Who’s Afraid of SDE?

By Je’anna L Clements, with thanks to Chris Mercogliano

For those of us who grew up with conventional schooling, Self-Directed Education can be scary. Fear can be slippery. It’s not always easy to distinguish real dangers from bogeymen under the bed.

I recently had the pleasure of conversing about this online with author and educational philosopher Chris Mercogliano. Here’s a few of the more common fears we discussed. Do you share any of these?

  1. What if my child ends up an uneducated failure without the skills for successful adult life?
    A “good education” is widely recognised as one of the greatest treasures a person can have, but what is a ‘good education’? It can feel easier to focus on things easily tested and measured, but these are seldom useful in the long run. “Straight A’s” in conventional school don’t mean you’ll be able to make a marriage work, for example. SDE has an excellent track record for literacy, numeracy, social skills, and more. SDE graduates tend to be good at finding ways to live really fulfilling lives, rather than settling for ‘safe’ kinds of misery. There is even evidence that SDE graduates may often be more successful than their mainstreamed peers when it comes to tertiary education.
  2. What about physical safety?
    Does SDE offer enough supervision for physical safety? Is it really OK for kids to climb trees, for example? The best way to stay safe is to stay in bed! (But even then, the house could burn down around you!) Fear and anxiety can be as crippling as physical injuries – confidence comes from mastering challenges, not from avoiding them. Children need to take reasonable risks in order to fully develop. But, a good SDE environment distinguishes between risks and actual hazards. Give trees to climb, but make sure kids know how thick a branch needs to be, to carry their weight. Check for rotting branches.
  3. All play and no work makes Jack happy.
    Many of us have ancestry that valued hardship. “No pain, no gain” is accepted as a wisdom – yet there’s no evidence that this is true for education. Quite the opposite. We know now, that we all learn best when we love what we’re doing. It’s hard to believe that children can “just play” and end up educated. It seems “too good to be true.” Can you make the mental shift to “good enough to be true?” Can you think of ways to make your own life more wonderful, to match your child’s new happiness?
  4. Isn’t SDE weird?
    It’s hard to swim against the flow. It can be scary when your in-laws, neighbours and friends say you’re crazy. Every social and technological innovation takes time to become ‘normal’. The good news for you, reading this now, is that SDE is already established enough that you can find a whole new community who will understand and accept you. SDE is booming, for obvious reasons. As your children flourish, soon your in-laws, neighbours and friends will be coming to you for advice.
  5. Losing control of your children.
    This is a tough one. It’s hard to really live the fact that your child is not a mini-you. Can you do it? In the end, your child will be their own person. Would you prefer to know them honestly, or have them hide from you? SDE lets children grow and experiment with identity safely and gradually, rather than the sudden rebellious explosion that often happens in the teen years or when they finally leave home.