“Learning Is Natural, Schooling Is Optional.”

The headline for this post is the motto of NorthStarTeens.org, a resource center for teenagers in South Hadley, MA. This year marks NorthStar’s 18th anniversary; in short, NorthStar helps teens leave school and build on their interests. Ken Danford, a cofounder of NorthStar, presents the history of NorthStar’s development, its challenges and successes helping teens, and the rationale for sustaining and expanding more places for teens to learn and socialize in besides high school in this well-done TEDx video that follows.

In his talk, Ken is quick to note that NorthStar is not a competitor to schooling or homeschooling, but a complement: “We’re not saying that nobody should go to school; we’re saying nobody needs to go to school. . . . It’s one thing to know that school is optional. It’s another thing entirely to make school optional for any particular teen. A few people can read a book or hear an idea and act on it, but most people need support. This where we come in . . . “

For parents who feel parent-directed homeschooling is too much responsibility for them, places like NorthStar are a great solution. Ken also notes that some of the teens at NorthStar decide to go back for the conventional high school experience, so schools get students who choose to be there and they become indirect beneficiaries of NorthStar’s programs, too.

Ken’s advice to parents and adults who work with teens who are suffering in high school is important; to paraphrase him, “You can be a life changer and tell kids you don’t have to go to school and then ask the teen, ‘I wonder how we can make that work?’” There are more and more options for learning than just being in school or at home, and we have people like Ken Danford and Josh Hornick, the founders of NorthStar, to thank. Their efforts and success show there is a need for other people and places for teens to interact with besides what is in a conventional high school, and their support for families who are scared to homeschool but who see how their child is suffering in their present school is an inspiring concept.

Here is a short video of a NorthStar teen talking about his life before and after NorthStar, Bruised But Not Broken.

I hope you enjoy Ken's talk as much as I did and offer your comments. Do we need more places like NorthStar? Do you know of any (here are some I know)?