After 6 years of informal study around the subjects of parenting theory and culture, childhood, children’s rights, and systems of education, through a personal, social, political, historical, feminist, social justice lens, I have decided to take a more formal approach for a period of time, in the form of a masters programme. I have a taught undergraduate degree from the University of St. Andrews in Modern History – which focused on social history, including women’s history, the history of medicine and mental illness, the history of midwifery, the civil rights movement, and the transatlantic slave trade with a dissertation on Jewish resistance to the Holocaust. A postgraduate degree feels like the appropriate next step.
My first idea was to investigate whether a suitable masters programme existed at a UK university that suited my areas of interest: the theory that the key to transformative social change is found via shifting parent/child education/child dynamics to a human rights model. I came across the Sociology of Childhood and Children’s Rights MA offered by the Institute of Education at UCL, which looks like a close match.
However, I hit three stumbling blocks that woke me up to an opportunity.
Firstly, the cost of the course. The full time one year MA currently costs £7,145 (£15,525 for students from overseas). There would of course be the additional costs of commuting into central London. The only way to cover the cost, would be to take some kind of loan or pay by credit card. At the moment our budget does not allow for saving for this kind of ‘luxury’ – our finances are totally accounted for in the day to day essentials of living. So straight off the cost is a big barrier to my learning and participation in the course.
Secondly, my existing commitments. As a children’s rights orientated person, my time is very much committed to facilitating an unschooling environment for my children, contributing to our local home educating community, and writing on children’s rights issues for my blog, our local newspaper and other publications. I also have the commitment of a part-time job in a supermarket which is essential for our financial sustainability.
Thirdly – potential limitations of the course. For my theories to be explored, I need to take an agile cross discipline approach that is not in keeping with the traditional higher education format. I don’t want my studies to be limited by the siloing of knowledge – sociology vs. history vs. psychology etc, and I also want to keep it tightly focused on my particular area of interest. I was concerned that I might find the IOE masters programme restrictive or some parts less relevant to my direction of study.
I realised that there was a simple solution to the situation, and one that I am familiar with exactly because of my areas of interest: I should unschool the masters.
Here are the benefits I realised I would experience by taking an unschooling approach:
- My desire to learn and deepen my studies would not render myself and my family in thousands of pounds worth of debt.
- I could manage my study time around my other commitments, also avoiding the ‘lost’ time (and cost) associated with commuting to central London for the course.
- I could uniquely tailor the course to align with my specific areas of interest – I get to be the course creator as well as the course follower.
- The act of doing the masters programme by unschooling would also act as a hypothesis test for my own theories about education, learners and learning – I would be practicing what I preach in a very tangible and measurable way.
- I could bridge the gap between public and private spaces for learning – rather than conduct my studies within a closed institution, I could conduct them in public sharing every step of the course and my work via a free blog platform.
I realise that by doing the Masters independently, I will be missing out on certain things that studying with an institution offers. However I believe there are creative ways to address that.
Using the IOE course as inspiration, over the next weeks, months (and possibly years), I am going to be constructing my cross discipline UMA – Unschooled Master of Arts – in Children’s Rights, Parenthood and Education. I will be drawing up the course content, designing the core modules and their accompanying written assignments, and completing them. I intend to read, watch and listen to lectures and other resources, and participate in and create opportunities for debate and discussion. I will seek mentors, and I will self assess and self accredit. If anyone is interested in participating with me in any aspect of this, you are very welcome.
I will be blogging every step, with a view that sharing my research might be of interest to others who wish to explore this area, and that my approach might empower others to forgo debt and construct their own rigorous UMAs, sharing their experiences and writings with others for free.
This UMA is my social justice minded, progressive education hack of formal learning and higher education. Wish me luck!