There is a growing reality that young people don’t need school. Students don’t need “school” that isn’t learner-driven. Students don’t need to forced through a pipeline that isn’t built on the passions and skills of each unique student.

In a recent episode of the Driven 2 Educate podcast, Kenneth Danford builds on this and adds:

There is a whole culture, a whole possibility of living without school – and people who did it not only were fine, they were better than fine. They were awesome. They’re having grand lives. They’re entrepreneurs, they’re traveling, they’re going to college early. They’re going to the same elite colleges…There is no downside of not going to school. Just quit school and have a better life who would possibly think that is true?

Unschooling is not new. John Holt popularized unschooling with his newsletter Growing Without Schooling in the 1970’s. What is new is the improving learning options and opportunities for students. The ubiquity of low-cost devices and ever improving learning platforms. Anywhere anytime learning learning is possible and it’s powering a generation of students to take control of their learning trajectory.

At the heart of Unschooling is self-directed learning, which is in turn a guise for personalized learning. When asked about personalized learning as it relates to Unschooling, Danford says “it’s all synonyms in my opinion – Unschooling becomes people starting with their passions – Personalized means starting with kids and parents and asking ‘What’s the priority?’”

Kenneth-Danford-By highlighting Danford’s perspective I’m not advocating for every student to leave school. What I do believe is important though is to ask yourself if your current learning is directly linked to a passion that drives you and to think critically about the ways that you can piece together a learning playlist that builds on a core mission, value or passion. Additionally, Danford suggests to choose school because:

That’s the community you want to be a part of. But don’t choose school because you think you need the high school credential to go to college. And, don’t choose school because you think you need to go there to learn your algebra and biology. You can learn everything that you would in school, outside of school.

The inspiration behind Danford’s work began when he was a high school history teacher. A colleague shared with him Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life Education by Grace Llewellyn and his life changed. He resigned from his teaching job and went on to co-found and direct North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens in Sunderland, MA.

At North Star, an academic plan is produced in partnership with the student. Each student is assigned a personal advisor to help imagine and realize goals, track progress, and facilitate tutorials and community connections. This relationship is at the core of the North Star experience, which is great to see in action because every student deserves to have a caring adult that helps them navigate their learning pathway so that they leave school with a meaningful, personalized plan.

North Star is led by a set guiding principles, with a handful of ideas that should ring true for GenDIY:

  • Young people want to learn. There exists basic human drive to learn and grow.
  • Learning happens everywhere. People learn all the time and in all kinds of places. It doesn’t have to look like school or feel like school to be valuable, and it’s not necessary to make distinctions between “schoolwork” and “your own hobbies” or “for credit” and “not for credit.” As one teenager who had recently left school observed, “Everything I do counts now.”
  • It really is OK to leave school. Many young people who are miserable in school – academically or socially – stay because they believe that leaving school will rule out (or at least diminish) the possibility of a successful future. North Star believes that Young people can achieve a meaningful and successful adulthood without going to school.
  • The best preparation for a meaningful and productive future is a meaningful and productive present. Too often, education is thought of in terms of preparation: “Do this now, even if it doesn’t feel connected to your most pressing interests and concerns, because later on you’ll find it useful.” When students figure out what seems interesting and worth doing right now — is also the best way to help them develop self-knowledge and experience at figuring out what kind of life they want and what they need to do or learn in order to create that life. In other words, it’s the best preparation for their futures.

About “GenDIY”
eduInnovation and Getting Smart have partnered with The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation to produce a thought leadership campaign called Generation Do-It-Yourself (GenDIY)– how young people are hacking a pathway to a career they love – on The Huffington Post andGettingSmart.com. This campaign about reimagining secondary and postsecondary education and career skills will explore the new generation building a global economy and experiences that are impact driven and entrepreneurial. For more on GenDIY:


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