School is Bad for Learning

As a student, it’s perfectly normal to grumble about homework, having to take a math class when it’s “soooo” boring, or being too tired to stay awake at your desk. And as adults, it’s easy to chalk that up to “kids being kids.” But Peter Gray, in his Salon article “School is a Prison – and Damaging our Kids,” suggests that these student complaints may be worth listening to – that school may actually be the worst place to learn.

Gray argues that when it comes to learning, children are literally born ready. We come into the world curious, playful and sociable. These traits are ideal for “self-directed” learning. We want to know, we are engaged and spirited enough to find out, and we interact with others, which facilitates the spreading of knowledge. Gray goes on to cite research which shows that “children who are trusted to take charge of their own education” and provided the means to do so, do – all the way into adulthood.

Compare this to the “burnout” suffered by so many students in the US today. Our schools’ imposed goals, rote learning, daily schedules that conflict with natural cycles, and restricted freedom tend to create cultures of unquestioning obedience, which naturally leads to frustration, un-fulfillment, unhappiness and apathy.

This isn’t necessarily anyone’s fault; the school system is a product of a history of the break/fix method. As Gray explains, it stems from a time and society in which children were expected to nod and smile, and hasn’t been overhauled, basically, ever.

If the time comes for a national reformation of schools, what would an educational system based on curiosity, playfulness and social interaction look like?