Ken’s Book is Here!!!


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.


And We’re Off!


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.



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.


Check out our program for June-July!



Missing and Moving


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!


P.S. Two words.  Spam fries.






Lift Off!


On the second floor of Commune Cafe at Poblacion, one of the most happening places in Manila, Abot Tala rocketed into space — it’s temporary abode for the summer months of April and May while its home in Taguig is being renovated.  Maybe one week is too short to say but we are already loving it so much, we wish we could expand the age group to cover grade school, not only high school.  Our hearts are brimming when teens, tweens and parents describe their experience at the center.

It’s not too late to join.  If you think self-directed education is something that resonates with you and would like to try it out, just send us a message or drop by Commune.  We’re there Mondays to Thursdays from 9am to 3pm.




Abot Tala is a member of the Liberated Learners which seek to spread the North Star model of self-directed learning for teens. Read more about it from Ken Danford himself, founder of North Star: Building a New Reality: School is Optional.

Related image

There are so many people to thank, so many supporters, cheerleaders, believers, people who gave us courage and strength.  Our deepest gratitude and appreciation goes out to each of you for making this possible.

Zee Question


Z asked me, “What are the benefits of going to a self-directed learning center?

I posed the question on the Liberated Learners google group and Maria immediately answered, “The benefits are unique for each individual.  However, in the experience of people from Liberated Learning centers, when teens or kids are given the power to make their own decisions about their life and education, it changes something fundamental within them.  Beyond feeling empowered, after a while, they are able to see things more clearly.  They are able to think about their life differently.”

One parent of a teen attending North Star wrote, “I just wanted to tell you how thrilled we have been as a family that our son is attending North Star.  He is such a happy guy, his stress has disappeared and his love of learning languages is being nourished and supported.  It is such a pleasure everyday to drop him off.  Thank you for providing such a wonderful program.”

Another parent emailed, “Our days and nights have changed for the better.  My son and I are closer and share more with one another and everyday he comes up with new things he wants to explore.”

The students are equally pleased saying, “The approach to education has always felt right for me and the social scene is welcoming.  I spent more time doing what I enjoy, less time being bored and less time fretting that I was falling behind. Through the classes, tutorials and assistance from my adviser, I was able to focus my energy on topics that interest me and fun things like rock climbing, hiking and socializing.”

Another member recounted, “It felt good to finally feel like I was allowed to be myself and to be surrounded by others who were being themselves, too.  I joined Band and Theater, things I had never dared to do before, and I had the time of my life learning and performing.”

Teachers and mentors feel the benefits of being in a learning environment that has none of the constrictions of traditional school.  One teacher wrote, “Through engaging with the students at North Star, I have found that building relationships with others through honest conversation is more valuable and impactful to people’s overall learning.  Each week I facilitate a class titled Solutions for a Sustainable Future.  This course has taken on the form of a discussion space for students to share their ideas and ask questions with regard to environmental, economic and social justice issues.  Within this space, I have encouraged students to investigate the correlations that exist between the condition of our human society and the well-being of the planet we share.”

For more stories and testimonials, check out:


Abot Tala is part of the Liberated Learners (LL) network of centers based on the North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens, a model started by Ken Danford more than twenty years ago in Massachusetts.  Each LL center has it’s own name and Ken always emphasizes how each center must respond to the unique local conditions and culture.

Abot Tala is opening soon on April 1 at the Commune, Poblacion, Makati — our temporary home for two months.

abot tala - game changer in education


To learn more about the program and meet the people behind Abot Tala, please feel free to join any of these gatherings.  We’d love to meet you!

  • March 16 Saturday 3:30 – 5:30 pm Commune Café, Polaris St., Poblacion, Makati
  • March 19 Tuesday 5:00 to 7:00 pm   Bo’s Coffee, High Street, BGC
  • March 20 Wednesday 2:00 to 4:00 pm  Tim Horton’s, Glorietta 4, Makati
  • March 21 Thursday   6:00 to 8:00 pm  Starbucks, Grace Mall, Cayetano Blvd., Taguig

See you there!

Other Links:

Launching a Game Changer

If Not Those, What Is It Then?

School is Optional

Teacher Liberation





If Not Those, What is It Then?

True, it could be perplexing.  If it’s not a school, not a homeschool provider, not an after-school program, not a co-op, what is it then?  What is Abot Tala?

It is like a school since it offers classes but unlike school, there are no grades, report cards, certificates.  Unlike the typical gradeschool and highschool, you can choose the classes to attend based on your interest and curiosity.   Unlike school, there is no curriculum except the one you make yourself together with your mentor.

Abot Tala operates during school hours from 9am to 3pm so it’s definitely not for those looking for after-school activities.  It’s not a homeschool co-op since there is a permanent venue.  It’s not a homeschool provider either, but we do have a partner who is precisely that.  Laksmi Maluya of the Gopala Learning Haven has been serving homeschooling families for many years.  We have partnered with her so that she can take care of the DepEd requirement side of the equation while Abot Tala can focus on providing the space and environment where young people can be themselves and thrive.

So if we have clarified what we’re not, what are we then?  Three main things:

  1. Mentorship
  2. Personalized learning
  3. Collaborative learning

Every week, each member meets with his or her mentor.  Meetings are used to help keep the teen on track on what they want to do in life, to reflect on choices made and actions taken, to offer opportunities that fit with their goals, to discuss issues that come up, and to challenge them to look at how their choices match up with the dreams they have for themselves.   Oprah Winfrey has a beautiful description of a mentor:

A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.  A mentor is someone who allows you to know that no matter how dark the night, in the morning joy will come.  A mentor is someone who allows you to see the higher part of yourself when sometimes it becomes hidden to your own view.

Learning is personalized.  The teen can choose what to study and how to go about it whether it is solo or in a small group, through one-on-one tutorial or through classes.  Abot Tala aims to build a community of learners who help each other move forward through their unique paths and journeys.   We hope to connect young people to learning opportunities within and outside the center’s walls, through internships, workshops and by linking up with people who could be role models in the field they are interested in.

Abot Tala is part of the Liberated Learners network with centers across America based on the North Star model.  More than twenty years ago, Ken Danford started the North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens.  Back then, he was a disillusioned teacher who did not want to continue playing the role of what seemed to be a prison warden in school.  Since then, the Liberated Learners has helped other communities launch their own version of North Star.

While Abot Tala is based on the North Star model, Ken has always emphasized that each center adapt the model to the specific needs and characteristics of the community.  Thus, each center is even named differently and it’s not like a McDonald’s franchise where everything is copied lock, stock and barrel.

Ken has a favorite analogy to explain the North Star concept to people:  it’s like a YMCA but for academics.  Nobody forces you to swim or take up a sport at the YMCA.  You come on your own volition.


Recommended for further reading:


The Teacher Liberation Handbook: How to Leave School and Create a Place Where You and Young People Can Thrive is for teachers who love working with kids, but hate working within the confines of traditional schools. If you’ve ever dreamed of starting your own school, but felt it was impossible, creating a self-directed learning center instead might be the answer. No mind-numbing standards, no marathon grading sessions, working with young people who want what you have to offer. The Teacher Liberation Handbook provides the information you need to make this dream a reality: stories of educators who left teaching, details of the educational and organizational model, a description of the growing network of self-directed learning centers, frequently asked questions and concerns. Use The Teacher Liberation Handbook to improve your life and the lives of young people in your community.

Check out this video about Abot Tala as well:  Personalized Learning Collaborative for Teens