Informal U

Many liberty lovers dislike the public (i.e. government run) school system, for a gazillion reasons. It’s coercively funded, takes a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching, attendance is compulsory, specific subjects are compulsory… I could go on, but I think you get my point (also, the onslaught of unpleasant “c” words in this paragraph is bumming me out).

So, what would a free market approach to a school be like? Well, pretty much the opposite of a public school. It would be voluntarily funded, voluntarily attended, and offer classes on subjects that the market (i.e. the students) would express an actual desire to learn about. Instructors would be properly incentivized to teach effective and interesting courses by being paid directly by their own students, per course.

A couple of Free State Project early movers created such a school three years ago in Manchester. The Informal U describes itself as follows:

Our classes are all selected with a few guiding principles in mind:

  • Will the knowledge you gain help you to be more self sufficient and independent?
  • Is it fun?
  • Will you gain more value from the class than it cost you to take it?
  • Can we match qualified instructors with interested students.

Until recently, the Informal U was hampered by the lack of a permanent physical location in which to hold its courses. All that changed when its organizers were able to secure the entire floor of a warehouse in northeast Manchester. This warehouse space, dubbed “Area 23”, is extremely spacious and has all sorts of amenities: a bar (priorities, people); two bathrooms, including a shower; office space; pool table; dartboard; several classrooms/offices; a kitchen; and a freight elevator. From the moment the space was acquired, an assortment of Porcupines have been hard at work daily, fixing up the place: painting, building a stage, hanging banners. But the organizers didn’t wait for construction and sprucing up to be completed before moving forward with their educational plans. In fact, an impressive number of courses have already been set up for November and December, with a mind-boggling breadth of subject matter.  Here are just a few of the topics covered:

  •  yoga
  • firearms safety
  • self-defense for women
  • acting improv
  • permaculture
  • hydroponics
  • brewing
  • Microsoft Excel
  • Zombie Apocalypse Fitness
  • Insurgency and Guerilla Warfare
    (is anyone else reminded of that scene in War Games where David finally succeeds in breaking into what he thinks is a computer game company, and sees that the list of games starts off with Tic Tac Toe and ends with Global Thermonuclear War? No? OK, just me then; nevermind)

I attended a course on encryption the night before last and was blown away by the value I received for what I paid. The course cost $10, half of which went to the Informal U/Area 23 and half of which went to the instructor. (I should mention that Area 23 has its own parking lot with plenty of free parking, for anyone tuning in from unpleasant places not-New Hampshire where that’s a rare commodity.) I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but had brought a notebook to take notes and was hoping to get some recommendations on how to encrypt my email. What I got was free pizza (compliments of the instructor), repeated offers of beer (from one of the proprietors of Area 23), and 2.5 solid hours of information on encryption. The material covered the gamut from the history of cryptology from ancient times to the present; specific encryption algorithms (this part got a little scary, featuring math equations, exponents, polynomials and other things that seemed vaguely familiar as if from a partially remembered nightmare); assorted encryption protocols and their pros and cons; and specific recommendations of open source products to use to encrypt cell phone communications, instant messages, email, WiFi and hard drives. After all of that, the instructor had only got through 75% of his material! He gave us the option of staying for more or coming back another night. The other eight students and I elected to come back another night when our brains were less full. I took two full pages of notes and am looking forward to the second half of the course.

In addition to the many courses being offered, Area 23 has also hosted numerous social events, and has provided meeting space for a Porcupine-run church, the Manchester Community Grange, and an Austrian Economics discussion group. This weekend, Shire Sharing will be meeting there to put together its Thanksgiving food baskets for distribution to needy families in several New Hampshire towns.

All in all, both the Informal U and Area 23 are shaping up to be awesome additions to the ever-growing liberty community in New Hampshire. You should definitely check them out if you live or visit here. And if you don’t live here, you should be jealous.

The best way to keep up to date on Informal U courses at the moment is to contact the managers directly via their website.   If you’d like to help cover the cost of renovations on the warehouse space, feel free to chip in here. They even accept donations in Bitcoin (but you need to do that via Facebook, not the Indiegogo link).

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