Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Autonomous Child in the Workplace?

From the discussion in comments here, it seems that there is some anxiety as to how autonomously educated children will ever fit into hierarchical structures such as a workplace where they may have to deal with issues such as producing work to a deadline, to meet the expectations of others, and to deal with bullying.

I have to admit to little experience of this myself, since most of the AEd children I know personally are yet to make it to this stage in their lives, so I would be very interested to hear from anyone who has more experience of this, but from the little I have seen, and from the books (such as Julie Webb's Those Unschooled Minds) that I have read, I would say that the most important factor in regard to the problem of whether the autonomously educated child copes with adult life, is whether or not the parent has helped the child to be well prepared for the environment of his choice.

Therefore, many AEing parents will be talking to their children about issues to do with earning a living, how best this can be done, the likely nature of the workplace, and if necessary, about topics such as working competively as opposed to co-operatively, about meeting deadlines, about presentation of work and person, about ways of dealing with stress and bullying.

The advantages that the AEd child may have is that he is familiar with being in charge of his life and learning. If he is well advised about the likely nature of the workplace, he can then make the choice as to whether or not to go for it. Having made that free choice, he knows that he can walk away, which in itself immediately makes the stressful environment seem less so. He also knows, having been encouraged to solve problems with creativity and ingenuity, that he needn't acquiesce in terrible situations, that he can seek to solve these problems. He may be very familiar with the benefits of working co-operatively with others, that competition within the workplace as often as not actually stymies productivity, rather than enhances it. He may also be familiar with taking criticism, (since there is often less terror in receiving it when the stakes are lower, as they can be at home), that he may be able to stand the criticism far better than a schooled child can. He may be gentler in giving it too. He may also be a truth seeker, since again there is often no reason not to be in a healthy family, whereas lying (eg: to protect friends from a bullying teacher) frequently seems a proportionate response to some of the strains of schooling.

In other words, I suspect that AEd children could have an advantage over coercively schooled children because the former are aware that they are freely choosing these environments, that these environments are not necessarily optimal, but that they can use their ingenuity and creativity to try to solve the problems that hierarchical structures create.

As regards solving problems creatively, it is the case that some inspirational company directors, such as Bravilian CEO Ricardo Semler, who managed a six-fold increased his company profits by dissipating the hierarchical structure of his company, have shown that it is possible to manage big organisations by creating a situation where autonomous individuals can work collectively. In Semco, workers set their own salaries, share company profits and hire and fire their own managers. They say: "Our philosophy is built on participation and involvement. Don't settle down. Give opinions, seek opportunities and advancement, always say what you think. Don't be just one more person in the company." An autonomously educated child could fit in very easily in such an environment.

Because AEd kids understand that they have freely chosen to be at their place of work, and can see a good reason for being so, and because they can envisage a better way of doing things and since they still do feel empowered to solve their problems, it may the case that they can actually cope with it better than the schooled child who has lost all hope of a better life, who feels compelled to continue in a miserable existence, who cannot imagine a better future and who does not try to solve the problems he faces in the workplace because he is not familiar with acting autonomously.


Terri said...

Quite honestly, it hasn't been any problem here. Both my sons work - younger one (15) sporadically as a session musician, the older one part-time from 16-18, and now full-time in the same law firm until he goes off to University in October. He doesn't always enjoy it by any means, but he handles office politics with charm and common sense, is punctual and conscientious and seems to be very popular with the other staff. Generally by the time I get up in the morning, he is already suited and booted and makes me coffee :o)

I don't understand the anxiety that autonomously educated children won't develop self-discipline etc. What I've seen with my two is that motivation really does come from within them. They appreciate that sometimes you have to do tedious stuff in order to get to where you want to be.

I may be appallingly slack, but I simply can't be bothered to get drawn into providing incentives or issuing warnings etc. While I'm available to help when asked, and have sometimes pointed out the logical consequence of missing an OU essay deadline or not putting in any practice for a music exam, ultimately it's their choice.

Pete said...

I can certainly attest to the contrary position: that conventional schooling leads one to put up with lousy jobs for longer, inculcates you with the attitude that "people like us" don't get to be professional writers, actors, whatever...

Without the which, I wouldn't be blogging at work today!

Ruth said...

I can't say how they fit into the workplace cos both my older Aued kids are going to work for themselves and have no intention of being "bossed" by anyone:)

Gill said...

My sons (16 and 18) were both off to work before 7am this morning - nearly two hours before I got up!

They work when and where they want to and seem to be good at negotiating the arrangements to suit themselves.

Great post, Carlotta :-)

Anonymous said...

Yes, really helpful. Thanks for bringing this up, Carlotta. My son is just beginning his working life in a traditionally unstable way of earning a living, so am allowing all those voices (from the past and some in the present!) to make me worry for the future.

This is very useful. It's not so much a desire to justify past choices, but more a need to understand how a process (believing in one's child) that is so different from what most of us knew can fit into today's society. (I agree, Pete, unhappiness at school certainly contributes to feeling unable to choose something one actually wants to do.)


Anonymous said...

Most interesting is how Ricardo Semler took over his father. Schooling had absolutely no part in his success.

Anonymous said...

You say "In other words, I suspect that AEd children could have an advantage over coercively schooled children..."

Are AEd kids necessarily home ed here? Sorry to keep banging this drum. Just wondering are you making a distinction between cercively schooled children and AEd children who are choosing school?

Just to say that I imagine my kids would cope with the coercive/unhealthy aspects of work in the same way they do school. They can see when certain rules are daft or unfair and usually decide which ones to go along with and which ones to reject either actively or passively. I think they understand that whilst some bits of a package are not good other bits can be useful in doing what you want.