When you say “School” to someone in the United States, they usually think of a college or a grade school, backpacks, florescent lighting, classrooms with desks or lecture halls. But that’s a very…first-world, privileged, view of schooling. There are hundreds of different ways to get an education, and millions of things worth studying that you aren’t going to find in standardized testing curriculum. To open your eyes and your mind a little bit – and maybe make you a little grateful – here are 25 Unusual Schools That Actually Exist.
The Grey School of Wizardry
A non-religious, non-profit school focusing on classical education, they state, “The first Mystery Schools of Wizards like Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, and Ptolemy gave us Classical Education. At Grey School, you earn a magical, classical education from our secular School of Wizardry.” They offer 16 departments and four Colleges (or *cough* houses) that students under 18 are sorted into: Sylphs, Salamanders, Undines, or Gnomes. Their Motto “Omnia vivunt, omnia inter se conexa” means ” All things live, all things were linked together.”
This school isn’t actually weird, it’s just awesome. They started in Germany as Waldkindergartens, but now they’re in various places across the US as well. The general idea is that you take away the rigid structure of a classroom that small children are too young for anyway, and immerse them in nature with a plant focused, more free-form curriculum. Do they make Forest Colleges? Please yes? Post-Grad programs?
Twice a year, Bangladesh floods, and this leaves most people without basic life necessities, much less the ability to go to school. Fortunately, there’s a nonprofit called Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha that builds important things – like heath care centers, homes, and schools – that float. The boats are solar powered, and the boat schools all have a small library, internet access, and at least one laptop. They were started in 2002, and some 70,000 children have attended boat schools since then.
You may have heard of the infamous “Body Farm,” located in Knoxville, TN. It belongs to the University of Tennessee’s forensic anthropology department, and they study human remains and decomposition. Bodies that are donated to science are put in any of a variety of situations, much like a body may find itself in in the real world, and they study what happens over time.
Prostitution is legal in Spain, and there’s a school for it. It’s called Trabajo Ya! and is located in Valencia, Spain. Opened in May of 2012, the school faced legal trouble for those who are biased against professional sex workers, but a judge threw out their cases as having no basis.
There’s a Gladiator school in Rome, run by a man who goes by “Nero” during business hours. It offers two hour classes that teach the basics of Roman combat and sword play, as well as offering lectures on Ancient Roman combat.
Despite what some Western cities may have led us to believe, learning doesn’t require a big fancy state-of-the-art building. In Miao Village, China (one of the poorest places in the country), locals set up an elementary school in a cave for their children, called Dongzhong. Sadly, Chinese authorities closed it down in 2011 after more than two decades of operation. They stated that, “China isn’t a society of cavemen,” and that it made the nation look bad. No word on if those authorities decided to build them a proper school though.
The Harvey Milk High School
This school in New York is named after the gay rights activist, and it directly caters to the needs and protection of LGBTQ+ students. The school charter states that it’s open to any student regardless of sexual orientation. The school started helping at risk teens obtain a GED in 1985. In 2003, they started directly issuing high school diplomas.
The Philippine Mermaid Swimming Academy
This academy started in the Philippines but is now international, with classes held all over the world. And, well, it teaches the fin challenged how to don a mermaid tail and live out their dreams under the sea (for as long as they can hold their breath). Mermaids and Mermen of all ages are welcome.
Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, is a private liberal arts university that specializes in contemplative education. It’s college, Buddhist style. When you consider the neurotic partying, sleep deprivation, and massive amounts of stress that are normal parts of American college life, Naropa University is weird. Beautifully, mindfully, weird.
St John's College
One of the oldest colleges in the US, St John’s College in Annapolis, MD offers exactly one degree: a Bachelor’s in Liberal Arts. There’s a second campus in New Mexico, and each campus enrolls around 450 students. What’s lovely and weird about this particular school is that they forego traditional textbooks AND classes, and students read what they refer to as “Great Books.” They also engage with teachers and peers in open dialogue over Western Philosophy, science, history, religion, etc.
Deep Springs College
This college in Dyer, California, has a tiny student body, but it’s not the kind of college most people would do well in anyway. Students are responsible for running the ranch – milking cows, herding cows, other…cow and ranch things – in addition to classes. The idea is that manual labor and thoughtful political discourse are an important part of a liberal arts degree. To that end, Deep Springs ensures that their student body receives plenty of both. Many students graduate and go on to attend Ivy League Universities. Oh and tuition? Every student is there on a full $50k/yr scholarship.
Pensacola Christian College
Pensacola Christian College is an Independent Fundamental Baptist college in Pensacola, Florida, and they have some…interesting rules. Like the school reserving the right to look at your computer or files at any time with no given reason; women going out must be in groups of five or more; no music other than approved gospel music and classical; members of the opposite sex are not allowed to be alone together, or touch, at any time; men’s hair must be short enough to not touch the collar or ears; and women’s skirts must be long enough to cover the top of the kneecap when sitting. Also the local circle K is off limits to all students at all times. No matter what. This is not a joke; this is how college-aged adults are treated, lest they be tempted by the world, and fall into sin. Or original thought.
The Elf School (Álfaskólinn)
Iceland takes it’s Elvish Lore pretty seriously. The Elf School, called Álfaskólinn in Icelandic, has a curriculum covers general Icelandic folklore and includes an optional 5 hour tour of Elf homes or possible elf homes. It’s probably important to add here that 54% of the nation believes that Elves are real, so, go with an open mind.
Ruchika Social Service Organization
India is arguably the most densely populated nation on earth, and most of its children live in poverty. When you live in poverty, an education of any kind is sometimes considered a luxury. A school teacher named Inderjit Khurana used to take the train to work, and she decided to do something for these children. She brought school to the train platform, where she would make a chalk outline on the ground, and teach the children. Her basic goal was to make them literate, and now what she started in 1985, the Ruchika Social Service Organization, helps with drop in shelters for abandoned children, medical care, and trains young adults for basic jobs that can start them on the path out of poverty. Though Inderjit Khurana died in 2010, her legacy of train platform schools continues all over India to this day.
Maharishi University of Management
This university is not a school of business management, but rather life management, as they believe that all aspects of our lives require…management. They practice what they call Consciousness-Based learning, and only take one course per month to minimize stress. In addition, all faculty and students are required to participate in daily meditation to develop their consciousness; the founder – Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – believes that practicing transcendental meditation leads to increased intelligence and improved health.
Tree Climbing Planet
Have you ever wanted to be really, like REALLY good at climbing trees? There’s a school for that. It’s called Tree Climbing Planet, and it’s located in Oregon. Not only is this just unbelievably cool, it allows people to access parts of the world they never considered. Plus they get their feet off the ground in a way that doesn’t require an engine or large rocks. Their mission is as follows, “To provide the safest known technical tree climbing techniques, while creating accessibility to the canopy for all.”
Gupton-Jones College of Funeral Service
This school is exactly what it sounds like, a College catering to those students who wish to have a career in the funeral business. They do take basic core classes such as math and history, but all specialized courses revolve around end-of-life services, from Principles of Embalming to Mortuary Law/ Ethics. While some might joke about such a thing, these people are dedicating their lives to helping others deal with one of the most difficult things we all experience, the passing of a loved one. So, yay that there’s a specific school to help them do just that.
The Tempest Freerunning Academy
Growing up, some people hate gym class. For others, it was the best part of the day. For those in the latter category, there’s The Tempest Freerunning Academy. It’s basically a giant playground for parkour, traceurs, and freerunners, with ramps, walls, and other fun things to run and jump off of.
The West Philadelphia School of the Future
Founded in 2006, The West Philadelphia School of the Future has no textbooks, chalk or dry erase boards, and does not issue grades with letters. Students use personal computers in lieu of books, maths are taught on OneNote, and teachers use Smart Boards in the classroom. As lovely and advanced as all this sounds, the school had a rocky start, and its first year students didn’t meet the district required educational assessments. However, a decade later, the school is currently considered a success, and enrollment is determined by a lottery.
Hamburger University is a real thing, but sadly, it doesn’t teach you how to make perfect hamburgers. But it DOES teach you the ins and outs and ups and downs of McDonald’s restaurant management. Founded in 1971, over 80,000 McDonald’s managers, owner/operators have graduated from Hamburger University.
Santa Clause School
The oldest Santa Clause School in the world (oldest, not only) is located in Midland, Michigan. Founded by a former Macy’s Santa in 1937, the school exists to “uphold the traditions and preserve the history of Santa Claus while providing students with the necessary resources to improve and further define their individual presentations of Santa Claus.” They will celebrate their 80th anniversary this year.
The Brooklyn Free School
The Brooklyn Free School allows its students to be just that – free. A private school, it’s not held to the same standards and state testing as other schools. It allows the children to make the rules, guide their own learning experience, and choose their own classes, with the guidance of teachers, their peers, and the community as a whole. They’re a part of something called the Democratic Free School movement.
The Conjuring Arts Research Center
The Conjuring Arts Research Center in New York is “dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of magic and its allied arts, which include psychic phenomenon, hypnosis, deceptive gambling, science and history of playing cards, mentalism, ventriloquism, juggling, and sleight of hand techniques.” Their Library is in a boring looking building in Chelsea, and you can make an appointment to research for up to two hours at a time via the center’s librarian.
Sadly, it closed in 1997, but Clown College – founded by Irvin Feld, owner of Ringling Bros. Circus – was a real thing. Classes were held in Wisconsin and Florida and taught the fundamentals of, uh, clowning: Makeup, pantomime, stilt walking, costume design, and juggling.
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Photo Credits: feature image: shutterstock, 25. shutterstock, 24. pexels (public domain), 23. Marufish via flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, 22. Lisa Bailey via flickr, CC BY 2.0, 21. wikimedia commons (public domain), 20. pixabay (public domain), 19. Starlightchild, The main entrance to the Niah Caves at sunset., CC BY-SA 3.0, 18. Traci Lawson via flickr, CC BY 2.0, 17. Mehgan Heaney-Grier, MehganTheMermaid, CC BY 3.0, 16. pexels (public domain), 15. Ken Lund via flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, 14. pexels (public domain), 13. wikimedia commons (public domain), 12. max pexel, 11. wikimedia commons (public domain), 10. pixabay (public domain), 9. Jim Bowen, Tree Climbing, Bear Style, CC BY 2.0, 8-7. pixabay (public domain), 6. Brad Flickinger via flickr, CC BY 2.0, 5. Timrock, Hamburger University, CC BY-SA 4.0, 4. wikimedia commons (public domain), 3. Brian Finke, Brooklyn Free School – first day of their eleventh year, CC BY-SA 4.0, 2-1. pexels (public domain)