Calling All Lifelong Learners

Continuing an intermittent series on education
“Crazies only need apply,” jokes Blaire Huntley, speaking of Trade School of Indianapolis’s call for teachers. Previous “crazies” taught such varied topics as law, nail art, beekeeping, creative writing, bookbinding, public speaking, yoga, and even cuddling.

Making this curriculum even more unique: not one cent changes hands. Instead, teachers request items and services in trade for their tutelage.

I took this class last fall: Primitive Natural Cordage with Creek Stewart of Willow Haven Outdoor.

I took this class last fall: Primitive Natural Cordage with Creek Stewart of Willow Haven Outdoor. All it cost me was the stalk of a yucca plant.

TSI is part of a barter-for-knowledge network anchored by Trade School New York, which Blaire encountered when she lived in New York City.

Though she worked eight jobs in NYC and was way too busy to take classes, when she moved to Indy, she brought along her love of learning—and the seed of an idea. Why not start a Trade School in her adopted city? Now, she says, she feels like “the smartest person in the world,” because she gets to learn from so many passionate, creative teachers.

The community embraced the model wholeheartedly. “As people are learning about us, once they know about it, they want to be involved,” says co-founder Brittany West. In the year since its launch, TSI has offered 80 classes. For the fall 2013 semester (October-November), already a record 40 classes have been proposed, and the window to apply is still open.

Compared to other Trade Schools worldwide (there are now 50), “we are always the one with the most classes going on,” says Blaire.

TSI is also one of the few such schools so far sustained without funding. Both women work for free, devoting their off-work hours to coordinating, publicizing, and attending sessions. Classroom space is donated in several venues, including Indy’s Kitchen, where cooking classes are extremely popular.

Art of Indian Cuisine at Indy's Kitchen

Art of Indian Cuisine at Indy’s Kitchen. New this semester: teachers can request items on behalf of an organization. For example, the fall Indian cooking class will be offered in exchange for donations for Gleaners Food Bank.

Brittany says the philosophy behind TSI, that “education should be accessible to everyone,” is a powerful notion. “I love that I can bring an apple or a bag of oranges in exchange for learning these great things.”

People engage with each other differently when payment is made in nonmonetary gifts instead of cash, the women say. It creates a shared experience and a deepened sense of connection.

Blaire and Brittany are looking to crowdfund classroom space for a permanent TSI home, potentially shared with other likeminded community organizations. They envision tripling the number of classes, and offering daytime sessions as well as their current evening classes.

Instructors of Backpacking 101

Instructors of Backpacking 101

Are you a lifelong learner, or someone with a skill to share? Have you experienced the fun of bypassing the money economy and found that you’ve made a deeper connection as a result? Then check out the following:

1.) Go to TSI’s Kickstarter grant appeal (great incentives!) and give what you can before Aug. 31.

2.) (For locals) Plan to attend TSI’s one-year anniversary party September 5, featuring a swap-and-trade area, teacher meet-and-greets, live music, and complimentary Sun King beer.

3.) Propose a class! “We believe everyone has something to offer, so no fancy degrees or certificates required.”

Photos courtesy of Trade School of Indianapolis

3 thoughts on “Calling All Lifelong Learners

  1. Pingback: Nonviolent Communication | Shawndra Miller

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