Why current education models don’t work: it’s in our genes

Peter Gray at Psychology Today has posted a thoughtful blog article entitled Why Children Protest Going to School: More Evolutionary Mismatch. I find it an insightful argument in favor of homeschooling and several other education methods that do not lead to a factory model of schooling.

Among many useful bits:

From a biological perspective, we are all still hunter-gatherers, doing the best that we can to cope with the conditions of life that exist 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….

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.

I might also point out that extreme freedom was seen as the best way for people to develop a sense of responsibility to the community. To be the most effective human, we need to do the exact opposite of what we are required to do in the compulsory school system.

What do we do about this? Grays says:

We can continue stumbling along with our coercive system of schooling and continue to fight our children’s instincts, using drugs or whatever other means we must to dampen their cries for freedom.  Or, we can adopt what to most people today seems like a radical, even crazy approach to education, but which to hunter-gatherers seemed like common sense.  This radical approach is to let our children educate themselves, while we provide the conditions that make that possible.

This runs counter to current assumptions, but Gray says the evidence is overwhelming that is can and will work, as shown by the success of homeschooling and such initiatives as the Sudbury Valley School.

I can see the effect of this forced system that counters our biology every day. Further, I can’t help but connect it to the research on learned helplessness, as explained here and here. It takes quite a bit of effort to overcome learned helplessness (the behavior that results from being completely unable to affect your circumstances), and the passive, stoic attitudes that result from it absolutely characterize many of those in college classrooms, even though they now have the ability to affect their circumstances.

Sir Ken Robinson supports these ideas in many talks, perhaps best seen in an increasingly popular RSA Animate production.

What do you think? Is it possible to change the paradigm? What has to happen for this to come about?

This article has been cross-posted here.

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Author: Donn King

Donn King works with people who want to forge top-notch speaking skills to increase their influence and impact so they can advance their career or business. He is associate professor of communication studies at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, as well as a speaker and writer. His background includes ministry, newspaper, radio, small magazines and other publications, as well as co-authoring a textbook and blogging.