Mission and Values

What is the Providence Free School?

The Providence Free School is a framework for knowledge-sharing and grassroots learning outside of an institutional setting. The Free School aims to empower participants to be more active thinkers, learners, and doers by allowing them to access new ideas and skills without sacrificing their individuality or autonomy.  To that end, the Free School is meant to be community in which participants can explore new systems of learning that reflect their own goals and realities, not those of a large bureaucratic institution.  We believe that everyone has something to teach and something to learn, and that learning is most rewarding when individuals share their skills and experiences in a community of equals.  Our emphasis in facilitating classes is on personal development, mutual support, and the sharing of skills, knowledge, and attitudes, not on professional development or external certification


The 'free' in Free School
1) "Free" means that the amount of money you have should not determine your ability to learn and share new things.  We also believe that covering the material costs of teaching and learning should NOT be a source of conflict, confusion, pressure, or shame for anyone.  Some of the ways we make that happen are:

- Materials requirements or costs for classes are communicated as far in advance as possible, and teachers are encouraged to design classes to minimize material costs (think sharing materials, exchanging work for materials, etc).  Teachers ask for contributions to cover materials bought in bulk for the class, if and when necessary.
- Teachers need to eat somehow, and so teachers can announce that they welcome donations to compensate them for the time and energy they put into classes.  Teachers can NOT in any way consciously or unconsciously imply that donating is necessary for full participation in the class.  No one should feel pressured to "pay" the teacher or feel like there are rewards for donating.  Participants also try avoid making other participants feel pressured to donate.  
- While some of the spaces the Free School uses welcome donations to cover their rent, Free School participants are not expected to donate to those spaces' rent.  To contribute to the rent of these spaces on behalf of the Free School, we have Free School fundraisers from time to time.  

2) ‘Free’ also means not restricted and non-coercive, as in “free expression, free thought, and liberation.”  At the Free School, we don’t want people to feel stigmatized for what they know or don’t know, which unfortunately happens in some learning situations.  The Free School does not dictate the content, structure, goals of classes beyond asking that participants, both those acting as teachers and those acting as learners, work together to construct their own learning experiences that are empowering for all.

Inclusiveness & Community
The Free School is meant to facilitate positive learning experiences for all.  While individual teachers may suggest certain background knowledge for particular class in the interest of making a more effective learning experience, all participants (regardless of classroom role) are asked to think about how to share their knowledge and skills in ways that reach out to people with different backgrounds.
Similarly, the Free School’s internal organizational processes (maintaining relationships with spaces, fundraising, course proposal reviews, etc) are meant to be open and accessible, and no one should think that who they are and how they are disqualifies them from speaking up and taking an active role.
The Free School also hopes to see genuine and mutually stimulating friendships develop out of shared learning!  Look out for potlucks, parties, and other fun community-building events.

Decentralization & Democracy
Learning is most empowering when there is little or no bureaucracy around it.  The Free School has no official or central organizing committee, and all are welcome and encouraged to take part in the work of coordinating classes, developing teacher/participant resources, fundraising, publicizing, and setting up community-building events. The Free School also has regular discussions of its values, ways of doing things, and educational philosophies.  All written documents are meant to be living documents that serve the participants in ensuring empowering learning experiences.

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