What do you say to a teen who tells you “I really don’t like going to school”?

Ken Danford co-founded North Star: Self-directed Learning for Teens 18 years ago in Amherst, MA. With Ken as my mentor, I participated in an incredible internship at North Star and came back to Grand Rapids to begin Open Doors, based on this profound, yet simple, model.  Seeing the teens there still fills me with joy and hope.

Ken’s Ted Talk at Amherst College TEDx November 10, 2013kenportrait1


Recently I’ve become aware of how much many people both long to be free of a burdensome situation AND are so afraid to take a step toward that freedom.  It takes a lot of courage to opt out of an educational experience, for instance,  that isn’t working for you and jump in to something totally different than anything you’ve ever known.

This awareness inspired the following poem.

can sometimes feel
like falling


There is no need
for Anxiety

You are Simply

To Fly

Rebecca Kirk
September 11, 2013


On the Other Side of the Door

doors 1 001On the other side of the door
I can be a different me,
As smart and as brave and as funny or strong
As a person could want to be.
There’s nothing too hard for me to do,
There’s no place I can’t explore
Because everything can happen
On the other side of the door.

On the other side of the door
I don’t have to go alone,
If you come, too, we can sail tall ships
And fly where the wind has flown.
And wherever we go, it is almost sure
We’ll find what we’re looking for
Because everything can happen
On the other side of the door.

—Jeff Moss  in Teaching with Fire

Enjoying Sir Ken Robinson’s latest book

the-element-bookThe Element speaks so clearly about the fundamental principles of Open Doors.  We are doing what he is proposing.

The Element describes “the meeting point between natural aptitude and personal passion.”  Robinson’s premise:  this is the most ideal place to live our lives because we are most fulfilled and most able to fulfill our purpose in the world.

“When people are in their element, they connect with something fundamental to their sense of identity, purpose, and well-being.  Being there provides a sense of self-revelation, of defining who they really are and what they’re really meant to be doing with their lives.”

The book is chock full of stories of people who have found their way to their own element, most often by overcoming their school experience.  Once there “they feel like their most authentic selves…. more alive, more centered, and more vibrant than at any other times.”

He outlines some key points:

  • discovering and honoring all types of intelligences
  • eliminating the hierarchy of subjects (i.e., math as superior to music)
  • the value of mentors and mentoring
  • the transformative effects of finding one’s tribe.

And, he expresses what most sparks my passion: “education doesn’t need to be reformed — it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardize education but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.”

Wow.  This so eloquently supports the vision of Open Doors.  Can’t wait to hear him in person.

Free to Learn

In 1965, soon after John Holt’s first book, How Children Fail, was published, a teacher wrote to him, saying, in effect,

I have just read your book, and like it.  But there is something you don’t know, that you should know. For over thirty years I have been teaching in the public schools of New York City. For over thirty years, along with my fellow teachers, I have been going to educational conferences, and training sessions, and workshops, to hear countless leaders in education talk, as you do, about the dignity of the child, and the importance of individual differences, and of fostering positive self-concepts, and building on the interests of the child, and letting the child learn from curiosity rather than fear.  And for thirty years I and my fellow teachers, as we went back to our classrooms, have said to ourselves, “Well, back to reality,” and have gone on doing just what we had done all along which was to try to bribe, scare, and shame children into learning what someone else had decided they ought to know.

I, too, could have written these words to Mr. Holt when I was teaching in the public system.  I would have added that my enthusiasm in learning new techniques which promised to deliver what I so believed in would have fortified me to “Instill change!”  .. going back to my classroom with excitement and determination.  Until they, too, failed.  The fact of the matter is that you simply cannot respectfully force someone to learn or meet the individual needs of 20 – 30 people at the same time.

THE GOOD NEWS IS we don’t have to do that.  Instead we CAN honor the dignity of humanity, appreciate individual differences, foster positive self-concept, and allow the teen to explore his/her interests and learn from his/her curiosity rather than from fear. There is a great option.  We have the FREEDOM to educate outside of the traditional school system.  It’s called “Home Schooling” and Open Doors is here to help you make that happen.