"I remember John Holt saying, I tried to change the system, and I realized it was not going to happen in my lifetime or for the children that are growing up now. So let's just do something different." - Peggy Webb

One of the biggest concerns for unschooling families is accreditation.

Is this something you have found yourself stressing about?

Deciding to homeschool or unschool when your kids are young can seem straightforward. Allowing them the freedom to live and learn in a way that brings joy and encourages curiosity seems like the best decision.

But what about later? What about high school transcripts and higher education?

These are daunting questions that might have you doubting your educational path and might even turn to Google for information on educational accreditation for unschoolers.

We chatted to Peggy Webb, founder of West River Academy, about her umbrella school, higher education institutions, and their willingness to accept alternative education transcripts. This Clubhouse InspirEd event with Peggy answered the questions many parents have about the accreditation process, the educational offerings of West River Academy, and how prospective students can prepare themselves for the future.

Education program accreditation - what is it?

Educational institutions need to meet specific accreditation standards decided by an accrediting agency. This means that independent bodies carry out higher education accreditation and school accreditation.

These organizations offer quality assurance in the form of accredited status, confirming that the institutions and programs are of a specific academic quality. Institutions of higher education like universities and colleges can choose whether or not to undergo the accreditation process. This is a voluntary process for schools as well.

For unschoolers and homeschoolers, this means that they need to graduate and determine if a university or college education is something they want to pursue through self-study. Most accredited institutions will ask students wishing to pursue higher education for their accredited transcripts.

That is where Peggy and West River Academy comes in.

Accreditation standards and the West River Academy educational philosophy

Peggy has always believed in a self-directed approach to education.

She recognized that institutions of higher education and state governments had specific criteria that students needed to meet. They needed to prove a certain level of learning to be eligible for admission to university or college.

This was a tricky thing to do for those families following an alternative educational path. Not because they didn't have the knowledge or the skills, but because they couldn't always prove their learning.

Unschooling as a philosophy is based on learning through life rather than a rigid set of outcomes for students.

Peggy says that although unschooling is not a new idea, it still isn't a mainstream one.

"So we've been very quietly going about our business with our children happily out of the system and bringing others along with us and finding our tribe, so to speak. Looking for other people who share this kind of Avant-Garde philosophy."

West River Academy is an umbrella school that allows unschoolers to apply to college as private school students rather than homeschoolers.

They don't offer families a curriculum as they believe in the process of self-directed education. What they do offer is support for those children needing to have transcripts and a graduation diploma.

Taking what you love and the learning you have been doing and putting it into a "normal" format is "the whole theme of West River Academy. It's natural learning translated into academic credit," says Peggy.

School is only one way of defining education, and students attending university doesn't guarantee them success in real life. Education is about so much more than accreditation decisions, and learning often takes place in non-educational settings.

Learning through life, exploration, adventure, and curiosity should be the only quality assurance you need for a solid education.

Accrediting organizations like West River Academy offer support for students wanting to go to university

Being an unschooler doesn't mean you can't make use of accredited institutions and programs.

West River Academy will help you transfer credits and provide the quality assurance an accredited institution would need for their programs.

Peggy says, "we try to work with every student in their country and know as much as we can about what's happening in their country. So we're giving them honest, transparent information."

Choosing an alternative education should not stop you from pursuing your dreams, and people like Peggy are dedicated to helping families learn the way they want to without serious repercussions.

"We're not asking parents to make the leap from a full curriculum into complete freedom, unschooling, and a natural learning style. There's always a learning curve; there's always a spectrum."

Peggy works with families to find the best educational fit for them, whether that is a whole unschooling experience, homeschooling, or hybrid learning. Peggy believes that learning should be a family experience saying, "there's a process for the whole family to move from something extremely rigid and controlled to something completely free and natural and where children can thrive."

For some parents, trying to picture a life without school can be difficult. When you have been raised in a social structure that pushes forward rules, control, and conformity, it can be a challenge to ask basic questions about the validity of the traditional school system for your family.

"One way that I help people to understand how to separate what we're doing and what's happening in the outside world is to say, just think of it as if school doesn't exist. Like you are now entering a world where there's no such thing as school. So you get to choose how you work with your children. You are parents. You are in charge. Who else loves your children as much as you do? Who knows your children better than you do? Who is best qualified to work with your children other than you? It's such a no-brainer, and yet we're so brainwashed into thinking that other experts have to work with our kids because they know better".

Kelly Davis and Vlad Stan, the founders of Galileo, believe that the "empowerment of a child but also the support of a family is so important."

That is why they have partnered with West River Academy to help students live a life of learning freedom while still having the option of institutional accreditation. Using current information about higher education institutions and their requirements in each country, Galileo students have a world of opportunities available to them.

Vlad said, "it's time to come back to this foundation where the family is in the center of learning and learning experiences, and it's maybe not the government or state."

But like Peggy, Galileo wants students to have the opportunity to follow their dreams, even if that means higher education institutions. For that to happen, they are dedicated to helping create transcripts based on real-life learning. Learning that has been joyful, self-directed, and empowering.

But how do the transcripts actually work?

Higher education facilities and many other educational institutions are given the stamp of approval by an accrediting agency. The agency is considered one of many reliable authorities on what a quality education should look like and how it should be presented.

But does an accrediting agency have the best interest of students at heart?

Accredited schools might ensure that students tick all the boxes and meet all the requirements, but they don't know who the students are and how they will adjust to life outside the classroom.

A private educational association like West River Academy has the power to set up its programs to help students get recognized accrediting while living a life of learning freedom.

West River Academy creates transcripts for unschooling children based on what they have learned and their experiences. It covers at least four years but a minimum of 3 years. They are also graded together with the student and parents.

One audience member from the event asked if there was an age limit for graduation. Peggy said that "I want to work with the family to get the child's goal achieved, but not compromised."

That means that a transcript of at least three years is necessary, but four is preferable, particularly when applying to a program with specialized accreditation. Peggy does talk about the benefit of community college here, as high school students can gain credits on college courses to add to their transcripts.

As part of the graduation process, West River Academy students have to write an educational biography. This biography is a life review of their learning, and the parents endorse their readiness to graduate. These biographies are individualized to showcase the student's strengths and talents, helping them gain acceptance into the institutions and programs they want.

As much as Peggy and her team try to document the adventure that is unschooling, there is no guarantee that institutions will accept their transcripts.

"We tell people there are no guarantees, everything's a risk when you go outside of the system. But you know, sometimes you have to trade. Do I want freedom or not".

A few audience members asked Peggy if West River Academy transcripts were accepted in their countries, and it is more difficult in some places. You need to check the law in your area, and you can also find a list of countries that West River is familiar with on their website.

Institutional accreditation can act as a gatekeeper, often making it difficult for students to access colleges and universities. Peggy says, "we're not really recommending college right now after seeing where it's headed."

Many colleges and universities in the US have started consolidating due to low enrollment, and Peggy suggests community colleges as a viable alternative to the traditional accredited programs.

"What we're doing is empowering, no, re-empowering families because they've given themselves over to a system that claims to know best and it doesn't."

Self-study, autonomous learning, and the ability to be creative thinkers mean unschooling kids can have a transcript filled with labels and ticked boxes that barely skims the surface of their education but that allows them to fit the mold for traditional institution programs.

So, is higher education accreditation in the 21st century really necessary?

Currently, the world is still hung up on the idea that higher education accreditation is an essential part of learning. And it is for the traditional system with its recognized programs and accredited courses.

But the world is changing, and the future of education is becoming more diverse, more unstructured, and more accessible.

The world of alternative education shows families that higher education accreditation is not the only way to be successful.

Peggy says, "we're always educating. What is unschooling? What is natural learning? So it's been quite the journey, and we've got a future ahead of us. So we have to evolve to see where the educational demands of the governments are going to be taking people. What positions they're going to be putting families in. And it's kind of looking good, and it's kind of going to be scary getting to the good part, so we're ready to ride the wave and see where it goes and help as many people as we can".

Certain accrediting agencies have decided they know what good education looks like, and the world has contorted to fit into that box. But the world is starting to realize that that might not be the case.

There is another way of doing things, seeing things, and learning about things that a prescriptive series of checkboxes can't quantify.

As Peggy so wisely said, "there are so many possibilities when we go outside the box we create. That's what we do as human beings. So if something doesn't exist, that you or your child would like to do, create it."


Did this conversation inspire you? Share it with someone going through tough times, maybe it's the answer to accreditation that they need 💌