People are often curious to know: “How did a couple with no kids wind up starting a nonprofit community learning center?” There are a few different ways to answer that. One way is to explain that although we both “did well” in conventional schools, we both felt frustrated, stressed, and bored by different parts of our experiences there.

Another way is to tell the story of how we were introduced to self-directed education and developed the plan for Alder Commons.


Our Story

Karl and Rachel met in 2011 in rural Paraguay - Rachel was living and working there, and Karl was a backpacker traveling through on an epic adventure. Soon after they first met, Rachel shared Ivan Illich’s compelling condemnation of development-focused aid work, To Hell With Good Intentions. In response, Karl picked up Deschooling Society, Illich’s 1970 exploration of why society needs “deschooling” and how technologically-informed self-directed education is an attractive solution.

This led to a many-year rabbit-hole of devouring every book about self-directed education we could get our hands on. Looking back we realize how fitting it was, being engulfed in our own self-directed education about self-directed education. Our studies were fueled by fascination, and excitement, and our goal was to learn and understand enough to meaningfully put the ideas into practice. There was no test to pass or degree to be granted.

With Our Own Eyes

Eventually, simply reading about self-directed education could no longer quench our growing thirst for understanding. We started visiting schools and centers to see SDE in practice, and attending conferences to join discussions with those who have been promoting and enabling SDE for years. As we heard success stories, and networked with those whose books we had pored over, our inspiration and excitement grew.

In 2018, at an Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) Conference, we asked a litany of questions to Ken Danford, Co-Founder and Executive Director of North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens, after his keynote speech. Ken gave us a few patient answers before simply saying, “Why the hell are you asking me? Go do it already!” Ken explained that we would only get answers to our questions by experimenting. Ken gave us the permission we didn’t know we needed.

It’s Happening

It became clear that in order to make Alder Commons a reality, we would need a creative business model. After extensive research, and reaching out to the greater SDE community for ideas, the vision of an all-ages learning community came into focus.

In January of 2019 we began actively searching for a space, and got to work on all of the organizational logistics of starting a nonprofit. Alongside operational work, we’ve been meeting with any and all interested community members in the Portland Area.

We’re excited by the number of potential partner organizations, families, workshop leaders, volunteers, staff, and more, that we’ve met in our first year of serious work on the project.

We look forward to continuing this adventure with you all!

Published October 22, 2019 by Karl Keefer

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