Ken’s Book is Here!!!

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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.

 

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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.

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And We’re Off!

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Our first week in our own home in Taguig: we tried it out for size and fit in quite cozily.  Abot Tala feels now more than ever, more real, not just an envisioned, imaginary object that’s been drawn in our minds and talked about in countless discussions and meetings to push, prod and birth it into actuality.   We hope news about this option reaches those who need it.  We hope to serve, grow and nurture the community of families who want this kind of alternative.  As our tagline says: what school could be if we could redesign and redefine it.  There are people out there who want to do just that and we’d like to get to know you.

Abot Tala is open Mondays to Thursdays 9am to 3pm and is located at the second floor of the Tres Palmas Commercial Arcade, Pedro Cayetano Ave., Taguig.  Check out our program for June-July here.  Feel free to visit our website or our space in Tres Palmas.

A GLISful Life

The school year has come to an end, and what a year to celebrate many, many blessings to be grateful for and shout out a great big thanks to everyone who made it meaningful and memorable!  I’ve been intending and delaying to gather these photos and this blog acts like a cloud in case the drive crashes and I lose all the pictures.  It did some years ago so I vowed to keep this digital footprint as a record of these oh so fleeting moments with two growing boys.

Parteh!

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It’s a celebration of two months worth of summer program, priceless camaraderie, mentorship, self-directed learning and finally finishing the space where we will operate a type of school you could only dream of and never thought could happen unless people got together to make sure it happened, because we deserve the freedom to be ourselves and we have the right to own and shape our education.  And celebrate we did with loud music, awards, games, laughter and too much pizza mixed in with all the happy excitement of having arrived at a much-awaited place.

It’s not just the two months that we are celebrating, though.  It’s over a year of planning and preparing for this day.  It’s years of gestation in our minds and souls until things, puzzle pieces and happenstance coagulated and slid into spot.

We’re also celebrating a new starting line, wondering where this adventure will lead us as we take one leap of faith after another.

Two months ago, that space looked like this:

And was transformed to this:

Thank you to everyone who journeyed and are journeying with us!  Without your support and encouragement, we wouldn’t have made it this far.

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Check out our program for June-July!

 

 

Missing and Moving

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We’re going to miss this place that’s been a cozy home for two months and has made it possible for a seemingly impossible start-up like us to exist.  Thanks to Ross and Inigo of Commune for being welcoming and supportive way beyond the call of duty.  Thanks to all the staff at Commune for making it a positively wonderful time.  Thanks to the families for their willingness to try something out-of-the-box.

Kids who wanted to take a shot at being a barista were able to test their skills, while others fell in love with two cool cats who silently roamed and owned the space.  Art, poetry, music, first aid, geek culture, photography, freedom space, board games, financial literacy, self-esteem, happiness, creative journaling, Spanish, Japanese, math gym, fact or fiction, ukulele — a full summer, indeed!

A Google Ode to Mirage and Mocha

I can’t stop myself from saving these from Google images:

And I wasn’t even at Commune most of the time.  I was living Abot Tala vicariously through Owie since my task entailed me to be at the other side of town, getting the renovation of our space in Tres Palmas, Taguig through to the finish line.  Now, it’s done and all that’s needed are the furniture, appliances, books, community and most importantly . . . . a pet.

We’d love to tell you about how school could be redesigned and redefined for the 21st century learner.  Come on over and have coffee and tea with us!

j

P.S. Two words.  Spam fries.

 

 

 

 

 

Our First Airbnbs

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I’ve always wanted to try Airbnbs and now that I have, how can I ever go back to staying in hotels?  This is way, way, way better — much more space and the feeling of home for much less cost.  It gets addicting poring over the choices but once you’ve made the choice and dive into it, the rewards are enormous.

The first one we stayed in Ho Chi Minh was in a little alley in the older part of town and even though the roads are noisy, you are completely protected once inside.  The space was a celebration of light, of getting light through to the inner areas and of simple and honest construction.  Joshua can’t forget the banh mi on the street corner down the road and I can’t forget the pho.

The second one was in Nha Trang, a bit off the central area.   The unit was on the 35th floor of a tower block and it was a bit inconvenient going up and down because there were too many people and it made me yearn for being in a low building like the first bnb.  The reason I chose this over the others was rather silly but practical.  It was because it had Netflix!  This location had another unexpected advantage: the beach is quieter and less populated than the longer stretch of sand Nha Trang is famous for.

The third was back in Ho Chi Minh but this time we picked a spot near where James lived which is where a lot of expats are concentrated where there are a number of International Schools.  Modern areas meet the older parts of town in a healthy jumble.  The owner of this Airbnb enjoyed adding touches of home that even the WiFi password, “welcomehomemydear” makes you feel exactly that way.

Three Airbnbs, two nights each, allowed us to vegetate, chillax, do a good share of study and work in the comforts of homes that don’t make you feel like a total stranger in a strange land at all.

After writing that, we went to the airport where too belatedly, I realized rather sheepishly that 1:35 does not mean PM but AM.  I needed to scrounge for a fourth Airbnb and if the first three were a walk in the park, the fourth one was anything but — giving me more lessons in an already learning-laden trip.  The owner of the condominium unit was from Korea and because I had booked on the same day, the cleaners arrived late so the owner did not know on the ground what was happening.  I kept messaging him and he assured me everything was okay when it was not.  Anyway, long story short, there is the side of Airbnb that may not be as idyllic and it’s as business-driven as any.  They seem to raise prices on weekend and the more you search like other algorithm maximizing platforms.

Still, adventures into the unknown are beset with uncertainty and the more you experience, the better it is for your learning curve.  The lesson learned in this case is — it’s better to book in advance when it’s Airbnb.  However, when you do need the Airbnb right away, be careful of owners who have multiple units in the same building because there might be a mix-up and be ready to accept that it might not be cleaned up on time.

Still would choose Airbnbs over hotels if given the option.

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In Love With Design Again

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It’s me and my ex-boyfriend again, my on-and-off — Architecture — because Vietnam reminds me this one is a keeper and I’d be foolish to let it go — design that sparks joy because love is at the root.

This is just one restaurant with gorgeous interior-exterior and equally superb food:

 

The name of the place is:

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I wish I could go back to Hum during the day time and take pictures of the crazy fun sculptural tree house in the middle of the courtyard.  There’s a swing and boxes filled with wooden blocks and toys to entertain the kids while their parents dined on vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.   If it weren’t for James, I would’ve just been too lazy and chosen a place in the mall because it was right across the Airbnb.  There are many more like this gem where attention is paid to details but I didn’t have enough time to discover them since the kids were too tired to explore.  However, it’s more than enough to see glimpses and snippets, to feel gratitude and feel revived.

 

Well, I got my wish in an odd sort of way that the universe plays almost a mean joke.  I made the mistake of thinking 1:35 meant PM, not AM and we had to stay in Saigon an extra day.   So I was able to take more pictures:

 

I see parks like these in other countries and I wish I can be Bill Gates rich and buy all the land and turn them into parks with libraries.