A Dumping Ground?

Joel HammonUncategorized

All of the members and staff in our weekly all group meeting

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Recently a couple friends relayed conversations they’ve had with people about Princeton Learning Cooperative. These people didn’t know PLC very well, but their impression was that PLC is where kids go who have drug or criminal problems. This perception in the community isn’t shocking to me as I’ve fielded lots of questions over the years from potential families trying to politely ask about it without actually mentioning drugs or crime: “Can you tell me about the kinds of kids you work with?”

To start, I can say confidently that PLC is not a dumping ground for kids with drug or criminal problems. If anyone spends time at PLC, that becomes apparent pretty quickly. I find this impression about PLC a bit amusing when compared to my experience teaching at a large suburban high school. In my last year of teaching I led a current issues class. One topic was the war on drugs. When I asked my seniors their estimate of the number of kids at the high school that used drugs or alcohol, they guesstimated 80-90%.

Instead of dismissing this perception of the kinds of kids we work with out of hand this time, I started to think about the source of it. It’s not the actual teens we work with, so where is it coming from? I think it partly comes from the idea that has been repeated over and over and over again for decades that you have to stay in school and do well to have any chance of success in life. This is demonstrably not true, but it is a powerful idea in our country. The implied understanding is that if a teen is not in a traditional school or if they choose to leave for something else, there must be something wrong with them.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons why teens and families choose self-directed education over school and I could write a lot about those. Instead, I think it would be more useful to hear it from the teens themselves. What follows are the reasons some current PLC members choose self-directed education over school.

Profile of PLC member

“In school I felt unfulfilled and like I was completely wasting my time. I’ve been at PLC for 2 years now and have learned, as well as taught myself, way more than I ever did in traditional school.” —Eva

Profile of PLC member

“I decided to join PLC because school was an under-stimulating environment that led me to believe I wasn’t cut out for learning. What I love about self-directed learning is the freedom I have to choose my own path, because as I see it, if you give teens the room to grow, they will. You wouldn’t smother a flower.” —Austin

Profile of PLC member

“Besides pre-K and kindergarten, I was homeschooled my whole life because the alternative schools I tried never felt right. PLC has been a great fit. I can choose what I want to learn and even teach a class now.” —Delilah

Profile of PLC member

“I left public school because I felt I wasn’t learning much. Self-directed education allows me to attend captivating classes on subjects I want to learn about.” —Navin

I believe self-directed education will eventually be one of the routine paths that families choose to help their children flourish and that it won’t carry the stigma it sometimes does today. When that time comes, it will be because of the parents and young people who had the courage to step outside the mold and choose a life that made more sense for them.