The current educational system needs a shake-up, to change the conventional thinking about how to best educate young people. Peter Gray’s book: Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant and Better Students for Life, is one such trial to achieve this needed ‘change’.
But while it may be easy to point fingers at problems in schools and neighborhoods, finding workable solutions is more difficult. Gray offers some useful ideas, though I didn’t get the feeling that his book, however enjoyable to read, will change our educational system any time soon.
You will likely agree with many of Gray’s observations and opinions, especially about the diminishing role that free play has in the development of youth. Gray uses the concept of a “playful state of mind” to remind us of the value of uninhibited and undirected learning. He suggests that forcing one to be creative can actually stifle creativity and that putting pressure on one to perform leads some people to rise to the task but others to fail. Being in a relaxed mood in play or learning leads to better performance and productivity, he writes.
Most of us would agree that children today do not spend as much time just playing, even when we consider computer time under that heading (and we should). Gray presents a number of logical explanations for that, such as safety concerns and busier streets, but also hits us right between the eyes by stating that it is partly the fault of well-meaning parents, too. By directing our children into program after program, sport after sport, he says, we prevent our kids from self-directing more of their activities.
This is a book about children no longer having enough opportunities to learn on their own due to fewer times to “play” or learn freely. In this case, freely means without undue adult direction, guidance, or control. The author cites the failure of today’s educational system, but also the failure of parents and our society to provide enough opportunities for our young people to learn to be independent, assertive, cooperative, and self-assured.
Restrictions and regimentations of school, at times, turn off the child from learning. The child should be encouraged to learn whatever they want with few teacher interventions. Schools need to change the conventional method in which a child undergoes a strict routine and is under the constant and strict vigilance of ‘intervening’ teachers. Such an environment in no way is encouraging. It curbs the creativity of the growing child. The child’s thinking get’s restricted and it becomes difficult to bring out unique productivity out of the child. We need schools to provide a different and a free environment. With the change in time the teaching methods need to be changed. There should be scope of ‘free learning’, which the current educational system seems to have rejected outright.
In this age of computers and schools that provide hi-tech facilities to students in their learning process, children are losing out on the ‘home-school’ and the ‘self-study’. Children these days hardly have the time to gain from ‘home school’, i.e. learning from the experience of their parents. Nor do they have the ‘self-study’ time where they are ‘free’ to unleash the creative strings of their imagination.
Gray’s book, certainly, is a new torch over the traditional and dark ancient forms of teaching and learning methods. There are some good suggestions from the author, including:
- Consider your own values.
- Admit that you don’t control your child’s future.
- Give children space.
- Create safe opportunities for children to play and explore.
- Consider alternatives to traditional schools.
The book really seems to have two objectives. The first is to show how today’s traditional schools have taken away children’s opportunities to explore freely on their own and how they’ve created undue pressure on children to learn. The second is to show how parents are increasingly protective of their children and overly directive of their activities. There is truth to both arguments, but the author seems to make everything a black-and-white issue, leaving little room for nuance.
Alternative schooling isn’t practical for all families for a variety of reasons. For many families and single-parent households, it may seem financially or logistically impossible to find alternatives. For others, it may not seem worth the risk.
Still, Free to Learn stimulates a parent’s thinking about what kind of learning environment helps their child learn and adjust best, and then how to simulate that environment at home or out of school if it doesn’t exist among their school options. The book may not change much on a grand scale, and the author may posit some flawed theories. But Gray has caused a stir in our thinking process. We may not be able to change the world, but we can help our children adapt better to it.