North Star Annual Brunch Speech 2009
by Ken Danford 

Thank you all for being here. It is very exciting to have so many friends; this is even better than Facebook!  

North Star supports teens and their families to use homeschooling as a means to improve their lives. We’re not a school. No credits, no diplomas, no compulsory attendance or curriculum. Our slogan says it best: “Learning is natural. School is optional.” North Star challenges the premise that schooling is the essential path for adolescents to follow, without which they will be doomed to second-class lives. I hope that what brings you here today is a shared belief, or at least some curiosity, for our unique approach.

Learning is natural. People want to learn, all kinds of things. Teens in particular want to learn all kinds of things, but not always what schools want them to learn. It’s amazing to hear the things that teens say they want to learn, once they feel safe to express themselves. Not just academic things, such as immunology or math beyond calculus, but, things like how to build a combat robot, how to get a radio show on WMUA, and even how to organize and teach a class of their own.

I want to say three things about the idea, “School is optional.” First: School is optional for learning. I am certain that there is nothing that can only be learned in school. Homeschoolers write novels, they read Shakespeare, they study Physics, they learn Latin. They play sports. They make art and music. They participate in plays and musicals. Learning happens everywhere, all the time, and opportunities abound in our culture outside of schools.  

Second: School is optional for success. You don’t have to complete high school to go to college. Our alumni have attended or are at colleges all over the country, from Maine College of Art to Reed College in Oregon, all five local colleges, and others such as Brown, Columbia, and M.I.T. Those who don’t want to go to college have found fascinating things to do as travelers, entrepreneurs, and workers. The world welcomes motivated and happy and interesting teenagers. If there is one thing my work offers, it is an optimistic view of this aspect of our culture.  

Third: North Star believes that School is optional, in a positive sense. My children go to school. Many of you here today work in schools and do well there. Many North Star members have siblings who go to school. Some North Star members themselves choose to return to school. But no one should feel trapped in school. We wish that everyone who attends school do so as an affirmative choice, understanding that, especially with North Star, there is an accessible and inspiring alternative.

We are in for quite a program today. I will turn this podium over to Roget Lockard, who will share his story. My brother asked me, “How did you know this fellow didn’t finish high school?” Isn’t that a fascinating question. Look around this room, and you’ll have a hard time guessing what people’s high school experiences were like. Even among the teens, it hard to be sure who is a North Star member and who attends school, mostly.

As you listen to Roget, consider what the implications are for teens today who feel the same way as he did about school.

Raphi Levy-Moore will tell you how she ran out of steam for conventional schooling in 10th grade, and how North Star opened up her world.

Current member Shane Mathieson-Jacob came to North Star last winter, to put it gently, out of options. Shane’s life has changed dramatically for the better in the time he has been with us.

Jodi Lyn Cutler will share how her family needed something different for their son Ben, and how homeschooling and North Star have been the right fit for them.  

As you listen to Raphi, Shane, and Jodi, consider their range of experiences, the range of needs, and the genuine, profound transformations that have occurred because North Star makes homeschooling possible for each of them. Speaking for all of us at North Star, we are so satisfied, to say the least, for our role in these stories and so many others like them.

I have said before that it’s one thing to know that homeschooling exists, to know that School is Optional. It is quite another thing to Make School Optional for any teen and family in our community regardless of family structure, history, or financial situation. For that to be true, there must be a dedicated staff. There must also be significant community support. And there must be teens and families ready to take the leap out of school. Here today, we have all of those components in this room. Together, we make our slogan a reality. Thank you.