Thursday, August 29, 2013


Peter Gray says that school is a prison and its damaging our kids:

School is a place where children are compelled to be, and where their freedom is greatly restricted — far more restricted than most adults would tolerate in their workplaces. In recent decades, we have been compelling our children to spend ever more time in this kind of setting, and there is strong evidence (summarized in my recent book) that this is causing serious psychological damage to many of them. Moreover, the more scientists have learned about how children naturally learn, the more we have come to realize that children learn most deeply and fully, and with greatest enthusiasm, in conditions that are almost opposite to those of school.

Compulsory schooling has been a fixture of our culture now for several generations. It’s hard today for most people to even imagine how children would learn what they must for success in our culture without it. President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are so enamored with schooling that they want even longer school days and school years. Most people assume that the basic design of schools, as we know them today, emerged from scientific evidence about how children learn best. But, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Schools as we know them today are a product of history, not of research into how children learn. The blueprint still used for today’s schools was developed during the Protestant Reformation, when schools were created to teach children to read the Bible, to believe scripture without questioning it, and to obey authority figures without questioning them. The early founders of schools were quite clear about this in their writings. The idea that schools might be places for nurturing critical thought, creativity, self-initiative or ability to learn on one’s own — the kinds of skills most needed for success in today’s economy — was the furthest thing from their minds. To them, willfulness was sinfulness, to be drilled or beaten out of children, not encouraged.

When schools were taken over by the state and made compulsory, and directed toward secular ends, the basic structure and methods of schooling remained unchanged. Subsequent attempts at reform have failed because, though they have tinkered some with the structure, they haven’t altered the basic blueprint. The top-down, teach-and-test method, in which learning is motivated by a system of rewards and punishments rather than by curiosity or by any real, felt desire to know, is well designed for indoctrination and obedience training but not much else. It’s no wonder that many of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs and innovators either left school early (like Thomas Edison), or said they hated school and learned despite it, not because of it (like Albert Einstein).

While I don't agree with all of Gray's conclusions-the foundation of America's current public eduction system is more based on the secular Prussian model imported by Progressives in the early part of the 20th century than on teaching styles from the Protestant Reformation and later in his piece his extolling of "unschooling" drifts too far in the direction of Rousseau's "noble savage" theory-his main point about the restrictive nature of public education and the damaging effect it has on the ability of children to learn is difficult to dispute. The reflexive answer to the failures of public eduction in American is always "more." More money, more teachers, more computers, more homework, more days of the year spent in the classroom (swell idea to start school before Labor Day, ain't it?).

Yet despite years of adding more and more in these areas, the results we have are less and less impressive. Until we're willing to say "no mas" and actually address the real root cause of the problem-the educational system itself-we'll continue to sentence kids to the prison of public education.