Monday, September 18, 2017

Ingenuity Hub: A New Massachusetts SDE Center

I love spotlighting individuals and organizations focused on Self-Directed Education (SDE), and am delighted to introduce you to Ingenuity Hub! Located in central Massachusetts, Ingenuity Hub is building a community of self-directed learners committed to education freedom and personalized learning. 

Are you a parent, educator, or entrepreneur who has launched an SDE organization? Share your story by sending me an email at

Planting a New Orchard: Self-Directed Education in Central Massachusetts
by David Lane

Over a hundred years ago, an orchard was planted in soil contaminated with a poison everyone knew was there. Most people then, though, did not recognize the poison. Instead, they believed it was a nutrient to inspire the growth of the new trees. Over time, the orchard grew vast and sprawling. It now plays a role in all aspects of our society, especially in the lives of children. It is a normal part of life for almost everyone.

Over the years, the poison affected the growth of the trees, and blighted many of the fruit, a failure attributed to natural processes: some fruit ripen, others rot. Keep the ripe fruit and throw away the rotten. That’s just the way things go.

But now the poison has seeped through the soil into every root, trunk, branch, twig, and blossom. Every year, more root systems fail, more trunks crack, more branches snap, and more buds fail to bloom. More of us are beginning to recognize the canker among the trees, and some of us have traced the rot back to the poison in the soil where the first saplings were sown.

The poison? An idea: children cannot learn unless they are forced to. The orchard? Our school system, of course; it was founded in large part because people believed this. Most people agreed that the responsibility fell on adults to coerce young people to learn - or else they would laze around, accomplish nothing, or worse, fall into lives of vice.

When the early saplings were first planted in the orchard, the idea was broadly accepted as fact--but so were other ideas, like the inferiority of women, and phrenology--both other deeply popular ideas among the founders of our school system!

Society has worked hard to eliminate those misconceptions, but many still cling to the myth that children cannot and will not learn on their own, even though that idea is clearly as absurd as the other two.

Are many trees still strong and tall? Yes. Does the orchard still produce some healthy fruit? Of course it does. But it is becoming very clear to people that a growing number of trees are ill every year. Fewer and fewer buds are blossoming, and many of the fruit aren’t ripening anymore.

And many of us are growing hungry - for a new garden. I am part of a group of people in central Massachusetts who are among them. We tired of watching the rot in the orchard grow. More and more of the children in our community--some of them our own--are bored, anxious, and unmotivated in school. We sought out new ways to cultivate learning.

Our search took us to Grace Llewellyn’s great book, The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education. In that book, Ms. Llewellyn mentioned Ken Danford, one of the founders of North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens, an organization located (I was thrilled to learn) in Massachusetts. I called Ken, and he invited me to visit.

What I saw at North Star - happy learners and staff who thought of the center as their home - I knew immediately this is what I had been looking for. Ken introduced me to Liberated Learners, Inc., a group he and a few other leaders in the self-directed learning movement had created to help people open centers in their own community. I built a team, raised a little bit of money, and joined Liberated Learners. We created a self-directed learning center called Ingenuity Hub, Personalized Learning Collaborative.

In October 2016, Ingenuity Hub opened inside a business incubator space sponsored by the City of Leominster. Opening the center has been the most difficult and the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my professional life.

We are proud to play a role in the self-directed learning movement. Anyone who pays even the slightest bit of attention to what’s happening in the movement will see its effects almost everywhere. Independent groups are opening self-directed learning centers. Philanthropists are funding student-led learning programs. Even the most traditional school systems are beginning to recognize that far too many of their “trees” are ill, even though their response is far too little and far too slow. Kids don’t have time for adults to figure this out - and they don’t need to wait. Self-directed learning is available to them now almost everywhere. We are thrilled that now includes central Massachusetts, thanks to the many people who have helped us open Ingenuity Hub.

Currently, we serve teens aged 12 to 19. Our vision for the center is to provide self-directed learning to people of all ages. We plan to grow by striving to understand the educational needs of our community, and then do our best to meet those needs through self-directed learning. We strongly encourage parents and others in our community to contact us and share what their needs are, so that we can grow in an informed way. Our hope is that families of teens and younger children will see the opportunity we are providing and join us right away.

It is a very exciting time to become involved at Ingenuity Hub. We have established a small but strong foundation in central Massachusetts, and we are growing even as we speak right now: our team of learners has expanded from 2 last year to 6 right now, and more families are inquiring.

One of our teens recently said, “When I’m older, I’m going to be able to look back and say I helped make this place. More kids will be free to learn their own way - because of me!”

That’s powerful. This young man and the rest of the team at Ingenuity Hub are growing a new garden in clean soil. Everyone is invited to join us. It’s already beautiful, and we don’t want anyone to miss out on being a part of it.

David Lane is founder and Executive Director of Ingenuity Hub. He began his career in education in 1991, but traces his passion for self-directed learning even further back to his early experiences as a young student. He has served as a public school classroom teacher, curriculum writer, testing coordinator, department chair, and director in programs that serve adolescents and adults in central Massachusetts, Los Angeles, New York City, and in New Jersey, where he was born and raised. He currently lives in Worcester, Mass. 

Please connect with David and the team at Ingenuity Hub by email, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Or stop by and visit in person at 24 Church Street, Room 39, Leominster, MA 01453.

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