All people are curious. Abot Tala provides support, access and opportunities for teens to follow their curiosity and navigate the challenges that come up along the way. When a new teen member arrives at Abot Tala, we ask them, “If you could learn and explore anything you want, what would that be?” We assist each youth in creating their own curriculum based on these interests.
Too often adults become concerned with making sure young people learn particular subjects, and provide external motivators (grades, gifts, etc.) to ensure tasks are completed. This works against natural human curiosity, makes learning burdensome, and wastes time and energy that could be spent learning something intrinsically motivating. No one, except the children themselves, can guarantee children will genuinely understand or retain anything. So the best thing educators can do is make the educational desires of young people possible.
We want students to be self-motivated, self-disciplined, and to understand that learning is its own reward. A student bribed with external motivators or commanded to complete tasks has two choices: obey authority and succeed, or follow their own motivation and fail within that environment.
At Abot Tala, we provide a structure in which self-motivation and self-discipline are necessary, but we also believe no human is an island unto themselves. Students and staff support each other, challenge each other, and critique each others’ work. Teens are actively involved in governing and regulating our community: they make decisions on the direction of our organization, design curricula, and even plan excursions. Teens are capable of leadership and autonomy and are treated as such. To ensure teens take responsibility, adult mentors at Abot Tala, are considered their equals, but not their peers, meet with them weekly to assist them in examining their goals and make adjustments and adaptations as needed.
“Know thyself” is an aphorism used for millennia for a plethora of purposes because it is the most basic and necessary step in accomplishing anything. Every teenager is preoccupied with an identity crisis as they search for their role in the world. Abot Tala is dedicated to providing opportunities for teens to engage in experiences by which they explore different roles and interests, learn more about themselves, and reflect back on those experiences.
Too often, educational programs structurally promote teens limiting their mistakes (which are actually great learning tools) rather than gaining experiences. By reflecting upon their experiences at Abot Tala, teens realize they are capable of learning incredible things, capable of being autonomous and sovereign over their own being, and capable of leading others. Knowledge is empowering.
Rather than impose authoritative academic standards on members of the community, we respect teens and their families as they develop their own educational standards to which we assist. However, many projects undertaken at Abot Tala are collaborative, and teens hold each other accountable for their actions. When someone detracts from the learning experience of others or isn’t giving their all, they are respectfully critiqued and encouraged to change their behavior. Nevertheless, our community is safe and supportive to all within it, and there is always an open ear and a warm smile for anyone who needs it.
Too often, education is thought of in terms of preparation: “Do this now, even if it doesn’t feel connected to your most pressing interests and concerns, because later on you’ll find it useful.” We believe that helping teenagers to figure out what seems interesting and worth doing right now, in their current lives, is also the best way to help them develop self-knowledge and experience at figuring out what kind of life they want and what they need to do or learn in order to create that life. In other words, it’s the best preparation for their futures.
*Principles used with permission from Open Doors for Teens and North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens.