I love what Peter Gray has to say, and I could not agree more with him. He is reiterating the Montessori theory, which anyone who knows me will recall that I embrace it as my educational philosophy and the inspiration for getting involved in the very institution which sucked the life out of me growing up: school.

The school he describes – Sudbury Valley school – is beautiful and sounds ideal – I wish I could have provided that for my boys instead of the highly ranked public school which seemed to stifle their desire to learn.  Again, it echoes the Montessori type schooling with both the mixed ages and the freedom to choose what you want to learn.  I love it.  It rings true on so many levels for me.

We are to be helpers – not judges.  If I am the evaluator, they will try to impress me or try to appease me, but they will not feel free to be themselves.  How can transform myself into what they need?  

Being immersed in a stable, moral, democratic community – knowing that their ideas and actions influence others and thus they feel that responsibility… these are powerful shaping forces.  We all need to belong, and are constantly looking to see where we fit into the bigger picture.  Giving them value from the start instead of trying to control their every move (sending the message that they cannot be trusted to self-regulate) is another sign of respect which I love.

None of the 6 ideal conditions Gray talks about exist in our “schools”.  We prevent them from educating themselves – we show them disrespect but usurping their role and their job.  It is the child’s job to build the man.  “We cannot with our efforts create a man.  That is the task of the child himself.” (Montessori)

Yet we hijack their purpose and try to build them FOR them.  We tell them what to do, when to do it, to turn into what we want them to be.  Montessori taught that as soon as a child can tie their shoe or climb into the chair alone the adult needs to refrain from “helping” them with that task anymore, because we aren’t really helping, we are stealing their ability, their chance, to do something for themselves, to build another skill, another moment of mastery…to get one step closer to building the man or woman inside of them.  When we tie their shoes for them because it’s just faster or more convenient for us (instead of waiting 10 minutes for them to struggle through it) we are taking away the chance for them to grow.  It changed my whole perspective on raising children: step back and respect them enough to let them do it for themselves.  

But I have to say that even with the change in outlook I had years ago when studying Montessori, there was something different in the way that Gray framed it.  The thought that children need to be in charge of their own education, that it is their job to educate themselves – I had never taken it to that “extreme”.  Yet I see now that it is just the natural progression of that beautiful mindset of trusting the child to develop and grow and build himself into something exquisite.  He has everything he needs inside of him.  Do I squelch it or do I provide the environment in which it can manifest itself?  

This is all well and good in theory, but the practical question remains: as a public school teacher in a broken system how can I help to provide what they need?  This is the driving question which keeps me searching and experimenting and I welcome your thoughts and insights as well.  We may not always hit a bulls eye, but we can get closer to the target every year.

Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection 
The lovers, the dreamers and me 

Thanks Kermit.


Peter Gray: Mother Nature’s Pedagogy: Insights from Evolutionary Psychology – https://youtu.be/G2BAJ_svbhA

Gray, P. (2011). The evolutionary biology of education: How our hunter-gatherer educative instincts could form the basis for education today. Evolution: Education and Outreach, 4(1), 28-40.

Montessori, M. (1986). Reconstruction in education. Adyar, Madras, India: Theosophical Pub. House.

Gopnik, A. (2016, July 30). What Babies Know About Physics and Foreign Languages. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/31/opinion/sunday/what-babies-know-about-physics-and-foreign-languages.html

Toikkanen, T. (2016, June 30). Learning Despite School. Retrieved August 1, 2016, from https://medium.com/lifelearn/learning-despite-school-d0879be9464f#.f6roydrfs

Pope, C., Beal, C., Long, S., & McCammon, L. (2011). They teach us how to teach them: Teacher preparation for the 21st century. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 11(4), 324-349. Retrieved from http://www.citejournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/v11i4languagearts1.pdf

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