First published on 24 Apr 2013. Updated on 5 Jun 2013.
Everyone has something to teach. And almost everyone wants to learn. That’s why there’s such a flurry of alternative education – or ‘altucation’ – informal organisations offering non-accredited classes all over town. Seems Melburnians are ready to fill their brains after a day of mind-numbing work.
Take Laneway Learning. In the past year year, they’ve hosted 158 classes from 70 teachers – all at $12 a pop. Their course offerings read like an encyclopaedia: beekeeping, chainmail jewellery, cryptology, grammar, map-reading, ukulele… It’s all thanks to the team, headed by Tom Ding, who curate the classes. With such diverse offerings, we have to really nudge him to pick a recent favourite: the neuroplasticity course taught in April. That’s not something you usually learn about on a work night – which makes it all the more special. While still running classes at Little Mule in the city, they also started up Monday nights at Ferdydurke, and will be moving classes over to Shebeen from the start of July.
In a similar vein is Pop Up School, which takes over a rotating cast of venues around once a month. They feature courses like the ever-popular 'Voice Techniques for Public Speakers'. But be warned: these classes run from $75-$125.
Want something a little more, well, free? Try the courses thrown by the Melbourne Free University. Where else could you spend an evening learning about 19th-century life modelling in France, all for the low-low price of zero dollars? Founded in 2009, it mixes six-week courses with one-off lectures, held either at the Alderman or Some Velvet Morning. Both venues have beer, of course. Encompassing diverse topics – ‘I (heart) Philosophy’, or perhaps ‘The Naked Brunch: Food, Consumption & Culture’ – each week sees a different professor/chef/artist presenting.
A friend of the Melbourne Free University, professor Dr Robert DiNapoli, just launched a new endeavour in June. Called The Melbourne Literature Seminars, he'll guide people on a 14-week, $200 excursion through The Canterbury Tales – all in original medieval English.
New to the ‘altucation’ scene is Homehouse, the team behind which has spent the past couple of months teaching everything from hip-hop dance to clay pot making. (Look for them to re-open once they find a new venue.)
We’re also hoping that Small Giants will revive the London-founded, wildly popular School of Life. The brainchild of philosopher Alain de Botton, its summer season in January was one big educational party – 10 jam-packed weeks of workshops, conversations, and ‘secular sermons’.
And lastly there's A Centre for Everything, established by Melbourne artists Gabrielle de Vietri and Will Foster in 2012. It takes the form of regular events in various Collingwood venues, "modelled on a Venn diagram of disparate interests that manifest as workshops, discussions, activities and meals". They host a discussion about alternative education at MUMA this May 11.
All of this sounds like it’s easy to set up, but it’s one thing to say you’ll be offering classes – and quite another to find enthusiasts who want to run them. “The big unknown was how we would get teachers,” says Laneway’s Tom Ding. For the first few weeks, he and his friends taught all of the classes. (He has taught about infinity and spirographs. As you do.) But “it happened quite quickly,” he says, that momentum grew big enough. “Every week we get people offering to teach.” That’s why Laneway Learning – and their brethren in ‘altucation’ – are able to offer such diverse courses. And why all of Melbourne can now learn about origami or sexy mathematical equations.
What it’s like running a Laneway Learning class?
Your humble narrator has led a class on hair braiding. After attending a night taught by someone else, I'd thought, “Hey, it doesn’t look so hard! I bet I could teach one.” Since I’d already run a successful workshop at Confest, a festival in NSW, I knew what wisdom I wanted to impart to the masses. I shot off a message on the Laneway Learning website and was immediately contacted by Lucie Bradley, one of the founders. She guided me through creating the handout and Powerpoint, introduced me before the workshop, and followed up with a thank you. That’s how I ended up teaching two sold-out classes on braiding – and why I can’t wait to teach more.