Birds fly, Fish swim; Man thinks and learns

“I would be against trying to cram knowledge into the heads of children, even if we could agree on what knowledge to cram, and could be sure it would not go out of date, even if we could be sure that, once crammed in, it would stay in.  Even then, I would trust the child to direct his own learning. For it seems to me a fact that, in our struggle to make sense out of life, the things we most need to learn are the things we most want to learn. To put this another way, curiosity is hardly ever idle. What we want to know, we want to know for a reason.  The reason is that there is a hole, a gap, an empty space in our understanding of things, our mental model of the world. We feel that gap like a hole in a tooth and want to fill it up. It makes us ask How? When? Why? While the gap is there, we are in tension, in suspense. Listen to the anxiety in a person’s voice when he says, ‘This doesn’t make sense!’ When the gap in our understanding is filled, we feel pleasure, satisfaction, relief.  Things make sense again – or at any rate, they make more sense than they did.

When we learn this way, for these reasons, we learn both rapidly and permanently. The person who really needs to know something, does not need to be told many times, drilled, tested.  Once is enough.

Man is by nature a learning animal. Birds fly, fish swim; man thinks and learns.”

John Holt from How Children Learn

john holt

In the Muck

At our last staff meeting of the Core Staff we were discussing our work with the teen members and someone remarked that the reason any particular teen’s progress might be challenging to quantify is that we’re “here in the muck of learning.”  This time known as adolescence is one huge and life-changing learning experience after another.  Hormones, intense physical changes, and dramatic brain development set the stage for radical transformation of our whole selves.  Young adulthood is not a time when we necessarily change anything about who we essentially are, but a time when we begin to fully become who we are.  We make enormous strides in areas like independence, self-awareness, and self-determination.  We establish connections with peers and adults that can stay with us for the rest of our lives, often even determining the course our lives will take.  Our emotions are raw, real, and right in our faces. Overall, a very mucky time indeed, especially if we think of muck as the fertilizer and fuel that makes everything and anything possible.

Catherine Gobron ….  program director of North Star: Self-directed Learning for Teens

What Makes You Come Alive?

Don’t ask what the world needs.
Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.
Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
–Howard Thurman


I remember when in college, many of us were herded into teaching because there seemed a need in the job force.  But by the time we graduated, teaching jobs were scarce. The same thing happened fifteen years later when I was teaching college. Many of my students were herded into the study of business. But a few years after graduating, there were very few jobs.

This is another way that scarcity can direct our lives.  Often when we shape our interests around what others need, we wind up selling our chance at happiness for what we think will be secure.  But while supply and demand may work on paper, it can build a loveless life in the  world.

This is why finding what we love, though it may take years, is building a life of passion. for what makes you come alive can keep you alive, whether you are paid well for it or not.  And beyond the fashion of the job market, a life of passion makes us a healthy cell in the body of the world.

Why waste those precious teenage years, when this is such a natural developmental period for exploring who they/you are and what they/you want to bring to the world?


If you’ve explored our site, you know that we are inspired by the model of North Star: Self-directed Learning for Teens in Hadley, MA.  Well, we are not the only ones.  Several alternatives to education have also been so inspired including Princeton Learning Cooperative in Princeton, NJ (in year 2) and Compass: Center for Self-directed Learning in Ottawa, ONT, scheduled to open in January 2013.  North Star is not in the business of franchising, but, rather is happy to help others who see how well this approach works for teens.

In my opinion Compass has done a remarkable job of capturing the essence of this approach in this video.  Would love to hear what you think!

Compass Teens

North Star

I feel very fortunate for having discovered and establishing a relationship with North Star: Self-directed Learning for TeensFor the last decade I have been exploring and visiting a wide variety of “alternative” learning venues.  When I first visited North Star in April of this year, I knew I had arrived at a Very amazing place.  It has become a model for my work here at Open Doors.

I’ve also written about my experience there during a month-long internship there in September.  I’d love to have you read and/or give me feedback on this: Why is Everyone Here so Happy?


At Open Doors we believe that learning is a natural human process; is fundamental to human development; and when allowed and supported, respecting the individual’s process, is one of the most joyful of human experiences.  From this belief comes our Mission:  To support the natural joy of learning of each person.

To this end, the adults serve as advisers and mentors rather than “teachers”.  It is our role to help remove any obstacles to this natural process that might arise.