What the Bay Area Public School Is

The Bay Area Public School is a free, learner-directed, community-supported school, and a member of the Omni Oakland Commons. We exist to encourage and provide space for collaborative learning. Our educational model is centered on the formation of autonomous and interlocking communities of learning that engage in study, research, and creative inquiry. In our organization, our pedagogy, and our content, we strive to be radically responsive to our situation in a world dominated by systems of oppression and exploitation.

We are not an accredited institution: there are no grades, no certificates, and no degrees granted.

Anyone* can learn with us and anyone can organize a class. You are welcome to join us at any time.

*Unfortunately, the school is only able to serve adults given the licensing and permitting requirements of caring for children.

A Short History of the School

The idea of the Public School originated in 2007 at Telic Arts Exchange in Los Angeles as, “a framework that supports autodidactic activities.” Soon there were Public School outposts around the world holding a variety of classes in miscellaneous spaces and gathering people to learn together outside of official educational institutions through the Public School website.

The Bay Area Public School was one of these outposts. We have gradually diverged from the Public School “franchise”, creating our own website and defining our own principles and practices. In this way, we can have more autonomy and can be more open to the potential of engaging local issues and culture.

Brought together in the wake of Occupy Oakland, and finding inspiration in the conversations that happened on Oscar Grant Plaza, the Bay Area school has developed a distinctly political character. The school’s formation coincides not just with Occupy (and its time of worldwide insurrection), but also with the anti-racist struggles kicked off by the shooting of Oscar Grant and which continue in the form of the Black Lives Matter movement. The art and literary scenes of the Bay are also a significant influence on the school. Within these existing communities, informal networks organized readings and reading groups, dialogues and exhibitions in extra-institutional spaces. These practices became the foundation of the Bay Area Public School.

The first events the school organized were held in borrowed spaces. Then we joined with the hackerspace Sudo Room to rent a place in downtown Oakland. And finally, in 2013, Sudo Room, the Public School, and a group of other collectives, organized to form the Omni Oakland Commons as a collective of collectives, and to rent and rehabilitate the building at 4799 Shattuck Avenue, our present location.

The Ideas that Motivate Us

We are not like other schools. The Bay Area Public School is conceived of as an alternative to existing educational institutions. From the beginning, we have said this was an anti-capitalist school. We struggle to resist capital by linking our project to a foundational critique of market-driven forms of learning and the neo-liberal impulse to submit all of life to the pressures and logics of the marketplace.

Remaining true to this principle requires careful attention, not just to financial issues, but also to forms of organization, of language, pedagogical forms, and forms of life: the school strives to be radically open, radically experimental, and radically anti-hierarchical.

Most schools, even those that are called “public,” could be considered capitalist schools because of the way they assume and promote a capitalist worldview, as much as because of how they are run. They cost money—so education becomes a financial transaction, an exchange of “information” for cash. More and more, even primary schools have price tags, with the value of the education becoming exchangeable for vouchers redeemable at a private school. Higher education is both expensive and “financialized”: it requires massive indebtedness to attend—and that debt is profit for banks. Knowledge is considered private property; schools are a major site for the enforcement of copyright law and a profit center for the publishing industry. Schools take job training to be their goal rather than intellectual or ethical development. Questions of social responsibility are demoted in favor of the development of individual worth in terms of market value as a worker. And finally, schools are run as businesses that submit all decisions to the logic of profit and productive efficiency, which ends up devaluing pedagogical concerns or the well being of students and teachers.

By contrast, as an anti-capitalist school, the Bay Area Public School offers classes for free. The school is supported on a principle of mutual aid, where participants contribute what they are able (in money or time and effort) to support the project—to each according to their need, from each according to their ability! We conceive of knowledge as a commons—a collective world inheritance to be shared with all as an abundant and inexhaustible resource. We believe learning has intrinsic worth within the communities in which it happens. So our pedagogy is based in the formation of non-hierarchical learning communities that are responsive and responsible to local communities and issues. The aim of the school is to help people understand themselves and their situation by providing an opportunity to contemplate the power that thinking together could have in shaping the world. And unlike many schools, we are open to all adults who have an aspiration to learn or knowledge to share.

We Are a Member Collective of the Omni

The Omni is a community center that supports open access to resources that sustain life. It is comprised of several Bay Area collectives with a shared political vision: to privilege the meeting of human needs over private interests or corporate profit.

Getting Involved in the School

We do hope that as people become involved in the school they will find a way to contribute to it in the ways that they are able to. Some help us with organizing. Some start their own classes. Some help fix up and organize the Omni. Some donate money. Many participants make a monthly contribution through our website; this provides the bulk of our funding. We believe that the communist slogan “from each according to their ability; to each according to their need” is a good guide to organizing the school under a principle of communalism and mutual aid. Any way that you help will be appreciated.

How We Organize the School

The planning work of the school happens at the monthly organizing meetings at 6-8pm on the fourth Thursday of the month.

Decisions can be made by consensus, or failing that a supermajority vote of 80% of those attending a regularly scheduled meeting. Irregular meetings must be announced on the membership list more than a week prior to their date to have decision making authority, and then the decision same rules apply.

Usually the meetings are run by “consensus process” with a facilitator, a stack, hand signals, etc. (as at Occupy) but it is at the discretion of attendees how to run the meetings.

Minutes are taken and posted online.

Orientations are where we welcome new participants and explain how the school works. We also review new class proposals and help people start the class organizing process. They are usually on Thursdays from 6-7pm. To request and schedule an orientation use this form.

Other work is done in working groups (both standing and ad hoc) where there is more autonomy, but still a responsibility to consult with and report back to the organizing committee.

There is an organizing mailing list which you can ask to be on at the meeting.

Delegates to the Omni meetings are chosen by the organizing committee (but attendance is open to all). Being involved in Omni working groups and working on Omni projects is encouraged and is also open to all Public School participants. Delegate meetings and working groups at the Omni are open to anyone, regardless of membership status in any collective.

Membership in the Public School

Membership implies an obligation to help the Public School with the work of organizing by attending meetings, joining working groups, helping at events and contributing funds according to your ability.

A person wanting to be a member should submit an affirmation of their intention to the Public School. Included in the affirmation should be: 1) a statement of their participation and contributions to the school so far; 2) a description of how they intend to participate in the future; 3) contact information; 4) the name of an existing member that can confirm their participation and contributions.

Names of prospective members should be emailed to the existing members. If no objections to membership (using the same criteria as rescinding membership — see below) are voiced after one week, the person becomes a member and will arrange with the membership coordinator to join a working group.

Yearly, or after an extended period of non-participation, members may be asked to reaffirm their membership. Failing reaffirmation, a person’s membership may be rescinded. (An inactive member can subsequently affirm membership to resume participation.)

Rescinding Membership
If there is concern that a member has violated the rules of the OMNI, or of the public school, or acted in a way that harmed the OMNI, the public school, or any participants in the school or the omni, that person’s membership may be rescinded if and only if there is a decision of a body of duly assembled members of the public school, after a hearing of the complaint, where the member in question has been given an opportunity to represent their perspective.

All members should be subscribed to the organizing list.

Our Finances

Our collective pays a portion of the Omni rent and expenses, currently totaling about $1500 a month. We struggle to pay that share with the one time and monthly contributions of members and participants, but work hard to continue to raise funds without soliciting money or donations at classes. The bulk of our fundraising takes place through email, social media and in one-on-one conversation. We value a model of fundraising that separates monetary exchange from the social relations that form classes and learning experiences. The finance working group tracks our donations and expenses and works on fundraising projects.