Keynotes + Distinguished Speakers


Leslie Barson

Leslie Safran Barson is mother of two grown children who have never been to school. She is one of the founders in 1993 of The Otherwise Club and she continues to be involved. The Club is a community centre for home educators in central London. She has also published widely in the UK and internationally and speaks regularly about home education.

The Otherwise Club: An Invitational Discovery Community supporting Home Educating Families
There is a limit to what can be learned from any particular home education community as each one is unique in many ways. Still it is possible to learn something. There are several guiding principles that are relevant and this talk will make an attempt to tease them out.

I will begin by explaining something about The Otherwise Club, now in its 22nd year, how it began and how it works so that the extrapolated principles are put into a context. The three aspects, invitational, discovery and community, are vital components of the club giving rise to the guiding principles of the organisation; that it validates self determination, continual discovery and community in its structure and through the relationships formed at the club, that children are more equal than adults and a new definition of ‘success’ is recognised. Each of these will be looked at in turn with a lot of time for discussion among the participants.

Blake Boles

Blake Boles builds exciting alternatives to traditional school for self-directed young people. He directs the company Unschool Adventures and is the author of Better Than College and College Without High School. Blake and his work have appeared on TEDx, The Huffington Post, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, BBC Travel, Ignite, and national TV and radio.

Hogwarts for Unschoolers
What would you do if you could build a place where self-directed young adults could live and work together for multiple months out of the year? How would you structure it? What would you require? What wouldn't be required? Join author, educator, and entrepreneur Blake Boles—who is planning on starting something just like this—in an exploration of what self-directed teenagers really want and need, and how we can help give it to them.

Monica Cochran
Director of SelfDesign Global Learning Programs & Learning Circles

Monica has worked with children and adults of all ages in a variety of educational and business settings for over 30 years, and has been active in the SelfDesign Learning Foundation since 2007. Currently, she is working as the Director of their Global Learning Programs and an administrator in the Special Ed program. She home educated two of her own children and worked with other home educating families at Clonlara School of Ann Arbor, Michigan for more than 10 years. She loves to help people learn how they learn best and consults with learners who have special needs, to help them make the transition into adult learning settings. She has vast experience in helping learners of all ages enjoy learning. Monica earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh in child development and early childhood education, a Master's Degree from Eastern Michigan University in special education, and Montessori Certification from the American Montessori Society. Since 1997, following her youngest son's auto accident, she has also been active in working with survivors of traumatic brain injuries redesign their lives. Monica loves being part of a Global Network of like-minded people who believe in nurturing a love of learning.

SelfDesign Learning
In this session, we will explore how the SelfDesign models and processes support parents and learners seeking a more personalized, enthusiasm-based learning approach to learning with their children and themselves. Come learn how to co-create a personalized learning plan based upon a learner's strengths and interests that puts the learner in the center of the learning process. Expand your awareness of how the many ways of learning show up in our lives each day. Explore how observing and reflecting on learning allows learners to become the authors of their own lives. Deepen your understanding of how relationships with caring adults and mentors are crucial in developing the skills and sensibilities that nurture compassionate, self-directed learners.

Oliver DeMille

Oliver DeMille is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling co-author of LeaderShift: A Call for Americans to Finally Stand Up and Lead, the co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd. Among many other works, he is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, The Coming Aristocracy, and FreedomShift: 3 Choices to Reclaim America’s Destiny. Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

A Thomas Jefferson Eduation
TJEd' is a philosophy and a methodology by which great individuals throughout history were educated. Thousands of families and professional educators are applying those same principles today, with astounding success.

Pat Farenga

Patrick Farenga worked closely with the author and teacher John Holt until Holt’s death in 1985. He is the president of HoltGWS LLC and was the publisher of Growing Without Schooling magazine (GWS) from 1985 until it stopped publishing in 2001. GWS was the nation’s first periodical about homeschooling, or as Holt termed it, unschooling, started by Holt in 1977. Farenga co-authored Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling, articles about homeschooling, education, and unschooling in a number of publications, including Un Mundo Por Aprender (University of Colombia, Bogota, 2011), and the entries about homeschooling for the International Encyclopedia of Education, (Elsevier, 2010) and the online edition of Encyclopedia Britannica (2012). His most recent book is The Legacy of John Holt: A Man Who Genuinely Understood, Trusted, and Respected Children (2013).

Why We Need Alternatives to School
Compulsory school continues to expand in our lives, capturing children at ever-younger years and not releasing them until they are adults, filling families with schedules, anxieties, and issues that often place the needs of the school over any individual’s need. As a result, our imaginations and spirits learn to accept the limits of schooling as the limits of our lives, too. This talk explores some of the practical and philosophical issues about what is really important to help children learn and grow in our culture today.

Matt Hern

Matt lives and works in East Vancouver with his partner and daughters. He has founded and directed the Purple Thistle Centre, Car-Free Vancouver Day and Groundswell: Grassroots Economic Alternatives among many other community enterprises. His books and articles have been published on all six continents, translated into ten languages and he continues to lecture globally. He holds a PhD in Urban Studies, and teaches Education at UBC, Urban Studies at SFU and Community Economic Development in CBU’S MBA program.

Left Cross
I have had a long and fairly contentious relationship with the home/un/alternative schooling world. I am obviously a supporter and advocate for deschooling, homelearning and all kinds of alternative and democratic schools. I'm also a long-time unschooling parent who has been involved with alternative community and democratic projects with kids for a couple of decades.

That said I do not feel all that optimistic about the future of these movements. I see ostensibly progressive alternative learning communities all-too-often fixated on individualistic self-fulfillment, comfortable lifestyles and a smug concretization of racialized privilege. In a time of explosive inequality, catastrophic climate change, biodiversity collapse, and ongoing neo-colonialist expansion (among much else) this seems entirely inadequate. Dominant arguments in favour of compulsory schooling have long argued that state schooling is necessary to create meritocratic class mobility, milieus of difference and socialized values, and without state schools cultures will become increasingly unequal and calcified. Far too often home and alternative schoolers seem bent on proving this argument correct.

And still, I remain very hopeful about the possibilities that deschooling, unschooling and progressive school resistance promises. I think there remain the seeds of a genuinely participatory democracy, an economics beyond predatory capitalism and an ecological ethics. In that spirit I want to challenge all of us, myself certainly included, to think and act with an eye to a better world, not just a better life for us and our kids. With some luck I'll be able to make a couple of cogent arguments in that direction tonight.

Jamie McMillin

Author of Legendary Learning: The Famous Homeschoolers' Guide to Self-Directed Excellence and co-creator of OLLY, the Organized Life and Learning Yearbook app for Mac and iPad. Jamie graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and spent five years working with buoys and other aids to navigation in Texas and Alaska before switching to full-time motherhood - and homeschooling her three kids for the next fifteen years. She is passionately interested in the power of self-directed learning and creativity, not only as a healthy whole way for children to grow but as a force for positive change in the world.

The Unschooling Parent's 2nd Worst Fear
Despite our professed love of freedom, deep in our hearts most unschooling parents hope that our kids will choose to do really interesting things with all that free time, such as volunteering to restore salmon streams or writing an outer space travel blog or inventing new ways to turn plastic garbage back into energy. But what if they don't? What if all they want to do is play video games and surf Reddit? Here's where initiative comes in. We'll talk about the roots of ambition - what it looks like and how to help our kids find their own. Learn how intrinsic motivation, modeling, habits, and freedom all fit together to inspire a life off the couch.

Jerry Mintz

Jerry Mintz has been a leading voice in the alternative school movement for over 30 years. In addition to his seventeen years as a public and independent alternative school principal and teacher, he has also helped found more than fifty public and private alternative schools and organizations. He has lectured and consulted in more than twenty-five countries around the world. In 1989, he founded the Alternative Education Resource Organization and since then has served as it’s Director. Jerry was the first executive director of the National Coalition of Alternative Community Schools (NCACS), and was a founding member of the International Democratic Education Conference (IDEC).

The Importance of Alternative Education

Carlo Ricci
Professor of Education, Schulich School of Education

Carlo Ricci is a full Professor at the Schulich School of Education, Nipissing University, Graduate Studies. He founded and edits the Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning (JUAL). He has published a number of books and articles. Among the books he has written and edited are, The Willed Curriculum, Unschooling, and Self-Direction: What Do Love, Trust, Respect, Care, and Compassion Have To Do With Learning? (2012); The Legacy of John Holt: A Man Who Genuinely Understood, Trusted, and Respected Children (co-edited with Pat Farenga) (2013); Turning Points: 35 Educational Visionaries in Education Tell Their Own Stories (co-edited with Jerry Mintz) (2010); Natural Born Learners: Unschooling and Autonomy in Education (co-edited with Beatrice Ekwa Ekoko (2014). His research interests include Unschooling; Homeschooling; Holistic Education; Self-determined Learning; Free Schools; Democratic Schools; Online Learning; Technology and Learning; Play; Natural Learning; Curiosity; Willed Learning; and the Willed Curriculum.

Love, Parenting, and Learning
In this interactive session we will explore what love has to do with learning, and how love informs parenting. In the spirit of holism we will begin with ourselves in an attempt to come to a deeper understanding of how important of a role love plays in learning and parenting. I will share briefly how I as a parent co-exist in a loving family community and how I believe that self-determination contributes to a loving and democratic experience for all of us. To this end I will share my thoughts on the willed curriculum, personal learning, and self-determined learning. Learning in a loving way is authentic, creative, and empowering to the learner. This largely stands in contrast to an approach to learning that is top/down, externally imposed, and filled with manipulative strategies.

Ocean Robbins

Ocean Robbins is co-founder and CEO of the 150,000+ member Food Revolution Network, adjunct professor in Chapman University’s Peace Studies Department, and co-author with his dad, bestselling author John Robbins, of Voices of the Food Revolution. At age 10, Ocean was baker, salesman, accountant and owner of “Ocean’s Bakery”, which sold natural and organic baked goods to hundreds of customers in his neighborhood. He launched Youth for Environmental Sanity (YES!) at age 16, and directed the organization for 20 years. Ocean has spoken in person to more than 200,000 people and facilitated hundreds of gatherings for leaders from 65+ nations. He is a recipient of many awards, including the Freedom's Flame Award and the national Jefferson Award for Outstanding Public Service. Learn more about his work at

Interview with Ocean Robbins (mp3)

Distinguished Speakers

Clark Aldrich

Clark Aldrich is one of the top educational simulation designers in the world. As well as the founder and Managing Partner of Clark Aldrich Designs, Aldrich is a global education visionary, industry analyst, and speaker who serves on boards of universities, of companies, and in the intelligence community (where he has Top Secret clearance). Clients include Cisco, Microsoft, Motorola, Department of Defense, Center for Army Leadership, Harvard Business School Publishing, HP, Shell, GM, UPS, McDonald's, and World Anti-Doping Agency. Aldrich is also the author of five books. He is editor of, a free database of simulations and serious games. He has been called a 'guru' by Fortune Magazine and a 'maverick' by CNN. Aldrich and his work have been featured in hundreds of other sources, including CBS, ABC, The New York Times, USA Today, AP, Wall Street Journal, NPR, CNET, Business 2.0, BusinessWeek, and U.S. News and World Report. Previously, Aldrich was the founder and former director of research for Gartner’s e-learning coverage. Earlier in his career he worked on special projects for Xerox' executive team. He also served for many years as the Governor's representative on the education task force Joint Committee on Educational Technology and volunteered on several non-profit organizations aimed at child advocacy. He earned from Brown University a degree in Cognitive Science (during which he also taught at a leading environmental education foundation). He grew up in Concord, Massachusetts.

The Future of Everyone's Education Depends on the Success of Homeschoolers and Unschoolers
Together, "homeschooling and unschooling" is driving the first education reform movement that does not actually require education to reform. This is critical, because no monopoly ever reformed itself. Clark Aldrich, author of five-ish books including Unschoolng Rules, will discuss the "State of Education Today" through the unique lens of unschooling philosophies, to reveal surprising progress, huge barriers, and incredible opportunities for everyone.

Judy Arnall
Family Life Educator

Judy Arnall, BA, CCFE, DTM is a Canadian Certified Family Life Educator and distinguished toastmaster speaker who has taught family communication at The University of Calgary, Continuing Education, Chinook Learning, Alberta Health Services and live webinars for APCA. She is the author of the print bestseller, “Discipline Without Distress: 135 Tools for raising caring, responsible children without time-out, spanking, punishment or bribery,” which has been translated into five languages. Her new book, due out in February 2015, is titled "To University from Unschooling: Explore the secret of engaged learning." Judy is a parenting expert for Scholar's Choice Canada, Labatt Canada, and Mothering as well as President of the newly formed Unschooling Canada Association. As a parent of three unschooled university attending adults and two teen children, Judy has a broad understanding of the issues facing parents and the digital generation.

To University from Unschooling: Why the digital generation needs adults more than content
Unschooling is learner determined education. Many people worry that freedom in curriculum, pace, and learning styles will hinder one's chances of attending post-secondary education in the future should they decide to attend. With a background knowledge of child development, multiple intelligences, and temperament, Judy aims to educate the attendee on why unschooling is a critical alternative education for the digital generation.

Amos Blanton
Project Manager of Scratch at MIT

Amos is the project manager for the Scratch online community at MIT Media Lab, where he designs and maintains creative communities for people who love learning. Prior to joining the Scratch Team in 2009, he worked as an adviser at Not Back to School Camp, a humanistic psychotherapist, and blimp ground crewman. He is excited by the Maker Movement, and designing Maker spaces that support community and creative collaboration.

Digital tools for learners with agency: Scratch, Constructionism, and the Maker Movement
Constructionism is a theory of learning that suggests that people learn by doing or creating things they care about. This is the philosophy that guides the work of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT Media Lab, and the creation of tools like Scratch ( - a free programming language and online learning community with over 3,000,000 members.

In this talk I’ll describe some of the thinking behind Scratch and other projects created by members of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group, with emphasis on learner agency and other values shared by Constructionists, Makers, and Unschoolers.

Bernard Bull
Assistant Vice President of Academics, Associate Professor of Education, and Director of the M.S. in Educational Design & Technology at Concordia University

Bernard Bull is Assistant Vice President of Academics and Associate Professor of Education at Concordia University Wisconsin. His work and research focuses upon self-directed learning, alternative schooling, blended and online learning, educational innovation & entrepreneurship, and the intersection of digital culture and education.

Beyond the Dining Room Table: 10 Trends That are Transforming Homeschooling in the Digital Age
We live in a "Wild West Era" of education, one rich with changes, educational experiments, and emerging technologies.. How are these changes, experiments and technologies impacting homeschooling? In this session we will explore ten trends that many families and learners are leveraging for high-impact, personalized, home-based learning.

Brycen R. R. Couture

Brycen R. R. Couture is a gifted 20 year old grown unschooler who lives his passion for the arts! As his stage persona, "Divion", he is the lead vocalist and songwriter of his metal band, Serenade II Darkness. Brycen started his first business at the age of 12, hand making small stuffed "Feendz" toys and selling them to local shops. He has been featured in the media several times, including on national TV. Brycen has been performing musically since the age of 14. The music he writes has a powerful and sobering children's rights message. Brycen is the son of author and children's rights activist, Laurie A. Couture, and he has been speaking publicly about children's rights around the country since the age of 12. Brycen is also a chainmaille artisan, dice game inventor and rock climber. He works as a rock climbing instructor and runs his own Dungeons and Dragons group.

Reigniting Your Child's Passion for Learning and Living Through Unschooling
Laurie and her grown unschooled son, Brycen discuss how youth can reignite their innate passion for learning and living through the freedom of unschooling.

Laurie A. Couture

Laurie A. Couture is the author of Instead of Medicating and Punishing: Healing the Causes of Our Children’s Acting-Out Behavior by Parenting and Educating the Way Nature Intended. As an Attachment Parenting and Unschooling coach, she specializes in the emotional and behavioral health of children and adolescents, helping youth rediscover their passion for learning and helping families heal through the wisdom of nature’s intent. She has a background as a child trauma specialist, mental health counselor and educator. In 2012, Laurie was a guest on the Anderson daytime show. She was also featured as an expert in the documentary film, The War On Kids (2009). Laurie has spoken at conferences across the country. She writes a blog, hosts a YouTube channel and has been a contributor to several magazines. She has been a recipient of several achievement awards for her writing and artwork over the years, including Future Horizons’ Temple Grandin Award in 2014 and the NH Manchester Union Leader’s Forty Under 40 honors in 2010. Laurie is the proud Mom to her remarkable 20 year old son, Brycen, who unschooled through graduation. Learn more at

Reigniting Your Child's Passion for Learning and Living Through Unschooling
Laurie and her grown unschooled son, Brycen discuss how youth can reignite their innate passion for learning and living through the freedom of unschooling.


Jackie Gerstein

Dr. Jackie Gerstein's byline is, ""I don't do teaching for a living. I live teaching as my doing...and technology has amplified my passion for doing .” Currently she teaches master's-level online courses in educational technology for Boise State, American Intercontinental, and Western's Governors' Universities. She believes that one of the roles and responsibilities of the 21st century education is to share resources, ideas, and instructional strategies with other educators. As such she tweets @jackiegerstein and blogs at

Maker Education: An Idea Whose Time Has Come
This session provides a short overview of Maker Education through addressing the following: Maker Education as connected to MAKE, DIY, STEM, STEAM; The Mindset of an Educator as a Maker Educator; From Puppets to Robots: An Maker Education Example Curriculum; Characteristics: Maker Education as an Inclusive, Engaging, Self-Differentiating Instructional Strategy


Scott Nine
Executive Director

Scott Nine became the Executive Director of the Institute for Democratic Education in America (IDEA) in 2010 and has spent five years traveling, listening, organizing, and learning about the state of education across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Scott’s focus is on the intersections of place and community-based education, movement building, systems entrepreneurship, action research, and public narrative. He earned a Masters in Social Work from Arizona State University in 2002 where he focused his learning on program planning, non-profit administration, and community organizing. He has experience teaching 7th graders, directing state university housing programs, working with seniors, and supporting social work, educational, and community organizations. Scott lives in Portland, Oregon, where his three children teach him on a daily basis. He can be contacted at

From protest to politics: A provocation about the future of learning in the U.S.
In the U.S. there has not been a time since the 1960's where the educational landscape has been in as much flux and held as much possibility as the time we are in now. The public narrative about learning, testing, fairness, and options is broadly incoherent. In this session, I'll offer up the lens by which IDEA as an organization and myself as a learner is making about what is happening. Then, I'll share provocations. These provocations will be for my own learning and any participants who join as we consider the intersections of "learning alternatives" with rapid educational, political, and environmental change. What role are "learning alternatives" to play in a broader movement for the transformation of educational paradigms, practices, and policies as it relates to each and every young person across very diverse communities? What can and are we learning from prior waves of change? What does this particular moment ask of these efforts - or offer as possibilities? What does spurring on a larger social movement mean and look like in our day to day lives and efforts?


Luba Vangelova

Luba Vangelova is a writer and communications consultant based in Washington, DC. She has been writing about education for media outlets such as the KQED MindShift web site,, Science Teacher magazine, and Salon. She has a bachelor's degree in systems engineering and a master's degree in journalism. Luba is currently working on a book about self-directed learning.

An Introduction to Self-Directed Learning
Self-directed learning -- education driven by what the student wants to learn -- is a concept that has been gaining favor. It is being practiced, in different forms and to different degrees, in a wide range of settings, including: select classrooms in conventional schools; independent school-within-a-school programs; homes; community learning hubs; homeschool resource centers; and various types of ""alternative"" schools.

This session will address the following questions: How does self-directed learning differ from conventional education? Why do some parents and educators prefer this approach? Is self-directed learning for everyone? How have self-directed learners fared later in life (including in college and in the career arena)? How are the parents' and educators' roles different in a self-directed learning environment? How does this type of learning affect students' relationships with family members and people within the broader community? What are the range of ways that self-directed learning can be practiced in institutions, in informal groups, and/or in homes? What are the necessary ingredients to success?


Elliot Washor
Co-Founder, Co-Director, Big Picture Learning

Elliot Washor, Ed.D. is the co-founder and co-director of Big Picture Learning, an education nonprofit transforming education – one student at a time, and the co-founder of The Met Center in Providence, RI. He is also the co-author of Leaving To Learn: How Out-Of-School Learning Increases Student Engagement and Reduces Dropout Rates. Elliot has been involved in school reform for more than 35 years as a teacher, principal, administrator, video producer, policy adviser, and writer. He has taught and is interested in all levels of school from kindergarten through college, in urban and rural settings, across all disciplines. His work has spanned across school design, innovative practice, learning environments, and education policy reform. He is supporting others doing similar work throughout the world. Elliot’s interests lie in the field of how schools can connect with communities to understand tacit and disciplinary learning both in and outside of school. Elliot is deeply committed to imagining Big Picture Learning as a ‘do-think-do’ organization that works way beyond Big Picture schools with districts and states, and persistently pushes the boundaries of its design in order to continually innovate practice and influence in the world of education. At Thayer High School in Winchester, NH, Elliot’s professional development programs won an “Innovations in State and Local Government Award” from the Ford Foundation and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He has been selected as an educator to watch in Rhode Island and has been selected as one of the “Daring Dozen – the Twelve Most Daring Educators in the World by the George Lucas Educational Foundation. His dissertation on Innovative Pedagogy and New Facilities won the merit award from DesignShare, the international forum for innovative schools.

Big Picture Learning
Personalization in the Real World. Learn more here.

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