Here I describe six basic human drives shaped by natural selection to serve the function of education.
I was so excited to find you on substack! Hearing you speak and reading your words was one of the primary catalysts for me in choosing to home educate my children. I hope I can do a better job of meeting their educative instincts than a school could
Great article. As a sports coach I have watched more and more children increasingly wanting a formulaic approached to do the sport correctly to be ranked as the best player.
I think pressure to follow the curriculum impacts how the brain functions. It stops players from seeing, creating and exploiting the space between objects in the way.
I have moved away from coaching technical skills - and now coach players to see, create and play with space.
Hope that adds something of interest.
Thanks again, Peter - an excellent, though tragic summary of how schools manage to sabotage genuine learning. Which is bad enough in itself, but there's also the other aspect that compounds the folly: I estimate that over 95% of what happens in conventional schools has nothing to do with the respective system's higher educational aims (which are quite often very laudable, as I found when doing a bit of amateur research for my book). The lion's share of what happens simply has to do with administration in one form or another - and that includes all kind of grading, of course, except the rare instances in which a pupil genuinely wants to have her or his achievements assessed by someone else. So even where enlightened teachers undertake whatever they can to lessen the effects of the design fault in schools that you describe above, they can only apply their measures to 5% of their time - the rest is taken up by the 95% that has nothing to do with education at all.
I’m pretty late to reading this, and there’s much that I like and find appealing. One point of disagreement, though: your use of the word cheating in quotation marks jumped out at me. I don’t think cheating is just some arbitrary thing teachers made up to force kids to do their own work so that they can be assessed individually. You’ve written about how children learn to make and enforce their own rules in playing together, and how they have an innate sense of fairness. I think that includes an innate dislike of free-riders. Collaboration is fine, but most kids don’t like it when “collaboration” means that certain kids do all the work and other kids just copy that work.
Fairness, then, is more about proportionality than equal outcomes. In fact, kids likely think it’s unfair when a few do all the work and some of the others do none and everyone ends up with the same outcome. Cheating, then, isn’t so much an arbitrary construct creating by teachers who impose something on students, just as stealing isn’t something parents made up but something children instinctively understand and dislike (nobody likes it when another kid eats their lunch).
What we need, most fundamentally, is to feel that the world we are in makes some kind of sense, that it possible to live a worthy life, and that we ourselves are worthy of that. Beyond that, we need to take responsibility for finding out how to make that happen.
And those things are, strangely enough, exactly what coerced schooling would deprive us of.
"What about their socialization?" I would be asked by my fellow University students when I discovered unschooling and attempted to engage some of them in conversation about it (some would just meet me a blank stare).
How ironic then to hear it stated the way you have here:
"One way to define education is as cultural transmission. It is the set of means, whatever they are, that lead each new generation of people in any cultural group to acquire, and maybe build upon, the culture—that is, the skills, knowledge, beliefs, and values—of the previous generation. Groos’s theory is a clear statement that children actively acquire the culture; they are not dependent on deliberate instruction from adults."
Play, then, is precisely the way in which children become socialized - they socialize themselves, on their own terms.. Socialization under conditions of coercion isn't socialization; it's indoctrination.
Back at the University (where I was attempting to find my own community) I got tired of the socialization question, and decided to start responding "Well, you know, they don't have many opportunities to socialize at school, except during recess. When they're not having school." Then I would get a "That's not what I meant!" look, except they didn't say anything, because of course then they'd have to explain specifically what they did mean. Which would have been horrible. And I didn't feel like helping them out of their dilemma, either. I soon gave up on the idea of communicating with most other University students. Turns out they weren't my community at all.
Kia ora from New Zealand, I loved reading this article, while at the same time it made me feel sad for our tamariki (children) and so many adults who have also been through this process of education. My recent experience has allowed me to reflect that teachers themselves are not being treated as adults. There is low trust of educators. They are expected to be at school at a certain time, their days are heavily timetabled, including when they are allowed to go outside on duty, they must be accounted for when attending meetings that are of no interest to them and then they are lectured to about the best ways people learn. Let's give educators the opportunity to play and be curious and follow their own educative instincts...surely that's what got them interested in working with children in the first place?
After I read this, I started exploring another idea (about personal knowledge management... not very playful), and there's a screen shot of an article that -- I think -- is yours!
thanks Peter, what do you think of Geary's theory of biological primary and secondary? This theory seems to be used a lot in the Science of Reading and Learning debates.
Such a beautiful article! I had the unfortunate experience of teaching in a school in which children weren’t allowed to play or communicate. I hate that we as a society do that to kids. Those kids reminded me of weeds growing through the cracks in the sidewalk. They would find any way they could to play just like the weeds that insist on growing no matter how difficult you make it for them. Self-directed education is true education.