By Daniel Correia

Free Skool Santa Cruz, a grassroots effort to organize and support skill-sharing among community members, will mark its two-year anniversary next month. While it may lack in the name recognition and state certification of UC Santa Cruz or Cabrillo College, Free Skool Santa Cruz reflects its town’s quirky and offbeat personality by offering free quarterly classes on such topics as yoga, knitting, bike repair, Polynesian star navigation, surveillance camera walking tours, and history of the future.

“People want to get educated, not just to get a degree,” said Jennifer Bushard, one of the original organizers of Free Skool Santa Cruz. “We want to make it accessible for everybody, where people can share their minds and skills with other people who will appreciate it without having to pay for it.”

Free Skool is not just endemic to Santa Cruz, as similar skill-sharing networks exist all over the country. While some of the other organizations also bear the Free Skool name, Bushard says none of them are connected. In fact, Santa Cruz itself has had other Free Skool endeavors in the past.

“There was a Free Skool in Santa Cruz before us but they burned out in less than a year because they tried too hard to organize all the teachers,” Bushard said. “We really learned from them. This is philosophically an anarchist organization with people taking charge themselves. We don’t want a hierarchy.”

According to Bushard, the current Free Skool has grown from 15 to 70 classes while class averages have nearly doubled to 14 since the program began in March 2005.

“We didn’t really start with tremendous expectations,” said Rico Thunder, a Free Skool Santa Cruz organizer, teacher, and student. “We thought if we had one class a week it would be worth it. Now we have multiple classes in a day. We’re stoked, surprised, and happy that we can do it with the same energy, enthusiasm, and love.”

Thunder teaches the classes “History of the Future” and “Resisting the Police State.” The former is a class where participants role-play to talk about the world from a distant future perspective.

At age 16, Sebastian (who declined to give his last name for confidentiality purposes) is one of the younger Free Skool Santa Cruz students and organizers. His Free Skool résumé includes classes on lock picking, French cuisine, knitting, and resonance singing, a class that entailed making music using the echoes of a cave.

“What I like about Free Skool is that everyone’s a teacher and everyone’s a student,” he said. “It’s something that everyone in the community can participate in.”

Free Skool Santa Cruz kicks off its new quarter on Mar. 1. Among the many classes being offered, Sebastian will co-teach a seminar called “Yo-yos and Juggling and Skill Toys, Oh My!”

“[Free Skool] is an intrinsically radical project,” Thunder said. “That’s the important part of it. We consider it a direct challenge to institutionalized education, but unlike our counterpart, we don’t want to take over the world. As I like to say, Free Skool is $20,000 cheaper than UCSC. It’s not about a piece of paper, it’s what you learn and why not learn the skills more relevant to your life that connect you to the world around you?”

_For more information about Free Skool Santa Cruz, visit http://santacruz.freeskool.org_