#56 - Jessica Jacobs | Ditchschool: Passion-Driven Learning and Early College Experience


🗓️ Recorded January 21st, 2024. 📍Playa Dorada, Lengüeta Arenosa, Baja California, Mexico

Click here to embed this episode on your website

Where do you want to listen?



















 Visit our podcast site


About this Episode 

Ditch School, where unschooling meets early college, challenging educational norms. Jessica Jacobs is the founder of Ditch School. Jessica's sons' quest for knowledge led them beyond the confines of traditional schooling to embrace unschooling, paired with early college experiences. She challenges the status quo, advocating for education that aligns with a child’s curiosity and passion rather than rigid curricula.

Our discussion sheds light on the flexibility and innovation at the heart of Ditch School, offering insights into how personalized learning paths can lead to remarkable outcomes. Jessica also touches on the practicalities of blending unschooling with academic goals, the importance of mentorship, and fostering a community where children can thrive on their own terms.

At Ditchschool, students are empowered to lead their learning journeys, exploring beyond textbooks to find their passions and potential in the real world.

Episode links

Watch the full interview on YouTube

Copy the code below to embed this episode on your website.

<div id="buzzsprout-player-14350474"></div><script src="https://www.buzzsprout.com/2103333/14350474-56-jessica-jacobs.js?container_id=buzzsprout-player-14350474&player=small" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script>


With love


Jesper Conrad 


00:00 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
Welcome to Self-Directed. We are your hosts, cecilia and Jesper Conrad, and now it's time to welcome this week's guest. Today, we are together with Jessica Jacobs. First of all, thank you for taking the time, and it's wonderful to be here with you. 

00:18 - Jessica Jacobs (Guest)
Thank you so much for having me. I'm glad to be a part of your podcast. 

00:22 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
Great. The reason we reach out to you is like a long story short. The world is smaller than you think. I, when I was young, had a friend in Denmark called Camilla and later on she moved to LA and then, like years ago, she wore a Copenhagen and attended a small talk we gave about world schooling, unschooling. Then we have been connected a little on Facebook and I was like, oh, we are coming that way, we are going to, should we meet up? And she was like, yeah, and then you should hear about this really cool project which is called ditch school, and this is where you come in. So from an old friend in Denmark to LA, and now we are both in Mexico. Oh yeah, and the little side journey is last year we did an interview with a wonderful woman called Darcy and Naves, whom your father have worked together with. So the world is indeed a small and wonderful place when it comes down to it. But, jessica, can you tell us about ditch school and what it is and why you have created it? 

01:30 - Jessica Jacobs (Guest)
Sure, absolutely so. Ditch school is kind of a happy marriage between unschooling and early college, and the way it came to be was I was a mainstream educator from the time I was 20. I started teaching in the public schools when I was 20. And at first, when I was teaching in the kids, I was teaching mostly algebra and the kids were you know, I hate math, I'm not getting this and I thought what's going on? I love math, I don't understand and I thought, oh, there must be something wrong with the kids. But then I got to know the kids and I'm like no, there's not something wrong with the kids and must be their parents, because it couldn't be me. I'm an excellent teacher. 

02:11 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
Excellent teacher. 

02:13 - Jessica Jacobs (Guest)
And then I got to know the parents. I was like, no, it's not the parents either. What is it? And oh, it's the system. The system isn't designed for everyone. In fact, I'm not even sure the system is designed for anyone, except for the people that are in power and want to remain there. 

But what ended up happening for me is when my own son was in kindergarten and I had him at a pretty progressive, you know, alternative school, but it was still a school and he would get in trouble for talking at a turn or walking out of his seat or drawing on his papers. And it was at that moment that I thought, wow, maybe school is not for everyone. And so we went on this exploration and we counted once in 15 years, my son tried 23 different schools, every type of school you could ever possibly imagine. And it wasn't until one day I had him at a school. He was in what would be sixth grade and I and and he still wasn't enjoying school and he wasn't, you know. I'd get notes home and think and I said there's got to be something that you like about school, and I thought that he was going to say recess, or maybe lunch, or maybe art class because he was an artist. But he said science and I was kind of awestruck because I didn't even know. My kid liked science and I first of all, that was a problem that I didn't know. My 11 year old was interested in science. But he also said to me a few weeks ago, in geology we were studying, or in science we were studying geology. And that's really cool because I want to be Indiana Jones when I grow up and that's when it hit me like a Mack truck If my 11 year old wants to be an archaeologist, why does he need to wait till grad school? 

So I called up UCLA and I said, hey, my son wants to study archaeology. They laughed at me and brushed me off to the community college. The community college also laughed at me and they said, well, when he's in high school he can do dual enrollment where he's taking one college class at the same time as high school. And I said, ok, well, give me that information. So they send me the form, the application form, and at the top it says K through 12, supplemental application K through 12. Do you mean kindergarten through grade 12? Please show me in your policy where it says an 11 year old cannot take your class. And of course they couldn't. 

And so he ended up taking taking that geology class and, you know, loved it, because his professor was a doctorate, you know, in the subject area and he was working with people who were more interested in studying rather than you know who's wearing what and what was on the latest you know, social media app. And so I was like, ok, there's kind of something to this. And I said, well, we do one class at a time at college. You've got all this time on your hands. What do you want to do? And he got an internship at a comic book store and he joined a surf team and he was able to live his life, play his music, do his art, and while doing one college course at a time. Eventually, we had finished all the college courses at the community college and I said, well, I guess the next step is to apply to university. So let's do that, but let's only apply to UCLA and UC Berkeley, because you know they're the best in California and if you don't get into one of those and of course I had no thought that he was going to get in, he was 14 years old and, sure enough, he was accepted as a junior level transfer student to UCLA and so that he graduated I'm sorry UC Berkeley. So he graduated from UC Berkeley at the age of 16. And he went immediately into alternative education and began working with other kids like him, and he's doing that to this day. 

And so when I recognized this, that there's this whole life to live outside of school, I just went what have I done, not only myself as a student, but to all these students that I've taught, for you know, two decades like and then, and then make it to make it worse I taught them algebra, you know, and, and with algebra, you know, I went, I went through this whole growth phase myself where I was like, yes, you'll use this, here's where you'll use it, you know all these things. And the kids called BS on me and then and I said, okay, well, maybe you won't use it, but it's training your muscles, you know, it's training you to think logically. And they're like, well, aren't there other ways to learn that? And oh, yeah, there are other ways to learn that. And so now, when I work with my students, you know, we, we do math if they want to do math and we don't do math if they don't want to do math and we do meet the minimum high. You know graduation requirements, but beyond that, you know that they do what they study what they want. 

The acronym for ditch, I think, is important to share before I tell you more about about ditch. Growing up with my father, who is very, I don't know, anti establishment that doesn't do enough justice to him, but but that's one, one component of it and he taught me this concept of hegemony which, for your listeners, is the idea that the people that are in power, whoever that is, the elite, rich, the corporations, the governments they tell the rest of us a story to keep them in power, and that story is told to us through media, but also through school, and I really feel like mainstream school is this in the box? Do do as we say. Doesn't matter if it's not relevant, doesn't matter if it's not authentic, doesn't matter if it's not interesting to you. This is what we want you to do and that enables the people that are in control to stay in control. 

And and my dad always uses this example of Helen Keller almost every kid that grows up in America knows that Helen Keller was a hero and we study her in third grade and other grades to, but first and third grade. And when you ask any American, what, what do you know about Helen Keller? They'll be like, uh, first they get her confused with Amelia Earhart, but then and and Frank, but then after that they go oh yeah, she was the one that was blind and deaf and mute and wrote a book. Well, there's a lot of blind and deaf and mute people who accomplish things. That's not enough to make her a hero. The truth of the matter is that Helen Keller was an incredibly successful activist. She was a socialist who fought for workers' rights and women's rights and again for the anti-war movement. When she was kind of a thorn in the side of the government and the corporations, they had no choice but to make her a hero. She was known around the world, but if they put that part in the history books, we might aspire to be successful activists or anti-war and that's not good for the bottom line. 

This is the idea of hegemony. So Ditch is the acronym Daring to Innovate and Transcend Cultural Hegemony. We say to the mainstream school system okay, we understand, there's a societal expectation to get a college degree. We're going to do that in the most efficient, effective and enjoyable way possible so that we can simultaneously live our lives the way we want to, the way that humans learned from zero to five before they entered school, and from 23 or whatever, they graduate college for the rest of their life. They learn things for two reasons they want to or they need to for survival. We have found a way that we can do both of those things and end up with a college degree, sometimes earlier than our peers, but oftentimes alongside our peers. But that's kind of what Ditch School is all about, and the way that I tackle the academic content is really with choice. 

So what do you want to study? And it doesn't matter why you want to study it. If you want to, let's do it, and then you'll come across some things that you have to do. If you want to be a doctor, you need to take calculus. Now I see no point whatsoever in studying calculus to be a doctor. I've never met a doctor that's used calculus. It's more of just kind of a gateway. 

And so what's the best way to do calculus? Well, calculus, you're supposed to take algebra one, geometry, algebra two, trigonometry, pre-calculus, calculus. But do you have to do all those things? And what I have learned through this unschooling journey of my own is that you don't have to do all those prerequisites because, guess what, in order to take a calculus class, you need to know algebra, geometry, trigonometry. So why not just take the calculus class? So, instead of doing seven years of math, you do one semester and, as you need the algebra, trigonometry, geometry skills, you learn them. So then apply them to that calculus class. 

And I learned this concept from I don't know who came up with this motto, but Walt Disney started Cal Arts, which is a world-renowned art school in Southern California really expensive, prestigious art school. And they have a motto at their school no technique in advance of need, no technique in advance of need. So they don't teach their art students any technique until they need it. And I thought wait, shouldn't that apply to math too? I mean most people that use math on the job. They learned it on the job. They didn't learn it in school. But if it's a prerequisite for med school, okay, we need to take calculus, but do we need to take the six classes beforehand? No, we don't. So that's kind of the philosophy that we have. 

And then the kids end up having so much time on their hands we support them with I don't love this word because I don't think it's used. In the places I've heard it used. It doesn't really match what we do. But passion projects is what is the best name I can come up for it where the kids are doing something that's theirs. So it might be that they're learning an instrument or becoming a professional musician or they're an athlete. I have many students that are training for the Olympics or a dancer, or maybe they just have a job and they're supporting their family, or maybe they're recovering from an illness or an eating disorder or a drug addiction and that's their project, and so we help students find those projects. And then I feel like I'm talking a lot. Should I? 

12:33 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
say no you have a lot of relevant things to say. 

12:37 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
I'm enjoying listening. Things go on when we feel ready to ask a question. It's really interesting. It's becoming. 

12:47 - Jessica Jacobs (Guest)
It's nice. Another big. Another big part of our program that's only been the case in the last three years is my own passion project that had that I've kind of sucked people into, and I was. I was watching Netflix at, you know, when we were all on lockdown like most of the world, and I came across this documentary called the innocence files, which followed the innocence project, the pro bono lawyers working to exonerate prisoners who are have life sentences for crimes they didn't commit. And there was this, this lawyer. She was retired, working for free and she says in this one scene I don't think there's anything better someone can do with their law license than get an innocent person out of prison. And she slammed her hand on the table and got a tear in her eyes and I just got goose bumps and I was like I want to know that lady and so I tracked her down and I got her on the phone and I said I want to help you and she said, well, I don't get paid. And I said that's okay, I don't want to get paid, I just want to help you. So for the last almost four years now it'll be four years in March not a day goes by where I'm not working with that woman solving innocence cases. We got two men out of prison together so far, another one this coming Wednesday, a couple more down the pike. And what? 

What was so inspiring for me with my students is that I'd be reading these hand written police notes from 2003. And it's so clear that there's a 15 year old kid who knows who committed the murder, and so I'm talking to my students about it, because they're all 15, you know, and so like, well, this happened back then and you know, oh yeah, this girl named Candy knows who did the murder. And I'm one morning I'm sitting there with my students and I'm reading the notes and all of a sudden I come across another 15 year old girl named Dulce. And I was like Dulce is sweet, candy is sweet. Oh, my goodness, I think I just found Candy, after police investigators for 10 years, private investigators, federal investigators couldn't find her. It was right there in front of us and I'm like my Spanish speaking. So I'm like Dulce means candy, right, you know, and we're like we found candy. 

Anyway, that discovery inspired my students, where they're like we'll, we'll help transcribe the audio files of the police interviews and we'll take notes on this. And so it was this team effort between me and my students that got two people that were convicted for that murder. We got in touch with Candy on the phone and she said it wasn't them, it was this guy. And we go back and look and sure enough, there was evidence that supported that. And so now we've got a handful of my students that are wanting to be lawyers, started an organization called Youth for Innocence where they volunteer their time to do kind of the grunge work that the attorneys don't want to do the filing and organizing and transcribing. 

And so that's just one example of something that can happen when you step away from, you know, the fluorescent lights in the hard desks for three hours I mean six hours a day where there's a person in front of the room telling you when you're allowed to, you know, ask a question or go to the bathroom, you know. And so we have, we have students that come in. It feels like a co-working space, you know everyone's just kind of hanging out, but they're doing their one or two college classes at the same time and we have these rich discussions and debates and everyone's sharing what they're doing in their lives and and making plans with each other for during the day, the way that adults do, and they don't have to do school. And then at the same, at the same time, I have some students who are like, well wait, all my friends are at that school. I want to go, and what I say to them is awesome, go, check it out, see what it's like. I'll still support you, you know. And so they get that experience too. So it's just been such a beautiful thing for me as an educator and as a parent to see the magic that that can happen when you, you know, when you step away from that my. 

I told you about my oldest son, who graduated from Berkeley and now is an educator himself. His brother, who's now 19,. He did the same program. He took his first college class when he was 10. And I I'd like to share this story, because anybody who thinks whoa college class at 10, that's kind of freaky and your kid must be really smart. He wasn't. So he learned to read when he was nine, and that was just because we were reading him Harry Potter, and then we just stopped and he couldn't help not learn to read, right, we were traveling and but anyway. 

So I said, well, your brother did college classes when he was young, so let's have you do it too. He was, you know, I would say I would say unschooled because I would. Back then I called it homeschooling because I didn't know the word unschooling back then. But but he was unschooled and I said, well, let's get some. You know, you just learned to read, let's get some academics under your belt. And I said let's enroll you in art history class, because what a great way to learn history through art, right? So I put him in this class. It's online, asynchronous, and I'm studying it with him and we're reading the material and looking at the art and really enjoying it. And I said, okay, here's the essay question. Your teacher wants to ask you what do you think? And he would tell me what he thought and I was like, yeah, that's, that's great, write that down, this is a Google doc. I showed him what a Google doc was and I said I'll be back in an hour. I came back in an hour. He had four sentences written down. Two of them were fragments, tons of misspellings and grammar about a third grade level. And I was like, okay, this doesn't work for everybody, you know. And I said but the drop deadline isn't for two weeks, so let's do in our family we call it an Olympic effort let's do an Olympic effort until the drop deadline. And I kid you, not within two weeks that kid was writing at the level of his 18 year old peers in that class and he kept going with his college courses. 

He ended up getting his bachelor's degree. He made up his own major, because once you have your eyes open to unschooling, you can unschool in every area of your life. So when he he was at UC San Diego and he was a junior and I said well, just take, take the classes you're interested in. Don't worry about a major at all, just take whatever you're interested in. At the end of a year we noticed that all of his classes were either psychology or anthropology. I showed him the psychology major and I showed him the anthropology major and I said which one do you want to do? He goes neither one. I don't like those. They tell you they're too prescriptive. I said, oh, okay, well, that's good thing. Uc San Diego has this thing called individualized major. We just need to get one of your professors to support you, we'll create your own major. He got to pick all his courses and made his own major, so he has a degree in psychological anthropology. Then he was a competitor or is a competitive gymnast and he wanted to compete NCAA Division I at Stanford. He applied to Stanford and he had to hide the fact that he already had a bachelor's degree, because they don't let you get a second bachelor's degree. We didn't confer the degree until he got accepted to Stanford. But he's now training at Stanford, working on his master's degree while he's competing on the gymnastics team. 

So good success stories in my own family. But then I was like, oh okay, there's something to this. And so now I've made a bit of a career of it where I charge families not very much, much, much, much less than a private school maybe a quarter of the cost of a private school where we live and support them in their own individual journeys. And one of the things I love most about it is that it's a team Like I'm the mentor for these kids but their parents are just as involved. Because I never liked it when, especially as an educator myself, a school would say, oh no, we got it and I wait, wait a second. I know that kid. I know that kid really well. I think maybe my input is gonna be helpful here, but I always make sure that when I'm talking to the team, I said the driver of this team is the student, the child is the driver, and so we're here as your support, but you're in the driver's seat. 

So what do you wanna do? And that's the question I ask them every day what do you wanna do? What do you wanna talk about? What's the plan? And the most amazing things come up from that. So I'm really fortunate to be able to do what I do. And the more I do it, the more. 

I was gonna say irrelevant mainstream school teams. But it's even worse than irrelevant. It's damaging. Because kids come out and I say whenever I interview new families, I say I want you to imagine this I'm gonna hand you a high school diploma. I'm gonna hand you a college degree, whatever kind of degree you want doctorate and whatever subject area and you're immediately gonna have all that knowledge. I'm gonna give you a nice house to live in and all the money you need to live a comfortable life. 

What would you spend every day doing? And I say don't answer anything with screens or friends, or sleeping or eating. You can do all those things. But aside from those things, what would you do? And I can't tell you how many kids from the mainstream schools don't know. They have no idea because they've lost who they are. But the kids that I've come that have homeschooled before and now are just wanting to get into some higher level academics. They've got their answers they're cooking and baking and I would be a veterinarian and all these exciting ideas. And so I just look at the parents and I'll go. What did they wanna do when they were four? Remind them, because that's who they are in their heart. Before this, I don't know, like this process that pulled away their spirit. 

22:13 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
Yes, you can. Wow, I'm just happy we invited you. It's great, and I know parents or grownups whenever that medic term starts in your life. I don't know when you are grownup, but I know grownups who wouldn't be able to answer that. If you have everything you needed, what are you going to use your time on? Yeah, just how many years have the project been going on? 

22:41 - Jessica Jacobs (Guest)
So it depends on when you count. 

22:44 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
Of course. 

22:46 - Jessica Jacobs (Guest)
I had probably about 15 years ago no, 19 years ago my first student that I recognized. Oh wait, if we do college instead of high school, you don't have to do high school or middle school. So that was about 19 years ago and then I would just kind of do it for friends and family, support them, but it became a main part of my daily life. I would say probably about six years ago when I started doing it consistently with other people's children. Yeah, about six years ago, but I mean realistically, I've had more than one student probably for the last 10 years. So yeah, about that. 

23:37 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
Yeah, a freedom giver is how I would think about you. It's both for the innocent, but also for the youth who are given their chance, and I believe a lot of people still needs the structure as parents. It is really nice for some parents to say, oh, if you wanna do this, you can go this way. We are, in our life, even more radical, but our kids are younger, so we have until now not been looking much at should you get a university or college degree? How should we knit that together? But we have started it with our 16 year old. 

24:21 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
But in Europe it is different. We're European and you actually cannot take a class at your university level which would be equivalent of what you call college without the high school exam. 

24:35 - Jessica Jacobs (Guest)
Except when you're in Europe. You can do it in California. 

24:39 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
Yes, but within the European system, and of course, there is a financial element to this that we already pay for through taxes over here. Sure, there's all kinds of things. 

24:51 - Jessica Jacobs (Guest)
But one of the things that I've learned through this whole process is there's always a way, you can always find a way, and one of the things we learned about. Whenever I give my spiel to new families, I ask them if they have dual citizenship, because a lot of people if they do, they wanna go to school in Europe. And I'll say well, foreign universities don't recognize US high school diplomas because they know how poor our education system is and they won't even consider you for admission unless you have five AP exams with a score of five on each one, which is never something I would ever recommend a student do and so. But by doing this early college, they in Europe, they call it their tertiary education and so it's the equivalent. So I've had students get admitted to prestigious universities in Europe just from having the tertiary education in the US. 

And I told them I say even the US universities don't recognize our own K through our own high school diplomas, and that's why our first two years of college in US is general education, whereas in Europe you don't do that because they presume you've done that already in high school. And so students who do wanna study abroad, and I have students that live in Mexico. I have students in England, in Italy and in Canada, and all of them go to school in California. I mean, they don't come to California, but they're using the online, asynchronous free community college that is in California and that is opening doors in their own countries for them too. 

26:22 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
So Interesting. 

26:24 - Jesper Conrad (Host)

26:25 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
Very interesting. That would be interesting for us personally. Let's see if there were some wiggle room for our older teens. Sure, but that would be off topic. 

26:39 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
Yeah, yeah yeah, and like where should we even go from all this wonderful information? 

26:45 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
I think the happy marriage question is an interesting one because it is a complicated, I would say, transition One or two of our kids are in it at the moment from freestyle unschooling, in our case, world schooling. We've been traveling for five and a half years, so they Not only are they unschooled but they are also nomadic, which I think changes things a little bit. You can't join the basketball team or have a steady violin teacher or there are things that cannot be done while moving around, and that's so they're pros and cons of being world-schooled. And some of our kids are now in the age range of what would have been high school and they are more interested in formal academics, maybe even the exams. 

And it's a weird thing I find for me as a mother, as an unschooling mother who has been de-schooling, getting myself out of the whole idea of the school and academics and exams and the system, and I totally agree with the oppression of it. And the goal is to live a happy life, to wake up in the morning happy and do meaningful things. The goal is not to have an exam. But now there's this shift and I find it hard to guide them because when I guide them I log back into the way I would think, back when I was studying. Okay, but then you just divide the number of pages in the book by the amount of weeks you want to study it before the exam, and then you just sit down and do it and maybe so can you say something more about happy marriage? How do you really work with still feeling free and, I don't know, not getting that oppression back into the system of the month of June? Yeah, no, that's an excellent question. 

28:55 - Jessica Jacobs (Guest)
So I don't know, when I think of a happy marriage, I think of two individuals that are coexisting but not necessarily melding. I see a lot of programs that try to do both. They'll try to take this progressive, inspirational, maybe ancestral, indigenous worldview and at the same time try to. It's like forced and it doesn't work and the kids call BS on it, and they're right. So I'm of the mind that no, we're not going to say that you're going to unschool your way through college. It's that you're going to unschool while simultaneously being very efficient with college, and that those two things can happen parallel to one another and support one another without trying to be one in the same. And so my answer to your kids, or anybody's kids, who they've been unschooling or homeschooled and now they want, they want that high school experience, whether it's just I want to take an AP exam so I can prove that I'm educated or I want, whatever the case may be, I'm thinking of the film Captain Fantastic. Did you see that film? 

30:06 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
You know, even though we bought a big red bus he has asked us, as in 95% of everyone we met, because we lived in a big red bus Right that's funny. 

30:17 - Jessica Jacobs (Guest)
Well, the one. I'm reminded of that because the father was very much unschooler and he and the son was studying with his mother's support, studying to do all these exams and got into all these Ivy League schools and everything without his dad knowing it, but she'd supported him. I imagine she's dead in the movie, but I imagine she supported him through that because he wanted it. And so that's part of unschooling is that if your child wants to do an exam, you are supporting that driver and so support them in the exam. And as soon as they don't want to do it anymore, the way that I do it is I say, hey, you've made this commitment to this one exam, so let's follow through with this. So you know what that follow through means and feels like. But then don't do it anymore because there's no reason to do exams, you know. And the same thing with my students who want to go to mainstream school. I'll say, ok, well, I'm going to support you in doing that, but I'm also going to make sure you can come right on out, you know, because I don't think that's going to be the best fit, but experience it. And so I think that's. I think you just have to treat those things like anything else that they want to learn, because it is a part of our society. The same way, violin and soccer are a part of our society. Violin and soccer aren't any more necessary than exams, but if somebody's interested in doing them, whatever their motivation be and of course I'll have a conversation with my kids about you know, I had one student who his goal was UC Berkeley. 

But UC Berkeley is test blind. You don't have to take exams to go to UC Berkeley. But he wanted to. He wanted to do the SAT. And I was like, ok, I have no idea why you want to do it, but I'll support you, you know. And so we studied for the SAT the same way I would, you know, back in the mainstream days, when I would support kids doing that. And and he did great, and he was pleased with his score. And he got into UC Berkeley and had nothing to do with the test score, you know. But it's what he wanted to do and I'm sure there's what's that? 

32:17 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
Yeah, to prove himself that he could do what. Maybe he's here, I'm guessing, yeah. 

32:24 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
Can I say something? Yeah, I think the central word that's the word that we also hang on to in navigating this field is Voluntary. So I'm not demanding or in. There's not a system or a teacher demanding Some exam or education. If a kid wants to go to school or to soccer every Thursday or have an exam of some sort, it's voluntary. And if it's voluntary, that's a complete game changer compared to being just dumped in some structure and having to follow it for eight hours a day. So I think that's I mean, that's the marriage ritual, to to hold on to that focal point. Is this voluntary or not? And personally, I like the hey. You said you do it. Why don't we finish this one? That's a push from the more structured part of that marriage, not from the unschooling part, where I think I'm five year old. Maybe you would have said OK, maybe you don't want to play the violin anyway, but now that it's someone studying for an exam, maybe we should do a little pushing. 

33:43 - Jessica Jacobs (Guest)
I don't know I go back and forth on that one because when I was little, my dad said to me what instrument do you want to play? And I said violin, coincidentally, and I started and hated it and didn't want to have anything to do with it. And he was very much of the unschooling mind at that point, and so he said, ok, and now I don't play an instrument. And so, with my children, I said, dad, I want you to force them, I really want you to force them to play an instrument, not forever, for a month, you know. And he did, and my children love music because of it. They weren't forced to do it for years and years, but they were forced to learn it. And now they do it on their own because they want to do it and they learn and they learn more. But if they didn't have that foundation, that push, they wouldn't be able to. And so that's why I really feel like, while I understand the philosophy of radical unschooling you know, unlimited screen time, eat ice cream for breakfast, go to bed, whatever you want I understand the philosophy of it, but I also see the drawbacks in that. First of all, some of those things are designed to be addictive. Oh, yes, or that's a problem, but a secondary to that, the opportunities that are missed with that. You know. No, you wanted to do this. 

I didn't like when I say force my kids, I say, do you want to learn to play an instrument? Yes, I do. Ok, this is what it's going to take. Do you want to commit to that? Yes, I want to commit to that. Are you OK with me holding you to that commitment? Yes, I'm OK with you holding that. Then they're forced, you know, once they, once they've made that voluntary agreement, contract, contract essentially. 

35:24 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
Yeah, yeah, yeah, and I think that. 

35:26 - Jessica Jacobs (Guest)
I think that's important because you want to. You want to be that kind of person. You know whether it's not just learning a musical instrument, but abide by your word and if you commit to somebody you follow through with that commitment. So but I do see that the discrepancy between that and and radical unschooling. 

35:41 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
Oh, yes, now that's also a clear reason we have decided our podcast name is self directed and not unschooling, because it is a limiting term and it's a philosophy where we we go back and forth on how much we agree and how much we don't agree, and it's every party can interpret the word in many ways, but we really like the idea of a person being self directed and and we, our oldest, went to a private school, but it was a very self directed private school where they met up on Monday morning. She made a schedule for what she wanted to learn during that week and then on the Friday they evaluated themselves. Did I do it? And they had a talk with the teacher about all my only the two pages of math still a school. But what I really liked was that I want to do this during this week and the evaluation why didn't I do it? Where? Where did I slip up? Why? Why didn't I focus on what I said that we would to be able to evaluate your own? Your own doing is something as a lot of grownups don't even do. 

But one interesting thing by having our daughter in this school was to see how it changed during the years. We started out with a school that was very self directed. It ended up at that it was actually the parents who wanted it more school like because they maybe didn't feel comfortable about it being so free. So how do you handle this situation of parents who really wants to be free inside themselves and like, yeah, my kids should just do whatever and have fun, but make sure to get an education, because I believe this is the gold standard of life? Where is that balance? Do you vet people a lot before they come in the door? What do you do? I think there's two answers to this question. 

37:42 - Jessica Jacobs (Guest)
The first one is I have a track record now. I have kids that have gotten into almost every prestigious university in the world because of doing, because of ditch, and you know, when they write their college essays they write about ditch and about how they did this. You know alternative model. So that helps those, those parents who are like more mainstream. They go oh wait, you mean my kid doesn't have to do four years of regular school with all of these APs and extracurriculars and sports to get into you know this or this, this or that school. So I think there's that part of it. 

But the other part of it is that I have two very I think I have some kids in the middle, but I do have two very extremes. I've got kids who are kind of too smart for the mainstream school system. They recognize how irrelevant everything is and they're seeking out learning on their own already, and so the parents aren't worried about that Because they see them like excelling academically on their own. So that's one set of kids. The other set of kids are also too smart for mainstream school. 

They also see the irrelevance. But instead of doing that, they turn to drugs or alcohol or, you know, video games or tick talk or whatever. And so those parents are desperate. If their kids can do anything Like one class awesome, like you know. And so both of those sets of parents are kind of OK because what, what we're doing, is much better than than those two alternatives. And then we've got the people in the middle. But I do think the track record is is helpful. And then, as soon as that, you know, a lot of times I'll have one parent who's really on board and another parent who's more like, you know, traditional, and as soon as that is done, you know, you can see that you're not really on board. So that's not normal. And as soon as that kid gets their first a and a college course, you know we're very like philosophically, we're very anti-grading, but we know that there are those parents who were like you just got an A in a college class after getting all f's in high school. Yeah, stay with, stay with Ditch. 

39:51 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
You know what it does help to just face that we come from a system and we have a framework that we might want to challenge, but it is what it is. We grew up in something. We're trying to allow and make way for our children to grow up in a different system. But sometimes I think some of the de-schooling can be a little too radical. It's okay to feel your shoulders coming a little bit down after looking at an A grade. I mean it's okay. It's not the only gold standard of success, we know that, but somehow it's part of the world we understand and I think we have to be kind to ourselves as parents because it is a very radical change we're trying to make for our children compared to where we come from ourselves, and it's sometimes just feels very risky and very I don't know what if it goes wrong and if something can comfort us a little bit along the way, okay. 

40:58 - Jessica Jacobs (Guest)
But it's the same case. It'll get you into the good university, so it does mean you were successful at something I threw a hoop maybe, but you know, so what's the practicality of it? 

41:14 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
Do you have a building and a schedule, and how does it work? 

41:21 - Jessica Jacobs (Guest)
Well, it's a couple different avenues. I was working for one of those schools that was like really progressive but trying to do the academics at the same time, hand in hand and it didn't work. But the reason I bought the house that I currently live in is because it was across the street from that school and otherwise I wouldn't have bought the house because the house is way too big for me. So what I did is I split the house into two parts. There's the living part and then there's the not school part. We call it. And I should mention also the reason. 

I know Camilla is through well, actually that's not true. 

I know Camilla through a charter homeschool organization, but separate from that. 

Her daughter participated in our little kid program, which is pedals, and so the property is ditch and pedals share a big portion of the property, so it's like a big house and then the outside areas and then we have a yurt and we have a two story little kind of clubhouse type thing, and so the kids that are on the property are seven is the youngest, because that's the age of my youngest daughter. When she was four it was four and up, but now it's seven and up, just not adding young kids, because that's not my forte. I prefer working with the older kids, but seven years old up to 17 or 18 when they turn 18, they're just on the property in any different spot, like some might be in the living room, others the kitchen, others outside, others the yurt and then I have two other mentors aside, three other mentors aside from myself. There's four of us on the property that are just supporting them. The older kids will oftentimes volunteer with the younger kids and then sometimes we'll actually hire them if they're really good working with the kids. 

I really enjoy the days where it's basically all kids and I'm just watching this magic happen where the 17 year olds are running the younger kid program and the older kids are managing themselves. But the pedals I'll just share briefly about pedals. It's a very much self-directed, play-based program and so it's also an acronym. I learned that from my dad. He loves acronyms. So the P is for play, because we all know that people, no matter what age, learn more when they're playing. The E is for Earth we make sure to instill a deep nature connection, because if we don't have that, then what motivation will we have to save the planet If we don't have a connection to the natural world? The T is for tinkering, because who doesn't like building things, taking things apart, putting them back together, and when things start breaking and we can't go to Target to buy a new one, we might need to learn how to fix things. The A is arts, so that's visual arts and performing arts, music. The L is language we try to bring in second language, foreign language, and then also the language of reading and writing. And then the S is strength strength of mind and body, so intentional fitness as well as mindfulness practices, and so the kids all know what paddles is, and so throughout the day we just kind of go, they just play. And then we go, okay, did we do our P, did we do our you know? Like that's our little list, the name. And then now that they're getting older, we're getting them ready for a ditch. So we started having them on a computer to do a typing program so that once they're writing college essays they'll be able to do it efficiently. And then, you know, we teach them to read, but we, you know, it's we've got. You know, the seven year old reads, the 10 year old doesn't, you know. So everybody's different and that's totally okay. And when they're ready, when they are strong readers and writers, they take. 

The first college class they take is administration of justice, where they learn about the American criminal justice system. And I mostly do that just so I can recruit some volunteers to the Innocence Project. But it's actually, it's interesting the way we found the core. The class is one of the original homicide detectives on that Tupac, biggie, tupac, biggie, small murder, which is pretty notorious murder. He was reprimanded for suppressing evidence. The FBI caught him and so he left his position at the Sheriff's Department and became a community college professor and so he's teaching this criminal justice class and he was also the homicide investigator on one of the cases I was working on and I was like what better way to get in his brain than to take his class, you know. So I registered all my students for his class and turns out it's a great class and he's a really good professor. 

So and it's and it's an easy enough class that my 10 year olds can do it. You know, each week they have to find one concept from the textbook that they liked. I just did one of these with my 10 year old my own 10 year old this morning. He picked solitary confinement is what he wanted to write about. And then he had to find a news article about solitary confinement. He found one where children in a juvenile hall were put into solitary confinement and he had to write four sentences summarizing the article, four sentences saying how it connected to what he read in the book, and then give us, give us citation in a, in a PA format. So that's not a lot for a 10 year old, but he's learning how to do Google searches and copy and paste and using the citation generators to find a PA format and, you know, learning how to quote people and how to how to do in tech citation. So he's learning a lot of, you know, college skills by just doing these eight sentences, you know. So it's a good college course for them to start with. 

And then the older kids on the property who have already taken that class are supporting the younger kids and and even like I have one of my students. She's 14 right now and she's a junior third year student at UCLA, but she still comes to the, to the program, just because we made her schedule so that she goes to UCLA Monday, wednesday, friday and she comes to us on Tuesdays and Thursdays and it's great cause when she's there, even though she's 14, she's taken all the classes that the 17 year olds have taken, so she's supporting them while, you know, while she's still studying at UCLA. So that's really beautiful to watch. They come three days a week. I'm available to them from 10 to three. They often come at eight and stay till five, just cause they they're comfortable there, or they have a ride, or they're you know, they're friends, or there's no structure at all to the day, with one exception, and that is I pull everyone together at least once a day where we have a philosophical discussion on the current event of the day or and play game. 

That's been a little challenging lately, because the current event that most people want to discuss is the Israel-Palestine conflict and we have six Israeli students whose families are very, very much in support of what, of what not Netanyahu is doing. So we've had some very, very tough conversations with everybody else who is, you know, wants this, this killing, to end. But what we did and this is this is so important for my kids to learn, even when they're having conflict with the college administration, which we do all the time is I draw six in the rug, you know, like make out the form of a six, and if I have a six in between us, it's a six to me but it's a nine to you, and you're adamant that it's a nine and I'm adamant that it's a six. In reality, we're both right. But unless I come over and see, your perspective will never come to an understanding. But if I do come over to you, then not only do I know a lot more about sixes and nines, but I know a lot more about you and you know a lot more about me, and so we're trying to, you know, kind of have that philosophy run all of our conversations. 

So what we did when it started getting too sensitive. You know, we had some tears because we have people who've lost, lost people at the festival and people who are, you know, playing video games with their, with their cousins that are in bomb shelters, and you know that's hard. And then I want to say, ok, well, what about the kid right on the other side of that line that doesn't even have a shelter, let alone a video game, you know? And so we were trying to see all those perspectives, but at some point it just got a little bit too emotional and so I took it back to 9 11. I said you guys weren't even born. Let's talk about that. Who did you trust? Who was telling the truth, you know, and we. 

So we learn about media bias and we learn, you know, about the, about the financial motives, and so we have deep conversations like that. We have a lot of conversations about, you know, transgender issues, drug abuse issues, controversies. There was a school that was going to open across the street from us. They didn't end up opening, but they, they prided themselves in reading, writing and arithmetic, nothing else. We do not discuss cultural issues, no critical race theory, no gender fluidity conversations, just, you know, the academics and and they brought in, you know, a lot of anti vaxxers and and so there was some overlap, like in the communities, right? So, because there's a lot of people who I don't, I don't like to call them anti vaxxers, I like to call them informed vaxxers. Yeah, make a choice after having all the information. 

But so people would come to me and come to them, and anyway I ended up having a relationship with the director of that school and she said I want you to run the high school program. And I was like, oh, no, you don't, because if I run your high school program, that are, you know, three hours, that's going to go out the window. And so then she was like okay, and then she signed her son up with my program. But in the meantime me and my students were plotting, were like we can write things down and crumpled on pieces of paper and throw it over for their students to open up and read so they can learn about the world. Anyway, point being, there was no, there is no structure other than we come together. 

That for that meeting I asked them. I said please don't bring your devices to the meeting. And if you do bring them, you know, keep them away. I'm, I'm, I'm kind of de schooling them in those meetings. Like they all want to raise their hand, I said no, guys, in the real world we don't raise our hands. So just learn how to have a conversation where you interjected at an appropriate time and you don't dominate, and you listen, and then you know. 

And then same thing with the phones. I never take their phones away or tell them they can't have them. I just say, hey, don't forget, we're having a conversation, and that's that. Doesn't feel good for you to be looking at your phone when I'm talking to you, you know. And so they feel respected, they feel human, they, they have they starting businesses. A lot of kids will start businesses. They're very. This is one thing I haven't figured out. I mean, this is a more of a societal thing, not something I can address, it ditch, but so, so motivated by money, so motivated by money and everything that they want to do, like how can we make the most money? Not all of them, but more than I'd, more than I'd like to see. But again, with the self directed model, I'm supporting them like you want to make awesome let's make money and then what are we going to do with this money? 

let's make good choices and you know, let your like. I've got kids that are really into drop shipping and I said, okay, well, let's talk about drop shipping. Where are these things coming from? Where are they being made? How are they being transported? How can we take this passion that you have from making money and clothing and bring it closer to home? You know more sustainable, and so we can have those conversations to. But those come up in our conversations. They'll say, oh, can you help me build a website? Or you know, so they're, they're kind of working together and we encourage them to work together on their project so they don't have their individual passion. Project is nothing. Nothing is individual. It's. If they want it to be individual, it's individual. But if they want it to be, you know, something they do together. More power to them. 

52:58 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
I'm blown away. I want to come. Is it too late when you're almost 50.? 

53:03 - Jessica Jacobs (Guest)
Oh, and not in fact. I have several parents who come to me and they're like most people who don't have degrees, and they'll say well, here's my transcript from when I was 20, can you do? 

53:12 - Jesper Conrad (Host)

53:16 - Jessica Jacobs (Guest)
And then they'll take the keep the classes alongside their students because, you know, some of my students will take classes in person or they'll do online where there's zoom sessions. But I say 95% of them do the online asynchronous. So I'm like, do it with your little brother, do it with your mom, you know so they do it together. 

53:32 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
Right now, cecilia is reigniting all her on her math because our 18 year old is like super into that and and he tried asking me one day she wasn't present about something and I made up some solution that was absolutely didn't work. So I'm very happy. We, we are team. The team part works really good. All the clever questions goes to my wife and then I can talk marketing with them. 

No, jessica, I feel we could talk for hours and we should take two as we could take a take at some point, as we do from time to time, but we should find a way to close up, to keep the podcast not too long, and the best way to do this is to, first of all, thank you for your time. It has been awesome listening, learning. 

54:30 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
I want to make a place like that now. 

54:33 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
Yeah, it sounds really really cool. Yeah, but for people out there listening to this episode, how do they get in contact with you? I will, of course, put a link in, but if they are thinking, oh, I want to do this, so what is the next step for them? 

54:51 - Jessica Jacobs (Guest)
Sure, sure. Well, I love it when people want to do this and I tell them like I will support you in replicating my model, like you don't have to pay me and come to me if you've got a group of people, because I imagine people that are listening to your podcast might already have groups that they're working with. And that's for the younger kid model, the pedals model. That website is pedals learning communityorg. And we've had other pods, especially during the pandemic when, when I was hoping those pods would just stick around, but we've had people replicate the model and then ditch. Schoolorg is is my website for the older kids and, and we do we have pods of learners around the world, even, you know, pods as small as two. 

And then I, you know, I work with students remotely. I'd say I have probably as many students in person as I do remotely. And the in person I'm really just doing for, for myself and for my own kids. I don't need to do it that way for my, you know, for for my livelihood, because I have enough students that I support remotely, so I'm just being able to see the magic that happens with the, you know, 17 year old working with the seven year olds and then my own kids being in that age group, and they'll be in there for another 10 years, so it doesn't have to be that way, but it's. It's nice to have other people to just hang out with. You know we're social beings, so, yeah, feel, feel free to reach out. I'll just say that I'm busy, so texts or emails are much preferred over phone calls. 

56:25 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
Yes. So, jessica, we will end the episode here. I will recommend people who wants to see if they could, if this is the right way for their children, putting the child in the driver's seat, let them listen to this episode themselves, and if it's something that the child think, this is awesome, then they should reach out to you and see how they can make magic happen. Thanks a lot for your time. It has been a big pleasure. 

56:52 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
Yeah, thank you. 

56:54 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
Thank you for listening. We hope you enjoyed today's episode and if you like that, then please share it with all your friends and family. We would also love it if you gave our podcast a review. Thanks, and if you want to support our podcast and work, then you can find us on patreoncom slash the Conrad family. We will continue to travel full time and if you want to tag along, then please follow us on Facebook and Instagram at the Conrad family, and you can also read more than 100 blog posts on our website. The Conrad family. Until next time, make a wonderful day, thank you. 


#55 - Sandra Dodd | The Unforeseen Benefits of Unschooling - Healing past traumas
#57 - Lucy Aitkenread | Being a parent is a gateway to Self-Discovery: A Journey Towards Community, Connection, and Healing


There are no comments yet. Be the first one to leave a comment!

🎙️Our Podcast is Powered by You🎙️ 

We run our podcast on love, passion, coffee and your generosity. Here are some ways you can help!