Blake Boles is the founder and director of Unschool Adventures and the author of Why Are You Still Sending Your Kids to School?, The Art of Self-Directed Learning, Better Than College, and College Without High School. He hosts the Off-Trail Learning podcast and has delivered over 75 presentations for education conferences, alternative schools, and parent groups. Blake and his work have appeared on The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, BBC Travel, Psychology Today, Fox Business, TEDx, The Huffington Post, USA Today, NPR affiliate radio, and the blogs of Wired and The Wall Street Journal.
In 2003 Blake was studying astrophysics at UC Berkeley when he stumbled upon the works of John Taylor Gatto, Grace Llewellyn, and other alternative education pioneers. Deeply inspired by the philosophy of unschooling, Blake custom-designed his final two years of college to focus exclusively on education theory. After graduating he joined the Not Back to School Camp community and began writing and speaking widely on the subject of self-directed learning.
In his previous lives, Blake worked as a high-volume cook, delivery truck driver, summer camp director, Aurora Borealis research assistant, math tutor, outdoor science teacher, camp medic, ski resort market researcher, web designer, and windsurfing instructor. His biggest passion is sharing his enthusiasm and experience with young adults who are blazing their own trails through life. He was born in 1982.
Some of the Hats I Wear
Here are some different ways that I see myself.
I started this goal list at age 20. Completed goals are in red. Last updated: Jan 2020.
A few notes about my method:
- I only post big, exciting, and slightly intimidating goals—not the little stuff.
- I retroactively add goals that I’ve already completed, even if I didn’t know they were “goals” at the start.
- I remove goals that become irrelevant to my life (i.e., the list isn’t sacrosanct).
- I post my goals publicly because I believe the “public peer pressure” gives me better chance of completing them (even if there are drawbacks to this approach).
- I post failures as well as successes (thanks, Tina Seelig).
- I link to digital evidence of my completed goals whenever possible.
- Start a family
- Live long enough to play tricks on my grandkids
- Own a house
- Get a dog
- Graduate from college – B.A., UC Berkeley 2004
Writing & Speaking Goals
- Do a speaking tour in the U.S. – 2018
- Do a speaking tour in Europe
- Blog every day for a year – failed in 2011 and 2013
- Hand-write a letter or postcard to someone every day for a year – failed in 2015
- Write a 50,000+ word novel in one month (the NaNoWriMo challenge) – failed in 2006 & 2009
- Publish a book about going to college without high school – College Without High School, 2009
- Publish a book about giving yourself a higher education without college – Better Than College, 2012
- Publish a book about self-directed learning – The Art of Self-Directed Learning, 2014
- Give a TED talk – TEDx YouthDay Palo Alto, 2010
- Publish 10+ original audio or video episodes online – Off-Trail Learning podcast (formerly the Real Education Podcast), 2015
- Independently publish a professional-quality book – Better Than College, 2012
- Give away 10,000 free online copies of Better Than College – 2014
- Start a school (i.e. long-term structured learning program) – failed in 2015
- Start an international trip leading company – Unschool Adventures, 2008
- Start a leadership program for homeschoolers – Homeschool Leadership Retreats, 2010 (eventually merged with U.A.)
- Direct a summer camp – Deer Crossing Camp, Assistant Director 2006-7, Acting Director 2008
- Run a “College Without College” program – ZTC Camp 2011
- Run an Unschool Adventure trip without me on it – UA Writing Retreat 2013
- Work at Not Back to School Camp – Advisor, 2006-present
- Work as a summer camp cook – Deer Crossing Camp, 2008
- Lead a workshop at a major homeschooling conference – 2009
- Be self-employed for a whole year – 2010
- Work a full season at a ski resort – Heavenly Ski Resort, 2007
- Organize a conference – Trailblazer Gathering, 2013
- Earn money teaching an online course – Launchpad, 2017
- Live abroad with child(ren) for 12+ months
- Travel the world with a girlfriend for 6+ months
- Hitchhike the Carretera Austral
- See the Aurora Borealis with Matt & Patrick
- Live in Lake Tahoe – Winter 2007 + many summers
- Live in Portland, Oregon – 2009
- Live in New Zealand – 2019
- Live in New York City – 2019
- Live in Buenos Aires – 2017
- Live in one place for one year straight (post-college) – Asheville (North Carolina), 2012
- Go on an expedition with Jim Wiltens – tree climbing expedition in Guatemala, 2011
- Explore the Himalayas – India (2011), Nepal (2014), Nepal (2019)
- Explore South America – 2007 (blog part 1/2/3) + much more w/ Unschool Adventures
- Explore Western Europe – 2002 + many times since
- Thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail – failed in 2005 (trail journal)
- Day-hike Mount Whitney – 2017 (failed in 1998, 2006, 2016)
- Summit every peak in the Crystal Range (CA) in one trip
- Walk a 100′ slackline and a high-line
- Hike on the Te Araroa (NZ) – yes, albeit not very much
- Thru-hike the Sierra High Route – did most in 2018
- Hike the Southern Sierra High Route – did much in 2019
- Do a solo ramble (a la John Muir) in the High Sierra
- Hike on the Camino de Santiago – 2017 (the Camino Primitivo)
- Run 30+ miles on trail – 2015 (John Muir Trail)
- Run 26.2 miles on trail – 2014 (Marin Headlands)
- Run 13.1 miles on trail – 2010 (Asheville, NC)
- Windsurf in the Columbia River Gorge – 2014
- Backpack the Lost Coast (CA) – 2015
- Roll a kayak – 2003
- Do a 10-day silent meditation retreat – did half of one in 2019
- Dance with a stranger in a Buenos Aires tango milonga – 2014
- Do a handstand for 30 seconds
- Grace Llewellyn – 2006
- Daniel Greenberg – 2004
- John Taylor Gatto – 2010
- Russell Roberts – 2014
- Tina Seelig – 2010
- Seth Godin – 2012
- Daniel Pink – 2014
- William Deresiewicz – 2014
Running away to South America for 3 months—more or less my quarter-life crisis. Surfing and hiking in Peru, Carnaval in Bolivia, searching for killer whales on the Valdez Peninsula with Matt and Patrick, biking around Bariloche, falling in love with Buenos Aires.
Starting Unschool Adventures and leading trips in Argentina, New Zealand, Peru, Chile, Nepal, Australia, Oregon, North Carolina, and Colorado: more than 100 weeks of my life.
All the backpacking trips in the California High Sierra. Bathing in mountain lakes, sleeping under the Milky Way, forever rediscovering the unique ecstasy of silent granite cathedrals.
Working harder than ever in my life at Deer Crossing Camp. Serving as instructor, assistant director, cook, and interim director. So many Desolation Wilderness trips. LIT Quest and the Tahoe ascent in 2004. Almost getting fired my first week.
The tree-climbing expedition in northern Guatemala with Jim, Julie, and Vince. Waking up in a tent in the high canopy, watching howler monkeys swing past.
Starting a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, my first big adventure after college. The stark beauty of California’s desert hills. Quitting after two weeks and dealing with the feeling of failure.
Couchsurfing in New Zealand, India, Peru, Europe, and the United States. Hosting Couchsurfers at my cabin in South Lake Tahoe. Here’s my profile.
Writing three books. Having the first one magically picked up by a publisher from a direct email. Independently publishing and financing the other two.
Starting a podcast as an excuse to interview some of my favorite thinkers in education.
Hiking the Camino Primitivo in northern Spain. Discovering a magically welcoming community of fellow walkers.
Short-term international living experiments with friends: Amsterdam, Xela, Medellin, Barcelona, Wanaka.
Hitchhiking across New Zealand’s South Island, over and over again. Never failing to get where I needed to go.
Organizing and teaching a class to other undergraduates at UC Berkeley, at age 21, about alternative education theory. Helping revive Democratic Education at Cal (DeCal) with Nate and others.
Backpacking around Western Europe for 5 weeks at age 19 with Mehar, Bryan, Sam, and Dave. Tasting the freedom of international hostel-hopping.
Trail running epic distances. 32 miles on the John Muir Trail & 27 miles on the Seven Summits with Hannah. 34 miles on the Tahoe Rim Trail. Those long solo runs on the Kepler, Routeburn, and Abel Tasman tracks in New Zealand.
Snowboarding in British Columbia during college breaks with Bryan. Spending an entire winter getting paid to snowboard at Heavenly Ski Resort. Pure bliss at Termas de Chillán.
Spending at a month in Chile at age 14 with a host family. Total immersion Spanish. “Varvala”.
Changing my major from astrophysics (impressive / socially validated / vaguely employable) to alternative education (fringe / hippie / no clear career path) half-way through college. Designing my studies from the ground up, taking full ownership. Writing the crappy 40-page senior thesis paper.
The 10-day Tibetan Buddhism retreat that actually weakened my feelings for Buddhism. Meeting another international trip leader, sneaking onto the roof to talk with her for hours each night, falling for her, getting my heart broken.
Spending an unplanned night in the north rim of the Grand Canyon in December, wearing only canyoneering gear. Good times, Bailey.
Learning to dance Argentine tango beginning with the very first Unschool Adventures trip. Classes in dark, rainy Portland. Running the U.A. tango trip and NBTSC tango project. The private lessons with Alejandro and Zoe. Finally feeling confident in milongas.
Dancing fusion. The first awkward, wonderful festival in the High Sierra. Micro in Seattle. Vail Pass with Unschool Adventures. The Spain Recess. The Green River raft-recess.
Miscellanea in Bullet Points
Fun Side Projects
- GrownUnschoolers.com: long-form profiles of grown unschoolers, in their own words
- The Way of Adventure: a self-paced online course for young adventurers
- What to Do Instead of School: practical activity suggestions for self-directed teens
Books I Often Recommend
- A Different Kind of Teacher (John Taylor Gatto)
- The Teenage Liberation Handbook (Grace Llewellyn)
- Summerhill (A.S. Neill)
- Free at Last (Daniel Greenberg)
- The Teacher Liberation Handbook (Joel Hammon)
- Learning is Natural, School is Optional (Ken Danford)
- Unschooled (Kerry McDonald)
- Free to Learn (Peter Gray)
- When Kids Rule the School (Jim Rietmulder)
Some Activities I ❤️
- Argentine tango
- Fusion dance
- Ping pong
- Settlers of Catan
- Trail running
- $14,042 raised: Kickstarter for Why Are You Still Sending Your Kids to School? (2020)
- $8,357 raised: Kickstarter for The Art of of Self-Directed Learning (2014)
- $1,634 raised: IndieGoGo for The Unschool Adventures Guide to Online Travel Fundraising (2012)
- $9,200 raised: IndieGoGo for Better Than College (2012)
- $2,370 raised: IndieGoGo for Zero Tuition College (2011) – I shuttered ztcollege.com in 2017 due to maintenance issues, alas!
Wagers Against Myself
- $1000: Publishing Offtraillearning.com
- $500: Building The Way of Adventure
- $500: Dancing tango 6 nights/week for 5 weeks – $100 forfeited
- $500: Not eating refined sugars for a whole month
- Big Five
- Agreeableness: Moderately Low
- Conscientiousness: High
- Extraversion: Very High
- Neuroticism: Exceptionally Low
- Openness to Experience: Moderately High
- MBTI: INFP
A Few People To Whom I’m Indebted
- My smart and eternally supportive parents.
- Jim Wiltens and Grace Llewellyn for guiding my young-adult career path.
- The Berkeley Student Cooperatives for my college social life.
- The Not Back to School Camp and Deer Crossing Camp communities.
- Every parent who ever sent their child on an Unschool Adventures program.
- My readers, all of whom are highly intelligent and good-looking.
- All those strangers on the internet who consume, support, and share my work.
He basically has no home and just works for our kids to experience life outside the box, moving from amazing place to even more amazing place with kids in tow.
Homeschool group leader in Washington state