Junior is Here!

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We thought it would take another year before we could open Abot Tala for younger kids.  It took us more than a year (14 months) to give birth to Abot Tala for teens so we surmised we needed time for the junior’s gestation period.  However, circumstances conspired to bring us to where we are now: ready to open the doors of Abot Tala for children 6 to 11 years old!

We ran a two-week experiment last June to see if the kids and teens could co-exist in one place and we concluded that if we had a much bigger space, it could be done.  But since the space for teens was limited as it was, a separate area for kids was necessary.  We also had to quickly assemble a team like Avengers and it was no easy feat.  Things eluded us.  There were moments when we thought this dream was impossible to pull off this year and we could just wait till next year or when the universe grants us the consenting environment.   Surprisingly, it did and tomorrow, August 12, we expand the age group and the physical space.

Abot Tala for teens promotes self-directed learning while Abot Tala for the kids is interest-led.  Activities cater to all multiple intelligences and learning styles.  The teacher follows the interests of the children while giving ample importance to basic academic skills.

Just like Abot Tala for Teens, Abot Tala Junior is not a school.  The children who join us are either homeschooling already or intend to homeschool.  Abot Tala Junior is an alternative to mainstream school.  If the children want to transition to regular school or go to university in the future, they can opt to take the PEP Test at DepEd and/or get a homeschool provider.

Families can choose whether their kids attend Abot Tala Junior once, twice, thrice or four times a week.  There are no grades, report cards or certificates.  Every two or three months, there will be a presentation of the children’s works.  To learn more about this program, visit https://abottala.com/junior/

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Your Launchpad is Waiting

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Two months in our Taguig space and our second block presentation yielded a harvest of sorts:  a classical guitar performance, a court case dramatization, a recent painting, making crepes and empanada for parents and visitors, and a documentary on Abot Tala that has gotten a lot of hits on FB since it’s been posted.  The indie video was picked up, appropriately enough, by a site called EDIT – Education in Transformation.

‘Education in Transformation’ (EDIT) is a team of filmmakers whose mission it is to share stories from the Self-Directed Education movement.

We believe this paradigm shift in Education is a high leverage point for stepping into our potential as a human community.

Our role is to amplify a diverse set of voices from students, parents, and educators from around the world as they explore ways of learning that honour the uniqueness and autonomy of both the individual and the collective.

Our mission is to inspire more people to participate in this transformation by making visible that this change is possible and it is happening right now.

Some weeks before the presentation, Abot Tala teens made ice cream from scratch, took a pop-up class on rocking your resume and prepping for a job interview, took apart various donated appliances that the juniors can use to produce art in the future and said their farewells to a pair who were going back to regular school.

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Here are the classes this August-September in Abot Tala.  If you know somebody who is looking for an option outside of mainstream school or for a community of homeschoolers, unschoolers and mentors, please point them towards Tres Palmas, Taguig.

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Their launchpad is waiting.

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Notes from a Conference We Didn’t Attend Except in Spirit

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We wish we could have been there but it was impossible unless we could be beamed up from the Philippines to the U.S.   The conference was scheduled around the same time we were moving into our own space in Taguig.  Thank goodness for audio recordings that make its way to us almost instantly through email.

Since August of last year, Abot Tala has been a part of the Liberated Learners, a network of centers modeled after the North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens.  Every year, the founders and staff meet, share experiences and lessons from running the same type of space where teens can direct their own education.  Adults are not there to tell them what to do or study, but to facilitate the process.

Last night, two of our members spoke with Catina as they were trying to put together their “story” to be used in our outreach efforts. One of them used a beautiful metaphor of a flower. She said that often she has felt as if she were like a flower trying to grow with a big rock on top. She has had to grow crooked and deformed to accommodate this rock. She feels Embark has simply, moved the rock allowing her to grow in the way she was always meant to.

So, my quest: Move the rock. Don’t be the rock.

                                             Andrea Cubelo-McKay, Founder                                                                                       Embark Center for Self-Directed Education

Being in Abot Tala almost every day these past weeks, struggling with the challenges, sometimes, I feel like the rock that has to be moved away.  Listening to the recordings and reading Ken Danford’s book are great reminders about why Abot Tala exists.  But the best reminders are the kids themselves.  When you talk to them and get to know them and know you are in the presence of precious souls.

Daniela Gonzalez, one of the guest mentors at Abot Tala took down these notes from the audio recordings:

  • Relationship, building trust, being part of the community is the most important element in supporting teens in what they want to do.
  • Mentoring is the service that parents value most.
  • Freedom comes with great responsibility.  Teens aren’t ready to take on that responsibility and need help with it through mentoring
  • Mentoring allows to have quick feedback from members regarding their social relationships and learning at the center (e.g. if someone is making them sad, if they don’t like one of their one-on-one learning sessions, etc.)
  • Being a mentor sometimes means repeating the same thing multiple times over many sessions before a teen considers it.
  • Teens feel valued when asked about the things they do that interests them (e.g. “why did you like that movie?” “what do you like about that game?” etc.)
  • Through mentoring we can help teens to have more agency in their lives.
  • Mentoring indirectly builds trust with the parents and the whole family.
  • For teens who say they will do X number of things and then don’t follow through, it’s a good idea to talk after a month or so during mentoring and say “Hey, so we have this action item here and it’s been four/five weeks and you’ve been saying you were going to do it but perhaps there’s something holding you back? Perhaps there’s something getting in the way.  Let’s analyze . . . “
  • Some kids need spontaneity and flexibility, others need structure. The “superpower” of the model is that it allows for both.

These are points which I highlighted:

  • Everyone is working on themselves to be better.
  • You are capable of more than what people have decided you’re capable of.
  • Let’s build this together because we don’t want this to go away.

 

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Weeks 2 and 3

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Weeks two and three at Abot Tala: lots of scrabble, chess, a new mentor from Brazil, catapult making, testing bridges, design thinking from the man behind Failure School, home theater inauguration via Soul Surfer, noodles from scratch, the food club’s Milo flavored donut, flipping naan with a rolling pin, youtube dancing, “our” dog Biscuit running outside, multiple trips to Ministop, circuit building, jamming sessions, launching enterprises, a helicopter suit out of cardboard, improvisation, chillaxing ukulele music, community meetings, slapjack because it’s somebody’s favorite game, photo shoots, smiles, laughter, teasing, fights, a few flaring tempers but we’re a community determined to support one another through this life-long learning adventure.

For those who want to drop by and see how school could be redefined and redesigned, do visit us between 9am and 3pm, Monday to Thursday.   Check out our website and if this unusual model gives you a compelling reason to explore it, drop us a line.

To prevent people from slamming into the sliding glass panels at the center, we placed stickers with the following quotes.  Lots of food for thought enough to make you woozy.  If only running a self-directed, personalized learning collaborative were as easy as reading these bits of inspiring insights.

“My schooling not only failed to teach me what it professed to be teaching, but it prevented from being educated to an extent which infuriates me when I think of all I might have learned at home by myself.” – George Bernard Shaw        “I am always ready to learn, but I do not always like to be taught.” – Winston Churchill          “You cannot teach a person anything; you can only help him find it within himself.” – Galileo        “Self education is, I believe, the only education there is.” – Issac Asimov    “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein         “None of the world’s problems will have a solution until the world’s individuals become thoroughly self-educated.” – Buckminster Fuller          “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”  – Pablo Picasso         “To find yourself, think for yourself.”  —  Socrates    “If we value independence, if we are disturbed by the growing conformity of knowledge, of values, of attitudes, which our present system induces, then we may wish to set up conditions of learning which make for uniqueness, for self-direction, and for self-initiated learning.”  – Carl Rogers    “Children are born passionately eager to make as much sense as they can of things around them. If we attempt to control, manipulate, or divert this process, the independent scientist in the child disappears.”  –  John Holt    “Real wisdom is not the knowledge of everything, but the knowledge of which things in life are necessary, which are less necessary, and which are completely unnecessary to know.”  – Leo Tolstoy     “Children have to be educated, but they have also to be left to educate themselves.”  – Ernest Dimnet     “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” – William Butler Yeats         “What we think, we become.” — Buddha    “I know of nothing more inspiring than that of making discoveries for one’s self. –  George Washington Carver     “When you are genuinely interested in one thing, it will always lead to something else.” – Eleanor Roosevelt       “Where my reason, imagination, or interest were not engaged, I would not or I could not learn.” – Winston Churchill      “All men who have turned out worth anything have had a chief hand in their own education.” – Sir Walter Scott        “Do not train children in learning by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” –Plato      “It is shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult. Muad’Dib knew that every experience carries its lesson.” – Frank Herbert      “Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.” – Albert Camus   “You learn at your best when you have something you care about and can get pleasure in being engaged in.” – Howard Gardner    “To develop a complete mind: study the science of art; study the art of science. Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.’ – Leonardo da Vinci     “Growth and mastery come only to those who vigorously self-direct. Initiating, creating, doing, reflecting, freely associating, enjoying privacy – these are precisely what the structures of schooling are set up to prevent, in one context or another.” – John Taylor Gatto    “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being could fight; and keep fighting.” E.E. Cummings        “Between stimulus and response, there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Viktor Frankl        “All limitations are self-imposed.” – Oliver Wendell      “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him stop to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” – Henry David  Thoreau     What is essential is to realize that children learn independently, not in bunches; that they learn out of interest and curiosity, not to please or appease the adults in power; and that they ought to be in control of their own learning, deciding for themselves what they want to learn and how they want to learn it.” – John Holt      “The most courageous act is still to think for yourself.  Aloud.” — Coco Chanel        “I’ve learned that fear limits you and your vision.   It serves as blinders to what may be just a few steps down the road for you.  The journey is valuable, but believing in your talents, your abilities, and your self-worth can empower you to walk down an even brighter path.  Transforming fear into freedom – how great is that?”  Soledad O’Brien    “Fromm recognized that transforming education would require much more than creating a new type of school, it would require creating a new type of society with a new set of values. For it would require parents to prioritize human flourishing over personal success and economic growth. . . . . I have come to believe that one of the most important needs we all share as human beings is the need to express our love and compassion through care and concern for others. I think that much of our discontentment comes from our inability to meet this need. Our whole way of life, tragically, seems to be almost set up to frustrate the satisfaction of this need that we all have to benefit others. It is all the more tragic, therefore, when people go into teaching, for example, because they love working with children, and they want to help children learn, grow and thrive, and those efforts are thwarted because of the pressure they are under to get kids to meet arbitrary benchmarks.” – Ben Draper

 

 

 

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.

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.

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!