FreetoLearnTeaching the School System to Play


By Peter Gray
Basic Books, $27.99, 274 pages

Psychologist Peter Gray believes that in the not too far off future, how children are educated in the United States will be vastly different than the current system. Rather than “work”-based, structured days, where children are pushed to remember facts, Gray describes in Free to Learn a vision of education rooted in the child as decision-maker. Looking at childhood development from a Darwinian perspective – that children learn about their environment and how to interact with others around them naturally – Gray believes that if given the opportunity, children can and will figure things out on their own. Given that “children are biologically predisposed to take charge of their own education,” Gray posits that an educational system centered on free play and children-driven decision making would move the United States away from the bottom of the education charts internationally. To make his case, he describes numerous characteristics of how children learn in hunter-gather societies and in unique, experimental schools where children and adults together make every decision about how the school is run. In both, children are given incredible freedom to decide how to spend their days, yet the grow up knowing what they need to know, if not more, about the society in which they live. Gray argues his case well, and while a remodeling of the American educational system would be very difficult to accomplish, his optimism for change is admirable. Free to Learn is a book that should be required reading for parents, educators, and school administrators.

Reviewed by Michael Barton

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