The Non-School


Clicking and copy-pasting the YouTube video hundreds of time, I failed to notice until today the interesting commentary below Ken Danford’s TEDx talk, School is Optional.  There are a lot of praises for North Star and Ken changing lives and saving the love of education.  Some of the comments date from four years ago and somebody quipped, “Five years later and the lie of ‘you have to go to school’ is still being perpetuated.” Even if it is perpetuated, at least there are options around that question the status quo and could be center-based (e.g. North Star, PLC and other Liberated Learners centers), school-based (e.g. Free Schools, Agile Learning Centers) or home-based (e.g. homeschooling and unschooling).


Go down further the comments about the video and there’s an interesting conversation about the cost of going to North Star with critic and defenders exchanging opposing opinions online.



Those fees are from four years ago and you can see the updated fees on the North Star website.  When  you translate the amount into Philippine pesos, it even becomes more staggering.  It’s more expensive than good quality private schools here and climbing up towards the stratosphere of International School fees, but that’s an unfair comparison because the economies of the two countries are different.  Average salaries, teacher salaries, cost of living, cost of education are poles apart.

We’re trying to jump start something like North Star and PLC here in the Philippines but the question is, who will pay an amount equivalent to the tuition fee of a private school in Manila for, as the critic said with derision, a “non-school.”  True, it is a “non-school” or the anti-thesis of a school or an “un-school” but that’s looking at it from the point of view society’s conscripted, perhaps corrupted definition of school.  The other way of looking at it is this: it’s even more of what a school should be or look like if we lived in an ideal world and respected the freedom of each being, regardless of age.

One on one tutorials and personalized education understandably cost more than mass, factory-style education.  Some parents understand this clearly.  For some parents, the cost won’t matter but for many, the cost will still be a clincher.  But the inevitable reality is that things cost – space to rent, salaries to pay monthly, utilities and other operational expenses.  North Star doesn’t turn away anyone who wants to be member and to continue doing this, they have fund raising activities and donors.

If You Build It Will They Come?

Do we build it first in the hopes that people will come like the baseball players in the Field of Dreams?  Or is too risky a suicidal venture?

Do we wait till we have a good number of families who believe in this?  How do we even find those families?

The non-school, the mock-school, the I-don’t-want-to-go-to-school school — call it what you want but even Sir Ken Robinson himself was impressed with North Star writing about it in his book, Creative Schools.  Ken Robinson’s TED Talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity” has been viewed fifteen million times but still, one discouraging remark goes, “Almost 10 years since this video was posted and unfortunately nothing has changed.”

Maybe change is too slow, too unnoticeable, too one-at-a-time to make an impact but lives anyway, are always bigger and more complex than YouTube comments.




In his book, Creative School, here’s what Ken Robinson wrote about North Star and his tukayo, Ken Danford:

North Star is a center (Ken and his colleagues are very conscious about not calling it a school, because it is not accredited as one) that helps teenagers discover a passion for learning that has either been derailed or tamped down in a major way.  While it is not a regular “school,” it serves very effectively  as one for many. “North Star is principally for teenagers who are in school and miserable, who don’t want to go.  Some are getting straight A’s.  Some of them have hobbies.  Some of them don’t know up from down and have all kinds of problems.

“There’s a thing about letting people be — about letting them choose for themselves — that’s so profound.  There was no way to get that when we were teaching.  What do you want to do and what do you want from me to help you?  They don’t know yet, so they have to try everything to figure it out.  That might include saying no to everything and emptying out their lives and seeing what happens if they do nothing for a while.  It’s glorious fun.”

While it might sound as though North Star is fast-tracking dropouts, the opposite is true.  Most North Star participants go on to college, including MIT, Brown, Smith, UCLA and Columbia, among others.  Participation in North Star is often seen as an asset by admissions directors, because North Star kids have a history of being self-directed and intellectually curious.

Ken and North Star understand that learning comes in a wide variety of shapes and size, that kids can’t all be taught the same way, and that when students are taught in a way that best fits the way they learn and what interests them the most, they can make enormous leaps.  While it is an unconventional model, its success suggests a need for all schools to think in new ways about the way they serve students.                                                                         

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