I frequently stand accused of being unable to distinguish between the various types of unstructured home education. "The idiot," some irate autonomous educator will cry, "Doesn't he know that what he is talking about is really informal education?" Or laisse faire parenting or unschooling or whatever. The fact is that I do myself know the difference between these divers pedagogic techniques, but am wholly unconvinced that many of the parents who claim, "We are autonomous" are similarly able to make such fine distinctions.
I am quite sure that many of those posting here and on the HE-UK and EO message boards are well informed and consistent in the approach to autonomous education. I also have no doubt that if the thing is conducted properly, the results can be impressive. Not, I suspect, as impressive as those achieved by more conventional means, but that might be a personal prejudice. My concern is with the tens of thousands of parents who deregister their children and have absolutely no idea how to go about educating them, whether autonomously or otherwise.
For articulate, educated and influential home educators such as the activists of Education Otherwise to propagate ideas which can in the wrong hands cause terrible damage to a child's educational attainment is, to me, a specially horrible example of irresponsible intellectual pride. Many parents who have trouble with their child's school for a variety of reasons, stumble across sites for home educators on the internet and jump at once to the conclusion that any fool can educate their child. There's nothing to it; why, the child will practically teach himself! This is of course absolute nonsense as any real autonomous educator will probably tell you.
I have also been accused many times of wanting to limit people's choices in home education and hoping that local authorities will ban autonomous education and insist upon a structured approach. Nothing could be further from the truth. I certainly believe that a very structured approach is likely to yield better results, but that's just me. My real objection is founded on human nature. Let me explain.
If we take a large group of people, say a thousand or so, and give them a really simple instruction, perhaps to raise their right hands, here is what will happen. About half of them will raise their right hands. Another couple of hundred will raise their left hands. About the same number will raise both hands and a hundred won't raise either hand. And a few will probably raise one leg or stand on their heads. There will also be a rising murmur of voices muttering things like, "What does he mean, hands?" and "Did he say left or right?"
I am assuming precisely the same situation for home education. That is to say that most of those parents using a structured system will not really understand what they are up to and screw up a lot. And of course the same goes for those supposedly following autonomous methods. Most of them won't have any clear idea of what they are up to. However, I think that a structured education poorly delivered and incompletely understood is likely to yield far better results than an autonomous education which is not being done properly.
In other words, I spent years planning and executing my child's execution in a very coherent and well organised way. Some autonomously educating parents similarly spend years planning and delivering their child's education and I dare say that when we look at the end product there may not be much to choose between the two systems. But when parents don't really know what they are up to, have no real understanding of education or are not prepared to devote their whole life to the business for ten years or so, then I am sure that a clearly structured system of education will be easier for them to implement, rather than some misunderstood and half baked version of autonomous education. In short, somebody teaching their child arithmetic methodically, however badly, will probably get some result. A parent who because of some vague idea of "being autonomous", does nothing, will not.