Autonomy and Apprenticeship

As children grow, they crave autonomy; often, before they possess the skills to actually achieve it.

Part of the reason children want this self-sufficiency is that they lack so much agency in their own lives – in school and at home, they are accustomed to adults making many or all decisions. Who wouldn’t want autonomy?

But how can we prepare them to be fully autonomous, while retaining sufficient control for safety and to maintain our long-term educational, moral, and social goals?

I think the answer is in old-fashioned apprenticeship.

Apprentices begin with little autonomy, and the autonomy they have is reserved for the lowest roles: cleaning and manual labor. If an apprentice pays attention, learns, and does those jobs well, she will receive more responsibility and autonomy. By the end of the apprenticeship, she should have gained enough skills to control her own destiny. And these skills have been built, day by day, without the educator ever having ceded ultimate control.

It’s a good model, and one we should strive to use whenever available, both at home and in our educational system. It’s messier, more personal, and less automated – but it produces creative, educated, autonomous adults.

Sounds good to me.