121: Blake Boles – Why Are You Still Sending Your Kids to School?

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Blake Boles Shares the Unschooling Movement

Speaker 1: Welcome to the authors who lead podcast. This podcast is dedicated to you. People who want to be inspired by authors leaders and the messages they share. This is such an important podcast to us because we help uncover what goes on behind the scenes. When authors are writing their book, we talk about the process. We talk about where they get big ideas and you can listen in on those conversations. We can't wait for you to join us. So let's get started. Everyone assume Toronto's here. Welcome back to another episode. Authors who lead thrilled today to have like boils here. He's a writer, speaker, and adventure, and an advocate for self directed learning. He spent more than a decade working with unconventionally, educating years throughout trip, leading a company he's founded called unschool adventures. And he's originally from California. He's lived and traveled across the world. And his previous books include the art of self directed learning, which is a book that I also read better than college and college without high school.

Speaker 1: And his work has been featured in New York times, the Christian science monitor psychology today, Fox business USA today, NPR affiliates and his blog, of course, and the blogs of wired a wall street journal. He's such an interesting individual. I've known of him for quite a while. And I'm so glad to have him here. Blake, welcome to the show. Thanks for having me as well. Yeah, so I'm really thrilled the kind of dive in about this world because, because of the intersection of my life before becoming a book coach and leading authors was in education. And I always had a very contentious relationship with the act of a teacher and spent a lot of years trying to unlearn the things that were indoctrinated in me about school. So let's start about your journey where you started in this whole conversation and why it's so important and passionate that you would write a book called.

Speaker 1: Why are you still sending your kids to school? Sure. I often get the question of whether I was homeschooled or otherwise alternatively educated. And I was not. I went to California public schools and I was a good student and I thought I wanted to become an astrophysicist. And so I got into UC Berkeley to study astrophysics. You're welcome, mom and dad. It was pretty impressive. And it took me a couple of years to realize that research science was not really for me. And I was probably more inspired by the movie contact with Jodie foster, Matthew McConaughey, where she's an astrophysicist and he's a reformed priest and they talk about science and religion. And she communicates with extraterrestrials the life of every astrophysicist. Yes. Observing the actual graduate students in action. I thought, Hmm. I don't think that's actually what I want to do. And also when I hit quantum mechanics, that's when I thought, Oh boy, this is far beyond my grasp and interests. And so I was thinking about becoming a high school science teacher and that same semester, somebody handed me almost by chance, a John Taylor Gatto book. And he was that word winning New York city public school teacher who ended up quitting after an illustrious 30 year career saying he no longer wanted to make a living hurting kids anymore. And I picked up his book in which he was very

Speaker 2: Critical of both public and private conventional schools and the way that that education is done in the United States. And I thought this guy is really onto something. And so I went onto Amazon and started buying all the books that, you know, people who bought John Taylor Gatto also bought.dot dot. And I ended up reading about democratic free schools about homeschooling and something weird called unschooling. My read some of the original reformers of the sixties and seventies. And I just was captivated. I was intellectually captivated and I ended up designing my own major at Berkeley to study alternative education for the second half of my four years there and graduated with what is perhaps the least marketable degree from UC Berkeley, which I titled myself alternative schooling and science education. And shortly after that, I got involved in the world of outdoor education and some summer camps that had a big influence on it.

Speaker 1: Yeah, no, that's a great path. What's interesting about that is somebody from a traditional pathway who experienced school, came to this realization after learning what other educators had decided was true. That was kind of the way in which I saw the path was. I think this is all wrong. In fact, I think kids know about more about this than we let them voice. And I think I haven't been listening. I just haven't been paying attention to the cues, given me, which is they know what they need. They know what they should be doing. We're just putting them in a box that lets them be constrained and not be able to express those needs. And eventually they just give up. That's my understanding when I observe kids, they're young, they're excited. School is fun. And then when they realize this is a game, they can't win, they get devastated and then start turning towards each other and themselves. And so in your book, you have a great discussion about helping people and let's help listeners understand why do schools even exist the way they do now, because it's really important to understand that the context that people who go to school, send their kids to school, they have their own external or internal expectation that their kids should go to school. Where does schools come from and your book? You talk about it.

Speaker 2: Yeah. I try to explain that what we consider to be primary education, focusing on reading, writing and arithmetic has always been around in some form throughout civilization, but the full fire-breathing version of school that we have today, K through 12, highly structured, that's only been around for a hundred, maybe 150 years, I mean on who you are and where you are. And I think that there's a strong argument to be made that while we can all agree on the importance of basic primary education, that once we go beyond that into the middle school and high school realms school looks more and more like a holding chamber. And I don't think it's a coincidence that when we started outlining child labor around the turn of the century, that we created these places to essentially warehouse children and provide a childcare function, as we've seen with the pandemic, the childcare function is extremely important and it's very disruptive when it's taken away.

Speaker 2: And so I think that we came up with a bunch of make work for young people to do it because we didn't want them out in the, we didn't want them working in exploitative jobs. And that's a good thing. And we couldn't have all of them just sitting around at home either. And so I think that's why a lot of kids sniff out the fakeness of school, the artifice, and they say, wow, this really is just an elaborate game. We have to be here in this institution. Why, how is this exactly serving us and crucially, no one can really answer that question when a teacher or a superintendent or principals, and is faced with the question of why is this specific thing important for me to do right now? How will this serve me? It's often very difficult to answer that in a genuine and honest way. And so, you know, schools are definitely better than, than other faiths. They're definitely better than, you know, kids just working 12 hours a day and not having any chance to develop their minds. It's definitely better than, you know, historically many conditions that children have experienced, but that doesn't mean that this is as good as

Speaker 1: Right. But what's interesting is that as you mentioned that most people don't even know why we have the subjects that we have. They just assume they must have descended from on high and kind of, they did, you know, the committee of 10 deciding these are the subjects we shall teach these people 10 white wealthy men decided their interests, these subjects in high school. And in this order, because they're not logical, but because it's alphabetical, that's why you learn biology then chemistry and physics. You know, it's really just, it's just the lack of understanding that people have. And the more I learned as an educator about sort of the wrong way where teaching is, I wouldn't want to sit in a desk and be told what to do. I'm pretty noncompliant as Deborah Myers call it I'm ritually. I'd like to be ritually noncompliant. I like the vendor break the rules for the better. Good. So let's talk a little bit about as this sort of evolved people, kids are in school, where is the most pushback to this idea that maybe kids shouldn't be in school? What groups of people, where type of person tends to be the one on the pushes back?

Speaker 2: Well, that's who I wrote the book for. I think that parents have a pretty good, intuitive sense of whether their kid is thriving in school or not. And in the book I described thriving in terms of stress, boredom and engagement. And I think that a kid that, that there are positive forms of stress. Like when a kid signs up for a school play and they get nervous about remembering their lines as a positive form of stress. But so many kids experience these other more toxic forms of stress. Boredom is something that you can say, well, you know, everyone has to deal with a bit of boredom in their life. Maybe this is a healthy thing. The amount of boredom that I experienced in school was, was overwhelming. It was truly a waste of time, like a waste of my young life. And I didn't have the words for then, but you know, I kind of came to resent how much of my time was spent sitting around, waiting for teachers to do classroom management stuff, or when they give us busy work or when I'm doing group work, that's really unnecessary in the book.

Speaker 2: I quote this 17 year old Nick Bain, who went to a ritzy private school in Denver, who ended up tabulating all of the throughout his school days that were actually useful actually on task. And he said out of my seven hour school day, maybe two and a half of those hours are actually important. And so we can make a certain argument for boredom, but not at this extent and finally engagement. And I think that golden question here is if school is going to get canceled, is the kid happy or sad? Because if the kid really likes to go to school, they should be sad when there's a snow day, for example, but overwhelmingly kids are happy because they know that they're just going to perform in this elaborative game. It's about job market signaling. It's about exuding certain personality traits. Ultimately it's not really about learning. It's not really about these high-minded purposes, which we ascribed to school.

Speaker 1: So, as we mentioned before, we started recording here that I was fortunate to work for a high tech high, which I would say for the sake of the fact that it is still really school with a purpose to get kids in college, which I don't always agree to my own children went to high tech high and they had their own experiences with it. My son actually always disliked school. He didn't enjoy what school was. He caught on early that this is a game. My daughter loved the structure of school, something to do a test to do. But what's interesting is my son ended up getting into college art school without really taking any official art classes that you took originally get into a really high performing art school. You got into art center, Pasadena, but he just got in based on his portfolio. He just happens to be naturally talented and interested in art.

Speaker 1: He got there five weeks in he's like, dad, I hate it here. I'm like, what's going on? And this is something going on with the professors or the students. He's like, no, they're making me do art that I don't want to do. And he's never done that. He's always done art that he cared about. He's like, they're gonna make me hate this. I don't want to hate art. And if I stay here, I'm going to hate art. And so he left and I wrote an article about encouraging him to leave school that he should never go to school unless it served him. There's no purpose and meaning behind it otherwise. But a lot of educators that are like, well, you should really encourage them to stay. I'm like, absolutely not. It's absolutely the wrong thing to do to encourage them to say, because you think that someday you might need a college degree to do something for somebody else.

Speaker 1: And I just don't believe it. That's when my sort of like pull against education personally started to really exceed its limits. So me to stay in a system that was perpetuating this idea that kids need college or kids need school. What you mentioned in the book, a couple different ways of what's your help for people that not only do they not need maybe traditional school, but maybe they don't even need college. How do you hope that when people push back and say, look, you know, if you want to be a doctor, a lawyer, you're gonna need to go to college. What do you say to those parents that have that feeling?

Speaker 2: I say you're probably right. And also it doesn't have to be done on the same schedule as everyone else. And a lot of the unschoolers who I've worked with who are very self directed, their parents enforced zero or almost zero curriculum. Most of these kids do end up going to college. I'd say pretty much in line with their demographic periods, from wherever they happen to come from. And they do it in a very asynchronous way though. They're not steadily working through the material. They often have this moment where they realize, okay, this larger goal that I have is very connected to going to college. And often it's not just any college, it's a specific college specific program, maybe even working with this specific professor. And then they have this genuine intrinsic motivation. And they will plow through all of the, you know, perhaps unsavory hoop jumps that they have to do, like taking the sat, brushing up on math again, and in order to get into that college.

Speaker 2: But then they have this super power when they're there, which is that they are there for their own reasons. They're not there for the same reasons that most other young people are there, which is because colleges effectively are Rite of passage today. It's our way of proving that you are a successful person. And so when you go in with this specific reason and purpose, then, I mean, that's the key that unlocks everything. And I say that if your kid really does want to become a doctor or a lawyer or one of these other professions where yes, of course you need to go get professional training because it's a licensed field, then they will find a way to do it. And I've seen this play out over and over again. Unfortunately it's not a very standardized story beyond what I've just told you in that, you know, you need to let a kid do their own thing for a while so that they can even have the opportunity to develop their own sets of values or goals because so many kids just never even have that time to think for themselves. They're just being pushed and pulled by parents, teachers, society at large, their peer groups, just struggling to keep up it very much as a rat race.

Speaker 1: So if parents are wondering, well, okay, great. So my kid doesn't go to school. He does his own directed learning, learning what he wants. How do they get into colleges that are highly selective, where they're competitive with peers that have studied in schools that are highly competitive? What I know you mentioned the book, but I'm just trying to help parents understand this conversation.

Speaker 2: It's an important question. And that's what my first book focused on college without high school, because I had a really great positive experience in college. As I've already mentioned to you a bit surprising perhaps, but I thought, man, everyone should have the chance to go to college if they want. So how did these unschoolers do it? And it turns out that community college is an incredibly helpful institution and we're really lucky to have it here in the United States. And just a few other countries in the world has something similar to it. A lot of self directed learners, whether they're homeschoolers or unschoolers or they go to a highly alternative school, we'll often start to dabble in community college classes part time often pretty easy and cheap to do this. And then some of them will just ramp up and get their associate's degree. Or others will take the few classes that they've done and they will apply as a normal freshmen, the university.

Speaker 2: And of course it depends on how competitive the school is that you're going to, if you go into a less selective college, then I have verified stories of unschoolers who only have like a single standardized test, like a young woman who got into the university of Kansas with only the act. And she didn't get like perfect scores, anything. It was just decent scores. Sometimes you do need to take sat, subject tests as a way to get into more competitive schools. And yeah, I mean, you do need to show that you've done some semblance of the traditional curriculum, but there are so many ways to do that. Especially if you can exploit the Internet's online courses. And a lot of families opt to create a portfolio for their self directed teenagers who were applying to college. And so kind of like your kid's portfolio, it looks like kind of an artist collection of works that they've put together. But instead of art, it is pieces of evidence that this kid has challenged his or herself, that they have learned certain things. And you can just put it together and piece it into a very interesting and compelling piece of evidence for a college admissions office.

Speaker 1: That's right. I think people don't understand that college admissions officers are basically like portfolio managers. Their job is to look at their university and decide which of these students are willing to take a risk on which of these would help grow our, our, our university they're thinking of them. And they all start to look alike when they're 4.0 student council president that he'd have brought, like, there's just sort of an interesting, and it's hard to know who they really are because people, maybe parents, schools paint a picture of this is the ideal student, what an effect. Some of those students don't even make it through college, even though they looked really good on paper. And when they get there and realize that college, maybe isn't for them, there's no one to hold them accountable to have to go. They struggle. Yeah.

Speaker 2: If you can be a young person who shows genuine interest and motivation in college, which will shine through, if you've been given the opportunity to develop that that is an incredible asset and that can make up for a good number of theoretical gaps in your resume. When it comes to applying to college, someone who works with a lot of not traditionally educated young people coming to college, Antonio Buehler, he wrote a great article explaining how intellectual vitality is this thing that at Stanford, where he went, that's what recruiters are looking for. That's this sort of secret sauce and unschoolers and other self directed learners have a really great opportunity to develop something that we call it

Speaker 1: Intellectual vitality, right? That's such a great example. So when I told you that my son dropped out of college, I did encourage him to go find out what it is supposed to do. And he participated in the oncology program that started by Dale Stephens. And he went to South hall, Brazil. He picked up photography, which he loved. He went to San Francisco to meet with the cohort. He started to realize that schooling. Wasn't the thing that he really wanted. It wasn't, it wasn't the wrong school. It wasn't the wrong focus. It just wasn't for him. He found much more value in learning for himself when he wanted something to learn, he would learn it, but he didn't need it until he needed it. And that has been a great marker for me, watching him. I wrote about him in a chapter in my book called the art of apprenticeship, because what I have observed is he figured out digital mentorship way before anybody else is paying attention. They knew you learn to do incredible things, sculpture editing, designing, using Photoshop from digital mentors, and he's done incredible things with it. And he finds it passionate to do this art. What do you think are the characteristics of self directed learners that stand out when they go to places like college or even into the workforce?

Speaker 2: Well, just to say it again, I think that sense of, of genuine interest. It's a pretty rare thing today. And maybe it's always been a rare thing. And that's something that only a young person who has not been pushed and pulled around by extrinsic motivators for a long time has had a good chance to develop something that parents who are coming from outside of the alternative education world, often comment on when they go visit an alternative school or a self directed learning center is that we're a homeschooling conference is that young people will often come up and look them in the eyes. And again, people who they don't know and say, hi, my name is so and so, and just talk to them like they're a normal person. So there's not this automatic adversarial power dynamic between teacher and student often. And I think that is a very refreshing thing.

Speaker 2: For, for example, let's say a homeschooler who does decide to go take a community college course or ends up going to a four year college, the adults, professors and other people can pick up on how this person is, is not just automatically putting them into a box. And I think that's a very powerful thing. And finally, like in terms of broad demographics, I do think that unschoolers do trend towards the arts and entrepreneurship and working with computers. These, these fields that in the workplace are generally not heavily licensed and are not traditionally structured in terms of hierarchies. I do see that trend, but I've also been in school there's who are going into the military, who are, who are going into essentially every aspect of life. They're probably underrepresented in the hedge fund manager side of things, but maybe that's okay.

Speaker 1: Right. Maybe it is. So one of the areas in which you touch on briefly, but I want to make sure we highlight here is that this notion of unschooling, or even if it's, it relates to homeschooling or not traditionally participating in school, it has a potential conversation around equity and around that works well. If you have a fluence and you have a place to be at home, when you could be somebody there to be a caregiver, a caretaker at home, which seems like, and these days a privileged opportunity, what would you say to parents of diverse students? So people of poverty who don't have that luxury of having their kids make that choice.

Speaker 2: Great. In the beginning of the book, I have a note about privilege because this is something I've thought a lot about and feels very important and it's on everyone's minds. And so for example, the pandemic revealed that to call everyone a homeschooler is really a shortsighted and an incorrect thing. I mean, not even homeschoolers are homeschooling when there are state home orders, but it's very clear that if you have two parents who are working, you are you're a single parent then telling someone don't like school, go become a homeschooler is a really unfair thing to do. That's why I'm a big champion of these places that are very similar to, you know, positive nurturing homeschool environments, but are not fundamentally at home. And so these include alternative schools like Sudbury schools or agile learning centers or liberated learners centers, if you've never heard of any of those that's okay, but they're really cool.

Speaker 2: You should check them out. Micro schooling is a big thing taken off, especially in the San Francisco Bay area, in which you have little like classes taught all a cart style and your kid can develop this kind of weekly schedule that works for them. And a lot of it is outside of the home. Also there's virtual and hybrid options. Sometimes these are associated with charter schools and there are really cool schools like high tech high or Jefferson County Oakland school. You know, there are gems of public schools out there. And so if homeschooling is not a feasible option for your family, then there is this spectrum of really great alternatives out there. I didn't even mention Montessori and Waldorf that are both public and private and a lot of the really radical self-directed ones. And I'm a big fan of, they are overwhelmingly run by people who are, they really prioritize equity and they don't want to turn away a kid who looks like a great fit for their, their group, just because they can't afford it. And so I've, I've just met incredibly generous and caring people in this world who want to extend these opportunities, no matter your financial backgrounds. I think

Speaker 1: This conversation really stirred me when you started talking about this notion of must. We do work. We hate and why people who maybe follow the traditional path, did what they're supposed to do when a good college got good job, but really are in a place that isn't their place of joy. Why is this so important for adults to understand, to see why this really, I say an epidemic within the school system can be really detrimental to the longterm health of an individual, even when they're out of school.

Speaker 2: I think it's a dangerous path to walk to, you know, insist that your children have the exact same hardships and experience the same hardships that you did just because our grandparents walked eight miles to school in the snow every day does not necessarily mean that that will benefit their grandchildren. So parents who have jobs that they really don't like, but they need these jobs to pay the bills. I think it's a very common sense thing to say, well, listen, you don't like school kid. Suck it up. That's the world. Yeah. That's one version of the world. But if we're trying to make the world a slightly better place, year after year, then I think we need to pay more attention to how the world of work is changing. And I think Daniel pink in his book drive, which is a timeless classic, he explains how extrinsic motivation is a necessary force in the world for getting people to do work.

Speaker 2: They don't like, and that includes carrots and sticks, you know, paying people money and also threatening them with bad things that will happen. And increasingly, as he argues, the world is transferring towards work. That is, needs to be more intrinsically motivated. And so these are more creative fields, more fields that are dealing with human needs and not just creating widgets. And he said with this shift comes a necessary shift in education towards more intrinsic motivation, fewer carrots and sticks, but this requires a bit more nuance. Also. It means that as a parent, your job is no longer to become just the boss or manager of your kid's education, which is a very easy role to fall into when it seems like your kid comes home with homework, which is kind of like their, their workplace assignments. And you're there as their boss to make sure they hit all the targets on time.

Speaker 2: And instead, a parent in this new paradigm needs to think of herself more as business consultants, someone who does have expertise and who can, can, and should give advice to her client, which is her kid. But fundamentally if the client succeeds or fails in his business, you know, the consultant doesn't lose it over that. You know, there's a certain level of detachment. There you say, I've given you all the advice that I can, but fundamentally this is up to you. And so these are some of the shifts that I try to explain in the book and it all boils down to, yeah, we don't need to force kids to do dumb, crappy, hard work just for the sake of dumb, crappy hard work. There is a better and more humane way in a way that's more connected to economic realities, right? So you run these programs for young learners, the unschool to venture programs that you offer.

Speaker 2: Tell us a little about that and where the Genesis of that began and how you've seen that in the world of the sort of movement that you're part of. So after college, I was working in outdoor education, mostly in Southern California for a few years, taking kids on hikes, teaching them basic science, doing ropes courses. And that was fun, but I wanted a longer term relationship with the kids I was working with. Not just they come for three days or five days, and then they leave. And my model was always summer camp. I went to the summer camp as a kid and I worked at two summer camps as an adult. And when kids would come for a couple of weeks or sometimes longer, then you could really get to know them. You could develop this more constructive relationship. And especially when they would come back summer after summer, that was a really positive experience for everyone involved.

Speaker 2: And so I was thinking about how I could work, uh, not only longer-term with people, but also internationally because I had run away to South America for three months back in early 2007. And I thought, Oh man, I love travel so much. I just have to keep traveling. So I ended up applying to work for this gap year company. And I would be taking groups of, I have college age, young people to South America for three months. And I thought it was perfect for me. And I went through the whole interview process and I was eventually told, sorry, you didn't get the job. And so I saw for a few weeks, and then I, I emailed the guy back the owner of the camp and I said, Hey, can you help me start my own company, my own trip leading company? And to my unending delight, he said, yes.

Speaker 2: And I said, I was very clear. I'm not going to be competing for your same demographic because I just started working at not back to school camp, which is the preeminent gathering place for teenage unschoolers in the United States. And so I thought maybe I can organize a trip and I can pitch it to the, not back to school, camp, community, and lo and behold, it worked. And I took a group of 19 agers to Argentina for six weeks in 2008. And that was the birth of unschooled ventures. I made $4,000 from that trip and I felt like a God, you know, I had gotten paid to travel with cool teenagers. So I actually enjoy working with, and it was a longterm thing. So I ended up repeating this formula over and over again. And that's what I've done for roughly a decade as my primary way of earning a living in this world.

Speaker 2: And it's been a really great laboratory to, for learning about the lives of self directed teenagers. Because when you hang out with a group of 10 or 12 teens for six weeks in a foreign country, and you're around each other all the time, you know, the shields come down, you can learn a lot more in that period of time than you could probably as a traditional teacher in a classroom with 30 students over the course of years. And so that work informed my writing also. And so that there was a virtuous circle between running the trips, writing about self directed learning and unschooling, and then speaking also at conferences and for parent groups as we move forward, I'd like to give people the inside view of what it is to write, because a lot of these listeners are authors and or would be authors. So I like to ask you about that part.

Speaker 2: What was this writing process like for you? How long had, did you engage in this book? What was the beginning principals? Did you pitch a proposal first and then write it? What was it like? So this is my fourth book and the first one I started writing when I had ran away to South America for three months, I was sketching out notes in my moleskin journal on long distance buses between Peru and Bolivia. And I created a manuscript. I got a friend to edit it. And then I just sent it into two publishers. Both of whom had published John Taylor Gatto, his books previously. And one of them I never heard from, and the other one new society publishers as small publisher up in Canada said, we'd like to offer you a contract. And so I didn't even have an agent. I just directly submitted it.

Speaker 2: And it was an incredible delight. And after that book, I pitched them again on my second book. And they said, well, your, your sales from your first book were just, okay, so we can offer the same contract as before. And I said, well, you know, I learned a lot about publishing by working with you guys, but I think I could probably do a better job myself. And so I self published my second book better than college. I ran a crowdfunding campaign to source all the costs. I hired professionals. That was something I was very clear about in the beginning was not being a self publisher in the worst version of that term. And that was a really powerful experience. And I produced a book that looks great and I definitely earned more money than I would have earned going with new society publishers. And so I self published the third book and then this one also.

Speaker 2: And so that's, that's sort of how I decided to, to take that publishing route. And finally, the reason that I wrote this book now is because previously I had written books for whom the audience was the young adults themselves. The first book was for teenagers. The second book about not going to college was for college age, young people. But eventually I realized that it was mostly parents and really mostly moms who were finding my books and then handing them to their kids after they had read them themselves. And so I just sort of accepted reality with this final book. And I said, okay, my audience is parents. I'm gonna write a book for parents, even though I'm not a parent myself yet.

Speaker 1: Yeah. That's awesome. And so you put this together yourself, which the thing I want people to understand is that most people assume when the book's published that it's, it doesn't have to be quality because it's self published. But the world has shifted has definitely changed. The quality of a book comes from the ideas that the behind the publishing of great book, which is, you know, knowing what makes a good book, knowing what makes a good cover, knowing how to market a book, marketing and books probably hate Sarah. One next to editing is the hardest part about books. Would you agree?

Speaker 2: I think it's another order of magnitude difficult. Yeah. You can hire a really great editor.

Speaker 1: You can, you know,

Speaker 2: I can't just hire marketing power. It's a weird nebulous genius.

Speaker 1: Yeah. So how people would have maybe read your book and pick it up. I encourage everybody to put that in the show notes and also learn more about you. How do you get these influential people to talk about your book when you're not the power of a publisher behind you? I don't know.

Speaker 2: I don't know. There's a certain amount of luck. So I send a lot of emails to strangers and that's, that's a skill that I encourage teenagers I work with to practice also. And so one of the blurbs I got for this book was from Jane McGonigal, who wrote a New York times bestselling book. Reality is broken.

Speaker 1: What about gaming? Really wonderful book.

Speaker 2: And I cited some of her arguments in my own book. And I just decided that I would send her a PDF review copy shortly before it was published and say, thank you for inspiring this. And you know, I didn't ask her for anything. And she wrote back and she said, this book's amazing. I, you know, how can I help? And I said, Oh, you want to write a blurb? She said, okay. And she wrote this mindblowing blurb that I ended up putting on the back and on the top interior pages. And so just reaching out to people with like a genuine, thank you. Like, Hey, your work truly inspired my work. So John Taylor Gatto, he blurbed my first book cause I did this same thing. I formed a relationship with Daniel pink a long time ago. Cause I mean, when he wrote free agent nation, his first book, he mentioned homeschooling in there.

Speaker 2: And I mean, email is just this incredibly powerful force. If, if you're just like a nice person who can craft a few sentences or paragraphs that don't suck, then you can connect with them with anyone. And so that's how I, I've made a few connections to more well known people. I also have a wonderful orbit of supporters, many of whom I've never met and a lot of people in the alternative education world and a lot of them ended up becoming my proofreaders, becoming my blurb burgers. And so just having a lot of friends I guess has definitely helped. Yeah, no, I sat on your, one of your early book, launch superhero groups so that you didn't have the power of that. You know, as I continue to support this work, I think it's a perfect time for this to be in the world for people to rethink a lot of things, education being one of them, it's a box that you can easily get lost in.

Speaker 2: I know there's people wondering more about like this kind of work, what they can do early. Before we turned on the recording, we talked about Ted bitter Smith and his work most likely to succeed and what schools schools could be. Talk a little bit more about where you're going next with your thinking around this sort of movement. I don't have a good canned answer for that yet. I'm in a moment in my life where I'm actually moving away from running those international trips for teens. It's been a really wonderful thing to do. I've got to travel the world, but like all things, if you do it for a decade, it's time to move on. And I don't have another book in me at the moment either. And so right now I've got my antenna up and I am looking for opportunities to get involved, probably collaborating with other people, joining forces with others.

Speaker 2: And what that might look like is an open question. The pandemic has opened up this huge market for versions of online education. But well, some of that feels interesting to me. I have always personally thrived in the most concrete situations possible like summer camps, international travel, the outdoors. And that is where I have, I think helped young people have more transformative experiences, definitely experiences that they would not have gotten online. So paint me as a skeptic of online education, but you know, if that's what the world needs at this moment, then maybe I'll, I'll give it a shot too. And so if you have any listeners out there who are thinking, ah, Blake, I would be interesting person to collaborate with. Yeah. Get in touch with me. I'm open right now. That's awesome. And that's that? That's the, the hopes of every learner to define a new

Speaker 1: Opportunity. I know after reinventing myself, after leaving a change and realizing I had so much more than offered than what was the box that I was put in as a teacher, you're a principal, a university structure because I was telling people to let go of what they believe this could be let go of the belief of what it should be and imagine what it already is. It's right here before us, I went to New York from San Diego where I was teaching in a principal to Seth Golden's event. And he was offering to more C-suite level entrepreneurs and leaders and faith based groups of nonprofit organizations to listen to him, answer question for eight hours straight. He said, I have no agenda. I'm just going to answer questions. I thought that's fascinating. I have to go. I saw on the website, a very small print@thebottomsaysifyouhavea.org email and you want to apply for scholarship, please do which I did.

Speaker 1: So I applied and I think the normal ticket was like two grand or something. And I got it for 150 bucks. So I got all the way to New York and I had red stop selling dreams. I was so inspired by it. And I had one question. I said, I came here to ask one question. Yes, go ahead. I said, if you have one piece of advice for teachers, parents, educators, on what they can do, what would it be? He says, I would just tell you, when you go into a boardroom, a teacher meeting, a parent conference meeting to ask, what is this for? And if no one can ask or answer that question with a answer, then that's something you should consider. And that stuck with me so hard that every time I asked it, no one had answers. I was like, I'm not sure I'm in the right place to anymore because they had answers to do equate to purpose equated to well, and when they get to college, I was like, Oh no, no, no, not for college.

Speaker 1: Just some other day right now. Why does this matter? Why do we have meetings? Why don't we make meetings optional? Why don't we make homework optional? Why do we make attendance optional? They really were like this isn't you can't do it. I'm like, wait, I'm just asking questions because you're, I think the assumptions that all these things should be, and I'm just wondering what makes it, so why don't we do it? And the more I did it, the less, maybe the more interesting I got in myself and my own work, but the less interesting school became. And to the point when I was leaving, when my last couple of years there, I got to the principal, I said, look, I think I'm doing things wrong. Here I go. Would you mind if before the kids come on, the first day of school, you get rid of my desks and tables, chairs, everything, and given somewhere else, but just make sure I can't get them.

Speaker 1: She goes, yeah, sure. But why? I said, I want the first project of the year to be, where do people learn and do work? And I want the kids to solve this problem. And I don't want to presume to how they'll solve it or what it'll look like. And we spent the first six weeks of school trying to figure out, well, where do people do work? And I took them through the Stanford D school design process. So get empathy and understand where does work happen? The amazing thing is that the, we spent a lot of weeks of the floor. I didn't have a desk. There was no place for kids to sit. So they really had a problem to solve because there was no furniture coming back. So they did incredible work and they built this beautiful project bar where you could sit, they kids, you need to sit side by side so you can talk and you know, you can get materials and you could lay on the floor if you want and sit over here if you want.

Speaker 1: And it should feel more like Starbucks than it should. You know, they did incredible work. And at the end of it, I looked around. I was like, Oh, there is no front of the room and there's no teacher desk. So I sat on the floor. I stood over here. Everything about the way I taught change because there was no longer a place for me to say, this is what we're doing today. If I didn't create work, that fit the place. It just didn't make sense. So the kids did incredible work. They worked with category award-winning writers and directors and community service organizations. They did real work, but it's because this is what work looks like. This is what work feels like. This is where we do work. And I could leave the room and go to the bathroom, get a coffee. They would be come back doing their work because they invented the work they were doing in that project and others. And I feel like I wish schools felt more like that for lots of kids, not just those kids,

Speaker 2: The tee shirts too, which you just described as a teacher's dream that you can leave and go drink a coffee and come back. And they're all just still working because they want to be there because they've chosen to be there because they,

Speaker 1: You have a sense of agency and autonomy, like that makes everyone's lives better. So it was incredible. Yeah. Thanks for sharing that story. That's awesome. Yeah. It's so much that people would come from all over the world and interview us. How did you do this? How did you design this room? Like I didn't design anything. A parent volunteered his tools. He's a carpenter. Mostly girls came on the weekend and evenings building it, using power tools. I didn't do anything. This is not what I did. I'm just here. I happen to be a member of this community and they're doing the work. It's also the place where I learned publishing the power of authorship. So I, you know, 12 years ago, the first time I published kid work was with children and realized if you could become a published author at 13 years old, you never had to learn how to fill out a resume anymore.

Speaker 1: You could walk into McDonald's and go, I don't have a resume. You just staple your resume to your first book set. I'm a resume. But here's my first book. If you need someone to let me know, there's no longer a requirement for the rules of engagement, because when you're an author, you have this huge sense of self and accomplishment. And you're amongst the very high elite group of people and could talk very intelligently about editing and design and character and all these things. So I, my goal was to have every kid have some published piece of work by the time they got out of eighth grade. So just treat them like a dose, let them write about what they're passionate. I let them see the world and everything about the rest of the world fell away. And they would come to school and show up early to do the work that they created for themselves. And I wish more people did it. Thank you so much for this powerful work. I want everyone who's been listening. If you wonder the book is called, why are you still sending your kids to school? The case for helping them leave, chart their own paths and prepare for adulthood at their own pace by Blake oils? Like where could they learn more about you and be connect with you and maybe offer you some sort of connection. They can find everything at my website,

Speaker 2: Bulls.com. That's B O L E S and my podcast,

Speaker 1: The books, and easy ways to connect. Awesome. Hey, this has been a pleasure. Thank you so much for being a guest. It's been a wonderful conversation. Thanks for this. Well, thank you for listening again, to another episode of authors who lead, we appreciate you being here and we hope you subscribe. So you get this delivered to your device every week. And if you haven't left us a review, please do so. It really helps. And if you have a book in your heart, you've been wanting to write a book. Please go to authors who lead.com and join us on this journey of becoming a published author.

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Blake Boles is a writer, speaker, adventurer, and advocate for self-directed learning. He has spent more than a decade working with unconventionally educated teenagers through the trip-leading company he founded, Unschool Adventures. Today, he shares his insights from his book, Why Are You Still Sending Your Kids to School?

Originally from California, Blake has lived and traveled across the world. His previous books include The Art of Self-Directed Learning, Better Than College, and College Without High School, and his work has been featured in The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, Psychology Today, Fox Business, USA Today, NPR affiliate radio, and the blogs of Wired and The Wall Street Journal

What We Discuss with Blake Boles:

  • His journey from traditional to alternative education
  • Why schools exist the way they do now
  • Why kids shouldn’t be in school
  • How unschooled kids are able to compete when they decide to go to college
  • The characteristics of self-directed learners
  • Different alternative learning options available for parents
  • Why the school system is detrimental to an individual’s long-term health
  • About the Unschooled Adventures program
  • Blake’s writing process and his marketing strategies

[04:43] Why Schools Exist the Way They Do Now

The full-fire breathing version of the school we have today has been around for over 150 years. Once we go beyond the realms of middle school, we realize that schools are becoming more of a holding chamber. 

We’ve created these places to warehouse children and provide childcare function, which gets very disruptive when it’s taken away. So we came up with a bunch of homework for children to keep them off the streets and from just sitting around at home either. 

A lot of kids sniff out the fakeness of school. They question how this is serving them and no one can really answer that question in a genuine way.

Schools are definitely better than many other conditions out there such as child labor and whatnot, but it doesn’t mean that this is as good as it gets. But parents have a good intuitive sense of whether their kids are thriving in school or not in terms of toxic stress, boredom, and engagement. 

[12:09] What If Your Kids Don’t Want to Go to School 

The idea of your kids going to college doesn’t have to be done on the same schedule as everyone else. Many “unschoolers,” who are very self-directed and their parents enforced almost zero curriculum, end up going to college. And they’re in line with their demographic peers regardless of where they come from. 

These kids do it in a very asynchronous way. They’re not steadily working through the material. And oftentimes, they realize that their goal is clearly connected to going to college. And it’s not just any college, it’s a specific college-specific program, maybe even working with a specific professor. 

Then they have this genuine intrinsic motivation. And they will plow through all of the unsavory hoops and jumps that they have to do like taking the LSAT brushing up on math again in order to get into that college.

Self-directed kids have this superpower when they’re in college – they’re there for their own reasons, and not for the reasons that most other young people are there for.

Today, college is a rite of passage. It’s our way of proving that you are a successful person. And so when you go in with this specific reason and purpose, that’s the key that unlocks everything. If your kid really does want to become a doctor or a lawyer or one of these other professions, where you need to go get professional training because it’s a licensed field, then they will find a way to do it. 

You need to let the kid do their own thing for a while so that they can even have the opportunity to develop their own sets of values or goals. 

Unfortunately, so many kids just never even have the time to think for themselves. They’re just being pushed and pulled by parents, teachers, the society at large, and their peer groups. They are struggling to keep up. It’s very much a rat race.

[14:44] How Unschooled Kids Are Able to Compete When They Decide to Go to College

A lot of self-directed learners, whether they’re homeschoolers or unschoolers, or they go to a highly alternative school, will often start to dabble in community college classes, part-time. It’s often pretty easy and cheap to do this. 

It turns out that the community college is an incredibly helpful institution. 

Then some of them will just ramp up and get their associate’s degree. Others will take the few classes they’ve done and they will apply as normal freshmen to the university. This all depends on how competitive the school is that you’re going to.

You may also exploit the internet’s online courses. A lot of families opt to create a portfolio for their self-directed teenagers who are applying to college. They’re basically pieces of evidence that your kid has challenged himself or herself and that they have learned certain things. And you can just put it together and piece it into a very interesting and compelling piece of evidence for a college admissions officer. 

If you’re a young person who shows genuine interest and motivation in college, this will shine through if you’ve been given the opportunity to develop that. And that can make up for a good number of theoretical gaps in your resume when it comes to applying to college. 

[19:33] The Characteristics of Self-Directed Learners

  • A sense of genuine interest
  • An automatic adversarial power dynamic between teacher and student
  • Unschoolers trend towards the arts and entrepreneurship. 

[24:44] Why the School System is Detrimental to an Individual’s Long-Term Health

It’s a dangerous path to walk to insist that your children should experience the same hardships that you did. If we’re trying to make the world a slightly better place, year after year, we need to pay more attention to how the world of work is changing.

Extrinsic motivation is a necessary force in the world for getting people to do work they don’t like and that includes carrots-and-sticks. But the world is transferring towards work that needs to be more intrinsically motivated. These are the more creative fields that are dealing with human needs, not just creating widgets. 

A parent in this new paradigm needs to think of himself or herself more as a business consultant, someone has the expertise and should give advice to their client, which is their kid. 

As a parent, your job is no longer to become just the boss or manager of your kids’ education, which is a very easy role to fall into. We don’t need to force kids to do dumb, crappy hard work just for the sake of dumb crappy hard work. There is a better and more humane way that’s more connected to economic realities. 

Episode Resources:

Visit blakeboles.com to follow Blake’s work and adventures.

Blake’s books:

Why Are You Still Sending Your Kids to School?

The Art of Self-Directed Learning

Better Than College

College Without High School

Follow Blake on Facebook and Twitter.

The Art of Apprenticeship by Azul Terronez

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink

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