I was made aware of the brooklyn institute of social research through a post on the new apps blog today, and it seems to be a very (very) interesting venture. It was founded by a group of PhD students and young PhD’s from new york city, and is running a series of once a week courses in the humanities that seem to run for 6 weeks each, and from the pictures on the website, meet in hip cafes/bars.
As some may know, it has been a dream of mine to start something similar to this. A non-profit public school in the humanities that taught basic to advanced courses in philosophy, theology, literature, social theory and political thought and also ran seminars in the humanities for kids of al ages, ideally in conjunction with a public school system. After working with an urban non-profit back in college I have always liked the idea of linking something at the more ‘intellectual’ level with more on the ground work with kids in struggling communities. But that’s enough about what I would want to do…
One of the things I like most about the brooklyn institute model is that they are charging for classes. This may be against the tendencies of some who would desire something like a truly ‘free’ university, but I for one think this is great. In the world we live in, things cost money. And most of us who would want to be involved in a project like this are TA’s or adjuncts at best, and while ideally I am sure many of us would love to teach for free, it is simply not feasible. On the FAQ page of their website they give a great explanation for why their courses cost money, and they make the point of showing how much it would cost to take a course at a major university. I think in the long run this will hopefully make this project more sustainable, and encourage others to also considered going beyond the ‘free school’ model and not being afraid to ask for a reasonable financial commitment for the sake of supporting high quality teachers.
The only thing that strikes me as a negative about the whole thing is that it is in Brooklyn, which you know, is where everything ever happens these days. Maybe one of the characters on Girls will ride her fixed-gear to a class at the brooklyn institute while listening to a cassette EP from Grizzly Bear’s drummer with an $9 iced coffee in her hand. (Kidding. Obviously. Just because it is in brooklyn doesn’t make it bad).
Hopefully this can set a model that some of us can work on in the future to help create a new space in between ‘full time tenured academic’ labor and resentful ‘post academic’ work.