We are all indoctrinated to believe that school is good. As kids we were told that school is a path towards self-discovery and reflection and as adults most of us believe that attending school helps our kids become better, self-actualized individuals. What if everything we’ve been told to believe is wrong? In Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self Reliant, and Better Prepared for Life Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College argues that children, if free to pursue their own interests through play, will not only learn all they need to know, but will do so with energy and passion.
Peter Gray is so passionate about our school model, which he believes only indoctrinates, instead of promoting intellectual growth, that he has a regular blog for Psychology Today magazine called Freedom to Learn, and with a number of colleagues, he recently launched a web site AlternativesToSchool designed to help families find or create settings for children’s self-directed learning.
Author Alfie Kohn, who lectures and writes extensively on education, seems to agree with Gray. He spent decades researching and documenting the evils of grades, competition and how our current educational system leaves no choice. As we have increased the time children spend in school (in part because we have little adequate child care and we want to keep parents/workers at work) in constricted authoritative and oppressive environments, there is now strong evidence (summarized in the book) that this is causing serious psychological damage to many of our children.
Many might be surprised to find that this is not a new idea. The 20th (and now 21st) century is rich with critiques of public (government run) schooling and the creation of alternatives, from the early experiments of the Modern Schools, also called Ferrer Schools, to Ivan Illich’s 1971 book Deschooling Society, to the work of Henry Giroux, and now the creation of the Brooklyn Free School and Queens Paideia School.
Perhaps the biggest educational lesson we can all take from challenging our indoctrinated view of education and schools, is to have the courage to constantly challenge ourselves and to join our kids in a collaborative process by asking them what they need in order to become self-actualized individuals.
Here’s Logan LaPlante’s take on education: