The Self-Directed Learning Award

“This school made me the person I am today,” is a graduation-day-speech cliché that assigns power to the transformative abilities of schooling, not the person, thereby confusing the process of mass schooling with the substance of personal growth.

Colleges and high schools have long used such confusion and rhetoric in their alumni networks to sustain and promote their work, and over time we’ve seen a number of homeschooling groups duplicate these graduation ceremonies (I’ve keynoted a few!) and even issue their own diplomas. However, if the goal of your school or group is to create something different from conventional education, why mimic the school system?

Though today there are charter schools and learning centers that serve self-directed learners, I am struck by how many of them come into being as business opportunities to spread compulsory schooling in new directions instead of grappling with the core issues of how to help a person find work worth doing and a life worth living.

North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens, is a learning center that is always clear about their goals and they have steadfastly held to their mission of promoting self-directed learning without grades and compulsion for teenagers. Towards that end, North Star created the Self-Directed Learning Award to celebrate individual achievements by local self-directed learners and to inspire teens to follow their own path into adulthood. This year's ceremony is on April 12 from 11am to 1:15pm at the Hadley Farms Meeting House.

North Star has given this award annually (this is its 11th year) to a local community member who did not complete high school (though they may hold a GED) and who “lives as a model of successful self-directed learning.” I’m struck by the richness and diversity of achievements of self-directed learners in western Massachusetts; imagine how many self-directed learners there are throughout the United States who have similar success as adults but who are never applauded for it? The Princeton Learning Cooperative has its own Self-Directed Learning Award, too, and I hope we’ll see more of such celebrations.

This award is a great reminder that a college diploma is not the only way to find work worth doing and a life worth living, and that there are more possibilities to grow and learn throughout our lives than we think.

Share this list with your homeschooled or unschooled friends who don’t see high school or college as their next step and they can see how ordinary people can succeed in life without conventional schooling.

The North Star Self-Directed Learning Award Recipient List

Bill Dwight, 2005, Northampton city council member.

Victoria White, 2006, local business owner (deceased).

Black Snake Woman and Traveling Medicine Dog, 2007, presents at summer camps and to educators year-round about Native American life and history.

John Robison, 2008, author, Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Aspergers.

Roget Lockard, 2009, local therapist.

Tobias Baskin, 2010, Univ. of Mass, Professor of Biology.

Lynne Manring, 2011, local historian, Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association.

Chris Martenson, 2012, The Crash Course—economist, environmental activist.

Jeff Napolitano, 2013, Executive Director, American Friends Service Committee, Northampton MA.

Princeton Learning Cooperative, 2014, modeled after North Star.

Theodore Agranat, 2015, entrepeneur, Springfield MA.