The Free University of San Francisco kicks off teaching -- to a lot of white people

An earlier Free University planning meeting held in the basement of Viracocha

“A piece of blank paper means anything you want can happen,” SF beat poet laureate Diane Di Prima was imparting a rare free lecture on shamanic poetry, the marquee event of this weekend's popular first Free University of San Francisco teach-in at Viracocha. She had a packed the antique store-community center's first floor showroom, encouraging in regards to the FUSF collective's run at making free education available to all. But if the Free University wants to teach the world, why are the vast majority of its students – let's not parse words here – white?

“Diversity outreach, that is absolutely one of our top priorities,” says FUSF organizer Alan Kaufman when the point was brought up in a phone interview with the Guardian yesterday. “We're one of the most racially polarized cities, even in the progressive community. It's something that needs to be explored and discussed.” Kaufman said that as the collective that runs the university moves forward, FUSF is actively working to involve minority community members – especially undocumented immigrants, one of SF's populations who surely are among the least-served by the town's would-be progressive creative institutions. 

It does seem like FUSF has the capacity to be a source of radical academia and community in the city. This weekend's teach-in (which continues through tonight, Tues/8) attracted capacity crowds to many of its popular hour-and-a-half long courses: Di Prima's “19th Century Visionary Poetry,” Kaufman's “Jack Kerouac, Thelonius Monk and Jackson Pollack,” and David Cobb's “Abolishing Corporate Personhood to Create Authentic Democracy” among them. Though FUSF's plan for six to eight week classes in the future and another teach-in may be a stretch to replace the value of an actual university degree for students, the success of its initial weekend course schedule does say that some people in the city are ready to rethink the way we view teaching. After all, as Kaufman reminded us, the cost of a four year degree at Stanford is now pegged at a quarter of a million dollars. “That can't last.” 

But if it's going to be SF's new center of alternative, cost-free education, FUSF has to appeal to more than just the aging hippies and earnest intellectual young people who attended this weekend's teach-in. 

How? Well, that's the question, really – one that many creative institutions in San Francisco have yet to resolve, if they've tackled it at all. “We're going to need to come up with new answers because the new answers are not working.” Kaufman mentioned that he is particularly impressed by the way SF's queer community has celebrated its diversity.

“I feel like there are reasons why different groups don't get involved in the beginning of these things.” Writer Maisha Johnson is one of the only African Americans who has been involved with the Free University planning meetings since she heard about its first get-togethers through her involvement in literary events like Quiet Lightening. “For me, living in San Francisco, it's hard to find out where the black community gathers. A lot of the time, the assumption is you go to Oakland for acitivities with people of color.” 

“If you're looking at organizational power in San Francisco, it usually runs along lines of whiteness, maleness, and straightness. The only way to break down those social divisions is for people that don't feel like they're that similar to collaborate,” says Mumbles, a spoken word poet who is helping to organize an artist resource center called Merchants of Reality. 

Mumbles says that the goal of Merchants of Reality – which plans to operate out of SoMa's Anon Gallery and Climate Theater -- will be “to help artists commercialize themselves so that others don't do it for them.” Its a pragmatic mission, one that will even involve what Mumbles refers to as the “realty community” in order to help artists find studio space in the abandoned buildings that dot the SF landscape. The center will also include darkroom facilities, digital video setup, screen-printing equipment, help finding studio space, and a possible performance venue, all for use by artists who normally don't have the opportunity to use professional-grade equipment and materials, presumably many non-white artists and performers. 

Kaufman and Mumbles think that Merchants of Reality and the Free University can benefit from each other. “Space sharing is one way community can be developed,” says Kaufman, who told us the two groups are looking at ways to overlap each others' missions in the hope of broadening the community of both organizations. 

Of course, its about more than organizational partners. "It requires more of an explicit effort to reach out to other communities," says Johnson who will be a part of FUSF's outreach committee and, adding that she's heartened by the university's chances to diversify itself. "Right now it's really open to people to come in and work on their own vision." Kaufman agreed that expanding FUSF's audience means working towards a curriculum that everyone finds useful and illuminating, incorporating classes and promotional materials in different languages, and connecting those typically excluded from professorships in the United States teaching positions. “There's whole areas of education that others might know about that we might not consider,” he said.

“I believe our university will become famous among universities – come to be known as the 'Zorro' of universities,” said Kaufman in an address to the university community. (Printed copies of his four addresses were available by the class sign-in sheets at this weekend's teach-in.) High hopes -- but if the school is meant to make a real difference in progressive education, it'll have to find a way to bring its message to everyone.  


Free University of San Francisco's first teach-in

(Started Feb. 5)

Tues/8 classes:

6-7:50 p.m.: "Critical Thinking (Introduction to Logic)"

w/ Jordan Bohall and Elena Granik

8-10 p.m.: "Introduction to Nietzsche"

w/ Evan Karp and Andrew Paul Nelson


998 Valencia, SF



this is punk shit, these folks in fusf are helpin students and you put em down like that. students, caitlin is not our friend!

Posted by GuestRenee Seale on Feb. 15, 2011 @ 5:18 pm

What happened February 8th 2011?

I don't know but I must have had lots of fun cause I like, totally missed this discussion. But, I stumbled across it on this rainy and chilly day and the hot air was so great that I was able to turn off my radiator and open my window. I'm thinking of getting naked.

You too?

Folks, it would seem to me that this is a reincarnation of that free university that ran for years on Valencia. What was the name? New College? I'm not certain. Ammiano taught there for years.

Anyway, people who want to advance the big lead ball up the hill give back with what they have. With most of these folks (if not all) from this latest Free University, it ain't money. They teach what they know for free.

It kinda reminds me of BWB (Burners without Borders) who have used their technical and organizational skills (read Steven T. Jones' new book, 'The Tribes of Burning Man') ... used their skills gained over a couple of decades of building a city from nothing to run torches and weld and carpenter and run heavy equipment all around the world from Katrina's ground zero to Peru and on. You can call the Burners self-centered hedonists. Just don't say it in Pearlington, Mississippi. If you do, the people there will kick your ass.

Not everyone can run a bulldozer or a backhoe or salvage piles of usable lumber from a disaster scene and then rebuild in a few days. George Bush couldn't.

Few can teach a class as well as Matt Gonzalez or Bobby Coleman or David Cobb.

Kudos to the FUSF.

Matlock, I'm amazed. These are the most intellectually honest (mostly) sets of offerings I've seen you post on a thread.

Giants Spring Training starts today!


Posted by Guest h. brown on Feb. 14, 2011 @ 2:21 pm

So what's your point y'all ?. The vast majority of oppressors are 'white people', or wanna-bes. They need educating.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2011 @ 7:03 am

Alan Kaufman, if you are following this thread, I'm interested to hear your thoughts on racial equality in Israel. You are a self-proclaimed advocate of fostering a zionist cultural movement, as well as having served multiple tours of duty with the Israeli Defense forces.

How does this unfolding dialogue on the dynamics of race interface with your understanding of the rights of the Palestinian people? What do you think of islamophobia in the United States and Israel? If someone came to the free university to teach about Palestinian rights and to strategize around the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions campaign or discuss the apartheid enforced by the Israeli regime and its occupation... would such a course be welcomed?

If you stand behind your lofty rhetoric of tolerance and openness, I wouldn't see a problem and I urge someone in the area to begin attending FUSF meetings to begin such a course. At least that would be interesting.

Posted by whitenoise on Feb. 11, 2011 @ 6:08 pm

"Anti-Zionism = Anti-Semitism"
by - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
". . . You declare, my friend, that you do not hate the Jews, you are merely 'anti-Zionist.' And I say, let the truth ring forth from the high mountain tops, let it echo through the valleys of God's green earth: When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews--this is God's own truth.

"Antisemitism, the hatred of the Jewish people, has been and remains a blot on the soul of mankind. In this we are in full agreement. So know also this: anti-Zionist is inherently antisemitic, and ever will be so.

"Why is this? You know that Zionism is nothing less than the dream and ideal of the Jewish people returning to live in their own land. The Jewish people, the Scriptures tell us, once enjoyed a flourishing Commonwealth in the Holy Land. From this they were expelled by the Roman tyrant, the same Romans who cruelly murdered Our Lord. Driven from their homeland, their nation in ashes, forced to wander the globe, the Jewish people time and again suffered the lash of whichever tyrant happened to rule over them.

"The Negro people, my friend, know what it is to suffer the torment of tyranny under rulers not of our choosing. Our brothers in Africa have begged, pleaded, requested--DEMANDED the recognition and realization of our inborn right to live in peace under our own sovereignty in our own country.

"How easy it should be, for anyone who holds dear this inalienable right of all mankind, to understand and support the right of the Jewish People to live in their ancient Land of Israel. All men of good will exult in the fulfilment of God's promise, that his People should return in joy to rebuild their plundered land.

This is Zionism, nothing more, nothing less.

"And what is anti-Zionist? It is the denial to the Jewish people of a fundamental right that we justly claim for the people of Africa and freely accord all other nations of the Globe. It is discrimination against Jews, my friend, because they are Jews. In short, it is antisemitism.

"The antisemite rejoices at any opportunity to vent his malice. The times have made it unpopular, in the West, to proclaim openly a hatred of the Jews. This being the case, the antisemite must constantly seek new forms and forums for his poison. How he must revel in the new masquerade! He does not hate the Jews, he is just 'anti-Zionist'!

"My friend, I do not accuse you of deliberate antisemitism. I know you feel, as I do, a deep love of truth and justice and a revulsion for racism, prejudice, and discrimination. But I know you have been misled--as others have been--into thinking you can be 'anti-Zionist' and yet remain true to these heartfelt principles that you and I share.

Let my words echo in the depths of your soul: When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews--make no mistake about it."

From M.L. King Jr., "Letter to an Anti-Zionist Friend," Saturday Review_XLVII (Aug. 1967), p. 7

Posted by renee seale on Feb. 15, 2011 @ 5:23 pm

you're a real creep. why yu gotta drag all that to this? they're helping people. you're hurting students with your bullshit.

Posted by GuestRenee Seale on Feb. 15, 2011 @ 5:21 pm

hi renee,

i have no problem with jewish people. i love jewish people. i also have no problem with zionists or the hope for a homeland for jews. i agree completely that there is a need for civil rights for jews, who have been unjustly persecuted.

that said, i also love palestinians. i do not have a great love for the state of israel which I see as very different from the jewish people and the cause of zionism. similarly, i feel it is incredibly important to allow criticism of the state of israel to not be conflated with anti-semitism, as is so often the case.

the Israeli Defense Forces and the current regime in Israel violate the human rights and the basic dignity of the palestinian people. i find these issues to be paramount in any useful or meaningful discussion of freedom. certainly these are the types of topics that are necessary in an environment such as the free university. I was asking questions because I would like to hear answers, not accusing, maligning or slandering.

i'm sorry you think i'm a coward. perhaps next time the brave thing to do would be just to keep my mouth shut.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 12:20 pm

why dont you give your real name insteada hidin behine whitenoise. iwas at the teach-in. i'm a student at city college. mr. kaufman gave the best lecture i ever heard. he's a great man. you're a coward.

Posted by GuestRenee Seale on Feb. 15, 2011 @ 5:13 pm

Why don't you give your real name instead of hiding behind whitenoise? I was at a teach-in, I am also student at City College. Mr. Kaufman gave the best lecture I have ever heard. He's a great man, you're a coward.

Posted by i'm a student at city college on Feb. 15, 2011 @ 5:51 pm

why is it always ok to bash 'whites' as some not quite defined group like they don't really matter? the endless parade of hyphens that emphasize any other country except the one they were born in like chinese-american, african-american, etc always are prominent by capitalization as well (nitpicking? sure, just like the former), yet this other group of 'whites' always seem to be an object of attack because of the color of their skin - that sound like just a hood, sheet and shade away from the philosophy of the kkk really. ps unless someone is from the Caucus Mountains or border Russia & China - they are NOT caucasian - that's like saying ALL asians can be called orientals or all blacks are coloreds.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 11, 2011 @ 6:58 am

I just want to point out that Diane diPrima's class was not about shamanic poetry it was about visionary poetry. Thanks.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 10, 2011 @ 11:20 pm

If the Free University wants to be anything more than an exercise in academic wankery, it needs to offer courses on topics that are useful to those of us who inhabit the real world. Get back to us when you're offering classes in database design, organic gardening, or Mandarin. Of course the intellos will look down their aquiline noses at such pedestrian fare, but if the concept is that classes on Cage and Nietzsche should be free while practical education remains expensive, then IMHO they have it exactly backwards.

Posted by Peter on Feb. 10, 2011 @ 5:04 pm

FREE UNIVERSITY: an experiment in education and culture
by Alan Kaufman

—Opening remarks to the first meeting to establish a free university in San Francisco—

My friends, thank you for coming. I ask that you indulge these few remarks on what prompts me to call at this time for the establishment of a FREE UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO, for I have given much thought to this over the years, and that you show some patience and even compassion for any failings you may perceive in my reasons for such an undertaking. For what I am asking you to join in—the formation of a university that will make the highest level of education available, completely free, to any individual who wants it, regardless of color, creed, age, gender, nationality, religion or immigration status—a university free of money, taught for free to any who want it—is, at this crucial historical moment, a dream far too important to hold hostage to any particular person or personality-type. I ask that you run with this dream and realize it for the sake of yourselves and each other and this country and most of all for our young people, the poor and dispossessed, the undocumented and disenfranchised, the outcasts, the ones without a dream. In a world of unchecked greed and of exhausting religious and ideological divisions, let today’s effort to create a Free University stand as a way station to dreams for those who have no right to dream in a world like this.

I mean most especially our youth, though not only. I mean our seniors too. Are not children and seniors our most sacred human responsibility? And yet, in this day, it is they who lie on the sacrificial block of our social and economic order. It is they whom we have offered up in exchange for an illusion of security and comfort. And yet all around us we now watch as shadows grow to our very door, and we are faced with the awful realization that we have sacrificed both our human future and past—our children and seniors—in exchange for our very own destruction.

And nowhere has this exchange been more evident, at least to me, then in the Bay Area. Here, it stands out like an awful stain upon a great legacy. For in the matter of radical cultural initiative and progressive daring, the world looks to us. We have always been the laboratory of human advance and cultural revolutions and social compassion. And yet, in the last decades we have seen that the Bay Area, which gave us the Beats and Abstract Expressionism, the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, The Summer of Love, The Black Panthers, City Lights Bookstore and luminaries like Kenneth Rexroth, Harvey Milk, Diane Di Prima, Diamond Dave and our very own Matt Gonzales, has become, instead, the center of the dot com boom and bust and later the crowning tiara of the real estate bubble and collapse—a crown that the corpse of our economy still wears.

And today our Bay Area is the epicenter of a world technocracy run out of Silicon Valley, where initiatives are launched to render our most sacred cultural artifacts such as books obsolete. Where they work too to devise programs that hold our youth spellbound before screens from morning to night, addicted to games and apps that reinforce their use with each click, a form of technological Crack. In Silicon Valley they work to replace those employments that give life meaning, substance and reward with brand new software. In a system predicated upon obsolescence and profit, they have caused our economy to shift into an ephemeral service orientation which now requires the worker not only to give of his time and life’s energy at triple the former pace and at a lower wage but insists that one do so with artificial enthusiasm. This cynically fostered system, engineered for the benefit of corporate profits alone, demands that we smile gratefully as our very soul is crushed.

But nothing astonishes me more then what we are doing to our youth. In some sense, youth anywhere belong to us, the human family, no less then our own children. We have a profound responsibility both to protect and defend them and to set an example to them of how to be, how to live and of when to stand up against all odds for what is right, what is good, and to fight for those things.

And yet, for decades now most of us have stood by idly and even to some extent participated in the corporate profit-driven culture in which, for the sake of an illusion of freedom and prosperity we have permitted our own youth to be brainwashed and bankrupted even as they are channeled by the privatized educational system into fifty stories-high slave labor work camps of air-conditioned glass and steel for corporate Capitalist profit-making.
I do not have answers to most of the questions or objections you may raise here today.

What I possess is the certainty that the purpose of education is not to turn the student into a better consumer and profit-earner but to help him to discover the wealth of human culture upon whose shoulders he or she stands. What I have is a passionate determination to see the restoration of humanity—warm, literate, democratic—to vibrant human life. And in order to achieve this aim we must take hold of the very hub of our culture, which is education, and create a brand new kind of institution, one whose existence makes no sense in the current social order, one that stands in direct defiance of the privatized profit-oriented social engineering centers that pass for universities today.

Where does one house this Free University, you may ask? It is here, in you, in each of us. You are the Free University. We are the Free University. Where-ever we stand, that is where it exists. One hears so much these days about the hopeless selfishness of youth. Let me tell you a brief anecdote. When I went on strike against the Academy of Art University in 2004, because a teacher and two students were thrown out due to something they wrote in class or taught, many of my students were already in debt for up to as much as $90,000 to $100,000. I watched one student, sustaining herself on Ramen Noodle Cups, waste away before my eyes until one day I pulled her aside, numbed and fatigued, and said: ‘Forget about this week’s assignments. Here is your assignment: take this $50 and buy yourself some fresh food and eat meals this week.” When I next saw her, her eyes were bright, but very soon, under the heel of her crushing tuition, her eyes went dull again.

During the strike, I invited Matt Gonzales, who is here with us today, and several authors, to my classroom, where I conducted freedom of speech protest seminars. When the school refused to permit Matt and the others to enter the building, I went to my classroom and said to the students: “I intend to hold this class on the sidewalk, as they won’t allow our honored guests onto the premises. I understand how much most of you have riding on your educations and so cannot in good conscience ask you to risk all that for the sake of my protest. But I intend to teach this class today out in the street. There will be no consequence for failure to attend. Those who wish to join me outside are welcome.”

When I left the building every student in that classroom followed me out, despite the risk. Matt and the writers spoke to them. And after, we went to North Beach, to City Lights Bookstore to continue with our Freedom Class. That is what education should be: a long, ongoing class in human freedom. So much for the purported selfishness and lack of idealism among youth. I don’t believe it! Those who displayed no courage or ideals were not the students but rather the adult faculty, the instructors. Not a single instructor at the Academy of Art joined our protest, which soon spread to almost the entire student body. Not a single teacher joined us!

Let me tell you another story. During World War Two, a famous specialist in child education named Janusz Korczak—a man renowned in his profession throughout the world—voluntarily entered the Warsaw Ghetto to administer and teach at the Jewish orphanage and school. In the shadow of the death-camp deportations and systematic starvation of the Jews, this non-Jewish teacher and thinker happened to be walking in the ghetto streets one day when he saw an SS man beating a Jewish child to death and threw his own body on top of the child to deflect the SS man’s blows. Later, when finally the orphans in Korczak’s care were assigned for deportation to Auschwitz, and though world leaders petitioned for and received permission for him to escape to the free West, Korczak refused to abandon his charges. He boarded the freight trains with them to Auschwitz and at their head, holding their hands, he entered with them into the gas chambers and died with them. That is the example of what I, the son of a Holocaust survivor, understand to be an educator’s responsibility to his or her charges. And so I do not believe that the creation of a Free University under our current conditions is impossible or predicated upon money.

In 2004, when I stood on the sidewalk with my students, we were a dispossessed educational module with only streets to house us. What held us together that afternoon were not walls but love of learning, pride in our actions, principles of freedom, comradeship in the quest for knowledge. From time to time I run into these students who tell me that it was the best class they ever took. And from these encounters, I came away with a vision whose time had not yet come. The idea of a Free University.
Now, the time has come.

The social order is in disintegration. The divide between rich and poor is an abyss. The corporation controls our entire existence. Unemployment and unease are widespread. The liberal arts are disappearing, displaced by studies guaranteed to generate the highest income. The universities funnel students into money-making programs rather then humanity-building curriculum, and when those nonetheless don’t pan out and the student is left in massive debt, then conditions have been laid for a revolutionary change of the most profound kind.

This is a crucial step towards that revolutionary change. If we decide here today to be a Free University, then already it exists. And our student body will exist because we do. Where we will teach is not the first question, nor even what we will teach but rather, that we will teach. That is the question at hand. For if we decide in the highest altruistic spirit of education that we will teach, regardless of obstacles, then we give birth to a dream that will pass on to the generations of the future. For now, with only our hearts and minds and bodies to create the dream, let us dedicate ourselves to the regeneration of our humanity through the gift of knowledge freely given to others.

And so I ask you to answer today one basic question: are we or are we not, from this moment forth, members of a Free University comprised of anyone who would wish to join us? I propose that the only requirement for membership in this enterprise is a desire to teach and/or a desire to learn. And nothing more. And that we will impart what we know to any who want it.

Thank you.

Alan Kaufman

December 19, 2010

San Francisco

Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2011 @ 6:12 pm

Seriously. Who cares?

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Feb. 09, 2011 @ 10:32 pm

A remark and repost resonant with nihilism and unkindness and so, characteristic of the condition of our culture and society. It is to change some responses from chill and indifference to warm engagement and passionate intellectual discourse that Free University of San Francisco has come into being. And it is not surprising that the crowds in attendance have been at overflow level and that on a Tuesday night people of all colors and walks of life were there in an Introdu ction To Nietzsche Class passionately debating the meanings of Freedom and analyzing Nietzche's discourses and were in an intro to logic class, learning how to deconstruct the lies thrown at them by political and advertising campaigns. Who cares? They Do! We Do! And perhaps some day, you will too...

Posted by Free University of San Francisco on Feb. 10, 2011 @ 11:19 am

I just saw a flier on Grant St. for the free college listing its classes, then reading your defense of same here, and the dottering psychobabble introductory speech above. Like minded people reveling in revealed knowledge.

Your "theory of everything" and your rationalizations work for you, I guess. What I think the "who cares" comment is directed to, it's that you offer the same truth couched jingo's as always. Maybe us lowly apes are familiar with your world view and don't care for it.

Would you care what they said at a Christian Coalition or Objectivist teach in? Two more "who cares" moments.

Saying who cares to your revealed jingo doesn't mean that someone thinks Newt Gingrich is a quality history teacher, that Ayn Rand worked up a great philosophy, or that Ann Coulter writes an interesting essay, likely people are just lumping you in with them.

Posted by matlock on Feb. 10, 2011 @ 3:58 pm

talk talk talk. what do you do? nothin!

Posted by GuestRenee Seale on Feb. 15, 2011 @ 5:16 pm

seriously ?

Posted by mumbles on Feb. 10, 2011 @ 11:13 am

Mumbles Rumbles Awesomely!

Posted by Free University of San Francisco on Feb. 10, 2011 @ 1:01 pm

If more people of color and the disenfranchised want to attend the FUSF they are more than welcome to do being the FUSF is free and open to all without discrimination. AND - they should join as organizers and teachers and get the word out to their respective communities. If the FUSF becomes a place of TRUE diversity, it should NOT be forced just to appease someones idea of "politically correct" which is just absolutely insincere. It should happen naturally and because all parties genuinely want to be involved.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2011 @ 4:41 pm

perhaps what you perceive as criticism and forced ideals of political correctness are the organic process of sincere parties attempting to engage people of color with your school. perhaps through your defensiveness you can only see attacks. perhaps this article and these discussions are genuine expressions of a desire for involvement. could it be?

and then your response.. "all are welcome (don't criticize us)" serves to make POC feel like despite rhetoric of inclusion and diversity and multiculturalism... like so many similar statements heard before from corporations and goverments... despite this lofty language there is still a resistance that is unfaced. please face it. please. just allow yourself to face it.

i noticed that this article is no longer linked to the facebook group. what's that about?

Posted by whitenoise on Feb. 09, 2011 @ 5:43 pm

i was in these peoples classrooms, not your classrooms. all you do is shoot your mouth off and give bad ugly vibes to something beautiful. go do something to help somebody stead of this bullshit dumping your ugly on good people, free university is rad!

Posted by GuestRenee Seale on Feb. 15, 2011 @ 5:15 pm

Amusing spin from my friends Bruce & co. at the SFBG (reminding me of their Alioto endorsement over Latino Gonzalez in the last contested mayoral race). Fact: I taught downstairs at the kickoff concurrently with di Prima, who was upstairs, and last time I checked I'm a person of color. Fact: I called immediately on people of color attending my class and they supplied their personal narratives. Fact: I highlighted the crucial roles of nonwhites in the subject matter of my SF history class. Fact: Langston Hughes, nonwhites and women were featured during the class. (FYI, SFBG: poet Hughes is not white.) Fact: I was cropped out of the original photo published last month in the Guardian, perhaps to support the articles thesis. Conclusion: 1) something's rotten in the Guardian's Denmark-by-the-Slow Club; 2) it appears that free, open, and noncommercial education threatens the status quo even at this "alternative" weekly! All I can say is "all power to all the people" and long live the anti-elitist SF Free U, open to all!

Posted by bobby on Feb. 09, 2011 @ 12:23 pm

Fact: Bobby Coleman's brilliant class was in the highest spirit of what FUSF stands for, the great progressive tradition out of which the Free University of San Francisco and the concept of Free Education For All is born.

Posted by Free University of San Francisco on Feb. 10, 2011 @ 1:05 pm

I'm sure you read that article as closely as the one above, so you know that both are supportive of what is going on at FUSF and excited to see it become a real source of change in SF. I'm sorry that you think the issues raised in this blog post were "rotten."

As people committed to seeing a revamp of education (perhaps you also read the rest of our Careers and Education issue, which focused on the crippling cost of post-secondary education), we think the FUSF is an important project and we'll continue to cover it as such.

As to cropping the photo, it was done to fit in our layout for the page. Sorry you weren't in it.

Posted by caitlin on Feb. 10, 2011 @ 10:53 am

As a white person, I wouldn't want to attend these classes. I don't like the condescending tone of the progressive crowd (whether the people are white or black or purple).

If you want to hold some classes, just hold them. Whoever turns up turns up. Why do we have to make sure a representative from every possible category in life is present? I thought the lesson was the point. That's why I sign up for a class. If the point is to get as many types of people together as possible, just rename the class, "An Exercise in Gathering People Together" or something.

As Morgan Freeman said, in answer to "How do we stop racism?":

"Stop talking about it!"

Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2011 @ 11:57 am

morgan freeman also starred in driving miss daisy

Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2011 @ 3:20 pm

[from orig. poster] Great film. Yeah, Morgan was "talking about racism" there, but via a beautiful piece of art.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2011 @ 6:53 pm

the solution to most problems is to ignore them

Posted by whitenoise on Feb. 09, 2011 @ 12:11 pm

hey caitlin :)

as a brown person who loves radical experiments in education, i very much appreciate your article. the progressive brand of unconscious well-intended white supremacy is so so so prevalent in all radical education circles. free universities, free skools, free schools, critical pedagogy, popular education, you name it. these spaces are filled with benevolently minded white folks who never seem to understand why brown and black people don't show up to their shit.

some of these points have already been made, but i'll make them again.

1. if only white people show up to something with the word "free" in it, you've got a problem. whether it is free-as-in-speech or free-as-in-lunch white folks generally need such things less. it's a sad fact.

2. it isn't enough to say the door is open, come in if you want. it isn't enough to give people access. you can't call something liberating if it doesn't originate at the core of the experience of those who are oppressed. similarly, diversity and inclusion are tokenizing and assume that you are at the core of the project and the "other" is at the periphery.

now, if you're white you wonder... how do I start some shit then? make some brown and black friends. ask them what will make them free. chances are it won't be nietzsche, john cage, post-modernity, jack kerouac, or any of that. it'll be what they want... and what's useful. what frees them.

3. don't be defensive. it sucks to hear, from the perspective of a POC who has been working with progressive and radical white folks for decades... I'm sick of hearing reasons why people can't confront racism in their own communities. it's useless. less than useless. stop being defensive.

Did you know there is already a peopleskool in SF run by people of color, poor people, women, and indigenous people? maybe a little cross pollination would be good. but be careful that you don't prescribe your intentions on their deal. i know plenty of nice progressive lefties try to help out folks without checking in. listen to them, let them guide the process, open the door to relationship, and try not to let your ego get damaged, try not to unconsciously reinscribe colonial domination, be out of control, relax.

oh yeah.. and to all those people diminishing labor, vocational work, manual training, or other forms of knowledge outside of the traditional ivory tower style eurocentric bullshit mental masturbation known as "higher" education... remember who makes your clothes, fixes your car, builds your streets, etches your computer chips, smelts your metals, grows your strawberries. these people gain nothing from post-structuralism... well maybe a little.

Posted by whitenoise on Feb. 09, 2011 @ 2:34 am

And check out your own reverse racism and obvious upper-class bred snob romanticism about the working class! Clearly, this is the response of a person of whatever color who is from an Upper Class Elitest Background, who is playing at being down with the underclass and folks of color, and with no first-hand knowledge of those who make clothes, fix cars, build streets (whatever that means) or "grows strawberries" (LOL!--yeah, right, the poor folks from the Tenderloin out growing them strawberries!) But some of the brightest people I've ever met, some of the most intellectual, were blue-collars of all colors, Black, Brown, White, Red, Yellow, Green, Turquoise, Orange, Beige and Burnt Sienna!
And they could both fix cars and speak to post-structuralism. They knew about everything from Tolstoy to Multiverse Theory. They were passionately engaged with literature, history, the humanities. They were autodidacts. Some of the most intellectual Jazz artists I've ever known drove cabs. The greatest thinker I ever met is an old guy who pushed a broom in a grocery store and could hold forth on the advent of modernism in literature better then any professor I've ever studied with. Your stereotyping of the poor and/or people of color is grotesquely disconnected from reality. It is YOU and not the FUSF folks (who are true education heroes) who do as much to thwart progressive action and ruin hope as any Republican. You contribute nothing but talk and opinion while FUSF is out there like real folk heroes educating people for free.

Posted by F U from SF on Feb. 10, 2011 @ 2:34 pm

here is a photo of people building a street

the roads don't just magically appear. poor people build them so rich white yuppies with grandiose philosophical ideas can drive their biodiesel benzes on them pretending that they are saving the world.

Posted by whitenoise on Feb. 10, 2011 @ 4:49 pm

Most of the people I've met at FUSF don't have biodiesels, benzies or otherwise. I rent a hybrid cab that I drive for a living. My other car is a bike not that I'm particularly self-righteous about it, just cheaper and keeps my abs tight. I'm a vain bastard. Are you engaged in the building of roads then? Most guys who build roads in SF are union and have benefits although the powers that be are working on that too.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 11, 2011 @ 1:49 pm

the roads don't just magically appear. working class people build them so rich white yuppies with grandiose philosophical ideas can drive their priuses and ride their bianchis on them pretending that they are saving the world.

you're right, it makes a big difference.

and, no I don't build roads. I guess that makes the point invalid.

Posted by whitenoise on Feb. 11, 2011 @ 5:11 pm

I contribute nothing but talk? I've spent the last 10 years volunteering at free schools just like the FUSF. Why are you so comfortable criticizing strangers based on assumptions?

Posted by whitenoise on Feb. 10, 2011 @ 4:40 pm

my father was an auto mechanic for 25 years. I live paycheck to paycheck on under $500 a month... and I grow strawberries in the city (urban agriculture, what a crazy idea!). don't make assumptions about who I am.

poor people and people of color are definitely capable and often interested in post-structuralism and philosophy, hipster poetry, jazz, etc. we aren't ONLY interested in these things. we are also interested in feeding our families. if the free u keeps offering courses rooted in the cultural lineage of 60s era beat poets, university philosophy departments, and marxist economics they probably wont get many poor people of color coming to their classes.

look, stop arguing defensively on the internet about how you aren't racist and go spend an hour in a prison lobby, an immigration station, a welfare office, on the street in the tenderloin, and ask everyone you see if they give a rats ass about nietzsche. they probably want some cigarettes and a place to sleep. how's that for freedom? p.s. i like nietzsche and i would probably come to your FU if I lived in SF.

I'm checking into my reverse racism. um. i love white people. i'm kind of white myself. though a person of color. :0 hmm. mixed backgrounds can be so confusing for making assumptions. I'm sure the poor white folks in SF don't care about literary and philosophical arcanities either.. so it isnt ONLY about race.. though the two are deeply intertwined.

Posted by whitenoise on Feb. 10, 2011 @ 4:34 pm

"it isn't enough to say the door is open, come in if you want. it isn't enough to give people access."

why isn't it enough? because it has "originated" with white people? equal access is quite enough, as far as I'm concerned ...and "liberty", which can be considered in a variety of ways, seems to be treated by you in a way that would exclude white people. one opens the door and says, "come on in everyone! ...oh, wait, there's not enough of x kind of people, we better go find some people of color, etc." it seems this is what you're proposing. is this not tokenizing?

HOWEVER, equal access isn't just an open door, it's a genuine welcome, in word, deed, and affect -- perhaps that's what's missing.

btw: I think manual training is a great idea! talk about Marx? now THAT'S praxis!

Posted by J on Feb. 09, 2011 @ 12:37 pm

i've seen plenty of projects that aim for liberation and miss the mark.

take a step back and ask who is providing access? access to what? who opens that open door and more importantly who owns that door or the space it leads into? i'm speaking of ownership both literally and metaphorically.

do poor people of color need liberation in san francisco?

here are some quotes.

"Washing ones hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral."
- Paulo Freire

"I don't believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is vertical, so it's humiliating. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other and learns from the other. I have a lot to learn from other people." - Eduardo Galeano

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come to because your liberation is bound up in mine, we can work together.” - Lilla Watson

This certainly isn't a call to exclude white people. This is a call for equal footing, for solidarity, true solidarity. This is a call for collaboration. This is a call for above all else friendship and meaningful connection across lines of race and class. In order to get to such a place those in power need to relinquish a bit of their power, accept some humility, and realize that maybe they don't have all the answers. Setting up barriers to protect privilege will only entrench the chasms between us.

Posted by whitenoise on Feb. 09, 2011 @ 1:05 pm

"take a step back and ask who is providing access? access to what? who opens that open door and more importantly who owns that door or the space it leads into? i'm speaking of ownership both literally and metaphorically."

thinking more about this, I suppose you're feeling as if the FUSF is something started and run, "owned" by white people. if this is the case, then I can see that this would constitute a social barrier, something that might cause people of color to be uncomfortable. so, in that case, if the school is really about diversity for the benefit of all involved (e.g. the liberty of people of color and white people are bound up together), it would be the responsibility of white people to extend themselves further to ensure the inclusion of people of color (and since most of those white people happen to be men, other genders as well). if this is an accurate depiction of FUSF, then I agree with what you're saying.

Posted by J on Feb. 09, 2011 @ 3:14 pm

...or perhaps an equal invitation entails equal outreach. if more outreach was done among white males to promote FUSF, then perhaps more promotional outreach among other genders and people of color IS what's needed. I think you and I agree on a fundamental level, but where I disagree is in how you frame some of the particulars.

Posted by J on Feb. 09, 2011 @ 2:34 pm

...or perhaps an equal invitation entails equal outreach. if more outreach was done among white males to promote FUSF, then perhaps more promotional outreach among other genders and people of color IS what's needed. I think you and I agree on a fundamental level, but where I disagree is in how you frame some of the particulars.

Posted by J on Feb. 09, 2011 @ 2:29 pm

I agree with what you've said, but I don't see how this makes it incumbent upon white folks involved with the FUSF to go seek out people of color. if this is a call for collaboration, then the door is open -- the onus is upon each individual to participate, including people of color; not for any individual to lure another. if your liberation is bound up with mine, that doesn't mean I should lure you, but I should invite you -- and it's your decision whether or not to attend (note: an open, equal invitation is a substantive egalitarian act, not merely passive. but, perhaps there hasn't been an equal invitation extended to all groups?). white people are the dominant group in society, but there's no "barriers" erected here: it's open to all. now, if there are other issues that I'm not seeing, which would make people of color feel unwelcome at FUSF, then I agree the onus would be on the community.

Posted by J on Feb. 09, 2011 @ 2:18 pm

let me put what you are saying through the people-o-color lens.

"I don't see how this makes it incumbent upon white folks involved with the FUSF to go seek out people of color"
..... becomes
"it is the responsibility of the oppressed to end oppression, not the responsibility of those privileged by that oppression"

"white people are the dominant group in society, but there's no "barriers" erected here"
"I only understand direct oppression, not institutional oppression. Education, the media, legacies of colonialism, internalizes racism, I see no role that these factors play in creating barriers to access for oppressed people"
I guess what I'm saying is that there are other issues that you aren't seeing. Public schools have been criticized, for instance, for showing US history from the perspective of white colonizers who push particular narratives: democracy, progress, manifest destiny while downplaying others. Do you want your free university to fall into the same trap? Do you want a curriculum that only speaks from a white, euro-American, settler perspective?

Jonathan Kozol once wrote a book called Free Schools that called out the progressive lefties interested in free education. He had this to say,

"The passive tranquil and protected lives white people lead depend on strongly armed police, well-demarcated ghettos. While children starve and others walk the city streets in fear on Monday afternoon, the privileged young people of the Free Schools of Vermont shuttle their handlooms back and forth and speak of love and of "organic processes." They do "their thing." Their thing is sun and good food and fresh water and good doctors and delightful, old, and battered eighteenth-century houses, and a box of baby turtles; somebody else's thing may be starvation, broken glass, unheated rooms, and rats inside the bed with newborn children. The beautiful children do not wish cold rooms or broken glass, starvation, rats, or fear for anybody; nor will they stake their lives, or put their bodies on the line, or interrupt one hour of the sunlit morning, or sacrifice one moment of the golden afternoon, to take hand in altering the unjust terms of a society in which these things are possible."

"At best these schools are obviating pain and etherizing evil; at worst they constitute a registered escape valve for political rebellion. Least conscionable are when the people who are laboring and living in these schools describe themselves as revolutionaries."

We are all connected. Your privilege is another's oppression. Open your eyes.

Posted by whitenoise on Feb. 09, 2011 @ 3:55 pm

Liberalism does seem to bring in the folks from the shallow end of the pool. It's a Free University, get it?

This whole thought process is so shallow, superficial, and whacked out. This reminds me that about 15-20 years ago African American (AA) leaders in The City complained that Asian-American kids had an unfair advantage. Why? Because their community had rallied around, and created a Saturday school program. Consequently, The City paid for a free Saturday schooling program. The result? Asian American students were "over represented"; and AA students, who needed the academic help the most, were "under represented".

If the SFBG really wantes to write a probbing, edgy piece, why not review and grapple with President Barack Obama's Father's Day speech a year or so back? That is clearly the root cause of many of our societal ills.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 08, 2011 @ 6:14 pm

Very few people want to have the $h!t bored out of them by poetry and agitprop, be they black white or Hispanic.

It's so pretentious to think that the reason people don't care about your high art is their skin color, when the world in general doesn't care.

I feel you pain though, When I finished Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy and I couldn't get anyone to read all 700 pages I felt let down too.

Posted by matlock on Feb. 08, 2011 @ 5:43 pm

it seems you're saying that this isn't an issue of race, gender, etc,but that these topics are intrinsically boring. what is your measure of this, besides your subjective appraisal (especially given your sensitivity to each person's individuality)? also, how can you qualify that, given that so many people actually came out to learn about these topics. would you then suppose that the people that came to these classes are intrinsically boring (again, by who's judgment?), or that these people came out wanting to be bored? I would disagree with both suppositions; but otherwise, what you're saying seems to lack substance...

Posted by J on Feb. 09, 2011 @ 12:38 pm

I have hobbies that the world at large would find dull. I have read most every biography and general book about the Cambridge spies. Do I think there are a lot of people interested in my hobby? Of course there isn't. Books on the subject used to come out pretty regular and make it into the New York Review of books or be reviewed in the NYT. Not any more. The London Times used to have Phillip Knightly working full time on espionage. So I have an interest in something that the world in general finds boring and has lost interest in.

For some reason people into; high art, post modernism and leftist agitprop think they are public intellectuals and their hobbies are not boring to the rest of the world.

Posted by matlock on Feb. 09, 2011 @ 5:38 pm

it seems you're saying that this isn't an issue of race, gender, etc,but that these topics are intrinsically boring. what is your measure of this, besides your subjective appraisal (especially given your sensitivity to each person's individuality)? also, how can you qualify that, given that so many people actually came out to learn about these topics. would you then suppose that the people that came to these classes are intrinsically boring (again, by who's judgment?), or that these people came out wanting to be bored? I would disagree with both suppositions; but otherwise, what you're saying seems to lack substance...

Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2011 @ 12:19 pm

One wonders if the "diversity" push will target Asians, who are The City's most numerous minority group by far. Or are they, on the whole, too successful to warrant such consideration?

Posted by Peter on Feb. 08, 2011 @ 4:51 pm