Who We Are


Our mission is to co-create a safe and supportive space for self-directed learners to explore their passions, develop their skills, and achieve their goals. 


At our center, we empower learners to take ownership of their education by offering them the resources, guidance, and community they need to pursue their interests and make informed decisions about their learning paths. We respect their autonomy and support their choices, whether they involve academic pursuits, creative endeavors, or personal growth.

Our goal is to co-create with our members, their families, and our volunteers, an inclusive and diverse learning community where everyone feels valued and respected, regardless of their background, identity, or abilities. We encourage learners to collaborate and share their knowledge and experiences with each other, as we believe that learning is a social and cooperative process.

We are committed to fostering a culture of continuous improvement and innovation, both in our programs and in our own practices as facilitators. We strive to stay up-to-date with the latest research and best practices in self-directed learning and to apply them to our work. We also seek feedback from our learners and their families to ensure that we are meeting their needs and expectations.

Above all, we believe that self-directed learning is a lifelong journey that can bring joy, fulfillment, and meaningful contributions to our communities and the world. We are honored to be a part of this journey with our learners and to support them in realizing their full potential.

Guiding Principles that inform our work

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

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 founding 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 learning includes pursuing interests like cooking, studying Chicago sports and professional wrestling, alternative education and 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.