For Kaua`i April 2012 Issue Cover Story

Felicia Alongi Cowden and her son, Ian Ikaika Cowden, have self-published a book through Amazon that makes school sound like fun! Called Life is the School…Love is the Lesson it is a book about education — and so much more.

It’s the kind of book you can pick up, read a short chunk and return another day to read some more. It’s a story of their past year when just she and Ian were free schooling together.

The book stems from a brain sprout she had, a program called Akamai Learning that she designed for Kapa`a High School but that was never implemented. Instead, she implemented it in a program of free schooling for her two sons and micro groups of other North Shore children in a variety of combinations over a period of four years.

Free schooling? Whazzat? “A form of home schooling where learning is natural and easy,” Cowden writes. She promotes the possibility of mixing independent learning programs within schools to combine the best of both worlds.

Felicia and Ian in their Kilauea 'yarden.' Photo by Keri Cooper

Cowden says a big motivation for starting with the whole Akamai deal was “the high incarceration rate of our wonderful youth. When I see how many high-potential kids end up adjudicated, that’s an indictment of our system — not the kids.

“I wanted to teach kids financial literacy because most crime is poverty related. I wanted to introduce learning with a sense of purpose.”

There was also the problem of inflexibility within the public schools, which Cowden bumped into while running surf shops on the North Shore for 18 years. In the business, she says she met extraordinary surfers with the opportunity to travel around the world. They were punished at school because of their absences.

It happened to Andy Irons, she says, who wasn’t allowed to participate in his high school graduation. In response, Cowden says that some youth dropped out in favor of home schooling.

“I went to the school, saying let’s do something, offer a blend of flexible learning so kids can do magnificent things in life as well as be part of their peer circles,” she says.

This is a book that supports flexibility, gives some examples of it and at the same time, it’s a chronicle of her and Ian’s year together last year.

“The conversation is about the North Shore of Kaua`i, but it is a message to the whole nation that shares this challenge,” says Cowden.