Our goal at Open Road is to remedy a very basic problem in education: our system of schooling fails to account for what we know about human intelligence, motivation, and development.
Human intelligence is, as Sir Ken Robinson puts it, "diverse, dynamic, and distinctive." We are intelligent in a multitude of different ways. Our intelligence adapts based on what is asked of it and what it is exposed to. Every one of us is uniquely intelligent -- no mind is just like our own. And we are by nature curious and creative; when we latch on to something that fascinates us, we can be endlessly engaged, producing work that can make us happy, earn us a living, and even change the course of history!
Daniel Pink, author of Drive, found that we can be motivated by "carrots and sticks" when it comes to accomplishing simple, fairly mindless tasks. But when it comes to anything requiring more than rote thinking, these traditional approaches actually lead to worse performance. What motivates us in these cases is our inherent desire for
- autonomy -- the ability to follow our own interests and talents,
- mastery -- becoming very good at something we enjoy doing, and
- purpose -- the feeling that there's good reason for us to be doing what we're doing.
Adolescence is well known for its series of dramatic highs and lows as the way kids understand themselves and the world, right along with their bodies, undergoes incredible and rapid change. Adolescents need to assert their independence while still being cared for, to take risks and test boundaries while still feeling safe, and to be given the room to try on personas and figure out who they are and who they want to be. They need to be social, but each in his or her own way. And even though they're older, they definitely still need to have fun.
In spite of what we know in all three of these areas, traditional schools continue to educate young people in ways that
- reward only a very limited range of intelligences and abilities,
- reward conformity and obedience,
- accept and even encourage mediocrity,
- divorce learning from actual life,
- demand work regardless of students' readiness, and
- implicitly (or sometimes explicitly) teach them to behave like quiet, docile automatons, consuming the knowledge that is rationed out to them from higher authorities.
Open Road works from the premise that the greatest learning
happens when young people's autonomy and desire to excel at something they feel
is worthwhile is supported by strong relationships based in mutual respect and
We enable teens who are unhappy in school to simply leave. Guided by their own interests, following their own talents, and mentored by adult educators who make possible the learning opportunities kids want while helping them overcome any obstacles to learning they may face, young people can learn without school. It's an active, not a passive process. It invites challenge. It isn't easy -- but it can be exhilarating and life-changing. And it can be incredibly fun.
At Open Road, we take a very different approach to learning than most schools, and for very good reasons:
Schools can make children turn in work but cannot make them learn. They have to want to learn. So the best thing for us to do is to allow them to aim, with autonomy, at purposeful mastery, and to make possible their desired learning with our guidance, expertise, experience, and connections.
Schools can motivate children to get good grades but cannot make them learn -- not even the bulk of the material covered in classes they ace. They have to want the knowledge, not just the grade. So we don't give grades or emphasize academic competition in any way. Learning is valued for its own pleasure and utility. We aim to foster intrinsically motivated learning, which is far and away the most likely to stick meaningfully.
At Open Road, teens learn
what they want, when they want, where they want, how they want, from whom they
want. They learn on- and off-site, in place and online, in seriousness and in
play, in classes, 1-on-1 tutorials, apprenticeships, internships, jobs, service
projects, travel, and on and on. And they do learn. The learning is
real, and it's deep, and it's all their own.
Current StatusSince incorporating in November, we've been moving rapidly towards making this project a reality, and are proud of where we stand today. We've received our status as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. We've launched our Facebook page and our website (we encourage you to take a look at these and learn more about us!). Since January, we've been working with one member in our pilot program who's been having a terrific experience. In a recent blog post on our site, Lucas wrote,
Today, I am changed. Every day has a feeling of freedom. I’ve been given the opportunity to work with professional filmmakers and writers. With my new schedule, I have the opportunity to write a feature-length screenplay and bring it to life on camera. I never would’ve been able to accomplish this with my schedule I had in high school. With all that, I’ve still been able to focus on my main education such as Mathematics, English, writing, and all the things you get from a normal high school. ...I care about knowledge very much. So to ensure that I’m still learning my necessary credentials is important. But I’m still allowed to focus on my dreams.
We are talking to a handful of other prospective members who may join us soon. What we need now is the capital to take this fledgling venture to the next level!
Open Road member Lucas Cole in his element
How will we use the funds?
Open Road is a 501(c)(3) public charity that receives no public funding; we rely on membership fees and donations to sustain our program. We are committed to working with every family who wants to work with us, which will often require fee reductions. Your tax-deductible donations will help us meet our commitment to help any teen, regardless of family finances, leave unhappy situations in school and become self-directed learners at Open Road.
We're just getting off the ground. With your help, we can...
- provide necessary fee
reductions to fulfill our mission of working with every family who wants to work with us
- lease a location and cover related overhead
- furnish and equip the center with whatever we need and can't get through in-kind donations
- pay staff modest salaries and benefits
- conduct advertising and outreach to prospective members, volunteers, community partners, and donors
Thank you for supporting this life-changing opportunity for young people who need to learn outside the box!
Other Ways to HelpWhether or not you're able to make a monetary donation, there are other ways to support Open Road if you'd like to:
- Help spread the word! Like us on Facebook and share our page - especially if you know people in Portland. And please forward this campaign on to anyone who you think might be interested in what we're doing!
- We'll be grateful to accept in-kind donations of furniture, books, supplies, and more.
- We're eager to work with community members who would like to volunteer their time to teach a class, run a workshop, tutor 1-on-1, provide a pro bono service, or lend themselves to our mission in some other way.
- We're looking to build partnerships with local businesses, artists, or organizations who can provide real-life learning opportunities for our members.
Project FAQAsk the Campaign Team a question
If you pledge, you will receive (click one):