Monday, December 06, 2010

Blake Boles on Unschooling : College Without High school

He's not a grown unschooler himself, but Blake Boles of works closely with the unschooling community and has written a book called College Without High School: A Teenager Guide to Skipping High school and going to College. In this interview, Boles shares about how he got interested in unschooling in the first place.


How did you get interested in unschooling and alternative education?

I discovered unschooling in 2003 as a sophomore at UC Berkeley after 12 years of California public school. I was majoring in astrophysics, which I initially found fascinating, but then I hit quantum mechanics and suddenly realized that real-life physics research required a ton of weird math that didn't stoke my curiosity.
Did I really love astrophysics, or did I just want to be the Dr. Arroway character from Carl Sagan's "Contact"? As I sweated over this problem, a friend handed me a John Taylor Gatto book. I devoured it in three days and immediately delved into whatever "recommended books" that Amazon suggested. A few weeks later, after discovering Grace Llewellyn, The Sudbury Valley School, John Holt, and Summerhill, I decided that I had to study this stuff full-time. It was just too fascinating.

Initially Berkeley gave me trouble--they wanted to shoehorn me in the Interdisciplinary Studies Department, which wouldn't accept most of my astrophysics units--but I was persistent and they eventually pointed me to the hidden "Independent Major" program, where I could design my curriculum from the absolute ground-up.
With the sponsorship of two professors, I designed my own program in alternative education, and in the process learned about all these tricks for individualizing my college experience like independent study, interning, senior thesis, teaching my own class, and exploiting pass/no pass units. Those two years were an intellectual feast that gave me a strong theoretical foundation for understanding alternative education and fueled my passion for unschooling (largely because I got to "unschool" myself while in college).

What's the connection with the Not back to school Camp?

My relationship with unschooling remained rather theory-based until I applied to work as a staff member at Not Back to School Camp in 2006. Grace Llewellyn, the director, accepted my application (you don't have to be a former unschooler or camper to work there), and I was suddenly face-to-face with 100 real-life teen unschoolers.
This is where I made most of my connections in the unschooling community, and campers were the first participants on my inaugural Unschool Adventures trip to Argentina (more on that below). The following year I began every session of camp (in both Oregon and Vermont), and today I continue work at as many sessions of camp as I can each year.

Not Back to School Camp is an incredibly supportive social environment for teen unschoolers, both new and old. I give it my highest recommendation for any teens who want to bolster their tribe of friends.

Where do you see the unschooling movement heading and what is the significance of this type of education on mainstream schooling models?

Unschooling seems to be getting bigger and bigger. The selection of conferences, camps, and other support programs expand each year. And media mentions, while typically slanted (see the recent Good Morning America piece), continue to appear. So "big" is one direction that the movement is heading.

Despite this trend, I don't see unschooling exerting any significant influence in changing mainstream schooling. Unschooling's power is in providing a positive alternative to school, but as a movement it holds no unified approach to breaking the school monopoly. I see lots of room for growth in that area.

Now for your book:Why did you write this book and who is the target audience?

My primary audience is disaffected high school students who, while bright and desiring to learn, feel squashed by school politics, social scenes, poor classes, or the simple restriction of freedom. I wanted to show them that a viable alternative--unschooling--is possible, and it doesn't require that your mortgage your future--especially in the realm of college.
As I saw it, the ability to get into a decent college seems to be one of the largest factor preventing many families from choosing homeschooling or unschooling. And as I learned through the NBTSC community and various interviews and research, the assumption that unschoolers (as opposed to rigorously parent-directed homeschoolers) can't get into decent colleges is totally unfounded. That's why the book needed to be written.

Thus far, it doesn't seem that the book has penetrated very far into the mainstream market (e.g. it's not in Barnes & Noble). Lots of home/unschooling families are reading and enjoying it, and I'm glad for that. I'm still figuring out how to reach a larger audience.

Lastly, a little bit about what you are doing these days (besides writing the book). Any parting words?

Since 2008 I've been leading international travel adventures through my company Unschool Adventures. Lots of Not Back to School Campers expressed desires for travel and adventure opportunities outside of camp, so I obliged them by organizing a 6-week unschooler's Argentina trip. The trip was a hit, so I ran a few more in 2009 (a Novel-Writing Retreat and Australia adventure). The next trip, a 7-week South America adventure, filled to capacity within one month of its debut, so I think we're onto something good.

Last month I ran my first leadership program (through my other company, Homeschool Leadership Retreats, which I plan to fold into Unschool Adventures). During this 2-week program based in Ashland, Oregon, I challenged our group of seven teens to go out and create short-term internships, mentorships, and job shadows based on their interests.

In the evenings, the other staff and I would run workshops on topics like communication, personality psychology, goal-setting, and learning theory, all tailored to the needs of teen unschoolers. The hope was that they would employ these workshop tools in the internship challenge.

And the trip was a total success--our teens mentored with university professors, got short- and long-term work internships (one turned into a paid employment opportunity), and interviewed local artists, among other pursuits. More importantly, they experienced a lot of failure and rejection and learned to deal with that in a constructive way. This was the real skill that I wanted them to get out of the program.

For more information:


clementine said...

"Despite this trend, I don't see unschooling exerting any significant influence in changing mainstream schooling. Unschooling's power is in providing a positive alternative to school, but as a movement it holds no unified approach to breaking the school monopoly. I see lots of room for growth in that area."
I disagree. Unschooling is catching up-even though it might not be called that. There is the'drop-out' economy which is also taking wing-people searching for better quality of life and doing their own thing.

Anonymous said...

For someone with an entrepreneurial spirit, unschooling offers opportunity to generate income while raising awareness about alternatives to public schooling. Good for you M. Boles!

Anonymous said...

If unschool works so well why don't you unschool college?

Andrew said...

Anonymous, I'm glad you asked that question. Blake also works with folks who want to unschool college. Check out "Zero Tuition College" here!

rfs said...

Thanks Andrew. Great resource. I have added it to my links.

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