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Interviews with self-directed learners, innovative educators, and young people blazing their own paths through life. Hosted by Blake Boles. Visit Off-Trail Learning @ Formerly the Real Education Podcast.

Interviews with self-directed learners, innovative educators, and young people blazing their own paths through life. Hosted by Blake Boles. Visit Off-Trail Learning @ Formerly the Real Education Podcast.
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Interviews with self-directed learners, innovative educators, and young people blazing their own paths through life. Hosted by Blake Boles. Visit Off-Trail Learning @ Formerly the Real Education Podcast.




Blake Boles and Zen Zenith on Unschool Adventures

In this special episode, Zen Zenith interviews Blake Boles about the past, present, and future of Unschool Adventures (, including a sneak preview of Blake’s big new program for 17- to 20-year-olds that’s launching in 2019: Independent Adventures. They also discuss Blake’s videos, articles, speaking tour, podcast, and future projects. Visit to find the blog post that accompanies this episode (“Looking Back / Looking Forward”), and don’t miss Zen’s own...


Joel Hammon on Quitting Teaching

After a decade of teaching at public and private schools, Joel Hammon quit. Despite being on track to earning a six-figure salary with full benefits, he couldn’t take it anymore. But he still wanted to work with young people, so he co-founded Princeton Learning Cooperative ( a center based on the North Star model. In this episode we talk about how Joel struggled with teaching, what he loved about it, what led him to quit, how he (and others like him)...


Peter Gray on the Evidence for Self-Directed Education

Does self-directed education really “work,” and how can we prove it? In this episode I speak with Peter Gray, Ph.D., about the evidence (and lack thereof) for the effectiveness of unschooling and democratic free schools. Topics include: How does one measure the "effectiveness" of education in the first place? What does Peter's research say? How might a skeptical parent critique it? Why is it hard to get this research published? If Peter could design a perfect experiment to show that it...


Jade Rivera on Neurodivergence

Gifted, twice-exceptional, autistic, ADD, dyslexic: each of these labels falls under the umbrella of “neurodivergence”, and each has served to inspire thousands of families to consider self-directed learning options. Today I speak with Jade Rivera (, the founder of Sunnyside Micro-School, a place she built to serve neurodivergent young people who don't thrive in school. We discuss Jade’s background as a chemist, how schools typically deal (or don’t deal) with...


Gabe Cooper on Starting a Public “Unschool”

Many dream of combining the principles of unschooling with the resources of public school — and Gabe Cooper is one of those few who has actually done it. In this episode Gabe discusses “Unschool” (, the program he founded in the San Juan Unified School District of Sacramento, California. We talk about his disillusionment as a public school teacher and administrator, what inspired him to start Unschool, his victories and challenges so far, his commitment to equity via...


Bryan Caplan on the Value of Conformity

How much of school is about skill-building and how much is about signaling, i.e., proving to employers that you’re intelligent, diligent, and can conform to societal norms? In this episode, economist Bryan Caplan ( discusses his new book, The Case Against Education. Caplan argues that diplomas remain powerful marketplace signals, despite the fact that schools don't teach much. We discuss the implications of his findings for self-directed and nonconventional learners, how he...


Jim Wiltens on Deer Crossing Camp

Jim Wiltens is a modern-day Indiana Jones, an incredibly powerful teacher, and a huge figure in my life since age 11. I’m honored to finally get him on the podcast. As the founder and director of Deer Crossing Camp (, an off-grid wilderness summer camp in California, Jim helps kids develop serious outdoor skills and resilient attitudes. We discuss Deer Crossing's intensive teen leadership program, how Jim teaches attitude and "meta-skills", why he chose not to pay for...


Wes Beach on Building a One-Man High School

Frustrated as a public high school teacher in Santa Cruz, California, Wes Beach started his own one-man high school, Beach High School ( Over 25 years Wes has freed more than 1500 teenagers from compulsory schooling by rapidly graduating them and creating transcripts that allow them to immediately dive into college, career, or further self-directed learning. Wes and I recorded our interview in his home office (i.e., Beach High School headquarters) and discussed...


Lisa Betts-LaCroix on Micro-schooling in the San Francisco Bay Area

Lisa Betts-LaCroix, a homeschooling mother of two and co-founder of Bay Area Gifted Homeschoolers (, talks with Blake about the huge number of a la carte classes and activities now available to homeschoolers in the bay area. We discuss how micro-schooling differs from unschooling, the incredible opportunities that independent teachers have to sell their services, how much it all costs, and what’s still missing (answer: teen drop-in centers). Support my mission of spreading...


Tam Pham on Reaching Out to People

Tam Pham ( is a 21-year-old college dropout, marketer in Silicon Valley, and author of How to Network and How to Land Your Dream Internship. We discuss why reaching out to strangers is important for self-directed learners, how to do it, and Tam's own story of leaving the conventional path.


Catherine Gobron on Promoting Inclusivity in Self-Directed Learning

Catherine Gobron, co-director of Lighthouse Holyoke (, a self-directed learning center for teenagers in western Massachusetts, talks about serving an economically and racially diverse community that’s hungry for educational alternatives. Catherine describes her time working at North Star (which served as a model for Lighthouse), her decision to start her own center, and the “bridge” approach that Lighthouse takes to facilitating self-directed learning by beginning...


Nathen Lester on the Challenges of Total Freedom

Nathen Lester, a long-time advisor at Not Back to School Camp and soon-to-be-licensed Couples and Family Therapist, discusses the challenges that people face when given large amounts of freedom at a young age. How do unschoolers and other liberated young people deal with perceived gaps in their knowledge? How do they motivate themselves? How do they tackle the unspoken obligation to “be amazing”? And what mental health concerns are unique to this group? Join us for a fascinating...


Kevin Snavely on Unschooling in Alaska and Traveling the World

23-year-old Kevin Snavely (skyping in from Bangkok) talks with Blake about being raised unschooled in Alaska, going back to public high school, the question of college, and traveling the world. * * * Love the podcast? Help it exist with a per-episode contribution: Provide feedback or suggest new topics/guests by emailing


Caitlyn Scheel on Convincing Your Parents to Homeschool

15-year-old Caitlyn Scheel talks with Blake about being bored in middle school, wanting to homeschool, and the summer she spent convincing her parents to let her do it. * * * Love the podcast? Show it by contributing as little as $1 per episode: Provide feedback or suggest new topics/guests anytime by emailing


Sean Ritchey on Learning Through Work Instead of College

29-year-old grown unschooler Sean Ritchey talks about his discussion to skip college in favor of starting his own design/build company. We discuss the challenges of building community and exposing yourself to new areas of knowledge, working to learn, and what a young person needs to successfully skip college. * * * Love the podcast? Show it by contributing as little as $1 per episode: Provide feedback or suggest new topics/guests anytime by emailing...


Milla von Tauber on Explaining Yourself as an Unschooler

18-year-old Milla Von Tauber talks with Blake about explaining yourself as a teenage unschooler, missing high school rites of passage, defining your own version of success, and fitting into the so-called “normal world.” * * * Love the podcast? Show it by contributing as little as $1 per episode: Provide feedback or suggest new topics/guests anytime by emailing


Xander Macswan on Video Games

Xander Macswan, a 19-year-old grown unschooler, talks about growing up with unrestricted video game access. When do games hurt us, and when do they serve us? Are parents right to restrict gaming time? How does someone who looks like a gaming “addict” on the outside transform, without coercion, into someone with a wide variety of interests and skills beyond gaming? Do violent games make us more violent? We dive into all these subjects with someone with deep first-hand experience. * * * Love...


From Unschool to School to Unschool: A Conversation with Nikiah Childs

Nikiah Childs grew up in elementary school, unschooled for 6 years, went back to a performance arts charter school, and then left school again to unschool her senior year. Now 23 and graduating from college, Nikiah and I discuss: - the motivations behind her transitions - pursuing her passion for dance - her fear of having fallen behind in math due to unschooling - the pros and cons of high school - how adults treat unschoolers versus high schoolers - the surprising awesomeness of community...


Steve Krouse on Dropping Out of College to Live the Silicon Valley Dream

22-year-old Steve Krouse, co-founder of The Coding Space in New York City (, talks about his decision to leave his Computer Science major at the University of Pennsylvania to enter the world of tech and startups. We discuss why this path worked for Steve, whether it works for other young people, the role of privilege in quitting school, and practical advice for convincing parents to support your decision. * * * Want to help more young adults choose self-directed learning?...


Who Should Unschool and Who Shouldn't? A Conversation with Liam Nilsen

Lifelong unschooler Liam Nilsen talks with Blake about the habits and mindset required for successful unschooling in the teenage years. And Liam asks Blake whether he wishes he were unschooled! If you want to help more young adults choose self-directed learning, consider supporting this podcast with a $1-$2 automatic donation per episode: Provide feedback or suggest new topics/guests anytime by emailing