Blake Boles Shares the Unschooling Movement
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.
Visit blakeboles.com to follow Blake’s work and adventures.
The Art of Apprenticeship by Azul Terronez
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink