Record: Rebecca English, “Use Your Freedom of Choice: Reasons for Choosing Homeschool in Australia” in Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning 9, no. 17 (2015): 1-18. [Avaliable Here]
Summary: English, a Lecturer in Education at Queensland University of Technology in Australia, here presents a portion of a larger qualitative study of a group of attachment parenting mothers in Queensland, all of whom are part of the same unschooling support group. English reveals in the article that she herself is a practitioner of attachment parenting and contributes articles for a movement magazine. She also publishes journalistic articles on this and related topics online, and maintains her own blog on the same themes.
In this article English uses what she calls the “Discourse Historical Approach” to “Critical Discourse Analysis,” which is basically a method of analyzing responses to interview questions so that the researcher can uncover arguments and assumptions being made by the subject. In this paper English provides two quotations from two of her subjects and then subjects them to this method.
Her conclusion is that there is indeed a philosophical link in the minds of these mothers between their practice of attachment parenting and their decision to unschool their children. Attachment parenting for these women, whether or not they actually use the term, is associated with caregiving features like “infant-cue and extended breastfeeding, child-led weaning, cosleeping, and carrying infants in slings or baby carriers.” (p. 5) Unschooling means “following a child-led, natural learning approach.” (p. 6) For these women, unschooling was one of a group of practices “used to establish a strong connection and bond between themselves and their children.” (p. 13) English understands these mothers to be reacting against “the failure to establish a deep bond of attachment to their own mothers” as well as their own childhood experiences of school as “a dictatorial, autocratic environment.” (p. 13) English concludes that further work should be done to determine if parenting philosophy is the basis for the decision to home educate among other kinds of parents like it is for these attachment parents.
Appraisal: One of the most understudied groups of home educators are so-called “unschoolers” such as those discussed here. Whether because of their minority status in the broader home educating community, the difficulty researchers have finding them, or perhaps some other reason, very few of the academic studies of home education have focused particularly on unschoolers, despite the frequent mention of them in popular press accounts. I thus had high hopes for this article when I began it.
Unfortunately it’s a shoddy piece of work. Hopefully English will offer us a lot more actual research data and findings in the future, but this article is incredibly thin. Its entire argument is built upon two quotations from two women. English does not tell us in the paper how many women are part of her overall sample, why she chose this group of women, or why she narrowed in on these two women and these two quotations in particular for this article. I personally would have liked a more robust presentation of her broader project rather than this empirically weak product as a first publication based on her data.
Even worse, the paper was evidently published with no editorial oversight. English says in many places that she is using the results of three women, though only two women are actually quoted or described. A third woman (Padme) is mentioned once, making me speculate that perhaps an earlier version of this paper analyzed three excerpts rather than two? But earlier in the text yet another woman (Aaishah) is mentioned, who does not appear again, so I am basically at a loss to understand what is going on. In addition, there are a number of sloppy grammatical mistakes in the text. If a student in one of my classes submitted a paper like this I would return it without a grade and give the student a lecture about wasting my time with sloppy, unedited work. That this article was submitted in this condition by an academic and published in this condition by anyone is shameful.
Milton Gaither, Messiah College