Grassroots learning and education beyond school

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On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Jade Nasogaluak Carpenter and Liam O'Neill Gordon. They are involved in the Calgary School of Informal Education (CSIE), a new initiative that is creating opportunities for people to share skills and knowledge of all sorts in an inclusive, accessible, and affordable grassroots community setting with an orientation towards justice.

Even before the wave of changes to education systems forced upon us in the last few decades under the banner of "neoliberalism," schools and postsecondary institutions were never exactly the havens of free thought and meaningful learning that a certain strand of nostalgia for "the good old days" would have us believe. However, the neoliberal shift has sharply narrowed mainstream imaginings of education and educational institutions, such that our current dominant commonsense treats as inevitable and even desirable things like hierarchical classrooms, standardized testing, intrusive managerial interference in pedagogy, high fees (at the postsecondary level), and the orientation of the entire enterprise towards training, a credential, and (hopefully) a job rather than anything more liberatory or more grounded in any sort of vision of the common good.

Along with various efforts to push back against this vision of education in more formal settings, there is also a growing trend in many communities towards increasingly organized grassroots initiatives to share skills and knowledge. These don't tend to result in a credential, they probably won't help you get a job, but they generally reflect a vision of learning that is about sharing skills that are practically useful, coming to shared understandings of shared problems, and building relationships and community -- all while prioritizing, in one way or another, a vision of justice.

Jade Nasogaluak Carpenter is an artist who has experience in organizing community-based initiatives in the context of an arist-run centre, while Liam O'Neill Gordon got his start organizing all-ages punk shows. The School was originally Liam's idea -- he had been involved in the music scene for a long time and decided he needed a change, and the direction of that change ended up being towards a growing interest in creating opportunities for grassroots teaching and learning. He did a lot reading about things like anarchist experimental schools, about the liberatory pedagogy of Paulo Freire, and about the Food Not Bombs freeschool in the United States, and he decided he wanted to try something like that in Calgary. He knew lots of folks involved in arts, music, and academic things in the city -- including Jade -- and he had no trouble getting the bike co-op where he was working to rent him their space for events. Pretty soon, the CSIE was ready to organize events.

The workshops and classes organized by the School over its first eight months have been a quirky mix largely determined by those who have come forward with skills to share -- from knitting to garlic, from Japanese language to embroidery. Under the umbrella of the CSIE, a queer zine-making group and the new Treaty 7 Indigenous Filmmakers Collective have begun meeting regularly. And in the coming year, Liam and Jade expect more classes based on crafts, more opportunities to hear people with diverse lived experiences share their knowledge of the world, and more explicitly political workshops.

Though much of the organizing has been informal so far, the School is well on its way to putting together a formal board, and will be applying for small grants in the near future, with the goal of paying all teachers at living-wage rates and making all classes free for participants. Jade and Liam speak with me about the philosophy, the goals, and the nuts-and-bolts work of the Calgary School of Informal Education.

To learn more about the Calgary School of Informal Education, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow us on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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