Something wonderful happens every Sunday at Alexandra Park in downtown Toronto.
A group of dedicated Occupy people, activists and community members meet in the south end of the park – rain or shine – to discuss, learn and share knowledge with one another.
The premise of this Free’scool is simple: Show up and learn.
Over the months, topics have included everything from decolonization to basic medic training to understanding the history behind democracy. People gather in a circle and share food, skills and good stories.
The free school challenges society’s concepts of access to public space and access to free education.
It is an open learning circle that, according to organizer Roxy Cohen, “creates an open, positive space to actually start working out some of the issues we have to face in this world.”
The Free’scool was born within St. James Park during the Occupy Toronto encampment and took on the quirky vibe of the camp regarding community centered and community based learning.
Even though Occupy Toronto was shut down by the police in November, 2011, the free school lives on as a place to share ideas and to gather to socialize with other Occupy ex-pats from St. James Park.
Participant Laura Kolmick noted when I was there last Sunday to attend some classes, “I think this is a great way for people to come together to build a community.”
In its written introduction on its Facebook page, the Free’scool is described as, “We use education as a tool for self-liberation, and collective resistance. We present an education founded in respect for everyone’s knowledge.
We are students, teachers, workers, community members, friends, and family; we are the oppressed and the privileged. We are the people, and we no longer consent to an education system that teaches us to compete with each other; a system that commodifies knowledge, denying the existence of multiple truths, and multiple ways of knowing.”
The Free’scool is facilitated by Occupy Toronto organizers joined by members of the community as a way to present radical social concepts without the sometimes stereotypical protests that come with it. It is understood that Occupy and activism in Toronto needs the free school to balance its frenetic energy.
Cohen describes what motivated her to begin the Free’scool, “I find in activism circles in Toronto there is this really strong push to fight and activism is largely about fighting. Also, groups are quite segregated in their work and I was working in a lot of different activist groups and I felt really stressed out by all the anger and tension.
I really like the free school because it is a place where people can come and work collaboratively on the same issues that we as activists are working on outside of class, but in a format that encourages creativity and discourages conflict.”
On Sunday afternoon, I listened to a lecture titled Real Democracy and munched on bread as the skies cleared of rain. I spoke to a woman named Arestia who told me, “I’ve been a free schooler for about two or three months now and the reason I keep coming back is that it is a reminder that there is so much to learn in this world and so much more I can do to help people learn.”
For more information on the Free'scool and to check the latest schedule, please click here.
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