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Boston College psychology professor thinks school stinks

Published: Friday, Sept. 6 2013 3:30 p.m. MDT

Peter Gray's new book argues that kids hate school not because teachers are boring but because a school, inherently, is a prison. The psychology professor argues that kids need freedom and creativity more than regimentation.

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Peter Gray's new book, "Freed to Learn," argues that kids hate school not because teachers are boring but because a school, inherently, is a prison. The Boston College psychology professor's book argues that kids need freedom and creativity more than regimentation and testing.

In a Psychology Today piece promoting his book, Gray lays out his argument in short form. He argues that "we could, perhaps, rationalize forcing children to go to school if we could prove that they need this particular kind of prison in order to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to become good citizens, to be happy in adulthood, and to get good jobs. Many people, perhaps most people, think this has been proven, because the educational establishment talks about it as if it has. But, in truth, it has not been proven at all."

Gray's evolution as an advocate of "unschooling" began with a confrontation, which is excerpted from Gray's book by Mark Frauenfelder at Boing Boing, in which Gray describes a painful event at his 9-year-old child's school, where the child made it emphatically and emotionally clear that he had had enough of school.

Gray then elaborates, in the excerpt by Frauenfelder:

"Children come into the world burning to learn and genetically programmed with extraordinary capacities for learning. They are little learning machines. Within their first four years or so they absorb an unfathomable amount of information and skills without any instruction. They learn to walk, run, jump and climb. They learn to understand and speak the language of the culture into which they are born, and with that they learn to assert their will, argue, amuse, annoy, befriend and ask questions. They acquire an incredible amount of knowledge about the physical and social world around them. All of this is driven by their inborn instincts and drives, their innate playfulness and curiosity. Nature does not turn off this enormous desire and capacity to learn when children turn five or six. We turn it off with our coercive system of schooling. The biggest, most enduring lesson of school is that learning is work, to be avoided when possible."

Gray was interviewed by business blogger Bob Morris, who offered this biographical sketch of Gray: "Peter grew up mostly in small towns in Minnesota and Wisconsin, where he had a rich childhood play life, which, he believes, prepared him well for adulthood. He did his undergraduate study at Columbia University and then earned a Ph.D. in biological sciences at the Rockefeller University in New York City. His career since then has been centered entirely at Boston College. His play life continues, not only in the joy he derives from research and writing, but also in his enjoyment of long-distance bicycling, kayaking, backwoods skiing, pond skating and backyard vegetable gardening."

Email: eschulzke@desnews.com

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