June 14th, 2013 // 10:20 am @ Oliver DeMille
Peter Gray’s book Free to Learn is an excellent addition to the genre of books on restoring freedom in education.
Gray clearly states:
“Children are biologically predisposed to take charge of their own education. When they are provided with the freedom and means to pursue their own interests, in safe settings, they bloom and develop along diverse and unpredictable paths, and they acquire the skills and confidence required to meet life’s challenges. In such an environment, children ask for any help they may need from adults. There is no need for forced lessons, lectures, assignments, tests, grades, segregation by age into classrooms, or any of the other trappings of our standard, compulsory system of schooling. All of these, in fact, interfere with the children’s natural way of learning.”
So why did we create schools that so directly “interfere with the children’s natural way of learning”? Gray shows that in tribal cultures the focus of childhood was playing and learning knowledge, skills, and how to live self-sufficiently and honorably.
When the agrarian revolution increased the need for child labor on farms, the values of school turned to toil, competition and status. While Gray’s view of this is perhaps a bit idyllic, the reality is that modern schools are less concerned with student knowledge, skills, honor or abilities than with the universal goal of job training.
Certainly job training has an important place in advanced society, but Gray is focused on the education of children, and in fact the toll on children in our modern job-obsessed schools is very high. They are way more stressed than earlier generations of children and youth.
Why are we raising a generation of children and youth who are stressed, not secure? Gray’s answer, based on a great deal of research which he outlines in the book, is that we have turned learning into a chore, a task, a labor, rather than the natural result of curiosity, interest, passion to learn, and self-driven seeking of knowledge and skills. In short, we’ve taken too much play out of childhood and too much freedom out of learning.
The results are a major decline of American education in the last four decades. The solution is to put freedom back into education.
Interestingly, Gray suggests that in many of the educational studies of classrooms, schools, homes and teachers that have found a way to successfully overcome these problems and achieve much better educational results, one of the key ingredients is “free age-mixing.” Where students are allowed to freely mix with other students of various ages, without grade levels, the capacity of individuals to effectively self-educate is much higher. As for the impact on college and career success, students from free educational models excel.
This is a good book, and a must read for those who really care about education. I don’t agree with everything the author teaches, but I learned something important on almost every page.
Whether or not you read Free to Learn, all of us who have children or work in education need to do more to promote the importance of increased freedom in education. Gray is a particular fan of “unschooling,” a type of homeschooling and private schooling where parents and teachers set an example of great education, create an environment of excellent learning, and let the kids become self-learners. While this may not be the ideal learning style for every student, it is the best model for a lot of them–and for nearly every young person under age 12.
If you disagree with this conclusion, you simply must read the book. The research is impeccable. If you do agree, the book can help you get to work setting a better example for any students in your life.