Friday, November 17, 2006

Re-post: Autonomous learning and educational neglect - March 05

From Thursday, March 10, 2005

Following on from my earlier post about Government monitoring of family life, I've been doing some more thinking about autonomous learning and educational neglect, educational neglect being the term they've come up with to describe "the allowance of chronic truancy, failure to enrol a child of mandatory school age in school, and failure to attend to a special educational need. " - an American definition and obviously not one that encompasses British educational law, but I hear educational neglect is now one of the signs of abuse that trainee social and welfare workers are being taught to look out for here in the UK.

Autonomous learning is completely child-led. In my experience, this is not a practice that works on a parent/child negotiation basis. Education is either parent(teacher)-led or child-led. It can't be both. So if one of my children says "I want to watch mindless TV all day today," and I say, "You're not allowed to do that. You have to do some learning instead," then we're not learning autonomously anymore, because I've taken charge of the learning process.

In the early days of our home education, my goal was (and still is now) to find and cherish the children's spark of curiosity. Without this, their eyes were dull, their faces blank. They were twitchy, clock-watching and, in short, we were all wasting our time. I don't think proper, useful learning can take place without curiosity. But curiosity is squashed by loss of autonomy. It has to be free to follow its own path of exploration, in its own time. If someone intervenes with coercion, rules, requests, requirements, bribes, threats or their own expectations, the spark of curiosity expires.

And yet, according to the prevailing line of thought, if I don't coerce my children into 'Education', I'm guilty of educational neglect. I'd actually like to counter this by saying that anyone who kills the spark of curiosity in a child by whatever method, is actually guilty of educational neglect. That's a *lot* of officials then. Schoolteachers, who I'm quite willing to believe chose their career because of their love of children and interest in learning, must feel horribly dispirited if they consistently fail to see the spark of curiosity in their student's eyes. At least, as a HEing parent I was free to try every method to allow it to rekindle. In school, they're not. They just have to keep plodding through the National Curriculum whether anyone wants to learn it or not.

I guess your stance on this issue depends on your view of education. Is it to prepare people for work? To enable them to get a job and earn money when they grow up? Or is it the pursuit of knowledge? I don't think you can have it both ways: it's either one or the other. Earning a lot of money is the primary goal of many people, and I'm not saying there's anything wrong in that. My children might have this priority at various stages of their lives too. But as an autonomously educating parent my contention is that the most successful careers are based on personal ambition: drive. My most important job to cover the most potential outcomes for my children and to maximise their life choices is to protect their autonomy: to nourish their spark of curiosity.

British law supports my choices at the moment. Educational provision has to 'achieve that which it sets out to achieve' and ours does. But imagine a society with no educational mavericks and everyone learning according to prescribed formats. There would be no free-thinkers, no revolutionaries, no inventors, nobody prepared to push the envelope and think about possibilities.

An obedient workforce has its uses, but for society to change and adapt with the times, we need some of the other kind of people as well.

posted by Gill at 6:20 AM 3 comments

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