Peter Gray, Boston College / Why Play And Self-Directed Education Are Crucial To Prepare Children For An Ever-Changing Future


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A. What Is Self-Directed Education?
Education is the sum of everything a person learns that enables the person to live a satisfying and meaningful life. Most of education for everyone occurs naturally and efficiently outside of formal schooling, through self-directed play, observation, exploration, conversation, and collaboration.
Children come into the world biologically designed to educate themselves. Their curiosity, playfulness, sociability, and wilfulness are all shaped by natural selection to serve the function of education.
If we look back far enough, Self-Directed Education is traditional education. Coercive schooling is a historical blip that served societal purposes that are now counterproductive.
B. The Educative Instincts
1. Curiosity—the drive to understand.
2. Playfulness—the drive to practice and create.
3. Sociability—the drive to know what others know and share what you know.
4. Wilfulness—the drive to be in charge of one’s own life.
5. Planfulness—the drive to make plans for the future.
C. The Crucial Roles of Play
Definition of play: Play is activity that is (a) self-chosen and self-directed; (b) intrinsically motivated; (c) structured by mental concepts or rules; and (d) imaginative and creative.
How play promotes physical, intellectual, social/moral, and emotional development.
How play leads to passionate interests and careers.
D. Evidence that Self-Directed Education Works
Evidence from observations of hunter-gatherer cultures and other traditional cultures.
My study of the graduates of the Sudbury Valley School.
My study of grown unschoolers.
E. The Optimal Context for Self-Directed Education
Conditions present in hunter-gatherer bands and SVS, but absent in conventional schools.
1. The social expectation (and reality) that education is children’s responsibility.
2. Unlimited freedom to play, explore, and pursue own interests.
3. Opportunity to play with the tools of the culture.
4. Access to a variety of caring adults, who are helpers, not judges.
5. Free age mixing among children and adolescents.
6. Immersion in a stable, moral, caring community.
F. Why the Time is Ripe Now for Self-Directed Education to Take Wings
1. Increased toxicity of coercive schooling.
2. Increased evidence that SDE works.
3. Increased ease of pursuing SDE, as information has become readily available.
4. Fit of SDE with the modern economy. More than ever the economy needs people who have the kinds of traits and skills that are fostered by SDE and suppressed by coercive schooling.
H. Practical Steps Toward Making SDE Available for All: The Mission of ASDE
How social change occurs; reaching the tipping point.
Means of hastening movement toward the tipping point. Normalising SDE.
Why the change will not occur through reform of current public schools.
Libraries as publicly supported centers for SDE. Our efforts to promote this movement.
See also Psychology Today blog, Freedom to Learn:
Join the Alliance for Self-Directed Education

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