I have had some dealings lately with teenagers who have been autonomously educated and never compelled to study anything that they do not wish to. Two things have struck me. The first is that they seem to be confident, articulate and assertive. Many schoolchildren of sixteen and seventeen who are attending college, still call members of staff "Sir" and "Miss". I really cannot imagine any of this young people doing such a thing. It simply does not seem to occur to them that they have not got a perfect right to say and do as they will, just as much as any middle aged person. All this is very well and good. The ones with whom I have had contact also appear to have strong opinions about things and are not afraid to express their views. All this is very good. I am exchanging emails with a number of such teenagers now and find that some of them have strongly held views about things like Global Warming, the environment, the war in Afghanistan and so on.
However, the second thing that I notice is that they seem pretty ill informed about the world. One seventeen year old has read all the "Horrible Science" books and feels that this provides a good grounding in science. If he wants more information, he will look it up on wikipedia. Now there is nothing at all wrong with the "Horrible Science" books. By the time she was ten or eleven, my daughter had read them all and we always bought any new one which was published. The same with the geography and history books in the same series. For a ten year old to be possessed of the scientific knowledge contained in the "Horrible Science" books is quite a good thing. For a seventeen year old to be limited to the same knowledge is less promising. I have found one or two of these young people who have formal qualifications. One has a couple of A levels, for instance. By and large though, they have not seen the need to study for GCSEs and so on. I have not had enough contact to draw any sort of conclusions. I would however definitely say that so far, these young people appear to have less solid, academic knowledge than those from a similar background who attend decent schools. On the other hand, they are able to talk fluently about many different subjects which are not covered by any GCSE syllabus! This is entirely anecdotal and I shall post more on this as I get to know them a little better.
One thing that does strike me is that they seem by and large more concerned about wider issues in the world than the teenagers I know who attend school. All too often, their interests range no further than who will win the X Factor and who is doing it with whom in their form. The trouble is, that having strong view about the environment based upon what one has read in the "Horrible Geography" series of books is not too brilliant. As I say, this is a tiny sample and I am really just musing about it, not making any judgements or drawing conclusions.