On Turning 9


Yesterday, Joshua turned nine.  I wished it wasn’t a holiday and I could just do the shortcut birthday celebration of bringing a cake to his classroom, but it was the second Monday in a row that was declared no school.  So we had to do an almost impromptu celebration which gave me all sorts of mixed feelings inside — vowing this is the last party of this kind because it’s too much work at the same time realizing that he’s nine and the kiddie party would soon transition away from loot bags and games with prizes.  He’s a big boy with a mind of his own.  He knows what level of festivity he wants.  Mommy has to step back and let him decide.

A day before his birthday, Joshua attended the party of their neighbor and playmate, Kianna.  He loved winning the newspaper dance and making slime, but for his own party he whispered to teacher Hazel that he didn’t want games.  When we did do a quickie set of games because there were prizes that Joshua had chosen (super bargain fidget spinners), Joshua was happy.  I wouldn’t have been able to pull off his party without the enormous loving help of Hazel.

Joshua, Jimmy and I cleaned up after the party and when they were tucked in bed, I went down to gaze at the baby and toddler photos of Joshua on the wall. (He didn’t want to have any naked baby photos displayed.)  I felt like the sentimental momma who will soon prepare for the kids’ launch into succeeding phases of increasing independence and the baby-toddler-kiddie phase would just be memorialized in photos and our hearts.  But they cannot be re-captured nor re-lived.

This guy’s up next but I have a few more years to go with this one.

P.S.  It’s two days after the party and I haven’t taken down the baby and toddler photos.  I keep staring at them thinking, where’s that baby gone?  They morph into different beings with no memory of when they were babies and you just have pictures to prove they were this small once.  And they’ll morph again into teenagers and all you can do is hug them tighter hoping to reach the baby hidden inside.



Owie and Joei: Giving Back a Dropped Poem


If you love TED Talks as I do and have come across author Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk on Your Elusive Creative Genius, there is a favorite image of mine that she tells in gorgeous, gorgeous detail:

I had this encounter recently where I met the extraordinary American poet Ruth Stone, who’s now in her 90s, but she’s been a poet her entire life and she told me that when she was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out working in the fields, and she said she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. And she said it was like a thunderous train of air. And it would come barreling down at her over the landscape. And she felt it coming, because it would shake the earth under her feet. She knew that she had only one thing to do at that point, and that was to, in her words, “run like hell.” And she would run like hell to the house and she would be getting chased by this poem, and the whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. And other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she’d be running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it and she said it would continue on across the landscape, looking, as she put it “for another poet.” And then there were these times — this is the piece I never forgot — she said that there were moments where she would almost miss it, right? So, she’s running to the house and she’s looking for the paper and the poem passes through her, and she grabs a pencil just as it’s going through her, and then she said, it was like she would reach out with her other hand and she would catch it. She would catch the poem by its tail, and she would pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page. And in these instances, the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact but backwards, from the last word to the first.

It’s the image of a muse coming to an artist and if the artist is ready and willing to be the conduit for the piece of art, whether music or poetry or even a business concept, then the piece of work comes to this world through that artist.  By artist, I mean the broadest sense of the word in that we are all artists creating something out of our lives.  If the person refuses the muse’s offer for one reason or another saying “I’m too busy,” or “Go away, not now!” then the muse has to find another and perch on another’s shoulder and whisper the art piece.

That’s how I felt when I met Owie.  I felt that I had picked up somebody else’s poem and I was handing the poem to somebody it was originally meant for.   The muse had gone to her, courted her and she accepted but along the way around February, just about the same time I picked it up, she said, “Pass.”  And I took the baton and ran with it knowing I may not be the person to do this but I’m sure going to find whomever it’s meant for.

Sure enough, through the uncanny, serendipity-inducing power of social media, I found Owie.  She had been dreaming of something like Abot Tala since last December and contacted friends who are likely to be on-board this crazy alternative education idea.  Then in February, she stopped the project and forgot about it for some time because of other pressing matters.

In February of this year, I started my first online conversation with Ken Danford.  The concept of an alternative school had been brewing in my mind and coagulating in my heart for two years since I was teaching in a university in China.  My Chinese partner, fellow university teacher and alternative education advocate, Donna and I have been dreaming of putting up an alternative school in China and the Philippines but I always thought it would be farther down the road after I’ve attended a few more conferences on democratic education and garnered a PhD.  But then events transpired that led me to where I am including meeting Owie in a cafe.

Reading Owie’s blog this morning about the first Abot Tala parent-teen orientation made me feel that I had really passed the baton.  Here you are, run!   I’d still be running alongside her and maybe we’d be passing the baton to each other or we’re actually holding two batons — one is the operations baton and the other finding the resources to realize the vision.

Still, it’s the gorgeous image of the muse alighting on an unlikely and a likely person and it doesn’t matter what degree of unlikely because people who heed the call, no matter the doubts, hope courage sees them through.





Verbal Vomit

There are too many things we can’t understand about our country, too many things that sadden us but we go on with our laughter and our lives because that is what we do.  My visitor from the US took pictures of the garbage washing up on the shores of Manila Bay.  He was surprised meeting thirteen year old kids who look like they’re seven because they live in poverty and don’t get proper nutrition.  And then we have leaders ousted for plunder and corruption who are put back into positions of power and privilege.  And we have leaders proclaiming that change is coming only to shove the same shit into our faces like the garbage that keeps washing up on our shores, like that man slinging verbal abuse to the woman who keeps taking it, like this never ending tragedy of a nation going to the dogs because it’s in the population’s DNA to be ruled by self-interest.  Self-interest in a fancy dress with fancy words that lull us into a hypnotic state of habitually eating trash, mountains of trash shoved into our bellies.   We are Manila Bay – this grand receptacle for the unwanted, dirty and disgusting.  Do not tell me to vote with my conscience because whose conscience are we listening to if this is the result? Do not tell me that I’m not doing enough, not participating in politics enough, because is it not enough that we have made this hell ourselves, collectively, consciously?




Because Filipinos are everywhere, the chances that there’s a Filipino who has attended a Liberated Learner (LL) Center in America is quite high so how lucky are we that we get connected to and hear from Kai, a young Filipino who finished three years at the Princeton Learning Cooperative (PLC).  PLC is one of the members of the LL network that was started by Joel Hammon as mentored by Ken Danford.

Instead of photos, Kai provided me with his artworks below and patiently answered questions from somebody eager to get first hand information.

How did you learn about PLC?

We were looking for a place to transfer to from the high school I was in that would give me more flexibility.

Why and how did you and your parents decide for you to attend PLC?

I was missing a lot of school, at least once a week, because of my Sensory Processing Disorder and other mental health issues. It was affecting my studies, limiting my social interaction, stressing me to no end… Most high schools weren’t going to accommodate me like they did in elementary and middle school. Having a more flexible schedule would work better for me as my condition is sporadic and unpredictable.

What was a typical day at PLC for you?

A typical day would have been settling in at around 9 am, going to classes, lunch and games (like ground-stop, board games, frisbee), more classes, and then we’d talk for a while or played games again. Classes were always fun and casual, and could be serious too. The volunteers who led the classes treated us like equals and we would have very good discussions. PLC closes at 3 pm, but we can come and go as we please depending on our schedules and what we wanted to do.

Can you describe the mentoring process that you had at PLC?  Who was your mentor and how would you describe your mentor?

Mentoring was basically me and them trying to figure out what I wanted to do, how to do it, and what I could do. I had Joel as my mentor my first year, Katy as my mentor for the second year, and Alison as my mentor for the last two years. My mentors would help me and push me to do things that were important to me and help me move forward. In my last year, Alison helped me with moving past PLC more.

What were some of the classes that you took at PLC that you found most helpful and useful?

I did photography for PLC for a few years; although, technically, it wasn’t a class. I had fun taking pictures and capturing moments in PLC. It also made me realize my talent for photography and Photoshop. They even use a lot of my photos on the site and for Facebook. Joel also asked me recently to spend a day at PLC to to take pictures because they needed newer images for the site.

How many years did you attend PLC and during those years, what were the things that you learned that you think you wouldn’t get if you didn’t go to PLC?

I attended PLC for about 3 and a half years. I learned that you don’t have to take the same old path as everyone else, that there are so many different options that no one talks about — not just in terms of school or work either. I also learned so many new skills, discovered my own talents, and learned to be more independent.

During your time at PLC, did you ever feel like you should’ve gone to a regular school? Why or why not?

I definitely did think “what if I just stayed in school,” and I still think about it as I’m moving forward. I don’t wish I had gone to school though. It’s more like wondering what would have gone differently. Would I still be interested in the same things? Would I be similar to how I am now? I think that I question myself more on taking the GED. I feel like I should have taken it sooner rather than waiting until now to do it. Overall, I know that I would have had a much harder time if I had stayed in school mentally and physically. So, I don’t wish I had gone through regular high school — even if I wonder about it and what would have been.

What is the next phase of your life after PLC?  How has PLC prepared you for it?

This question is great because I’m still really thinking about it. I thought I’d go into an art school for the longest time so I had been preparing myself for that; however, the more I prepared myself, the more I realized that going to art school wouldn’t benefit me as much as I would like nor would it be as fun as I thought it would be. I’m thinking about going into nursing or occupational therapy now though. I’m going to get my GED soon and then enroll in a university (or transfer to one from a community college here). If I was still going to an art school, PLC would have definitely prepared me more than enough for it; however, with last minute change of plans, I’m still prepared, just not quite enough in the side of proper academics needed for nursing and/or OT. PLC has prepared me by making me think and act more independently, figure out my skill-set, taught me how to move forward past PLC, and overall just help shape me into who I am now. Alison also said that she would still help me along the way if I need it, and I will probably talk to her about university choices. I’m thinking about doing health and pre-med at Hampshire College. PLC also taught me that I don’t have to rush into university right after and that I have time.

Did you have Filipino relatives who questioned you about PLC?  How would you explain PLC to them?

Nobody asked me about it, but they asked my parents. But, I would probably explain to them that it’s a group homeschooling in a facility with some adults who know what they’re doing helping out.

What did your parents think of PLC in the beginning and towards the end of your stay there? 

I think that my parents were very iffy and confused about me going to PLC at first, but they also understood that traditional school wasn’t going to help me. I had to do online school at the start, alongside PLC. Eventually, I stopped doing that because it only made me more anxious and I wasn’t really benefiting from it at all. Towards the end, however, it’s a bit weird. When I was still in PLC, I wasn’t going as frequently as I used to — because of my SPD and just that I didn’t have as many classes. They were confident about my interests and desire to go into the art field and let me take classes outside PLC to further benefit me. But I also wasn’t planning on going to college at all which they didn’t really like. My plan was to get the GED done, do freelance work, and then go work at a company or something. I’m not sure how they felt about me just sitting around waiting until I could go to a GED class and get it done. We were kind of just chill about it. I got sick of waiting though and changed up my plan so much. So, we pretty much were, and are, just playing it as things happen. My interest in art and creating is still very much there, and they still support it, but I think that they more heavily support me going to college and fulfilling the Filipino nurse stereotype!

What was the most difficult thing for you about your time at PLC?  What was the best thing?

The worst thing would have probably been me not taking it as seriously as I think I should have done — But that’s just hindsight. Otherwise, it would have been me not connecting with others and getting more involved. I regret not talking more and pushing myself more to do things. PLC teaches teens to be more independent and to step out of your comfort zone (in my opinion), and I didn’t take enough advantage of that. The best thing, on the other hand, would be tough to say… I guess the best thing would be that I learned so much about everything, became aware of so many things I didn’t know or understand before. Like, if I was in school, I would have been so sheltered and only concerned about homework and tests.

Do you think that something like PLC could exist in the Philippines?  Why or why not? 

I think that something like PLC could definitely exist and work well in the Philippines. I also think that it would be hard to get people to understand it fully and accept it because it’s so different. Traditional school is still so engrained into people’s minds and it would be hard to find people who will actively search for a different way. Once people learn about it, I think that it will become successful. I hope to see it work out well.

Check out the Princeton Learning Cooperative:


Dream Discoveries at the Unconference


This took place on June 23 and I feel guilty not having blogged about it sooner but events took over such as moving houses, kids on summer break, bread and butter work deadlines ad infinitum but there’s no excuse because this UNCONFERENCE really rocked my world.  It’s just a matter of time before you find your own tribe and you feel at home with strangers who hold beliefs similar to yours — beliefs that many people find even stranger still.  Counter-culture, revolutionary, radical, ever questioning authority, fiercely independent.

This was the invitation and the venue was a restaurant-converted-garage in Mandaluyong put up by artists.   Conferences are usually in sanitized hotels and convention halls and you’re expected to dress up not down.  But here, I could come in rain-soaked rubber shoes and buy slippers to change in at the neighboring palengke and it’s all okay.

RaEd (Radical Education)

The event is an open gathering for students, teachers, parents and individuals or group of people interested to explore alternative philosophy and practices in education/learning through solidarity of grassroots community in alternative-radical education. There will be 3 lessons for the opening of the event
Democratic School Education, Free School Movement, Unschooling, and Autonomous Spaces. Afterwards the event is open to Q&A, Open Mic, Voluntary Discussion/Presentation, Sharing of pedagogical concepts, tools and materials etc.

Compulsion – nonconsensual education – requires violence; it requires complete control over what students put into their brain, the people they are exposed to, the places they are authorized to be, and oftentimes, with free lunch programs, what food goes into their body.

Brian Huskie, A White Rose: A Soldier’s Story of Love, War, and School

In Solidarity with Jestoni Franco-Mayari Independent Academy/Kimmi Del Prado/Pheng Muncada- Solo Arts and Dine /Raymund Christopher Armena-Safehouse Info Shop/ Gnuhc De Vera-Etniko Bandido InfoShop/Taks-Safehouse Infoshop/Notra Block

Opening- 5:30-5:40
Countercultural Praxis Lessons
A.Democratic School 5:40-6:00
B.Free School Movement 6:00-6:20
C.Unschooling 6:20-6:40
D. Autonomous Spaces 6:40-7:00

A.Agenda/Session Ideas 7:00-8:30
B.Open space time/Tables 8:30-9:30
C.Presentation 9:30-9:45
D.Finale 9:45-10:00

Sining Kalikasan Aklasan Video Presentation 10:00-10:30

Open Time 10:30 onwards

Open Zine Library by Safehouse Infoshop



The evening yielded a number of discoveries for me — places and projects I didn’t think existed but they did in this mad, crazy metropolis such as:

Etniko Bandido Infoshop and activity center is an
anarchist/autonomous space created to spread radical consciousness.
A place in which alternative resources and information can
be found easily and freely. It is also a space for people who
wanted to share and discuss different issues and ideas.

That’s EtnikoBandido which is an infoshop and community center located in the slums of Pasig dedicated to anti-authoritarian social relations.

Jestoni, the unconference organizer is a teacher in a regular school and on weekends, he pours his heart into an alternative academy he started himself in Caloocan.

Ang Mayari Independent Academy ay isang alternatibong akademya na nakabase sa pagtutulungan at pakikipagkapawa ng komunidad na bumubuo dito. Ito ay nakabase sa kooperatibang pamamalakad ng mga estudyante, guro, magulang at kawani nito, Ang praktika ng pag aaral sa eskwelahan ay nakabase sa ideya ng malayang pagpili, pagkakasunduan at pananagutan.

Ang akademya ay malaya sa kontrol ng sentral na edukasyo sa halip ang mga estudyante,magulang, guro ,kawani at taga suporta ng eskwelahan ang kooperitibang nagpapapalago sa akademya.

Kung gayon ang eskwelahan ay nakapag sasarili at hindi profit o non profit na organisasyon sa halip ito ay dindekalarang programa o proyekto na magbibigay solusyon at oportunidad sa pangangailangan ng edukasyon.

Ang akdemya ay hango sa modelo ng FREE SCHOOL MOVEMENT at hinubog ng mga nakaraang proyekto na ARTSKUL at Merdehekas Collective.

And here’s another one that bowled me over completely:  there’s already a democratic school in the Philippines and it’s in Payatas!

Fairplay began working in education through a drop-in center, whereby kids had a safe space to learn, play, and rest. We gradually began to sponsor regular kids who felt ready to go back to formal school through the drop-in center. For the most part this has been successful with attendance and grades improving gradually.

However over time it became clear, through research and input from the community, that this could not be a universal solution. If, for example, we sent all the kids currently out of school back to the classroom, class sizes would double from their already egregiously large average of 60-80 in Payatas. It wouldn’t work.

Nor does the traditional system work for most kids. So at Fairplay we believe there’s a better way. We believe in child-centered learning; the students have a say in how the school is run, in what lessons they take, and in how they shape their future. We believe that curiosity should be encouraged and become the corner-stone of the learning process, not shut down for a prescribed curriculum that has little to do with their actual lives. We believe children learn best when cooperating, not competing, when they are happy and engaged, not passively memorising. We believe teachers know their students better, and that they should be free to support their students in ways they deem best, without bureaucratic burden.

This is our vision for the Fairplay Center: the First Democratic School in the Philippines. Students learn at their own pace, focusing on social and emotional development first to ensure they see mistakes as a positive step in the trial and error process that epitomises the real learning process.

The growth Mindset (Dweck), Positive Psychology (Achor), and Emotional Intelligence (Goleman) are key to providing a platform for the kids to work through. The growth in the children have been wonderful to see. Of course we’re nothing close to a perfect learning environment, if one exists, but gradually we hope to continue to offer a happier, more effective learning environment.

Can’t wait to visit Fairplay when Ken Danford comes here in a few days!  And our tribe will meet again at Ken’s talk on July 14 at Fully Booked, BGC. 

Thanks Jestoni, Kimmi and everyone who made the unconference unbelievably possible.  Thanks Solo Arts and Dine for hosting.



Good to Great


Nas’ one-minute video has been popping up on my news feed every so often and it’s one of those things that makes scrolling through social media addictive.  You get content in bite-size pieces already curated by friends, acquaintances and semi-strangers on Facebook.  Wait.  Big oooops.  Nas doesn’t like using the word acquaintance because for him, everyone’s a friend and friendship is not bound by the amount of time you spend together.   You see why with that kind of open attitude alone how arresting his one-minute videos are but this particular one I saw today made me want to go to Palestine.  A loud voice inside my head stopped my daydreaming and screamed, “Your family is not going to allow you to take your 8 and 5 year old sons to Palestine.”

Okay, if I can’t go to Palestine and stay in an apartment being offered by Nas to anyone who wants it for free, the second best thing I can do is find out more about Nas which led me to his TEDx talk in India where he explained how to make life go from good to great:

“The only thing to make life great is to build something that’s bigger than me, something that if I die, will continue tomorrow, the day after, the year after.”

That something could be a company or a non-profit.  It could be anything.  Nas thought that for him, it would be creating an app that would allow other people to create videos like him but then it bombed big time.  That failed attempt led him to persist until he created a global media company of passionate content creators like himself.  Don’t let flops of life stop you.  Use them to nudge you closer to your goals.

The talk reminded me of our Dgroup leader, Jen’s discussion last week about legacy and how the enemy is not the bad things but the good things that get us stuck in our comfort zones, the kind of comfort zone that you need to transcend and that Nas illustrates here:


If you do something for a length of time and it makes you too complacent, it’s usually a subtle invitation to level up which would then involve an amount of discomfort, even a perceived period of destabilization.  Those who have made leaps of faith can attest to the rewards but struggles are always part of the package.

Watching Nas’ TEDx talk made me think of that something I’m hoping to create and build that is bigger than me, that represents a number of converging dreams:  Abot Tala.  It compels me to take action despite how crazy and preposterous an idea it seems.  It has gotten some degree of traction and almost a life of its own until my guide and mentor in the process prevented me from smashing my head against the wall.  Now I’ve slowed down a bit and let go of my timeline on steroids.

Doubts still creep up which is why it’s good to watch Nas today to silence those doubts if yelling at them to shut up doesn’t work.  “I don’t think anyone would want to pay that much for this.”  “The good rentals are just too expensive!”  “How on earth am I going to find a partner with resources for this?”  “This might work in a developed, prosperous country like the US, but the Philippines is a different story.” On and on this downward spiral of discouragement would envelope me staring at the Excel spreadsheet, “Arrrrrgh!  How can I make this work?”  Even if you regard yourself as entirely of possibility, there are days and hours when it doesn’t ring true.   You know it’s time to chill and talk to a friend.


Jen, our Dgroup leader read this blog and sent me a message: “I agree we all need to level up and not be stuck in complacency. But at the same time, our desire to make a difference, to improve and to have a better life should also be somehow tempered by an attitude of gratitude – or else we will never be satisfied. Ultimately, I think we need to frame all of our efforts in the grand scheme of things.”

Hearing people like Nas talk about going from good to great can be inspiring and instrumental in moving us away from “just having a good life” to one filled with a higher purpose.  However, on the other side of searching and striving is contentment that’s different from complacency.

I searched for the article that appeared several times on my news feed, “What if All I Want is a Mediocre Life?” by Krista:

What if I all I want is a small, slow, simple life? What if I am most happy in the space of in between. Where calm lives. What if I am mediocre and choose to be at peace with that?

The world is such a noisy place. Loud, haranguing voices lecturing me to hustle, to improve, build, strive, yearn, acquire, compete, and grasp for more. For bigger and better. Sacrifice sleep for productivity. Strive for excellence. Go big or go home. Have a huge impact in the world. Make your life count.

But what if I just don’t have it in me. What if all the striving for excellence leaves me sad, worn out, depleted. Drained of joy. Am I simply not enough?

What if I never really amount to anything when I grow up – beyond mom and sister and wife. But these people in my primary circle of impact know they are loved and that I would choose them again, given the choice. Can this be enough?

What if I never build an orphanage in Africa but send bags of groceries to people here and there and support a couple of kids through sponsorship. What if I just offer the small gifts I have to the world and let that be enough.

Are we either Nas or Krista, or do we swing from one end to another depending on the circumstance, or can one person be both?


Read more about Abot Tala here:

Who Wants to Flip It?

So Extreme You Might Fall Off the Spectrum

If You Build It Will They Come?

Joel’s Ask Me Anything

Seth and Two Kens

Rosa and the Stars





Unholy Traffic


It’s been a while since I experienced Holy Week in the Philippines.  Like Christmas in China, it is not an important holiday so I’ve forgotten how much of nightmare getting out and into the city could be.  A three-hour drive to Subic turned to six and a one-hour drive from Zambales back to Subic tripled in length.  I was mulling it over in my head that it wasn’t this bad years ago and I remembered we just stayed at home mostly because my grandmother wouldn’t allow any form of merry-making during this solemn period.  Maybe as the mantle was passed from generation to generation, the rules have relaxed and now, most everyone would abandon the city for the beaches.  The more sensible ones know better, wait when the crowds are gone and won’t budge from their homes till it’s safe to venture out.  That’s what we promise to do next year.

Despite the unwanted hours on the road, when we got to our destination, we stayed in my aunt’s place, woke up to monkeys clambering over the trees in her backyard and biked around the village embraced by the rainforest.  We are still so lucky and blessed to be in the presence of all this lush, towering Eden.