Beacon Goes to Market

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On Friday evening, December 7, from 6 to 11 pm, Beacon will be participating in the New Haven Night Market, a festive bazaar featuring arts, crafts, music, food, and more.

Beacon is excited to have a booth and be part of the festivities! We are hoping to raise some much-needed funds with our colorful sale in our pop-up “Rainbow Shop” featuring rainbow keffiyeh scarves by Tahrir, along with an excellent selection of plenty other brightly-colored handmade and donated items. Prices range from $1 to $20.

The Night Market is an opportunity to have fun, find some unique items, do a bit of holiday shopping, and support us and other local non-profits, small businesses, artists, craftspeople, and musicians. We hope you will join us and invite friends, family, neighbors! Mark your calendar, and join us for this great community event. Details about the location and a list of vendors can be found on the Night Market website.

Contact Beacon if you would like to donate your time, or have any questions. We need folks to help us make cozy fleece items and lots of Beacon friends to be there to help make it super fun and exciting. An extra hand or two with set up and break down of the booth would be much appreciated. In any case, we really hope you can make it, and that you will share news of the event far and wide.

If you want to contribute fleece items, we can provide patterns, and on Saturday, December 1st from 10am to 1pm, we are planning to host a ‘sew-a-thon’ at Beacon to make hats and neck warmers together. Whatever fleece items don’t sell we plan to donate to local shelters.

Colorful Fundraiser

Tahrir Scarf is the world's first line of rainbow keffiyeh scarves, which was founded as a social enterprise in 2016 to support third gender centers in India. The keffieyeh, worn in Iran, Pakistan, and other areas of the Middle East, is seen by many as a symbol of international solidarity.

We are excited to be offering these scarves for purchase to support our efforts at Beacon. Rendered in all the colors of the rainbow this scarf feels like an homage to our diverse community of learners.

Brighten up the world with one of these beautiful scarves, while supporting two great causes. They make great holiday gifts, and can not only be worn as scarves, but work wonderfully as window or table coverings. We love them, and are sure you will too!

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For more information and pricing, please contact us at

College-Bound Homeschoolers

Join us on November 7

from 6-8 pm at Beacon Self-Directed Learning

Homeschoolers, without a high school diploma or even a GED in hand, apply to college, get accepted, attend, and graduate. This may seem inconceivable to those who have only ever considered or known a traditional path, but if you think about it, an individual who has followed a self-directed learning path has already demonstrated certain qualities that are an asset in college.

What is a self-directed learner anyway? Someone who takes initiative, who doesn’t wait to be told what to do, who has confidence in their ability to learn and to seek out and follow through on a chosen course. They are curious, persistent, and embrace the responsibility necessary for their learning. They are not in school being told what to do to get to the next level. Instead, they determine what they want, what is required to move ahead, and then they do it. They are the pilot and co-pilot of their learning, which is an essential ingredient in college success and something many traditionally schooled candidates lack.

Even though colleges are adjusting their admissions to accommodate homeschoolers you will need to put non-traditional experiences into traditional boxes. As a homeschool parent, if you plan ahead and keep track of the "high school" experiences, this task will be much, much easier.

If you, or someone you know, is a homeschooler or unschooler who may consider college, don’t miss the interactive panel discussion on Wednesday, November 7 from 6-8pm at Beacon Self-Directed Learning, 123 Whalley Avenue, New Haven. Parents who have successfully navigated homeschooling right through high school into college, along with Beacon staff who regularly assist and advise on the process, will show examples of successful homeschool transcripts and provide valuable insights and allow for plenty of questions to be asked and answered. $10 per family. Email for questions or to let us know you are coming.

“Yes, you can quit traditional high school and everything will be okay”

If you have a teenager who doesn’t love high school, what’s the right thing to do—push harder, or try something new?

For more than a decade, Blake Boles, our good friend, public speaker, and author of "College Without High School", "Better Than College", and "The Art of Self-Directed Learning", has worked with happy, thriving teenagers who made the decision to quit traditional school—or never went to school in the first place. This fall, Blake is touring the U.S. giving a new talk entitled, “Yes, You Can Quit Traditional High School and Everything Will Be Okay.”  We are so excited he's going to make time to speak at Beacon on September 27, 2018 at 6pm.

Whether you’re skeptical about alternative education or you’re a seasoned educational rebel, this talk will inspire, inform, and entertain you with powerful stories of teenagers who have skipped high school and turned out just fine. If you are thinking of bringing your teen, or almost teen, this talk is appropriate for adults and teenagers. 

We at Beacon agree with Blake. Our former members have entered the workforce, taken a gap year, or entered colleges including Lawrence University, University of the People, Towson University, Ithaca College, Harvard University, Southern Connecticut State University, Hampshire College and others. 

Blake Boles speaks at Beacon Self-Directed Learning.

Blake Boles speaks at Beacon Self-Directed Learning.

Reflections on Self-Direction

By Kyle Holton

Twenty minutes before boarding our return flight to New York City this summer, the flight was canceled by air traffic control at LaGuardia due to “congestion.” The room gritted its teeth and gasped. Within seconds, people were running to get in line and fight for another flight. It was adulterated competition in its purest. Individuals jockeyed for position hoping to avoid further scheduling trauma. Everyone moved with clear self-direction. The only problem was that each person’s interests were the same. The room collided with self-interest resulting in a kind of Darwinian battle of the fittest.

I moved to the New Haven area last year and immediately began working with Beacon Self-Directed Learning. As an educator, I have been a passionate proponent of self-direction. However, the 2017-2018 year at Beacon taught me a fuller understanding of self-direction. Throughout last year, I facilitated a number of classes that ranged from writing nonfiction to investigating interspecies communication. In each class, I had the opportunity to watch individuals pursue a style of self-direction that was truly inspiring.

As you can imagine, each class at Beacon is full of individuals of different ages and academic experiences. In this swarming sea of consciousness and self-direction, an order emerges that is consistently patterned along lines of cooperation and active listening. Beacon students help each other as they pursue their own curiosities. The end result is a form of cooperative autonomy that is unique and exactly what our society needs. I’ve seen older individuals explain difficult concepts to younger students. I’ve seen small groups work together to solve complex problems. I’ve seen students form ad-hoc writer’s guilds in which they listen and provide valuable feedback to each other’s writing.  Competition is also at work at Beacon. However, the competition is playful and framed within a larger paradigm of cooperation. Even in the midst of playful competition, I’ve witnessed students reflect back and acknowledge their own weaknesses with honest candor. In the end, it’s easy to be an authentic individual at Beacon. In the midst of so much authenticity, people thrive, feel safe, and work with more cooperation.

From this vantage point, the airport scene is best described as driven self-interest that produces palpable emotional stress and trauma. Meanwhile, the Beacon scene is best described as cooperative self-direction that produces empathy and meaningful communication. Now, it isn’t fair to compare an airport room full of strangers with a Beacon room full of friends. But I believe we play how we practice. We live according to the communal games we cultivate at home, in our learning centers, and at the workplace. What if society operated like Beacon?


School Refusal : Trusting your Gut

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My child left school just over two years ago.  I will never forget pulling up to their* high school and seeing my child scrunch down in the car seat as tears began to stream down their face.  “I can’t do this," they said softly.  I looked out the window and could see nothing extraordinary.  Kids were milling about, talking, and starting their school day but for my child, the scene was somehow terrifying. My bright, insightful, articulate, strong child literally could not get out of the car. We had worked with their teachers and the administration.  They had an IEP and accommodations.  We had even tried antidepressants. 

It became crystal clear that day; we had to find another way.  The school’s focus was on finishing assignments, meeting timelines and meeting attendance requirements.  And that needed to happen in a sea of other bodies, a social soup, timetables, and pressures.  The school could not give my child what they needed;  time and space to heal, grow and come back to themselves.  That day, I realized my child needed an alternative.  They needed to come out of school.  For a parent, this is a difficult place to arrive at but my ultimate priority was the health and well-being of my child and so, this is where we were.

Two years later, my child is healthy, happy and growing. They are a community organizer and activist who has created a dynamic and meaningful life. My child has discovered and honed their talents. They are productive and hard working and have more responsibilities than many adults.  Their accomplishments include: testifying at the state senate, writing articles for a local paper, running meetings, presenting at conferences, and working in many capacities around local elections.  My child is learning how to write grant applications, run a household and be independent.  They are crafting a life for themselves built around their passions and interests. They are whole and healthy because they’ve had the time and space to develop coping skills, understand themselves and discover strengths and passions.  Sometimes we must step off the well worn path and forge our own. There is life outside of school.  Sometimes, we have to trust ourselves enough to make a daring choice.

*I’m using the neutral pronoun they/their/their’s out of respect for my child’s expressed identity.


At Beacon, we have encountered many kids who were not thriving at school.  The reasons school can be intolerable for some kids are many and nuanced.  Some obvious ones include:

  • schools have become less flexible as a result of having to demonstrate student achievement in the form of test results and other measurable outcomes 
  • expectations around achievement have increased for students schools, teachers and parents alike
  • stakes seem higher than ever and anxiety and fear have pervaded every aspect of daily life
  • the school environment can be overwhelming or alienating for some kids which results in anxiety, depression and school refusal, leading to a downward spiral as they get further behind 
  • schools are not always able to accommodate individual learning and developmental differences
  • a prolonged medical issue which keeps a child out of school for a period of time can make it impossible to get back on track

We get so caught up thinking there is only one educational path. Clearly, some need to step off that path and forge their own way. As a parent of such a child, this can be really difficult.  Especially when the predominant message that surrounds us is that leaving school is unacceptable and just plain wrong.  It’s not true.  So many families have decided to withdraw their child from school and they are thriving. A few of their stories are here:

Update:  My child is heading off to college in the Fall and has grown into a confident and remarkable young adult.  July, 2018

Observations from a Self-Directed Learning Center

by Catherine Shannon

In my role as Executive Director of Beacon, I spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking about self-directed learning and how the environment can be such a powerful teacher. Here are some key points I keep coming back to:

TIME: Pause. Life is not a race. Discovery requires time. 

MEANING: Youth learn from what they find meaningful. Purpose and motivation follow.

ENVIRONMENT: A non-coercive, supportive environment promotes growth and well-being.

CONNECTION: Young people need respectful, caring adults to mentor, question, and celebrate them. They thrive with peers who aren't competitors.

AUTHENTICITY: The individual, and where they are now, is the starting point.   

SIMPLICITY: Reduce distractions and eliminate the unnecessary. A very simple change can make all the difference.