In this episode we talk to Peter Gray, professor of psychology at Boston College, about school, self-directed education and the many ways children learn and how adults help and impede this impulse to learn.
We get into a short history of compulsory education, the alternatives to schooling that are currently available, and how our views of children’s capacities to learn and what they actually need to learn influence how we let them develop and the freedom we give them. What do we actually know about children who doesn’t follow the standard path through the school system, and how do they fare in a world that is as skill and knowledge based as our own? Much better than we would expect, and Peter Gray has some research and experience to back that claim up. Peter briefly gets into different concepts like homeschooling, unschooling, self-directed learning and self-directed education, and why he prefers the latter.
Peter Gray has also written a lot about the value of age mixing in children and adolescents, and how free play constitutes an essential element in children’s social, emotional and cognitive development (if it even makes sense to distinguish between these three aspects of personality). We would have loved to get into these questions more, but for now we’ll just have to direct you to his blog and his book Free to learn (2013)
To conclude, here’s a quote from his blog, an article about the developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik and her excellent book, The Carpenter and the Gardener, which gives us a clear idea of where Gray stands when it comes to new psychological research and the implications for school and education:
«OK, I’m a little frustrated and I guess I’m showing it. There are so many smart and good-willed people in academia who, like Gopnik, seem to get it, but who then fail to come to the logical conclusion and fail even to look at the real-world evidence that their ideas beg them to examine. The evidence has been out there for a long time that it is possible to develop learning spaces where children and teenagers can learn naturally; and the evidence has been out there for a long time that children and teenagers develop beautifully, in highly varied ways, like flowers in a garden, in those spaces; and the evidence has been out there for a long time that such learning spaces are far less expensive and less trouble to operate than are standard schools, precisely because they work with children’s nature rather than against it. And yet academia continues to blind itself to that evidence. Why?»
Links to articles, podcast episodes and lectures:
Peter Gray’s blog Freedom to learn on Psychology Today:
The Alliance for Self-Directed Education https://www.self-directed.org/
Let grow, https://letgrow.org/
Some selected video lectures:
Peter Gray og David Chanoff, «Democratic Schooling: What Happens to Young People Who Have Charge of Their Own Education?», American Journal of Education, Vol.94, No.2, (Feb.,1986), pp.182-213
Peter Gray, “The Special Value of Children’s Age-Mixed Play”, American Journal of Play, vol.3, no.4, 2011, pp.500-522
Intervju med Peter Gray, “Play as Preparation for Learning and Life”, American Journal of Play, vol.5, no.3, pp.271-292
Jay Feldman, “The Moral Behavior of Children and Adolescents at a Democratic School”, lecture at The Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Foundation, April 2001,
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Thank you so much for listening and sharing. Contact us on our facebook page Lars og Pål, or via firstname.lastname@example.org
So far we have only two episodes in English (listen to episode 25, our interview with journalist Scott Carney, about Wim Hof, skepticism and the pleasures and benefits of the cold), but as we explore other topics that make us curious, we’re surely going to reach out to experts and other interesting people in the English speaking world. Thank you for all feedback, tips and wishes for future episodes.
All the best,
Lars og Pål