Monday, 5 October 2009

Autonomous home educators - what's that then?

I have always been pretty happy with the label of autonomous home educators. How people respond to that tends to depend on who they are. Most people who don't home educate don't look beyond the home educator bit, which is more than weird enough and quite enough to be getting along with thank you... In real life home ed circles I don't often have much of a need to define us, as people tend to get to know us and then they figure out what we do. In the often over-intense world of the internet, where home educators can analyse themselves and each other for more hours than is really sensible, the labels matter more. And, of course, they matter more when you feel under attack. That's always true.

So, what do I mean by autonomous home educators? It's been a bit more than five years since we announced, on another blog, that that was what we were about. Are we still? Well, I'd say so. I think that autonomous home education is often misunderstood. People sometimes contrast it with structured home education, but that is a misunderstanding. The point of the autonomous bit, for us, is that the children are directing their education. Does this mean they never do anything strucured? No, why should it? I suppose it might, if they chose never to undertake any structured learning, but it certainly doesn't have to. They aren't confined to just informal learning experiences. They aren't confined to *anything*.

So, it might be (and is, in fact) that sometimes the children choose to undertake some structured and externally assessed course of study. At other times they are busy with things of their own devising. How they make their decisions is their business, but I think it's fair to say that, in our family, people (adults and children) often make announcements about what they're planning to do. Other family members will then chip in with something as insightful as,
"oh, yeah? That's nice/cool/weird..."
At other times people might ask,
"What do I need to have studied/exams do I need to have passed to do X thing?"
That's when having adults, who have a bit of life experience (and have sat rather more exams than anyone needs to) is handy. Children can then make their choices based on that extra knowledge, as well as their own enjoyment.

I suppose that the autonomy bit is really more about how we live, as a family, than anything else. One of the parts of parenting that I never felt comfortable with was the bit about making children do things 'for their own good'. I wasn't brought up by someone who liked doing that either, so I don't really have a model. It doesn't come naturally to me and when I have done it it has generally upset me, children and anyone else within a five mile radius. I just can't imagine telling someone that they had to do their maths any more than I can imagine telling them that they had to eat their spinach. So I haven't done either. Strangely, or perhaps not, they both do maths and eat spinach. Maybe it's because I'd be just as happy if they were playing the recorder through their noses and eating baked beans?

That's not to say that I don't ever encourage people to do things, because I do. Trying to treat other people decently is necessary for family life and friendships and I'm not shy of saying so... But if what you're doing isn't hurting anyone else then it's probably fine and dandy as far as I'm concerned.

Sometimes I have wondered if we have found it easy to stick with this path because we do see lots of evidence of our children's 'academic' development as well as all other sorts. If we didn't see that then would we start 'making' them do certain things? I don't know. I can only know that we are fine as we are, thanks. I genuinely don't see any need to decide on goals for my children as they appear to be rather good at identifying their own goals and doing what they need to do to reach them. More than anything else, that's the thing I'd like to get across to the DCSF. If what we do is evidently working fine *for us* why should we change it?


Maire said...

I so agree, and as a bonus of not imposing ones own world view one gets to see the most effortless amazing flourishing.

Carlotta said...

It all sounds very similar to our situation.

Just to add that one of the complete joys of autonomous education for me has been the fact that we end up doing stuff that I NEVER, in my wildest dreams, would have imagined that we would do.

For example, we currently spend quite a bit of time riding, which is something I v. rarely did as a child, as my mother was terrified of horses, and on some level I had until recently decided that it was not a thing one could possibly do. DD knew otherwise!

We also do a trapeze class...again that last thing I would have thought we would have got up to only a year ago, as I was terrified of heights too.

If a year or so ago, you had asked me to predict (as Badman would have it) what activities we would undertake, I would have got it COMPLETELY wrong!

Sharon said...

I am really worried about how my children are learning at home just now and not only because of the DCSF. Though I've been HEing for 6 years, my oh has never been supportive, his refrain is that he thinks HE can be succesful but not the way I do it. So it's been like living with an Ofsted inspector, daily he'd ask what we'd done, and quizz the children. I'd have to force them to do schooly stuff to please their dad. It's worked against my natural inclination to enable much more autonomous learning and has just ended up confusing me and the children so we don't know what the goal is; to do what the dad wants and pass lots of exams or to help them grow, learn and discover their path. Due to many other factors I'm ending our marriage and he is now threatening to force the children back to school as, he claims, I'm failing them. I'm fairly beaten down and have no spoons left to fight the proposed changes so am very grateful to all of you working hard on our behalf.

Allie said...

Hi all,

Sharon, that sounds hard :-(

Maire and Carlotta - yes, indeed. Given all the things that the govt could do to improve children's lives, why do they persist in wasting time and money trying to fix something that isn't broken?

Badman wants to know if we "honour our children's right to an education"! To me this is as preposterous as investigating if I bother to feed my children, buy them clothes, love them... I have so had enough of this stuff now.