Last week, edweek.org hosted a live Web chat with Ken Danford, executive director of North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens, in Hadley, Mass. From their promo material: "Founded in 1996, North Star is an education center for homeschoolers, catering mostly to students who've grown disaffected with high school. North Star offers an eclectic mix of courses as well as career resources, but what the students do with their time is largely up to them.
"There's no attendance taken," writes author Dan Robb in his recent TEACHER MAGAZINE article on North Star. "Nor are there bells, grade levels, or evaluations. Students are absolutely in charge of their own education." Adds Danford, "Unstructured time here is invaluable--is more important than the classes, in a way--because ultimately it's more important that kids have time and space to figure out who they want to be."
Some of North Star's students attest that this laissez-faire approach has reawakened their engagement with learning. And despite leaving the center without grades or a diploma, a number of North Star's alumni have gone on to elite colleges."
There are two of the predicable "What if they just want to play video games all day?" questions. Danford doesn't mention deschooling, perhaps because most of his audience is teachers, but he handles most of the questions well. I suspect the center is even less structured than it appears to be from his answers--again playing to the audience. With a staff of two, they couldn't possibly be as hands-on as he suggests. Not that that is a bad thing, but it's something that teachers just would not understand.