Options for Families Without Democratic Schools or Resource Centers in their Communities

Home-based self-directed learning (either on your own or with a group of families) can be done anywhere, of course. But if, for whatever reason, you’ve ruled out this alternative and haven’t found any democratic schools or appropriate resource centers for self-directed learners in your area, you have two options: find out whether such a place is in the planning stages and wait until it opens, or connect with like-minded people and start your own.

We hope to introduce some features to this web site to make it easier for people interested in self-directed learning to connect with each other, learn about what’s on the drawing board, and pursue new opportunities. In the meantime, you can join area homeschooling or unschooling listservs (find them through an online search, for example in Yahoo Groups) and ask around (posting notices at libraries and bookstores is another good way to connect with others).

Starting a democratic school or resource center, while no simple task, is probably more doable than you might imagine. The most important consideration is whether it seems like something you would (mostly) enjoy doing. If so, there are numerous ways to proceed before investing a lot of time and/or money.

Ideally you would start by identifying a small group of like-minded people with diverse strengths and resources to bring to the project (again, listservs or online groups can be good ways to find such people, as can word of mouth). Your children can also participate in this effort, which can be a great learning experience. (Their first “lesson,” learned by example, can be that people who are not satisfied with the opportunities available to them can create their own opportunities.)

To start a democratic school: Check out the materials on Sudbury Valley School’s web site (www.sudval.org). Also inquire about the School Starters Course run by AERO (The Alternative Education Resource Organization; www.educationrevolution.org). Also available at that site is Chris Mercogliono’s book How to Grow a School. Other useful books on this topic can be found online. Lastly, feel free to contact any of the democratic schools listed on this web site to ask them for guidance in terms of how they got started, what they might suggest for you, etc.

To start a resource center for self-directed learners: The founders of North Star for Teens in Hadley, Mass. (www.northstarteens.org) and The Princeton (NJ) Learning Cooperative (www.princetonlearningcooperative.org) have created a new organization, Liberated Learners, Inc., that helps people replicate the North Star model for such a center. Organizations such as Open Connections (in the Philadelphia area) represent a somewhat different example that you can explore by contacting them at . Or you may want to reach out to one of the other resource centers listed on this site.

In general, it’s best to have as many conversations as you can accommodate with a wide range of people in order to clarify in your own mind what you want to create and to determine what others have in mind. The more specifics that come up in your discussions (e.g., will we have classes or let the young people plan their own time, always or sometimes, etc.?), the more clarity you will get about your own desires and those of your prospective partners. Best to identify significant differences early, before anyone has made commitments, and the earlier you find people who are on the same page as you, the sooner you can proceed in earnest. Stay in a learning mode yourself, and you will be amazed at how rewarding a journey this can be.