In this episode Lars talks to Kenneth Danford, co-founder and executive director of North Star, an alternative to middle school and high school in Sunderland, Massachusetts. Since 1996 he’s been “helping kids leave school” (sic), and can talk from personal experience about what has happened to over 500 adolescents as they have done just that. Spoiler: It works better than you might think.
In 2019 he published the book Learning is natural. School is optional. The North Star approach to offering teens a head start in life. In it he tells the story of North Star, how he went from teaching in middle school to starting this alternative, his own uncertainties about what giving kids this amount of freedom might lead to, and some lessons learned, more than twenty years down the road. It’s honestly one of the most inspiring reads we’ve come over in the last couple years, so get yourself a copy.
Some of the main questions that Kenneth asks in the book are:
What if kids are naturally curious?
What if we counted the things that they are interested in as worthy and valuable?
What if kids can pursue their strengths as far as they can go?
Will kids decide to address their weakness and gaps when needed?
What if being happy is more important than being forced to do things that adults believe are "good for you?"
What if the way we treat kids outside of school is actually more effective in their learning than the way we treat them inside of school?
What if we had summer camps and after-school activities and sports (...and libraries, YMCAs, youth centres, camps, sports, tutoring, mentoring) all the time, instead of school?
About the results, Kenneth writes: “Opting out of high school in a positive way with the support of North Star does not leave students excluded from higher education. In fact, it is likely that the confidence in their ability to learn, which they develop at North Star, motivates them to further their education.” (p.145). He has also published an article about what happens to the kids who go through this program, see https://www.self-directed.org/tp/north-star-alumni/
Visit North Star’s webpage http://www.northstarteens.org/, for more info.
Ken’s webpage, for info about his book, blog, youtube lectures and podcasts he’s appeared on, is: https://kennethdanford.com/
Lars’ two blog posts about North Star (in Norwegian) is available at:
We would love your feedback on this episode. What are your thoughts, experiences, counterarguments, and ideas about how to spread such ideas about education? Please contact us on the email address below.
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