One of the difficulties I tend to have when discussing autonomous education is that there are so many different strands. When I tackle the ideas expressed by authors such as Paul Goodman or Ivan Illich, somebody is sure to pounce and claim that this is not authentic autonomous education. The same has happened with whichever writer or parent whose ideas on the subject I have tried to discuss. Somebody always comes along and tells me that these are the wrong ideas and that I should only pay attention to this person or that's views about it. Every autonomous educator seems to believe that she alone follows and understands the purest form of this philosophy. This of course is exactly what happened yesterday when I quoted Maire Stafford. Somebody posted a comment asking, ' Why are you discussing an individual home educator as though they are autonomous education?'
Never the less, I shall stick with what Stafford has said about this subject on her blog, as it ties in with much of what many other people have said about autonomous education. By looking at what an autonomously home educating parent says, I should also be safe from the accusation of setting up straw men.
Here is another quotation, which sums up what many parents have said about autonomous education:
For autonomous educators such coercive education is not only wrong, it is far less effective because over a childhood the autodidactic child will, as a side effect of following their own interests, cover everything they will need to become a well functioning citizen in the society to which they belong.
Very interesting idea. Of course a child may cover everything needed to become a well functioning citizen, purely as a by product of following her own interests. There is no reason though why this should be so; to claim that they will necessarily do so does not seem to me a logical conclusion. In short, this statement is no more than bare assertion which we are invited to take on trust. After all, many children at school fail wholly to cover everything they need to become well functioning citizens. What grounds do we have for supposing that the case will be better for those educated at home? Surely a good deal must depend upon the parents. If the home educating parent is lazy, cruel, selfish and dishonest; then a lot of this is likely to rub off on the child. This will then make the child less likely to become a well functioning citizen. If on the other hand the child next door goes to school and in addition has parents who are kind, industrious, honest and altruistic, then this child will be more likely than others to grow into a well functioning citizen.
I suppose a good deal depends too upon what the author means by the expression 'well functioning citizen'. Perhaps she means somebody who is able to take part in civic life, understands the nature of government, is politically aware enough to be able to exercise his franchise sensibly, wishes perhaps to become a local councillor or magistrate? Again, why should we think that an autonomously educated person who has not been to school is more likely to turn into this sort of individual than one who has attended a good school and has conscientious parents who make an effort to teach her about the duties and responsibilities of citizenship? In other words, I can't see why the child following her own interests is more likely to become a well functioning citizen than one who is instructed systematically.
those lucky enough to have been enabled to learn in this way from the start have not only had the opportunity to thoroughly explore their interests, but have been living in the real world and experiencing the consequences of their choices all their lives.
All children and adults live in the real world; there is no other. Children at school experience the consequences of their choices no less than an autonomously educated child at home. More so, probably. Like most parents, I tried to protect my child from the bad consequences of her decisions as far as possible. This is what parents do, because they are especially fond of their children. Teachers care less about the children they teach, because these are not their children. They are accordingly more likely to allow the bad consequences to befall the child than a parent would be. So I find it more likely that children at school would experience the consequences of their choices than those in the constant company of a loving parent.
Much of the stuff written about this type of education depends more upon faith than evidence. That's fine, after all I go to church every week; I must have some history of taking things on faith! As long as this system of education is accepted as just that, a belief system which needs to be taken on trust, then I have no problem at all with it. It is just one more offbeat lifestyle chosen by a number of people. It is when it is guyed up as a viable alternative to conventional education that my hackles begin to rise and I feel the need to examine it perhaps a little more harshly.