Thursday, April 30, 2015

Free to LEARN

The Human Nature of Education

Note: This post is my take on the book, Free to LEARN by Peter Gray. He is a research professor in the Department of Psychology at Boston College,  a brilliant individual and loving father. 

The cover of the book has a subtitle which is a good summary:  

"Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life"

trustful, playful
Playfulness forever!
Peter Gray makes the case that playfulness serves educational purposes that enhance creativity. Gray states, "While curiosity motivates children to seek new knowledge and understanding, playfulness motivates them to practice new skills and use those skills creatively."

Gray spends much time showing the coerciveness of the K-12 school system, and how it stifles a child's innate drive to learn. The biggest take-away, from my perspective, was the tremendous advantages a child is given when raised by adults who understand the concept of 'trustful parenting.'

Gray - "The trustful parenting style allows the self-educative instincts to blossom. Trustful parents trust their children to play and explore on their own, to make decisions, to take risks, and to learn from their mistakes."

'Respectful parenting' would work, too. I, Papa Green Bean, have always been a huge advocate of valuing the young child as an equal.  Respect and trust work in tandem. I believe that the only way for a child to feel free is if they can trust their elders. And when children grow up in an environment of trust and respect, they become confident, happy human beings, and life-time learners.

 Children who are trusted and respected will be more able to find their own voice and think critically about their world around them. As Gray explains, "To think critically, people must feel motivated and free to voice their own ideas and raise their own questions... critical thinking is founded in creativity, and creativity always requires a degree of playfulness. The critical thinker plays with ideas - tries them out, turns them upside down to see what happens, explores their consequences". 

playful, trustful
Playful Papa Green Bean and Anna (1986)
 I believe that all parents truly desire that their children grow up to be 'successful' in the most humane sense. 

"... when children are free to follow their interests, they take diverse and unpredicted paths. They develop passionate interests, work diligently to become experts in the realm that fascinates them, and then find ways to use those skills, knowledge, and passions to make a living." 

However, many parenting styles create anxiety in their children which hinders much of the potential to be successful. Gray points out, "A fundamental psychological principle is that anxiety inhibits learning. Learning occurs best in a playful state of mind, and anxiety inhibits playfulness." 

 As Gray states in the prologue of his book, "Children come into the world burning to learn and genetically programmed with extraordinary capacities for learning... 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.... nature does not turn off this enormous desire and capacity to learn..."

As parents and educators all we have to do is to not turn our children off of their innate desire to learn, but simply foster it.

Peter Gray has written a classic.

Cheers, Papa Green Bean