Updated: Jun 11
Carefree Conversations #001: with Andy
June 10, 2022, is a significant day for Andy and the entire Freedom Academy (FA) community. It is FA's very first Open House. And I thought, there is no better way to celebrate it than sharing the story behind this milestone!
Nana: Please tell us a little about how this dream started.
Andy: I became a teacher when I stepped out of college 27 years ago, and education has been my passion ever since. You could say the dream started back then because I was really looking for better ways to educate. At that time, I thought it was continuously honing and improving my skills as a teacher. But it was around 2005 while I was taking my Masters in Educational Leadership that I came upon the idea of self-directed education. I did more reading and research over the years and became more and more convinced that there is something fundamentally wrong with the system of traditional education—that no matter how much I improved my own skills, it didn't matter, because the entire system was malfunctioning.
In 2017 I became serious about starting a Self-Directed Education (SDE) center here, and started talking to anyone and everyone who would listen. Eventually, I found a core who were as serious as I was and so we decided to incorporate in 2020 and start operations then. Then COVID-19 pandemic hit and so we were delayed by a couple of years. But here we are now.
I’m curious about the thought process that pushed you to boldly move forward and make this dream into a reality after all those years. What inspired and kept you motivated? Was there some kind of trigger or an epiphany perhaps? Please tell us.
There were several factors that pushed me to move forward:
a) I was in my early forties, in mid-life, and I thought that if I didn't get started on my passion project, it probably won't ever materialize.
b) My own kids had a rough time in school. When I took out my eldest daughter and homeschooled/unschooled her, there was a vast improvement in her temperament and motivation.
c) Human nature is the same all over the world. If Self-Directed Education (SDE) worked and spread in other countries, it can surely work here.
d) Whenever I thought of throwing in the towel, I just thought of the people who listened and believed in me. They were waiting for this. They had younger kids whom they wanted to experience this. I couldn't just give up on them.
Let’s talk about your beliefs and core values. This is not just some big dream, but also a 'crazy' one! It must have been a challenge reaching this point. What is the belief that anchored you? And what are your core values that helped you navigate through such an exciting and anxious path?
The core belief I hold is expressed in one of the tenets of Agile Learning: "People learn best when they make their own decisions. Children are people." One of the frequent complaints I hear today about young graduates is that they seem to not know what they want and what to do—that they are without direction. Well, what do you expect? They have just gone through an educational system which programs their schedules—every day and every hour, without regard for their individual preferences. They have spent more than 10 years of their lives learning how to conform and become good followers (and getting medals for it). And then you expect them to become expert decision-makers the moment they walk out of that system?
I believe children deserve to be educated better, and that is not by pounding more and more material and more hours into their supposed education (which doesn't work at all), but by letting them deal with their own decisions, by helping them process their thoughts and feelings, so that they will truly understand themselves and know what they want to do with their lives. Children are people. They matter. Their thoughts matter. Their feelings matter. I am committed to taking them seriously just as I would take any adult seriously.
I guess that's the core value that drives me: commitment to seeing children being treated as people.
Let’s get personal and talk a little about history. I’m quite excited to hear more about this.
Context: FA is the first ALC and SDE Community in Davao City. And it is truly creating exciting stories along the way. But long before the flight of the fish (depicted in the FA logo) and its colorful doors, the FA House is already rich in history. It used to be a family home. The 50-year-old estate is owned by the Uyboco family and the childhood home of Andy.
How does it feel like renovating your childhood home into FA? It must have triggered some feelings or fondness. How does it feel that your childhood place will be another's childhood place too?
It feels really good going back and fixing the place. I had a lot of happy memories there and I am glad for the opportunity now to share it with others. I was the youngest of 4 children, and had a huge 9-year gap between me and my next older sister. By the time I was in my early childhood, my siblings were already in high school or college. So I spent a lot of time alone, playing with the dogs. I also climbed around a lot. We had a huge mango tree back then and I loved climbing that tree. I also loved climbing the fence, climbing on the roof of the garage, and even climbed on a ledge around the house. I also loved stories and I loved to read so I also spent a lot of time reading back then.
So... How does it feel seeing your ultimate dream coming true?
Oh, the dream is just beginning. It's far from having ultimately come true yet. There's still a lot of work to be done. Most people are skeptical or fearful of radical changes. And this idea is really far out—to have a school where kids can do what they want all day, and not have to do exams, homework or even classes. I mean, that sounds like a dream come true for a child, but as adults and parents, we become apprehensive because that's not what we're used to when we think about education. We've still got many years to go before people really understand and embrace this.
Lastly, what is your ultimate hope for FA to achieve?
The ultimate hope for FA is encapsulated in our core purpose: to provide a safe and happy place for kids to be themselves and discover their true potential. It may sound very simple, but this is unfortunately not happening in school, and many of them in fact, lose themselves and don't understand who they are and what they really want.
My hope is that more and more kids are liberated from the trauma, stress and pressure of what is traditionally understood as education. My hope is that we raise an entire generation of happy kids who will become happy adults and so be in a better position to shape a better future, a better world.
A good portion of the dream came true today, but it is far from the end-goal. We are only at the early beginnings of a paradigm shift and we are here to dream and work some more to see the awakening it brings!