Why even have this conversation?
I taught in a University in China for two years, saw how stifling the effects of an education system could be and got scared for my kids who are 8 and 5 years old now. The purpose of education is to liberate and certainly not the opposite which is to imprison. I am happy to have found a progressive school in Manila where my kids can attend school which I think is okay in the younger years. However, when they reach high school, I believe, they need more freedom to steer their lives. That’s why I am attracted to setting up something like North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens — for my own sons and for other kids. Of course if my sons choose to go to school, I’d support them, but in case they don’t, there’s an option.
I have some nephews and nieces whom I feel would benefit from a place like North Star but I would not even dare open this topic to their parents even if they are my relatives because this idea is quite ridiculous, unfathomable and unacceptable for them. However, I want to help those families who are more receptive to this venture.
The economics of the Philippines is very different from America. If you charge a fee for a non-school and the fee falls somewhere in between a public and a private school, people wouldn’t know what they’ll be getting. There’s no certificate and it’s not even a school. Gathering people to commit to and run this type of center may be a challenge.
I think Manila is the more appropriate place to start because of the concentration of resources and the bigger population. In the provinces, the marketing would even be more difficult and you’re up against the traditional mentality where education is the only way to uplift the people. People work hard to put their kids to school and that is where they pin their hopes. You are offering something that is somewhat of an insult to the backbreaking labor that millions of people go through just so their children graduate, selling their carabao in exchange for the opportunity to move up a ladder through education. Sending your children to school despite poverty is enveloped in nobility and purpose.
In both city and countryside, there will be a lot to be up against and there’s a part of me does not want to denigrate the dreams of other people. Manila, however, is more prosperous than the provinces therefore the climate may be friendlier and more open to alternatives.
It sounds bad like it all boils down to economics but that’s why I think alternatives like the North Star work in places like North America or Europe because there is a level of prosperity that allows these options to thrive. The Philippines, a third world country, is a different story, but I would love to be proven wrong and see something like North Star work here. The question is how and who. That’s why I approached Ken Danford.
Two or Three Prong Approach
I don’t know if we will stay long in Manila because we are thinking that by June of this year, we would move to Subic which is three hours from Manila. If we were staying in Manila, I would be more optimistic and ready to set up a self-directed center in this city but if we do move to Subic, I need more time to study the new environment and right now, am not as certain if something like North Star would be possible there in the immediate future.
However, there is another path to take and that may be through the Gopala Learning Haven in Cavite, also a few hours away from Manila. The challenges I mentioned above apply to Cavite which is not as highly urbanized as Manila, but there is a big difference. There is Laksmi, founder of Gopala Learning Haven who has been homeschooled her whole life, who is currently homeschooling her three daughters, who is a homeschool provider herself and an officer of an umbrella organization of homeschooling groups in the Philippines. Laksmi is already helping families start their homeschooling journey. For now, maybe this session with Ken can be focused on trying to help Laksmi find a way by which aspects of the North Star model can be applied and other aspects adapted to the specific and unique local conditions of Cavite and the Gopala Learning Haven.
I was initially attracted to the Gopala Learning Haven because it perfectly fit the picture in my mind of a Sudbury school. It’s a farm with lots of trees and greenery, a stream and space. When my family and I drove across America and visited alternative learning centers, I was most attracted to the North Star model because I wanted to be involved with helping older, teenage kids. I thought the timing would be right that by the time I set up something like North Star, my kids would be approaching their high school years as well.
Gopala, I guess is more like Macomber Center for homeschoolers but it’s not structured financially like the way Macomber is. Macomber has a number of kids who go there regularly and the families pay based on how many days a week the kids are at Macomber. If Gopala can be assisted so that it can be more financially viable, then that would be one good result of having this conversation.
I still wish I can find people in Manila who would be interested in starting a Filipino version of North Star even if I am no longer in Manila. If I find people in Subic who would be interested, I wouldn’t mind being involved there but again, it all depends on the network that I find. Maybe as we continue this conversation, we will find people along the way.
Filling up the Form
Ken asked me to fill up a form which is the startup plan including the vision, marketing, outreach, budget and timeline. I couldn’t fill up the form because I think we need one more conversation with Ken and with Laksmi in the picture as well. If Laksmi agrees that we can focus first on Gopala Learning Haven then maybe Laksmi can be the one to fill up the form. Because of her broad network, Laksmi may know other people who might be interested in the North Star model for teenagers and bring them into the conversation.
The other person who is joining our next conversation with Ken is Rachael, my friend who homeschools her three boys, two of whom are around the age of my boys. They love playing Nerf, Minecraft and biking together. Even if Rachael is not originally from the Philippines, she has a heart for this country having lived here for over twenty years. Like me, she is not even sure of what her role would be and recognizes her time constraints, but is still willing to participate in the discussion.