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A hipster schoolhouse started by a pair of underemployed polymaths
April 5, 2012 8:14 AM   Subscribe

On a recent Monday night, a gaggle of 20-somethings crammed into a former Curves fitness center along the industrial edge of Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn. The storefront gym had been carved into two classrooms... It was just another school night at [Metafilter's* own] Brooklyn Brainery, a hipster schoolhouse started by a pair of underemployed polymaths, where students can learn abstruse subjects like the secret lives of bacteria, taught by teachers with few teaching credentials. Tuition is $5 to $30, enrollment takes place online and PayPal is accepted.

*Well, not Metafilter's own, soma lkzx's own, but you know what I mean.
posted by dersins (57 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
“It was very interesting,” he said. “But dead kittens are hard to come by.”

Funnily enough, elsewhere in Brooklyn, there's an anthropomorphic mouse taxidermy class where you get a free dead mouse.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:22 AM on April 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: stuffed kittens, a whimsical tableau

Seriously, though, this sounds like any small town's "community education" offerings. I don't think the hipsters can claim to be first at this.
posted by HuronBob at 8:23 AM on April 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Meh. I was teaching about things I know nothing about before it was cool.
posted by Big_B at 8:23 AM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


What the hell? This place is both popular and relevant. What in god's name is it doing in the NYT Style section?
posted by griphus at 8:25 AM on April 5, 2012 [10 favorites]


I'm so glad that it's going well, congrats soma - I remember that original thread about the name.

The amount of times they put 'hipster' in that article is further proof that NYT style is just a well-financed troll.
posted by Think_Long at 8:27 AM on April 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wikipedia having filled up, now they're going after Curves franchises?
posted by fatbird at 8:30 AM on April 5, 2012


Young, smart, passionate people doing things in a city? *shakes fist* HIIIIIPPPPSSTTTEEERRRSSS
posted by naju at 8:30 AM on April 5, 2012 [34 favorites]


Thrilled to see that this is a success. From what I know of the people who run this, they are sincere and awesome and deserve success.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:31 AM on April 5, 2012


a hipster schoolhouse

People who do things in Minneapolis are people. People who do things in Brooklyn are hipsters. Got it, NYT.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:32 AM on April 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


Sounds great! I'm going to take classes there and volunteer to teach some too. Fun!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:32 AM on April 5, 2012


Snark aside, I would totally go to this if it were in the Philly suburbs, and I'm as far out of the hipster demo as I can be without sending you a sweater for your birthday with some newspaper clippings and a $5 bill.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:35 AM on April 5, 2012 [13 favorites]


What in god's name is it doing in the NYT Style section?

Because its the usual, hip, fluff piece between proclamations about in depth reporting and being the paper of record from the grey lady that are pretty much what that rag is about these days.

There probably was some room, and it fit, so it printed.
posted by lampshade at 8:36 AM on April 5, 2012


Didn't they use to do this up the street on Union and 5th at that bar...what the hell is it called...Union Hall?
posted by spicynuts at 8:37 AM on April 5, 2012


HuronBob had it right and it is worth repeating. I am glad that Brooklyn has finally caught up with trends established in small towns all over this country a long time ago...this is local community-based education....it is very common and there is absolutely nothing new here. The fact that the NYT is playing this up as something new created by Hipsters just shows you how provincial and out of touch even the most supposedly cosmopolitan places can be. Oh...and I can get a very good cup of coffee in my small town as well! But I am sure the hipsters in Brooklyn probably think they invented the coffee shop.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 8:38 AM on April 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Neat-o. Not unlike Portland's Research Club.
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:40 AM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Does something like this exist in the Bay Area? It feels like it should.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:41 AM on April 5, 2012


But I am sure the hipsters in Brooklyn probably think they invented the coffee shop.

You should e-mail soma and tell him what he probably thinking
posted by Greg Nog at 8:42 AM on April 5, 2012 [9 favorites]


Seymour if you had read the article and the MetaProjects post you would realize the founders very much know this isn't groundbreaking in the world--but in New York there is no organized and cheap version of the local community educational resource. I'm not sure why you think anyone's invested in this being the first of its kind or something? It's clearly just a great idea being executed really well!

As the article mentions, the attitude is reminiscent of the educational theories that founded my alma mater St. John's college in the 40s. I'm sure there were some random haters back then going "Ugh I bet Mortimer Adler thinks he invented the trivium, I liked this idea better when it was called THE AGORA, HELLO!"
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:46 AM on April 5, 2012 [9 favorites]


Fuck the new york times for ruining another conversation with this moronic hateful word. Fuck them to hell.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:47 AM on April 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


People who do things in Minneapolis are people. People who do things in Brooklyn are hipsters. Got it, NYT.

Parts of Minneapolis are overrun with hipsters. Though I don't think EXCO is.
posted by hoyland at 8:50 AM on April 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


The coffee shop, as we know it today, was actually invented in Chicago in 1926. J. Hamilton Sneed. Sneed, in an attempt to combine the newly-invented telephone and radio, mis-aligned a number of capacitors and caused a small explosion in his lab. When he came to, all of his equipment had been destroyed and the inside of the lab was covered with a thick layer of chemical soot. Cleaning up, Sneed realized that under the layer of grime was a series of tables just slightly too small for a laptop computer, mismatched chairs with matchbooks under three legs, a third-hand espresso machine with a permanent OUT OF ORDER sign, and many other accouterments we now associate with the contemporary coffee shop.
posted by griphus at 8:50 AM on April 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


Hipster schoolhouse, way to make something neat sound absolutely dreadful. Also, I didn't know I wanted to taxidermy a mouse until just now.
posted by Mavri at 8:51 AM on April 5, 2012


The Smoothie though actually was invented in Prospect Heights in 2002 by a ritalin-addled 24 year old barista who thought the blender was a first gen iPod.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:52 AM on April 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Seriously, though, this sounds like any small town's "community education" offerings. I don't think the hipsters can claim to be first at this.

So what you're saying is, they were doing it before it was cool?

Also, I grew up in a small town, and there wasn't really anything quite like this, although I'm sure other places have similar things. Who cares? It sounds fun.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:58 AM on April 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


“It was very interesting,” he said. “But dead kittens are hard to come by.”

Pretty sure it's easy enough to get dead kittens in Red Hook, which is close enough. I picked up a barely surviving one a few years ago, but unfortunately nursed her back to health.
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 8:58 AM on April 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am reminded to ask my local hackerspace folks, who do things like this, if they'd like to have any classes taught by am unemployed young philosopher.

Arduino and Virtue Ethics: How to Thrive as a Sumo Bot
posted by edguardo at 9:02 AM on April 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yay Brooklyn Brainery! I took a class there a couple years ago.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:04 AM on April 5, 2012


I'm not sure why you think anyone's invested in this being the first of its kind or something? It's clearly just a great idea being executed really well!

Knowledge Commons DC is worth a look, too.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:08 AM on April 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


So basically TED for people with less money and longer attention spans?
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:09 AM on April 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Neat-o. Not unlike Portland's Research Club.

Heyyy, I know what I'm doing last Sunday in April! Hadn't heard of this before. It looks like they (mostly) only do things once a month, though?
posted by curious nu at 9:12 AM on April 5, 2012



Parts of Minneapolis are overrun with hipsters. Though I don't think EXCO is.


EXCO has its hipsters and its punks and its radicals and its polymaths and its moonlighting faculty. It's also free...sometimes you can even get a grant to buy materials for a class. But there's no permanent space like the Brainery seems to have, and classes seem to be a bit more hit-and-miss. (I've both taught and taken EXCO classes.)

EXCO is an intentionally political community-organizing project with several chapters in the Twin Cities, including one for Spanish-speakers. The classes range from the craft/practical (bike repair, beer brewing, cooking on a budget) to basic programming to history and literature. There's no governing ideology - ie, you don't have to be a socialist or a liberal or an anarchist to participate - but the project was inspired by ideas about popular education in the Paolo Freire mode.

What does seem a bit hipstery about the Brainery is the name and the fact that the classes seem cued to fashionable sensibilities - although it strikes me just now that it's weird how taxidermy and artisan meat are trendy. But you have to meet people where they are - much better to learn taxidermy and snow-globe-making than nothing at all.

I'd be curious about how the student demographics work out. EXCO is always intended to be as accessible as possible - hence being free and the focus on getting multilingual stuff going. But you pretty much have to be plugged in to certain subcultures - not just anarchist, but definitely neighborhood-organizer or city gardening - to find out about it which means that although it is more class- and race-diverse than you might fear, there is still work to be done.

The Brainery obviously needs to support its space and thus needs to charge for classes (and needs to have classes that people with money will take). Which limits accessibility, but then accessibility is probably already limited because New York is so large and the neighborhoods have fairly specific character - you can reasonably go from one end of MPLS to the other for a free class, but in New York not so much.

Actually having a permanent space sounds fantastic, though - you can store your stuff rather than cart it around, everyone knows where things are happening, you have a degree of institutional permanence, you can control the noise level and warmth in the space, you can decorate the space. And so you have a stronger community/constituency around the project...That sounds like one GIANT upside to charging money.

It would be pretty neat to have some kind of conference of new model education folks - projects like EXCO or the Brainery but also any community ed folks who felt that they were doing things in new ways or for a new constituency.
posted by Frowner at 9:22 AM on April 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


...you can reasonably go from one end of MPLS to the other for a free class, but in New York not so much.

I'm not sure what you mean by this. Most employed people take public transportation, which means they have unlimited-ride MetroCards. The Brooklyn Brainery is equidistant from three train lines (five or six on the weekends, depending on construction.) It's also located in close proximity (a handful of train stops) to Queens and Manhattan. So unless you're in SI or the Bronx, they have a very accessible location.

[G train jokes go here]
posted by griphus at 9:28 AM on April 5, 2012


Does something like this exist in the Bay Area? It feels like it should.

East Bay Free Skool. They're short on math classes...
posted by Zed at 9:30 AM on April 5, 2012


everyone knows that the g train is just an urban legend
posted by elizardbits at 9:33 AM on April 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Another variation on this idea, in NYC: The Public School. On the other end of the spectrum, Secret Science Club.

everyone knows that the g train is just an urban legend

it's fucking not a legend when i need the f train, that's fer shure
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:34 AM on April 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Most employed people take public transportation..."

Good job switching ideas mid-stream there, brain.
posted by griphus at 9:35 AM on April 5, 2012


Yeah, I saw the G train for the first time in about 12 years the other day. TWO of them passed before the F I wanted finally showed up. TWO!

TRAAAAAAAAAAINS! do not like.
posted by elizardbits at 9:38 AM on April 5, 2012


When I was a kid, I took the F train and usually transferred to the G to get to high school. Eventually, I realized that waiting 20 minutes for the G instead of taking the regularly-arriving M/R and walking a few extra blocks was how I could not fail every first-period class I ever took.

TEN YEARS LATER, I got on the F train in the morning to go to work, fell asleep assuming I would wake up around 34th like I usually do, and woke up on the Clinton-Washington G train stop. I didn't think a train line could be spiteful, but, hey, there you go.
posted by griphus at 9:39 AM on April 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


So unless you're in SI or the Bronx, they have a very accessible location.

It's an hour and four minutes from my house via the F train. And I live almost on top of an F train stop. If I was say... a student at St. John's University it would be more than an hour and 20 minutes. And that's assuming the Q31 actually shows up, which is a big assumption. It's not the cost of the transportation that becomes prohibitive, but the 3 hours spent in transit there and back.
posted by Jahaza at 9:46 AM on April 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Seriously, though, this sounds like any small town's "community education" offerings. I don't think the hipsters can claim to be first at this.

And I believe the NYT Style section was the first to develop snide derision, so you're out in the cold one that one.

The most interesting thing about all of this is that our students really aren't hipsters. We get a ton of people from Manhattan, and the as-seen-on-TV hipsters up in Williamsburg rarely make the trek down to South Brooklyn to see us. I wouldn'tve expected it, but it's true.

Actually having a permanent space sounds fantastic, though - you can store your stuff rather than cart it around, everyone knows where things are happening, you have a degree of institutional permanence, you can control the noise level and warmth in the space, you can decorate the space. And so you have a stronger community/constituency around the project...That sounds like one GIANT upside to charging money.

The Brainery obviously needs to support its space and thus needs to charge for classes (and needs to have classes that people with money will take).

When we started out ages upon ages ago, we were renting our space by the hour. We'd have to trek down there with bags of whatever random stuff we were teaching about that night, then lug it all back home when it was all over with. Highly unpleasant.

We would love to have everything be free! Unfortunately for us, landlords demand rent in money form and the ConEd doesn't accept friendship bracelets for electricity. Trade School is a really awesome institution that is completely barter-based, but as a result they need to be run in a much different way than the Brainery does.

Accessibility is definitely one of our buzzwords, though. We try to keep class prices down to what we wouldn't mind paying for them.
posted by soma lkzx at 9:47 AM on April 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


If I was say... a student at St. John's University it would be more than an hour and 20 minutes. And that's assuming the Q31 actually shows up, which is a big assumption. It's not the cost of the transportation that becomes prohibitive, but the 3 hours spent in transit there and back.

Sure, but STJ has always existed in a nightmare zone of commuter hell. That's why so many of the students there have cars.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:50 AM on April 5, 2012


What does seem a bit hipstery about the Brainery is the name and the fact that the classes seem cued to fashionable sensibilities - although it strikes me just now that it's weird how taxidermy and artisan meat are trendy.

Oh, and I'd say this is just the result of pulling teachers from the community. We get a lot of stuff that flies under the hipster radar, too. The past month or two has seen classes on home buying, NYC energy infrastructure, the Brontë sisters, grant writing. So yeah, not always so cool.
posted by soma lkzx at 9:52 AM on April 5, 2012


...ConEd doesn't accept friendship bracelets for electricity.

Fucking Giuliani.
posted by griphus at 9:56 AM on April 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


They also really don't like it when you pretend to have a gas leak in order to jump the customer service queue to ask about your bill.

i mean so i hear
posted by elizardbits at 10:03 AM on April 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


And ps, the hipstery name is Metafilter's fault.
posted by soma lkzx at 10:03 AM on April 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


[G train jokes go here]

If they go, they can't be G train jokes, can they?
posted by RogerB at 10:05 AM on April 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: where you get a free dead mouse
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:27 AM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


"And I believe the NYT Style section was the first to develop snide derision, so you're out in the cold one that one."

Looks like we both are, eh? ;-)

Actually, I wasn't meaning to be derisive, sorry I came across that way, I have upmost respect for what you're doing. I was just trying to point out that there's a lot of community based non-traditional learning going on, if people are interested they should just check locally.
posted by HuronBob at 11:42 AM on April 5, 2012


HuronBob, you say we should just check locally but where and how?
This is outside of the community college systems and outside of the parks and recreation councils.
posted by Librarygeek at 12:53 PM on April 5, 2012


Around here, these kind of classes are often offered by the local school districts "community education program", frequently taught by local folks with an interest (as opposed to credentials) in the area being taught. I also see some more focused classes offered by special interest groups, for example birding classes by the local bird watchers group, fly tying classes by the fly fishing club that fishes the local river, etc. I've also seen similar classes offered at pretty reasonable prices by the Community College here. Our local substance abuse treatment center offers free classes to parents of adolescents around issues such as substance abuse, parenting, etc. I see similar offerings from our local non-profit teen health center.

As to "how", I think it's a matter of being connected to the community. With social media it's easier than it used to be (our teen health center uses facebook to announce offerings).
posted by HuronBob at 1:11 PM on April 5, 2012


...fly tying classes by the fly fishing club that fishes the local river...

Anyone in Brooklyn interested in taking a fishing class? There's some ...interesting... marine life in the Gowanus. BYOHarpoon; the lobstermen tend to put up quite a fight.
posted by griphus at 1:20 PM on April 5, 2012


I've been thinking actually of offering my own courses on computers and programming - but unfortunately the economics of what they offer their teachers is a little harsh.

It seems they pay $30 an hour, and there's no mention of paying for prep time. In my experience, when you teach a class, between prep, travel time, and answering people's questions out of class time, you end up spending at least one unpaid hour for every teaching hour, which means $15 an hour net...

It still might be a good place to raise my profile to get more students if I decided to run such a course (my actual plan is to offer it this summer in Berlin to "get me out of the house").

(What are the courses? Well, I have one I've offered before, and one that's new. The old one I might now call "Godlike Mastery over Computers and the Internet" :-D, and that would take non-technical people who were open to computers and bring them to a point where they understand how computers work, how the internet operates, and a little something about how computer programs function. The new one would be "Programming: From Zero To Hero," is intended for people who have already exhibited some sort of technical mastery over computers but have done little or no programming, and uses mainly Python to take you in a couple of fairly intensive months from nothing to the point where you have a functioning, dynamic (program-based) website on the App Engine. But, as you can imagine, I can't afford to run the second one for $60 a week...)

Sorry for the selfish musing out loud, hope it gave you some entertainment!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:23 PM on April 5, 2012


you can reasonably go from one end of MPLS to the other for a free class, but in New York not so much.

Ha... while I was on the EXCO site to check the link, I thought "Gee, I should do that bike repair class." Next thought, "I'm not going to St Paul."

I was going to deny being part of a subculture that would lead one to hear of EXCO, but then I remember those times when a friend says "I live in a co-op" and I'm the only person in the room not looking at him blankly. Help! I'm part of a subculture!
posted by hoyland at 1:46 PM on April 5, 2012


The Sibley bike depot is like a 20 minute ride on the #16 bus from downtown. They're totally cool, you should come and check it out (not that I've been there in awhile).
posted by Think_Long at 3:00 PM on April 5, 2012


I'm not sure what you mean by this. Most employed people take public transportation, which means they have unlimited-ride MetroCards. The Brooklyn Brainery is equidistant from three train lines (five or six on the weekends, depending on construction.) It's also located in close proximity (a handful of train stops) to Queens and Manhattan. So unless you're in SI or the Bronx, they have a very accessible location.

I mean that New York is a lot bigger than Minneapolis! If I'm over Northeast and I want to go to Uptown for a class, it's a little time consuming...but not as time-consuming as going from one end of New York to the other. (When I lived in Chicago, which is...somewhat smaller than New York, taking the El from the North Side down to the Du Sable museum on the South Side was a real excursion, not just something that I'd do after work. So I assume that New York is similar.) Which means that the Brainery seems like it would draw on a smaller percentage of the city's population than EXCO does, even though it may have larger absolute numbers of potential attendees. And I assume that this places some more restrictions on class, race and subculture.
posted by Frowner at 8:15 AM on April 6, 2012


There's some ...interesting... marine life in the Gowanus.

gonorrhea is not traditionally referred to as "marine life"
posted by elizardbits at 9:19 AM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


...but not as time-consuming as going from one end of New York to the other.

See, I don't actually know how long that takes. Although, by my recollection, the amount of time it takes to go from Downtown West (I'm going by what Google Maps is calling it) to the Mall of America is roughly (45 minutes or so?) the amount of time it takes to get from the southern tip of Brooklyn (where I live) to the neighborhood the Brooklyn Brainery is in. That train ride goes through everything from projects housing to multi-million dollar suburban-style houses. Often enough, said projects and fancy houses are walking distance from one another. So going through Brooklyn alone, you're basically representing the full gamut of race/class/subculture. Stay on most trains going through Brooklyn or Queens for, literally, 45 minutes and you'll go from poverty to upper-middle-class/lower-upper-class and back again, although the Really Bad Poverty tends to be on the fringes. It's a little trickier with Queens because of the way the trains are laid out over there, but it's more-or-less the same situation. For a resident of Queens or Brooklyn, 45 minutes to get to somewhere that isn't their own neighborhood is reasonable; it's probably the length of an average work commute. You can also make it from Harlem to the Lower East Side -- which is about a half-hour outside of Carroll Gardens -- in a half-hour, although that's a best case scenario. Bronx and Staten Island are, again, considerably more out of reach. Also, if you take a look at the map, the location is almost as central as you can get without actually having Big Money back the project.

gonorrhea is not traditionally referred to as "marine life"

Any Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium that has managed to survive down there deserves American citizenship and a Section 8 apartment.
posted by griphus at 9:40 AM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


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