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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.




Ken Danford on Liberated Learners

Ken Danford is the Executive Director of North Star (, author of the new book "Learning is Natural, School is Optional", and the first guest to ever appear on this podcast. In this episode we discuss the Liberated Learners network through which Ken helps other people start centers similar to his, his advice for starting a new center (hint: talk to everyone in town, and don’t rely on homeschoolers to fill the program), and how L.L. fits into the broader alternative...


Lori Walker on Village Home

What if there was a community college built just for homeschoolers? This may not exist yet, but Lori Walker has created the next best thing: Village Home Education Resource Center ( For 17 years Village Home has served young people (from pre-k through high school) in and around Portland, Oregon. Learners choose between a huge diversity of classes (costing roughly $110 each), hang out with each other between class (as can their parents and siblings), and best of all, there’s...


Bill Deresiewicz on The Power and Peril of Self-Education

What does it mean to “self-educate?” Are autodidacts made or born? Can one develop an intellect without formal higher education? In this special episode, Blake discusses these big questions (and many more) with Bill Deresiewicz (the author of Excellent Sheep) and guest facilitator Dev Carey. This event was recorded live in Portland, Oregon, on September 1, 2019, at the Wayfinding Academy. Learn more about Bill at, Dev at, and Wayfinding Academy at...


Antonio Buehler on Competitive College Admissions for Non-Traditional Students

Antonio Buehler was the first person in his family to finish high school or attend college. After completing an MBA at Stanford he went into investment banking and private equity before becoming deeply impressed by homeschooling and creating his own self-directed learning center in Austin, Texas, called Abrome ( In this episode Antonio talks with Blake about what colleges—especially highly selective colleges—are looking for in their applicants, whether traditionally or...


Blake Boles on the Future of Alternative Education

Where is the alternative education movement headed, and how will we arrive there? In this special episode, Blake gives the closing keynote at the AERO (Alternative Education Resource Organization) conference in Portland, Oregon on June 29th, 2019. Themes of the talk include: embracing the growing variety of alternatives, tackling unsexy but important challenges like school finances, doing better research on self-directed learning, and the many ways to make the movement more inclusive.


Margie Sanderson on Children's Rights

What are "children's rights" and how do they overlap with the world of self-directed learning? Margie Sanderson, a 24-year-old board member of the National Youth Right Association (, talks with me about the different conceptions of children's rights (also called youth rights), the many ways of empowering young people to participate in society like adults, lowering the voting age, competency tests, letting students enroll and unenroll themselves in school, and the strange idea...


Ted Dintersmith on Innovative Schools

After a successful career as a venture capitalist, Ted Dintersmith ( himself to discovering highly innovative schools around the United States, leading him to produce the 2015 documentary, Most Likely to Succeed, and his 2018 book, What School Could Be. Ted and I discuss his movie, math education, college-for-all, grit, and whether public schools will ever really change.


Blake Boles on Quitting High School

If conventional high school isn't a good fit for your kid, what should you do -- push harder, or try something new? Is high school mandatory for college, career, and a successful transition to adulthood? In this special episode, recorded live at the CHN Family Expo conference in southern California on May 4th, 2019, Blake explains why "Yes, You Can Quit High School and Everything Will Turn Out Okay." Download the accompanying slides at, and find the video...


Jerry Mintz on AERO

Jerry Mintz founded the Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) over 30 years ago and has since helped start over 50 learner-centered schools. In this special episode, Jerry and I interview each other about the state of alternative education in the world and what makes us hopeful that the movement is making progress. Explore the AERO website at and say hello to both me and Jerry at the 2019 AERO conference in Portland, Oregon, where I’m giving a keynote...


Ned Johnson on The Self-Driven Child

What’s the sense and science behind giving kids more control over their lives? Why do they deserve autonomy? Ned Johnson answers these questions in his wonderful 2018 book, The Self-Driven Child (coauthored with Bill Stixrud). In the interview Ned discusses his life as a Washington D.C. test prep tutor, the deleterious effects of stress, why kids need a sense of control in their lives, shifting from “boss” to “consultant” as a parent, the science of self-motivation, and — crucially — the...


Kate Friedman on Promoting Self-Direction in Public Education

If you’re in love with the principles of self-directed learning but don’t want to abandon the public school system, how can you still make an impact? Kate Friedman ( has figured out one way to do this. A former kindergarten special ed teacher who has also worked at the Brooklyn Free School, Kate now nudges classroom teachers in the direction of self-directed learning with the hopes of gradually shifting the New York City public school system toward more choice and inclusion...


A Brief Introduction to North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens

North Star ( is an alternative to middle school and high school in Western Massachusetts, and it's a highly inspiring model of supporting self-directed learning at the teenage level. In Fall 2018, I took a break from my speaking tour to spend 9 days at North Star and immerse myself in the model and its community. In this special episode, you'll get a brief introduction to North Star through the voices of a dozen of its teen members. To find centers similar to North Star —...


T.K. Coleman on the Best Arguments Against College

What are the best and worst arguments for going to 4-year college today? On today’s episode I debate this question with T.K. Coleman, the Education Director of an alternative-to-college program, Praxis ( What’s the value of a stimulating academic environment? Access to social life? Developing a “life of the mind?” Signaling your value in the marketplace? If you have a young person in your life who’s wrestling with the college decision, this is a great episode to share...


Matt Sanderson on Not Back to School Camp

If you’re a teenager who (1) doesn’t go to conventional school and (2) wants to make new, open-minded friends — then get yourself to Not Back to School Camp, the preeminent gathering place for teenage unschoolers and self-directed learners. In this episode I interview Matt Sanderson, who recently finished directing two sessions of camp. Some of the questions we address include: What is day-to-day life like at Not Back to School Camp? What’s the best part and worst part about being director?...


Cassidy Younghans on Building a Career in Self-Directed Education as a Twenty-Something

If you want to get involved in alternative education in your twenties, what steps can you take to make it possible? Cassidy Younghans, age 27, is currently in the middle of answering this question. After teaching in Texas public schools for 5 years, Cassidy jumped ship and is now interning at the Houston Sudbury School. She dreams of starting her own school or center some day , but she’s not quite sure how — so for now she’s focusing on organizing meet-up groups, co-hosting a small annual...


Pat and Chandra Montgomery on Clonlara

What was it like to start an alternative school—especially one that supports “homeschoolers”, a hitherto unknown term—back in the sixties and seventies? Pat Montgomery did just that. She fought the hard fights, secured protections for home educators and self-directed learners, and even sued the Michigan State Board of Education. The school she founded, Clonlara (, now supports families across the United States and in 50 other countries, as well as on their physical K-12 campus...


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 neurodivergent...