Notes from a Conference We Didn’t Attend Except in Spirit

5

We wish we could have been there but it was impossible unless we could be beamed up from the Philippines to the U.S.   The conference was scheduled around the same time we were moving into our own space in Taguig.  Thank goodness for audio recordings that make its way to us almost instantly through email.

Since August of last year, Abot Tala has been a part of the Liberated Learners, a network of centers modeled after the North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens.  Every year, the founders and staff meet, share experiences and lessons from running the same type of space where teens can direct their own education.  Adults are not there to tell them what to do or study, but to facilitate the process.

Last night, two of our members spoke with Catina as they were trying to put together their “story” to be used in our outreach efforts. One of them used a beautiful metaphor of a flower. She said that often she has felt as if she were like a flower trying to grow with a big rock on top. She has had to grow crooked and deformed to accommodate this rock. She feels Embark has simply, moved the rock allowing her to grow in the way she was always meant to.

So, my quest: Move the rock. Don’t be the rock.

                                             Andrea Cubelo-McKay, Founder                                                                                       Embark Center for Self-Directed Education

Being in Abot Tala almost every day these past weeks, struggling with the challenges, sometimes, I feel like the rock that has to be moved away.  Listening to the recordings and reading Ken Danford’s book are great reminders about why Abot Tala exists.  But the best reminders are the kids themselves.  When you talk to them and get to know them and know you are in the presence of precious souls.

Daniela Gonzalez, one of the guest mentors at Abot Tala took down these notes from the audio recordings:

  • Relationship, building trust, being part of the community is the most important element in supporting teens in what they want to do.
  • Mentoring is the service that parents value most.
  • Freedom comes with great responsibility.  Teens aren’t ready to take on that responsibility and need help with it through mentoring
  • Mentoring allows to have quick feedback from members regarding their social relationships and learning at the center (e.g. if someone is making them sad, if they don’t like one of their one-on-one learning sessions, etc.)
  • Being a mentor sometimes means repeating the same thing multiple times over many sessions before a teen considers it.
  • Teens feel valued when asked about the things they do that interests them (e.g. “why did you like that movie?” “what do you like about that game?” etc.)
  • Through mentoring we can help teens to have more agency in their lives.
  • Mentoring indirectly builds trust with the parents and the whole family.
  • For teens who say they will do X number of things and then don’t follow through, it’s a good idea to talk after a month or so during mentoring and say “Hey, so we have this action item here and it’s been four/five weeks and you’ve been saying you were going to do it but perhaps there’s something holding you back? Perhaps there’s something getting in the way.  Let’s analyze . . . “
  • Some kids need spontaneity and flexibility, others need structure. The “superpower” of the model is that it allows for both.

These are points which I highlighted:

  • Everyone is working on themselves to be better.
  • You are capable of more than what people have decided you’re capable of.
  • Let’s build this together because we don’t want this to go away.

 

7

8

Advertisements

Thanks, Carl!

723724

Woohoo!  After weeks of trying, the video Jason took of the forum at the Princeton Learning Cooperative has successfully been uploaded into YouTube by my brother, Carlo. For those who want to know more about how self-directed education works among teenagers, here are the stories of four young people who took that unconventional route:

Princeton Learning Cooperative Teen Forum Part 1

Princeton Learning Cooperative Teen Forum Part 2

Tigers, Humans and SDE

5

Throughout this three-month, ten-thousand-mile journey, aside from enjoying the adventure, we’ve also managed to insert time for my research work (an adventure in itself!) and visited fourteen schools and centers which offer or promote an alternative form of education.  I’d usually observe or talk to the teachers, students and parents, but number fifteen on the list-of-places-to-visit is quite unique because a forum happened to be scheduled on May 31st, coincidentally three days before our departure.  How in the earth was I going to miss that?  The Princeton Learning Cooperative (PLC) in New Jersey held a panel discussion with teenagers and young adults sharing their non-traditional high school education and how it’s possible to go to college and have a career despite the unusual path.

While waiting for the forum to start, I sat chatting with the person beside me who happened to be a teacher at PLC.  Katy quit teaching in a public school after fifteen years because she refused to be a proctor during state tests.  She is not against all standardized test but she protests the way data is used and how the process is data-driven rather than people-oriented.  For her, education is not a business and tests can’t evaluate what’s most important.  Test results are not a true reflection of students’ capabilities.  She is much happier now at PLC seeing students directing their own education rather than being dictated from above.

When the forum started, Alison introduced the four young people who unfurled their stories: Jacob, Kennedy, Nathaniel and Cameron.

When Jacob’s mom told him about PLC, a school that gave no grades and had Wednesdays off, Jacob was eager to sign up.  He discovered that those perks were not the true advantage of being at PLC.  It was being able to spend time the way he wanted which was immersing himself in music, writing songs, being in two bands and even taking classes at the community college.

Kennedy is also into music and her dad is in the field of education.  Sometimes, it’s odd to be in a radical place like PLC when your own dad is involved in traditional school but the bottomline is that it’s a great fit for Kennedy being at PLC. She plans to get a degree in music and expand her clientele base in music teaching.

When Nathaniel entered PLC, he thought he wanted to be an architect so PLC looked for a volunteer local architect to teach him.  Nathaniel gradually realized, it was not the field for him and discovered something else.  He eventually got a personal training, CPR, first aid and wilderness certificates and plans to study Health and Exercise Science at the Colorado State University.

Cameron had health issues that made her dread going out.  She missed so many classes in school so her parents found PLC but even then, she was reluctant to go.  Only after a while did she start warming up to the PLC community thanks to a persevering mentor.  She took classes in photography, philosophy, emotional intelligence and art and is now training to be a yoga teacher.

Somebody in the forum asked about how they position themselves in college applications.  It is no longer a handicap to be homeschooled nowadays.  Since PLC does not give out grades, the student has to come up with a narrative transcript and write a self-evaluation.  They categorize the classes that they’ve taken in and out of PLC and put them into an acceptable format with the guidance of their mentor.  Students at PLC have taken placement tests and SATs to get into college.

Each PLC member meets weekly with mentors to discuss individual goals, issues, track progress and troubleshoot problems.  It can be more or less an hour depending on the need.

The participation of parents is important in PLC where family meetings are held three times a year for each member.  Among many other things so unlike regular school, the students appreciate that there’s no detention.  Whenever a problem comes up, they have to discuss and resolve it together.  In real life, there is no detention.  The members of PLC respect that every teen wants to be in PLC so abuse of freedom is not common as long as they keep in their hearts the key words painted on the colorful table at the center of their space: encourage, include, contribute, respect and empathize.  It’s simply an inspiring, nurturing and beautiful place to be that allows you to be you. That sounds pie-in-the-sky, too-good-to-be-true.  Is there a downside?

Having free, unstructured time could be a challenge in the beginning and each one grapples with time management and owning choices.  One panelist said that it’s a challenge having to transition from a fully supportive community to having none in the outside world but since they are equipped with tools to handle situations as they come, it’s not a major problem.  There is a feeling of isolation also as they see their other friends in regular schools prepare for graduation so they have to tell themselves that their path is different and unique.

How is graduation done at PLC?  Everyone says something about the graduate, speaking about how they made a difference in their life and you can imagine how that could end up in tears.

Nathaniel used the caterpillar in a cocoon metaphor.  If one cuts the cocoon too early, the butterfly doesn’t develop.  The caterpillar must be allowed to stay in the cocoon and the butterfly will emerge naturally through it’s own bidding.  For me, the cartoon that hits a home run for self-directed education is a Calvin and Hobbes strip stuck to a post in the central common space at PLC.

Calvin:  When a kid grows up, he has to be something.  He can’t just stay the way he is. But a tiger grows up and stays a tiger.  Why is that? 

Hobbes: No room for improvement.

They both pause and contemplate.

Calvin:  Of all the luck, my parents had to be humans.

Hobbes:  Don’t take it too hard.  Humans provide some very important protein.   

Some people have a difficult time grasping this aberrant-looking form of so-called education like the PLC.   We are all expected by society to perform and get good grades in school and “be someone” when we grow up.  There’s not much economic gain to merely “being.”   However, places like PLC show that if you nurture somebody to grow naturally towards the direction that he or she seeks, things fall into place in its own time.

Know more about self-directed education and PLC:

What is self-directed education?

Alliance for Self-Directed Education

Alternatives to School

Stories of How Teens Create Paths for Themselves

Who are the PLC mentors

I was very fortunate that on my visit to PLC that my husband came and shot the video of the forum.  I’ve tried uploading it onto Youtube but the file is too big so I have yet to figure how to cut it up.  But do check out this video on how PLC works.

20170601_082300

The Site is Up!

413

The crowdfunding site is up and running!   After going through a series of hoops and hurdles as all worthwhile endeavors involve, I was giddy with excitement finally seeing it online.  I received a lot of help and encouragement from the people at CauseVox, the platform for people and organizations with an advocacy, a dream, a burning passion that keeps them up at night and energized in the day.

My friend in China, Donna and I wish to bring Yaacov Hecht and Simon Robinson to Manila for a seminar-workshop sharing their experiences about democratic and self-directed education on July 29, 2017.

Read about Yaacov here:

Democratic Education Around the World

Excerpts from Yaacov’s Speech

Read about Simon here:

Interview with Simon Robinson

And if you’re interested in attending the seminar-workshop on July 29 in Manila:

What the Seminar-Workshop is About

Or supporting the cause of spreading the word about self-directed education:

The Future of Self-Directed Education in the Philippines

And if this is not enough and you simply want to know more about self-directed education:

Alliance for Self-Directed Education

Video on Self-Directed Education

Hope to see you in July!

Which Pitch Do You Like Better?

413

Dear family and friends, I’m embarking on a crowdfunding campaign to support the seminar-workshop on self-directed education we are holding on July 29, 2017 with Yaacov Hecht and Simon Robinson.  I wrote two versions of the pitch — one that gives a brief backstory and another that goes straight to the point.  Which one do you think is better?

One friend prefers the first one because it could build connection between the readers and writer while the second one’s no-frills, direct pitch might be good for a cover page.

Here is the long version:

The Future of Self-Directed Education in the Philippines

Having lived in China for more than eight years, I saw the problems of the educational system from horror stories told by my university students.  After seeing the worrying effects on students’ lives and attitudes, I feared the prospect of my own children languishing in the system.  I was determined not to let the fire in my children’s eyes go out.  However, it’s not only the Chinese system where this lamentable phenomenon is happening.  In many countries, the stifling effects of schooling are felt, some recognized but not arrested fast enough to save minds from the cookie-cutter, factory assembly lines of irrelevant curriculum.

My anxiety about traditional education transformed into an eager curiosity to investigate alternative forms of education such as Waldorf, democratic schools, homeschooling, unschooling and Finland’s much-hailed system.  In July 2016, I attended the Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference (APDEC) where I met Yaacov Hecht who sparked a crazy dream in me and my Chinese friends that China and the Philippines would someday host the APDEC and have their own democratic school.

As the first step of many, we have invited Yaacov Hecht from Israel and Simon Robinson from the U.K. to talk about self-directed and democratic education in Manila on July 29, 2017.  Yaacov will be a speaker at the APDEC in August in Tokyo while Simon teaches at the Okinawa Sudbury School, thus Manila is conveniently nearby.

Yaacov founded the first democratic school in Israel and helped establish a network of democratic schools at a national and international level.  Simon is interested in developing a school culture that celebrates free play and creativity, which are some of the highest expressions of the human spirit.  In their seminar-workshop in Manila, they will share their experiences as well as explore the possibilities of self-directed learning and democratic education in the Philippines.  Through this, we hope to find other champions and supporters and build momentum for this movement in the country.

Here is the short version:

The Future of Self-Directed Education in the Philippines

We’d like to hold a talk about self-directed and democratic education in Manila on July 29, 2017 with Yaacov Hecht and Simon Robinson as speakers.  Yaacov founded the first democratic school in Israel and helped establish a network of democratic schools at a national and international level.  A teacher at the Okinawa Sudbury School in Japan, Simon is interested in developing a school culture that celebrates free play and creativity, which are some of the highest expressions of the human spirit.  In their seminar-workshop in Manila, they will share their experiences as well as explore the possibilities of self-directed learning and democratic education in the Philippines.  Through this, we hope to find other champions and supporters and build momentum for this movement in the country.

After researching and considering various platforms like Indiegogo (can’t use if you’re not from the US and certain countries), Go Get Funding, Cause, Go Fund Me and Razoo, I’m leaning towards Causevox.   Exciting times!

 

 

 

Please PM Me

17

If you are interested in this talk, please send me an email or message me on Facebook. Just putting this out here for anyone who might want to join.  This is still next year (around July – August) but one can’t start too early on these type of events.

A Seminar-Workshop on Self-Directed Education

For purposes of this introduction, the terms self-directed education and democratic education are used interchangeably.  In the Philippine setting, the term self-directed learning is more acceptable and attractive because the word “democracy” is too political, even corrupted to an extent.  The word does not connote the sense of empowerment that it should.   On the other hand, self-directed is a neutral term which conveys the meaning clearly and cannot be confused with anything else.

Self-Directed Education

The term self-directed education (SDE) refers to the concept and practice of children and adolescents being-in-charge of their own education. In other words, they are acquiring knowledge, values, and skills that are conducive to a satisfying and meaningful life through activities of their own choosing.

Such activities need not include any formal schooling, curriculum, or textbooks. Often the activity of self-directed learners is more aptly described as play. In fact, much of the power of SDE comes from the innate drive to play, which nature and evolution have selected as the most efficient way for animals (especially mammals) to learn and develop their capacities.

When children are not being directed by others, their natural curiosity leads them to explore their environment and emulate the behavior of their elders. When children are immersed in a culture of partnership — where power is expressed through connection and cooperation rather than control and domination — their innate sociality leads them to engage and play with others in ways that develop greater social intelligence and collaborative skills.

Democratic Education

There is no monolithic definition of democratic education or democratic schools. But what we mean here is “education in which young people have the freedom to organize their daily activities, and in which there is equality and democratic decision-making among young people and adults.” From the Directory of Democratic Education – Alternative Resource Education Organization.  These schools and programs take many forms and include public and private alternatives and homeschool resource centers.

Yaacov Hecht

Yaacov Hecht is an internationally distinguished leader and visionary in democratic education, learning theory, and societal change. In 1987, Hecht founded the Democratic School in Hadera, Israel.  Due to the school’s success, Hecht helped to establish a network of democratic schools all over Israel. In 1993, he convened the first International Democratic Education Conference (IDEC), an annual conference that continues to connect educators, schools, and organizations. He founded the Institute for Democratic Education in Israel (IDE), which focuses on making change in the public schools system through democratic education principals. Most recently, in 2010, Hecht co-founded “Education Cities-the Art of Collaborations,” an organization which focuses on turning educational systems into a central growth instrument for the cities in which they exist. Hecht continues to be a sought after speaker and consultant, and plays an essential role in the movement for democratic education in Israel and around the world.

Simon Robinson

Simon is from England and has lived in Japan since 1997 and is a teacher at the Okinawa Sudbury School. He has worked extensively in education in Japan and England, and believes that Sudbury-model education provides the best start in life for young people.  He is passionate about the democratic meeting process, developing and maintaining a culture of mutually-respectful discussion to solve problems.  He is interested in developing a school culture that celebrates free play and creativity, which are some of the highest expressions of the human spirit.  People of all ages are at their best when they experience what they are doing as play, entering a state of flow and forgetting even themselves.  Simon has reached a stage in practicing democratic education where he wants to share something of value not just within his school but outside in the wider community and the world.

Workshop

The workshop will be an open discussion with Yaacov and Simon about the following:

  • What are the possibilities for a self-directed school or a self-directed type of education in the Philippines?
  • How can ideas of self-directed education be practiced within existing schools in the Philippines?
  • How can a self-directed school or learning center be started in the Philippines?

For more information, check out the following websites:

Yaacov Hecht’s Book: Democratic Education

The Alliance for Self-Directed Learning

Macomber Center for Self-Directed Learning