Author of introductory psychology textbook; research articles in neuroscience, psychology, anthropology, and education; and Free to Learn, book about children’s natural capacities for Self-Directed Education.
373 Help Your Child Learn
Many of us are confused about what to do about our kid’s education. Should they go to a local school? A private school? Homeschool? I brought renowned expert Peter Gray on so that we could talk about how kids learn and what kind of education best supports their healthy development. Find out what you should (and should not) do to help your child have a meaningful education that keeps their natural curiosity alive.
Help Your Child Learn - Peter Grey 
*This is an auto-generated transcript*
[00:00:00] Hunter: You, like me, are a speaker at the Parenting conference. So we're gonna, we're being we're at this November, 2022 and you're gonna be teaching about play and you talk about how there is a crisis in play for kids. Can. Describe the lay of the land. What's been happening for kids play over the last number of years?
[00:00:33] Dr Peter Gray: Yeah. Of course most of my research is in the United States, but the same is true in much of the rest of the developed world. The there has been a huge decline over decades in children's opportunities to play. Children are really designed to grow by playing. That's, the natural selection endowed them with this extraordinarily strong drive to play and to play in certain ways.
And throughout human history we have largely respected that there have been times when we haven't, when we had children working And sweatshops and coal mines. And that still happens in some places, but largely children, it, most people in most parts of the world throughout human in history have understood that children need lots of time to play.
Play is how they develop social skills. It's how they develop creativity. It's how they develop the ability to control their emotions. It's how they develop. Building skills because they play at constructive play. It's how they learn about, it's how they practice the skills that are important to their culture because children everywhere play at the skills that are important to their culture.
But during, really during the period of my lifetime, my adult lifetime, We have seen in the United States and in the UK and many other places, a huge decline in the opportunities for children to play. We have more or less taken over children's lives. Play is something that children need to do independently of adults.
Adults interfere with it. Adults ruin children's play by intervening, by controlling, and so on and so forth. So children need. Independent time away from adults with other kids in order to play. And we're just not providing that for kids anymore. We are taking up their time with way too much schooling. We're burning kids out with too much schooling.
We're making them cynical about schooling even while they're still in elementary school. That didn't used to happen until they reached middle school. We are We are driving them crazy with standardized testing and comparing them all the time. We're giving them the message that the, if they don't do well on these tests that are somehow failures in life or making them anxious and nervous about all of this, we are, we have record levels of anxiety and depression among school aged children.
This is what We're doing at. With, I must say, good intentions. People genuinely believe that all this quote. Schooling is education, if you wanna call it that, but I would call it schooling is good for kids. We also are over protecting children from good intentions. We don't want our children to get hurt, We don't want them to suffer emotional pain or psych physical pain.
So we guard them all the time. And as a consequence of that, children are not, Learning how to be independent. They're not playing, they're not exploring, they're not having the opportunity, I would say, to grow. The purpose of childhood is to become increasingly independent. That's why we have such a long childhood.
It takes a long time for human beings to acquire the kinds of characteristics, personality characteristics, the kinds of skills, of character traits that allow for successful adulthood. Those are developed. If we allow children as they're growing up increasing amounts of independence, but we are not currently doing that, then we are seeing the consequences of it.
[00:04:31] Hunter: it's a scary picture. And it's interesting because you have talked about how there was a big change in the 1980s and it's really interesting, like from my point of view, I was a kid in the eighties. I was born in 1978 and I had a very, a lot of independence as a child. I met my. My oldest friend who's still friends with me when I was four and I was like wandering around on my street singing the Annie song and I just went home with them and then and I wonder, we went to all over the neighborhood, we went up to buy candy and we did all kinds of things and in downtown and all these things.
And I did a lot of biking widely and had a lot of independence. And then I met a friend and when I. I dunno, 10 or something. When she was a little older than me, she was maybe 12 and she was not allowed to leave her driveway. And I was just shocked at this. I had been leaving my driveway forever.
I could not understand what was her mother so afraid of that she was older and she could be babysitting other kids and she wasn't allowed to leave her driveway. And you have talked about how this was a. Point, right? The 1980s was a turning point for the a culture of fear with parents, wasn't it?
[00:05:54] Dr Peter Gray: I think that's right. I think the it's been a gradual change really since the 1950s, or certainly since the 1960s all the way through now. But I think the 1980s was probably the, Biggest slope of change? I think there's two things that happened in the 1980s that led to that change. Oh, one one was the the fact that there were a couple of boys, white boys, young white boys who were.
Kidnapped, one of, at least one of them was killed. And this made the huge impact on the news. This was greatly publicized. It led to public service announcements to the effect of, do you know where your child is right now? And the implication is if you don't know that, you're probably a negligent parent.
It led to pictures of missing children on milk cartons. So you'd be eating your breakfast cereal and seeing these, I remember that pictures of these cute kids who presumably were snatched away by some stranger on the street. Turns out somebody did a. Retrospective study of that. And it turns out most of those kids were runaways and any that were snatched away were not snatched away by strangers, but by relatives.
So the but we developed the view in the 1980s said it's terribly dangerous out there that you are a negligent parent if you allow your children the kinds of freedom that parents always allowed in the past. And and that, so that was a turning point. The other thing is there was a shift in education at that time.
There was the the, we began to focus on on testing, on standardized testing. We began to get concerned with the pieces scores, how American children's. Score a, stand compared to Asian children. on these test scores and the nature of school changed. And so recesses were greatly reduced.
Homework was added to even elementary school days, even though, which it hadn't been before. So we began to devote more and more of children's time to schooling and the worst kind of schooling, the preparation for tests. Creative thing you can possibly be doing in school. The least intellectually stimulating thing you can possibly be doing in school with them.
But that's what we began because we felt like our national interests somehow depended on squeezing the highest possible test scores we can out of children. We were ignoring the fact that people in China and must of rest of East Asia were beginning to study our school system because they realized that they were driving the creativity out of their kids
And they needed to loosen up somehow. They need to, needed to offer more opportunities to play. They still haven't succeeded in that, but they've been moving, at least in that direction. They've been trying to move in that direction for a long time. So at the same time, we were trying to imitate. They were trying to capture what we had before, which is more looseness, more opportunity for self direction, more opportunity for creativity, more opportunity to develop the kinds of skills that we have to say are really the skills that are most important today.
We don't need people. Who can memorize a lot of stuff. Couple of clicks on this thing, and you can find the answer to whatever you want. You don't have to hold it in your head. The, We don't need people who can just crunch numbers. We've got calculators and computers. We need people who can be creative.
We need people who can solve problems that haven't been solved before. And yet our school system has gone in the exact opposite. And by depriving children of play, we're depriving them of the primary way that children learn to be creative and to take initiative and to develop the kinds of skills that would lead them to have the, to have success in today's in today's economic world.
[00:10:09] Hunter: I know and it kills the love of learning. And I wanna get back to this because this is an important thing for me. But the but yeah, they're giving homework now in kindergarten, which is
[00:10:19] Dr Peter Gray: so crazy. Even to kindergarten. I know, I've heard of it in preschool. I've heard of it in preschool. . It's nuts.
[00:10:25] Hunter: It's nuts.
Peter, you had loved this last night I looked, I was looking at the New York Times and they had an article about these two boys who are. And nine in 1967, who took a principal, told the mother that your son can't read a map, and they've worked it out. So they took a pony cart from Boston, Mass to mantra the Montreal World's Fair in 1967.
It took them like 20 days to go on this pony cart. It was very, it was controversial and wonder, for some people then, even then, they were told, the mother was told she was a neglige. Mother and some people said, You're doing a wonderful thing. But I thought, Oh my gosh, what a different world that you could take this pony cart and you would not be arrested.
The parents would not be arrested and go to Montreal with this nine and 11 year old. It was fascinating, but Right. The the thing about the thing that I, going back to schooling, the thing that I think about that is that, I was like one of those kids, like a really smart kid who loved to learn, who hated school.
I hated school so much, cuz you all had to sit in a row and we all had to do multiplication on the worksheet when, when I didn't wanna do that. And so that was for me. A really big, When I studied education in graduate school, I learned about homeschooling, I learned about unschooling, learned about a lot of different things, and I learned about Montessori.
And for me, the idea that my kids could, I'll make a lot of their own choices and they could, they could be much more directive and things like that. And I wouldn't just kill that, like love of learning was. That was what I really wanted to do was to not kill that love of learning, which it seems like all the, that direction of so much testing and things like that, it really just squashes, It makes learning into this like work, which it, as you write about it, it shouldn't be.
[00:12:28] Dr Peter Gray: I think that's right. I think that when we talk about love of learning too, I think we need to be a little bit careful about what we mean by that. That I'm not sure that all kids love learning, but I think they all love doing. And they learn by doing things. They learn by doing things, and they learn in order to do things.
And I'm the same way. I can't honestly say I love learning for its own sake. I love doing things. I love accomplishing things. I love exploring things. But to love learning in the abstract is not something that is very meaningful to me. And I think this is a phrase that comes from schooling like learning is the goal.
No, learning is not the goal. The goal is the ability to live your life. The goal is the ability to do things. The goal is to satisfy your curiosity about things
[00:13:23] Hunter: that you're curious about. Yeah, that's the word I think that is probably more appropriate is that curiosity. I don't. Squash their curiosity.
[00:13:30] Dr Peter Gray: One, one of the, one of the reasons I'm saying this is John Halt, who you probably know something about his work and his book on How children Learn. He makes the point that. Never ask a child what the child learned. That's a meaningless question to them. , ask 'em what they did, , and then you may get an answer if they're willing to tell you because they know what they did.
They're concerned about doing things, and they learn by doing things.
[00:14:00] Hunter: Yeah. And you write about how like this idea that we are just, and you mentioned it earlier, that we are just primed for learning like a child is a learning, it's just evolution has primed us for learning just as like many other mammals and species like we are primed to learn.
Can you just talk a little bit more about this, because I think it's so important to understand this piece of our development.
[00:14:26] Dr Peter Gray: Yeah. The way I like to put it is that we are really prime to educate ourselves and and there's a number of basic drives that we have. They're just absolutely obvious that all children come into the world with these drives unless they've got very severe brain damage of some sort.
But the two most prominent drives, one's most obviously the educative drives as I refer to them, are curiosity and playfulness. So there's really two aspects to education when you think about it. One is the acquisition of knowledge and information, the acquisition of what's out there and what can I do with those things, and what are the properties of these things in my world, including the inanimate things and including the people in my world and so on and so forth.
We're just naturally curious about things. Babies, as soon. Born are already as soon as their eyes can fix it, a few hours old. They're already exploring their environment. There's research showing this. By the time they can crawl, why are they crawling? Why are they moving? They're moving to get to things so that they can explore them.
That's why we have to baby proof our house because they wanna get into everything. Not because they're naughty, but because they're curious. They wanna understand. This thing in my world, what can I do with it? What happens if I drop it on the floor? What happens if I stick a bobby pin in this electric outlet?
And so on and so forth. So therefore, we have to baby proof our house. But, and then as children get older, this curiosity expands to even wider parts of their environment. If we don't kill it, unfortunately, tend to kill it in school. And then the other primary drive for education is play. Curiosity is how is the drive to acquire information and understanding about the world?
You're growing up in play is the drive to for skills. Play is practicing skills. So when children are playing, they're doing things, they are and they are practicing, in fact. Their anthropologists point out that throughout the world, in places where children have ample opportunities to play, they play at all the basic skills that are important to humans.
Everywhere they play at language, they play a socially, they play in ways that stretch their emotional capacities. They play in ways that. Develop courage because they're somewhat fearful. They play in ways that help them learn how to control anger because they get angry and play. They play in ways that allow them to exercise their imagination and their creativity.
They play in ways that allow them to exercise their logical abilities, which is part of imagination. They play in really, and they also tend to play at whatever the. The important tools in their culture. So in a hunter gatherer culture, the kids tend to play with bows and arrows and digging sticks and fire and agricultural culture.
They play with agricultural instruments they become good at, and our culture, what do they play with? They play with computers far and away the most important tool of our culture. Yeah. That would be, But I was just making, having you say, that made me think like, when I grew up, I had all these, there was like a boat building place near where I lived and there were cars and the two things we played.
[00:17:43] Hunter: Constantly we're like, we were on a boat and we were falling off and then there was like this rusted out old convertible, like in this and we played in that car constantly. It was the boat and the car. Those were important. The vehicles , but now it's the computers. Yeah. Now, Yeah, that's not just the computer, But the computer is far and away the most obvious tool of our culture.
[00:18:08] Dr Peter Gray: Anybody who looks around any kid looking around will say, No matter what I'm going to do in this world that I'm growing up in, I'm gonna have to be skilled at computers. . I may or may not need to be skilled at this or that, depending on my interest, depending on my direction. But no matter what I do, computers are going to be involved.
[00:18:28] Hunter: Yeah. Yeah, that's true. Okay, so we have this drive for play, and one of the and I wanted to talk to you now shift into this idea between schooling and education. And you talk about this, right? You talk about there's a difference between schooling and education. So what is that difference and how, in your mind, can school interfere with education?
[00:18:53] Dr Peter Gray: So the way I define education is as follows. I actually define it somewhat differently for different audiences, but usually when I define it, when I'm not talking to anthropologists, I define education as everything that a person learns that enables that person. To live a satisfying and meaningful and moral life.
So isn't that what we all want for our kids? ? Yeah. That's the essence of education. Everything that you learn, no matter where you learn it, no matter how you learn it. That helps you to live a satisfying, meaningful, and moral life. So it's not exactly the same as learning because you can learn a lot of stuff that doesn't help you live your life.
You can learn trivia, you can learn nonsense. You can learn bad habits, you can learn things that aren't true. You can learn things that you, that have no relevance to your life and you're going to forget it, which is primarily what you're learning in school and that doesn't contribute to your education.
What contributes to your education is those things that you learn. That really help you in the long run of your life. So that's the way I define education. And I think almost everybody, if they think about it that way, finds that to be a meaningful definition of education. That's, yeah, that's what you would want for yourself.
That's what you would want for your kids. And the and so then the question is where does that learning come from? And
[00:20:30] Dr Peter Gray: think that if you or I or any adult examines your own, what are the things that I know? What are the things that have been useful to me in my life that you would find that most of it didn't occur in school?
Some of it occurred is who We spent a lot of time in school. So of course, we learned some things there that were, that stayed with us. But by and large what we have learned that stayed with us are those things that we encountered in the course of our regular everyday life and that are therefore meaningful because they're part of regular life.
And those things that we encountered because we. Developed our own curiosity about them. We developed an interest in them. We developed a real interest in them, and as a consequence of that interest, we explored them and played with them in ways that we incorporated it into our real being. that laughs with us.
That plays a role, for example, in our choice of future career and our ability to do that career that plays a role in whether or not we have a happy marriage that plays a role in whether or not we're able to make good friends. All these things that that really do contribute to a satisfying and meaningful and moral life are the things that that we've acquired because, Life experience and because of the things that we have chosen to pursue on our own initiative.
And so that's self-directed education. That that self-directed education is the education that comes from living your life and from exploring and playing with the things that interest. And I would, I'm imagining like a listener here who's a teacher maybe of young kids. And maybe that question might be, but kids need to be exposed to lots of different things to be able to know the things that they are interested in, to explore.
[00:22:36] Hunter: And, maybe bristling at the idea that school could interfere with this idea of education. What do you say to someone like, see, school interferes with it because it does, It takes, especially today, it takes all your time. , you don't have time to explore your own interests and you can't really, And school today doesn't.
[00:23:03] Dr Peter Gray: Tool suppresses curiosity. School suppresses play. There's no way that you can have a classroom of 20 or 30 kids or more and everybody's gonna be curious about the same thing at the same time. That's just not possible. And so therefore the school has to operate on, does operate on the basis. Everybody's supposed to be doing the same thing at the same time in the same way.
There's no way that the kids, 10% of the time, you will find something that you're curious about in that. But 90% of the time, no, you're just doing, it's a chore. And so curiosity, real curiosity is disruptive In the classroom is the kid who asks questions that are not in line with the lesson because a kid is curious.
That kid is a disruptor of the classroom. . And that kid who challenges the teacher, Perspective on things, cuz that kid wants to really know, that kid gets shot down in one way or another. Inevitably. And I don't blame the teachers for it. They couldn't handle that. They couldn't, that's why my son was not possible for him to go to school.
The teachers could not handle his curiosity, could not handle the fact he wanted. He could figure out ways of doing things and he wanted to do it in his way. That was not possible in school. And. I'm totally sympathetic with those teachers. I am, as I, and I'm also sympathetic with my son. So that was the, that's the reality play if it occurs at all in school, is recess, which has been diminished to almost nothing in school anyway, and.
It was always regarded as a break from education, not the education. This is just, there used to be an acknowledge kids need some time to play. We don't acknowledge that anymore, but we used to acknowledge that. And so we would give recess a couple times a day and at noon and But nobody ever thought that was really part, or very few people thought that was really part of the child's education.
So isn't it interesting? We deprive children of their natural means of educating themselves, curiosity and play. Then we force them through a curriculum using reward and punishment as the means. And the primary reward is praise. You're doing better than other people, and the primary punishment is shame you failed, or you're not doing as well as other people.
And then we wonder why kids are so anxious. Yeah, I agree completely. I guess my caveat is having been. Founder of a public charter Montessori school and having my kids go through that, that they, that system is amazing. The way they get all the, they have a way to help. 25 kids do individual work that they are interested in and that they get to choose, which I think is very cool.
[00:26:04] Hunter: So I think there's a lot to learn from that. But one of the reasons I reached out to you to talk again this time was because I was walking in my neighborhood and I noticed that just right in my little funky little town, there is a Sudbury school that has opened in in Ardens in Delaware. And I had seen some kids there cuz like my community garden is attached to the building and I think there's like a homeschooling group there.
I think there's this, and then it was, it turns out there's a Sudbury school there. I went and looked up the site and I found a video from a YouTube video from, for, from you talking about, Learning there. And so at Sudbury School, maybe you can explain what that model is and it's where you sent your son to school when he was too curious for the traditional classroom.
[00:26:55] Dr Peter Gray: Yeah, so I, I got interested in all of this many years ago when my son had been rebelling in the public school he was going to. And the only school he was willing to go to, I didn't exactly send him there. He sent me, there was was the Sudbury Valley School which turned out to be just a couple miles from where we lived.
And at that time, he was nine years old at that time. That was consider. walking distance or a nine year old. So that was very convenient. But this was a radically alternative school. This was not like this was much more radically alternative than say a Montessori school is. Yeah. So this is a school that that, so there, there are kids there from age four on through what we think of as high school age onto the mid to late teenage years.
The kids are not segregated in any way from one another. Or from the staff? The staff don't regard themselves as teachers. They don't call themselves teachers because they don't believe they do any more teaching than anybody else in the school does. There are no, there's no curriculum, there's no tests, there's no academic requirements.
The school is run democratically by the school meetings. And the school meeting consists of all the staff and the students, and they meet once a week and make the rules of the school. The rules have nothing to do with academic learning. The rules all have to do with behavior that basically any group of people needs rules You don't interfere with what one another is doing.
You don't destroy property. You don't hurt one another, you don't litter, you don't. All of these kinds of rules that are developed through the school meeting and the rules are enforced democratically through a procedure that's similar to our judicial system. In the United States there's a essentially a jury that gets formed.
If you're serving on that what's called the judicial committee, you're you're serving for a couple of weeks. That may change over time, but and that consists of representatives from every large age group. There's usually a couple of little kids, a couple middle size kids, and a couple of teenagers, and a staff member on the judicial comedian At any given time, if you're violated rule and somebody brings you up to it, This is the group that determines whether you've truly violated the rule or not and what the consequences should be if you did violate the, So that's how the school runs.
And so there's no, if you were to visit the school at any time of day knowing only that it's a school, You would probably assume it's recess time and somehow this is a school where all the kids have recess at the same time. ? Yeah. I ran into the group at my local school. They were sitting by the creek I was biking by and they're sitting by the creek and in the rocks on the creek.
[00:30:00] Hunter: I was like, Oh, there's the Sudbury School.
[00:30:03] Dr Peter Gray: Yeah, that's right. So you'd see kids out by the creek on the Subbury school. Sudbury Valley has a pond. It has a, it's located adjacent to a a state park. So there's a wooded area that the kids play in. There's rocks that they climb.
There's it's a great outdoor space. They're very lucky to have that great outsource space. But indoors, there's all kinds of things that you can do. The, what the school does is it offers all sorts of opportunities for doing things and learning from what you're doing. But it doesn't require anybody to do it.
If a child wants to just sit there and do nothing, nobody will tell 'em. Don't you think you should do something ? The belief is that human beings are such that that boredom sort of stirs the soul. You'll start doing something at some point and that you're not doing a child of favor by. Getting them to do something because you are, you want them to do something, you have to wait until they wanna do it.
That's the philosophy of the school. So the my first study of the school many years ago was motivated partly by, maybe, I would say primarily by my concern about my son. Like any parent at that time, I was concerned about, it was clear. This was the only school he was going to go to
But I was concerned, what, if he stayed here all the way through high school, his high school age, they don't have anything officially called high school. Would, what would his adult life be like? Would he be able to go to college if he wanted to? Would he. , Is he necessarily destined to become a starving artist or musician?
Is he, So the school, it was already, it had already been in existence long enough that there were about something like 80 or 90 graduates of the school. Who were out there in the real world had been out there for at least a couple of years. And so I did a study of the graduates of the school and along with a part-time staff member at the school who helped me find them and and participated also in some of the interviews of the students.
And what we found was, That the graduates of school were doing very well out there in the world, including those who had never been to another school that all of their education, all of their schooling, I should say, was at the Sunbury Valley School. And turns out they didn't have any problem going on to college if they wanted to go.
Some of 'em even went directly into fairly prestigious colleges. , they were in the whole range of careers including. A math professor, including, oh wow. People in law, people in started people in business. Although most of the business people are people who had started their own businesses. They were they were in the human services.
They were in every career that we value in our culture. They were. They essentially all seem to be happy with their life. In response to a question about whether they were glad or not glad that they had attended such an unusual school, every single one in that group said they were glad, and most said very glad, which was a choice.
And the and when we asked them about why they were glad they had attended such a school, it was be the reasons tended to be the following. Number one, I enjoyed my childhood. Childhood is an important part of life. It's a big part of life and we should pay more attention to whether children are enjoying that part of their life.
So that was. Maybe the first thing they said, and then they said, And I learned to take control of my life because nobody else was telling me what to do. I had to learn how to take control and I had to learn how to ask for help if I wanted help, and I'm not afraid of asking for help. , I learned to how to take responsibility for myself.
I don't go around. Thinking of myself as a victim in this world as I'm, this is me talking now as so many people do. I think of myself as in control of my of myself, and and this is a great benefit. This helped me in college. This helped me in my career. This how I, I. I and many of them talked about social skills because they had so much time to talk with one another to socialize.
The teenagers spend a lot of time socializing. Little kids spend a lot of time actively playing The teenagers spend time actively playing and doing things and give. Involved in hobbies, but they also spend a lot of time talking things out with one another. And as a consequence, they're learning about themselves.
They're learning and they're also developing social skills. And because in this school, , The adults don't have any more official power than the kids do. They are, They've learned to talk to adults in a kind of equal way, and they've found this valuable. I, they would say things like, I'm not afraid to go and talk to my professor and disagree with my professor if I disagree.
And we have an interesting conversation. My professor seems to value the fact that I'm not afraid of expressing my views and having. Discussion with him about something that's of mutual interest to us. So these are some of the things that that I think that I found in the graduates, which I see as very different from the typical college students that I was teaching at the same time in my university career.
[00:35:56] Hunter: It sounds awesome. It sounds like exactly what I would want for my kids. It's so interesting that whole idea of the, equality, relative equality between the adults and the kids, versus like where people value a hierarchy between adults and kids. In a Montessori school, they call the adults by their first name and they.
Say hello and shake hands. Even if you're two years old, you say hello and shake hands at the door. It's really cute. But my kids are 12 and 15 now, and they, my, my 15 year old just did a presentation for the town meeting, which was contentious about her Eagle Scout project. And she could do it, it was a tough situation and she could do it and I was really psyched for her.
But I've always, I felt uncomfortable when sometimes I've had friends say, have their child call. Ms. Hunter or Mrs. Or something like that, and I, , I feel very uncomfortable with it. But there are some people want that hierarchy and feel that is beneficial. And some people, and but you're saying that one of the benefits of maybe not having that hierarchy, having more equality between ages, is that.
Your children then are, will become more comfortable talking to people who are ostensibly like at a different power level than them, and that can help them in their life. I think that's right. And and I think that, and the combination of that and the sense of taking responsibility for yourself.
[00:37:23] Dr Peter Gray: , one of the biggest complaints we get today both from college professors and from employers of young adults. Is that they wanna be told exactly what to do, . They don't seem to know how to say, This is my job to figure out what to do, . This is my job to figure out what I wanna write this term paper on, and how I'm gonna do it, and so on and so forth.
This my job to, my boss has given me this assignment. It's my job to figure out how to do this assignment. It's not his job to tell me in point by point detail how to do it. , so I. I think that this is this is the kind, these are the kinds of things that kids who've had a lot of chance to play, who've had a lot of chance to engage in their own projects who've had who've been in charge of their own life are good at, but, Our spoonfeeding school system, where we're telling them exactly what to do all the time and we're grading them on whether they do it the way we told them to do it.
Creativity is punished. That's the we're teaching exactly the wrong thing. One of the things that drove my son crazy was that he would. So he was in public school through fourth grade and he would, the only way he could make the arithmetic class interesting was to find his own way of solving the problems.
And even though he got the answers right, the teacher would count it wrong because he didn't do it the right way. ,
[00:38:53] Hunter: that's funny because nowadays that's what they teach, or at least they taught my girls, is they teach them many different ways to solve the problems and they would come home maybe and or.
Show me some work they were doing and I would have, I would say, The only way I know how to do this is this one way , and they would know four different ways to do it. It's really interesting. That is, yeah. So I mean it. It's interesting because we can see there's these problems with public, there's these problems with like our traditional school system, right?
We know our traditional school system came out of wanting to create workers for for the industrial jobs, right? Isn't that kind of the roots of our school systems, like creating. Obedient workers for the dos, and that's where the bell system came along and all of that. But it, so it's like what the way I see is this giant boat that is impossible to turn around in another direction Or it's really hard to turn around the other direction, but for a lot of people it may their only choice out there I was talking to.
In the community, in the Mindful Mama podcast community, she was saying, Oh my God, I'm my kind, my girl. My child's going to kindergarten. They're doing all this reward and punishment, She's getting stars for this and all the, these behavior things, and it's making her daughter anxious. And she's But I don't know what to do about it.
And people are it's, it can be hard to know what to do about it. I imagine like you don't have. Answer, I'm sure, but what is the vision for like, how can we. Maybe bring some of these, I guess what is your vision for what it could look like? Would everybody everywhere have a Sudbury style school or could we find something that's like a hybrid, for, to meet our kids' needs in a healthier, more holistic way where they keep that curiosity and they are in control of their education.
[00:40:57] Dr Peter Gray: Yeah it's so much hard to find a hybrid that works well, but the the I think what's happening, my view of what's happening is that we are moving in the direction that school, as we know it is becoming. Increasingly obsolete that might not be apparent to everybody, but the number of people homeschooling is greatly increasing in the United States.
, it's been increasing over decades, but in very recent times, partly because of covid. Admittedly, it has really jumped up. To about 11% of American families with school age children are homeschooling their kids. Most of the people early on homeschooling was primarily motivated by religious interests.
People wanted to give their child a religious education or by parents who were high achievement parents who thought they could do a better job of teaching the academic stuff and getting their kids into a fancy college than the school. . Nowadays, more and more people are doing it because they recognize the harm that's being done to their children in school.
They see it, They see the child becoming, they see this child who is happy and sociable becoming depressed, anxious, even in elementary school. Even in kindergarten. . And they're making a decision, This clearly is not good for my child, or their child is getting some. Crazy diagnosis of ADHD or some darn thing, and the recommendation of taking a drug and the parents realize that this is not good for my child and they take the child out.
So more and more parents are doing it because they recognize the harm to their children as more and more parents are doing. It becomes easier for other parents to do it and it becomes easier for homeschooling parents as more in any given area, in any given city or town. More and more people are doing it.
It becomes possible to have more and more opportunities available so that the kids aren't just at home. Homeschooling is really a misnomer. It shouldn't be called homeschooling. It's community schooling. It's you. You can't get educated just at home. That would be a bad thing. , right? So it's But you need to.
With community, you need to have other kids to play with. You need to get involved with age mixed interactions. You need all of this. But the more people who are homeschooling, the more this becomes possible. So one of the things that's happening is that libraries are beginning to pick up on this. More and more libraries are now.
Offering special opportunities for homeschoolers to get together. They're not limited to homeschoolers, but homeschoolers take the biggest advantage of them. And some of them are held during the school day, so there it is just homeschoolers. They are developing. Many libraries now have maker spaces in them so you can engage in constructive play building things and it's the kids who are taking biggest advantage of.
There are many libraries I've just, I've got an article in press in the American Journal of Play on this. There are many libraries that now are offering free play at the library, age mix, free play, so they're becoming centers in some sense for play at self-directed education generally. I have a vision that this is the, this is a gradual change, but this is a wave of the future.
The other thing that I think is. Is that we are seeing an increasing number of apprenticeships available for kids, for young people. They there are many businesses now that are re recognizing that there's no advantage to them to hire a college graduate. The. People aren't learning that much in college.
Most people are learning almost nothing in college that's relevant to the job. And so the and so they find that they're better off training, training bright young people who are very motivated for the job in an apprenticeship. So the young people are actually making money instead of paying money for their education.
At the number of official apprenticeships in the United States in doubled over a five year. Recent five year period and probably had been increasing before that. And that's just the official ones. There are many other ones that are not registered with the US Department of Labor. So I think these are very hopeful trends.
Part of what drives all this obsession about grades and so on is the belief that everybody's gotta go to college. And the fancier, the college you can get them into the better off they will be, which has never been true. But it's a, but it's a, it's becoming more and more obviously not true .
[00:45:48] Hunter: Yeah, I was gonna say, isn't it in fact that kids who go to Ivy League schools mentally, emotionally, their emotional health is worse in some ways.
Aren't there some studies about that? There are studies of the, I think that is true. What I definitely know is true is that because there's a lot of research that's primarily by Sonya Luther is the person who's done this research that the. Kids, high school kids who are suffering the most are the ones in the high achievement schools.
[00:46:19] Dr Peter Gray: So these are the schools. They tend to be in wealthy neighborhoods, or they're private schools where you're paying pretty high tuition to send your kids there, where everybody believes they have to get into a fancy college or they're a failure. Everybody believes you've gotta take all the honors classes or you're a failure.
Everybody believes if you get anything less than an A, you're a failure. And it this becomes incorporated into each person's own judgment of themselves. And these are the kids who are committing suicide at the highest race. These are the kids who are, I'll never make it in life because I failed.
I, I gotta be in that course. Can you imagine that? But that's the way many people think. And so is, It's interesting to me that the very kinds of schools that so many parents wanna get their kids into, people will pay a premium to live in a neighborhood that has one of these high achieving schools in it.
They wanna send their kids to that. But this is where kids are suffering the most. And those kids who go to those schools are also, they're following up in college. They're also suffering in college. They are more likely to commit suicide, more likely to suffer mental breakdowns in college than kids who went to not such high achieving schools.
So I believe it's probably the case. I can't point to a research study that shows it, but I believe it's probably the case at the. That the biggest emotional crises are occurring at the fanciest colleges.
[00:47:52] Hunter: It's amazing. Dear listeners, you're hearing this, this is some incredibly important information.
Like the, the things that we were told are supposed to work aren't. True, right? Like this, like the good grades, the intensive program, that kind of thing is actually harder on our kids. It makes me like, I'm bragging on my kid today, but I'm so proud of her because she went after the Montessori school ended in eighth grade, she went to our local high school and it happens to have an IB program, International Baccalaureate.
This prestigious, intense program where it's equivalent to these schools in Europe, et cetera. And she chose not to do that program, even though she's like in some ways an ideal kid for it because she didn't wanna do have all the homework and do all that stuff and was really interested in German, things like that.
I don't know. So I guess what I want to invite you to, your listener is to think about is. How can we take this information and whatever situation you're in, whether you have some school choice, whether you have the privilege and the ability to be able to have the things in your life available to homeschool your kids or whether you have, or whether it, maybe you have very little choice in this matter because of work situations and location and things like that.
How can you take some of this and think about how can I. Time for play without adults around, without maybe screens around. Oh, I don't know. And time for these things that you know, are so essential for this development, for a satisfying, meaningful, and moral life. What are the things we wanna increase?
I'm thinking about these things, Peter. If we're looking at people who maybe have very little choice in the matter as far as schooling or very limited options. So I think for I think for if your child is going to a public school, to a conventional school I think what you need to do, what I would recommend doing is don't add to the stress , subtract to the stress, , I'm, I've said this before, I, my own mother.
[00:50:18] Dr Peter Gray: Had this attitude that she would not look at the report cards that I and my brothers brought. She wouldn't look at them. She said, I don't look at, I barely look at my good for you. I'll sign it. That I've gotta sign it. I know I've gotta sign it, but this is your business. It's not mine. , I love that. Go. And and there's no stress from home about it.
there's no and the o and finally, I think and I think that, Get off of this thing that, and this is partly driven by parents, but it's also partly driven by the internalized fears and anxieties that children themselves have about their future, especially high school aged kids, that they have internalized this view that if they.
Get to a fancy college. If they don't, that their, that somehow their life is going to be ruined, that somehow they will. So this is a myth and it's important to get over this myth. In fact, there is research I've summarized in on the blog post that shows these are. Carefully done studies that show that kids who go to a non prestigious college do just as well in life by every measure, including income at age 40, which is the standard measure of success.
It's the wrong measure, in my view, but it is a standard measure of success, including income at age 40. As kids who've gone to the fancy college, if you control for other variables. So of course, Harvard kids make more money than kids from the local state college because they come from richer families.
And if you come from a rich family, you're already set up to make a lot of money. . Also, the typical Harvard kid is somebody who's very achievement motivated, very focused, very hard working. If you take a kid who has that, that, those same qualities and they go to the local com local state college, they also do just as well in life.
So it's because they're different to begin with, that you get the correlation between, going to Harvard or going, but if you control for those other things. Then the kids who go to the typical state college that's relatively non-selective, pretty much anybody can go there do just as well in life.
You're paying less tuition for it. I think that's, I think there are different advantages of the two and that they somewhat cancel one another out. The advantage of going to the lesser college, Is that you're a big fish in a small pond. You are, you're noticed by the professors. You get good letters of recommendation.
You're more likely to be invited in by a professor to work with them in the laboratory. You're more likely to get to know the, your professors on a first name basis than if you go to an Ivy League college where the professors are involved with their graduate students, but not much with their undergraduate students.
So that's part. And there's also the, just this sense of you go, you've, The typical kid who goes to Harvard or that kind of school, they've been tops in their class in high school, then suddenly they're not anymore . Suddenly they see I'm just average here. I'm just, or maybe worse than average.
And that has blow to your self-esteem in a way that blow could be healthy. But it's often unhealthy. It often leads to depression. It often leads to a sense of. A sense of I'm no good after all, And that so that's the those are, those things cancel them out. But the, what the data show is that you are just overall, you're just as well off going to the lesser college if, and some argue better off based on the data, but I'm not convinced by that.
But I think overall, Equally well off. So if people can realize that. And then the other thing that's happening, as I said before, with more and more apprenticeships, there's less and less reason to go to college at all. It's still the case that there are careers that the way we've got things set up pretty much require college.
If you wanna be a doctor, you've pretty much gotta get a bachelor's degree first and before you go to medical school. I'm looking for that to change, but it hasn't changed. So there are certain careers where you're gonna have to go to college to pursue them, but there are many very well paying careers that don't require college, and most students aren't aware of that.
So the and when I look at, one of the ways I've learned this is by looking at what the graduates of Subbury. Schools have done and looking at what grown unschoolers have done because they've also done studies of grown unschoolers. These are homeschoolers who are in control of their own education and they find these amazing careers that don't require college if they don't.
And they go to college if they feel they need to, if they wanna be a doctor or they wanna be a lawyer or something requires college, but they find amazing careers that they love and and are well paying that don't require college. And The you don't even hear about this. If you've just been going to school, then this all points to what you write about, which is this idea of the trust being a trustful parent.
[00:55:56] Hunter: But dear listener, we don't have time to talk about that. So you are gonna have to get. Peter Gray's book, free to learn and and dive in deeper into this. There's fascinating studies and all these like stories is really fascinating. But I think what you are pointing to is this idea of let's parent from trust and not from fear, right?
Let's parent from you are capable, you are smart, you can do all of the things you wanna do, and it. Rather than, Oh my God, are you enough? You need these accreditations, you need more, you need this, you need that. Oh, that's what I'm hearing from you.
[00:56:38] Dr Peter Gray: I think that's right. And I think that, I think one way that parents can think about it is really What is your honest, heartfelt.
Dream for your child. And when I ask people that and I ask them to really think about it and think deeply, they usually come up with things like, I want my child to be comfortable in their own skin. I want them to I want them to be good neighbors to whoever their neighbors to. I want them to be loving parents.
If they have children, I want them to be. Good friends to their friends. I want them to add more to the world than they take away from it. I think most parents genuinely want that for their kids. They don't, when they think about it. It's not my whole goal for my child is that they.
Get an Ivy League education if they really think about it, if they think about it from their heart as well as their mind. And I think that's maybe the first step towards towards altering some of the harmful things that we're doing to children. Peter, it is such a pleasure to talk to you again because you haven't been on this podcast, but I, we've talked before and I really enjoyed, I really appreciate the work that you've done and the way, the writing you've done.
[00:58:07] Hunter: Peter's also a founder of Let grow.org. We've had past guests, Lenore Scion, who is working in that organization as well. I appreciate what you. Enormously and I, I can't thank you enough for taking the time to come and talk to us today. Thank you. It's been a pleasure.
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