Beekeeping, beat-boxing classes enliven Dal Free School

Skill-sharing event challenges expensive education

Students participate in a knot-making workshop. (Photo: Laurel Walsh)
Students participate in a knot-making workshop. (Photo: Laurel Walsh)

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity —  or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” – Paulo Freire

The Dalhousie Student Union welcomed 135 students and community members to a day of free classes with the Brazilian philosopher’s quote.

Yoga, knitting, beekeeping and “wikihopping” were just a few of the 21 sessions offered at the Free School event.

The day was structured into three hour-long blocks with seven classes happening per block. Students gathered in informal groups to learn skills such as rapping, drawing and consensus-based decision making.

Dalhousie political science student Bryn Karcha led a class on digital photography and composition. Karcha responded to a request from the DSU asking for volunteers with skill sets to lead a class at the event.

“The best way to learn is to practise,” he tells the camera-wielding students gathered in room 324 of the SUB. It’s the biggest class he has taught, but it was only natural to want to share knowledge, he says, because “that’s what people did for me too, they kind of mentored me along.”

When the students are done tweaking the exposure and lighting on their cameras, Karcha uses a slideshow of his freelance photography to illustrate composition technique.

Despite what ballet instructor Taylor Cudney called a “slow start,” the ballet workshop took over the middle of the MacInnes room with more than a dozen eager pupils.

“I thought it’d be really easy to be a ballerina, but nope,” said marine biology and international development studies student Chloe Leonard.

“For me it isn’t just about skill-sharing, it’s about creating the space for education that universities should be,” said Beale, one of the event organizers and the VP internal of the Dalhousie Student Union.

Free School has its roots in the Ecuala Moderna anarchist movement in Spain in the late 1900s. In principle, it’s based on the old-fashioned idea that education should be driven by passion and curiousity, not competition and job markets. Free School flips the notions of expensive institutions by turning learners into teachers.

Workshops attracted non-students and students from outside the Dal campus. In the session dubbed Does Marxism Even Matter? Andony Melathopoulos of the Platypus society held the attention of more than 15 community members who varied widely in age, experience, and cultural background.

Jack Wong, a NSCAD student, attended the workshop seeking answers to his university’s strained financial situation. “I want to find how to illuminate that struggle and see it from other perspectives,” he said.

Instructors were quick to outline their own limitations.

“I can’t tie my shoes,” said knot-making workshop instructor Sagar Jha, pointing to his laceless shoes. “Everyone’s got a different way of thinking, of doing stuff. We’ll learn from each other.” he said.

At the fermentation workshop, students shared their knowledge on brewing alcohol. Experimentation was encouraged like fermenting with spices, fruit or chocolate. “Some beer is good, some beer is bad, but it’s still beer,” said instructor Shannon Dalberg, who, with Dalhousie student Katlin Moore, showed entranced participants the carboys and siphons of the process up close.

In an era of freely-available online tutorials, participants revelled in the real-world classrooms.

“Far be it from me to infringe on the great instructional videos of YouTube,” said Alexander Smith only half-joking in a beat-boxing session. But the social space for all the lip buzzing, and throat-tweaking mouth gymnastics of the session is driven by real-world experimentation and laughter. The resulting jams, including nasal trumpets and through-the-teeth snare, couldn’t happen in cyberspace.

Students, such as biology major Gabrielle Logan, were torn between choosing classes.
“Maybe next time there should be more shorter workshops at different times, instead of longer ones happening at the same time,” she said. “That way we could go to more.”

“I looked up all the workshops and they all sounded so interesting,” said Kathryn Greenwood, a first-year Dalhousie art student who took away new skills in knot-tying, beat-boxing and ukulele.

She said the school should host similar events every week. “There is so much to learn!”

“Education doesn’t need to be reformed, it needs to be transformed and personalized,” says Beale, who is enthusiastic about opportunities of knowledge-sharing, especially inside an educational institution. “We can’t even begin to imagine how education will change soon.”

Free School students learned the fine art of bubble blowing.
Jesse Robson (left) manned the "Human Bubble Station."
Students of the "Getting Knotty" workshop learned to tie different kinds of knots.
'Getting Knotty' instructor Sagar Jha said knots are handy for "anything from forts, to necklaces, to more practical stuff."
Andony Melathopoulos leads a workshop on beekeeping.
The ballet workshop was run by members of DalDance.
Kat and Shannon teach students to make mead, "the oldest alcohol known to man."
Honey, water and yeast are the basic ingredients for mead. Instructors recommended fermenting them along with spices and fruit.
Free School students made flowers out of plastic water bottles.
Brittany Maguire ran the recycled crafts workshop.
Asha Katz taught a yoga class. Katz teaches yoga at the Dalplex twice a week.
Most of the event's attendees were Dalhousie students.