Who We Are


Canton Learning Collaborative is an alternative to middle and high school that offers young people the opportunity to leave the traditional school and self-direct their own education. We are committed to supporting young people as they create personalized education plans based on their interests, strengths, and goals. We offer mentoring and guidance in a safe and comfortable place to work and socialize. We also offer a range of opportunities for learning and growth, including classes that run throughout the day, one-on-one tutorials, and excursions into the wider world. We help our members find internships, jobs, and volunteer opportunities, and we help them with college admissions and other transitional steps as they move on to their adult lives.

clc community

CLC is dedicated to maintaining a safe, inclusive, and welcoming community of learners where people are respected for who they are. The community is small, fostering togetherness and allowing everyone to have a voice. Most CLC members are between the ages of 12 and 19, but some younger or older members may be considered on a case-by-case basis.

tenets of the canton learning collaborative

  • We help children and teens leave school using homeschooling law to improve their lives and learning, and help existing homeschoolers sustain or improve their use of this approach.

  • The center is not a school and does not offer grades, credits, or diplomas, or require testing of our members.

  • We maintain a physical space, open on a regular schedule, where members, staff, and volunteers participate in various group and individual endeavors, such as classes, workshops, advising, tutorials, and meetings with families.

  • We believe in Peter Gray’s 6 Optimizing Conditions for Self-Directed Learning

  1. Education is the child’s responsibility

  2. Unlimited opportunity to play

  3. Opportunity to play with the tools of the culture

  4. Access to a variety of caring adults that are helpers not judges

  5. Free mixing among children of different ages

  6. Immersion in a stable, moral, democratic, community

  • We subscribe to the Guiding Principles of North Star Self-Directed Learning Center*

* Used by permission of North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens, of Sunderland, MA.

  1. Young People want to Learn

Human beings are learning creatures. We don’t have to persuade babies to be curious and to seek competence and understanding. The same can be true of teenagers. Rather than trying to motivate teenagers, we support their basic human drive to learn and grow. Where obstacles—internal or external—have gotten in the way of this intrinsic drive, we focus on helping teenagers overcome or remove these obstacles.

  1. Learning Happens Everywhere

Conventional wisdom says that children “go to school to learn,” as though learning can only occur in places specially designed for that purpose. We believe that people learn all the time and in all kinds of places. It doesn’t have to look like school or feel like school to be valuable, and it’s not necessary to make distinctions between “schoolwork” and “your own hobbies” or “for credit” and “not for credit.” As one teenager who had recently left school observed, “Everything I do counts now.”

  1. It Really is Okay to Leave School

Many young people who are miserable in school—academically or socially—stay because they believe that leaving school will rule out (or at least diminish) the possibility of a successful future. We believe that young people can achieve a meaningful and successful adulthood without going to school. We’ve seen it happen, over and over again.

  1. How People Behave under one Set of Circumstances and Assumptions does not Predict how they will Behave under a very Different Set of Circumstances and Assumptions

School success or failure is not necessarily a predictor of a child’s potential for success or failure outside of school. An unmotivated student may become enthusiastic and committed after she’s left school. A student who doesn’t thrive in a classroom environment may become successful when allowed to learn through apprenticeships or in one-on-one tutorials. When we change the approach, the structure, and the assumptions, all kinds of other changes often follow.

  1. Structure Communicates as Powerfully as Words, and often more Powerfully

It’s not enough to tell kids that we want them to be self-motivated, or that we want them to value learning for its own sake, if the structure of their lives and their education is actually communicating the opposite message. Voluntary (rather than compulsory) classes, the ability to choose what one studies rather than following a required curriculum, and the absence of tests and grades all contribute to a structure that supports and facilitates intrinsic motivation and self-directed learning.

  1. As Adults Working with Young People, we should Mostly Strive to "Make Possible" rather than "Make Sure"

Most of the time, we can’t truly make sure that young people learn any particular thing—learning just doesn’t work that way. A group of adults can decide that all fifth graders should learn fractions, but when it comes to each individual child’s genuine understanding and retention, we can’t actually make it happen or guarantee that it will happen. As adults, what we can do, however, is try to make things possible for young people—provide access, offer opportunity, figure out what kind of support will be most helpful, and do whatever we can to help navigate the challenges and problems that arise.

  1. The Best Preparation for a Meaningful and Productive Future is a Meaningful and Productive Present

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.

core staff

josh pickel

Josh was a professional educator at the late elementary and middle school level for 5 years before starting CLC. He is also a GED Instructor for Spoon River College's Adult Education Program. He holds a B.S.Ed. in Elementary Education with Middle School Endorsements in Science, Social Studies, and Language Arts. He has also completed graduate studies in Instructional Media Development. Josh is passionate about helping learners of all ages reach their full potential.

Josh's own self-directed education includes interests like cooking, studying Chicago sports and professional wrestling, education reform, current events, live music, and horror movies. He serves as the Vice President on the board of the Fulton County Arts organization. Together with his wife, Corrinna, Josh has two children, June and Cal.

Email: josh@cantonlearning.org

Canton Learning Collaborative is a member of Liberated Learners, a network of self-directed education centers with member programs across the United States and internationally.

Liberated Learner’s mission is to support the creation of self-directed education centers that promote living and learning without school.

Learning is natural. School is optional. All around the world.*

* Used by permission of North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens, of Sunderland, MA.

The Alliance for Self-Directed Education is dedicated to informing people about the benefits of, and methods for, allowing children and adolescents to direct their own education. The Alliance’s ultimate goal, its vision, is a world in which Self-Directed Education is embraced as a cultural norm and is available to all children, everywhere, regardless of their family’s status, race, or income.