Opinion (Peter Gray, Ph.D., research professor of psychology at Boston College): “Most children in our society protest going to school. Am I telling you something new? They protest in many ways—by feigning illness, by dragging their feet in the morning, by doing the least they can to meet the school’s demands (or not doing even that), and by violating school rules when they can get away with it. …
“Are these kids just spoiled ingrates? If so, then you and I—and essentially everyone else who ever attended school after schooling became compulsory—were also spoiled ingrates. We all protested it. In fact, back in the days when schools first became compulsory kids protested it even more than they do now, even though there was much less of it then. They had to be beaten with birch sticks to get them to stay in school and do what the teachers told them to do. …
“As I pointed out in one of the first essays in this blog, the means by which children became educated in hunter-gatherer cultures were the opposite of the means by which we try to educate children in our schools today. One of the most cherished values of all band hunter-gatherer societies that have ever been studied by anthropologists is freedom. Hunter-gatherers believed that it is wrong to coerce a person to do what the person doesn’t want to do—and they considered children to be people. They rarely even made direct suggestions, because that might sound like coercion.
“They believed that people, on their own initiative, would learn to contribute to the welfare of the band, because they would see the wisdom of doing so and experience the joy of it. For hundreds of thousands of years, that was the organizing principle of human society.
“The hunting and gathering life required great personal initiative and creativity, and it required trust that people would share and cooperate because they wanted to. Hunting and gathering people seemed to understand that—and they also seemed to understand that children would best grow up to be free, trusting, cooperative, creative adults if they were permitted freedom throughout their childhood, in the context of the moral community and models that the band provided.
“Throughout our immense hunter-gatherer period, children were free to play and explore all day, day after day, and in that way to educate themselves. Education was always self-directed.
“In fact, the reason children are naturally so playful, curious, and social is because those traits were the motivating powers behind children’s abilities to educate themselves. Those ‘childish’ traits were promoted and shaped, by natural selection, precisely to serve the function of education, in conditions of childhood freedom.
“So, when we force children to sit in their seats and listen to a teacher and do just what they are told, every bone in their body, and every neuron and muscle, resists. Their body tells them, ‘This is wrong. I need to control my own actions; I need to play at the skills that seem to be important to me; I need to explore the questions that I’m curious about, not ones that bore me; I need to pay attention to what people in the real world are doing, not to what this teacher, who doesn’t even seem to be part of the world outside of school, is telling me. If I don’t do these things that I need to do, I will not grow up to be a competent, dignified human being.’ In hunter-gatherer times, a child who did not feel so strongly driven to run his or her own life and education would have grown up to be a misfit.
“So, our children have instincts that drive them to educate themselves through their free play, exploration, and socializing. But we have schools that insist that they give up that freedom and do what they are told to do. The schools have never worked well, and even in theory can’t work well, because they always put the school against the child and thereby evoke resistance.
“This radical approach is to let our children educate themselves, while we provide the conditions that make that possible.”
My Comment: This what integral education provides for children.