This year, the Freecoast Festival is designed to showcase the wonderful community that has been created on the Freecoast. What better way to do that than to have the Freecoast’s very own James Davis highlighted as the Keynote speaker of the festival!
For the last year James has worked with BigFish Learning Cooperative in Dover, NH, as a mentor to young people who have, with their parents, developed a state-free education plan to pursue their own dreams. James will take the time to review some of the highs and lows of self-directed communities. He will also share some of what he’s learned about how important liberty for teens can be. I got a chance to talk with James a bit about what to expect from his speech, what motivates him, and why his family is thrilled to have landed on the Freecoast.
Molly: You’re the headline speaker at Freecoast Festival this year. What do you plan to talk about?
James: I plan to talk about a growing movement of people who are extending the application of the ideas of liberty to young people. Since I started paying attention to it, the national conversation about education has always had a tone of frustration and inevitability. From No Child Left Behind to Common Core, the public just seems fed up. But it doesn’t have to bethat way. Behind the scenes, there are a lot of people trying a lot of different things, to some very interesting results. I hope to talk about my experience with some of those new efforts, as well as some ideas for new things we’ll try in the future.
Molly: Where does your passion and motivation on this topic come from?
James: I’m motivated by a number of things. My wife Taylor and I met while working at summer camp, and we were both certified to be public school teachers. I never wound up teaching afterward, but Taylor did, and we’d frequently talk about how working with kids at school never felt the same as working with them at camp. With all of the academic expectations, it’s hard to convey to kids that you care for them unconditionally. I began to reflect on my own childhood, and realized that the adults who really made a difference in my life didn’t care if I was good at sports, or good in school, or popular. They just wanted me to be kind to others and love myself. They made a huge difference in my life, and I suppose I just want to pass that same feeling to as many young people as I can.
Molly: Who has been down this road before you? Heroes, mentors, predecessors?
James: There have been so many people who have tried interesting things in this space! The first book I read on this subject was “Instead of Education,” by John Holt. It truly blew my mind – this idea that not only can kids learn without the meticulous efforts of grown-ups, that they might actually learn better without our interference. From there I found the School Sucks Project – a podcast started by Brett Veinotte right here in New Hampshire – and he turned me on to a number of other excellent resources.
In more modern times, I’ve been inspired by working with people from the Hudson Valley Sudbury School, the Philly Free School, and more recently with the organizations in the Liberated Learners Network. There are no shortage of people who are attempting to rewrite the rules in terms of how we work with young people, you just have to look for them.
Molly: How can you best sum up your vision?
James: Our current vision is to create a place where teens can get together and work on projects that are important to them. We hope to create a vibrant community where adults serve as mentors and guides rather than rule-makers and enforcers. We believe that teens are capable of way more than they are currently given credit for, and we hope to remind them of their awesome capabilities. Essentially, we hope to help them figure out where they want to go, and then help them connect the dots between where they are now and where they hope to be.
Molly: What does the Freecoast mean to you?
James: The Freecoast has been one of the best things that has ever happened to our family! When we started down this path 10 years ago, we never imagined that we would find a whole community of people who were treating their children with the respect that we believed they deserved. Our kids now have a great core group of friends to hang out with, and we can be a part of creating a brighter future for them as a member of an incredible community. Parenting in an unusual way can be daunting, especially when you’re surrounded by people that don’t get you. There’s really no substitute for spending time with people and knowing that they’re not secretly questioning everything you do. Instead we support one another, care for one another, and just generally have a great time. We wouldn’t trade the Freecoast for anywhere in the world.
James has been an inspiration to many of us on the Freecoast and we know his speech will be inspiring for you as well! Grab your tickets today and don’t miss the chance to hear directly from James! We’ll see you there!