Toronto Free School Manifesto & Core Values
To treat practices as forms of knowing, and knowledges as forms of doing, means rejecting the idea that theory and practice can ever truly be separated: they are always interconnected and woven through each other.
~ David Graeber
Toronto Free School is a decentralized network in which skills, passions, and knowledge are shared outside of the hierarchical, and often authoritarian environment of formal, institutional education. Acknowledging that we are all learners, and rejecting the notion of infallible experts and authorities, Toronto Free School strives to create a learning environment in which all participants learn from each other. Through the Free School project, whether it’s in a traditional classroom, the streets, a gallery, or a local garden, the goal is to create a space for the building of an engaged radical community, and the direct, person-to-person sharing of perspectives and capacities.
We are committed to the politics of anti-oppression and radical inclusivity. Inspired by anarchist philosophy and the practices of social change movements, we aim to facilitate horizontal, egalitarian learning, and see this model of education as a form of resistance against our society’s stifling culture of disempowerment. For most people education means competition, alienation and the passive consumption of socially dominant ideas. It means stages of empty achievement in an indifferent system – it divides people, privileging some over others – it breeds an unthinking respect for authority, which undermines meaningful learning – it demands conformity.
In contrast to this model, Toronto Free School aims to create an alternative by constructing collaborative and empowering learning spaces and relationships. We conceptualize the Free School project not as an instrumental tool of social accreditation to but as a learning process that:
- is intrinsically valuable,
- is crucial to substantive personal growth and development, and
- is a pivotal component of resistance to the dominant order and the building of real community alternatives.
Anti-oppression and radical inclusivity
Toronto Free School is committed to, and actively strives to ensure that our spaces are diverse, and safe for the expression of all identities. We believe that this is crucial to a healthy learning process. Exposing and challenging unjust race, class, gender, age, ability, sexual orientation and other dynamics helps us to work towards a culture that values a wider range of truths and experiences. In terms of radical inclusivity, we acknowledge that there are very real social and structural barriers to many people’s ability to engage in education initiatives, and seek to challenge and remove these barriers to the greatest extent possible.
It is, and will continue to be a work progress. We strive to embrace discomfort and challenge our own assumptions, privileges and identities.
Every class and workshop runs autonomously, meaning that they create their own structures, learning models and facilitation processes. The Toronto Free School Collective is at the service of each class, responding to space and material needs, but does not dictate content or structure. The Collective aims to unite classes through promotion, the sharing of information, and the hosting of broad events that bring together the Free School Community, allowing folks to get to know each other, and share learning experiences.
We think that people are at their best and most creative not when they are trying to compete with each other, and/or defer to a higher authority, but rather when they work together and have their input valued equally. As such, Toronto Free School values consensus and strives to incorporate the input of all parties affected by the decisions that we make. Unlike other ‘democratic’ systems of decision-making, consensus works to ensure decisions result in neither winners, nor losers, neither presidents, nor minions. On the contrary, consensus strives to equally distribute power amongst those participating in the decision-making process, and to come to decisions that all involved parties are satisfied with.
We use a consensus model because it fosters cooperation, and as a result produces stronger, more creative groups and movements. By agreeing not to move forward with a decision that any one member finds objectionable, we respect differing viewpoints, and are forced to find more imaginative solutions to addressing an issue. By refusing to compete amongst ourselves, we prevent needless factionalizing and enable more voices to be heard. By sharing responsibilities and roles, we empower each one of us to learn diverse skills, and guard against the formation of informal hierarchies.
The dominant culture of our society encourages individualistic competition, prejudice, hierarchy, and exclusion to divide us from each other. Free School seeks to build radical relationships that challenge such ideals, practices and authoritarian structures. It aims to connect people as equals, and create an environment rooted in mutual aid, solidarity and communal learning. Traditional learning models are based upon a carrot and stick motivation system- the promise of good grades and the corresponding potential for upward social mobility, and the threat of bad grades and the corresponding negative social stigma, act to control and limit students.
Contrary to this model, Toronto Free School aims to create an intrinsically motivated and mutually rewarding education environment that fosters the development of radical communities based upon respect, cooperation, and a commitment to social justice. Working to encourage self-organization and voluntary association, Free School experiments with models of learning and interaction that prefigure the world we are all fighting to create.
Toronto Free School is an anarchist project that seeks to create non-hierarchical learning spaces in which each participant has equal say in the form and content of their education. Participants take responsibility for their own learning, and the learning environment that they are actively co-creating. We share knowledge, skills and experiences freely among ourselves in an environment that rejects the myth of the banking system of education. Free School recognizes that this culture teaches us from an early age to submit to constructed authorities, rather than to value our own desires, intuitions, and experiences as the basis for understanding our world. We reject this disempowering narrative, and seek to actively illustrate that we are all our own decision-makers and that our desires, intuitions and experiences are a valid foundation upon which understandings of the world can be built.
Free School is an act of resistance. We reject the idea that the status quo can changed to accommodate our dreams and realities or that we should conform to its ways. From its social structures and institutions, to its dominant forms of relationships and organizations, nothing exists that is salvageable – it is rotten to its roots, and must be unapologetically confronted, deconstructed, and replaced by healthy relationships and nurturing structures. By demonstrating other ways of living, learning and relating, Free School is part of the broader project to illustrate that there exists an abundance of alternatives to the current social order. In empowering participants and challenging the role of conventional education institutions, we hope that Free School will aid in the development of stronger, more sustainable communities of resistance.
We recognize that projects such as Free School have the potential to lapse into esoteric subject matters and insularity. As organizers, we are strongly committed to building a project that promotes relevant discussions and critical spaces for reflection and learning. We aim to solicit classes that challenge and truly reflect the organizing concerns of Toronto’s communities of resistance, and to the best of our ability we will reach out beyond the anarchist/activist community narrowly-defined, to offer programming that engages with diverse communities and people from many walks of life. As the Free School develops, we hope that we can broaden the scope of spaces and classes – in striving for this, we welcome feedback, suggestions, and direction from Toronto activists.