Imagine an alternative to the traditional education model, a school that runs on a barter system so students can offer goods and supplies or special services and advice to their teachers and fellow students. This idea led to the genesis of Trade School, a self-organized learning space where its students can pay in many ways — but never with money.

From September 28 to October 28, Trade School was held at the Sheila C Johnson Design Center at Parsons The New School For Design, as part of the semester-long ‘Art, Environment, Action!’ exhibit. The classes took place on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays from six to nine p.m. and on weekends from noon to six p.m.

“I really enjoy it,” said Mindy Tchiew, 27, a New York University graduate. On October 20, she attended a class on cyanotype, which is a photographic printing process that produces a cyan blueprint of objects. “It’s a great way to take advantage of the sunlight,” she added and explained that paper and chemicals were used with light-sensitive paper to make photographs without using a camera.

Co-founders Caroline Woolard, Louise Ma, and Rich Watts, of Our Goods, a New York based bartering and support network for artists, worked together on the concept of Trade School.  

“We had the idea that ‘barter for instruction’ had a lot of potential,” said Woolard, a co-organizer for Trade School New York. “Barter based education is one of many ways to create a sense of interdependence between people. We hope to find a long term storefront space or basement in Manhattan to hold classes out of and store materials and tools in. Most current members of the collective are committed to the project for the long run.”

Trade School “celebrates practical wisdom, mutual respect, and the social nature of exchange,” according to its website.

Since 2010, Trade School has held classes whenever spaces and storefronts have been available in New York. It has even grown outside of the city, with other Trade Schools in Los Angeles and New Haven, as well as around the world, such as in London, Milan, Paris, and Guadalajara.

Trade School has taught classes such as: “Visionary Design and Non-Violent Civil Protest,” “Video Game Design for Artists and Everyone Else,” and “Barter: Theory and Practice.” The classes at Trade School can be taught by anyone who presents a class idea that is approved through the collective in Trade School New York.

“Money never trades hands with us, so our classes happen when we have space,” said Rachel Steinberg, 26, a co-organizer who once took classes with Trade School before volunteering and was involved in Free University last month.

Similarly, Free University, unaffiliated with the Trade School, took place in Madison Square Park where an assortment of classes were free and open to the public in efforts to take classes out of the classroom and remove money from education. Leaders of the classes consisted of professors and students from various universities and organizations within New York City.

Woolard considers Trade School and Free University to be allied organizations that have “overlapping communities of teachers, students and friends.”

“We’ve taught there in the past, and they’ve taught at Trade School,” she said. “Cooperation between alternative schools is essential because we share a vision about debt-free education.”

While there are those pushing for free education as a right, some students feel differently, such as Aaron Harman, 18, a first semester freshman at Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts.

“It seems like the start of something good,” said Harman, who was not involved in either Trade School or Free University, but learned about them through friends. “I like the communal and social aspect of it, but I feel the classes help people on a personal level, rather than a professional one. I mean I am in college to earn a degree so I don’t think they [Trade School and Free University] should be equivalent to students who pay or earned scholarships and such for an actual degree.”


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Charlotte is majoring in Journalism + Design at Eugene Lang College and graduated high school in Bamberg, Germany. Her father is a soldier so she grew up moving around a lot. Outside of her interest in journalism, she is an aspiring novelist & screenplay writer who dabbles in acting. Charlotte loves reading, writing, road trips, red wine, videogames, music, sketch comedy and tennis.


  1. Trade School is a great project and if my kids are old enough I will send them to this school. Swapping is wonderful and it saves a lot of money. I trade my goods and services on! Great site which is for free, too!

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