Skeptic: What is Abrome?
Me: Abrome is a Self-Directed Education community in Austin, TX, that serves young people and their families. Abrome provides Learners with a psychologically safe space that is anti-oppressive and consensus based, where young people have the autonomy to engage in meaningful learning experiences and unlimited free play in a mixed-age setting.
Skeptic: Self-Directed Education? Anti-oppressive? Autonomy? What does all that mean?
Me: It means that young people get to make the decisions that are relevant to their lives. We trust that they can learn what matters most when they are surrounded by supportive people in a healthy community. Why should we make decisions for them when they are fully capable of doing it themselves? All people deserve the right to control their own lives, and children are people, too.
Skeptic: You don’t really think that children can be trusted to make their own decisions, do you?
Me: I do.
Skeptic: But they’ll make bad decisions.
Me: Of course they will. We all make bad decisions. But the way to become a good decision maker is to practice making decisions. Our society too often does not trust children to make decisions, but then expects them to make all the right ones as soon as they leave home. That’s a recipe for disaster.
Skeptic: They learn how to make good decisions by being told what is right and wrong.
Me: Do you feel adults in our society make good decisions?
Skeptic: Not all of them.
Me: Most of them? How about the politicians, do they make good decisions? Or how about the people leading multi-national corporations? How about voters? Are they making good decisions?
Me: Didn’t most adults go to conventional schools where they were told right and wrong?
Skeptic: Maybe. But what you’re proposing is anarchy. What if they want to play in traffic? Will you let them?
Skeptic: Aha! So you don’t trust children!
Me: Just because I don’t let Learners play in traffic does not mean I don’t trust them. We tend to learn best through experience, and that learning sometimes entails risk. But it is reasonable to have limits on freedom. Many people do not believe that children can be trusted to use screens. I believe they can be. Many people do not believe that children can be trusted to be in public without adult supervision. I believe they can be. Many people do not believe that children can be trusted to spend their time on what interests them. I believe they can be. I am not trying to tell you where you should draw the line, but as for me, and Abrome, we are going to lean toward maximum autonomy for the Learner so long as they are not violating the autonomy of others, or posing a risk to themselves or others. At the same time, I get that this society does not trust children. That’s why there are so many schools for kids. I hope that you’ll think about the possibility that there might be better ways to help young people learn how to make good decisions considering the unimpressive track record of schooling.