Sunday, April 15, 2007

Civitas blog post revisited: Amazing autonomy

I happened upon Anastasia De Waal's Civitas blog post again this morning: Who's Truanting?, about which I blogged last Sunday and it has since generated some great comments.

I'm particularly impressed by Janet Ford's children, about whom she says:
"My two children have been lucky enough to decide on their own education, and an inspector making judgements about my son at 13 would have been horrified at this child who had not yet decided writing was an important thing in his life, or maths. However my son was recently the youngest entrant ever at the Manchester School of Medicine's PhD programme, following his degree. My 11 year old daughter is currently writing her first novel, but has not yet decided that maths is interesting enough to spend time on. She will, because it will be a necessary skill that she will realise she needs, and at that time, because she herself sees the need, she will cover it quickly and thoroughly, just as my son did when he was 14, taking a GCSE in Higher maths after 6 months study."

This is an amazing testimony of autonomous learning - in fact I think Janet was one of the people with whom I was exchanging list posts with when I was first thinking about deschooling for Tom, Ali and Zara, 7/8 years ago. So far mine haven't gone down the route of exams and qualifications and it doesn't seem as if the boys ever will. But they still push themselves hard to develop their skills, widen their business contacts and stretch their abilities, so their respective careers are definitely on track.

I love the fact that they don't worry about 'earning a living' - though they can and do earn money. Instead, they're far more focused on pursuing their intellectual and creative passions. One thing leads to another: they work on developing a project then get talking with people who are doing similar things, which feeds in different ideas so they in turn develop some more. I don't think they could switch their minds off if they wanted to, and it seems that they don't want to.

I worry sometimes whether they missed out on some necessary structure - some vital information, perhaps, needed to underpin their current work but when I ask specific questions along those lines it turned out that of course they learned everything necessary to get to where they are, because it was the natural order of learning. They wouldn't be at the stage they were at without doing everything along the way to get there. I didn't notice them learning it but they learned so much, so fast that I couldn't possibly witness it all, or even most of it. But learn it they did.

So what are they doing, exactly? I'm not 100% sure, to be honest! They don't need, and wouldn't want, me to pry into their activities all the time and they're past the age of [pointless, counterproductive] compulsory education so I don't have to, thank goodness. But Ali "does bits of coding" for some people and "bits of translation" for others, for which he apparently randomly receives cheques through the post and payment by various other means. Tom "does bits of building work" when he needs money and spends the rest of his time developing his graphic arts skills. He sometimes shows me what he's working on and it is amazing.

The other thing I like is that they work together. Usually this happens when Ali is stuck with a hardware issue, which Tom always sorts out for him; or when Tom is stuck on a piece of coding, which Ali solves and further explains. Tom will quite happily go and ask his younger brother for coding tuition and Ali quite happily supplies it without arrogance and vice versa with hardware, compatability or platform issues.

Zara is also 'working hard' - though it seems strange to call it that when it's fun and completely voluntary. But she's also into graphic art - adapting rather than creating, which (they tell me) is a completely different thing to what Tom does. And she reads and posts to all kinds of forums and develops her thinking and her ideas in that way.

It's just natural living. I wish it wasn't so unusual and under such threat of extinction that those of us who dare, have to publicly write about it. Perhaps one day it won't be and we can quietly get on with living our lives in complete, protected, accepted and safe privacy.


Anonymous Clare said...

You're blog is one of the things that has given me the confidence to become more and more autonomous in our lifestyle and the more freedom we give the girls, the happier we are :-) The girls are sensible and rational human beings and I trust them more and more each day to be so.


11:20 am, April 15, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Oh wow, Clare! I'll keep blogging then xx

12:38 pm, April 15, 2007  
Blogger Allie said...

Ditto to what Clare says.

In a world where the mainstream educational culture is so far the 'other way' the places where I can learn more about autonomous education are very precious to me.

12:56 pm, April 15, 2007  
Blogger lucy said...

It is wonderful to read about your children and what they're doing. So different from the usual exam-pressure driven teen lives. They've been free to become themselves, not someone else's idea of what they should be :)

Were getting more autonomous as we go along too.

3:33 pm, April 15, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Oh thanks for those comments. They'll inspire me to log more of what happens here then :-)

3:44 pm, April 15, 2007  
Blogger Tibetan Star said...

Same here, love reading your blog.

4:24 pm, April 15, 2007  
Blogger Tibetan Star said...

And I love working for the pleasure of it! Somehow, once your work becomes a job, something you do to get money, it becomes soul destroying.

I suppose I am fortunate enough to be able to dedicate myself, voluntarily, to things which are meaningful to me and from which I derive so much happiness.

And I also love it how one thing leads to the other, like the way I'm now doing (unpaid) translations simply because I'm interested in the stuff I'm translating and excited about making it accessible in another language.

That's a good example of how one interest leads to another. Also, I never really translated before and never did any training - I just get on with it, and learn from doing, not from listening to someone tell me how I should go about it.

Oops, I'm talking too much now! Better go back to my usual silent mode ;-)

4:39 pm, April 15, 2007  
Blogger Ruth said...

Briliant post Gill:)

5:31 pm, April 15, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Sounds like you and Ali have a lot in common, Paula! And.. it's great when you talk! Very zen to be quiet though - it makes you all the more fascinating :-)

Thanks Ruth xx Well, half of it was Janet, but thanks all the same :-)

5:47 pm, April 15, 2007  
Blogger 'EF' said...

I will echo what Clare said too. You know how *anal* I am about what I do..but it isn't because I wanted it that way. Reading this post brought prickles of tears and yearning to my eyes. The kids are becoming more autonomous...and just so long as I agree with what they are being autonomous about it

But I still have a quirk about the 'freedom' issue..and I think this is quite easily understandable when you consider that my parents were very permissive in so many ways (in reaction to their strict upbringings) so that I curb my kids freedom quite regularly (and feel righteous about it;)...but interesting phenomena: I can see that this is happening less and less the older they get.

Or am I just relaxing? LOL?

5:59 pm, April 15, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Ooh I dunno EF! Interesting! My willingness to let go the authority is definitely in part due to a kick-back from my overly structured, strict childhood I'm sure. BUT I also know that it took *me* a year or so to fully deschool after I deregistered T, A & Z. From what I've heard and read, that's a fairly common thing.

As parents we're conditioned to think that our children won't learn enough or work hard enough unless we make them. With support and stability as a child, would you have done? Without coercion either?

I don't think there are any easy answers or set, 'right' ways of doing this - we can only trust our instincts and find out and stick with what works, for each child.

BTW, if anyone's trying to access my other blog, I didn't take it down! They're adding some new servers and it's messed up the security protocols. Back to normal soon, I hope :-) (You're not missing much though, I can't access it myself!)

6:11 pm, April 15, 2007  

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