Gopala Grows

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Homeschooling families from as far as Angeles, Pampanga went all the way to Silang, Cavite for Gopala Learning Haven’s first Homeschool Festival.  We got there just in time for each child’s release of butterflies from triangular, folded pieces of papers.   It’s been a year since our love affair with Gopala started and it’s a joy to see the new additions to this idyllic place that I wish was located closer to us so that we can go there every day.

Laksmi found an amazing bargain that turned out to be Jimmy’s dream playroom.  A kids activity center closed down in one SM mall and the owner was selling all the mini houses as a package deal.  Laksmi got the whole lot for a song and the owner said that something curiously held him back from selling to other people who inquired.  When he heard what Laksmi’s learning haven was all about, he readily parted with the play houses.  He admired what Laksmi was doing, providing space for kids to run free in nature.

The room below the eating area was transformed from a rundown storage place into a workshop for arts and crafts.  The books that were in the playroom before found a new home appropriately in a more quiet area.   As always, Joshua had a ball biking through the gently sloping green.  Dads were content to lounge in the hammocks among the trees while mothers discussed homeschooling issues.

The highlight for everyone was the steep trek to the river but do not let the gorgeous photos deceive you.  Pollution comes from the neighboring golf course and there are plastic trash strewn among the tree roots, begging for a clean-up.  Gopala regularly conducts this but a clean-up a few times a year is not enough.  People whose garbage end up where they shouldn’t be must be held more accountable.

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We wanted to press forward and go on walking past the area where we landed from the sloping side of the land but we weren’t allowed to do so since the group was too big and some may not be prepared for a distance they say takes about two or three hours to traverse.  We’re already excited about the longer trek next time.

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Who Wants to Go Ad Astra?

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Carl got me obsessed with his object of obsession – Elon Musk’s Ad Astra.  It’s contagious this disease of wanting to create an ideal school for your kids but what if you don’t have the resources of somebody who sends people to outer space, builds solar power roof tiles and the sexiest electric cars?  You refine your dream in your spare time hoping for a synchronicity that will bring people the magnitude of Alibaba’s Jack Ma to your doorsteps.

Yes, I could totally pitch this idea of an alternative school to Jack Ma and jointly study how it could be scaled up in China.  Right now, it doesn’t seem scale-able, expandable because it’s like a micro-school.  This is the conceptual schedule:

9:00 – 10:00 am – study tutorial (one teacher for every 5 students)

10:00 – 11:00 am – free play and personal project time

11:00 – 12:00 nn – study tutorial

12:00 – 1:00 pm  lunch

1:00 – 1:45 pm – optional classes to choose from or study tutorial

1:45 – 2:30 pm – free play and personal project time

2:30 – 3:15 pm – optional classes to choose from or study tutorial

3:15 – 3:30 pm – group meeting (one teacher for every 5 students)

The teacher to student ratio is low – one teacher for every five students so that would make this endeavor costly and probably more expensive than the typical private school. If you have near-unlimited resources like Elon Musk, you can experiment and push the ratio as low as you want but what if you’re dreaming of a system that is accessible to anyone regardless of income or nationality?

The model I’ve come across that has a highly personalized, one-on-one tutorial style mixed with loads of free time is the North Star Self-Directed Learning Center for Teens.  I could ask Ken Danford how the concept could be applied to the elementary level where learning the rudimentary skills of reading, writing and math would still play an important part.  Grade schoolers can study reading, writing and math through topics and books that personally interest each child.  High schoolers could break out of the box more having acquired the basics.  It would be a school with no grade levels, no grades (in terms of A, B, C, 100%), no tests but it could help prepare for tests voluntarily chosen by the students themselves such as those in preparation for college.

The limitations of this model is the cost.  Factor in you’d want resources and facilities such as library, garden, playground, laboratory, workshop, space for arts and sports and it would be wonderful located by both beach and mountain or even right in the city but in an unused lot with lots of trees, then the cost can be astronomical.  Might as well send your child to a good International School or a progressive private school since they’ve got economic viability down pat.  If you want something more affordable, there’s always homeschooling.

But Ad Astra calls.

Maybe we could run it first as a two-week camp for homeschoolers?

Maybe we could study how micro-schools operate?

Maybe homeschooling parents can take turns as volunteer teachers?

The Agile Learning Center which started in New York and adapted in other states and countries might be an interesting model to pitch especially to a visionary techie like Jack Ma.  It would be good to see a version of this in China or the Philippines.  It would also be interesting to study how democratic schools were scaled up in Israel, entering the public sphere and acquiring government funding.

In Cavite, Philippines, there’s the Gopala Learning Haven for homeschoolers and learners of all ages in a farm setting.  Maybe they could try mixing academics and play.

In Dagang Youtian, Tianjin, China, two mothers, Susan and Rita dream of appropriating land for children to grow vegetables and transform it into a children’s playground like what this man in China did for his daughter.  He sold his house in the city, rented 110 acres of wasteland and built a fairy tale home with garden.  Susan and Rita are eyeing a piece of land that can be used by their kids and other people’s children as a way to reconnect with nature during the weekends.

Ad Astra – Elon Musk’s School

Elon Musk builds alternative un-school

Children build their own three-story playground

Dangerous playgrounds of the 1900s

Story about the man who sold his house in the city, rented and transformed wasteland into a fairly tale home and garden

The photos here don’t have anything to do with this blog entry’s topic but I missed posting these pictures.  Anyway, a place like this could be a good site for that kind of imaginary school. This area is near the Great Wall in Tianjin but then most people in that town would be sending their kids to traditional school.  The location would play a key role in that there is a concentrated number of families who share similar ideas or have overlapping visions. Or it could be a pop-up school that is not location-dependent — like the Hero’s Journey Camp but re-conceptualized with more academic bent and content.

Possibilities, always possibilities.

Ad Astra, by the way, is Latin for “To the stars.”

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Haven for Homeschoolers

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Since homeschooling is a fairly developed field in the Philippines, there are a number of co-ops, providers, activity and field trip organizers, enrichment programs, sports, academic and non-academic options for homeschooling families to choose from particularly in the Metro Manila area.  There is also the Gopala Learning Haven in Silang, Cavite which offers a unique proposition: a lush, green sanctuary for homeschoolers where free-range kids can play to their hearts content, hike through a forest, go down a steep ravine hanging on a rope to reach the stream, jump on the trampoline, bike around, read books, do arts and crafts, learn from people of all ages, swing from a vine, climb trees, enjoy the outdoors as well as indoor spaces too.

Initiated by Laksmi Maluya, in it’s previous life, it was a play center located within a building in the town of Silang.  When Laksmi found Navadwip farm, it was the ideal opportunity to spread the wings of her homeschooling dreams.  What this learning haven could be is limitless exactly like the children it seeks to help nurture.   Parents are also very much welcome to contribute their talents, skills and interests to this growing community.

If this concept seems new and quite radical to some, there are models elsewhere in the world like the Macomber Center in Framingham, Massachusetts that have been existence for years, serving local homeschoolers, and in their own words, this is what they are about:

Our members pursue interests in their own way and at their own pace, and are free to explore the world in a way that they find meaningful.

We have no formal curriculum or guidelines for achievement. Instead, we trust that children will thrive (and learn!) when given time and freedom to play and explore within a community of other young people, with support from knowledgable, helpful adults. We are not a school. All of our members are registered as homeschoolers in their respective towns, and our member families represent a wide range of out-of-school approaches to education.

It’s comforting to know that we also have this kind of option in our own homeland.

 

 

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

 

Go Gopala! Go, Go Gopala!

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Laksmi and I were brainstorming what to call the farm for homeschoolers and we debated about:

Gopala Self-Directed Learning Center

Gopala Interest-Led Learning Center

Hmmm.  Neither sounded quite right until Laksmi hit upon the perfect moniker:

Gopala Learning Haven

The word self-directed seems too forward for Philippine society.  In America, the Alliance for Self-Directed Education spearheaded by Dr. Peter Gray sounds right and appropriate but in the Philippine setting, it might not be as appreciated.  The word, interest-led, although nicer and gentler can be misconstrued as something to do with business or self-interest which has a negative connotation.

The Learning Haven, however fits just fine.  When you go to the farm in Silang, Cavite, it truly is a haven — so lush and green plus the existing structures are the right size and distance from each other that nature still overpowers the man-made.  There is more open space than closed and the enclosed spaces are well-designed, needing only a bit of renovation.  You can imagine how this would be a sanctuary for homeschooling families regardless of where they are from, who their homeschool provider is, what they believe in, what methods they use in homeschooling.  Everyone is welcome.  Every family and every child is unique.  The Gopala Learning Haven is only too happy to celebrate and live this truth.

On our last visit there on February 12, I met Mommy Sheryl from Dasmarinas, Cavite who showed me a music video their family made. Her children plays the keyboard, guitar and drums while Mom sings and their band is proudly called Granny’s Gems.  A friend edited the video and the final product is quite inspiring.  Once a week, Mommy Sheryl holds a small homeschooling co-op in her house with children from six other families.  Her passion for teaching and music is quite contagious.  I hope our family can join her group someday.

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Watch Granny’s Gems on Youtube: Fight SongFlash Light

The kids collected leaves, stems and stones from their walk around the farm and made Valentine hearts.

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Speaking of inspiring videos, my friend Clarie told me to check out the TED Talk of blind Master Chef winner, Christine Ha.  It’s unrelated to this post but wanted to find a way to share the info.