Mar 9, 2022
Official Bio: (From his website.)
Blake Boles is the founder and director of Unschool Adventures and the author of Why Are You Still Sending Your Kids to School?, The Art of Self-Directed Learning, Better Than College, and College Without High School. He hosts the Off-Trail Learning podcast and has delivered over 75 presentations for education conferences, alternative schools, and parent groups. Blake and his work have appeared on The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, BBC Travel, Psychology Today, Fox Business, TEDx, The Huffington Post, USA Today, NPR affiliate radio, and the blogs of Wired and The Wall Street Journal.
Jenna begins by stating that as her own children move into their teen years she finds it more challenging to find meaningful learning activities that will hold their interest. This is why she is excited to talk today with her guest Blake Boles. He has spent more than a decade working with teens while hosting an ‘Unschool Adventure Camp.’ He is also the author of the following books:
He has contributed to many other publications as well.
Blake is the host of the Offtrail Learning Podcast and has given over 75 presentations to Alternative schools, educational conferences and parent groups.
He has been featured in:
The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, BBC Travel, Psychology Today, Fox Business, The Huffington Post, USA Today, NPR, and the blogs of Wired and The Wall Street Journal.
Jenna says she is excited to share Blake’s perspective on how to best support our teens quest for more autonomy and real world experiences. They will touch on mentorship and networking. Blake even shares a simple email structure that our kids can follow to connect with professionals in the fields that interest them. They also discuss the pushback that homeschoolers are receiving from experts who would like to see substantial regulatory practice here in the US for homeschooling families. At the end of the podcast Jenna says they will daydream a bit about the possibility of bringing adventure and challenges to communities all over the globe for our unschoolers. Perhaps it will inspire you to create one. Jenna hopes so!
Before we begin, Jenna wants listeners to know that she is still doing a book give-away. Just leave your review on Apple Podcasts, then email her and give her the screen-name you left the review under. She will put your name in a hat. (Yes, this is how it’s done!) The winner will win Blake Boles’ book ‘Why are you still sending your kids to school?’ For every five reviews, she will give away one copy of the book. Also, if you would like to join Jenna on the podcast to discuss any of the topics discussed on previous shows, you can be a co-host! Please reach out if you are interested! Lastly, Jenna says that the podcast has been so critical in helping her find community and learn, but she is looking for even more ways to connect with everyone. Sharing our stories and experiences really helps contribute to our personal growth. She is very thankful for those who have already reached out via email, voicemail and Zoom. She is looking for new ways to connect, form friendships, ask questions on a regular basis, read books together and discuss them. As she continues to find new resources she would really like to connect with you.
LINK TO SURVEY: GIVE YOUR FEEDBACK HERE
Jenna welcomes Blake to the podcast. She mentions that she just finished reading his book and wishes she had read it earlier in her journey to unschooling. She says there is just so much value in it regardless of whether you are alternative schooling or not. She feels that all parents should have a copy on their shelves. It offers so many perspectives on parenting and education. It is the first book she has read in which an author specifically states that remaining open and non-dogmatic are important to unschooling. Something Jenna whole-heartedly agrees with and has talked about on the show before. She shares a quote from the book. “I encourage you to fly no flag. Don’t join the Unschoolers and never look back. Instead, pledge allegiance to the young person in your charge. Familiarize yourself with the full spectrum of options. Whenever you feel like you’ve found the answer to your kid’s educational needs, add the words ‘for now.’ Jenna says she felt that in her bones. Her children are very different people, they have completely different needs. She feels that it’s so important to stay tuned in to each of them and their needs ‘right now.’
Blake responds and says that as even two siblings can be very different, a single child can be radically different between now and a few years from now. He feels that to embrace one pet educational philosophy or dogma and believe that it is the ONLY way forward is a bit short-sighted.
Jenna agrees and mentions that her own children have been in many educational environments over the years. Public school, private school, alternative schools and unschooling. As they have changed, their needs have changed. She asks Blake about what brought him to unschooling in the first place.
Blake states that he grew up in California and attended public school. He was good in school and enjoyed reading in his spare time and was ready for the internet when it came along. After High School he was interested in a career as a research scientist but realized that he wasn’t very interested in the subjects required for the degree (math & physics) also he stumbled onto the work of John Taylor Gatto . In an elective class about creating educational television. The instructor thought it would be more beneficial to read Mr. Gatto’s book, ‘A Different Kind of Teacher’ on alternative education, rather than to continue discussing how to make educational commercials. He went on to study more and more about self-directed and alternative schooling. He then went on to leave his science major and create his own major in Alternative Education at UCLA Berkeley.
Jenna says that she has now met several people who created their own degrees and is surprised that before that, she never even knew this was possible.
Blake says that universities don’t advertise it but if you look into the interdisciplinary studies department you can advocate for yourself. There are also universities out there that let everyone create their own degree. He gives the example of Prescott College.
Jenna mentions that this is near her in Arizona. Then she goes on to ask Blake about making the transition from the play-based learning of younger children to pre-teen years when kids begin to form goals and make plans for the future. How can parents guide them as peers begin to be more and more important. She mentions that on page 12 of Blake’s book he talks about schools being a place where kids are doing so many things that don’t really matter. She wonders, what IS a good use of their time?
Blake says that is a good question. For one kid it might be sewing for instance, but for another that may be irrelevant. Schools can’t give kids that kind of individual attention. There are so many options, outdoor education is a good place to start. For him this was transformative. Just getting out of his usual environment. He says that when he was in fifth grade he went to an outdoor education camp where they learned about plants, animals and other biology focused subjects. The best part was that it was like going to summer camp. He was super engaged. Then when he was fourteen he traveled to Chili with other students for a Spanish immersion experience and stayed with a host family for a month.This put him into a real world learning environment. Camps and travel can be very engaging and rewarding. This is why he decided to start a travel company for teens. “Fundamentally, what teenagers and adolescents want is adventures, they don’t want to sit around being bored or being lectured to.” He goes on to quote Maria Montessori , “We cannot treat adolescents the same way that we treat younger kids, they want engagement, they want rules that make sense.” He says that instead of kids going to summer camp for three months and school for nine, it should be flipped. Maybe for the three month period (not summer when it’s more fun to be outdoors.) kids could concentrate on the three Rs. (reading, writing, arithmetic) if that is even necessary and spend the other nine months engaged in more immersive experiences.
Jenna shares her experience in her own self-directed path as a teen, when at nineteen she decided after one year of college to take a break and travel to Germany to work as an aupair. She did her own research, found a family to work for and with her parents blessing, she went off on a grand adventure. Learning a new language, culture and how to live independently in a foreign country. Even though she created this experience for herself she struggles to find ways to create experiences for her kids within a group of their peers.
Blake says that yes, even though we have many advantages in the US, most camps and such are often just in the summer and can be expensive. It can be hard to find other parents who can coordinate their schedules as well.
Jenna points out that some camps are just too far away or too expensive and that she needs to find a way to make this easier. For those unfamiliar with Blake’s camps she goes on to explain some of the things he does in his camps. She says she was surprised by some of the simple, yet impactful activities. One such activity was web design which required kids to install Wordpress then create a basic and professional looking website that represented them to the world. They could use this later for many purposes including networking and entrepreneurship. Another activity was building a birdhouse where they could see the results by observing the birds using and enjoying it. Another project was to engage students with other people. By composing emails sending two different letters, one a letter of recommendation and the other a request for an interview with a stranger. This taught the importance of networking and communication skills.
Blake says that all of this requires a facilitator to set up some basic rules and guidelines but could be done by any homeschooling group or Alternative school.
Jenna shares that all of this talk of adventure reminds her of the reality television show The Amazing Race. For instance, all of the challenges that contestants encounter such as doing research beforehand on the language, culture etc. of all the places they go on a world wide race. She thinks this would be a great idea for teens.
Blake is unfamiliar with the show but says that Jenna just gave him a new idea for one of his adventures. He adds other ideas such as putting on a play or competing in a debate team. Those things can engage kids even in a non traditional school setting. He says that he feels these are more like meaningful games than mindless drudgery.
Jenna asks Blake about a term he uses ‘Hard Fun’ and asks him to explain it further.
Blake says that young kids can be left to play and learn as they do so, but as they grow they need to broaden what ‘play’ means. He gives the example of computer games which can be quite complex and challenging. This is Hard Fun. It involves challenges, teamwork, cooperation and planning. He would encourage other forms of Hard Fun as well such as hiking or mountain climbing.
Jenna says that her own Hard Fun is photography. She says that it might help parents to identify what their own Hard Fun might be. Then they can see how their child’s Hard Fun can teach them how to focus and problem solving.
Blake mentions that parents might worry about time wasting, but there is a lot of time wasting in traditional education.
Jenna agrees and gives the examples of homework, studying for tests , and extracurricular activities. Another subject she wants more information about is mentorship and apprenticeships as these are things Blake talks about on his many platforms.
Blake states that Peter Gray’s theory says that children will mimic adults, but since the world has moved from more manual work to more mental work the idea of mentorship or apprenticeship is much harder to set up. One good resource is YouTube. There are so many videos available to learn about careers.
Jenna says that her son really wants to learn to create video games and is having a hard time connecting with an adult to teach him this from the very beginning to the end. Classes are great but it would be better to observe someone who actually has that job.
Blake says that yes there are great resources out there to learn to program, but it is not the same as observing what it is like to actually be a programmer. He equates it to the time when he thought he wanted to be an astronomer, but when he found out what the daily work was like it wasn't’ what he thought it would be. He recommends emailing someone in the field. Not only can kids get their questions answered, they see that they can access the real adult world. It can be so motivating and empowering. It says to them “I can make a difference, I am part of the game.”
Jenna says that as a child by sixth grade she was itching to be a part of things. She was already working for her dad at his hardware store. She loved photography and travel and wondered “Why can’t I just do that?” Moving on, she suggests they talk about the Harvard Homeschooling Summit that Blake attended where new severe restrictions to homeschooling were discussed for those in the US.
Blake says that one of the primary speakers was Elizabeth Bartholet, Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Child Advocacy Program Harvard Law School. She talked about how unregulated homeschooling is in the US. While some states such as New York have some guidelines, most do not. Blake believes that after reading the book ‘Educated’ by Tara Westover, Professor Bartholet became concerned over what can happen when homeschooling goes awry. This concern is shared by the CRHE - Coalition for responsible home education. This organization is mostly made up of the grown children of radically religious homeschoolers, with rigid enforcement of gender roles, and physical, emotional and mental abuse. Another key speaker was James G.(Jim) Dwyer Professor of Law at William & Mary since 2000, Dwyer teaches family law, children's rights, youth law, trusts & estates, and international law. He is author of ‘Homeschooling: The History and Philosophy of a Controversial Practice’.
Jenna wonders why Blake was invited to this particular conference.
Blake says that it is likely because he both interviewed and was interviewed on his and their podcasts. He says it is important to be open to different viewpoints. He goes on to say that there are genuine concerns within homeschooling to be worried about. Especially in regard to ‘parental rights.’ Some of the suggestions at the summit were to model after European guidelines, wherein a presumptive ban on homeschooling would occur with parents needing to apply to be an exception to the rule. He says he got some flack for being involved but he understood that when serious, smart people want to restrict homeschooling he needs to listen and try to build bridges.
Jenna expresses her frustration and comments that eliminating homeschooling won’t eliminate child abuse.
Blake agrees and says that their argument at the summit was that if a child is not seen by a mandatory reporter (ie, teacher, doctor, nurse, counselor etc.) then there should be at least two visits to a doctor or another mandatory reporter during the year.
Jenna says that that actually makes sense. She notes on the other hand that abuse and trauma oftens happens at school.
Blake agrees and says that that topic was actually discussed at another conference that he attended - The Post Pandemic Future of Homeschooling. He says that you can hear all about both conferences on his Offtrail Learning Podcast.
Jenna says that having lived in Germany where homeschooling is not allowed, she sees regulation as a slippery slope. But she is not opposed to having observers checking in on occasion. It just needs to be handled delicately. She then asks Blake what his future plans are with his programs for teens.
Blake says that he likes to create things that he himself is interested in and doesn’t like to repeat things. He is planning a personal adventure and taking a biking trip around Europe. Then he will be leading an adventure the beginning of 2022 (Jan.- Feb. Now Full) called Humans of Mexico. Six weeks through southern Mexico ending in Mexico City. He says he stole the idea from the Humans of New York photojournalism project. The thirteen teens in the group will be meeting with people on the street, photographing them and interviewing them. They will post their work daily on Instagram. He says he gets his adventure ideas year by year. He mentions that he has contacts in the Patagonia region of South America and would like to make a camp there where they would have full use of an entire hostel. The region is a mecca for hiking and mountain climbing. To keep up to date on his upcoming adventures be sure to subscribe to his newsletter at the bottom of the page on Unschool Adventures.
Jenna says this sounds amazing and as she and her husband both love to travel, this would be something they would want to do as well.
Blake encourages Jenna to start her own adventure group. He says he got started by applying for a trip leader position for a gap year company. But, he didn’t get the job. So he asked the director of the company if he would help him start his own company and the man said yes. He said there were not enough of these companies.
Jenna now asks Blake the four questions she likes to ask all of her guests:
What are you curious about? Blake says that right now he is engaged in planning his bike tour, finding places to stay etc.
What is your favorite way to learn? Blake says he likes to jump right in with a bit of research, saying “What is the worst that can happen?” For instance if he doesn’t have someplace to stay, there are alternatives.
What kind of self-directed learning do you like to do for yourself? Beyond the adventure stuff, he says that he enjoys books and long podcasts.
Is there a book, blog or podcast that you recommend? Blake mentions the Podcast Econtalk with Russ Roberts. Also, a website and app called All Sides , which gives news from the left, right and center with a summary. He likes to use it to stay informed in a non time consuming and balanced way.
Jenna suggests Blake check out Blinkist, a website and app that allows one to read or listen to a non-fiction book or podcast by getting the key ideas in minutes, not hours. You get a new book every day!
Jenna thanks Blake for being on the podcast and asks him the best way to connect with him. Blake says that the best way is his website. Jenna says the website is like a template for unschooling.
Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Google Play: https://podcasts.google.com/search/rogue%20learner
YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdCocbWsxxAMSbUObiCQXPg