Thursday, April 9, 2009

Starting a Free School Response Part 1

Well, we'd hoped to post this a few days ago but things came up. Rather then posting the whole long response in one blog we'll split this up into a few key questions so here's the response Part 1 (Edited a bit for space and clarity).

I was wondering if you had any advice for somebody trying to start such a school in their community?
There are a ton of considerations to think about... will you take money, will you be politically affiliated? The biggest thing to think about for me was that I didn't like the idea of raising money for something that wasn't even in operation. Something about that just felt wrong to me. The idea of simply doing without seemed far more exciting then the idea of raising money, becoming a 501c org, registering with the government, etc etc. In reality raising money actually costs money most of the time because it takes a lot more time and energy and thus often requires a paid position. Plus, for those of us involved the idea of not raising money made Seattle Free School a fun challenge and a great learning experience. Most of us have or had worked in some capacity for a regular nonprofit. We know how raising money works or how it doesn't. What we weren't sure about is if it could be done without money. Turns out it can, definitely, and perhaps with greater success then if we would have gone the other way.

Politics for us was something that we left out to be as all inclusive as possible. While we all personally have our thoughts on politics there was no reason to limit people based on that idea. It could of course be said that people who chose not to come to a class because the politics are self limiting and yet we all have been in situations where we might not want to affiliate with a specific group even if a presentation seems attractive. In this case the message is sent just as well by sticking strictly to the mission of the free school, sharing information and doing it for free. For many this is a radical idea in and of itself. And for many this is simply the way things have been done for ages. That's the beauty of it... it can appeal to everyone so why not keep it as open and inclusive as possible?

How many people do you have helping to coordinate the free school as far as volunteers go?
I do most of the running of the school on the administrative end... posting classes, updating the blog, sending emails etc. Of course every teacher is a volunteer and they all help flyer for their classes at least. Dani is also a founder and helps with posting on other sites (craigslist etc) as well as helping with events etc. We've tried to be very inclusive of volunteers but so far it's been difficult to find a good way to split responsibilities that doesn't just wind up creating more confusion and work. Also, since I spend quite a bit of time on the computer for several of my jobs it just makes sense for me to be answering emails and doing whatever computer work is necessary. Eventually I'm thinking we'll need to split things up among a larger group as I think about heading out to other adventures but how to best go about that in a way that makes good, clean, logical sense and doesn't make us all nuts trying to figure out what's going on has been tricky thus far.

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