One of the things which one observes about cults is the way in which they appropriate ordinary words and phrases and assign to them special meanings of their own. They then go mad if anybody uses these expressions in their usual, everyday sense. I have noticed this tendency a good deal when dealing with autonomous educators and it can make any debate with them time consuming and frustrating.
Let us consider what people mean by the terms 'informal education' and 'formal education'. Informal education is the sort of learning which takes place outside school. Visits to zoos and museums, after-school clubs and conversation with the parents in the home; all these are examples of informal education. Formal education, on the other hand, is what takes place in schools and colleges, where pupils follow a structured course of study in classrooms, typically culminating in the taking of some qualification. The meanings of these expressions is not some piece of teachers' jargon; it is simply what informal and formal education mean. So the education which I provided for my daughter, relying as it did heavily upon trips to museums and so on and a lot of conversation both inside and outside the home, was informal education. Had she gone to school, that would have been formal education. All this is quite clear to all but a tiny handful of quarrelsome and pedantic cranks!
When I wrote yesterday;
' In the event, I put the case for informal education myself. I still feel that autonomous educators could have stated their views better..'
the meaning could hardly be plainer. I was saying that I had put the case for informal education, home education in this context, but felt that autonomous educators could have put the case for their special type of informal education better had they expressed their own views about it. I simply cannot see any other construction which could be put upon these words. Lo and behold, an autonomous educator jumped in, claiming;
'Given that you are still confusing informal education with autonomous education ..........How can you still get this wrong?'
In other words, this person is denying that autonomous home education is actually a type of informal education. According to her, this is an elementary error!
The problem is that when people become deeply involved in some fringe activity like home education, they sometimes forget how ordinary people use language. This can cause difficulties and, as I said above, make debate hard. The same individual went on to claim that autonomous education is virtually identical to what the Americans call unschooling. This is true, but when I said this a few months ago, another autonomous educator immediately denounced me as an idiot, on the grounds that autonomous education can include schooling if the child requests it.
Just so that there is no confusion in the future, the expression 'autonomous education' was originally coined by an Anglican priest called Jan Fortune-Wood. In anything which I write, I follow her definition.