Ithaca Free School

Monday, February 28, 2005


2pm: Plato. At the library.

4pm: Our first children's hour. The book is Pinocchio.

5pm: Euclid, if we wanna.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Free Ithaca

Howdy folks.

It occurred to me that as an adjunct or context for the Free School I would begin to keep tabs on free things around town. Not just musical events or poetry readings, say (though also these) but workshops, seminars, and groups that are in the spirit of what we are doing. I'd like to make connections with all the people who are coordinating these sorts of things -- yet another long term project.

I have discovered a local sacred harp (shape note) singing group that meets every other week at the Unitarian church.

The Finger Lakes Native Plant Society has free plant walks on irregular Sundays at 1pm. There's actually one today but I was unable to attend.

If you know of anything free around town whether ongoing or one-time, please let me know and I will add it to the bulletin board.



11am: KJV Bible (2nd half of Judges and whatever else we get to today).

No Blake tonight. Sorry, prophecy fans!


Saturday, February 26, 2005

Marginally Connected Thoughts

A little ex tempore squib I worked up for the newsgroup. I post it here lightly edited for anyone who reads this and isn't on the list.

By the way, let me know if you want to be on the list or know someone else who wants to be. It's open to all.


Since a lot of the immediate school protocol is taken care of on the weblog and face-to-face, I thought it might be interesting to use this forum to talk about aims, ideas, and theories of this project. Hopefully this will be thought provoking and useful even to those who are barred by schedules, disinclinations, or geography from actually participating in school classes.
A few things to discuss are social divisions, organizational practice & aims of service. I'm going to feel free to write informally here, since I am just trying to communicate some of the things I have been thinking about and to stimulate some discussion on them.
Social divisions. Our society thrives on divide and conquer. These binaries are encoded into our lives from the beginning and we live them out every day in how we live and interact with people. The ones that are the most obvious in my life are rich/poor, liberal/conservative, old/young, town/gown, black/white, male/female, gay/straight, educated/uneducated, parent/childless, married/single, employed/unemployed. That's just off the top of my head, I am sure there are more. These divisions are used to make sure that people cannot combine their power effectively. We see glaring evidence of this in the current rhetoric of America as split between Jesusland and the United States of Canada. Well, I am convinced that political action has to happen in the field of the social, and that means that social forms that are coercive, exploitative or in some other way recapitulate the logic of the dominant order have to be examined and changed. What does this have to do with school? I think that interest in learning crosses these dividing lines, and consequently permits people to see what they have in common. We're also so much locked into our own social routines, whether they are work, the bar, our little group of friends, or our families, that we rarely meet new people and thus fail to make the kinds of deep social connections out of which the possibility of meaningful action can grow. I know this isn't necessarily the most lucid treatment of the problem, but as I said I'm just trying to get some ideas out there.
Organizational practice. By keeping everything open to the public and non-centralized, I hope that eventually the school will be perceived as the province of no one in particular and open to everyone in general. As the idea evolves we may have to think about different ways of distributing news of classes, schedule changes, and so forth. Rather than an institution, the aim is a new kind of social logic that makes connecting people easier. Eventually, then, the ideal would be a constant roster of classes, announced and open to anyone interested, as well as possibly a "Wants" list, kind of like carpool boards or something like that... wherein one could advertise one's interest in a group (which only means two or more people) interested in whatever subject. My wants list right now is Pound, the Transcendalists, Dante, Das Kapital, and on and on. Getting to this point is difficult if only because our participation is so limited that the organization is necessarily centralized. But I am trying to imagine what a fully realized non-centralized and non-authoritarian structure would look like in practice -- and want to help other people imagine it too.
Aims of service. This connects with division, above. Who do we want to reach out to? This project started in some ways by realizing that those of us not in school still have plenty of learning to do, that this idea of alienated learning time between the ages of 5 and either 18 or 22 depending on your financial ability, after which you will know everything you need to know, is bogus. Christopher and I started first with the aim of reading all of Shakespeare, and then subsequently to read various ancient writers, of whom I was almost totally ignorant either in the original or in translation, since Greek and Latin are effectively not taught in this country. So, this longwinded apostrophe aside, the point was that plenty of people not in school are still interested in learning. I want to set up a program where working people, parents, children, homeschoolers, unschoolers, public schoolers, anyone interested and underserved, can participate. If nothing else it may help remind people that they are not only their jobs or their responsibilities. And apart from culture as political awareness or self improvement there is also the idea of a more refined leisure. There is no reason why people can't have fun studying, say, geometry, or Chaucer (I'll excuse those who beg off on geometry, but it is actually kind of fun, and I speak as a lifetime mathphobe). The fact is that people have learned that these things are boring, usually because they were inflicted on them in school, and so the very mention of them is a turnoff. The social form in which events take place is much more important, especially in early life, than what is nominally being taught. In public schools one is learning primarily punctuality, obedience, servility, alienation of interest from pursuits -- and only secondarily whatever the subject of the course is. I'd like people to be able to say, "Oh, what should we do tonight? There's a Free School class..." the same way that one elects to go to a movie, or the bar.
Well, these ideas are much easier for me to talk out then to try to get down in writing, but I wanted to put some things in circulation and get some feedback.

Friday, February 25, 2005

A Salutation to You Nomads

Hello to everyone, if anyone, directed our way thanks to the kind offices of Josh Corey.

I'd like to think that what we're doing here might be of interest to folks beyond the precincts of Tompkins county. And for those who are local, we'd love to have more people participating, more discussion of possibilities, and more classes.

Please do post to the comments field, contact me directly, and subscribe if you desire to our yahoo group so as to be updated on schedule changes, announcements of seminars and events, etc.


Thursday, February 24, 2005

New Schedule (Of Course, Provisional)

The committee of Christopher, Shilo and I have undertaken to revise the schedule to lighten everyone's load, to get what we are doing out in public more, and to make space for a children's literature class that we hope will help bring some publicity to our events, gather new friends and acquaintances of all ages, and assist us in reading some of the classic books we never read (or were never read to us). We need to find a new timeslot for Aristotle -- I think it's just me and you, Mollie! Well, that should make scheduling easier.

Anyway, here it is.

Plato -- 12pm @ TCPL
Euclid -- 2pm @TCPL
Classic Children's Literature -- 4pm @ TCPL

Shakespeare -- 7pm @ David & Crystal's house

Roman literature in translation -- 12pm @ TCPL
Intro Latin -- 1pm @ TCPL
Herodotus -- 3pm @ Anne & Mollie's house
Potlatch -- 7pm @ David & Crystal's house
Chaucer -- 10pm @ David & Crystal's house

Heidegger -- 10pm @ location undetermined at present

KJV Bible -- 11am @ David & Crystal's house
Wm. Blake -- 7pm @ Jon & Maya & 5 kids' house

In case it's not yet clear, if you are interested in attending classes it is best to drop a line or get in touch in some other way to make sure that the time you have matches the current schedule. I apologise for frequent changes but we are working with the exigencies of peoples' schedules with work, children, and other responsibilities, and also trying to make space for new courses.



It occurs to me that I would like input towards the draft of a formal mission statement which we can distribute to those who are interested, members of the press, etc. Does anyone have any feedback either based on the document I just posted, or assertions from their own perspective without reference to my scribblings?


My First Jeremiad (by Fisher Price)

I just started a Yahoo email group for the free school and wrote an extempore mission statement text in order to invite people to join. Here it is if you are interested.

My greetings to everyone.

I want to invite you all to join the email group for the Ithaca Free School. I hope to generate more interest and participation in the School.

At present we have about ten regular or semi-regular participants. Our classes mostly take the form of reading and discussion groups. There are no teachers, although in some cases attendees with relevant knowledge may serve as facilitators. All our classes are free and open to anyone with an interest in the subject matter. Each class adapts its schedule to the needs of the participants and its pedagogical procedure to the exigencies of the material. Classes are formed based on mutual interest of at least two people. Therefore, if you have a friend, an interest, and a time, whether one-time, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, we can declare it a Free School class.
The structure is intended to be as decentralized and non-authoritarian as possible.

Our current subjects include Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Lucretius, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Blake, the Bible, Heidegger and introductory Latin. Prospective classes include German, the Cantos, American history from primary sources, the Transcendentalists, and Dante. We have a weekly potlatch 7pm Thursday evenings at the home of David Brazil and Crystal Koening. Our weblog ( updates daily with schedules, announcements, course notes, and so forth.

At a time of political despair in our country, it is my belief that the individual can best contribute not through alienated forms of protest politics but rather by rethinking social practices and putting alternatives in place, here and now. Our commitment to free education, to a non-institutional format, and to a common interest in culture, is meant to question the usually unconsidered greed, ignorance, selfishness, and obedience to power which governs our country, our cultural life, and too often our own hearts. I hope that people who are committed to rethinking education, and not only education, will contribute to this email group and participate in the school.

For those of you out of town, I thought you might be interested in the goings-on. I think this idea is one whose time has come (or come around again), and I hope it spreads.

Ixnay on the Akeblay

No Blake this Sunday. You heard it here first.


12pm: Chaucer.

7pm: Potlatch.

10pm: Latin.

(I think?)

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


7pm: Henry IV, Part 2.

Monday, February 21, 2005


12pm: Lucretius.

2pm: Plato

4pm: Euclid.

6pm: Aristotle.


Sunday, February 20, 2005

Am Hist

All right so it looks like American history class is in the works.

I'll try to get the German class in gear too.

Now, while I am adding to my wish list, a conversation with Josh reminded me of how much I want to find people who are interested in reading Dante. Any takers?


More Wacky Ideas

Violet, Mollie and I discussed a reading group organized around Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States. This is a good book to read and also offers an organizing principle or point of departure for the study of alternative or radical American history, as well as history from primary sources. After looking at Zinn's survey we can narrow in on areas of particular interest. I hope we can get this one going in short order. Let me know if you are interested, O reader.


Goodbye, Babylon

11am: Super breakfast care of Crystal, plus the Bible.

7pm: Wm. Blake. Urizen you cold bastard we are coming.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Saturday -- Chili Juice & Halfbaked Schemes

No classes today. Tomorrow, the rest of Joshua and First Judges with apparently a clutch of new attendees. As well as Crystal's super brunch extravaganza, for which she made a special shopping trip tonight.

A conversation with my father leads me to suspect that there are perhaps lurkers and others reading this of whose interest I have been heretofore unaware. If so, speak up please! Comment, email, or drop by a class! We are eager for new folks to join us.

Crystal and I are going to work up some leaflet sized schedules that can be tacked up on bulletin boards on which space is a premium (i.e. all of them, at least downtown) and also distributed to friends and strangers.

Also with this in mind I think I am going to just start listing ideas for new classes as they occur to me, in the hopes that someone will be interested enough to get in touch and set a time. "Two is quorum," our unofficial motto, guides me here. Two can also be the core of a group which will grow over time. Several of the groups that started with Christopher and I only have since expanded.

So, here's some ideas, in addition to the perennial language classes / Pound / etc.:

American history from primary sources. Anne and I talked about this, and it's a subject admitting of wide interpretation. I checked out a Library of America book of source documents on the American revolution, for example, as well as a book of source documents from the first Jamestown charter. There's also early books like Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia. Anne I know is interested in the Adams clan, which connects up with Pound of course. Dave G. has talked about a "Radical American History" class which would presumably trace the antinomian strain from Anne Hutchinson to Thoreau to Emma Goldman and Assata Shakur. Frank brought by this incredible book of slave narratives which would be great to read. So, some version of American history from the sources.

The utopian tradition. I've been getting into this and would love to see if anyone wants to read up on everything from Fourier to the American experimental communities. Did you know that a Jesuit priest established a functional utopia on the model of Thomas More's book in South America in the 1600s? Another big subject but well worth diving into.

I really want to see if anyone would commit to what I am thinking about labelling "American Renaissance" after the F.O. Matthiessen book that focuses on 1850 - 1855. This is the half-decade which saw the publication of Moby-Dick, Walden, The Scarlet Letter, Emerson's Representative Men, and Leaves of Grass, to name only five. More specifically I want to read Emerson and Thoreau, entire, and see where that takes us.

Naturalist writing. Gilbert White, Bartram, Mark Catesby, Thoreau (for the third time), Peter Kalm. Ecological consciousness has deep roots, like just about everything else. Let's dig 'em out.

If you're interested in any of this stuff, find a time that works for you and let's get in touch.


Friday, February 18, 2005


Out-of-town guests + going away party = no class tonight.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Thursday, thursday, thursday!

Hello to all those friends and lurkers out there!

Today marks the first voyage of the USS Ithaca Free School Blog with the salty dog Capt. Crystal at the cardboard and paperclip makeshift helm. Swab that deck or you'll be walking that plank before you can say "Shiver me timbers!" Arrrr!

Okay, enough with the Star Trek/Pirate theme.

Today is Thursday, which can only mean one thing: Lots and lots of Free School Classes. Here's the rundown.

High Noon: Latin
3:30: Herodotus
7:00: Potluck and Game Night (I'm thinking I'll be making pasta...or warming up leftovers.)
10:00: Tha Canterbury Talez

I will only be present for the last three of those classes, as I will be looking into adding a bevy of Exciting!New!Classes! for the free schoool, schedules permitting.

Oh, and here's an IMPORTANT REMINDER! Free School will be cancelled on Friday for a Teacher-In-Service Day. (Actually, we're going to a going-away party for a friend.)

That is all. Carry on.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

February at the Free School

Well gee, I don't know how many people are reading this these days, or whether our audience has fallen off on account of some of the recent lapses in daily updating. Anyway, the Free School is still here, truckin' on through the Ithaca winter in hopes of a springtime with new classes, new people and new energy to tackle everything from Herodotus to knitting to Marx and Kropotkin. Eventually.

We've been talking with people around town and it seems high time that more folks are brought into the fold and more kinds of classes inaugurated. Toward this end I think that those of us currently participating are going to work up a statement of values, statement of means, and some basic operating procedures, all of course subject to amendment. I am wary of writing anything down and therefore apparently fixing it as somehow permanent, but at the same time if a group does not have written guidelines then unwritten ones tend to evolve. So look forward to that sometime soon. Maybe we'll send it into the paper.

Classes that are still looking for a quorum, a home, and a time include: The Cantos of Ezra Pound, the history of radical literature, the Education of Henry Adams, local history, the Greek tragedies, conversational German, Italian via Dante, Greek via the New Testament, poetry workshop, modern feminist writing, Let's Cook [Indian, Ethiopian, etc.]. As the weather gets nicer I want to start doing some more practical self-sufficiency type groups, including canning, vegetable gardening, and so forth.

Upcoming seminars (that is, one-time workshops) potentially include dance, silkscreening and winter vegetable cooking.

I can't emphasize enough that the essence of Free School is DIY -- find someone with a similar interest, set a time, and it's a class. We'll add it to our schedule. We don't have the critical mass for that yet but hopefully we will get there as word-of-mouth spreads the news. Maybe we need to formulate a pithy slogan that gets this idea across.

I think Crystal is going to start updating this weblog as well so I will start signing off on them. If anyone wants administrative access to write their thoughts and information, please let me know.


Tuesday, February 15, 2005


7pm: Shakespeare. King Henry IV, Part I. For real this time.

Sunday, February 13, 2005


11am: The Bible -- we're finally getting out of the Pentateuch.

7pm: Blake -- the continental prophecies, continued.

Monday, February 07, 2005


2pm: Plato.

5pm (?): Euclid.

7pm: Aristotle.

9pm: Lucretius.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Super Theological Sunday!

11am: THE HOLY BIBLE, Book the Fifth, called Deuteronomy. After which no more Mosaic books. Plus a breakfast I can smell from here.

7pm: Wm. Blake, "Vision of the Daughters of Albion".

Friday, February 04, 2005


10pm: All-you-can-learn Latin buffet.

Thursday, February 03, 2005


12pm: Heidegger.

On account of errands and absentees we've scratched Herodotus this week.

7pm: Potlatch. (Earlier for those who have somewhere to get to later.)

10pm: Chaucer.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


Tonight, at 7pm, our experimental, unrehearsed production of The Merchant of Venice. Live! In the living room!