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(en) Canada, Toronto, Media: [smygo] Anarchy Enters the Classroom (of the Anarchist University) Students learn from each other

From Dan Clore <clore@columbia-center.org>
Date Tue, 21 Oct 2003 21:09:30 +0200 (CEST)

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Sick of overcrowded university classes, boring lectures,
high tuitions and less-than-spectacular grades? No problem.
Now there's a school in town run by educated volunteers who
"facilitate discussion" rather than lecture, argue that
grades create a negative learning environment and limit
class sizes to about 25. Plus, the whole thing is free. Yep, free.
Sound like anarchy? That's not far off.
"We think it's important to offer university level courses
for free because government cutbacks (to post-secondary
education) and the double cohort is making university
inaccessible for so many people," says Rob Teixeira, who
leads a class called Radical Perspectives on Sexuality, one
of six on the fall 2003 calendar of AnarchistU Free
University, which began offering courses last month.

The 10-week-long sexuality class takes place at a private
home in the Queen St. W. neighbourhood and topics include
transexuality, prostitution and pornography, all from an
academic perspective, with readings from such literary
sources as Michel Foucault and Kate Millet. There are no
credits for the course. Knowledge is the only benefit.

While the free school takes its inspiration from the
anarchist philosophy, which argues against social, political
and economic hierarchies, course content tends toward the
mainstream. Other topics of study this term include
contemporary art, modern Russian history, experimental
literature, forecasting the future and politics through the

But anachist principles are played out in the way the
classes are taught, or rather, facilitated, according to
Luis Jacob, a local artist who helped found the school and
teaches a class in Art and Collaborative Approaches on
Monday nights at the Meeting Place community centre at Queen
and Bathurst Sts.

"Our society strives for hierarchy," says Jacob, a
well-known face in the local art scene. "It happens at work,
in schools, even some homes are hierarchical. But you have
to question whether those hierarchies are fair or useful. It
leads to alienation.

"We all know what alienation feels like and it feels awful.
In a sense, all of society suffers because everyone's
potential isn't realized in that system."

To overcome hierarchy in the classroom, Jacob encourages
students to take an active part in deciding what the class
discusses. In a sense, they're teaching each other, he says,
and he's just there to help things along.

"This is an umbrella for people to come together to teach
each other and learn from each other," he says. "I'm not a
master, I'm not a teacher. It's clear the people in the
class know a lot of stuff, and I hope all that knowledge and
background comes out in our classes, because I want to
learn, too."

The process works well, says Amish Morrell, a student in
Jacob's art class. "It's really been great," says Morrell,
who is studying for a PhD at the University of Toronto.
"I've been learning a lot. The people at Anarchist
University are there because they want to be there. They're
there to learn and everyone has something interesting to
contribute. It's really a very democratic process, and it's
amazing how we manage to stay on topic."

There's no formal assignment required in the art class, but
Morrell says the ideas discussed have helped him clarify a
couple of art projects he's been working on lately, and he
plans to include some people in the class in those projects.

But just because there are no exams or marks doesn't mean
there isn't homework. Teixeira assigns several readings
prior to each class. He also asks each student to work on an
independent project, such as a zine, a radio braodcast, a
Web site or a journal. But it's evaluated only if a student
asks for feedback.

"There will be an opportunity for peer evaluation if a
student wants to learn how to write better, for example,"
says Teixeira, a graduate student in sociology at the
University of Toronto.

Creating an alternative learning process than the one
typically offered in a university setting is important to

"A free school like this is adaptable for people who have
had good or bad experiences in the traditional educational
system," he says. "I set the course outline, but I hope that
people come with questions and ideas and disagreements. What
we're really trying to do is break down the distinction
between who's teaching a class and who's taking a class."

That philosophy of participation stretches as far as
administration of the school, adds Teixeira. Students are
encouraged to attend planning meetings for AnarchistU and
are welcome to suggest courses they're interested in, or
volunteer to facilitate future courses. Morrell has proposed
a course on social movements and cultural production.

The next semester begins in January, and the calendar is
beginning to take shape. Courses on such topics as chaos
theory, queer history and surrealist literature are all
being considered. Decisions about what AnarchistU should
teach, and how to teach it, are made by consensus at those
general meetings.

So far, attendance has been better than the founders -- a
loose group of about a dozen Toronto academics, artists and
activists with an interest in anarchist philosophy -- expected.

Twenty-five people attended the first art class. Among the
crowd were a few who knew nothing about art as well as a few
familiar faces from the Toronto scene, including popular
local artist Sandy Plotnikoff and Janis Demkiw, a board
member at the local artist-run centre Mercer Union.

Jacob was involved with a free school that ran in Toronto in
the late '90s, offering practical courses on topics like
vegan cooking and silk-screening. After two years, the
school closed in 2000. But participants stayed in contact
and the university-level school evolved last summer.

Everyone involved works for free, but Jacob, who says he
puts in about two hours daily on the project, sees a payoff
that goes beyond the bank account.

"I was really feeling the need for a community," he says.
"And I think a community forms when people get involved and
make something happen. I think we all need that."

For more information on the university, check out its Web
site at

Dan Clore

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