This is 'The ALC Network Vision Questionnaire' that I submitted, it has only been edited for formatted and preserved here for future reference.
Network Vision Questionnaire
The ALC Network is growing. You are a part of the ALC Network. We have a few questions.
The ALC Network
This document describes “The ALC Network” as the collective of facilitators, parents, students, resource people, volunteers, and the infrastructure, resources, and protocols that support it.
I would define The ALC Network as…
…the organizational structure which acts to support the activities of member ALCs.
…an organization which serves, and draws its membership from, a broad coalition of people rooted in the practice and needs of individual ALC communities.
(I love the inclusiveness of the document’s original definition, but two months on I feel like it is too loose and wide of a definition. I also feel that naming it as a separate organization, rather than just a network, could clarify its purposes and calls to action.)
Why did you join the ALC Network? What’s your specific underlying motivation for doing this work?
My original motivation for doing this work was to connect with and learn from others who were engaged in creating a radical model of education for the 21st Century. I was called to the work by my own interests and experiences and the exciting idea of starting my own school. Since my initial engagement with the work I’ve been refining my understanding of the needs that the work (of building a future model and network, not just the practice of ALFing) demands.
My underlying motivation for continuing on this mission stems from a deep seated belief that the dominant model of ‘education’ does not serve anyone, at least not in the ways that it claims to. I believe that together we can develop an educational model of schooling that will prepare young people for creating the world they want to live in.
The problems and challenges of the 21st Century need to be addressed by people connected to their own power and passions. The neoliberal consumer-capitalist model, which if left unchallenged will leave our grandchildren a potentially inhospitable planet, permeates all of our current public institutions. At the deepest level it is my goal to help create a sustainable model of education based on the ideas of Social Ecology as proposed by Murray Bookchin. A revolution ‘does not simply’ happen because people are disenfranchised with the way things are: it happens when viable alternatives begin replacing the existing models.
What is required of our generation is to create institutions which are socially sustainable, politically agile and humanly scaled. ALCs as schools are one high leverage iteration of this much broader project.
How do you participate in the ALC Network?
I am grounded by my practice as a volunteer ALF at the ALCnyc, where I have also taken the past year and a half to further unschool myself. I have sought out and created my own opportunities to practice as an ALF in these contexts:
- with Drew Hornbein in the ALC Everett startup, 11/2014
- as the After Hours Care ALF at ALCnyc, 9-12/2015
- with Liam Nielsen in the Agile Unschoolers online group, 11-12/2015
I have taken on speaking engagements, ‘EvAgilising’ in the following contexts:
- as a panelist discussing democratic free schools at Sarah Lawrence College, 11/2015
- presenting the ALC model in Melbourne Australia to Fitzroy Community School, 12/2015
I am undertaking a MA in Philosophy and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. I intend to pursue this over two years 2016/17 with the aim of writing a thesis concerning the ALC project. Throughout this time I also intend to:
- promote awareness of our work through international academic circles
- develop a robust defense of our ‘agile’ and evolving philosophy of education
- extend my role as a speaker on behalf of the ALC Network where called upon
- share my course work openly with the ALC community through my blog
I have Community TV producer certification (MNN) and am engaged in developing content about and for the ALC community in New York City.
Finally, I engage in network level discussions online when I can and maintain an active blog that also includes my love of table top board games (Risk: Legacy), exploring intentional screen time use (Mindful Minecraft) among other interests.
If you could create or have your dream job within the ALC Network, what would you be doing? Describe it.
I constantly feel like I am making my dream job a reality. Did you read my previous answer?
I dream of monetizing the value that I bring to the project, ways that I imagine that happening:
- pay for regular part time ALFing commitments
- speaker fees for public talks
- consultancy fees for supporting inspiring educators starting their own ALCs
- sales from writing and publishing a book on our model that engages with Phil. Ed.
- production grants to produce a documentary on ALCs and alternative education
This question reminds me a little bit of ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ which our culture constantly asks kids. I’m happy to say that I feel that ALCs generally ask the question of our kids: what are you doing to make your dreams come true?
In order to flesh out further my role in the ALC Network, let me add that I imagine that I will always seek a balanced diet between local community level work and outward facing Network support roles.
Network Growth Ideas
Please share your ideas for network growth.
The first and most crucial project, I believe is clarifying the role and vision of the Network itself. There are many big and broad plans and opportunities constantly presenting themselves to us as individuals that we are all excited about. However, the Network itself seems to be suffering something of an identity crisis, which I hope and expect that this Visioning process can help us resolve.
We have progressed from being a group of facilitators, rooted in their experience of ALC schools or their own start-ups, to a broader coalition of players with many different visions for what the Network should do. After Nancy’s suggestion, a weekly facilitators call has been reestablished as the purpose of Monday’s meeting. This leaves discussions for growth beyond individual schools to be held elsewhere. The work is both exciting and progressing in a truly agile way, responding to needs and opportunities as they are showing up. The success of two ALF Summer programs in two years which have grown the number of active schools exponentially speaks to the success of ‘Network level’ work and, most importantly, those doing the work. It seems more and more obvious that we are reaching a point of growth for network level organizing that demands further clarity.
At the ALCnyc we are experiencing a transition moment of our own. With the director of the school transitioning out of their role, the student population growing (in fits and starts) and two seasoned facilitators (Abby and Ryan) with expanding roles, the community is looking to build in directions that will be sustainable for the long haul. To this end the community is developing their own ALF Summer program that will directly service these specific needs and others. This is ‘Network level’ work that is rooted in their needs and on their own initiative.
I use this example to clarify my reasons for my own definitions of The ALC Network. I’m not even sure if I am writing this only for myself or others, since I have stated here that my underlying motivation is to see a proliferation of alternative social organizations of which ALC schools are ‘one high leverage iteration’. To pause on this topic for a second, I’d personally love to see the whole paradigm of ‘Schools’ replaced with natural learning centers where, as in the dreams of Ivan Illich, learning is separated from social control. I stick with the paradigm of Schools and hence, ALC schools, because this is a place where I think we can make real progressive changes now. It also means we must commit ourselves to responding honestly and unflinchingly to questions of outcomes and College preparedness, among others, within our communities. ALCs as schools is the game we have chosen to play, even if what we mean is an ‘unschooling collective’, because presently being a private school gives us license to work with children in an era of compulsory schooling.
Let me briefly list some other projects that may be of interest to people in our network:
- The XQ school project – designing a 21st Century Mid-High School
- Agile Learning Adult Co-working spaces
- ALC tools and practices in urban public schools
- Agile Learning meet-up groups
- Documentary on Agile Learning Centers
I don’t want to expand on this list too much (though I’m tempted) my point is that these projects are ever expanding in their range and scope: it’s called mission creep. I’m not saying that people should not engage in them (try and stop me) but that they are beyond the scope of what I see as growing needs of the existing ALC member schools. These are the needs that I think should define the activity and scope of The ALC Network.
Following my second definition of the ALC Network as an organization of ALC member schools there is much work that can be done:
- supporting existing ALC member schools in finding additional funding, freeing the facilitators to focus on the young people
- running ALF trainings in community, making it possible for parents and children in other schools to have ALF Summer like experiences. (Imagine ALF Weekends for each member school)
- placing veteran ALFs in start-up schools
- marketing for member schools
- Public Speakers in support of ALCs
It is my belief that by prioritizing serving the member schools, that suitable models for monetizing through and around the schools themselves will become clearer. I will use the next two sections to describe projects that I imagine could be achieved by The ALC Network as member organization.
Describe the ALC Network 2 years from now.
In two years time The ALC Network will have its own paid staff, drawing income directly from their work with member ALCs and Network projects like ALF Summers and coordinating public speaking engagements in communities with an interest in starting their own ALCs. These staff will continue to define their own projects and their own interests but will be held accountable to member ALCs for remaining within the (admittedly broad) scope of The ALC Network.
The ALC Network will be clear on the value that they offer individual member ALCs and vice versa. There will be 10 member ALCs with sliding scale financial commitments to the network. The ALC Network will cover 60% of its costs from its own separate sources of income from consulting work, public speaking tours and events and ALF Summer trainings.
The ALC Network will coordinate a Summer Camp for teens nationally along the lines of the Not Back to School Camp, primarily for teens from ALC member schools. This will be separate from an ALF Summer. Sliding scale costs to resolve issues of equity across the network.
There will continue to be non-member start-ups who use the ALC tools or philosophy but who fall outside of member ALC status for a variety of reasons.
What is your vision for the ALC Network 5 years from now?
In five years time The ALC Network will be using its own financial resources to support Veteran ALFs moving into member ALC start-ups to work alongside ALF Summer initiated founders in their first year. There will be a clear expectation of the start-ups to repay this cost incrementally over an agreed period of time (months/years).
There will be one or more speakers giving TED style talks in support of the Network.
There will be regional chapters of the ALC Network forming nationally and internationally to support the growth of member ALCs. Much like an ALC, in my opinion, should not have more than 30 students (with 3 ALFs), I think that The ALC Network should service a maximum of 10 member ALCs. Given that the organizations are themselves composed of member ALCs, redrawing regional groupings should not be much of an issue. There will be 20-30 member ALCs.
There will continue to be non-member ALCs but there will be a clear pathway and incentives for these independent schools to seek membership. There will be a further proliferation of alternative ‘forks’ to the ALC model that lead into other areas such as an “Agile Learning Multiversity”. Many of these projects will be formed by ALC graduates and will offer alternative pathways to College for our students, thus furthering our shared causes.
Which topics of network growth are you particularly interested in pursuing?
I am interested in pursuing my own academic interests and where these align with The ALC Network’s public speaking needs.
I am also interested in organizing my own ALC startup, an ALF Summer and an Alternative Educators conference in Australia. I see my role in 5 years time as supporting the Australian chapter of The ALC Network through my roots in an ALC community in Melbourne.
Do you have anything else you want to tell us?
There are other projects of my own that I specifically did not explore here. Briefly, my intention to write a thesis on ALC philosophy, to publish that as a book and to work on a documentary film project which should follow from that research. I did not explore these here because I see these as personal interest projects, separate from the needs of The ALC Network.
For both of the major possible outcomes of those projects (a book, a film), I expect to be supported tremendously by the community as it is. I also expect that they will be of special interest to people within the community and that this means I already have an audience for both.
In reading my responses I guess it becomes evident that I’ve become particular about definitions. This will be a quirk that is only likely to grow as my studies in Philosophy and Education continue to shape my thinking. I hope that others recognize this diligence as an asset to the ALC project as much as I do.
Before I started writing my responses to this questionnaire I was overwhelmingly excited about sharing my thoughts from Social Ecology and reading Murray Bookchin. What I found through the process of writing this response was that I was more interested in staying grounded in the problem of keeping a network tied to its membership. Or what types of problems would an organization grounded in its membership seek to address?
In writing this I guess I’ve partially covered my interpretations of Social Ecology, though I found myself thinking more than once: do I even agree with what I’m writing here? What am I actually advocating for? Is it Agile? Did I even answer the questions (as they were intended)?
I found myself asking clarifying questions like: is Agile Learning a philosophy of its own or a sort of permissiveness or even a refusal? Much like unschooling is un-fortunately defined by a negative. Is Natural Learning a better parallel or isn’t there something refined and polished in learning from your mistakes, something accumulated, something ac-cultured? I’m more and more inclined to say that it is it’s own amalgam of influences.
Agile Learning IS its own thing and it is very exciting. Let’s do it justice and give the idea the attention it deserves.