Kerry McDonald

Unschooling: Past, Present, and Future

Unschooling may seem like a relatively modern educational philosophy, but really these ideas have been around for centuries. From John Locke to John Holt, this talk traces the history of unschooling principles to current practices and future prospects.


Kerry McDonald is an education policy writer and author of the book, Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom (Chicago Review Press, 2019). Her articles have appeared at Forbes, Newsweek, NPR, Education Next, Reason Magazine, and Natural Mother and Green Child magazines. She is a Board member at the Alliance for Self-Directed Education and a co-founder of Alternatives To Kerry holds a master’s degree in education policy from Harvard University, and a bachelor’s degree in economics from Bowdoin College. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband and four unschooled children. Follow her on Twitter @kerry_edu and at her blog, Whole Family Learning.

Meghan Carrico

"Missing the Boat"

My Grandfather had tickets on the Titanic. Sometimes missing the boat is the very best thing. 


After 48 years of attending, and then working in a parent participation democratic school, Meghan Carrico, tells her story of resilience, community tenacity, surviving, and thriving. She will share her experience of how to lead and participate in community based education. She credits  parent participation, her mom, a huge amount of personal work, and love, with being the ingredients that have kept her community alive and learning. There are key understandings that she has discovered by growing up in democratic education, that she is happy to share. This is an introductory talk that she hopes to continue throughout the AERO conference. 


Meghan is an educator, mother, teacher, student of a democratic school, and currently principal of Windsor House School. She has a masters in Leadership, and loves to sing and dance whenever possible. 

Kent Bicknell

Meandering Brooks: Henry Thoreau and Asian Spiritual Traditions in Support of Progressive Education


In a journal entry for October 1850, American philosopher, naturalist, and mystic, Henry Thoreau recorded this observation on schooling in America: What does education often do? It makes a straight-cut ditch of a free, meandering brook. This presentation shares insights into connections between the 19th century Transcendentalist movement, timeless Asian spiritual traditions, and educational practices that honor and nourish individual “free meandering brooks.” Included will be a glimpse of how such noble guidelines have played out in a long-standing progressive school in the hills of New Hampshire.  

In 1973 Kent Bicknell helped found Sant Bani School ( and stayed as teaching head for 44 years, retiring in 2017. A Scholar of the House at Yale, he holds a master’s early childhood education and a doctorate in curriculum development. Kent has served as a consultant to schools and families across the U.S. as well as in Bhutan, Canada, Colombia, Guatemala, India and Venezuela. An independent scholar whose work has been published in a variety of journals, Kent’s main interests are Henry Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the Alcott Family: their educational pedagogy and how they were inspired by the spiritual traditions of Asia. He recently published a book on the formative years of Sant Bani School, Stepping Stones, available through Amazon. See also

Carl Rust

Public Education in the 21st Century - How public and private schools can become more free and natural.


Carl will discuss outmoded ideas that many public and private schools cling to and make suggestions for how they can begin to change. Many families do not live in places where free schools exist or cannot afford tuition and transportation costs. For some children the only hope for more choice and freedom is reforming public schools. Carl will also discuss his evolving role as a public school teacher and administrator who created and ran a self-directed program within public schools.

Carl Rust has been a public school educator for over 30 years. A classroom teacher, building administrator and director of elementary alternative, he has spent the last 5 years searching and researching better ways to do school. He is married and lives with his wife in Indiana. He has 4 children and 9 grandchildren


Jim Rietmulder

When Kids Rule the School

Using stories and passages from his new book, When Kids Rule the School: The Power and Promise of Democratic Education, Jim will highlight ideas and practices shared across various forms of self-directed education, and offer a glimpse into 35 years of life at The Circle School.

Jim Rietmulder is the father of two now-adult democratic school lifers, a founding and current staff member at The Circle School (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), and author of When Kids Rule the School: The Power and Promise of Democratic Education (New Society Publishers, 2019). Jim is formerly a history magazine editor, business analyst, independent software developer, and management consultant to manufacturers.

Aaron Eden

Title: The Adult Power Axis

In this talk, Aaron Eden will share his experience working with schools around the world to implement equity-based learning environments using such tools as Restorative Practices and nonviolent communication. There are some common pitfalls that lead schools to say that these practices “don’t work”. Learn what those pitfalls are, and how to avoid them.

David Marshak

David Marshak began his work as an educator in 1973 by creating an alternative learning environment in the New Hampshire State Prison. With two colleagues, he then created an alternative high school for young men kicked out of high school in Laconia, New Hampshire.


David devoted half of his career to the hope that American public schools could be transformed from their industrial paradigm to one focused on personalized learning. Despite the efforts of many of us, you know how this turned out. David's best work in this domain came in the Vermont public school district where he nurtured the evolution of more than 40 elementary school teachers from single grade classrooms into multiage classrooms. David published two books about multiage classrooms, the most recent: Kids Need the Same Teacher for More than One Year. Multiage classrooms truly are a profound alternative.


David has participated in the holistic education movement for the past 30 years. In his book, The Common Vision: Parenting and Educating for Wholeness, he described a holistic model of human unfoldment from birth to age 21—body, mind, heart, and soul—and a related holistic educational practice. His more recent book, Evolutionary Parenting, presents the same insights and understandings to parents in an engaging and readily accessible text.


From 2011 to 2018, David led the start-up of the SelfDesign Graduate Institute, now the Graduate Institute for Transformative Learning. This program has offered adults living on five continents the opportunity to author their own learning and unfoldment, using a wide array of resources, including wonderful colleagues and a faculty of 35 engaged and very talented and caring faculty mentors.


David has been frustrated with the conventional paradigm of high school since his own experiments in high school acting out and rule breaking—and getting away with some of the most outrageous behavior due to class bias. For example, David was kicked out of his Senior English class for 7 months and still got an A. G. Stanley Hall coined the term "adolescence" in 1904, and he was wrong. Humans between the ages of 13 and 19 are not just emerging. For 99% of the history of homo sapiens, they were adults. While they are not fully formed adults now, they do not deserve to be locked away in the teen ghetto for seven years. David's current project is a guide book entitled INVITING YOUTHS TO CLAIM THE POWER OF THEIR IMAGINATIONS. He is inspired by the current global contributions of youths such as Malala Yousafzai, Greta Thunberg, and Boyan Slat, and he believes that the leadership offered by these three people is just the beginning of a new wave of youth leadership on the planet. 

Michelle Jones

Topic: How to do college better

Michelle Jones is the founder and president of a small non-profit 2 years college she started a few years ago in response to criticisms about the higher education system in the US being broken. During her 15 years teaching Leadership and Organizational Behavior courses in the traditional college system, she had a front-row seat for what students and faculty were experiencing. Several years ago, she gathered a group of like-minded folks around a vision of what a revolution in higher education could look like. After years of helping groups and non-profits organize for social impact as a volunteer (SuperThank, TEDxMtHood, World Domination Summit) Michelle started her legacy project and a new kind of college - Wayfinding Academy - was born.

Additional Mini-Talks and Mini-Talk Schedule.

Block A

  • Jim Rietmulder

  • Kent Bicknell

  • Aaron Eden


Block B

  • Margie Sanderson - NYRA

  • Kerry McDonald - SDE

  • Meghan Carrico


Block H

  • Helen Huges

  • Michelle Jones

  • David Marshak


© AERO 2017

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