Ithaca Free School

Monday, December 20, 2004

A week's worth of notes.

This is a short article in the form of notes that I wrote for the local magazine Fluffy & Spikey. I really don't have the ability to sit down and write a theoretical document, so I thought it would be a better indication of our intentions to discuss what we're actually doing.

Sunday we have brunch and read the Bible. Because we're partial to eggs it is not a vegan brunch. Crystal made a very nice fritatta with diced tomatoes. After some discussion among the participants (three of us) we decided on the King James Version, for its poetic and literary virtues. Today we read the last four chapters of Genesis, left over from last week when wewere behind schedule, and then read the first twenty chapters of Exodus. I'm amazed that the bulk of Genesis can be read as an assertion of rights to land. I am glad we are goingthrough the book systematically, but the litany of genealogies does indeed get a little old.After all these names, the dimensions of the temple and the priest's breastplate will be spellbinding.

Latin class. We are going through Wheelock, one chapter a week. Christopher related to us a mnemonic in the form of the Mouseketeers song in order to remember the personal endings of verbs ("o s t, m u s, t i s, n t!"). It's certainly easier to learn languages without so much of the stress and pressure that is part of language learning in high school. However, I still delay doing my homework as long as possible.

Shakespeare is what we started out with. We are reading a play a week, aloud. One person reads a part, the person to their right reads the next part, and so on. Since we are reading chronologically some of the earlier material has been uninspiring. I did enjoy Love's Labour's Lost, though. And everyone had a good time at Romeo and Juliet. Perhaps too good a time, as the play ran from 7 to 11pm, with a break for Chinese food.

I do like to have potlucks, or as I style them, potlatches. They never seem to work out too
well for me, though the first one was well attended and the food was terrific. These are usually vegan / vegetarian affairs. We had the idea of meeting together to read poetry we admired, and bundled that together with the potlatch. I'm not sure how this idea will go, but we have only done it twice. We'll see. A communal meal is a good place to bring people together who are doing different things and to discuss plans, activities, and progress.

We started reading The Canterbury Tales last week. This is our only afternoon class so far. More than one person has scoffed at us for reading it in Middle English, but I have looked at the modern English adaptations and they are definitely missing the poetic qualities ofthe original -- missing, I think, what makes it worth reading. Reading Chaucer gives a glimpse into the linguistic origins of English, before the great poets of the Elizabethan era definitively minted a new language and the printing press began to standardize spelling and orthography. It seems that the major difficulties are little obsolete particles like prepositions and pronouns -- once these are understood it is mostly just a matter of the occasional obsolete word. Not as tricky as it seems.

So far there are no takers except myself and Christopher on the Platonic dialogues. Which is fine. As we only began recently we are still reading the early dialogues dealing with the death of Socrates. As with reading the Bible, Plato usually provides a springboard for far-ranging discussion. In our most recent reading, the Euthyphro, what begins as a discussion of the obligations to family turns out to bean examination of the nature of piety, before in the end turning into a revelation of ignorance -- ignorance of both Socrates and Euthyphro of the true nature of piety,which therefore puts Euthyphro in a bad position, as he is acting as though he knew perfectly well what was pious. The moral, it seems, is that one should not act asthough one possesses knowledge which one does not.

Right now we don't have a Saturday class, but this will change in the New Year when we begin to work through the writings of William Blake. Many people have shown interest in this class which hopefully will be well attended. It will also have the honor of being the first class to take place outside of my home -- a good omen, I hope, for the expansion of the Free School concept beyond the limited circle of my friends and acquaintances.

Undetermined Days
It seems likely that we will start reading the ancient historians (Herodotus, Thucydides,et al.) in the near future. Other ideas for which we have not yet found the time and/o rright participants are learning Greek through the New Testament, learning Italian throughDante, reading our way through Pound's Cantos or Zukofsky's A, and studying local history. In addition, we are interested in expanding the activities of the school into the practical and manual arts, that is, to organize groups for cooking, knitting, gardening (whenweather permits), etc.
If you are interested in participating in any of the Free School classes, or in proposing a class of your own, or if you would like more information about our plans and what we are doing, please drop us a line at We'd love to hear from you!


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