Free UniversE-ity

A site for self-determination and against the enclosure of knowledge


Free U is the idea that we can all learn with and from each other everything that we need to know in order to survive and thrive as community.

Free U already exists everywhere all the time inasmuch as the above statement is true, but the existence of Free U can be limited by the Enclosure of Knowledge.

Free Universe-ity is the title of this website that a single person unilaterally began as a clay skeleton that is meant to serve as a place for people to connect who resonate with the idea of Free U.

Free Universe-ity is a particular attempt at magnifying the manifestation of the idea of the Free U and intentionally making space in a colonized world which actively and violently counteracts the process of people learning from and with each other everything they need to know in order to survive and thrive. The colonized world stifles the autonomous learning and projects of communities in order to incorporate them into the  hubristic practices and hierarchy of settler societies.

The Free Universe-ity is an intentional networking effort with the focus of manifesting the idea of Free U. Through participating in the Free Universe-ity you will: (1) contribute to the deepening of our collective knowledge (2) get connected with other people forming a mutual aid/gift economy (3) participate in growing systems of survival that are immune to the failures of the current control economy (4) have another vehicle for being the change you want to see in the world (5) transform the Free Universe-ity.

This website may be abolished or dramatically changed as soon as it becomes obvious that its current form is not serving Free U.

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People can also checkout/join the Free Univers(e)ity Facebook group at

and follow us on Twitter @FreeUniverseity

Make sure to check out and contribute to the always work in progress guide
“Abolishing Education and Liberating Creation” (click for .PDF or .ODT)


The following article, in English and below in Spanish, written by Gustavo Esteva and published in Yes! Magazine in 2007, is highly relevant to the project of the Free U.

Reclaiming Our Freedom to Learn

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by Gustavo Esteva
posted Nov 07, 2007

Read this article in Spanish. Lea este artículo en español

A primary school in the Zapatista village of Oventic, the southern state of Chiapas, Mexico. Photo by Aaron Cain.
A primary school in the Zapatista village of Oventic, the southern state of Chiapas, Mexico.
Photo by Aaron Cain.

Years ago, we started to observe in villages and barrios, particularly among indigenous peoples, a radical reaction against education and schools. A few of them closed their schools and expelled their teachers. Most of them avoided this type of political confrontation and started instead to just bypass the school, while reclaiming and regenerating the conditions in which people traditionally learned in their own ways.

The people in the villages know very well that school prevents their children from learning what they need to know to continue living in their communities, contributing to the common well-being and that of their soils, their places. And school does not prepare them for life or work outside the community. In many communities in Oaxaca and Chiapas, Mexico, parents no longer delegate their children’s learning to school.

They know by experience what usually happens to those who abandon their communities to get “higher education.” They get lost in the cities, in degraded jobs. A recent official study found that only eight percent of graduates of Mexican universities will be able to work in the field they graduated in. Lawyers or engineers are driving taxis or tending stalls. In spite of such awareness, people still hold the illusion that higher education offers something to their children. They don’t feel comfortable depriving their children of such an “opportunity.”

Life Without Teachers

We once did a thought experiment in which we took a suggestion of author John McKnight—imagining a world without dentists—and applied it to the teaching profession. For a few minutes many apocalyptic descriptions circulated around our table as we imagined a world without teachers or teaching. But then something radically different started to come into our conversation. We imagined a myriad of ways in which the people themselves would create a different kind of life.

One of the most important conclusions of our conversation was the explicit recognition that we learn better when nobody is teaching us. We can observe this in every baby and in our own experience. Our vital competence comes from learning by doing, without any kind of teaching.

Apprenticeships foster traditional skills at Unitierra. Photo courtesy of
Apprenticeships foster traditional skills at Unitierra.
Photo courtesy of

After the exercise, a very practical question came to the table. We have learned, with the Zapatistas, that while changing the world is very difficult, perhaps impossible, it is possible to create a whole new world. That is exactly what the Zapatistas are doing in the south of Mexico. How can we create our own new world, at our own, small, human scale, in our little corner in Oaxaca? How can we deschool our lives and those of our children in this real world, where the school still dominates minds, hearts and institutions?

The most dramatic lesson we derived from the exercise was to discover what we were really missing in the urban setting: conditions for apprenticeship. When we all request education and institutions where our children and young people can stay and learn, we close our eyes to the tragic social desert in which we live. They have no access to real opportunities to learn in freedom. In many cases, they can no longer learn with parents, uncles, grandparents—just talking to them, listening to their stories or observing them in their daily trade. Everybody is busy, going from one place to another. No one seems to have the patience any more to share with the new generation the wisdom accumulated in a culture. Instead of education, what we really need is conditions for decent living, a community.

Our challenge thus became to find ways to regenerate community in the city, to create a social fabric in which we all, at any age, would be able to learn and in which every kind of apprenticeship might flourish. In doing this radical research, we surprise ourselves, every day, when we discover how easy it can be to create alternatives and how many people are interested in the adventure.

We have learned, with the Zapatistas, that while changing the world is very difficult, perhaps impossible, it is possible to create a whole new world.

So we created our university, Unitierra. Young men and women without any diploma, and better yet no schooling, can come to us. They learn whatever they want to learn—practical trades, like urban agriculture, video production, or social research, or fields of study, like philosophy or communication. They learn the skills of the trade or field of study as apprentices of someone practicing those activities. They also learn how to learn with modern tools and practices not available in their communities.

As soon as the young people arrive at Unitierra, they start to work as apprentices. They discover that they need specific skills to do what they want to do. Most of the time, they get those skills by practicing the trade, with or without their mentors. They may choose to attend specific workshops, to shorten the time needed to get those skills.

A classroom at Unitierra. Photo courtesy of
A classroom at Unitierra.
Photo courtesy of

Our “students” have been learning faster than we expected. After a few months they are usually called to return to the living present of their communities to do there what they have learned. They seem to be very useful there. Some of them are combining different lines of learning in a creative way. One of them, for example, combined organic agriculture and soil regeneration (his original interest), with vernacular architecture. He is not offering professional services that allow him to move towards the middle class standard of living by selling services and commodities. He is learning how to share, like peasants, what it means to be a cherished member of his community and commons, as has been done through time immemorial—before the modern rupture.

Discipline and freedom

In Unitierra we are not producing professionals. We have created a convivial place, where we all are enjoying ourselves while learning together. At the same time, both the “students” and their communities soon discover that a stay at Unitierra is not a vacation. True, the students have no classes or projects. In fact, they don’t have any kind of formal obligation. There are no compulsory activities. But they have discipline, and rigor, and commitment—with their group (other “students”), with us (participating in all kinds of activities for Unitierra), and with their communities.

Our “students” do not belong to communities. They are their communities. Of course, they can enjoy themselves and have very long nights of pachanga and many fiestas. But they have a responsibility to their communities, that is, to themselves. And hope. That is why they can have discipline, and rigor, and commitment.

Our “students” have the internal and social structure that is a fundamental condition for real freedom. If you don’t have them, if you are an individual atom within a mass of a collective, you need someone in charge of the organization. The workers of a union, the members of a political party or church, the citizens of a country—all of them need organizers and external forces to keep them together. In the name of security and order, they sacrifice freedom. Real people, knots in nets of relationships, can remain together by themselves, in freedom.

“True learning,” Ivan Illich once said, “can only be the leisurely practice of free people.” In the consumer society, he also said, we are either prisoners of addiction or prisoners of envy. Only without addiction or envy, only without educational goals, in freedom, can we enjoy true learning.

An Immersion in Liberated Spaces“Nations and Identities,” a new study abroad program, will explore how the people in Canada, India, and Mexico are reclaiming their commons or creating new ones. In dialogues with the Mohawk, in Quebec, the Zapatistas in Chiapas, and tribal India, and with non-indigenous groups in all three countries, participants will observe how each is affirming their respective identities and conceiving political horizons and convivial ways of life beyond the nation-state.Interested? International Honors Program,

In Unitierra we have been fruitfully following a suggestion of Paul Goodman, a friend of, and source of inspiration for, Ivan Illich. Goodman once said: “Suppose you had the revolution you are talking and dreaming about. Suppose your side won, and you had the kind of society you wanted. How would you live, you personally, in that society? Start living that way now! Whatever you would do then, do it now. When you run up against obstacles, people, or things that won’t let you live that way, then begin to think about how to get over or around or under that obstacle, or how to push it out of the way, and your politics will be concrete and practical.”

We call Unitierra a university to laugh at the official system and to play with its symbols. After one or two years of learning, once their peers think they have enough competence in a specific trade, we give the “students” a magnificent university diploma. We are thus offering them the social recognition denied to them by the educational system. Instead of certifying the number of ass-hours, as conventional diplomas do, we certify a specific competence, immediately appreciated by the communities, and protect our “students” against the usual discrimination. Most of our graduates are surprising us, however, by not asking for any diploma. They don’t feel the need for it.

We are also celebrating our wise and our elders with modern symbols. We thus offer diplomas of Unitierra to people who perhaps never attended a school or our university. Their competence is certified by their peers and the community. The idea, again, is to use in our own way, with much merriment and humor, all the symbols of domination. Or rather, as Illich says, to misuse for our own purposes what the state or the market produces.

Our diplomas have no use for those who wish to show off or to ask for a job or any privilege. They are an expression of people’s autonomy. As a symbol, they represent the commitment of our “students” to their own communities, not a right to demand anything. Nonetheless, 100 percent of our “graduates” are doing productive work in the area they studied.

But playing with the symbols of the system is not only an expression of humor. It is also a kind of protection. What we are doing is highly subversive. In a sense, we are subverting all the institutions of the modern, economic society. In packaging our activities as one of the most respected sacred cows of modernity—education—we protect our freedom from the attacks of the system.

In my place, every I is a we. And thus we live together, in our living present, rooted in our social and cultural soil, nourishing hopes at a time in which all of us, inspired by the Zapatistas, are creating a whole new world.

Gustavo Esteva wrote this article as part of Liberate Your Space, the Winter 2008 issue of YES! Magazine. Gustavo is a grassroots activist and deprofessionalized intellectual. Author of many books and essays, former advisor to the Zapatistas, and member of several independent organizations and networks, Mexican and international, he lives in an indigenous village in Oaxaca, in southern Mexico. Photo of Gustavo Esteva

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En Español:

Reclamando nuestra libertad para aprender

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by Gustavo Esteva
posted Dec 03, 2007
Una escuela primaria en la villa Zapatista de Oventic, en el estado sureño de Chiapas, México. Foto por Aaron Cain.
Una escuela primaria en la villa Zapatista de Oventic, en el estado sureño de Chiapas, México. Foto por Aaron Cain.

Años atrás comenzamos a observar en pueblos y barrios, particularmente entre pueblos indígenas, una reacción radical contra la educación y las escuelas. Unos pocos cerraron sus escuelas y expulsaron a sus maestros. La mayoría evitaron este tipo de confrontación política y empezaron en cambio a pasar por alto a la escuela, mientras reclamaban y regeneraban las condiciones en la cual la gente tradicionalmente había aprendido a su propio estilo.

La gente de los pueblos sabe muy bien que las escuelas impiden a sus hijos aprender lo que ellos necesitan saber para continuar viviendo en sus comunidades, contribuyendo al bien común, al de la tierra y al de sus lugares. Y la escuela no los prepara para la vida o el trabajo fuera de la comunidad. En muchas comunidades en Oaxaca y Chiapas, México, los padres ya no delegan en la escuela el aprendizaje de sus hijos.

Ellos saben por experiencia lo que usualmente sucede a los que abandonan sus comunidades para lograr una “educación superior.” Se pierden en las ciudades, en trabajos degradantes. Un reciente estudio oficial halló que sólo el ocho por ciento de los graduados de las universidades mexicanas serán capaces de trabajar en el campo en el cual se graduaron. Los abogados e ingenieros están manejando taxis o montando puestos. A pesar de saber esto, la gente todavía mantiene la ilusión de que la educación superior les ofrece algo a sus hijos. No se sienten cómodos negándoles una “oportunidad” tal.

La vida sin maestros
Una vez realizamos un experimento de reflexión en el cual tomamos una sugerencia del autor John McKnight, imaginando un mundo sin dentistas, y lo aplicamos a la profesión de la enseñanza. Durante algunos minutos varias descripciones apocalípticas circularon por nuestra mesa mientras imaginábamos un mundo sin maestros ni enseñanza. Pero luego algo radicalmente diferente comenzó a infiltrarse en nuestra conversación. Imaginamos una miríada de formas en las cuales la gente misma pudiera crear un tipo diferente de vida.

Una de las conclusiones más importantes de nuestra conversación fue el reconocimiento explícito de que aprendemos mejor cuando nadie nos está enseñando. Podemos observar estoy en cada bebé y en nuestra propia experiencia. Nuestras competencias vitales provienen de aprender haciendo, sin ningún tipo de enseñanza.

Apprenticeships enseñan habilidades tradicionales en Unitierra. Foto
Apprenticeships enseñan habilidades tradicionales en Unitierra. Foto

Luego del ejercicio, una pregunta muy práctica llegó a la mesa. Hemos aprendido, con los Zapatistas, que mientras cambiar el mundo es muy difícil, tal vez imposible, sí es posible crear un mundo completamente nuevo. Eso es exactamente lo que los Zapatistas están haciendo en el sur de México. ¿Cómo podemos crear nuestro propio mundo, a nuestra propia pequeña escala humana, en nuestro rinconcito de Oaxaca? ¿Cómo podemos des-escolarizar nuestras vidas y las de nuestros hijos e hijas, en este mundo real, donde la escuela todavía domina a mentes, corazones e instituciones?

El aprendizaje fomenta las habilidades tradicionales en Unitierra
La lección más dramática que deducimos del ejercicio fue descubrir lo que realmente nos estábamos perdiendo en el entorno urbano: las condiciones para el aprendizaje. Cuando todos nosotros exigimos educación e instituciones en las cuales nuestros hijos y jóvenes puedan permanecer y aprender, cerramos los ojos al trágico desierto social en el cual vivimos. No tienen acceso a oportunidades reales de aprender en libertad. En muchos casos, ya no pueden aprender con sus madres, padres, tíos, tías, abuelas y abuelos —nada más hablarles, escuchar sus historias u observarlos en sus ocupaciones diarias. Todo el mundo está ocupado, yendo de un lugar a otro. Ya nadie parece tener la paciencia para compartir con la nueva generación la sabiduría acumulada en una cultura. En vez de educación, lo que en realidad necesitamos son condiciones para una vida decente, una comunidad.

Nuestro desafío, entonces, es encontrar maneras de regenerar la comunidad en la ciudad, para crear un tejido social en el cual todos nosotros, en cualquier edad, podamos ser capaces de aprender y en la cual pueda florecer cualquier tipo de aprendizaje. Al hacer esta investigación radical, nos sorprendimos a nosotros mismos, cada día, cuando descubríamos cuán fácil puede ser crear alternativas y cuánta gente está interesada en la aventura.

Hemos aprendido, con los Zapatistas, que mientras cambiar el mundo es muy difícil, tal vez imposible, sí es posible crear un mundo completamente nuevo.

Así que creamos nuestra universidad, Unitierra. Hombres jóvenes y mujeres sin ningún diploma, y mejor aún sin escolarización, pueden venir a nosotros. Ellos aprenden cualquier cosa que deseen aprender—oficios prácticos, como agricultura urbana, producción de video, o investigación social, o campos de estudio tales como filosofía o comunicación. Aprenden las competencias del oficio o campo de estudio como aprendizajes de alguien que practica tales actividades. También aprenden cómo aprender con herramientas modernas y prácticas no disponibles en sus comunidades.

Tan pronto como los jóvenes llegan a Unitierra, comienzan a trabajar como aprendices. Descubren que necesitan habilidades específicas para hacer lo que quieren hacer. La mayor parte del tiempo, logran esas competencias practicando el oficio, con o sin sus mentores. Pueden elegir atender a talleres específicos, para abreviar el tiempo necesario para lograr esas competencias.

Una sala de enseñanza en Unitierra. Foto de
Una sala de enseñanza en Unitierra. Foto de

Nuestros “estudiantes” han estado aprendiendo más rápido de lo que esperábamos. Luego de unos pocos meses usualmente son llamados para regresar al presente cotidiano de sus comunidades para hacer allí lo que han aprendido. Parecen ser muy útiles allí. Algunos de ellos están combinando diferentes líneas de aprendizaje en una forma creativa. Uno de ellos, por ejemplo, combinó la agricultura orgánica y la regeneración de suelos (su interés original), con la arquitectura local. El no está ofreciendo servicios profesionales que le permitan moverse hacia un estándar de vida de clase media vendiendo sus servicios y artículos. Está aprendiendo a compartir, como los campesinos, lo que significa ser un miembro apreciado de su comunidad y de su pueblo, como ha sido hecho desde tiempos inmemoriales—antes de la ruptura moderna.

Disciplina y libertad
En Unitierra no estamos produciendo profesionales. Hemos creado un lugar de convivencia, donde todos disfrutamos mientras aprendemos juntos. Al mismo tiempo, tanto los “estudiantes” como sus comunidades pronto descubren que una permanencia en Unitierra no son vacaciones. Es cierto, los estudiantes no tiene clases o proyectos. De hecho, no poseen ningún tipo de obligación formal. No hay actividades obligatorias. Pero tienen disciplina, y rigor, y compromiso—con su grupo (otros “estudiantes”), con nosotros (participando en todo tipo de actividades para Unitierra), y con sus comunidades.

Nuestros “estudiantes” no pertenecen a comunidades. Ellos son sus comunidades. Por supuesto, pueden disfrutar y tienen largas noches de pachanga y muchas fiestas. Pero tienen una responsabilidad hacia sus comunidades, es decir, hacia sí mismos. Y esperanza. Por eso es que pueden tener disciplina, y rigor, y compromiso.

Nuestros “estudiantes” tienen la estructura interna y social que es condición fundamental para la verdadera libertad. Si no las posees, si eres un átomo individual dentro de una masa colectiva, necesitas a alguien a cargo de la organización. Los trabajadores de un sindicato, los miembros de un partido político o de la iglesia, los ciudadanos de una nación—todos ellos necesitan organizadores y fuerzas externas para mantenerlos juntos. En nombre de la seguridad y el orden, ellos sacrifican la libertad. La gente real, nudos en redes de relaciones, pueden permanecer juntos por sí mismos, en libertad.

“El verdadero aprendizaje,” dijo una vez Iván Illich, “sólo puede ser la práctica pausada de la gente libre.” En la sociedad de consumo, también dijo, somos tan solo prisioneros de la adicción o prisioneros de la envidia. Tan sólo sin adicción ni envidia, sólo sin objetivos educativos, en libertad, podemos disfrutar el verdadero aprendizaje.

En Unitierra hemos estado siguiendo fructíferamente una sugerencia de Paul Goodman, un amigo de Ivan Illich, y su fuente de inspiración. Goodman dijo una vez: “Supón que has logrado la revolución de la cual estás hablando o soñando. Supón que tu lado ganó, y que tienes el tipo de sociedad que querías. ¿Cómo vivirías, tú personalmente, en esa sociedad? ¡Comienza a vivir así, ahora! Lo que fuera que harías entonces, hazlo ahora. Cuando te enfrentas a obstáculos, gente, o cosas que no te dejen vivir de esa manera, entonces comienza a pensar cómo pasar por encima o al lado o por debajo del obstáculo, o cómo empujarlo fuera del camino, y tus políticas serán concretas y prácticas.”

Llamamos a Unitierra una universidad para reírnos del sistema oficial y para jugar con sus símbolos. Luego de uno o dos años de aprendizaje, una vez que sus colegas piensan que ya tienen suficiente competencia en su oficio específico, les damos a los “estudiantes” un magnífico diploma universitario. Así les estamos ofreciendo el reconocimiento social que el sistema educativo les niega. En vez de certificar el número de horas-burro, como hacen los diplomas convencionales, certificamos una competencia específica, inmediatamente apreciada por las comunidades, y protegemos a nuestros “estudiantes” contra la discriminación usual. La mayoría de nuestros graduados nos están sorprendiendo, sin embargo, al no solicitar ningún diploma. Ellos no sienten que lo necesitan.

También estamos celebrando nuestra sabiduría y a nuestros ancianos con símbolos modernos. Así ofrecemos diplomas de Unitierra a gente que tal vez nunca asistió a una escuela o universidad. Su competencia es certificada por sus colegas y la comunidad. La idea, otra vez, es utilizar a nuestra propia manera, con mucha alegría y humor, todos los símbolos de dominación. O más bien, como dice Illich, explotar para nuestros propios fines lo que el estado o el mercado producen.

Nuestros diplomas no tienen ningún uso para aquellos que desean exhibirse o pedir un puesto de trabajo o cualquier privilegio. Son una expresión de la autonomía de la gente. Como un símbolo, representan el compromiso de nuestros “estudiantes” hacia sus propias comunidades, no un derecho para demandar algo. No obstante, 100 por ciento de nuestros “graduados” están haciendo un trabajo productivo en el área que estudiaron.

Pero jugar con los símbolos del sistema no sólo es una expresión de humor. También es un tipo de protección. Lo que estamos haciendo es altamente subversivo. En un sentido, estamos subvirtiendo todas las instituciones de la sociedad económica moderna. Al empaquetar nuestras actividades como una de las vacas más sagradas de la modernidad—la educación—estamos protegiendo nuestra libertad de los ataques del sistema.

En mi lugar, cada Yo es un Nosotros. Y así vivimos juntos, en nuestro presente cotidiano, enraizados en un nuestro suelo social y cultura, alimentando las esperanzas en un tiempo en el que todos nosotros, inspirados por los Zapatistas, estamos creando un mundo enteramente nuevo.

Gustavo Esteva escribió este artículo para una serie sobre Libera tu espacio, en la edición de invierno 2008 de YES! Magazine. Gustavo es un activista de base e intelectual desprofesionalizado. Autor de varios libros y ensayos, fue consejero de los Zapatistas y miembro de varias organizaciones y redes independientes, mexicanas e internacionales; reside en una villa indígena en Oaxaca, al sur de México.

Traducción por Guillermo Wendorff.



6 comments on “About

  1. Carl Chatski
    August 20, 2012

    I live in Seattle, but am now in Paris France for a while. I am a retired college prof.
    Checkout Paolo Friere ‘The Pedagogy of the Oppressed’
    I’d like to help when I return
    BTW, I’m of the same political persuasion as Paul Goodman.

  2. armoire
    May 10, 2013

    Thank you so much for this. I’m a writer out of Obdach, Austria and what I just read here on couldn’t be said
    any better. Perusing this article reminds me of my college roommate, Jerrod.
    He always kept preaching about this. I will definitely send these ideas to him.
    I’m certain he will have a good time reading this. I am thankful to you you for sharing this.

  3. Jeff Nguyen
    March 4, 2014

    I would second the earlier comment to check out “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, if you haven’t already. Freire’s vision of education and praxis parallels the vision you offer here. He rejected the “banking” model of education which sees students as empty vessels for teachers to “deposit” knowledge into. We see the dogmatic approach to education in the U.S. reflected in the society-at-large where the marginalized are talked down to rather than meaningful dialogues taking place between groups with opposing viewpoints.

    • freeuniverseity
      March 21, 2014

      Jeff, I am familliar with “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” as well as some other of Friere’s works. I very much agree with his critique of the “banking” model of education. However, I think there is a very solid critique of Friere made in the piece I mention above “From a Pedagogy for Liberation to Liberation from Pedagogy” by Madhu Suri Prakash, Gustavo Esteva, and Dana Stuchul. I highly recommend reading that for all fans of Friere as it provides a, I think, on point and necessary critique of his focus on literacy as a necessary tool to arm the consciousness of “the oppressed” so that they may understand and thus overcome their oppression. Contrast that approach with the critiques of Ivan Illich against education and colonial literacy more generally, and I think there is a strong argument to be made (as they do in the piece I linked) that Friere did the work of the colonizer, despite his best intentions. In addition to the critique of Friere I linked, I recommend Illich’s Deschooling Society , Tools for Conviviality and ABC: The Alfabetization of the Popular Mind by Ivan Illich and Barry Sanders.

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