Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Baltimore Free School

The Baltimore Free School is located at 1323 N. Calvert Street at the intersection of Mount Royal Avenue. The building sits on the edge of Midtown/Mount Vernon, one of Baltimore’s most gentrified neighborhoods, and at the cusp of the Station North Arts District, a community of vacant buildings recently slated for commercial redevelopment.  In addition, Greenmount West, one of Baltimore’s lowest income neighborhoods, lies only a block away. It is at the axis of these neighborhoods that the worker owned- collectively run Red Emma’s Bookstore and Coffeehouse has placed their newest venture.

This location opened on the first of this month (9.1.09) but in fact the Baltimore Free School has been in existence in some incarnation since Red Emma’s opened in 2007. Only now it is getting the time and space it deserves. This inclusive aspect of the open city is very self-aware. The creators of the Free School hosted a two-day conference this past March at the 2640 space, a multi use venue also run by Red Emma’s. The City From Below conference brought a multitude of lectures and workshops dealing with the city and how we might improve it. The Free School was one example of improvement.

The Baltimore Free School seeks to operate on the model of the Modern School. The Modern School movement (originally La Escula Moderna started in Spain) became popular in the United States in the early twentieth century. Modern Schools employ egalitarian methods of education in a non-capitalist, non-coercive, and class-conscious setting. Basically the Baltimore Free School believes that everyone has something to offer. And they do. The classes this month include: art classes for children, Taijiquan and Oigong, poetry, home energy conservation, how to be tobacco free, an overview of the fourth amendment, introduction to music theory, and clowning just to name a few.

Long term plans for classes include language classes (Spanish, Arabic, Russian, French, English as a second language) and extensive seminars. But really it could be anything. If you have a skill or an idea that you would like to share with fellow Baltimorians all you have to do is propose it to the Baltimore Free School.

Though multi use buildings adjacent to the school are lacking, it is arguable that a free education could do more to open the city than any collection of parks, restaurants, and shops ever could. MICA brings people together in an educational setting who come from a certain socio-economic background. North Ave, Gilford Ave, and Eutaw Street all serve as barriers between those who cant afford a higher education and those who can. The Free school can allow people to come together, not based on affluence or background, but simply on a common interest of learning a language or how to be a clown.

The free school is still in its infancy, so weather it will become an established aspect of Baltimore life and truly open the city is yet to be seen. I encourage all of you to support the free school by attending a class, or even proposing one.

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