Today I unpublished the enrollment information for Emerson ALC.  Our board has taken an honest evaluation of our financial projections, the amount of personal stress created by the attempted opening, and our immediate predictions, and unanimously agreed that the ALC wasn’t going to open, this year or in the foreseeable future.

I’m really, really sad about it.  Although I’m intellectually well-aware that this decision is wise and correct, I still haven’t shaken the emotional aspect of feeling like a failure.  I also know that I did every single thing I could for the past few years, so it’s not like there’s any “if only we had done X” regrets, either.  It’s hard to admit but sometimes things just don’t work out.

A silver lining to this hurricane-season cloud is that I’ll now have more time (like, way more time) to dedicate to the ALC network in general — I am looking forward to supporting the efforts of all of the other ALCs worldwide.

The Ten Types of Kids and How Self-Directed Learning Will Benefit Them

“Well, sure,” plenty of well-meaning people say to me, “letting a kid do whatever they want all day would work for some kids, but not my kid.”  This is such an easy, and common, way to sidestep the difficult questions about institutionalized education that I’ve put together a handy table below for the labels your child’s school might have privately, or publicly, used on your child.  Look for your offspring, and let me know if I missed anyone. . .

My Child is . . .

The Objection?

How Would Self-Directed Education Be Better?

“The Wallflower”

“He wouldn’t know what to do all day, so he would just sit and watch others all day.” Your child would find his voice and no longer wait for others’ permission to grow.

“The Slacker”

“If nobody told her what to do, she’d just [play video games/ insert other “waste of time”] all day. Your child would be free to learn from everything, even playing.  Also, scarcity breeds desire – that tablet isn’t as persuasive if it isn’t restricted. . .

“The Misfit”

“He’s just not like other kids, so he has a hard time at school and/or on the bus, but getting tough is part of growing up.” Your child can shape, and enjoy the benefits of, a healthy school culture that actively cultivates uniqueness and diversity (instead of just talking about it in generic terms once a year).

“The Class Clown”

“She acts out all day and gets in trouble with her teachers, so even less discipline would be a disaster.” The restrictions your child is fighting against don’t exist here – and she’ll get a chance to examine her true motivation like never before.

“The Achiever”

“He already has great grades, and tons of homework, but that’s what you have to do to get into a good college and be successful.” Your child can use that drive to pursue topics that he will actually study in college, thereby preparing him better for his future than the grab-bag of knowledge at a traditional school.

“The Prodigy”

“She’s so talented – removing her from a big school will stunt her ability to progress.” Intrinsically-motivated growth, under the mentorship of experts (who may have been otherwise unavailable), combined with unlimited time = explosive talents.

“The Enthusiast”

“He’s super into one thing – we can’t indulge his desire to only do [sports, computers, drawing] all day long.” Learning is learning – and learning how to learn is what we do.  Once he knows how to learn, he can do almost anything – and that’s one skill that is not taught in schools.

“The Ambassador”

“She is well-liked and is everyone’s friend.  A small school would be stifling.” Your child will perfect the skills of diplomacy, planning, and coordinating in real-time, with people of differing ages, just like in real life (as opposed to same-age cohorts in 3-minute breaks).

“The Entrepreneur”

“He’s been talking his way in and out of trouble for years.  He’ll make a great salesman someday.” Why not now?  Your inventive, creative, enthusiastic child can blossom instead of being squashed by a system that rewards sameness.

“The Fidgeter”

“She can’t sit still.  Ever. The school is suggesting we might see her doctor about it.” Movement is another way to learn!  We don’t care, frankly, if your child can’t sit still for long.  Neither can we.

“The Zygote”

“He’s not born yet.” Check back in with us in a few years.
We all deserve to be recognized as unique!

Photo courtesy of Michelle via Creative Commons Licensing

Ours Are Ready for College. . .Are Yours?

Many people ask me how a student who never had a formal class could possibly survive in college.  Southern Methodist University has a great table in their Admissions material that aims to help incoming students prepare for the differences between high school and college.  I’ve added a third column on the right for what the Agile Learning Center student would experience.

How Is College Different from High School

* High school is mandatory and usually free. * College is voluntary and expensive. Your education has always been voluntary.
* Your time is structured by others. * You manage your own time. You’ve always managed your own time.
* You need permission to participate in extracurricular activities * You must decide whether to participate in co-curricular activities. You’ve always decided what activities interest you.
* You can count on parents and teachers to remind you of your responsibilities and to guide you in setting priorities. * You must balance your responsibilities and set priorities. You will face moral and ethical decisions you have never faced before. You have balanced your responsibility to your community and set priorities weekly.
* Each day you proceed from one class directly to another, spending 6 hours each day–30 hours a week–in class. * You often have hours between classes; class times vary throughout the day and evening and you spend only 12 to 16 hours each week in class You don’t expect learning to only happen within a rigid schedule.
* Most of your classes are arranged for you. * You arrange your own schedule in consultation with your adviser. Schedules tend to look lighter than they really are. You have always arranged your education with the help of a facilitator.
* You are not responsible for knowing what it takes to graduate. * Graduation requirements are complex, and differ from year to year. You are expected to know those that apply to you. You have always been responsible for your own success or failure.
* Guiding principle: You will usually be told what to do and corrected if your behavior is out of line. * Guiding principle: You are expected to take responsibility for what you do and don’t do, as well as for the consequences of your decisions. * Guiding principle: You are expected to take responsibility for what you do and don’t do, as well as for the consequences of your decisions.
* The school year is 36 weeks long; some classes extend over both semesters and some don’t. * The academic year is divided into two separate 15-week semesters, plus a week after each semester for exams. You know how long something takes to learn by learning it.
* Classes generally have no more than 35 students. * Classes may number 100 students or more. “Classes” can have as few as one to many.
* You may study outside class as little as 0 to 2 hours a week, and this may be mostly last-minute test preparation. * You need to study at least 2 to 3 hours outside of class for each hour in class. Since you’ve chosen your curriculum, any extra study is a choice, not a chore.
* You seldom need to read anything more than once, and sometimes listening in class is enough. * You need to review class notes and text material regularly. You know that mastery means iterative cycles of learn, do, think, apply.
* You are expected to read short assignments that are then discussed, and often re-taught, in class. * You are assigned substantial amounts of reading and writing which may not be directly addressed in class. You know how to learn without coercion or hand-holding, because it’s all you’ve ever done.
* Guiding principle: You will usually be told in class what you need to learn from assigned readings. * Guiding principle: It’s up to you to read and understand the assigned material; lectures and assignments proceed from the assumption that you’ve already done so. * Guiding principle: Nobody can tell you what you “need” to learn but yourself.  It’s up to you.
* Teachers check your completed homework. * Professors may not always check completed homework, but they will assume you can perform the same tasks on tests. You don’t need babysitting to achieve success.
* Teachers remind you of your incomplete work. * Professors may not remind you of incomplete work.
* Teachers approach you if they believe you need assistance. * Professors are usually open and helpful, but most expect you to initiate contact if you need assistance. You’ve always known how to ask for resources you need.
* Teachers are often available for conversation before, during, or after class. * Professors expect and want you to attend their scheduled office hours. You’ve always planned appointments with the experts in your community to leverage their mentorship.
* Teachers have been trained in teaching methods to assist in imparting knowledge to students. * Professors have been trained as experts in their particular areas of research. You already know how to learn; what you need most are subject matter experts.
* Teachers provide you with information you missed when you were absent. * Professors expect you to get from classmates any notes from classes you missed. You’ve always been responsible for your own understanding.
* Teachers present material to help you understand the material in the textbook. * Professors may not follow the textbook. Instead, to amplify the text, they may give illustrations, provide background information, or discuss research about the topic you are studying. Or they may expect you to relate the

classes to the textbook readings.

You’ve always engaged in the learn, do, think, apply cycle with new information, so extrapolation comes easily to you.  You’ve been an active documentarian of your learning for years, and have a thorough understanding of the most efficient note-taking strategies for you.
* Teachers often write information on the board to be copied in your notes. * Professors may lecture nonstop, expecting you to identify the important points in your notes. When professors write on the board, it may be to amplify the lecture, not to summarize it. Good notes are a must.
* Teachers impart knowledge and facts, sometimes drawing direct connections and leading you through the thinking process. * Professors expect you to think about and synthesize seemingly unrelated topics. You’ve always sought out the what-ifs and connections between ideas, because you weren’t limited to a tiny menu of -preapproved academic knowledge.
* Teachers often take time to remind you of assignments and due dates. * Professors expect you to read, save, and consult the course syllabus (outline); the syllabus spells out exactly what is expected of you, when it is due, and how you will be graded. Again — you don’t expect, nor would you want, to be lead by the nose through a lesson.
* Teachers carefully monitor class attendance. * Professors may not formally take roll, but they are still likely to know whether or not you attended.
* Guiding principle: High school is a teaching environment in which you acquire facts and skills. * Guiding principle: College is a learning environment in which you take responsibility for thinking through and applying what you have learned. * Guiding principle: An ALC is a learning environment in which you take responsibility for thinking through and applying what you have learned.
* Grades are given for most assigned work. * Grades may not be provided for all assigned work. You don’t learn for the external motivation of a grade.
* Consistently good homework grades may raise your overall grade when test grades are low. * Grades on tests and major papers usually provide most of the course grade. You know effort is valuable, but success is often manifested in public displays of competency.
* Extra credit projects are often available to help you raise your grade. * Extra credit projects cannot, generally speaking, be used to raise a grade in a college course. You think extra credit is silly — if it was important, why wasn’t it discussed in the first place?
* Initial test grades, especially when they are low, may not have an adverse effect on your final grade. * Watch out for your first tests. These are usually “wake-up calls” to let you know what is expected–but they also may account for a substantial part of your course grade. You may be shocked when you get your grades. You know that failure hurts, because you’ve been allowed to fail  in the past.  You are also resilient because you’ve recovered from it.
* You may graduate as long as you have passed all required courses with a grade of D or higher. * You may graduate only if your average in classes meets the departmental standard–typically a 2.0 or C. You graduated by proving you were ready to do so.  Just scraping by didn’t cut it.
* Guiding principle: Effort counts.Courses are usually structured to reward a “good-faith effort.” * Guiding principle: Results count.Though “good-faith effort” is important in regard to the professor’s willingness to help you achieve good results, it will not substitute for results in the grading process. * Guiding principle: Visible success matters. Since sharing your mastery is an essential part of the culture, you approach new tasks with the expectation to be able to teach others later down the line.

The next section is about the transition to college, and I’ve taken the liberty of bolding the particular skills where Agile learning beats the pants off of traditional high school, hands-down.


    • Take control of your own education: think of yourself as a scholar.
    • Get to know your professors; they are your single greatest resource
    • Be assertive. Create your own support systems, and seek help when you realize you may need it.
    • Take advantage of the A-LEC; go to a workshop, enroll in ORACLE (HDEV 1110), work with a tutor.
    • Take control of your time. Plan ahead to satisfy academic obligations and make room for everything else.
    • Stretch yourself: enroll in at least one course that really challenges you.
    • Make thoughtful decisions: don’t take a course just to satisfy a requirement, and don’t drop any course too quickly.
    • Think beyond the moment: set goals for the semester, the year, your college career.

CONCLUSION: A student educated in the Agile learning methodology is more prepared for the University setting, in more ways, than a traditionally-educated student could ever hope to be.  See you on campus!

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons – University of Exeter
Photo: Flickr Creative Commons – University of Exeter

Original document available at


A Response to Jen Hatmaker, the Self-Proclaimed “Worst End of School Year Mom Ever”

Hi Jen,

I know that a) you wrote this post two years ago, and b) it’s supposed to be humor.  It’s making the rounds again though, thanks to the “Today Parenting Team,” and I just can’t hold back.  Jen to Jen, it’s time someone said this to you —

You don’t have to check homework folders.  You don’t have to make “surprise” costumes or projects. You don’t have to live under the rule of Ms. Burke or any other teacher, who doesn’t live with you and (trust me) is just as burned out at the required bureaucratic bull**** she has to do, e
xcept if she doesn’t do it she gets fired.

The school is asking for that stuff, because busy = achieving and metrics = success, right?

I just can’t stand seeing yet another smart, capable woman throw her hands up in (mock) frustration and pretend like the broken education system is inevitable, unchangeable, and that moms should band together in a suck-it-up, boot camp mentality about their kids’ education.  That’s ludicrous.  There are alternatives to the assembly-line method of education.

I’m one of the founding parents of an Agile Learning Center in Charleston, SC, because we all don’t want our kids to see learning as a series of ‘have-tos’.  It’s just not.  You live in Austin, the home of more original, exciting people than I can shake a stick at.  Find them, and use your notoriety to change things, rather than reinforce the well-school-sucks-but-whaddaya-gonna-do status quo.

It’s great that your blog inspires such strong reactions, from a chuckle and a “been there, sister” to my admittedly more. . .passionate. . . response.  Your platform can advocate for change, if you truly mean what you said.

Jen Hatmaker’s Homework


If School Were Your Job, You’d Quit


Seeking employees who:

  • Tolerate being told not only what to do, but exactly how and when as well
  • Accept having little to no understanding of why they are doing a task
  • Will learn not to “swim upstream” — quiet, motionless, compliant employees preferred
  • Have zero personal, social, or emotional issues that might potentially interfere with their perceived “attitude” or motivation

Benefits of the job include:

  • Early start times and rigid schedules
  • Scheduled bathroom, lunch, and down-time breaks with all other employees; no alone time, ever
  • Take-home work that restricts or altogether eliminates pesky family time,outside employment, or non-work-related hobbies
  • No independent judgement required!  We will tell you what to think, how to think it, and what ideas are unimportant
  • Frequent, sometimes arbitrary evaluations administered by experts in testing
  • Opportunities for annual promotion tied to compliance and test-taking ability

Compensation includes promises of future success;* financial incentives from you may increase your rate of receiving those promises.  Company regulations specify that all applicants be at least six by September 1; documents to be verified prior to job offer.

*promises not redeemable for actual success



Photo courtesy of athene8_ through CC licensing.


The Family Kanban Lives!

Sooo we have been meaning to getting around to putting together a family Kanban.  We’ve been dawdling for about as long as it took to read that last sentence.  A long time.  In order to encourage the issue, I had to make myself a little more publicly accountable.

What I did was announce that we had this board, and introduced Trello, to our two-year-old son’s ABA therapy team (who took to it like fish to water – they are organizational ninjas).  That meant I’d better get a decent Kanban going to invite them to – model the model!

It’s up and running. Our plan is a few minutes’ standup each morning with our son to state our intentions before we head off to work, and a recap before bedtime.

TIL that my  five-year-old son wants to:

  • Learn to do a headstand
  • Learn more about Terraria
  • Learn how to run the washer and dryer (to make money doing chores)
  • Take over responsibility for feeding the dog (see money, above)

Kanban might just increase my leisure time. . .

CMB Potluck

An idea I had today while driving to work:

What if all of the ALCs in the network had a quarterly Community Mastery Board “potluck” that was a Google Hangout or the like, where each ALC demonstrated something that they added to the CMB that quarter?

As a startup group, seeing what’s going on at the other ALCs might be a renewing source of energy, and the established groups could have the fun of sharing something cool with the other groups.  It might even inspire new offerings across the network!

A More Public Life

We are getting into the nitty-gritty now of Emerson ALC. I learned more than I expected about HTML this weekend, but the site is thisclose to looking reputable. It’a a relief, but I have to admit, dear online reader, that having a site launched doesn’t resolve any of my nervousness about this endeavor. If I could set it and forget it, that would be one thing, but it’s not really in my nature to post on Facebook (If I post a few times a year, that’s remarkable), and I think my Twitter account has three tweets, total. Becoming a more public person online is an unavoidable part of the process of getting the doors open, but it might be the part I’m fearing the most.
TL;DR — Social media coordinator wanted.

In Medias Res

The beginning of the blog is the middle of everything else for me.

The chicken-and-eggness of starting an Agile Learning Center is. . .weird. Jason and I have enough knowledge of entrepreneurial practices to know how to talk to people about what we are looking for, and we know how to express our intentions, but it’s hard to get enrollments to a school with no site, and it’s also pretty hard to sign a lease with no students enrolled.

We are also coming in to the ALC community having already engaged the process of forming a democratic school for some time now. We already know a lot about where we are, and I was feeling a little battle fatigued; the ALC concepts have rekindled that “just-starting-out” excitement.

Right now, my husband Jason and I are the primary founders. We work extremely well together already, so that’s going to be just fine. I am enjoying getting to learn more about our relationship through being ‘business partners,’ so to speak.

For example, we have a Trello board of founder-type-things. I find an enormous backlog makes me itchy; I’d rather have one card that covers a larger concept, and be working it for a while. Jason much prefers task-oriented cards, and would hate my “big concept” cards — but even finding that out was a revelation. Even after all of this time, I’m still surprised when everyone else doesn’t think exactly the way I do.

The upside of being in the middle of everything is that any direction gets me somewhere new!