Last week I traveled to Philadelphia to hear a talk by research psychologist Peter Gray, founder of the Alliance for Self-Directed Education. Dr Gray spoke at Philly Free School, which is, like The Circle School, a self-directed democratic school.
Dr Gray starts from the premise that “education is the sum of everything a person learns that enables the person to live a satisfying and meaningful life.” He points out that only a small fraction of that “everything” comes from formal academic instruction.
But what really caught my attention was Dr Gray’s ideas about the “optimal context for self-directed education.” He identifies six conditions, all of them present in self-directed democratic schools, but absent in conventional schools. Here they are:
1. The social expectation (and reality) that education is
2. Unlimited freedom to play, explore, and pursue one’s own interests.
3. Opportunity to play with the tools of the culture. [Yes, that means computers and smartphones today! J.R.]
4. Access to a variety of caring adults who are helpers, not judges.
5. Free age mixing among children and adolescents.
6. Immersion in a stable, moral, democratic community.
Dr Gray notes that similar conditions were present in hunter-gatherer bands, and describes five “educative instincts”: curiosity, playfulness, sociability, willfulness (drive for self-determination), and “planfulness” (drive to make plans). Dr Gray’s book, Free To Learn (about which I blogged a while back), is all about “unleashing the instinct to play,” a crucial and highly adaptive trait of the human species. I can personally attest that self-directed education and the educative instincts are alive and well at The Circle School!