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About Peter Gray
Peter Gray has conducted and published research in neuroendocrinology, developmental psychology, anthropology, and education. He is author of an internationally acclaimed introductory psychology textbook (Psychology, Worth Publishers, now in its 8th edition, with David Bjorklund as co-author), which views all of psychology from an evolutionary perspective. His recent research focuses on the role of play in human evolution and how children educate themselves, through play and exploration, when they are free to do so. He has expanded on these ideas in his book, "Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life" (Basic Books, 2013). He also authors a regular blog, called "Freedom to Learn," for Psychology Today magazine. He is a founding member of the Alliance for Self-Directed Education and of the nonprofit Let Grow.
Peter Gray grew up primarily in various small towns in Minnesota and Wisconsin, but his family moved to Vermont when he was 16, and he has been east ever since. He studied psychology and biology at Columbia College in New York City and then earned a doctorate in biological sciences at the Rockefeller University. Ever since then, the location of his work has been in the psychology department at Boston College, where he served for 30 years as a professor and now, though retired from teaching and administrative duties, retains the title of Research Professor.
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Titles By Peter Gray
In Free to Learn, developmental psychologist Peter Gray argues that in order to foster children who will thrive in today's constantly changing world, we must entrust them to steer their own learning and development. Drawing on evidence from anthropology, psychology, and history, he demonstrates that free play is the primary means by which children learn to control their lives, solve problems, get along with peers, and become emotionally resilient. A brave, counterintuitive proposal for freeing our children from the shackles of the curiosity-killing institution we call school, Free to Learn suggests that it's time to stop asking what's wrong with our children, and start asking what's wrong with the system. It shows how we can act—both as parents and as members of society—to improve children's lives and to promote their happiness and learning.
Children, like all human beings, crave freedom, but they are not free in school. Schools operate by methods of coercion (a "request" in school is really an order), enforced with reward, punishment, and threats. Coercion interferes with children's natural, joy-filled and interest-filled ways of learning and turns learning into "work." In this collection of essays, developmental psychologist Peter Gray describes also how schooling promotes bullying, cheating, and showing off; contributes to high rates of anxiety, depression, and even suicide among students; aims to push everyone, regardless of the shape of their personality, through the same square holes; and leads to a lifetime of anxiety dreams. The last two essays show how the harm has moved down even to the youngest students, caused by the misbelief that academic training should start in kindergarten and before. This collection is for everyone who cares about children's wellbeing.
Children who grow up in a literate and numerate environment do not need to be taught how to read or how to use numbers to calculate. They pick these skills up in the course of their everyday living. In this collection of essays, developmental psychologist Peter Gray presents the evidence that this is so. He also presents evidence that teaching-especially when it is forced and comes too early-can interfere with children's learning to read and calculate. In addition, in one essay he describes the difference between Self-Directed Education and progressive education, and in another he presents evidence refuting the claim that children lose academic skills during summer vacation from school (the so-called "summer slide"). This book is especially valuable for parents who are thinking of opting out of standard schooling for their children but are concerned about their children's acquisition of academic skills. It is also valuable for educators who are interested in stretching their understanding of how children naturally learn the kinds of skills that schools try to teach.
Theory is one thing; empirical evidence is another. Is it true that children can educate themselves well, without coercion or coaxing, when provided with a supportive environment and plenty of opportunity to play, explore, observe, and socialize? In this collection of essays, developmental psychologist Peter Gray presents evidence from a variety of sources that this indeed is true. One essay points out the amazing amount that little children learn before anyone attempts to teach them in any formal way. Another presents evidence from anthropological research that children in hunter-gatherer cultures educated themselves well, for life in their culture, with no formal instruction. This is followed by an essay summarizing the results of research showing that graduates of the Sudbury Valley School-a school designed for Self-Directed Education-have succeeded very well in higher education, jobs, and life in general. The final seven essays all deal with the results of research, conducted by Peter Gray and Gina Riley, into unschooling families and the lives of adults who grew up unschooled. "Unschooling" here is defined as the variety of homeschooling in which children are not subjected to an imposed curriculum but are allowed to follow their own interests and thereby educate themselves.
Children come into the world biologically designed to educate themselves. Their natural curiosity, playfulness, sociability, willfulness, adventurousness, tendency to look ahead, and desire to do well in the world were all shaped, by natural selection, to serve the function of education. In this collection of essays, developmental psychologist Peter Gray describes, with research evidence, how these natural tendencies play themselves out in children who are not schooled but, instead, are allowed ample time and opportunity to exercise their natural educative drives. He explains, especially, how children learn from one another when allowed to play freely in settings where they are not segregated by age. In addition, he presents evidence that children come into the world with prosocial drives-to help, share, and comfort-that grow ever stronger when adults allow them to grow. He also discusses ADHD as a natural and valuable personality variation, not a disorder, which causes problems in the typical school environment but does not interfere with Self-Directed Education.
We must do something about that!
Our Children are Children - they are not machines or chips to be used in the high-stakes testing game. Children must be Free to Learn.
Teachers- the people who care about our children and know how children learn and grow must be Free to Teach.
The Valued Relationships - Parent and Child; Parent and Teacher; Teacher and Child, have always been treasured. Political systems are replacing them.
Maturation and Readiness - Children are being asked to learn skills before they are developmentally ready or able. “Standards” are not reachable.
The Intangibles - The Arts; Music, Art, Literature, Drama; are being lost. Children’s excitement in learning is not being acknowledged.
The American Public School System - one of the great movements in the history of the world is in jeopardy.