FREE TO LEARN by Peter Gray


Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Prepared for Life
Email this review


Psychology Today blogger Gray (Psychology/Boston Coll.) argues the need for radical reforms in our educational system.

Describing himself as “an evolutionary developmental psychologist,” he rests his theory on the claim that hunter-gatherer societies offer an educational model for today. Many will agree with his contention that the lives of today’s children are far too scripted, with excessive homework and play dates substituting for the free-wheeling play of decades past. “Free play is nature's means of teaching children that they are not helpless,” writes Gray. His conclusion that formal schooling is an infringement on children's freedom and should be abolished is more controversial—even more so since he grounds it in a mythical golden age preceding the invention of agriculture. The author makes the dubious suggestion that his assertions represent “compelling evidence that children's natural, hunter-gatherer ways of learning are sufficient for education in our culture, if we provide conditions that are equivalent.” Switching to modern times, Gray indicts formal education and compares schools to prisons. Charging that public education denies children their liberty “without just cause and due process,” he contends that this interferes with their development of personal responsibility and robs them of the motivation to learn. The hierarchical nature of schools fosters “shame, hubris, cynicism, and cheating,” as well as bullying. Gray's observation that mixing age groups can foster the educational process is intriguing, but his advocacy of radically transforming the role of teacher to that of a consultant is more controversial.

The author's suggestion of the $600 billion savings to be had by eliminating public education suggests a libertarian political agenda, but it should make his proposals attractive, if not entirely convincing.

Pub Date: March 5th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0465025992
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2013


NonfictionTHE CYBER EFFECT by Mary Aiken
by Mary Aiken
NonfictionTHE WORLD UNTIL YESTERDAY by Jared Diamond
by Jared Diamond
NonfictionSQUARE PEG by L. Todd Rose
by L. Todd Rose