Lift Off!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Video List

We wanted to show Calista Santillan’s video in Fully Booked before Ken Danford began his talk but technical limitations prevented us so we hope, for those who are interested in seeing something like North Star happen here in Manila, please do watch this video and hear what teens think of that possibility.  Calista was tasked to interview young people who were asked to watch Ken Danford’s TEDx talk and a video about North Star.  She then went above and beyond splicing meaningful sharings and made a powerful opening statement.

Ken got so excited after watching Calista’s video that he emailed it to his family and North Star colleagues in the States as he proudly said, Look at what this teenager in Manila made!

Interview with Filipino Students about North Star – Video by Calista

If you want to know more about North Star and efforts to make something like it come to life in the Philippines, watch these videos.  Join Abot Tala on Facebook, too!  Read about it on this blog.

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David Ferro of DWIZ Interviews Ken Danford

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David Ferro Interview with Joei Villarama

Videos on YouTube and Vimeo are worth catching if you want to immerse yourself in the rather radical world of North Star.  How does it look like and what do members say about it?

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A Day in the Life of North Star

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A Teen Looks Back on Life Without School: “I Could Have Spent the Last Six Years Fighting”

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From the Bottom of My Brain: A Valley Gives Day Crumpet

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This is Your Life: Choose Your Own Adventure

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North Star Slice

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About North Star 2015-2016

We leave you with these words from teenagers interviewed by Calista on whether something like North Star would work in the Philippines.

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And of course, don’t forget the videos that inspired people (including the Abot Tala team) and in different degrees, sparked action in various places around the world:

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School is Optional: TEDx Talk by Ken Danford

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Teacher Liberation: TEDx Talk by Joel Hammon

Check out: https://abottala.com/

 

Launching a Game-Changer

Tinky wrote to Ken, “We’ve been waiting for years for a game-changer and a ceiling-breaker like you and North Star.”  It seems in the Philippines, we’ve been waiting long for alternatives to mainstream school but in countries like the US, options like North Star and other self-directed schools and centers have been existing for decades.  Yes, there are progressive schools here but beyond progressive, there are much fewer options.  The homeschooling and unschooling community has been growing in the country but what about options for kids who are stuck, miserable in school or for families who want to homeschool but would prefer an option outside home to allow both parents to continue working?

Ken Danford was a history teacher in public school for ten years when he got disillusioned with the system, was handed by serendipity Grace Llewellyn’s classic, Teenager Liberation Handbook and proceeded to create North Star.  At first, he toyed around with the idea of a school but that would be subjecting the students to the same problem of being forced to go somewhere to get society’s concept of education.  In North Star, there is no coercion.  It is not a school and it does not give certificates, grades or report cards.

What does it do then?  It offers a way out for students who wish to take control of their lives, what they learn and how they learn.  It uses homeschooling as a tool since members are registered with the State as homeschoolers which then allows them the flexibility and freedom to create their path, which they can with or without North Star.

Like a club or a community center, North Star is a space and a community where teens are free to join activities and hang out with friends.  If they choose to, they can attend classes or workshops or get connected to internship and other opportunities.  Every week, the members meet with an adult mentor-adviser who helps them map out a plan and checks in on their progress.  The parents also play an important role and are much involved in the process.

In his talk at Fully Booked last July 14, Ken shared this letter from Sebrina:

Hi, my name is Sebrina and I am looking forward to joining North Star. Throughout my 10th grade year at Smith Voc, I was thinking about alternative ways to learning. I decided officially on February 25th that I wanted to be home schooled. My parents support me and want the best for me, they stood right by me and supported my decision to be home schooled. I am very interested in the psychology class and hope to develop ways to support those around me and help people. I would like to spend my time learning in the classes that I choose to be in, and some time for me to socialize and work on other schooling. I feel like North Star will play an important role at this time in my life because I think that learning at my own pace, and being welcomed and supported will give me time to heal and be happier. I see myself participating in the North Star Community by being a nice person and attending the community meetings if they are on a day that I will be at North Star. At the end of the year, when I decided if this has been a good year, I will have decided by looking back on how I was treated by my peers and on how much I enjoyed the classes. The thing that is hardest for me in life is socializing, I feel like I don’t fit in anywhere and want to feel like I am part of the community. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to write this letter and I am excited to join North Star.

North Star has been running for over twenty years and its alumni have went on to University and have successful careers of their own.  Because of this positive track record, Ken has reached out to others who want to initiate a center based on the North Star model.  Now, there are twelve centers in the USA and one in Canada, all members of the Liberated Learners network.  Ken’s purpose for coming to Manila is to assist our team in launching Abot Tala.

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Many people are excited about the concept of Abot Tala finally here in Manila.  However, it’s one thing to express interest and another thing to actually join it or to support the dream so it becomes reality.  Some people think this is crazy and it seems too risky given the conservative nature of Filipinos who still want the name school together with the name university.  But the greater risk for the risk-taker is not to take the risk at all, to stay safe and not question the status quo.

It’s been crazy raining since Ken Danford left Philippine shores, like the skies are crying that our champion of self-directed education has gone.  The weather cooperated so well the whole time Ken was here from July 8 to 18, pouring only when we were indoors and a few times slightly when we were outdoors.  This granted Ken the ability to hit all the meetings and presentations without missing a beat.  Now, the team has to buckle down and hit the ground running.  Our work has only started.

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Hindi lang pang Taho Boy, pang Abot Tala pa!!!

If you want to be part of this game-changer in education, email me at: entirelyofpossibility@yahoo.com.ph

If you want to read more about Abot Tala:

If You Build It Will They Come

Who Wants to Flip It

So Extreme You Might Fall Off the Spectrum

The Non-School

Ken in Manila

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Months of planning, preparing and promoting and the day finally arrives — Ken lands in Manila!  Just on his second day on his first Asian trip and we’ve done quite a round of important meetings, from a dinner with advocates of alternative education to a visit to Gopala Learning Haven in Silang, Cavite including a muddy hike down a ravine, and on to a marathon discussion with potential full time and part time mentor-staff of Abot Tala.  A storm was declared but it veered away from our path so we were able to keep to the full itinerary, allowing us to make all the connections needed to get this dream of self-directed education for teens off the ground.

Check out: https://abottala.com/

The Non-School

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Clicking and copy-pasting the YouTube video hundreds of time, I failed to notice until today the interesting commentary below Ken Danford’s TEDx talk, School is Optional.  There are a lot of praises for North Star and Ken changing lives and saving the love of education.  Some of the comments date from four years ago and somebody quipped, “Five years later and the lie of ‘you have to go to school’ is still being perpetuated.” Even if it is perpetuated, at least there are options around that question the status quo and could be center-based (e.g. North Star, PLC and other Liberated Learners centers), school-based (e.g. Free Schools, Agile Learning Centers) or home-based (e.g. homeschooling and unschooling).

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Go down further the comments about the video and there’s an interesting conversation about the cost of going to North Star with critic and defenders exchanging opposing opinions online.

 

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Those fees are from four years ago and you can see the updated fees on the North Star website.  When  you translate the amount into Philippine pesos, it even becomes more staggering.  It’s more expensive than good quality private schools here and climbing up towards the stratosphere of International School fees, but that’s an unfair comparison because the economies of the two countries are different.  Average salaries, teacher salaries, cost of living, cost of education are poles apart.

We’re trying to jump start something like North Star and PLC here in the Philippines but the question is, who will pay an amount equivalent to the tuition fee of a private school in Manila for, as the critic said with derision, a “non-school.”  True, it is a “non-school” or the anti-thesis of a school or an “un-school” but that’s looking at it from the point of view society’s conscripted, perhaps corrupted definition of school.  The other way of looking at it is this: it’s even more of what a school should be or look like if we lived in an ideal world and respected the freedom of each being, regardless of age.

One on one tutorials and personalized education understandably cost more than mass, factory-style education.  Some parents understand this clearly.  For some parents, the cost won’t matter but for many, the cost will still be a clincher.  But the inevitable reality is that things cost – space to rent, salaries to pay monthly, utilities and other operational expenses.  North Star doesn’t turn away anyone who wants to be member and to continue doing this, they have fund raising activities and donors.

If You Build It Will They Come?

Do we build it first in the hopes that people will come like the baseball players in the Field of Dreams?  Or is too risky a suicidal venture?

Do we wait till we have a good number of families who believe in this?  How do we even find those families?

The non-school, the mock-school, the I-don’t-want-to-go-to-school school — call it what you want but even Sir Ken Robinson himself was impressed with North Star writing about it in his book, Creative Schools.  Ken Robinson’s TED Talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity” has been viewed fifteen million times but still, one discouraging remark goes, “Almost 10 years since this video was posted and unfortunately nothing has changed.”

Maybe change is too slow, too unnoticeable, too one-at-a-time to make an impact but lives anyway, are always bigger and more complex than YouTube comments.

 

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In his book, Creative School, here’s what Ken Robinson wrote about North Star and his tukayo, Ken Danford:

North Star is a center (Ken and his colleagues are very conscious about not calling it a school, because it is not accredited as one) that helps teenagers discover a passion for learning that has either been derailed or tamped down in a major way.  While it is not a regular “school,” it serves very effectively  as one for many. “North Star is principally for teenagers who are in school and miserable, who don’t want to go.  Some are getting straight A’s.  Some of them have hobbies.  Some of them don’t know up from down and have all kinds of problems.

“There’s a thing about letting people be — about letting them choose for themselves — that’s so profound.  There was no way to get that when we were teaching.  What do you want to do and what do you want from me to help you?  They don’t know yet, so they have to try everything to figure it out.  That might include saying no to everything and emptying out their lives and seeing what happens if they do nothing for a while.  It’s glorious fun.”

While it might sound as though North Star is fast-tracking dropouts, the opposite is true.  Most North Star participants go on to college, including MIT, Brown, Smith, UCLA and Columbia, among others.  Participation in North Star is often seen as an asset by admissions directors, because North Star kids have a history of being self-directed and intellectually curious.

Ken and North Star understand that learning comes in a wide variety of shapes and size, that kids can’t all be taught the same way, and that when students are taught in a way that best fits the way they learn and what interests them the most, they can make enormous leaps.  While it is an unconventional model, its success suggests a need for all schools to think in new ways about the way they serve students.                                                                         

So Extreme You Might Fall Off the Spectrum

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When I told somebody who has worked in various progressive schools all her life about self-directed education (SDE), she thought that progressive schools were at the edge of the spectrum, the other end being traditional schools.  Then I told her about North Star and Liberated Learners and that there are other SDE models like Agile Learning Centers, Free Schools, Sudbury and even a place called Macomber created by some who left Sudbury.

Progressive is somewhere in between conventional schooling and SDE.  Athough SDE is a term used in both progressive and traditional settings, you’d know the difference once you see something fully and truly SD.  It blows your mind that there are crazy people doing this.  It seems almost unbelievable that it could be done.  No curriculum, no required classes (you only attend if you want to), no grades, no report cards, not even a piece of paper that says you finished something.  What’s that called again?  Oh, certificate.

For those who have been in the teaching profession, maybe seeds of these thought have entered your mind: Why am I doing this?  Is this the only way to do this?  Is there a way that doesn’t involve coercion?  That’s the epiphany that dawned on Ken Danford when he started North Star with Josh Hornick and on Joel Hammon when he sought to connect with Ken and eventually started the Princeton Learning Cooperative plus two others: Raritan and Buck.

Another friend of mine asked, How do you sell this concept to people?  You don’t.  You can’t.  You have to put the idea out there hoping there are people who understand, who believe and who are willing to join.

People are always looking for proof.  “But does this work?” they ask.  Check out the website of the Alliance for Self Directed Education for full reports on those who attended North Star:

What Happens to Self-Directed Learners by Ken Danford

North Star Report Part 1

North Star Report Part 2

The lyrics of this Joey Ayala classic might refer to a pair of love-struck rebels but it captures for me the essence of SDE:

Di ba tayo’y narito
Upang maging malaya
At upang palayain ang iba
Ako’y walang hinihiling
Ika’y tila ganoon din
Sadya’y bigyang-laya ang isa’t-isa

Please excuse this English translation that fails to capture the beauty of the Tagalog verse:

Aren’t we here
To be free
And to free others
I’m not asking anything from you
And you’re not asking anything from me
Except we’re here to free one another

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Read more about the spectrum from traditional school to SDE here.

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Check out: https://abottala.com/

 

Seth and Two Kens

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Seth Godin said that schools should teach kids two things:  1) how to solve interesting problems and 2) lead.  Imagine if schools around the world did that.  Would we have more problem solvers who can lead the way?  Would we have less people who want to work for others because they want to set up their own enterprises built to address pressing problems?  Would schools evolve to look like something vastly different from how they appear and operate now?  Would we have more leaders and less followers?  Would that be a scary world for those who merely want followers whom they can cheaply hire and easily control?

Probably one of the most-watched TED Talks is Ken Robinson’s “Do Schools Kill Creativity.”  In his book, Ken Robinson talks about North Star, founded by his tukayo, Ken Danford.

North Star is a center (Ken and his colleagues are very conscious about not calling it a school, because it is not accredited as one) that helps teenagers discover a passion for learning that has either been derailed or tamped down in a major way.  While it is not a regular “school,” it serves very effectively  as one for many. “North Star is principally for teenagers who are in school and miserable, who don’t want to go.  Some are getting straight A’s.  Some of them have hobbies.  Some of them don’t know up from down and have all kinds of problems.

“There’s a thing about letting people be — about letting them choose for themselves — that’s so profound.  There was no way to get that when we were teaching.  What do you want to do and what do you want from me to help you?  They don’t know yet, so they have to try everything to figure it out.  That might include saying no to everything and emptying out their lives and seeing what happens if they do nothing for a while.  It’s glorious fun.”

While it might sound as though North Star is fast-tracking dropouts, the opposite is true.  Most North Star participants go on to college, including MIT, Brown, Smith, UCLA and Columbia, among others.  Participation in North Star is often seen as an asset by admissions directors, because North Star kids have a history of being self-directed and intellectually curious.

Ken and North Star understand that learning comes in a wide variety of shapes and size, that kids can’t all be taught the same way, and that when students are taught in a way that best fits the way they learn and what interests them the most, they can make enormous leaps.  While it is an unconventional model, its success suggests a need for all schools to think in new ways about the way they serve students.

That’s Ken Robinson talking about Ken Danford in Robinson’s book, “Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education.”  Connect that with Seth Godin’s book, “Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?” then you get the drift that the way to become indispensable is to nurture and flaunt your uniqueness which self-directed education respects, recognizes and celebrates.

Listen to the two Kens and Seth:

Ken Robinson: Do Schools Kill Creativity

Ken Danford: School is Optional

Seth Godin: How to Be a Linchpin

 

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