distributing flyers and calendars. You can reference our map of places to put up flyers/calendars if you need some ideas. We try to have a presence at various markets and events as often as we can to distribute literature and inform people about what we do, and would love more help with that. There are also many web-based projects to work on to help grow the New Orleans Free School Network’s online presence. Our new endeavor is to use the USPS to distribute our calendars, so envelope lickers and stamp stickers are encouraged to get in touch.

We hold a monthly potluck for all previously or currently involved, and for those interested in getting involved. Send a message to nolafreeschoolnetwork@gmail.com to join our email list for updates and a monthly invitation to our potluck.

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