Who Wants to Go Ad Astra?


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.”





Worldschoolers Unite!


Ashley rides a tuk-tuk in America and has two boys, Jacob and Teddy close to the ages of Joshua and Jimmy. They have chickens in their backyard and are selling their house so they can travel the world.  What are the chances that our family, who just sold our house to travel (partly) would meet their family?  If you belong to the Facebook group of Worldschoolers, the chances are pretty high because that’s where all the crazy, looney families are lurking and posting as they gallivant or plan to gallivant across the globe, children in tow.

Ashley responded to my post asking who might want to host us in exchange for an authentic Chinese meal cooked by my husband.  If you say yes to the universe, the universe conspires to give you a blast of a rollicking great time: rough play, shark in the bath tub, Pokemon cards, Popeye cartoons, popping bubbles, chasing Minnie the dog, three kids sliding sitting on a palm tree frond.  You get intercultural exchange at its finest — making dumplings, getting lessons on how to use chopsticks and the art of Chinese tea and for those visiting America, maximizing time in a quiet town on Imperial Beach and seeing San Diego in new light.

For Ashley, it doesn’t matter if her family doesn’t approve or support this dream of hers. She’s following her heart which tells her to simplify her life to be able to enjoy more time with her sons.  Going against the grain would always have its detractors but we go against the grain anyway because it brings us peace.

Saying yes to the universe yielded two additional bonuses, the first one was the tour of the YMCA Surf Camp which Jacob was attending.  At the end of the tour, I wish my children and I can attend that camp, so I’d have to arrange a way for us to bring the Hero’s Journey from China and the Philippines to this part of the world.

The second bonus was a bike ride through the gorgeous Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve.   We just have two bikes from Goodwill so Ashley lent us their bikes so our family could enjoy the trail together.  We have to go to more thrift stores tomorrow to complete our set soon.  More trails await.





Why Hero’s Journey


Why did we use the name Hero’s Journey for our Philippine tour with Chinese families?  Last year, when Donna and I attended the Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference, one of the speakers, Dr.Tsao Lin Fang talked about Joseph’s Campbell’s seminal work, The Hero’s Journey.  Dr. Fang chairs the Formosa Alternative Pedagogy Association and here are some notes I took from his speech during the Taiwan conference:

  1. A hero is someone who has the courage to become himself and take the journey that he believes he must take. Eventually, the hero returns home.
  2. The ultimate mystery is within yourself.
  3. Mythology is an excellent way to imitate the unlimited imagination. Myths inspire one to be more of a hero and have the courage to follow one’s dreams.
  4. Our schools should be a school for gods and our learning journey should be like a hero’s journey.
  5. Follow the bliss of being yourself.
  6. When people dream big, they can get into a state of bliss.
  7. The holistic hero tries to encompass the individual’s circle into the circle of the whole cosmos.
  8. Find the hero in yourself, the people around you and the people you love.
  9. Have the courage to take the journey you must.

From Wikipedia: “The hero’s journey, is the common template of a broad category of tales that involve a hero who goes on an adventure, and in a decisive crisis wins a victory, and then comes home changed or transformed.[1]

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.[2]

When Donna and I were brainstorming about the tour, the name Hero’s Journey immediately clicked and resonated with us.  Our original intent was for it to be a camp but it ended up being more of a tour with a twist.  Parents and children were together and we added four facilitators who handled the children’s activities so that the kids are able to maximize English practice time in the Philippines through fun activities following our concept of educational tourism.

We went to Taal Lake, Tagaytay, Nasugbu and Manila.  The numerous hurdles and challenges we encountered proved this was more of a Hero’s Journey for the organizers whose patience and coordination capabilities were stretched to the max. However, the trip also brought out the children out from their shells through the help of the counselors who have ten years of experience running camps for children.

For our next journey, we aim to take it closer to our original intent of a real camp and have already found ideal locations in the following areas: 1) Jala Jala, Rizal, 2) San Antonio, Zambales and 3) Silang, Cavite.   The children will be separated from the parents who would be on the tourist mode of the travel.  The kids will be on a more adventurous mode as their independence will be tested being apart from their family for a week in an unfamiliar place forced to use whatever English they have in their bag of skills.  This would be more in keeping with the Hero’s Journey concept and we can’t wait for the next one.

Pictures shared by the parents on WeChat:

Hero’s Journey

For six months, we’ve been preparing for this nine-day journey and now that it’s finished, what remains apart from great photos and the warmth of camaraderie?   It stoked the fire in two organizers’ hearts so watch out for more exciting things to come!

The words to put this project in blog perspective have all but left me so again, excuse the short-cut to pictures.  Just to summarize, all the headache, minute by minute troubleshooting in the early days struggling with botched accommodation and dates, the end result of meeting and exceeding our Chinese guests’ expectations, of purely enjoying sunsets and sand under your feet, of seeing the joy in people’s faces, of congratulatory pats in the back, of simply birthing a project to realization — all the minor mess-ups were worth every over-stressed fiber and unravelled temper.    Parents had a grand time empowered to enjoy touring partially hands-free since four facilitators took care of eleven rowdy kids ages 7 to 10 plus a 4-year old trouble-maker.  The children had an even grander time playing almost non-stop with their peers plus a gang of adults who retained the best of their inner Peter Pans without losing the sense of responsibility that comes with maturity.

Shell Residences near MOA and Club Balai Isabel, Talisay

Taal Lake and Volcano and the best meal ever at Milan’s Restaurant in Talisay

At home with each other

Team building at Camp Benjamin

Highly photogenic Hacienda Isabella

A slice of paradise found at Canyon Cove, Nasugbu

Lazer Tag!

Light and shadow

Sonya’s Garden: walang kupas sa Tagaytay

Back in Manila: Mind Museum at BGC, robotics at iCreate Cafe, lounging by the playground

Celebrating Mike’s tenth birthday with strawberry shortcake, shopping for books and a rollicking theater workshop courtesy of Kids Acts

And as Mike himself said it best when asked what his favorite is from his first ever trip to the Philippine, he answered definitively: the jiaolian which in English means the coaches/counselors/facilitators who stuck by them through the bus rides and multiple location changes.  This journey wouldn’t have been possible without the intrepid team from California Summer Camps.   Thank you so much Camile, Marc, TJ and Dan!  Till the next camp!