Rave, Rave about the Light

20170527_082806

If money was not a factor, what kind of education would parents choose for their children?  A private, progressive or international school with world-class facilities, a low teacher to student ratio and teachers with sterling qualification, progressive-minded leadership that recognizes and celebrates the uniqueness of each individual and strikes a balance between disciplined and student-directed learning?  While undertaking this research, I came across a few students from International Schools in Singapore, New York and Manila who make me wonder about the students who do thrive, excel and are happy in school with a tuition fee that’s prohibitive to most people.  I wonder about the school’s methods which combine a structured approach with a degree of interest-led learning through the wider-than-normal-range of choices and opportunities they offer.

My friend, Mew Yee’s daughter, Ning goes to the United Nations International School in Manhattan and at age sixteen, she spearheaded a project to teach children how to make props and sets for theater productions. Ning wrote, “. . . . I am a total theater geek.  But, I have never stepped on a stage to perform in my life.  Ever since I was 11, I loved to create, sculpt, paint, polish and design props and sets for shows.  When I thought about doing WIT for a business, I immediately thought about investing in my personal passion for theater.  My business, Set the Scene, aims to do just that – set the scene for 4th and 7th grade elementary school kids to learn backstage theater skills.”

These are the notes Ning makes for her class:

Crazy, huh?   Crazy, fun, free-to-be-me creative.  Every parent wishes that sort of self-discovery and enjoyment when their kids go to school – not dragging their feet through the mud but finding and stretching their wings to fly on their own, deriving pleasure in the exercise.

Ning’s sister, fifteen-year old Hue is very talented as well.  She did this and is into music and sports.

20170527_070653

When I met up with my friend, Sofie in Singapore, she introduced me to a family whose three sons attended the United World College.  I had seen the UWC website before and thought maybe, it’s just their online presence that’s impressive.  After hearing two boys rave about their education (the third one was in football practice) and after visiting the UWC premises itself, I was convinced that it was more than a blurb and that they lived it — “We inspire our students to create a more peaceful and sustainable future through education.”  The students visit third world countries and work on actual projects there to help improve people’s lives.  There are no grades in the early years and there is much individual attention and value placed on the uniqueness of each student.  Of course, the complete sports facilities and well-equipped workshops are quite enviable, too.  The boys showed me lamps they made using laser.

I also personally know two young girls who attend the British School of Manila (BSM) who have never praised their school before they started going to BSM.  They previously attended an ultra-strict Chinese school that burdened them with too much homework.  BSM for them, freed them to have a more balanced academic and non-academic life plus learning has become fun rather than a chore and a bore. They were raving about the activities, projects, field trips, teachers and how learning was exciting.

My visits to schools and talks with parents and students are too brief, perhaps too superficial to even make conclusions but they do lead to even more questions like what is the function of economic prosperity in providing good options in education?   To what extent does incorporating a degree of self-directed learning into traditional modes make it a more responsive and effective system?  Are the students happier in these schools that combine the “best of both worlds” — traditional (with a curriculum) and progressive (more freedom and interest-led)?   What can we gather from schools that incorporate varying degrees of self-directed learning that could possibly bridge gaps?   (my notes for future study)

I initiated this independent research on education as a way of grappling with my own fears and apprehensions of being a mother of two boys.  My husband and I tried homeschooling but I am not as convinced as him that this is the way to go because I personally see our sons as thriving more within a consistent and supportive community larger than the immediate family.  I am also more inclined towards a structured way of learning during the earlier years to establish a firm foundation.  This goes against the tenets of SDE (self-directed education) purists so I raised a question during the PLC (Princeton Learning Cooperative) forum of teens who have been shaping their own education path.  What’s their opinion about having a more structured approach during the elementary years?  The young panelists said that it depends on the individual. Some kids might work well within a structure and some might not.  For them, it was important to be a part of a community and it helps to be motivated around friends.

 

 

 

AERO’s Hero

Jerry Mintz is one of the icons of the non-traditional education world having founded the Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) in 1989 and having held AERO Conferences for the past twelve years, thus nurturing an international network of passionate change agents.   After visiting fourteen schools and learning centers of varying degrees of progressiveness and radicalism, I felt the pilgrimage to Jerry’s home/AERO office in Roslyn Heights was a fitting culmination, a mini-graduation of sorts even if I still had one last co-op in Princeton to check out.

More than being a fountain of wisdom and experience from being a school principal for seventeen years and running his own catalytic organization, Jerry is simply a guy who loves people.  His home office is abuzz with folks, young and old, and he is more than willing to share his love for table tennis with anyone who cares to try like my son, Joshua.   Two people from mainland China coincidentally came that day we visited and they ended up chatting with Jason and showing off their ping pong prowess.  Jerry has a knack for teaching ping pong and if I could place my kids in his homeschool twice a week together with Auroja, I would knowing what an encouraging and generous guy he is.

Jerry brings out a foldable ping pong table and turns on the robot and Joshua practices with complete glee.   Jerry unfurls a roll of cardboard to cleverly contain the orange balls so they’d be easier to pick up.  Weaving in and out of the rooms, Jimmy plays with five-year old Auroja, a fellow Paw Patrol devotee and monkey bar strongman like him.

 

AERO is a treasure trove for alt-ed pilgrims like me itching to find books.   I thought I’d be able to get some books from the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham but they told me to just purchase online.  Seeing Jerry’s bookshelves was a dream come true for me.  I wish Donna, my partner in “ed crime,” was there to choose books and listen to Jerry share stories about his involvement in various efforts around America and the world.

The serendipity as we connect dots in this trip amazes me.  Donna and I met Adler Yang and watched his film, “If There is a Reason to Study” about the condition of Taiwanese education during the APDEC (Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference) last year. Jerry tells me that Adler is expected to arrive in New York end of the month and we could probably meet up again in AERO.

A woman from Ukraine calls Jerry up asking about some alternative schools they plan to visit.  They are also doing a cross-country trip like us while researching about education. When I visit the Agile Learning Center (ALC) a few days after, folks at the ALC tell me the Ukrainians were there a few days before.  The visitors wanted to learn about new methodologies to apply to their school.

Jerry talks about his observations about Sudbury Schools and new models like ALC.   I tell him about the opportunity in the Philippines waiting for me to be part of the Gopala Learning Haven, a center for homeschoolers with an idyllic setting amidst nature.  It’s a difficult decision for me to make because although I want to participate in this process I’ve been researching about and dreaming of, life in China still holds its attraction because things are way, way simpler and less problematic there.   Jerry suggests, maybe we can have a trial period in the Philippines and make no long-term commitments first.

Being a part of this movement, this web is quite exciting and to think it all started over a year ago out of discontent with the education system in China.  Many people’s starting point may be that — a bubbling discontent that pushes issues to the surface to be addressed.  The challenge is what do we do about it in concrete terms that deliver, as Ghandi said, “the change we want to see.”

 

Tinkering at Last

20170516_052251

After watching Gever Tully’s TED Talk about the Tinkering School, I wanted Joshua to try it out but we weren’t able to get into the one in San Francisco because enrollment is for a series of sessions and no drop-ins.  So I have been looking forward to the one in New York offered by the Brooklyn Apple Academy because it’s open to homeschoolers and it’s okay to take one class at a time.

Noah Mayer, founder of the Brooklyn Apple did a podcast about wanting to start a microschool and Gever Tully himself got in touch with him and helped him do just that. Now, the Brooklyn Apple is on its fifth year of operation and third year as a homeschool resource center. It started as a one-room schoolhouse with six students.  Noah found that he was not as adept at administrative and bookkeeping matters so he partnered with Cottage Class which is a network for microschools that help them with that side of the equation.

All over the world, teachers are reinventing education by starting independent schools, camps, classes and study groups to meet the needs of the children in their communities.  CottageClass is a community marketplace that connects families with these teacher-founders who are transforming our world.

The goal of CottageClass is to help all children reach their greatest potential through individualized instruction.

An average of eight children drop in the Brooklyn Apple every day.  Aside from four days of Tinkering, they have field trips on Wednesday, Minecraft meet-ups on Fridays and other activities from arts and crafts and stop motion animation and a whole lot of play determined and directed by the kids themselves with teachers there for support and guidance.

The workshop room is a dream come true for tinkerers who can pick up odds and ends and initiate a project, use the drill and other equipment but as Lyman Rhodes reminds, safety is always paramount.  Joshua doesn’t gravitate towards the workroom but ends up making buttons in the crafts room and chocolate chip cookies in the kitchen.  That’s the beauty of self-directed learning.  As his parent, I thought he’d tinker with the machines but instead, he excitedly shows me step by step how he made pins by cut-stamping out a comic book page and producing a button.   Lyman tells me that these cool buttons are sometimes sold by the kids in the bustling, commercial 5th Avenue right outside their building where pedestrians end up supporting the kids’ enterprise.

On the walls of the bathroom, one poster said “Livelyhood without slavery to the money economy.”  The deliberate misspelling points to the sad state of some forms of livelihood that suck the life out of a person, making it all about work for the sake of money rather than for the joy and love of doing the work.  In this age, it puzzles many people when some opt out of the system or refuse to join the rat race but the ones who do that see the world from a different perspective.  The teachers who start and run the microschools also view from an uncommon vantage point so they’d like to offer an alternative to the current education system.  They want to be able to listen better to each child, one child at a time.  They don’t want education to be about grades, test scores and outperforming each other.   They want to give back to childhood what childhood is losing.

Other posts about the Brooklyn Apple:

The Q’s School Tool: Part 4: The Brooklyn Apple Academy

Noah Apple@picbear

A Look at the Brooklyn Apple Academy

And if you just want to know more about microschools:

What’s the Next Big Idea? Microschool Networks

The Return of the One-Room Schoolhouse

The Rise of AltSchool and Other Microschools

20170516_053000

Power Unicorns and Keegan Creatures

20170510_232130

A streamer saying “One of the 13 Most Innovative Schools in the World” greeted us near the entrance to the Metropolitan High School and I hoped they’d let me in even though I didn’t have an appointment.  Priscilla, the receptionist graciously helped me out and eventually, Brian came and introduced me to Rebecca, one of the graduates and Idalys, one of the students.  They toured me around the campus mentioned by President Obama in one of his speeches: “That’s why we’ll follow the example of places like the Met Center (a Big Picture Learning school) in Rhode Island that give students that individual attention, while also preparing them through real-world, hands-on training the possibility of succeeding in a career.”

The school operates like a launch pad to the real world treating students as capable adults who can direct themselves rather than children to be spoon-fed with the state-approved boxed-set of curriculum.  They solve real life problems through projects they choose themselves.  They are involved in community work, give-backs and internships. They have one-on-one advisories instead of a classroom that feels like prison.  They may spend three days a week at the Met and two days outside gaining as much practical experience as they can.  They can shape their own education including being able to take college classes.

In each building, there is a social worker who checks in on the students’ emotional and mental health and sees that they’re educationally on track.  But the heart of the process is the student as the center of learning.

“1) The Advisor works with each individual student in the class to help them discover what interests and motivates them. 2) The Mentor, a lawyer, engineer, small business owner, etc., guides each student’s internship. 3) The Parent is actively enlisted as resource to the Big Picture Learning community.  4) The Student (and fellow students) interact to reinforce each other’s passion for real work in the real world.  The result is a self-teaching community of learners where no one feels left-out, and each helps motivate the other.”

It makes so much sense, you wonder why aren’t more schools switching to this method but there is already a growing number of schools across twenty two states of America which are part of the Big Picture Learning network.  The model has also been adopted in countries like Australia, Canada, Israel and the Netherlands.  The Met in Providence, Rhode Island is the prototype initiated by Elliot Washor and Dennis Littky.

In the schools that Big Picture Learning envisioned, students would be at the center their own education. They would spend considerable time in the community under the tutelage of mentors and they would not be evaluated solely on the basis of standardized tests. Instead, students would be assessed on exhibitions and demonstrations of achievement, on motivation, and on the habits of mind, hand, and heart  – reflecting the real world evaluations and assessments that all of us face in our everyday lives.

Both my tour guides, Rebecca and Idalys are passionate about organizing and managing events. Idalys has raised funds through a walkathon in memory of a Met staff member who pass away.  Rebecca currently works at the Black Box Theater, a venue for cultural and community events.

I wonder if there are students who don’t take too well to the unconventional way things are done and Rebecca says that if they enter the system from a traditional school, it may take adjustment but they soon catch on that they’re responsible for what they learn and get out of Met.  A student one time was caught not doing the internship that he was supposed to do so after that incident, measures were placed to avoid abuse of trust and freedom.

We entered the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship where Nick introduced us to students who started and grew their own businesses.  John produces ice-cream-inspired candles while Keegan creates his own hand-screened printed art on shirts. Even though he is in high school, Keegan is already involved with the Rhode Island School of Design and aiming to be as prolific as he can be as an artist.  Talking to the students, one can see that they do find their own way in and out of the Met campus.  They grow at their own speed and pace.

Curious about our family road trip and research about education, Nick throws me a question about what impressed me most about the schools and learning centers that we visited.  I told him about being struck by the Macomber and North Star which were technically not schools but informal centers for self-directed learning.  However, visiting the Met that day made me realize how the same self-directed ideal can also take place within a more structured school setting.  What’s even more amazing is this is not a private school.  It’s a public school where students enter by way of lottery.  That means that even though they use quite radical, out-of-the-box methods, they still operate within the system, get state funding and comply with requirements.  Within this typically constricted environment, they are able to break out of the box and do the unthinkable, even the unimaginable.  Except for visionaries like Elliot and Dennis, ideas that seem “unthinkable” and “unimaginable” are most certainly not.

Read about Dennis Littky, the co-founder’s story:  Radical’ Educator Pushes Boundaries and Brings Results: Dennis Littky Story

Profile: Dennis Littky

About Elliot Washor

Check out this book by Elliot Washor: Leaving to Learn: How Out-of-School Learning Increases Student Engagement and Reduces Dropout Rates

There are a number of videos, too:

Elliott Washor

Dennis Littky

Ten Minutes about the Littky Method

Personalization and student engagement

321

Check out Keegan Creatures on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/keegancreatures/

5

Dear Peter

Thank you for helping set me on a path one year ago when I emailed you my PhD proposal and you replied how flattered you were “to be seen as an inspiration along with Thoreau” since my thesis title was “Walden Meets Ken and Gray: Journey as a Search for Knowledge through Nature, Creativity and Play.”  The conceptual framework linked your book, Free to Learn with Henry David Thoreau’s Walden and Ken Robinson’s Learning to Be Creative.

In your first email to me, you mentioned that you will be in Taiwan in July as a speaker at the Asia-Pacific Democratic Education Conference (APDEC).  Because of you sharing that information, my friend, Donna and I ended up attending that event and after hearing and meeting all these inspiring people, we dreamed of one day holding APDEC in China and the Philippines. We formed a small of group of interested people on Chinese social media but at the back of our minds, we want to someday have an alternative kind of school in our countries.   I thought this wouldn’t happen till further in the future when we’ve done more preparatory work on this field or when we’ve gathered more people passionate about self-directed learning.

However, as I told you during my visit to your house last week, I met Laksmi who started the Gopala Learning Haven that in my mind perfectly fit the picture of a Sudbury School set in nature with its forest and stream but it’s operating concept is more like the Macomber Center because it serves primarily homeschoolers.  You suggested that I visit the Macomber Center during my research in America which I did plus I dropped by the North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens.  Now, I have this idea that Laksmi can be the one with the younger kids and I’d be the one with the teenagers.

It’s tempting for me to go back home to the Philippines to pursue this dream project but as I told you there are too many family and personal issues that hold me back from returning.  Life in China is simpler and more affordable so it’s the easier path for me, but the opportunity of realizing this dream that has been over a year brewing is not as apparent as the one in my own country.  After talking to you last week, it seemed the only thing as usual holding me back is fear.  After talking to you, I felt courage to take the more challenging route but I don’t know if that courage will last when I step on Philippine soil and beyond.

Even if we have met briefly, you have impacted my life in more ways and for this I am very, very grateful.  You knew about this road trip across America from the start and it’s amazing that we would meet up at your house when we are near the finish line of our three-month journey.   Thank you for welcoming me into your home and for the lovely ham and peanut omelette lunch.  Thank you for listening to me blabber about the schools I visited.  I think Donna is the only other person who could listen to me talk so much about those schools and learning centers.

The PhD concept in the beginning is evolving from something academic to immediately applying research to real life which I think is a good development.  However, I still wish I can write a book about all this that will be published in English and Chinese.  It’s funny how Donna and I were so bent on holding a talk on self-directed learning in Manila but we had to cancel because we needed more time to spend on the camp for Chinese students traveling to the Philippines plus there’s the more practical matter of the learning haven.  So it’s not merely talking about self-directed learning but practicing it and seeing it in action, not just a topic of conversation.

These are my blog entries about the schools and learning centers visited throughout this trip.  There are around five more that I still need to go to in Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey.

https://entirelyofpossibility.wordpress.com/category/researching-education/

I’m visiting AERO (Alternative Education Resource Organization) in New York and hope I can contribute some articles.  I was wondering if any of these articles would be useful to the websites you are involved with, Alternatives to School and Alliance for Self-Directed Learning, or if I could edit or re-write any of these articles so that it’s in a more useful format to those sites.  Please tell me as I’d love to be contribute in any way possible to the movement.

Thank you very much.

Always,

Joei : )

phd conceptual framework

 

Helping Teens Thrive Without School

I probably asked Ken Danford the “wrong” first question showing how much I didn’t understand his TEDx Talk I watched a few days ago while folding laundry.  Maybe I was distracted by the laundry but I think it’s the typically worried Mom syndrome that did it.  I asked him how they motivated kids and he booms loudly for all the young teenagers in the room to hear, “Hey, how do we motivate you guys?”   Somebody answered to the effect, “Huh?  You don’t.  We do it ourselves.”

Got it.  I think.  It’s hard to believe that I so believe in this process and yet understand so little of it.

The North Star blurb goes: “Learning is natural. School is optional.”  The North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens has been helping teens thrive without school since 1996. That’s two decades of rescuing teens from the boredom and misery of school and of teens finding their way through life without the help of formal, certificate-awarding institutions.  Many of them do end up in colleges – community or otherwise or even prestigious name universities and whatever the method or path, end up leading productive lives.

I loved school.  Not everyone does.  I wanted to go to school every year of my life until I realized life was one big school and now I set up my own personal university, fashion my own curriculum and search for my own teachers and mentors.  But seeing many young, aimless, unmotivated young people bothered me.  It gnawed like a zombie inside my brain.

What bothered Ken was that he was teaching social studies in a public middle school and he saw students year after year who would rather be somewhere else other than the classroom. “How would you feel working in a restaurant where people didn’t want to eat?”  In an interview with Blake Boles, author of The Art of Self-Directed Learning, Ken Banford shared this account:

And it came about in 1996, when Joshua Hornick and I were frustrated middle school teachers in Amherst, the Amherst public schools in Massachusetts, and, couldn’t see how to improve or change schools from within to make it so that teens would want to be there. I had liked school, I’d become a teacher for idealistic reasons, I was in a program to become a principal or superintendent, but I really felt sad about the relationships I was having with many of the teens and their experiences in the building, and I felt that in many cases I was making teens’ lives worse, not better, and fussing about trivial things with them, about bathrooms, about tardiness, and so on, and that, you know, on an individual basis many of them were just throwing their work away as soon as they thought they were done with it, and it didn’t seem very meaningful to a lot of people. And Joshua felt those things but he had a slightly different take on it, which was, that he felt in school, so many teens were just learning to get by, to settle for mediocrity, to see “teenagedom” as a time to get through without doing anything meaningful, just wait and wait, and pass on through. And he felt really sad to be part of that system or contributing in any way to that view of life. And so, he gave me a copy of “The Teenage Liberation Handbook” – that was my first introduction to homeschooling, and I knew nothing about any alternatives such as that…

Ken Danford started North Star and has been coaching kids not to go to school since 1996.  North Star is not a school; there are no grades, credits or diplomas.  What is there then?  It’s like an anti-exclusive club where all teens are welcome, have regular one-on-one meetings with an advisor and if they want, they can avail of tutorials, classes, read books in the library, hang-out with others in the lounge, play musical instruments, practice song, dance or theater, be involved in community activities and projects and do pretty much what they want without being judged or labeled.   Many of the teens who go through the North Star doors come from misery, anxiety and depression.  Some were suicidal.  Most of those feelings disappear once they realize they are free to lead lives they choose to lead, not dictated by “authority.”  They become authors of their lives.

In his TEDx Talk in Amherst, Ken said,  “Stop going to school and start getting a life? Who says that to teenagers?  That’s preposterous!”  North Star has made it their mission to offer an alternative to those who feel trapped in school.  To go back to my first question, the question is not how you motivate the kids.  Maybe they’ll want to volunteer, maybe not.  Maybe they’ll want to be involved, maybe not.  Maybe happiness precedes being active or motivated.  They’ll find that reason to get up in the morning themselves but what North Star provides is a safe place and a listening ear.

One teenager, Tristan told me how North Star saved him because he was able to develop social skills, hurdle his anxiety meeting people, build confidence and make friends. Another teenager found her voice through writing, learning about herself and figuring things out by herself.

Tristan toured me around the building which was a dream come true for me.  This was my vision in the flesh.  I had thought of this and I researched about this and here it was, standing twenty years strong.  What struck me most was what outreach director, Jodi Cutler told me, “We have hurt no one and we have turned no one away.  That’s something most schools can’t say.”

They have turned no one away.  They have turned no one away.  What kind of people do this sort of thing?  Super heroes?  To enter clubs, institutions, schools, universities, you have to hurdle tests, pass muster, be judged in relation to other applicants, be tight with the in-crowd, have the right sort of background or else you are turned away.  Sorry. Not up to standard.  Imagine a place where the only standard is the one you set up for yourself.

I can imagine a place like this happening in America or other developed countries, but in the Philippines?  No self-respecting parent would want this kind of hippie, pie-in-the-sky, set up for their child, right?   You never know till you try.

How does North Star keep itself afloat especially if they don’t turn away people?  Two thirds to three fourths come from fees that they charge the “members” and one third is derived from fundraising.  They eventually earn the trust of parents and their track record shows an impressive alumni.  One of the parents sent his two sons to North Star and it worked brilliantly for them — one graduated from Brown University and the other went into jazz.  Now that they’ve gone off on their own, their father joined North Star as a staff advisor.

Ken Danford has set up an international network called Liberated Learners.  Click on the yellow symbol over the Philippines.  It’s the only one so far in that region.  See what comes up.

 

3031

Read the whole interview with Ken Danford by Blake Boles here.

Watch the full TEDx talk here.

Check out the Liberated Learners here.

32

Dream of Macomber

20170504_002816

When we turned into the driveway and saw the big expanse of rolling green fields, Joshua and Jimmy jumped out of the car and rushed to join the kids playing football. Even though they were much smaller than the others, the two didn’t feel there was any difference as if they blended seamlessly.  I walked to a group of people under a tree and introduced our family as travelers driving from San Francisco to New York while researching alternative forms of education.  How many times have I repeated that line? How many times have I brought out my ratty, tattered, beaten-almost-to-a-pulp print-out of a map showing our route like a red mountain range to show as proof of our adventure as if our white pick-up truck topped with four bikes was not enough?  It’s time to print a new map and have it laminated but with less than a month to go, maybe it’s not necessary.

Hearing the yearnings of my heart, the universe arranged it so we lived in a friend’s house one minute away from Macomber Center, one of the non-traditional places of learning that I had on my list to visit.  Were it not for Peter Gray’s suggestion, I wouldn’t have run across Macomber in my endless google searches and researches.  Getting excited reading their website and then seeing it in the flesh was a dream actualized.  This was not a school but a hang-out place for homeschoolers who wanted to be part of a community.

Because it was so near, Joshua and Jimmy were able to join Macomber for two days while I sat, working on my laptop, blogging, absorbing the relaxed atmosphere and inspired to think of what could be in the future.  Ben Draper, the director of Macomber welcomed me while Dan Dick described the Macomber as “a community of responsible adults helping kids learn how to make choices and decisions.”

In the website, Alternatives to School, Ben Draper explains what the center is about:

We opened the Macomber Center in 2012 as a resource center for self-directed learners.  Most of us had come from a democratic school background so naturally some people assumed that we were taking the first steps towards creating a democratic school.  What started to interest us, however, was not the potential to move towards something familiar, but the opportunity to explore something new.  We wanted to remain open-minded and flexible about what we were doing and how we might evolve.  There are plenty of alternative schools out there; we wanted to provide a genuine alternative to school.

From the very beginning, we rejected the idea of school.  We had no interest in having to enforce an attendance policy, which all schools — even democratic schools– have to do.  We wanted kids to be able to come and go freely.  We wanted the center to be used only as needed and not to hold kids back from pursuing other interests out in the larger community.  We were not interested in handing out diplomas either.  We didn’t feel that kids should need our stamp of approval to move on in the world.  Instead, we felt that they should be the ones to determine when and how they were going to make the transition into adult life.

As a resource center, we provide an environment where the natural curiosity of kids is given free reign.  They are surrounded by acres of natural space and are given the time and freedom to explore.  They have access to the essential tools of learning: computers, books, art supplies, musical instruments, and science equipment.  They also have access to knowledgeable, helpful adults.

On the first day of my visit, I joined the workshop on slam poetry requested by one of the Macomber members.  A group of five teenagers listened to Amy Mevorach perform her beautiful poems like this one about the fear of performing.

Dorothy Bernard said ‘Courage is the fear that has said its prayers’

I believe fear is just wings that don’t know they can fly

Amy Mevorach

One of the students shared a recording she made of her poem.  I got encouraged by Amy who told us how different it is to perform poems versus keeping them silent in print.  I browsed my blog on my phone and read aloud my poem, something I haven’t done for many, many years.

My photos don’t do Macomber Center justice as I hesitate to take pictures with the students’ faces plus the weather wasn’t good on the second day we hung out there. Joshua, along with other kids got drenched in the rain.  I wish I can show you the vibrance of Denise’s photo albums that document their weekly activities but again, you can also check out their website.

Past five in the afternoon, while waiting for Jason to pick us up, one of the dads offered us a ride home. We started chatting while our kids continued playing. I told him about my interest in alternative education and he told me that he also considered Sudbury Valley School but he didn’t like that parents seemed discouraged from being involved in the school.  He, his wife and two kids are all happy with Macomber so much so that they are thinking of starting something like it where they live.  My friend, Laksmi and I are also doing something like Macomber for homeschoolers and unschoolers in the Philippines.

The more dots we connect in this network of self-directed learners, the better for all of us.

 

345