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The ALC Network: My Vision

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.


  1. Drew says:

    > The problems and challenges of the 21st Century need to be addressed by people connected to their own power and passions.

    I couldn’t agreem more! I think the use of a Bernie meme is a perfect way to illustrate this. Our culture seems to look to “leaders” who will make change which stems from our schooling which has us following authority figures as they decide our fate. People who understand their own power and agency in this world are the real change makers. This is one of the main features of ALC that drew me in.

    > 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?

    I find it hard to articulate this to parents when they ask “how will my child get into college”. We support kids choosing their own path and doing what they need to do to accomplish it. Even if someone doesn’t know what they want to do I feel that they will leave ALC with the knowledge to figure it out when the time is right.

    > 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.

    This is how I see us managing the “scope creep” as communities grow within the ALC Network they can spin off into their own, focused scope. The ability for communities to split from the “main” branch of ALC should be a key part of the Network and further supports a need for a clear scope because it’s hard to split from an amorphous blob!

    > marketing for member schools

    I’m beginning to see the ALC Network as mainly a “marketing coop” which supports members with high level branding support as well as administrative support. Recently on a facilitation call I asked what people wished they had when starting their school and the response was legal and accounting support. Beyond that it’s access to a supportive community. Without the ALC Network to back me up I don’t know how I would have been able to do ALC Everett!

    I love your 5 year vision!

    > I hope that others recognize this diligence as an asset to the ALC project as much as I do.

    Yes! yes! yes!

    > Much like unschooling is un-fortunately defined by a negative.

    I liked @liam‘s interpretation that unschooling is a kind of zen art of moving beyond school rather than opposing it. Though like many things it’s popular definition hounds it.

    @abram this has been a pleasure to read and respond to. I am inspired to submit another vision! We are very lucky to have you playing with us.

    • Love your deep considered reply here @drew. Thank you.

      The reasons that @liam gives for unschooling are problematic: it was chosen and coined by John Holt (according to Pat Farenga) because there was a popular advert for 7-UP at the time (7UP is the ‘UnCola’). So really its just a marketing problem that hasn’t ever gone away.

      In that documentary film ‘Class Dismissed’ it presents a family who explore the alternatives to schooling, starting with homeschooling and ending up at something like unschooling. Throughout you hear people defending homeschooling too, as being misunderstood and that when it is done effectively it is more like unschooling. I say all of this because it is not simply a marketing issue, in the end, but a deep semantic one that I think drives the activity of those new to it. In that film, the mother thinks that by homeschooling that she must teach the subjects of school at home. It’s such an innocent and obvious mistake that so many on this path make. This is where Peter Gray’s definition of ‘natural learning’ seems most appropriate. Even that, however, has its problems – how can we simultaneously call learning natural and a cultivated practice?

      As I said in my conclusion, I think that Agile Learning is something else, worth exploring further.

      • Liam says:

        First off, incredible post, @abram. I’m going to write a second comment, but first a reply.

        Right, John Holt was likely influenced by the “UnCola” ad, but so too was he, and the advertisers that made that ad, influenced by the philosophy of the “Un” as written about by Robert Pirsig and others. Wish I had references to cite here, but . . I don’t The idea is incredibly hard to research online because of it’s wording.

        Here’s an excerpt of something I wrote about the topic a few months ago. . .

        “. . .the Un in Unschooling is not actually the same un that you see in words like “undoing,” “unfair,” “unemployed.” It’s a deeper Un. It’s the un Un. And an Un that is exceedingly hard to define and more or less impossible to find other writings of on the internet due to the United Nations bugging up all the results. Unschooling is not un-schooling, it’s not a different spelling of “not-schooling,” it precisely is a thing, not just an anti thing. It’s schooling, schooling of the Un. It’s the Un that is not a specific thing, but is specifically the thing that the other thing isn’t. And it both is that and isn’t that.

        But that doesn’t really matter, because people think Unschooling is unschooling, so from an outsiders view the distinction is invisible.”

        I think that also applies to the “UnCola” and I think that’s what they were getting at with that ad. And I think the distinction has been lost to history.

        But who cares. . . I don’t why I’m writing this. But now that I’ve invested the time in writing this I guess I’ll just post it.

        Absolutely great writing, Abe!

        • Hey Liam, glad you mentioned the Robert M Pirsig connection – it hadn’t occurred to me at all. I read “ZAMM” years ago and only parts of “Lila”. It was pretty powerful stuff to read as a young teen. Might be worth a revisit given my current pre-occupations. I’m vaguely remembering something of what you are talking about here re: ‘Un’ and that seems right. The reference to the UnCola ad thingy is such a Pat Farenga reference (i.e. the kind of story that becomes disconnected when passed down from its historical time-place, no disrespect Pat), which I picked up from a documentary with him in it.

  2. Liam says:

    Great answers, @abram!

    >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).

    Love this! Super well thought out. I think this should happen.

    I really like how you wrote about ALC Networks – plural. This is something I’ve talked with @drew about a little bit as well, and I think it’ll be very interesting to see unfold.

    I personally have a plan to start a second ALC Network – the Agile Unschooling Network, with its own buddypress network website. and everything. Could be cool to see how that works, but honestly that project might not take off quite as well without full time staff and CHs… We’ll see. Planning on working on this at #ALFWeekend2016.

    You wrote about network funding coming from ALCs, which is something I hope we can avoid for a while. I’m not exactly sure how the consulting-funding model that’s been talked about will work long term, but I hope it can sustain the network for a while. Consulting-funding might not be able to support multiple networks, though. Once there’s like a network in each country or state, then funding would probably need to come from member ALCs. Clearly you’re thinking ahead, Abe.

    I have a cold and sick-brain, so those are all my thoughts right now.

    Really well thought out, Abe. I’m glad there are people like you thinking about this.

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