Wait! Before you go all disapproving and judgmental on me, “ain't” is being used intentionally (which by the way is a real word, even spell check doesn't freak out with a red underline) for dramatic effect and flair and as a device to draw you in to the real meat of this post. See, even when I try to be surreptitious, I end up explaining the motivation---to completely understand the reference, please read the post entitled Transparency.
While Deep Root Center is relatively new (we opened our doors almost exactly a year ago), the self-directed learning model is not. We, along with eight other Centers in the US and Canada, are members of the Liberated Learners network that replicate North Star; Self-Directed Learning for Teens in Hadley, MA.
North Star has a proven track record, since 1996, of assisting over five hundred teens in the Amherst/Northampton area leave school and get a life. That is nineteen years of mentoring and advising kids who are miserable, disenfranchised, and who want to engage with the world on their own terms. Nineteen years of providing an individualized, non-coercive education to those youth who choose to leave school. Nineteen years of proclaiming: Learning is natural. School is optional. Nineteen years of listening with compassion to teens who are bursting to tell their story. These kids are so grateful to North Star they are delighted to share their stories with others who are considering the self-directed learning path at open houses and information sessions for North Star and the other Liberated Learner Centers.
In truth, however, this method of educating children has been around much longer than nineteen years. In fact, it has been around since anatomically, modern humans have roamed the earth (that is a really long time). As primates we are designed to learn. How could we survive to pass on our genes, if that was not true? And despite current cultural beliefs, that desire to learn does not turn off just because a child turns 5, 8, or 13. It remains with us our entire lives. Personally, I am not entirely happy unless I am in the midst of a learning experience. Think of all the stories on NPR or CBC (for those of you in Canada or on the border), or the Internet that capture your attention; you are engaged, thinking, and learning. My beloved Grandma used to say, “it has been a wasted day if you didn't learn something new.”
Ken Danford and Joshua Hornick, the founders of North Star, just took the concept of self-directed learning that has been around forever and created this “new” educational model. I will contend that this form of education only appears revolutionary, unfamiliar, and scary because our society accepted compulsory education as the norm a little over 100 years ago. Public education became the law of the land as a way to combat child labor in factories and mines and to create a pliable, obedient industrial workforce for the future, not necessarily to promote learning. But even then, up till 50 or so years ago, discretion and common sense ruled. For example, children who lived on farms were excused during important seasonal work that was essential to the livelihood and survival of the family.
Common sense is what the self-directed educational experience encompasses. Each individual is empowered to make the most logical choices based on their individual needs, desires, and interests. I will repeat, it ain't new and it ain't rocket science, we humans have been doing it for a few millennium. These visionaries in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts just brought it into the modern age and we are very fortunate they decided to share their model with the rest of the world.