Free Skool takes fresh approach to continuing education

Beginning in early June, Bobby T. Luck — the driving force behind the newfound Free Skool for Humans — will teach an 11-week Film Studies 101 course. In a late May interview, however, Luck stressed that there would be little divide between teacher and students — save for one important detail.

“I mean, I am taking everybody's cell phones because I'm not having that [in the classroom],” he said, and laughed.

Otherwise, Luck envisions the class functioning as a freeform flow of ideas between participants — in preparation he's studied textbooks on leading group discussion — rather than the standard lecture format where an instructor speaks at length as bored, disengaged students jot occasional notes aside elaborate doodles.

“When I was going to school, I didn't care about it at all,” Luck said. “Some of it was just dates and facts, and there wasn't a lot of application put to what it's like to be alive today. … The things I remember most from school were the things that sparked actual discussion instead of the teacher just lecturing me.”

Free Skool for Humans, which is set to kick off its second semester this month, aims to reshape how the public approaches continued education, bringing together people from the community to teach — and take — free courses on a wide array of subjects. The first semester, which took place in the spring and lasted eight weeks, included 10 courses that ranged from Drawing and Illustration to a biology class complete with a lab. For the current 11-week summer semester, 16 courses are being offered, including Critical Thinking in the Digital Age, Writing and Literature Outside the Canon and even Beekeeping.

“I think the classes I'm most drawn to are the ones I don't know anything about,” Luck said of the current slate.

The Free Skool's multifaceted approach falls in line with Luck's diverse background, which includes a two-and-a-half-year stint serving in the military, childhood and teenage years spent studying and performing opera, and a college education in the visual arts. (Luck's interest in film extends to childhood — the first flick he saw in the theater was “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” — and was further sparked by weekly movie nights curated by a friend visiting from Spain.)

Luck, who had been considering the “free school” concept for more than five years, said he was finally inspired to act following the 2016 election, setting plans into motion the next day. “It's like any election jumpstarts thought processes,” said Luck, who sought advice from similar community education programs in Brooklyn, Seattle and Philadelphia. “After the elections I have participated in, when the things I expected to happen with education never did, it just got really discouraging. I was feeling pretty helpless, so I had to do something.”

Though Luck never had designs on being a teacher, he said that education has always been an important issue in his life — even more so now in an era where the rising costs associated with attending college have become a significant barrier to entry for lower-income students. Additionally, some college graduates might have an interest in continuing to receive an education while lacking the financial means to do so.

“I've never been satisfied with the way public school curriculum/bureaucracy is structured,” said Madeline Conway, who is slated to teach a summer semester stop-motion animation course, via email from Paris. “I knew immediately that I wanted to be a part of this radical new way of sharing information. Adults need to keep growing regardless of whether they have money to pay for classes.”

While Free Skool for Humans is a relatively new initiative, it is rooted in concepts that date back centuries.

“Communities used to teach each other,” Luck said. “We have those skills — people who have gone to college and also people who have trade skills — and we can all exchange this information and take away the middle men, in some sense.”

Moving forward, Luck hopes to establish Free Skool as a nonprofit (costs of office and course supplies, space rentals and the like are currently covered, in part, by a GoFundMe campaign, while a benefit concert featuring BLK GLD, Didi, Bloody Show and more is scheduled to take place at Cafe Bourbon Street on Friday, July 21), all while continuing to expand class offerings during spring, summer and fall semesters. As the Skool biography posted on GoFundMe notes: “If it can be taught, there will be a class on it.”

“I want to reach a wider demographic and reach people I don't know personally,” Luck said. “I want it to be a big community effort. I want everybody in Columbus to be participating.”