It took some days before I collected the books brought by my Aunt from New York because it was whirlwind two weeks starting Abot Tala in our own space. They were waiting days for me to take the box and when I opened Ken Danford’s book, I of course, automatically searched for the page where it mentions Abot Tala:
As of Fall 2018, it appears the next center joining Liberated Learners sometime in 2018-2019 will be Abot Tala in Manila, Philippines. This group hosted me for a visit in July 2018 which I summarized in a blog post on our Liberated Learners site. I am encouraged that this project is proceeding carefully and optimistically.
Right after that, I proceeded to read the whole chapter called “The Hard Parts” because it’s difficult starting up, struggling with one thing after another, putting out fires, tending the flame but enjoying the process nonetheless. Before Ken started North Star, he had tons to complain about teaching in public school. Things “shifted dramatically” for him at North Star because he “had very little to complain about in terms of students” and his workday. He looked forward going to the center he created, and enjoyed his time there with the kids, free from the limiting structures of regular school. However, he faced a different set of challenges: “money, the public image and public understanding of North Star, and hard cases of teens and families.”
In Abot Tala’s case, the current hurdles are marketing, manpower and the special cases that make us want to dial a friend and ask for higher expert advice. I can’t wait to read the whole book to search for clues that could guide us and firm up our tentative steps.
Ken Danford was inspired to create North Star in 1995 when somebody gave him a copy of Grace Llewellyn’s seminal book, The Teenage Liberation Handbook which he read in one sitting and was, in his own words, “mesmerized.” A year after, Ken quit his teaching job and opened North Star with Josh Hornick. In 2016, they invited Grace Llewellyn herself to speak at North Star’s 20th year celebration. Grace was then moved to initiate her own Liberated Learner Center patterned on North Star which was inspired by her very own book twenty years prior. Life coming into full circle!
About Ken’s first book, Learning is Natural, School is Optional, Grace wrote:
If all that this book accomplished was to paint a vision for how self-directed learning could become accessible to all kids who find school soul-crushing, that alone would be a huge contribution to our desperate public discourse on education. Learning via the pursuit of one’s joys is a privilege available to few — mostly to those whose parents unearth both the courage and the resourcefulness needed. The miracles of unschooling have typically been individual miracles concerning individual families and individual kids. So even just nudging our collective consciousness to imagine how we could do better — that in itself would be quite something.
The amazing thing is, Ken and his friend Josh did their own imagining for a few months in 1996, then they promptly got on the practicalities. They quit their middle school teaching jobs and opened a radically new kind of center.
For over 20 years, North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens has been making joyful, inspired, consent-based learning possible for every youth in the vicinity who wants to try it (and, of course, whose parents are willing to give it a chance). Ken and his team have accrued an astounding body of stories and wisdom, from nitty-gritty to existential to unexpected and uplifting. In person, Ken is a delightful human — funny, sincere, blunt, generous and understated. I’m thrilled to find that reading his book is just like listening to him talk.
If you want to get your own copy, check it out on Amazon.
Reminiscing when Ken was in Manila — his first time in the Philippines and he went down a ravine at Gopala Learning Haven, visited Payatas, met the team of Blended Learning Center, was interviewed on radio, delivered a talk at Fully Booked and helped give birth to Abot Tala.
A big, big thank you to Ken for writing his book. A big, big thank you to my Ninang Lin for bringing the books to me. All the books I am able to give away about self-directed learning is through the great generosity of Ninang Lin.