It’s a common perception: unschooling is a lazy form of parenting that will result in lazy children. That they'll use the autonomy they’re given to opt out of much of life. That they'll do little that's meaningful with their time, and become less and less motivated.
Except...research tells us that’s not what happens when you give someone autonomy. Because research tells us that autonomy is literally a basic human need. A need that plays a critical role in the development of self-regulation. Which, in turn, is an incredibly important executive function used for managing not just our behaviours, but also our thoughts and emotions.
You know that feeling you get when you set out to achieve a personal goal and make it happen? You feel fulfilled, right? More motivated to keep pursuing new goals and challenges?
Well, self-regulation is the car that takes us on that journey. A journey that some very helpful passengers, like discipline and focus, join us on.
But without first having autonomy none of us would ever leave the driveway. We'd never get the engine started. We probably wouldn't even be able to find our keys.
The great irony of this perception is that when we take autonomy away (usually by introducing too much external control) we quickly start to see motivation decline. Which is a problem, because we tend to make it a habit - especially in education - of continually telling children what to do, how to do it, and when to have it done by. We force them to take tests, conform to standards, and expect them to follow rigid schedules and rules. We block out almost all their available time.
I’m going to say this again, because it cannot be underlined in dark enough pen: when we take away a child’s autonomy, we take away a basic human need.
So should we worry that giving children autonomy over their lives will make them lazy? Well, no. Because it is a clear, peer reviewed, research-backed fact that autonomy will always beat control in the development of motivation and drive.
What we should worry about more - a whole lot more - is all the children from whom we’re taking autonomy away.
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