Duct tape creations. Who are the trees in your neighborhood? Sourdough bread baking. Sustainable investing. Improv or the fine art of making it up as you go along. When in doubt, swing out!
These titles sit among the available courses at the Trade School Toronto (TSTO). Their two-hour classes range from urban forestry to learning the eight-count lindy hop. and you can learn it all for the price of a vegan meal, song, baking sheet, or even the simple promise to try swing dancing again.
Trade School—part of a global network of learning spaces run exclusively on barter—is not a conventional academic institution. Anyone can teach a class, and as a fee, students offer items that might interest the teacher. It’s a manifestation of the move away from traditional pay-for-education systems to alternative, more accessible learning models.
“Trade School calls into question all the things we know about education, who is qualified to teach, and who is eligible to learn,” says Judy Verseghy, a TSTO organizer. “By removing financial barriers to education, the entire system is opened up, creating a more inclusive environment for information sharing.”
This move—as the course list suggests—also adds diversity to the potential list of subjects taught. and perhaps more importantly, what people want to learn.
Modern barter-for-knowledge education began in 2010 with a small group of community organizers and artists in New York. Since then, it has spread to over 40 cities around the world. the first of its kind in Canada, trade School toronto launched in September 2012 with over a hundred students in its first few days of classes.
“I had just moved from Winnipeg and was looking for ways to get involved and meet people in the city,” one of the school’s first students, anny Chen, recalls. “I took a class called DIY Natural Beauty Products in exchange for a rice and lentil dish. The teacher generously offered up her own space to teach this class. everyone just crammed in there and made things like sunscreen and body spray.”
Verseghy agrees it makes the city feel more intimate. “You can get really lost in Toronto. there are so many people who walk past you, but you never really say hello to anybody. TSTO gives torontonians the opportunity to make those connections.”
Finding space has been a struggle for the organizers, who have thus far relied on donations from teachers, art galleries, and universities. “We’d like to find somewhere permanent but free,” says lead organizer Nico Koenig. “Accessible space that people can use for no profit is really hard to find in Toronto.”
In the meantime, Trade School continues to pride itself on the learning environment it’s built. the social nature of exchange quenches students’ thirst for knowledge. No prerequisites needed.