Freedom to Learn by Peter Gray

I recently came across this blog: Freedom to Learn by Peter Gray.

There are a bunch of interesting articles there, and I haven’t read them all. But I really appreciate some of them; they echo what I’ve been saying all along, and it’s always nice to feed my confirmation bias.

In one article, Gray writes:

We can use all the euphemisms we want, but the literal truth is that schools, as they generally exist in the United States and other modern countries, are prisons. Human beings within a certain age range (most commonly 6 to 16) are required by law to spend a good portion of their time there, and while there they are told what they must do, and the orders are generally enforced. They have no or very little voice in forming the rules they must follow. A prison–according to the common, general definition–is any place of involuntary confinement and restriction of liberty.

I recently talked to a teacher who was complaining about the things the school system made teachers do, and I asked: “Then why do you do it?” The answer was something like: “For the hope it might get better.” I said: “That’s pathetic!” but at least it wasn’t some BS about how much the teacher loved kids and knowledge and making a difference, etc. Some teachers will make a huge point of their pure intentions, as if that somehow absolves them of any wrongdoing. The truth, however, is probably quite apparent to most of us, it’s just considered rude to talk about: most teachers became teachers because they didn’t know what else to do.

I can certainly sympathize with the plight of getting out of college and not finding any jobs available that I would actually want. But becoming a teacher, especially if you have serious disagreements about how the education institution does things, seems pretty dumb to me. What should you do instead? I must admit, I’m not sure; not going to college in the first place might help.

But don’t you think an excellent way to make our education systems change would be to help them experience a shortage of teachers? I can’t imagine you being able to change too much from the inside, after you join a labor union which doesn’t agree with your position.

In another post, Gray responds to Daniel T. Willingham’s book Why Don’t Students Like School?, a book I blogged a bit about on my Book Quotes blog. Gray writes:

Willingham’s thesis is that students don’t like school because their teachers don’t have a full understanding of certain cognitive principles and therefore don’t teach as well as they could. They don’t present material in ways that appeal best to students’ minds. Presumably, if teachers followed Willingham’s advice and used the latest information cognitive science has to offer about how the mind works, students would love school.

Talk about avoiding the elephant in the room!

Ask any schoolchild why they don’t like school and they’ll tell you. “School is prison.” They may not use those words, because they’re too polite, or maybe they’ve already been brainwashed to believe that school is for their own good and therefore it can’t be prison. But decipher their words and the translation generally is, “School is prison.”

See? I told you so.

OK, most of Gray’s articles are not about schools being prison, but he does bring up the notion of “freedom” a lot from a psychological point of view, from the idea that a sense of freedom is an innate psychological desire for all humans, including children. And it seems right to me; I certainly have a sense of freedom and hate having to do stuff I didn’t choose to do. In fact, (and I’ve said this before) I’d say the common reason parents and teenagers clash is because the teenager is psychologically ready and thirsty for more freedom, but parents and society don’t give it.

Read a book, write a book


Why Don't Students Like School? The other day I finished reading the book Why Don’t Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom and I put up some quotes from the book on my Book Quotes blog.  It was a short read, only 165 pages.  It’s really meant for teachers, but as someone who is interested in our terrible American education system, I quite wanted to read it.  It takes a psychological perspective on education, which would probably interest anyone interested in the basic psychology of learning.

That’s only 8th book I’ve finished this year.  I probably could’ve read more by now, but I’m reading about 8 more books simultaneously at the moment, so finishing one takes a lot longer.  And of course sometimes I just give up on a book.  I realized yesterday that I only finished reading one fiction book this year, the other seven were all non-fiction.


I’m still not sure whether or not I’ll participate in NaNoWriMo next month.  I have some fun new ideas floating around in my head, so it’s quite tempting, but I do want to finish my album, obviously.  I keep going back and forth.  One day I’ll think to myself “oh, I’ve gotta at least try NaNoWriMo; this idea is just too exciting to resist,” and then the next day I’ll think, “I can’t do it, I’ve gotta finish this album.  I don’t want to have to worry about writing fiction too.”

So I still don’t know what I’ll do.  It will all depend on how I feel in November I guess.