Le Québécois Libre, August
15, 2013, No 313
The Only Thing Children Really Need Is Freedom | Print Version
by Chantal K. Saucier*
As parents, we are responsible for the "education" of our children. For
me, that means simply this: if my daughter, now 7, grows up to be a
responsible, self-reliant, self-motivated, honest, caring, freedom-loving
good neighbor, and an overall happy person, then I’ve succeeded.
I don’t have a career path laid out for her, and I don’t expect her to
go to college, even though I have several degrees myself. The choice,
when the time comes, will be hers and hers alone.
If you are a parent and this sounds like you, you need to pay attention.
In the recently published book
Free to Learn, developmental psychologist Peter Gray argues that
if this is truly our goal, "There is no need for forced lessons,
lectures, assignments, tests, grades, segregation by age into classrooms,
or any of the other trappings of our standard, compulsory system of
schooling. All of these, in fact, interfere with children’s natural ways
Using evidence from anthropology, psychology, and history, Gray argues
that children come into this world genetically programmed to learn, and
that if they are free to pursue their own interests through play, they
will learn all they need to know to function in the culture in which
they are born, no matter what culture that may be, or at what particular
moment in time.
designed, by nature, to play and explore on their own, independently
of adults. They need freedom to develop; without it they suffer. The
drive to play freely is a basic, biological drive. Lack of free play
may not kill the physical body, as would lack of food, air, or
water, but it kills the spirit and stunts mental growth. Free play
is the means by which children learn to make friends, overcome their
fears, solve their own problems, and generally take control of their
own lives. It is also the primary means by which children practice
and acquire the physical and intellectual skills that are essential
for success in the culture in which they are growing. Nothing that
we do, no amount of toys we buy or "quality time" or special
training we give our children, can compensate for the freedom we
take away. The things that children learn though their own
initiatives, in free play, cannot be taught in other ways.
And as Gray
points out, it is not only in schools that children have less and less
freedom and hardly any time to play. Homework (which is the regime’s way
of keeping parents in line, in my opinion) and extra-curricular, resume-building
activities now fill our children lives after school, on weekends and all
summer long. In all of those adult-directed activities, children are
told what to do just about every minute and they are supervised at all
times. We have lost the ability to trust children and trusting them is
what we need to do. As educator John Holt said, "Nothing could be more
simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must
trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could
not be trusted."
Meanwhile, it is the children who are suffering. As Gray writes:
We have here a terrible irony. In the name of education, we have increasingly
deprived children of the time and freedom they need to educate
themselves though their own means. And in the name of safety, we
have deprived children of the freedom they need to develop the
understanding, courage, and confidence required to face life’s
dangers and challenges with equanimity. We are in a crisis that
continues to grow more serious with every passing year. We have lost
sight of the natural way to raise children. We have, not only in the
United States but also throughout the developed world, lost sight of
children’s competence. We have created a world in which children
must suppress their natural instincts to take charge of their own
education, and instead, mindlessly follow paths to nowhere laid out
for them by adults. We have created a world that is literally
driving many young people crazy and leaving many others unable to
develop the confidence and skills required for adult responsibility.
Gray also offers
solutions. To demonstrate how we can achieve "education" in our modern
society without classes, classrooms, curriculums, or testing, Gray uses
Sudbury Valley School as a model. SVS, located near Boston, has been in
operation since 1968 and currently has around 200 students.
Despite the lack of formal instruction, grades, or testing, surveys of
graduates show that over 75% of them pursue higher education (with no
reported difficulties in being accepted or in succeeding).
At SVS, children are allowed the same freedom and rights we have as
adults. They are respected as individuals and are allowed to pursue
their own interests so long as they do not infringe on the rights of
others in the school community. The school, the staff (they are not
called "teachers"), the resources are there for the students to use as
needed. Each child is 100% free to explore the world in his own way and
at his own pace.
The school is also self-governing, with each child and staff member having a
vote and being allowed to participate in the running of the school,
including voting on rules, the allocation of resources (budget), and
the hiring (and firing) of staff. Rules infractions are dealt with
through a Judicial committee that evaluates, investigates, and
ultimately issues sentences if a party is found guilty.
In short, students at SVS, and at other Sudbury schools in the US and
abroad, are enjoying life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, while
learning to take responsibility for their actions, education, and lives,
and learning to live as members of a democratic society.
And it works! At SVS, it has been working for 45 years, but who’s
What Gray’s research also confirms, and what many parents have known all
along, is that there is nothing wrong with our children. They do not
need "fixing" and certainly not with drugs. We, as a society, are making
our kids miserable, anxious, depressed, and stressed, drugging some of
them so they can get through the day, for no benefit whatsoever. What
we are doing to our children through "schools" is not only unnecessary,
it is cruel and becoming increasingly dangerous.
Childhood is not a disease or a mental disorder. We simply need to stop
treating it like one and as parents, we need to learn to trust and
respect our children as the human beings that they are.
Free to Learn is, in my opinion, the ONE book every parent
should read to really understand the nature of human education (how our
children learn) and how we can best facilitate our children’s natural
instinct to educate themselves. This is where we need to go back to
basics, not in math, reading, or sciences. And you’ll find that the
answer can ultimately be found in one little word:
Chantal K. Saucier, Ph.D., is a founder of Lafayette Sudbury School
in the Lafayette, LA, area and a Realtor with Keller Williams Realty