At the Circuit


I miss terribly the parks in China and how each xiaqu (residential area) had its own park and a group of xiaqus would have its own bigger park where ladies and men congregate to line dance, kids feel free to play and everyone enjoys the outdoors without the pressure or temptation of commercial activities.  It’s public benefit at its finest.  The government takes care of the people by providing space for activities with no economic benefit except people’s well-being.  Sadly, that doesn’t work in the Philippines where there is hardly room for public parks.  If we’re lucky, the private sector provides it but it then has to have a revenue generating portion or else upkeep and maintenance would be impossible.

Such is one park at the Circuit in Makati we are grateful for since there is finally space along the Pasig River where skateboarders can hone and display their skills, where people can sit on the grass without being asked to leave, where families and barkadas can bond, where owners show-off their dogs (yes, you can do that too in High Street) and where it is generally wonderful to hang-out in an environment designed for relaxation and for skateboarders, adventure.




It is still my dream that someday, Manila can be included in a list such as this:

What would be the ultimate child-friendly city look like?

It’s one of those impossible dreams that one harbors despite the obvious signs that in our country, sadly, land has to have ROI.  Unfortunately for some governments,  the people’s well-being is not high enough an ROI for them.  Where private sector can step in to make a difference, we hope it goes beyond tokenism into all-out radicalism.

Anything less is a drop in the bucket.

Not that we’re not thankful for the drops — we have subsisted on crumbs for so long, the drops seem like flood.  We don’t recognize they are just drops.







Gopala Grows


Homeschooling families from as far as Angeles, Pampanga went all the way to Silang, Cavite for Gopala Learning Haven’s first Homeschool Festival.  We got there just in time for each child’s release of butterflies from triangular, folded pieces of papers.   It’s been a year since our love affair with Gopala started and it’s a joy to see the new additions to this idyllic place that I wish was located closer to us so that we can go there every day.

Laksmi found an amazing bargain that turned out to be Jimmy’s dream playroom.  A kids activity center closed down in one SM mall and the owner was selling all the mini houses as a package deal.  Laksmi got the whole lot for a song and the owner said that something curiously held him back from selling to other people who inquired.  When he heard what Laksmi’s learning haven was all about, he readily parted with the play houses.  He admired what Laksmi was doing, providing space for kids to run free in nature.

The room below the eating area was transformed from a rundown storage place into a workshop for arts and crafts.  The books that were in the playroom before found a new home appropriately in a more quiet area.   As always, Joshua had a ball biking through the gently sloping green.  Dads were content to lounge in the hammocks among the trees while mothers discussed homeschooling issues.

The highlight for everyone was the steep trek to the river but do not let the gorgeous photos deceive you.  Pollution comes from the neighboring golf course and there are plastic trash strewn among the tree roots, begging for a clean-up.  Gopala regularly conducts this but a clean-up a few times a year is not enough.  People whose garbage end up where they shouldn’t be must be held more accountable.


We wanted to press forward and go on walking past the area where we landed from the sloping side of the land but we weren’t allowed to do so since the group was too big and some may not be prepared for a distance they say takes about two or three hours to traverse.  We’re already excited about the longer trek next time.



Vids Make a Diff


Even if I had visited the place itself, talked to the founder and members, watched the TED Talks of Ken and Joel, read the website and relevant articles, something clicked into place that hadn’t switched on before I watched these YouTube videos of North Star, so much so that I had an epiphany connecting another video that impressed me and that was done by my niece and her groupmates.

Following are the videos about North Star that made it easier for me to picture it in reality since it’s been a year since I had visited:

North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens Part 1

North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens Part 2

The on-and-off, lingering-non-lingering doubts in my head about how crazy impossible this idea is applied to the Philippines somehow dissipated.  Then Maxine posted a video their group made for an assignment in school.  It made sense to connect how the video is an ideal medium to access the possible stakeholders of a self-directed learning center for the youth.

LGBT Rights – a school project

I put two and two together and thought of inviting Maxine’s group to do a video for my research work on alternative education.  This is the invitation brief:

The Idea Behind the Video

I am studying how a center like the North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens can possibly be set up in Manila.  I would like to research what are the prevailing notions and beliefs among the youth regarding alternative forms of education.

Following are the suggested steps in preparing and making the video:

  1. List down young people you know who might be interested in this concept of alternatives to school. They should be around high school age or near high school age.
  2. Send them a message on Facebook about this video project. Send them links to the YouTube videos about North Star and the North Star website.  If they like TED Talks, you can send the video of Ken Danford.
  3. Ask them if they are willing to be interviewed and set a date and time for the interview.
  4. Tell them that the video will appear on my blog and I will upload the video on YouTube. If they don’t want their face to appear, you can make it like the Anonymous interview where it’s only their voice that could be heard.
  5. I will give you a set of questions that will be your guide but feel free to ask your own follow-up questions depending on how your conversation flows with each interviewee.
  6. Collect around 10 to 15 interviews.
  7. Edit the video. I like the editing to be as simple and straightforward as the one you made for the LGBT project.  The video can start with a brief introduction of North Star, followed by the interviews.

Following are the guide questions for the interviews:

  1. What do you think of the North Star video and website?
  2. They’ve built other similar centers like North Star in different states across America and in Canada. Do you think that something like this would be possible in the Philippines? Why or why not?
  3. Do you know somebody, a classmate, friend, relative or even you — who would want to join something like North Star if it opened in Manila?
  4. If you could design a place that is not a school but a place that you would want to go to 3 or 4 times a week instead of school, what would that place be like? What would it have that will make you want to go there?
  5. Do you think parents would allow their children to go to a place like North Star if their child did not want to go to school? Why or why not?

I don’t know if you would want to discuss with your parents about making this video since it would take time away from your usual schedule.  I also don’t know if they would find the topic a bit controversial but it’s just gathering opinions from people.

Two Prong Approach

For Ken, this is the approach we can take to maximize our consultation with Liberated Learners:

  1. Application – readily and possibly on Gopala Learning Haven in Cavite and how to make it more economically sustainable; which elements of which models can be applied
  2. Research – groundwork for future application of the North Star model (or a combination of other models) in a self-directed learning center in Manila; seeking out networks through continuous and open dialogue


Journal for Ken #01



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.




Before Turning Over

Before turning over this book to my sister, I promised some more words from Jessica Lahey to commit to some form of memory bank in case my memory proves deficit for sure.

“One way to keep grades in their proper perspective and help kids gain control of their education is to shift your family’s focus off grades and onto goals.  Because goals are self-determined rather than teacher determined, they can be much more useful measurement of success.  When kids establish their own goals for learning, they gain a sense of ownership and competence. . . .

. . . . No matter how small or how nonsensical your child’s goals may seem to you, they are his goals, and you should respect that.  Even nonacademic, seemingly frivolous goals are important, because the process of setting goals is not about the goal itself, but the grit required to put a name to an ambition and see it through to fruition.  Simply taking the time to talk about the things they want to achieve over time shows kids that we respect their needs and aspirations.”


“While scores and grades prioritize grades over learning, there is one aspect of modern report cards that is quite helpful, particularly when done well.  Narrative comments and feedback on students’ performance, according to research, are “better than grades at both promoting kids’ self-motiavation to learn and boosting their achievement.”  Elementary school teachers do a good job of providing feedback on report cards, but as soon as grades take over from narrative comments as the main method of evaluation, students and parents begin to lose out. “

“Your attitude about autonomy and grades will inform your child’s attitude.  It’s that simple.  She spends her days immersed in academic competition with her peers, fully aware of the relevance of grades to honor rolls and colleges, so why not be the the one person in her life who doesn’t fuel the raging fire of academic pressure and insecurity?  I’d much rather be the person my kid wants to talk to over dinner about that funny thing that happened to his friend after math class, the movie he wants to see next weekend, his hopes and dreams.  We have such a limited amount of time with our children as it is, so we might as well enjoy it while it lasts.  My favorite view on the value of failing in high school comes from longtime high school teacher Jonathan Shea, who has seen the pattern of try, fail, and try again play itself out over and over:

‘Students recover.  People do it all the time.  And the failure helps them learn about themselves.  First, they learn that people want them to be okay.  Second, they learn that they can overcome a problem, but that work and attention are more important than genius or perfection.  Students need to fail because this is when they learn to succeed.'”


“If the unpredictability of our own journey is frustrating, the suspense that parents experience as we watch our children’s stories unfold is downright unbearable.  Because we can’t possibly know how their stories will end, their failures are all the more acute, immediate, and treacherous; more Shakespearean tragedy than quaint anecdote.

When my children make mistakes that endanger their own happy endings, the bottom drops out of my world, and in those moments there’s nothing I’d like more than to be able to flip to the end of their story and reassure myself that everything turns out okay.  Sadly, that’s not how parenting works.  We don’t have access to spoilers, and we can’t skim through the uncomfortable chapters in our children’s story arcs in order to skip to the happy ending.  Worse, we can’t even know if there will be a happy ending.

What we can do, however, is be patient, and trust in our kids.  As I watch my own children make their way toward their denouements and strategize goals that I may not even be around to witness, I have no choice but to focus on the details of their journey.  They are writing their own stories, in their own voices, with plot points of their own invention.  Their narrative is not mine, and I can’t edit them into perfection.”




Because I am so guilty of everything the book implies I’m guilty of, I’m hoping typing the passages here would commit to memory what I need to practice more.

This is one of the gems I picked up from the Big Bad Wolf book sale and I am rushing to finish it because I want to pass it on to my sister who desperately needs to read it as much as I do.   If I could find this in Fully Booked, I’d grab a copy for her.

Okay, so here it goes: quotations liberally lifted to drum into my head, pour into my being.  I need to live this not just read this.  Imbibe the ideas not just underline them.  Apply the concepts, not just highlight the words.  From Jessica Lahey’s The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go so Their Children Can Succeed:

“I have inadvertently extended my children’s dependence in order to appropriate their successes as evidence and validation of my parenting.  Every time I pack my child’s lunch for him or drive his forgotten homework to school, I am rewarded with tangible proof of my conscientious mothering.  I love, therefore I provide.  I provide, therefore I love.  While I know, somewhere in the back of my mind, that my children really should be doing these kinds of tasks for themselves, it makes me feel good to give them these small displays of my deep, unconditional love.  .  .  . My kids will have their entire lives to pack their lunches and remember their backpacks, but I only have a very brief window of time to be able to do these things for them.

There’s a term for this behavior in psychiatric circles.  It’s called enmeshment, and it’s not healthy for kids or parents.  It’s a maladaptive state of symbiosis that makes for unhappy, resentful parents and “failure to launch” children who move back into their bedrooms after college graduation.”

I know this parent who still helicopters over the son who is nearly thirty years old and to a lesser degree, the other kids who are past forty.   This passage from the book makes me understand this phenomenon:

“The parenting pendulum swings back and forth over time, so the fact that it is currently hanging at its apex at the extreme end of the overparenting arc isn’t really anyone’s fault.  It’s part of the action and reaction that constitute the history of our species.  Early in the twentieth century, parents were instructed not to touch their children at all lest we spoil them, but by the time the nineties swung into view, experts had latched on to attachment parenting, in which we were instructed to sleep, eat, bathe, urinate and breath without ever letting go of our kangaroo-style infants.  Sure, the pendulum swung through a sane, middle ground between 1970 and 1980, and I am forever grateful I was allowed to play in its gentle shade as it passed overhead.  However, that golden moment of equilibrium was over much too soon, and we began our upward swing toward the place we find ourselves in today.”

So this current helicopter parent I know may not have been a helicopter parent in the 70’s but probably experiencing a backlash — guilt from underparenting the kids when they were young led to swinging the other way towards overparenting when the kids became adults.

It takes more time to teach a child how to clean a toilet than to clean the toilet ourselves, as is the case with about every worthwhile lesson . . . .

It’s easier for me to get velcro strapping shoes for Jimmy than shoes with those pesky shoelaces that takes too much time for him to master.  This morning, I stopped myself from helping Jimmy with his shirt buttons and instead watched him do it oh so much slower but on his own.

“. . . . doing what feels good has fostered a generation of narcissistic, self-indulgent children unwilling to take risks or cope with consequences, what will work?  What parenting practice can help our children acquire the skills, values and virtues on which a positive sense of self is built?

Parenting for autonomy.  Parenting for independence and a sense of self, born out of real competence, not misguided confidence.  Parenting for resilience in the face of mistakes and failures.  Parenting for what is right and good in the final tally, not for what feels right and good in the moment.  Parenting for tomorrow, not just for today.”

“Autonomy and independence are similar beasts, but their roots reveal a key difference.  Independence is the linguistic opposite of dependence, but autonomy is something more.  It comes from the Greek auto, which means “self,” and nomos, which means “custom” or “law,” so to be autonomous, a child has to have internalized a system of rules for living independently.  In order to help foster the formation of this self-rule, parents have to help kids come up with a system of guiding principles so they will be able to problem-solve and think creatively while remaining rooted in tried-and-true principles of behavior.  When parents are overcontrolling, kids tend not to think about why adn how they act in the world.  Their choice is to respond to our rules or not.  When they are given more control over their worlds out of our sphere of our sphere of influence, they are more likely to make solid, rule-based decisions.  It’s a win-win situation for parents really, because autonomy begets autonomy.  As kids realize they have control over their worlds, they want more control over their lives and become more responsible.”


Above all, keep your eye on the prize: intrinsic motivation.  Protecting kids from the frustration, anxiety, and sadness they experience from failure in the short term keeps our children from becoming resilient and from experiencing the growth mindset they deserve.

Encourage competence in your child whenever possible.  Watch a child master fixing her own lunch, or listen to a teenager recount the moment he made a goal in soccer practice.  Competence and mastery are incredible motivators.  Once children get a taste of success, particularly success born of their own efforts and persistence, it becomes addictive.  This is the lovely thing about competence: it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”


I am not even half-way through the book, so will post another set of passages next time.

Helicopter Parents are Raising Unemployable Children


Chinese Family Holiday


They left this morning and we miss them already.   Seven days with them here in the Philippines reminded me of the life we left in China.  Though we continue on our separate paths in two countries, we remain one family — solid, undivided despite differences in opinions and ways, even backgrounds and dreams; we stay committed to each other especially raising the next generation.

我看他们我很想很想我们的中国生活,丰富和简单。不过菲律宾也不错,给中国家人看漂亮的菲律宾风景。第一我们在马尼拉,哪儿有厉害的堵车不过方便跟别人见面,购物,也看菲律宾家人。第二我们去Subic 海边看好多鱼。第三我们去Baguio 抓草莓。然后我们去La Union冲浪的地方。我们再回Subic 发现非常美丽的采取。

We traced a route north of Manila: Subic, Baguio, La Union and back to Subic and Manila.  We tried out two resorts in Subic — one had a bounty of colorful fish (Camayan) and the other was much like paradise on earth (Acea) introduced to us by Tita Lens.  We drove up to Baguio a few days before the Panagbenga festival and though we didn’t stay for that, we were able to see some floats in the process of being created.  We went down to San Fernando, La Union and hung-out in a cool surfer’s retreat aptly called and decorated, Flotsam and Jetsam.

The next time our family from China visits the Philippines during the Spring Festival holiday, we plan to head straight to other islands, skip and escape the madness of Manila.

My favorite memories from this trip: 1) Yeye (grandfather) playing Lego with his grandsons while waiting for the ladies to finish shopping for souvenirs, 2) aquarium-loving Jiang Ping having her fill of the real deal in the clear beach waters of Subic, 3) listening to the voice of two-year old Cheng Cheng’s talking, singing and making the long car rides bearable, 4) playing Nerf gun and picking strawberries at the Baguio Country Club, 5) two brothers and one sister in business action mode, 6) Joshua and Jason catching crabs by the rocks on the shore at night, and 7) everyone thoroughly enjoying the water whether in the pool or the sea.