Professor of psychology Peter Gray on our system of schooling and the joy and success that education can be, if we follow what we know about how people learn.
“The biggest, most enduring lesson of our system of schooling is that learning is work, to be avoided when possible.”
Parents send their children to school because they believe that it is necessary, that going will give them the necessary education and lead to productive, happy adults. While they see problems with the system, and children struggling within it, they think that these issues can be fixed by more funding, more rigorous exams, better training of teachers and so on. But, says Peter Gray, the problem is actually the school system itself.
Our system of schooling was not one created to help children grow in skills of critical and creative thinking, nor to allow them to develop as self motivated individuals and learners – the skills they need in today’s world. Initially they were conceived of to teach children to read the bible and to unquestioningly obey authority
“Research has shown that people of all ages learn best when they are self-motivated, pursuing questions that are their own real questions, and goals that are their own real-life goals. In such conditions, learning is usually joyful.”
figures. And while the curriculum and methods have changed, the essential nature of school – the top down hierarchy of teachers bestowing knowledge – has stayed the same. It is a system which ignores the huge wealth of knowledge we have on how humans learn, ignores what we know about human fulfilment and happiness, and it is our children who are paying the price.
Peter Gray has done extensive research into children who are allowed to learn outside of the school system. Studies of children who were able to follow a method of self directed education show motivated joyful learners. Where children have been able to follow their own interests and take part in unlimited play their individual interests and passions can often be seen to lead to lead directly or indirectly to careers.
Peter Gray is an American professor of psychology, currently with Boston College.
Co-author of the first introductory textbook which examined psychology through a Darwinian perspective, Psychology is now in its seventh edition and used widely across the field. Peter Gray has dedicated most of his career to furthering our understanding of how children learn and develop. He has explored and documented children’s biological need for play, their natural propensity and ability to learn and is vocal on the psychological damage inflicted on children by our system of schooling.
Peter Gray is author of Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life and writer of regular bog “Freedom to Learn” for Psychology Today magazine.