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Episode 180 - Kenneth Danford, Giving Others a Model to Follow

Kenneth Danford is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens. North Star, now located in Sunderland, Massachusetts near Amherst and Northampton, is in its 21st year of supporting teens to leave school and pursue self-directed learning. There is now a network of centers modeled after North Star, called Liberated Learners. Kenneth has directly supported more than 600 teens to pursue this approach.


Ken's article on the Alumni of NorthStar written for the Alliance for Self-directed Learning

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Quotes: "What I talked about with Joshua right away was, well how could we help all the kids that we're tormenting and use this approach, how do we help school kids become like these kids?"

"Homeschooling and unschooling at this age isn't about learning at home from a parent who is teaching you. Homeschooling as a teenager is about identifying your interests, taking risks, getting out of the house and doing cool things, including jobs and college and internships, being out and about, taking yourself seriously."

"What is important to me is this fundamental respect of treating young people the way that we would treat anybody. Talking to young people the way I would talk to an adult or to my siblings or to a friend. They're still young people, but they're not needing me to boss them around and get them to do the right thing. So the fundamental part of the approach is giving kids options, considering their interests, and taking no for an answer."

"I'm happy to get up every morning and go to Northstar. I'm interested to see if the phone is going to ring and who's walking in the door. There's nobody who comes to talk to me who isn't choosing to do that. No one comes to my class, no one comes for one-on-one tutorial, no one comes for advisory, no one comes to interacting with me who isn't seeking me out."

"Most places in the world, people don't go by compulsion, for the most part. It's quite normal and simple, the trick is trusting it. We don't trust, as a culture, teenagers. We don't trust they're gonna turn out okay, unless we make them do things, and we think we have to make them do a bunch of things. We don't even make them do it, we just give them bad grades when they choose not to. In North Star, my interactions with teens are more normalized then schools are or the way I was able to interact with kids in school, which was forced, stilted, and constrained."

"What I think is the profound conclusion is that, for coaching 600 kids to stop going to school, I've harmed no one. We are not making kids' lives worse, and that's pretty important to me. I didn't feel that way when I was teaching in school, I thought I was making kids lives worse a lot of the time."

"I would like to see schools adopt some of what we are saying...I would like to see schools not be compulsory or at the very least, permit kids to come to the parts of school they want and then say no thank you to the parts they don't want. So that teens could just come and do Math, or orchestra, or just do gym for all I care. At the end of their time they just get a transcript of what they did and if their transcript adds up to distribution requirements, they can have a diploma too, and if not they're encouraged to walk on down the hall and sign up for the GED and then use that diploma instead, which by the way is a hundred percent useful and satisfactory for things. I don't want to see kids trapped in school, where they don't want to be. I think the easiest solution to the whole thing, would be to take a school that already exist with all the resources (chemistry labs, gymnasiums and good people teaching) that these facilities already have but allow people to make choices within there to do the parts they wanted, and say no thank you to the parts they don't want."

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