In this episode, I interview Ken Danford, Executive Director & Co-Founder of North Star Self-Directed Learning For Teens. He talks about his definition of self-directed learning and describes the learning model and student environment at North Star.
Ken Danford is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens. Through North Star, Ken has supported more than 600 teens to leave school and embark on a self-directed approach. North Star is now the lead organization of the Liberated Learners Network of a dozen centers throughout the United States and Canada.
Prior to establishing North Star, Ken attended public schools in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and then Amherst College and Brown University. He taught in both the Prince George’s County, MD and Amherst, MA public schools.
Ken has spoken about his experience of making school optional as an annual presenter at the AERO Conference and other panels. He participated in the TEDx Conference in Amherst College in 2013 and at the Thrive 2020 Conference in Guernsey, United Kingdom in 2015. After twenty years in the field, Kenneth is as enthusiastic as ever about helping teens and families change their lives in this profound way.
(02:24) Ken’s background
(03:30) What led you to the field of teaching? What made you want to become a teacher?
(04:41) So you eventually become a public school social studies teacher. So, you’re in the traditional system. What was it in the system that made you say, “You know what, something’s not right here, I need to do something on my own?”
(09:17) Do you think it is a systemic issue from the time you were in school to now, or do you think it was kind of your personality as far as the difference? Or maybe it’s both?
(11:01) Let’s dive into the model. The community’s been open since 1996.
(12:50) Let’s describe to the audience what your definition of self-directed learning is, and the self-learning environment that the students are going through… and what a typical day is for a student.
(20:24) So you have teens from 11 years old all the way through 18 years old at any time. In the process of becoming more self-directed and learning what they want to learn and engaging with tutors on a one on one basis, you’re obviously developing an entrepreneurial nature and mindset with these kids, if they didn’t have it already. You say 70-80% go on to college. What do you see the whole breadth of graduates do? What do they go off to do?
(23:05) So you’ve had this community around for the last 20 years, you’re kind of a pioneer in this area. What impact are you seeing nationally and globally with this sort of model or offshoots of the model?
(27:31) When you hear the word successful, what’s the first thing or person that comes to mind?
(28:50) Do you have a favorite book or series of books? Why?
- The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education, by Grace Llewellyn
- Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn
- Bound for Canaan: The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America’s First Civil Rights Movement by Fergus M. Bordewich
(31:06) If you could have dinner with one person you admire, past or present, who would it be, and why?
- Levi Coffin
- Frederick Douglass
- William Lloyd Garrison