Ithaca Free School

Thursday, March 17, 2005


12pm: Lucretius.

1pm: Cantos.

7pm: St. Patlatch. Bring foods vert or con pommes des terres, or suffer the consequences.

10pm: Latin Latine Latyne!

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


11am: Euclid.

1pm: Aristotle.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Hello O'Friends!

Just a reminder that this week's potlatch theme is either green food or Irish food in honor of St. Patty's Day. I brainstormed with David and came up with some pretty interesting food ideas. I may just do potato something-or-other, but I may get some inspiration thanks to

Don't forget to wear green or else you'll get pinched!

Free kisses for card-carrying Irish folks, fellow redheads, leprechauns or people who are willing to be called by a Crystal Mandated (tm) Irish Name for the entirety of the evening!

"Get over here, Siobhan! Seamus is serving up his rumpledethump!"

See you Thursday.


1. After due consideration we've decided to return Shakespeare to its original time of 7pm on Tuesdays.

2. Children's lit, Mondays at 4, has been cancelled for lack of interest.


Please Plato Don't Hurt 'Em

12pm: Rock'n'roll Lucretius.

2pm: Smooth jazz Plato.

4pm: Oi oi oi kid's lit (for real this time).

6pm: Shakespeare till your eyes fall out.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Son Day (Or Sun Day?)

12pm: KJV. (I Samuel cont.)

7pm: Wm. Blake.

Friday, March 11, 2005

A Model of Wholeness

Anne wrote me a very perceptive letter in response to my primer. One passage in particular struck me, which I have obtained her permission to excerpt here:

"To me, the most compelling idea is that the love of knowledge cuts across social lines and other artificial distinctions.... We are, as you say, so isolated and
separate from each other. Not only does this keep us compliant with the prevailing order (how is it that we're at war when at least half the country strongly
opposes it?), but also, in the deepest sense, disspirited and broken as human beings. To me the purpose of education is to heal these wounds, but one has to name them in order to be free of them. You have to be able to understand the fault lines in society or in yourself in order to begin to address them. And you can never do this alone. You also simultaneously need a model of wholeness; for me, this
has always been poetry, art, music and literature, or the thoughts of historians and contemplatives and philosophers."

Thanks Anne. This sums up a good deal of what I find valuable, both personally and socially, about the cultural tradition.


Thursday, March 10, 2005

Thor's Day

1pm: Cantos.

4pm: Herodotus.

7pm: Potlatch.

10pm: Latin.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

IFS: A Primer

Herewith, an article I banged together on the free school for the next issue of Fluffy & Spiky. More half-baked social-political-educational ranting. Any feedback is welcomed.



Ithaca Free School: A Primer

“We hope it will not be unconsidered, that we finde no open tract, or constant manuduction in this Labyrinth; but are oft-times fain to wander in the America and untravelled parts of Truth....”
–Pseudodoxia Epidemica, Sir Thomas Browne

The Ithaca Free School has been holding classes since December of 2004. From the first we committed to hold classes in private homes and public places which would be free of charge and open to anyone with an interest in the subject matter. Through the winter our course offerings and attendance have steadily grown. We now have twelve classes as well as a weekly potlatch. As the weather improves I hope that we will develop more classes and meet more new people who wish to study with us.

I have often thought of writing a document to explain the intentions behind the school, its philosophy and its long-term goals. The task has stymied me again and again because I could not seem to limit the scope of what I have to say on the subject. I have therefore settled on a simple scheme: to consider, in turn, each of the terms that make up the name, Ithaca Free School. Each one of these words represents part of what the undertaking has meant for me.

One more thing: another reason I held off on writing a document of this kind is that I have not wanted to appear to be the voice of the school. I hope that you will therefore keep in mind that the contents of this essay represent my own opinions and not necessarily those of any other school participants.


Ithaca is where I live. If you are reading this, you probably live here too. Therefore it is the ground on which we stand and the place from which we start. Even if you see yourself as a transient here, it is nonetheless where you are for now. This is the place where we labor, love, play, sleep, and dream. It may be where our children are born; it may be where we die. It is where we see, or fail to see, other people every day.

My thinking about political action has led me to believe that the best work that I can do is in the realm of the social. The realm of the social is, by and large, local. If you cherish radical ideals but fail to enact them in your daily life, then what are they but words? More specifically, if you can critique the means by which this society promotes division between people in order to guard its own power, but fail to combat those divisions as they arise in your own daily life and business, what is the use of your politics?

The Roman maximum Divide et impera cited by Machiavelli has been a guiding principle of empires for thousands of years. Divide and conquer is not only a method for triumphing over external foes but also for controlling the domestic population. If each is separate from each and everyone carries on their business in isolation and solitude, then our formal rights of assembly don’t amount to a hill of beans. We have no political power as people because we fail to organize ourselves, and we furthermore fail to recognize that this impoverishment of our social lives is part of the political logic of our society. More particularly, it is the logic of even a nominally liberal town like Ithaca. The binaries of male & female, gay & straight, rich & poor, right & left, black & white, old & young, town & gown, and so forth, are encoded into our lives from early on and condition how we live and interact with people every day. Therefore, if we wish to have a hope of real political change we have to devise new social forms that do not recapitulate the divisive logic of the dominant order.

What does all this have to do with school? I think that an interest in learning has the ability to cross these dividing lines and allow people to see what they have in common. It also creates a new social network which may be a way to break people out of their rigid social routines of work, family, and closed cliques of friends. We are usually so caught up in these social concerns 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.

Apart from these general considerations, Ithaca is itself a unique place for an experiment in education and community. From the league of the Haudenosaunee and Sullivan’s campaign to the burned-over district and Joseph Smith, all the materials for a study of the recent history of this continent are close to hand. Between Cornell, Ithaca College, and the other local institutions the area is already dedicated to education. The town is full of people with a passion for learning, who can potentially share their knowledge with those eager to learn, and thereby make a social connection as well. Hopefully, with so many people of diverse achievements and specialities, participants in the Free School may “procure, as often as shall be needful, the helpful experiences of hunters, fowlers, fisherman, shepherds, gardeners, apothecaries; and in the other sciences, architects, engineers, mariners, anatomists; who doubtless would be ready... to favor such a hopeful seminary.”

There are so many interesting things going on in this town, and to my knowledge there is very little synthesis of these trends into a unified community of unorthodox learning. The Free School would ideally offer such a synthesis.Free

The talk of developing communities above leads me to the question of what communities are, and how they can be made to grow. In my view it is not enough that we merely live alongside one another. Insofar as it is possible we must seek to develop bonds of kinship, commitment, and affection.

In his book The Gift, Marcel Mauss discusses the idea of a gift as a fact which organizes around itself a social unity of generosity, obligation, and reciprocity. As against exchange economies, where one’s obligation begins and ends with money paid for goods and services, or services and goods rendered for money, the gift received is also an obligation to return a gift. An economic fact is therefore a social fact, and economic life becomes an integral part of social life

If you do something for free, you do it out of love and conviction. You strike against the prevailing logic of greed which organizes this society. You also inaugurate a form of the gift economy which promotes different kinds of exchange. If therefore you make a gift of your knowledge, knowledge may be given to you. And what better way to build a local economy and community than with local connections, commitments, and voluntary obligations?

As I observed above, Ithaca is already a center of education. But by and large it is an education for those who can pay. To say free means that we do not base the right of people to learn upon their financial standing. It is my hope that the school will be able to serve as diverse a population as possible, including those who are currently underserved by existing educational institutions. Our students currently include homeschoolers, full-time workers, single parents, and self-employed people. I would love to see more people who are unable to attend other kinds of schools whether for financial or scheduling reasons join our classes. Not only does this involve many people in education that they would otherwise not have the chance to enjoy, it also promotes connections across those dividing lines that I discussed above.

Finally, free means not only without cost, but without compulsion from above. We have thus far maintained a decentralized learning structure and a decentralized organization. We’d like to see whether or not one can learn difficult subjects without teachers, using only the knowledge of the members of the group to determine both the direction of study and the pedagogical method. Whether these sorts of organizational structures are practicable is uncertain, but we will not know unless we try.

By keeping all of our courses and meetings free, non-centralized and open to the public, I hope that eventually the school will be perceived as the common property of everyone who participates in it. Rather than an institution, we aim to develop a new kind of social logic that makes connecting people easier. Eventually, then, the ideal would be a constant roster of classes, initiated by someone, announced to everyone, and open to anyone. We are trying to imagine what a fully realized non-centralized and non-authoritarian structure would look like in practice; and we want to help other people imagine it too


Education is always radical; it goes to the root. When we educate people, even ourselves, we are always making or remaking them. The question is, toward what end? For those of us who have passed through the mills of compulsory primary and secondary education, the answer would appear to be: social conditioning. As we all recall, or choose to forget, school consists primarily of getting young people used to boredom, routines, and obedience, so they will be ready for jobs which consist of boredom, routines and obedience. The social form of education, or of anything else, is at least as important as the content of a course. If you accustom people not to seek to understand why they are learning what they are learning, then you are conditioning them to be obedient listeners. Education is therefore a training ground for the sorts of workers employers want, and the sorts of citizens governments want. As Aldous Huxley wrote in Brave New World Revisited, “children are nowhere taught, in any systematic way, to distinguish true from false, or meaningful from meaningless, statements. Why is this so? Because their elders, even in the democratic countries, do not want them to be given this kind of education.”

We are always, then, educating for or towards. Current educational practice educates towards the finished project of a worker ready for a life of alienated labor. What, then, can we say that our educational project is for or towards? I for one see education as the means by which to imagine a new culture and a new civilization. We are mired in a dark time full of lies. Education can help people to perceive when they are being lied to and what the reasons are for the deceptions. It can also form part of a long-term project for the development of a culture grounded in sustainability, generosity, and compassion rather than waste, greed and war.

Is it not possible to assert that we are educating toward the fulfillment of a person’s greatest potential as a human being? If people seek to learn, it means that they have not given up the desire to be more than they are. Likewise, a culture which seeks to learn is still looking for a better way. The country at large seems largely self-satisfied, despite the mounting political, military, and ecological catastrophes If we are ever to imagine different ways of living and organizing they must be through education. We have to think through these problems, find what is useful in our culture for the current struggle, and use what we have to fulfill the old Wobbly motto and build the new world in the shell of the old.


11am: Euclid.

1pm: Aristotle.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Writing Workshop Class Offering

Howdy, pardners!

Just thought I'd let you know about the Writing Workshop that Ashley will be offering over three consecutive Saturdays at the Unitarian Church here in Ithaca. The following is some information about the course, including the syllabus. You can contact Ashley at for further information or to get involved in the class.

Take care, folks.

No Prerequisites. No Pretension. No Payment. Just Poetry.

Things are not all so comprehensible and expressible as one would mostly have us believe; most events are inexpressible, taking place in a realm which no word has ever entered, and more inexpressible than all else are works of art, mysterious existences, the life of which, while ours passes away, endures.

Serious writing, writing that will endure, requires serious practice. If you are a poet looking for more engagement with other poets, or if you wish to enhance your craft by making a stronger commitment to your writing, I invite you to participate in this free poetry workshop, which will take place over the course of three weekends: March 18th, 26th, and April 2nd in the Community Room at The First Unitarian Church on the corner of Buffalo and Aurora.
As part of the requirement for my MFA in creative writing through Goddard College’s low-residency program, I am offering this workshop as a free service to the community. It is open to everyone, at any level of writing. I only ask that you take it seriously. To learn more about the course objectives, times, and details of the sessions, please look at the syllabus online at or email me at and I can send you a copy via email. If you do not have internet access, you can call me at 202-277-0050.
In order to get an idea of the number of students, I ask that you call or email me with your information. The Community Room is not handicap-accessible, and there is limited space. Please contact me before March 16th.

Syllabus for Poetry Workshop

I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are reading it for?...But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.

Course Objectives

This course is not designed to teach you how or what to write. Rather, it is intended to give you the materials and exercises to tone your writing into what you want it to be. Because part of finding your own writing process involves connections with other writers through sharing poems, participation is encouraged but not required. Share what you feel comfortable with. We will also read from books that are on the text list at the end of this syllabus. Mostly, this course is designed to prompt you to write more, and we will be writing in every session. Only through dedication to your craft will you become a better writer. This commitment is what I intend to help you establish.


This workshop consists of three five-hour sessions over the course of three Saturdays, beginning at 9am and ending at 3pm with a one hour break for lunch. It would be ideal if you could make it to all of the sessions; however, I understand time constraints and other life involvements. I have designed the course in three sections with exercises that have different emphases so that if you cannot make it to every session, you can pick which session(s) appeal most to you. Each meeting will also have elements of consistency—writing exercises, work-shopping poems, etc. Some sessions will require assignments that you will work on at home, which you are strongly encouraged to do, even if you don’t share them in class. Overall, I wish for students to take this course seriously but remain flexible—the course outline is tentative and may change according to group dynamics or other organic factors. You will inevitably learn something about your process in throughout the workshop while making stronger connections with other writers.

Course Outline

Session One "Finding the poems": Saturday, March 19th
Introductions: "History of your name"
Discussion: definitions of poetry
Writing exercise: "Questionnaire"
Writing exercises from Writing Toward Home, and The Practice of Poetry
Discussion: Elements of style and form
Writing exercise: "Found Poetry"
Writing exercise: "Lucid Detail"
Closing discussions and work-shopping
Assignments for next session

Session Two "Writing through periods of silence": Saturday, March 26th
Sharing "homework" (optional), work-shopping
Readings from Louise Gluck’s Proofs & Theories
Discussion: The importance of reading other poets
Writing exercise: "Explicating silence"
Using Form as a point of departure: ghazals, sestina, sonnet, and haiku
Discussion: form and rhythm
Visual art as impetus: Surrealism and multi-media art
Writing Exercise: "Erasure exercise: cutting what you don’t need"
Assignments for next session

Session Three "Remaining dedicated to craft": Saturday, April 2nd
Free Writing
Sharing assignments and reading suggestions
Discussion about reading materials, websites, etc.
Publication Panel: suggestions for publishing in journals and magazines, contests, etc.
Final Writing Exercise
Closing Discussion

Handouts and readings will come from the following books:
The Norton Anthology of Poetry 3rd Edition, Allison
The Practice of Poetry Behn
Travel in the Mouth of the Wolf Paul Fattaruso
Proofs & Theories Louise Gluck
Twentieth Century Pleasures Robert Hass
Writing Toward Home Georgia Heard
Bird by Bird Anne Lamott
Letters to a Young Poet Rilke
The Pink Institution Selah Saterstrom
Poemcrazy Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge
Above the River James Wright
Contemporary World Poetry: Readings of Paul Celan and Andre Breton
*Other books may be added to the list.
**As mentioned, this syllabus is subject to change.

Choco Leibniz

12pm: Chaucer.

2pm: Plato.

No kid lit. Shakespeare (Henry V) directly after Plato. Or maybe a short break.

I'm going to see if anyone else is interested in a Debussy concert at Barnes Hall tonight. That or some kind of ornithological lecture. I haven't decided yet.


Sunday, March 06, 2005

Sun Day

12pm: KJV Bible.

7pm: Wm. Blake.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Straight Outta Tompkins

I'm going to start getting organized with my local history researches. There is so much great information available just in the public library that the time for notetaking, microfiching, photocopies and bibliographies is upon me.

Once upon a time I thought about arranging a local history group. Of course in a way this ties in with American history, because central New York history, even just Tompkins history, is a microcosm which reflects the events and trends of history.

I still can't track down coverage of the ex-slave parade in 1827, because the library's run of the Journal doesn't go back that far. But I did find some great ads and articles from 1821 in the American Journal.

Also no trace yet of the Monitor and the Wheat Street Review, both 20th century African-American periodicals. More research, more research!

Anyway, just thought I'd let you all know about this, and see if anyone cares to join me for a weekly, biweekly, or monthly meeting. One concept I really like is a collaborative research group assembling information for a primary source history of Tompkins county, which could then be used as a text or teaching tool for any number of groups.


Thursday, March 03, 2005

Hang it all, Free School

So we have an announcement. We have finally and at long last cleared a patch of time for the Cantos. That's right. We have the relevant secondary sources. We're going to scour the library for Cavalcanti, Confucius, Del Mar, John Adams, Martin van Buren, Robert Browning, et al. It'll be a big Pound party and everyone is invited. Maybe Crystal will even make her signature (Ezra) pound cake.

The schedule at present is Thursdays from 1pm to 4pm. I know that this is probably an awkward time but I think all the classes are at awkward times. To even be able to make time for three of us to do it is a major accomplishment at this point. I hope it works for other people's schedules. If you are interested in attending or participating in some manner, even if you can't come every week or for the full time, please let me know. I am hoping that this class will be a humdinger. We'll see.

I have been instructed to announce that the theme of next week's potlatch is cowboy (music) and Indian (food). Johnny Cash and lentils.


Classes Without Bodies

There are a good number of prospective / hypothetical classes floating around in my head right now, in which various people have expressed some degree of interest. I'm going to note the classes and the people who have expressed interest. If you are also interested, please let me know in a comment or email. I'd love to get any of these groups going.

Pound's Cantos: David, Joel, Shilo, Christopher, Anne.
People's History of the US: Bernie, David, Violet, Mollie.
Capital: David, Joel, Mollie.
Dante in Italian: David, Christopher, Violet, Jarrett.
Conversational German: David, Christopher, Mollie, Crystal.
Practical Utopia: David, Joel, Dave G.
Cooking: David, Anne, Crystal.

These are the ones that Crystal and I can remember, perhaps there are more. And if anyone has any ideas I haven't heard yet, let me know and I'll list them too.

Also, if you are reading the blog, please leave a comment and let me know! I feel like I'm talking to myself most of the time. Which isn't so bad, but, y'know....


Thursday of the Damned

12pm: Lucretius.

1pm: Wheelock.

4pm: Herodotus.

7pm: Potlatch.

10pm: Chaucer.

"We do more classics by 5pm than most people do all week."

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Multi sunt stulti.

I'm pleased to report an inquiry regarding our Latin class. This reminds me that I had thought about the idea of a Latin Club, to knit together the Latinists of disparate abilities who might nonetheless be an interesting batch of people to get together. Christopher and I have already laid out a curriculum for the Latin literature in translation. Maybe I could arrange a classics lecture series? Oh the folly of ambition.


Castles in the Sky

Plans are afoot for a class in practical utopias. The focus would be on 19th century American experimental living, with excursions into literary explorations and more recent attempts to found intentional communities. The format would involve some homework; that is, we would do our reading away from class and meet weekly for discussions.

The aim is to gather a fund of information sufficient to plan and found a practical, sustainable, selfsufficient community within ten years.

Anyone interested?


Creative Writing Workshop


Ashley is making plans for a series of poetry workshops to fulfill her teaching practicum. The plans are not firm yet but I thought I would circulate the information now, to see if anyone was interested.


Tuesday, March 01, 2005


2:30pm: Politics of Aristotle, Book III.

7pm: Shakespeare. The second half of Henry IV.2. (So it's Henry IV.2.2?)