Autonomous education, usually called “unschooling”, but also known as “interest driven”, “Delight-directed”, “child-directed-”, “self-directed-” / (or led), “natural”, “organic”, or “eclectic”.
These terms may be used for any type of education which doesn't use a fixed curriculum.
A possible essential difference between the two terms Autonomous Education and Unschooling, might be that 'unschooling' refers to the practice of autonomous education in a home-based setting, with parents as facilitators, whereas autonomous education can take place in a more institutional setting as well, for example, Summerhill School.
Autonomous education does not require the teacher to pour knowledge into the child on a planned basis. Instead you live and learn together, pursuing questions and interests as they arise and using conventional schooling on an "on demand" basis, if at all.
This is the way we learn before going to school and the way we learn when we leave school and enter the world of work.
So, for instance, a young child's interest in cars can lead him to a study of how the engine works (science), how and when the car was built (history), who built and designed the car (biography), etc. Certainly these interests can lead to reading texts, taking courses, or doing projects, but the important difference is that these activities were chosen and engaged in freely by the learner. They were not dictated to the learner.
However, this does not mean Autonomous education can not include traditional classes or use curricular materials when the student decides that this is how he wants to do it. Learning to read or do quadratic equations are not "natural" processes, but children studying autonomously nonetheless learn them when it makes sense to them to do so, not because they have reached a certain age or are compelled to do so by arbitrary authority. Therefore it isn't unusual to find children who are barely eight-years-old studying astronomy or who are ten-years-old and just learning to read.
Note: This page is under-reconstruction!
Farenga, Pat (????) What is Unschooling?, HoltGWS.com.
http://www.holtgws.com/whatisunschoolin.html (viewed 3rd-Nov-2006)
Taking Children Seriously Autonomous education e-mail group
more to follow, hopefully
Note: We really ought to tidy this list up - the academic in me coming out - so that we list each book fully, eg.
Holt, John (1991) Learning all the time: How small children begin to read, write, count, and investigate the world, without being taught, Ticknall and Liss: Education Now Publishing Cooperative and Lighthouse books. ISBN 1871526043
Teach Your Own: The John Holt book of Homeschooling (with Pat Farenga)
How Children Learn
How Children Fail
Learning All the Time
Doing It Their Way: Home-based Education and Autonomous Learning
The Unschooling Handbook
Free Range Education: How Home Education Works
Dumbing US Down
Homeschooling With Gentleness: A Catholic Discovers Unschooling
Homeschooling Our Children, Unschooling Ourselves
Terri Brown with Elissa M Wahl