Thursday, October 27, 2011


 Today's question isn't from E. Ethelbert Miller, but instead was a comment on October 22, 2011 by Rossi Lamont Walter in response to my "A Return to the Old Pad" post. Rossi Lamont Walter asks: "I am very curious about the origins and ideology behind this Free School at SIU that Charlie mentioned. Could you ask him to elaborate on what this was, why it was, and what kind of people took advantage of it?"
I had to dig deep into my old, yellowed files to come up with information on Southern Illinois University's Free School in the late 1960s. Here is a schedule, dated January 20, 1969, which was printed (I think) in an off-campus publication, though it might have appeared in the campus newspaper The Daily Egyptian:
Free School Classes
           The following weekly classes are offered free of charge to all. Classes begin week of January 20, 1969.
Poetry                                         7:30 pm Library Lounge
Chemical Warfare                        7:30 pm 212 E. Pearl
Marshall McLuhan                       8:00 pm Matrix
Free School Concept                    9:00 pm 212 E. Pearl
Social Biology                              9:00 pm Library Lounge
Film Making                                8:00 pm Matrix
Leadership                                  7:30 pm Library Lounge
Indian (East) Culture                    7:30 Univ. Center Rm C
Harrad Experiment                       5 pm    "       "  (cafe)
Allan Watts Philosophy                7:30 pm 212 E. Pearl
Cartooning                                   7:30 pm Main 201
Creative Can Smashing                 7:30 pm 212 E. Pearl
Poetry Workshop                         2:00 pm 212 E. Pearl
Art of Essay                                 7:30 pm Main 102
Tape Recording                            7:30 pm Main 206
Experience                                   9:15 pm 212 E. Pearl
Music Aesthetics                          7:30 pm Home Ec. 206
Democratic Communism               3:00 pm Main 203
International Issues                       12 noon 913 S. Ill.
Marcuse, New Left                       7:30 pm 212 E. Pearl
Photography (Begin)                     7:30 pm 212 E. Pearl
Photography Composition)            8:00 pm Main 102
Guitar (Advanced)                        2:00 pm Matrix
Guitar (Begin)                              2:00 pm Library Lounge
Bodypainting                                2:00 pm 212 E. Peral
Free School at University Park "Intercourse"
Group Dynamics                          (Tim Weber)
Art                                              (Dave Johnson)
Physics Help Session                    (Larry Bennett)
Jazz                                            (Jon Taylor)
Philosophie                                  (Tim Weber)
Rap                                            (Larry Bennett)
For more information---Student Activities Office 435-3093.
 If memory serves, both students (grad and undergrad) and faculty could teach any course they were passionate about in Free School. My class met on Wednesdays at 7:30 PM in the Old Main Building, room 201 on campus. One of my best friends at the time, Dr. Scott Kramer, another undergraduate philosophy major (who for 20 years or so now has taught philosophy in a community college in Spokane, WA), taught Beginning Guitar Lessons on Sundays. But please don't ask me to remember what the courses entitled "Chemical Warfare"  or "Experience" were about. Nor do I have any idea what the second section called "Intercourse" refers to. Remember, Free School happened in the late '60s during the height of the Vietnam War (and at SIU the Vietnam Studies Center was thought by many students, and faculty, to be involved with the CIA; it was the target of continual student protests), and during the height of counter-cultural sensibilities. If Free School had an "ideology," it was probably based on the idea of expanding the curriculum beyond what was officially offered by the university. Students were not given course credits for taking any of these classes. One of my fellow students, Buzz Spector, who is an installation artist, sometimes collaborator with Adrian Piper, former Department Chair of Cornell's Department of Art and currently Dean of the College and Graduate School of Art in the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis (he was also my fellow student at Evanston Township High School, but was a poet and just called himself Franklin Spector in those days) once remarked to me that SIU, unlike elite ivy league schools in the 1960s, was "wide-open" for student activism; it had no hoary traditions to uphold that might hold one down, and so the possibilities for Baby Boomer student creativity---and political activism---were plentiful. In that place, at that time, blue-collar, working-class kids from the city (Chicago, St. Louis), were brought together with Vietnamese exchange students, and kids from the country (one of my dormitory roommates who was drafted and sent to 'Nam was from a place called Flatrock, Illinois).
Looking through my old scrapbooks, I see that I asked students in my cartooning class to turn in weekly assignment, which I graded. The list of topics the course covered were: The Cartoon Figure; The Cartoon Head (Expressions); Exaggeration and Realism; Cartoon Composition; Light and Shadow; Perspective; Pen and Ink Delineation; Cartoon Types; Cartoon Animals; Cartoon Landscapes; Comic Strip Techniques; Marketing Cartoons; Reproduction Procedures; The Cartoon Rough; Editorial Cartooning; Basic History of Cartooning; Caricaturing; How to Create Gags; Tools of the Trade; Cartoon Juxtapositioning; Cartooning Backgrounds; and Analysis of Contemporary Cartooning.
  Rossi, I hope this post will suffice as a partial answer to your question. Thank you for asking it.

1 comment:

  1. This is so interesting. Right away the concept of this Free Schooling brings to mind a complaint that I made last week about how there seems to be no formal affair that exists to bring students together to simply talk about whatever they happen to be learning in their courses.

    The idea is specific in its goal but also very vague, I feel, for reasons that I have not yet realized. Perhaps this kind of dialogue is better left to intimate and chance encounters between peers.

    Thank you very much for the response, Charles. I am quite grateful.