What if they play all day?

captioned video of book launch event

In June of 2021, I got to host 2 online events with Dr. Peter Gray where he discussed his newest books, as well as the science and personal experiences that inform their content. The first event covered 2 books — The Harm of Coercive Schooling and Evidence that Self-Directed Education Works. Transcript below. More information at https://www.self-directed.org/tp/peter-gray-book-launch/


Folks who are joining us, the live captions are going to stay on the chat is going to stay so that you can chat at me until the questions time and then we’ll open it up. And you won’t be in the recording if you aren’t talking and engaging. It only records the person who’s who’s talking. I think those are all the notes we will need. Alright.

So welcome to the first part of our book launch! So, it’s my pleasure to be hosting tonight. My name is Abby Oulton. I use she/her pronouns, and I’m based in New York City. And I’m here with the Alliance for Self-Directed Education, which is a nonprofit that Peter helped found, whose mission is to increase the
awareness and accessibility of self-directed education.

And it’s the Alliance’s brand new Tipping Points Press that is the publisher of these awesome new books. [Holds up books.] As you see mine are marked up, even having read the blog posts they’re based on many many times. And I’m going to end our session with some links and guides for folks who would like to get involved with the Alliance, because we’re looking right now. [Lightbulb flickers and goes out.] And my technology is technology-ing.

So…Delighted to be here. And Dr. Peter Gray is the author of these new books, as well as Free to Learn, which I’m sure many of you have read, and also the introductory psychology textbook that I didn’t realize until years after I used back in college. Who knew? And he’s a research professor of psychology at Boston College, a specialist in developmental and evolutionary psychology and known for — most excitingly to me — his work on the intersection between education and play. So, Peter, if you would like to take it away, I’m going to mute and go see if my light bulb will turn back on.


Okay, well thank you, Abby, I’m happy to be here, and welcome to those who are here participating. So…

So I have been writing a blog for Psychology Today, that many of you probably know about. Actually started it in 2008, so I’ve been at this for about 13 years. I write an article for the blog roughly once a month, sometimes somewhat more than that. And so over the years I’ve written 194 articles, all of them, kind of in the general realm or at least most of them in the general realm of children’s development, how children learn, some of the things that we’ve done in our society that are in some ways destroying childhood. I hope that’s not stated too strongly, that we’ve in many ways taken children’s natural ways of being away from them. Partly the way that school has changed and increased over the years and its domination of children’s lives. And partly because of societal fears about letting children just go out and play.

So I write a lot about that, and the damage, the documented damage, that all these changes have done to children. I write about self-directed education, and I’m a strong advocate of self-directed education, I must say. As well as a researcher into it I’ve become an advocate. I became an advocate many years ago, when I did a study of the graduates of the Sudbury Valley School, which really changed my career.

I was…I did this study partly because I truly wanted to know whether the kind of education that was occurring at that school worked. I didn’t have real preconceptions about it. My own son was a student there, and I was concerned about whether or not he was going to get a decent education at this place where nobody’s making him learn in any particular way. So it’s just a little bit of my history.

So, the, the reason for these, these collections, these small books that the Tipping Points Press of the Alliance for Self-Directed Education has published, is two-fold. There’s really two motives that I had for publishing these. The first is that for a long time now I have heard from various people who have said, “You know it’d be nice if you put together some of those articles that you’ve written according to topic. Because if — you know if I, if I go to the table of contents of the blog, there’s 194 essays. They’re all on various topics, and I would have to go through all of them — read the titles and make inferences about what they’re about — if I wanted to find out, let’s say, everything that you’ve written about the harm of schooling as it’s normally done today. Or everything you’ve written about children’s nature that allows them to educate themselves…” And so on and so forth. So it’d be nice to put them together by topic, and so that made some sense to me. And then the other reason for doing it, frankly, was to provide some…we hope financial support to the Alliance for self directed education, I’m a strong supporter of the Alliance. As Abby said I was one of the founders of the Alliance. I’m very excited about the things that the Alliance is doing and — in making more people aware of what self-directed education is, helping make it more possible for people. Reaching out to the public to promote self-directed education in various ways and provide various kinds of resources and services for people who have chosen a self-directed route of education for their children. So you’ve got two reasons to buy the book. One is because this gives you a collection of essays on the topic that may be of interest to you. And the other is because it — the, the, what you pay for the books helps to support the Alliance for Self-Directed Education. I’m not taking any royalties. This is a contribution to the Alliance.

So, so far four books have been published and I’m going to be talking about two of them today. And what I thought I would do is just kind of run through one book at a time, and talk about — sort of read off some of the chapter titles and say a little bit about what that chapter is about, and so that’ll give you a kind of a taste of what’s in the book. And a little bit of — and for those who haven’t read any of my essays or my book Free to Learn, it’ll give you some idea of my perspective, on, on these issues.

So I want to start with the book, The Harm of Coercive Schools.

So coercive schools are schools as we normally know them. The schools where children, pretty much have to be there, you know. Some parents have the resources and ability to do something different with their with their children — homeschool, unschool, send their child to a different kind of school, an alternative school where children have much more freedom. But the majority of families believe at least, whether right or wrong, they believe that they have to send their child to school. And most parents believe it’s a good thing to send their child to school. But — so in that sense… And the child doesn’t really have, for the most part, doesn’t really have any choice about it. The child has to be there. So that’s the first part of the coercion.

But then once the child is there, the child is being really truly forced to do what the what the school is telling them that they have to do. There’s no institution in our modern society, since we’ve done away with slavery, in which people are less free than our children are in school. They are actually less free than prisoners are in prison. Prisoners in prison are not required to sit in their seats all day. They’re not being monitored all day. They’re not being… They don’t have to ask permission to go to the bathroom. In most prisons they’re free to use the library whenever they want. They can read what they want. They’re free to think and talk about what they want. Children in school are not. Children in school are being controlled all of the time.

And, and we are — presumably we live in a democratic society. Presumably we want people to grow up with democratic values, which includes the idea of individual personal freedom and the kind of responsibility it takes to take charge of your own freedom. And presumably we want people to grow up with the kind of a real understanding of democratic processes, what it means to be involved in decision making what it means to be involved in having some real responsibility for the community that you live in. And yet we are raising — we are raising our children in, and putting them in, schools where none of that is true. Where the human rights are simply ignored. You don’t have free association, free speech, freedom of pursuit of your own interests. All those things that we value in a democratic society are not present in our typical public and private schools.

So that’s the that’s the situation that children are in, and that’s been a big — The concern about that has been a big motivator for much of my own research and writing. So the first of these books is entitled “The Harm of Coercive Schooling” and… And what I want to do now is I’m going to just go through and and read to you a few of the titles of the chapters and say something about what that is about.

So the first article in this, in this collection is entitled “Why Students Don’t Like School? Well, Duh…” I was motivated to write that essay after somebody had sent me a book that they thought that I would be interested in, called “Why Students Don’t Like School” or “Why Don’t Students Like School?” That was the title of the book. And I thought, “Oh, this should be interesting. This should be quite relevant to my interests.” And so I read the book, or at least skimmed it. Read enough of it — as much of it as I could stand, to tell you the truth. And the, the author’s point throughout this book was that the reason children don’t like school is because we aren’t using the latest knowledge of cognitive psychology in how we teach children. If only teachers had a better understanding of how to teach, a modern understanding of how to appeal to children’s minds in a better way, then children would like school. So that that was the basic thesis. And the author of the book was a cognitive psychologist who thought he knew how teachers can become better teachers. There was not a word in that book about the possibility that children don’t like school because they’re not free in school and children, like all human beings, crave freedom. None of us are happy when we’re not free, when we’re truly not free. And especially when we’re not free in a situation that we really had no choice but being in that situation in the first place. So, in that first essay I described the described my view of why children don’t like school: it’s because they like freedom.

None of us are happy when we’re not free, when we’re truly not free. And especially when we’re not free in a situation that we really had no choice but being in that situation in the first place. So, in that first essay I described the described my view of why children don’t like school: it’s because they like freedom.

You know, I want you to think about this for a moment. You…One thing, way to — one way I sometimes describe this is, imagine that you… One way I sometimes describe this is, imagine that you were applying for a job. And let’s say you discovered that this job was one in which you were going to be so micromanaged that you would be told, basically every hour of your work day, exactly what you had to do. Even every minute of your work day. You would have somebody constantly evaluating you. You would be constantly being compared to your fellow employees, to your workmates. You would be constantly judged and evaluated and shamed if you are not doing as well as the others in accordance in the judgment of the person who is evaluating you. You are not allowed to leave your seat without permission. And you can’t even go to the bathroom without permission. You’re not allowed to talk with your workmates about how to, how to do your work. You’re not allowed to share. That would be cheating, right? So, what adult would ever accept such a job? This would be the worst job ever. This would be the job from hell. Nobody would accept a job like that. No adult would do that. And yet this is what we expect our children to do, and then we wonder why they don’t like it. Some of them say they like it, and some of them kind of do like it. And some of them, like, like the fact that they do well in school and they can show off in school and so on and so forth. But it’s a rare child who’s not very happy when the school day ends. Unfortunately the school day often doesn’t end, because you have to take homework home and continue with school. The rare child who’s not happy when the school year ends that you’ve got some kind of a vacation from school, and let’s hope that your parents aren’t putting you into a school-like summer camp, because then you’ve still got more school then. But at any rate that’s…It seems to be pretty clear why children wouldn’t like school.

That’s the third — so I’m not going to say anything about all these, but — the third essay in this collection is titled “Schools Are Good for Showing Off, Not for Learning.” And I describe in that essay research that shows that that pressure, the fear of judgement, the knowledge of judgment, the knowledge that you’re going to be judged improves the performance of people who are already good at something and it worsens the performance of people who are not already good at that. There’s countless experiments in psychology that show this all kinds of ways. This is done with children. It’s done with adults. It’s done with all kinds of different tasks. Those who are already good at something improve when they’re being judged. You know, the adrenaline gets going and you want to show off. And you do all the better, because you’re being observed. But for people who don’t know how to do it, being observed makes you nervous. It interferes with your ability to think about this new task, to really understand it. You get this at performance anxiety, the anxiety about being evaluated. This has been shown over and over and over again. And yet we’re — yet schools, presumably, are places for learning new stuff stuff you didn’t already know. And the ideal condition for learning new stuff is, is the condition of not being evaluated when you’re doing it, in your own pace, in your own way. When people aren’t observing you and measuring you and and judging you. And yet this is — we’ve got the exact opposite situation. It’s no surprise to me that when, beginning around the 1980s, you know, around the time of No Child Left Behind, which came sort of after that, the — and we began putting even more pressure on children than we were before, testing them more often, judging them more often… Around that time, the so-called education gap, the gap between, usually it’s defined as the gap between rich and poor, began to increase. You know, one thing we know is that on average, children from wealthier families do better in school than children from poor families. And there’s a variety of reasons for that. Partly because children from wealthier families are — tend, they tend to be speaking at home kind of the same language that’s used in school. They may have been exposed — they are likely… There’s a lot of research showing they’re more likely to have played games that involve numbers, and so they come to school knowing a fair amount of what school is all about already. And kids from poor families a little bit less likely to do that. So that part of the purpose of No Child Left Behind was going to be to reduce that gap. But what the research has shown is that ever since — the more pressure we put, the bigger that gap becomes. No surprise, if you know the research about the effects of pressure, as school became more pressure, more evaluation, more pushing to pass those tasks, those who already were pretty good did better. Those who were not so good did worse. This… So that’s, that’s kind of what that — that particular chapter is about that.

Chapter seven and eight in the booklet are about ADHD. So, you know, I’ve seen over recent decades this explosion in the diagnosis of ADHD and it didn’t exist as a concept when I was a kid. It didn’t even exist when I was a new parent, many years ago. We are now in a situation where, according to some estimates, at least 20% of boys and something like 8% of girls get a diagnosis of ADHD at some point in their school career. Huge numbers of people diagnosed with a supposedly mental illness, ADHD. Almost always these diagnoses occur in school context. It’s almost always a teacher who first suggests to the parents that this be diagnosed, that they look at the child for this. And if you look at the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, they really have to do largely with the kinds of things that happened in school. “Speaks out of turn.” That would be an example of diagnostic criteria. “Can’t stay in seat.” And so on and so forth.

So it’s pretty clear that the diagnosticians had school-like behavior in mind. And it’s also — there’s a lot of evidence that the initial suggestion of ADHD frequently comes from teachers. So, this essay, the first of these essays I gave the title, “ADHD in School: Assessing Normalcy in an Abnormal Environment.”
What we have done over the years is we’ve made school increasingly rigid and narrow in terms of what it is the children have to do there. I don’t want to go into great lengths with this, but when I was a kid, we had a lot more freedom in school. Everybody had a lot more freedom in school then kids do today. We weren’t so locked to our seats. We had large numbers of recess. We were never, when I was in elementary school, in our seats more than an hour at a time. We had a recess after every hour. We had a whole hour lunch to play outdoors. And even then, teachers would understand if somebody needs to get up and run around the room, sure do it. That doesn’t happen in schools today. So what has happened is we have — and we’ve also narrowed the curriculum so that there’s less creative activity. There’s less different kinds of things. There’s less choices. More and more it’s focused on these tests. Well, so one way to think of this is, people are diverse. We’re all different from one another. But what schools are trying to do is force all of us through the same little square hole.
And if you don’t fit that square hole, then that means there’s something wrong with you. Instead of saying that there’s something wrong with the school, we say that there’s something wrong with the child. So increasingly, we have a whole industry of childhood “disorders,” I’ll put quotation marks around the “disorders.” And ADHD is one of the big ones, but there’s other ones as well. And so what we have basically done is instead of saying there’s something wrong with our schools, that they are not accommodating the diversity of children, we say there’s something wrong with children, that they’re not able to adapt and do what they’re supposed to be doing in school. And then, in some cases, as is the case in ADHD, we give them powerful drugs, drugs that could be having long term effects. We still don’t know what the effects are. There’s some evidence that there is some continued dependency on those drugs, that normal childhood impulsiveness tends to remain… If you continue to take those drugs, you can continue to kind of need those drugs. And, consequently, there’s more and more adult ADHD diagnosis. So that’s… But we, we also know that the drugs have, for many children, serious side effects. On appetite. On mood. They take away playfulness for some children. So despite that, because they do allow the children to do their schoolwork who weren’t doing it before, we give them the drugs. So that’s the, that’s one essay.

And then I have another essay — sometimes I use my blog in order to do surveys of readers, and so one of the surveys I did was to ask readers who — excuse me — who has a child who was diagnosed with ADHD when they were in a conventional school, and who subsequently took that child out of school for homeschooling, unschooling, or some kind of democratic schooling? I wanted to hear the stories of what of those of those situations. It turned out that 28 of my readers were in that situation: they had a child was diagnosed with ADHD in school, at some point they took the child out of school, and they wrote to me about what happened. And I summarize those stories in this blog post on experience, called “Experiences of ADHD Kids Who Leave Typical Schooling.” To just give a very thumbnail sketch of that, of that essay is that, the great majority of — all but six of them said that their child could go off the drugs. Once they were out of school, they didn’t need the drugs. They were fine. All of them said their children didn’t have any particular problems learning, but they learned in their own ways. And they, they — The characteristics of ADHD didn’t magically go away. Really what we call ADHD is a kind of normal impulsiveness. So kind of, some people are more impulsive than other people, and children tend to be more impulsive than adults. And it’s hard sometimes to sit still. It’s hard sometimes to do boring work for repeated periods of time. And so on and so forth. And some people are more in that direction than other people, and if you’re far enough in that direction you get diagnosed with ADHD, if you’re going to school. But out of school the world isn’t like that. You have a lot more choices out of school. And that’s true in homeschooling. That’s certainly true in unschooling, where you’re in complete control of your own learning. And so what these parents said is, “Yeah my child does fine. And he doesn’t have any difficulty concentrating on the things that he’s interested in, and he’s learning a great deal… He or she learned a great deal through, through the work that they are — through the work that they’re doing of their own choosing.” And even for those families that were giving their kids some kind of a curriculum, because the kid could do it the way they wanted to do it, at the time they wanted to do it… They could get up and run around if they wanted to. They could bounce up and down on the couch if they wanted to. They didn’t have this problem that that was the problem at school. And even those who were still giving the drug were saying, “Well, I probably don’t need to do it.” They were kind of new to homeschooling. And there were. And so, I don’t really know of any cases maybe there’s one or two cases where they said the drug was valuable even, even after the child had been out of school sometime. And that may well be… There may be some cases where the impulsiveness is so great
that it really does interfere with activities outside of school and where it’s warranted to be taking this drug. I don’t know the answer to that, but I think in the great majority of cases they get diagnosed as ADHD, it’s really because of school, and it’s to adapt the school that they’re taking this drug.

So, I need to speed up a little bit or I’m going to use all my time to just talk about these first things in, in the book. So I…There are two more chapters in this, in this book, that have to do with, with the danger — actually there’s three chapters — that have to do with the dangers of school, the documented harm of school. The first of those chapters is actually written in the… This essay was written in 2014, called “The Danger of Back to School.” I was interested in this question. One thing that we know is that as school has become more rigid, as recess has been decreased, as homework has been increased, as the pressure to perform has been increased, the rates of anxiety, depression, and, heaven forbid, even suicide have dramatically increased among school-aged children. And so, my hypothesis has always been that a good part — not all, there are other factors, too, but a good part of that increase in serious mental disorder in children is the result of school pressure and the result of the things that are happening at school. And if that’s true, my hypothesis was that, well, these — the rates of suicide should be less during the summer. The rates of children’s mental breakdowns should be less during the summer, when they’re not in school, than it is when they are in school. And I wondered if there was any data on that. So I sort of scoured the literature, and I couldn’t at that time find anything that was written directly on that issue. But I finally found a report from a particular hospital, Children’s Pediatric Hospital in Connecticut. In, in the…the article, I saw it wasn’t about this, but they happened to have a table showing the rates of the admissions for psychiatric purposes into this pediatric hospital by month. And they had this for a number of years in a row. And I looked at that, and every year the rates would plummet in the summer, and they would go back up again when school started. The highest overall rate was in May, which was — which you might assume would be one of the more stressful — maybe the most stressful month of school. This is sort of towards the end of school. Exams are coming up. Worries are coming up. And so on and so forth. And May, of course, is a very nice month weather-wise… There’s no other reason why you should be committing suicide in May, of all things, right? And, and then the lowest were in July and August, when school is off. And then September it starts going up again and so on and so forth. The rate of — the rate of mental health admissions for children in May was three times what it was in either June and — either July or August. And overall during the school months, the rate of of mental health admissions to hospitals was double what it was in the summer. So I wrote a blog post on that then later on, four years later, actually, I looked again to see if there’s now been new research. And there actually had been new research, and I also discovered an article that I had somehow overlooked previously.

And so the next essay in that series was “Children’s and Teen Suicides Related to the School Calendar.” And I found — I found several studies showing that the suicide rate for school-aged children plummets in the summer, just as mental health admissions does. That you — children are about twice as likely during the school year to commit suicide as they are during the summer when school is off. And it’s not just summer. They’re also less likely to commit it during any vacation. So during vacation, during a…during Christmas vacation, for example, during that break, the suicide rate goes down. This has been documented by now in a couple of different studies. There are also a couple of studies on suicide fantasies, suicide — you know, children are much more likely to think of suicide during the school year, than, than at other times. So this is pretty clear evidence that school is a big part of this very serious problem that we’re having with children’s mental health. You know, I… Not many people are aware of this, but the rate of childhood suicide is now six times what it was in the 1950s and 1960s, when I was a kid. And it’s about five times even higher than it was when my own son was a kid. This rate has been going up continuously, as has the rate of diagnosable, clinically-significant depression and anxiety. So, so this is a very serious problem and… and what I’ve shown, by other people’s research really, in these essays, is that a lot of this seems to be correlated with school.

And the next essay here in this series was entitled “What If Medicine’s First Principle Were Also Education’s First Principle?” So as you probably know, the first principle of medicine, ever since the time of Hippocrates, well, is primum non nocere, first do no harm. It’s the striving of the medical profession, at least in theory and largely in fact, to not do things that cause more harm than good. Of course, some things that you do that, you know, you’re… Treating cancer causes harm, but you don’t treat cancer in a way that causes harm unless there’s very good evidence that in the long run, there’s more good being done by that treatment than harm being done. And there’s a lot of research that always goes into that. Do we do this treatment or that? You know? People agonize… Do we do this treatment or not? It’s going to cause some harm. It’s going to be painful. It’s going to interfere with the person’s life in one way or another. Can we justify it on the basis that the good effects outweigh the harmful effects? So I raised this question. What if we were… What if that same, that same approach were taken to our school system? What if we ask the question, so, what is the harm of school? Let’s be honest, that school causes harm, just like some medical procedures cause harm. What is the harm of school and what are the benefits of school and does the harm outweigh the benefits? I argued that if — In here, I made the case that if school were a drug it would never pass the FDA. Nobody has ever done those studies. Nobody has ever shown that there’s any real benefit to school that outweighs the harm that’s being done to school. Nobody’s ever done the control that…I make the case that children in self-directed education, where there’s no real intervention, where children are allowed to be free and pursue their own interests and you simply provide the conditions for them to learn… I make the case that we already, there is already evidence that those kids are doing just as well, at least as well, out there in the real world as the kids who’ve gone through this coercive school system. And what do we know about the coercive school system? We know that it promotes suicide. It promotes mental disorder. It has all these harmful effects. There are — there are lots of studies now that show that school is stressing kids out. It’s also gobbling up huge amounts of children’s time, and preventing them from doing the kinds of things children should be doing. Like learning how to run their own lives, playing, exploring making friends, you know? Developing hobbies, figuring out what they themselves like to do… This is what childhood should be all about, but school is usurping children’s opportunity to do that.

I also in that article, in addition to kind of summarizing some of the work that I already just described, I also described some other research. So for example, there was a — the American Psychological Association did a study a few years ago called “Stress in America.” And what they found was that teenagers in school are the stressed out, most stressed out people in America. They’re more stressed out than their parents. And when they asked the teens what the source of their stress is, 83% of them said school. That’s an amazing statistic. You would think that would be on the front page of every newspaper, yet as far as I know nobody’s published that. Even the APA tends to not announce this. I mean, it’s in there. It’s in the article. It’s very clear. But nobody in our culture wants to blame school for anything. People — It’s — School has a halo around it. And it’s verboten to say that school is the, is the cause of all these problems. But if you ask kids, and you do it in a way that is anonymous and they can be honest, they will tell you “school is the cause of my anxiety.” “School is what is making me feel suicidal.” “All this judgment, all this pressure, all this shaming, this is what’s causing all this. All this fear of failure, that is being pushed on me all the time, this is what’s causing causing so much stress.” There’s also research, even, on the somatic, bodily, effects of stress. So for example, there was a study done a few years ago, of children entering kindergarten. Now kindergarten, you would think kindergarten shouldn’t be stressful. I mean, that’s a garden for children, right? A place for children to play… That’s what it used to be. But now it’s like what first grade used to be, and there’s academic pressure. On kindergarten kids. There are kindergarten kids who are being sent home with note saying that they’re academically behind and the parents get all upset and then the child gets all upset and the child feels like a failure. These are little five year olds, right? And I’m even hearing this more and more about preschool kids… So we’re pushing it to even younger ages, this stress. And so what this study showed is, it measured — this study, the researchers measured hair cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that is released in response to pressure to stress. When enough cortisol — Cortisol is actually at high levels, chronic levels, is — is harmful to the brain. And at high levels, you can measure it in a person’s hair. You… So you take a snippet of hair and you can do an assay for the cortisol level. The hair is kind of a measure of chronic stress. What these researchers did is they looked at hair cortisol in children a month before they started kindergarten and then a month after they started kindergarten.
And they found significantly elevated levels of hair cortisol a month after starting kindergarten. So even our little kindergarten kids are being stressed in school, to a pathological — bodily pathological — level that is showing up in the hair. And when it says that, it’s probably at a high enough level that it could be causing some kind of serious damage to the developing child. This is what we’re doing with our schools.

What these researchers did is they looked at hair cortisol in children a month before they started kindergarten and then a month after they started kindergarten.
And they found significantly elevated levels of hair cortisol a month after starting kindergarten.

And then the final chapter in that, in that collection, is called “Kindergarten Teachers Are Quitting and Here is Why.” And that’s kind of a follow up to that kindergarten story that I just told. I’ve heard from dozens of kindergarten teachers, and I think they represent actually thousands of kindergarten teachers across the country, who are so upset with what they’re being required to do to little children in kindergarten, that many of the best teachers and the longest standing teachers are resigning. They’re resigning because they see that they’re doing more harm than good to the children. They — they signed up to be kindergarten teachers, they went into it because they love children. They don’t want to be hurting children. They believe that children need to play. They believe children need to be loved and read to. They need to have experiences playing with other kids, and so on and so forth. And now what they’re finding is they have to give them worksheets. They have to test them. They have to send home notes to the parents. And they’re stressing the kids out, and teachers in large numbers are resigning across the country because of that. I wish they would rebel. I wish they would… I wish they would strike. I wish they would say “We’re, we’re not resigning. We’re just not going to do this anymore.” I think if one teacher did this, they would get fired, but if every teacher in the school did it, I don’t think the schools could — could fire them.

So at any rate that’s, that’s the first book, I’ll be much quicker with the second book because I want to leave some time for questions and discussion, and I know that some of you are probably going to want to leave or need to leave at nine o’clock. I’ll stay on till as late as 9:30 for people who would like to stay with questions and discussion. But let me just say a little bit about the second book.

So the second book is called “Evidence that Self-Directed Education Works.” And a lot of this is based on my own research that I have conducted either by myself or with other colleagues. Gina Riley is one of the people who’s worked with me on some of this research. And there are two or three other people who have worked with me on some of this other research. So I got into this realm of thought, many, many years ago when my own son was a student at the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Massachusetts where children are in charge of their own learning. Where there is ample opportunity for them to learn, but nobody is required to do so. Where the school runs by democratic procedure where every child as well as staff members has a say, has a vote, in any of the rules that are made at the school. Where there are no rules, however, that have to do with academic learning. It’s completely up to you what you want to do regarding that. Where the staff members are not called teachers because they don’t think they do any more teaching than the students do. And, and where the children are not segregated by age, and they’re learning from one another all the time and there’s age-mixed play. Where children learn through play an exploration, where courses are generally not even offered but sometimes there will be, a group of students will get together and ask for a course and that lasts as long as the students want it and no longer than that. But that’s the basic way that the school works. And my son was a student there many years ago, and I was a little skeptical. Like many parents would be. But I was also a scientist and a researcher, so I decided to do some research to address my skepticism.

So I, along with a colleague, David Chanoff, who was at that time a part time staff member at the school and helped locate the graduates of the school, we did a study of the graduates of the school at that time. And some of those graduates had never been to another school for, for what would be K through 12 schooling anywhere else. They’ve done all their schooling at Sudbury Valley. The school has already been in existence long enough that there are some students in that category. Others had done only maybe what would be their high school years there. And since students came for a variety of reasons — Some of them had come to the school because they were doing very badly in public school. They were failing. Or they had gotten some kind of a diagnosis, and the parents didn’t like that so they sent them Sudbury Valley. Or they were rebelling… That was the case for my son, which is why he was there. So the — So they come for a variety of reasons. They came from a pretty wide variety of backgrounds. The school charges very low tuition so — at least at that time, it was very low. And some of the teenagers were earning their own tuition. You could at that time earn your tuition by working at McDonald’s or some — any kind of part time work. So there were students there whose parents really didn’t want them to be there and wouldn’t pay tuition, but they paid their own tuition.

So that was the case at the at that time, years ago. So at any rate, kids that come from — for variety of reasons, and… and they were — had been out for a very varied period of time. I was interested in kind of the conventional things that any parent would be interested in. Like, all right, if he wants to go to college… I’m not gonna — I’m not the kind of parent would require him to go to college or was pushing college, but if he wants wants to go to college, if he wants a career that requires college, can you go to college after such a school? So that was one of my questions. What kind of jobs do these graduates get? Do they all become starving artists, you know? Or do they — do any of them become anything that makes a living? So the — those were the questions I had. And the study really changed my career.

Before I had done that study, I had been in an entirely different realm of kind of brain research, using laboratory animals as my subjects. I wasn’t really a developmental psychologist then. I wasn’t that interested in education. I did this study because I was concerned about my son. And, but what I found was… Wow. You know, the graduates of this school were doing very well in life. Even those who, you know, you would not predict would be the cream of the crop, at least the conventional school system then think they would not be the cream of the crop, where they were doing very badly in that conventional school. And I couldn’t see any kind of personality of student that was incompatible with doing well as a graduate of the school. Now admittedly, these were all people who went to the school and stayed at the school and graduated from the school. There are certain number of people who come to the school and leave for one reason or another. This was not a study of them, although there have since been other studies of them, showing that they do well, too. They go back to another school and they fit in and they figured out how to, how to survive in that environment. So, but — what I found was that those who wanted to go to college didn’t seem to have any difficulty getting into college. I think of that… The, the typical parent and the typical student and a typical school believes, you’ve got to take all these particular courses or you’re not going to get into college. If you don’t take these courses — and you’ve got to get high grades, and you’ve got to get high scores on everything, and you’ve got to do all the right extracurricular activities that…all of this. This is what’s causing so much pressure. Well, here’s a bunch of young people who are doing none of that. They skipped the whole thing. They weren’t doing any courses. Not on– not only were they not doing AP courses and not doing advanced calculus, or whatever the heck it is people think you have to study, they weren’t doing any of it. They’d never taken a course in math, or arithmetic for that matter. Never. And yet, they’re getting into college. Well, it was very interesting to see how they got into college, and I talk about that. And we still know — there’s been studies more recently — they’re still getting into college, not only from that school but from it from other schools modeled after Sudbury Valley and other schools, like ALCs, learning centers that are somewhat similar in philosophy. They’re getting in. And this is something that most people don’t know: you can go to college without having to do all that stuff.

Nor… And in addition, not only are they getting in, but they’re doing fine in college. They’re, in many cases, getting honors. They’re doing well when they’re there. They seem… Many of them say they, they believe they have the advantage in college, because so many of their classmates haven’t learned how to take responsibility for their own lives, and one of the main criteria for doing well in college, and doing well in life in general, is being able to take responsibility with… You’re living away from home, now. You, your mom isn’t telling you what — you have to get up and don’t drink so much at night and so on and so forth. And you haven’t learned how to control yourself, because you haven’t been in a situation where you really had to control yourself. And these kids have. These young people had. And so that made it… The other thing is that, all right, so maybe there are some things that they would — there would be a little gap. They wouldn’t know some terms. And so it turns out most kids who’ve gone to the regular school forget whatever it was they learned their courses anyway. Or the 90% of it. So there’s not really that much that they remember in the first place. Every college professor pretty much starts from the beginning in whatever they’re teaching, because they can’t assume that students remember anything about it from high school. So they’re not really that much behind in the first place, and if they are behind, they can easily catch up. They just look up what it is they didn’t know. Maybe they’d ask the professors, “Is there something I should read for this background? I never took a course in biology before.” And so they — and because they take responsibility, they do very well. So that was part of that study. We are… Then later on and… And so I described that research in, in one of the essays here.

I also, in another essay, I described some, some I described how hunter gatherer children become educated. Now this is interesting, because through most of human history we were all hunter gatherers. Until a mere 10,000 years ago, all human beings were hunter gatherers. And it turns out that some groups have survived into our — survived into the mid to even late 20th century as pretty pristine hunter gatherer cultures in isolated parts of the world. And anthropologists went out to study them, and I got interested in the question of, well, what’s the relationship between adults and children in those cultures? Those would be the cultures in which our educative instincts would have evolved, in which our tendency to learn and educate ourselves would have evolved. What’s the conditions like there? And so I identified anthropologists who among them had lived in and studied seven different hunter gatherer cultures in different parts of the world, on three different continents, and — and surveyed them about what they observed about how children learn and so on and so forth. I discovered that the conditions in the hunter gatherer way of life was very similar to the conditions at a — the conditions at a Sudbury-type school. Not in terms of what the tools are. Not in terms of what the kids do. I mean, that’s the… Sudbury school kids aren’t hunting and gathering. They’re not shooting bows and arrows, for the most part. They’re not — they’re not dancing the traditional dances of the hunter gatherer group there. And so on. And they’re not digging roots… Some may be doing some of this, but that — that’s not the focus. Their focus is more likely to be on modern things, like computers and, and their reading. And they’re playing sports and they’re, in the end, they’re playing modern kinds of music of our culture not hunter gatherer cultures. The things that they’re doing are different. But in many ways the, the environment, the learning environment is similar in a hunter gatherer culture. Nobody’s telling children what they have to do. They trust children to educate themselves. They trust that children are going to look around, see what it is that people do in the culture, that they’re going to practice those things, are going to incorporate it into their play. They’re going to play at those things. They’re going to learn by observing, and they’re going to learn by playing. They’re going to learn by overhearing what adults are talking about. They’re going to take charge of their own learning. And so nobody coerces a child. Nobody even suggests a child — to a child. Nobody’s judging a child. And in hunter gatherer culture, in fact, over and over again the anthropologists said that would, that would be almost a taboo. You simply don’t compare. You don’t say, say, “Oh, this child is better at this than that child.” You just would never do that. That’s very very similar to the culture at a at a Sudbury school. So, but my argument was that — maybe accidentally, maybe on purpose. I don’t think the people who started the school knew anything about hunter gatherer cultures in particular, but they set up conditions that were very similar to the learning conditions of a hunter gatherer culture. Children not segregated by age. They can observe what adults do. They can observe what older and younger children can do. They’re free to play and explore in their own chosen ways there, and they have access to the tools of the culture. And so on and so forth. So, that’s part of what that, that book is about.

There’s also research that I also describe — I devote several chapters to research that Gina Riley, who’s a professor at Hunter College in the city of New York, and I did together with unschooling families. So after I did all this research on Sudbury Valley, I was still, to be honest, a little skeptical about homeschooling and unschooling. Because I was, I had kind of the conventional view that they may be kind of isolated at home. They’re not maybe having enough socialized experience. They’re maybe not being exposed to enough of the real world out there. Maybe they’re getting a kind of narrow view of the world. I had some of those preconceptions. And… But nevertheless I was being invited…Because — because people in unschooling were interested in what I had been writing, I was being invited to speak at unschooling conferences. I was getting acquainted with some of the kids who were being unschooled, and they seemed remarkably similar to me to kids from Sudbury Valley and schools like that. They were, they were active. They were kids. They were clearly kids, but they also were polite. They knew how to control themselves. They were not clinging to their mother’s skirts, as the stereotype might have them be at these — at these conferences, often held in hotels. Because…They’re running around, as kids, doing — as kids do. But somehow doing it in a way that wasn’t really disturbing very much the other people at the hotel. So I began to think, well, you know, maybe some of these stereotypes are wrong. It’d be interesting to know a little bit more about unschoolers. So along with with Gina… We did a study of 232 unschooling families.

This was a survey, and mostly it was moms who responded. And we asked them a lot of questions about why they’re doing it, what the benefits are, what the — what what led them to do it, what the pathway, their pathway to unschooling was, and what the challenges are, frankly, what are — what, what is difficult about it. And I ended up being as impressed by unschooling, when it’s done properly at least, as I was by by Sudbury schooling and democratic schooling. And I write about the findings of those studies in, in that book. And then we did another study of grown unschoolers, so this is kind of analogous to the study of graduates of the Sudbury Valley School. We did a study. We identified 75 adults who had been unschooled who — when — during their K through 12 school years. What elsewise would have been staged as K through 12 school years. And we did a study in which we asked them some of the very same kinds of questions that I had previously asked of Sudbury Valley graduates and found very similar responses. They had gone on to college at high rates, of those who wanted to go on to college, and seemed not to have any problem getting in. They did well in college if they went. They were in a wide variety of careers. One thing that impressed me in both the study of grown unschoolers and of the graduates of Sudbury Valley was how many of these adults were in careers that were in one way or another extensions of passionate interest that they developed, when they were children. So because these people had lots of time to play and explore and discover, learn about themselves, discover what they like to do, discover their passions, discover and become good at what they like to do, they often had a head start in a career that was in the realm — that they love to do. So. How lucky they are to be going — to be in a job that really, they can say, this is play for me. This is what I did as a kid in play. I’ve got to do it a little more seriously now, because I’m paid for it. But there were — there were there — I could, in… In those articles I give many examples. There’s a lot of quotes, in all of these articles that I’m describing, from the people talking about their own experiences.

So, but just to give you very briefly a couple of examples… So one of them that, that I like to talk about is, is a young man who at the time that we interviewed him — or surveyed him, rather — had the career of being an aerial nature photographer. So he took photos of nature from airplanes. And he, he had described — when he described what his interests were as a child, he was always interested in nature. He spent lots of time out in the woods hiking. He loved nature. He got interested, around the time he became a teenager, maybe 11 – 12 – 13, he became interested in photography. He really focused on photography, actually was making a little money as a photographer while he was still a student and at the school. And then he got interested in hang gliding, and, and from hang gliding, he got interested in flying fixed, fixed-wing aircraft. And then he thought, okay, so how can I make a living combining all three of my interests: nature, flying, and photography? And he was making a living at it. I looked at his website… Very impressive website. But there were others in more conventional careers. There were people who have — people who had gone on to, for example, one woman started a construction company. And she had always been interested in, in conservation issues and and she was also interested in construction. And she was interested in democracy, generally. So she started this construction company that was run democratically and that used natural materials and focused on building in ways that are good for the environment. There was another who was a young man, I — at the time of a study, if I remember right, he was about 22. And he was already well in into his dream career. His dream career would be to be a movie director, but he was an assistant movie producer. In Hollywood. At the age of 22. And how did he get there? He was like a lot of kids: he was into making YouTubes. And he was good at it. And he developed such skills that — and I think he lived in Chicago, if I remember right, and there was a major film being made in the city where he lived. And so he contacted the people making the film and he asked if he could volunteer to help out with the production. And so they said okay, sure, and they found him so useful, so valuable at helping out, that they invited him to Hollywood, to be an assistant to the person he had been volunteer working with. That’s the kind of thing you can do if you’re not going to school. Right? I mean you can, you can really focus on things that you’re interested in. You can get good at them. You can do things outside of school. Nobody’s telling you you have to be at school. Nobody’s telling you you have to, if you’re, if you’re unschooled certainly they’re not telling you that… You don’t have to be home either.

That’s the kind of thing you can do if you’re not going to school. Right? I mean you can, you can really focus on things that you’re interested in. You can get good at them.

So that’s the… I could go on and on with such stories but I hope I’ve given you at least some kind of a hint at what’s in these two books. And now it’s a little bit after nine, and everybody who is needs to leave or wishes to leave should feel free to, but I’m happy to stay. I’m happy to stay for a while for any kinds of questions, thoughts, discussions, arguments that anybody might wish to present.


So I’m gonna put two links in the chat real quick. Thank you, Peter.




I’ll thank you again in a minute… I’m going to put two links in the chat. One is for the — where you can buy the books. And I’ll give you a third — Peter gave you two reasons to maybe buy them, I will give you a third. Which is that it’s really hard to strew blog posts, like leave them conveniently for somebody to pick up and start flipping through who might need to read them. Really easy to do with books, and these are a nice inviting size. So there’s your third reason. So that link is in the chat, and one for our event next week about the other two books in this series. And so I’m going to turn the chat on. And you can start putting questions there, and I’m going to change the settings so you can unmute yourselves. Any questions?


One more thing I can say about about these books and a reason to buy them is that you can give them to people that you would like to… People who might not know this stuff at all, who you think might be interested in it. Maybe this would be your own parents. Or maybe it would be that — the neighbor who’s questioning why you are doing what you’re doing with your children. So for example, this one of the reasons for this book on the “Evidence that Self-Directed Education Works” is, I hear from many people who say, “All right, so I’m, I’m convinced I want to, I want to do unschooling with my child.” Or “I want to, I want to send my child to an Agile Learning Center or democratic school. But my husband is not on board.” Or “My own parents will disown me if I do this. They think this is just crazy.” So you can buy this book for them. I’m a scientist, I — I’m not an intuitive person. That — some people just say, “Intuitively I know this is right.” That… I don’t intuitively know what’s right. I need to be convinced. I need to see the evidence. That’s why I did the research that I did. That’s why we’re all my blog posts are based — almost all my blog posts are based — on research. They’re not based on opinion. They’re not based on hunch. Or some kind of magical ability that I have to know the truth. It’s based on research. And… And so for people who need to be convinced, I think that these books would be helpful.


So Peter, you have a question about the nature of, like, problems, and, like, discipline issues that come up at Sudbury.


Okay, I’m not seeing the question. So does somebody want to raise it, or you want to read it to me? Okay, so I do see the question now. “I already bought all five of your books. They’re fabulous. Can you talk about discipline issues at Sudbury? What kinds of behavior problems occurred and how were they dealt with?” Now that’s a great question.

So one thing I have to say about Sudbury Valley School is that sometimes people think, well, they’re associated with the free school movement of long ago, and, and they also think that free school means sort of anything goes, that children can do anything they want. And, and that it would be kind of an undisciplined sort of place. And that’s not true. In fact, Sudbury schools, in particular, are very clear — have very clear rules. The rules are made democratic. Democratically so that every child as well as staff member has a vote on the rules. The rules can be proposed by anybody and, and they have to get a majority vote of the people who are at the school meeting in order to be passed. Over the years, there’s quite a big law book that has been developed as a result of that, and so there are set rules. The most common rules have to do with the kinds of, in fact, really, in some sense, all the rules have to do with being able to get along peacefully with one another and preserving the school, making it a place where everybody feels comfortable, where nobody feels harassed and — and where it’s clean, and presentable. And, and people know where things are. There’s not litter around the place and so on and so forth. So there are rules that really — what could be called an anti bullying rule, but it’s called a personal rights rule. Which is basically this: if, if I’m doing something to you, whether it’s calling you a name that you don’t like or poking you in the ribs or anything, whatever it is, if you tell me very clearly “No, I don’t want you to do that,” and I continue to do that I’ve violated your personal rights. And you could then bring me up to the Judicial Committee. Now what the Judicial Committee is, it’s analogous to the jury system in the larger culture. And so I would go before the Judicial Committee. And, and you would be there, too, and you would make your complaint about what I was doing that you didn’t like. And I would probably say something. “Oh come on, east up. You know I was just fooling around. I was just kidding. You’re way too sensitive…” Or whatever I might say to justify what I was doing. And you would say, “The truth of the matter is I did not like that.” I would be probably found guilty of violating this particular rule, of violating your personal rights. And the result might be some kind of a consequence, some kind of an effect of that. Now the first thing that the committee would try to do is just negotiate it. They would try to convince me, “You know, Peter, you really, you’ve got to understand that you can’t do this kind of thing. Do you understand this? And do you apologize in a sincere way? And, and do you…” And to the person who I had been been harassing, “Do you accept the apology?” And that would be the end of it. But suppose that continues. Suppose I — I either didn’t apologize or I did and I continue to do this again. And the next time the Judicial Committee would be a little harsher. They might say, “All right, so for the next, for the next week you have to stay in a different room from this person that you’ve been harassing. You can’t be in the same room.” I’m kind of making that up. I don’t know if this would be a typical — but I think from the, from the way, from the examples I’ve seen this might, this might be an example of what would be said. So it’s usually a consequence that sort of fits, fits the crime, if you will. So that, so that is… So the end result is that I would have to think twice now. Do I want — This is, this is an inconvenience for me. Every time you come into the room, I mean, I’ve got to go someplace else. So I’m going to probably change my behavior towards you. Hopefully… What one hopes is that I changed my behavior towards you because I realized that my behavior wasn’t right. There’s a lot of discussion about that. It’s not just the consequences. It’s a lot of discussion about what has happened. That’s the value of — there’s actually this attempted mediation attempt, of getting together. “Let’s discuss this. Let’s try to understand one another.”

So that’s one kind of… Here’s another example: There’s a rule at the school that if you take something out to use, you have to put it back. And that’s a pretty reasonable rule. That’s a good rule to have. It’s not a bad rule to have in one’s own home. Because otherwise people leave stuff laying around, and then somebody else has to pick up for you and that’s not really fair. Right? You should pick up after yourself. Even four year olds — and there are kids as young as four at the school — are expected, if they take out toys, are expected to put them away. And you might think four year olds can’t do that. But they can. They can do it. They can do it. And, but…let’s say that a four year old has taken out toys and the left them strewn around the room and didn’t pick them up when the four year old left. And so somebody complains. “The play room is a mess. All these things have been left out.” Brings up the four year old. Four year old is usually, is there at the at the Judicial Committee meeting sitting on somebody’s lap. They’re not — it’s not they’re trying to not make this an intimidating encounter, you know? Sitting on somebody’s lap, people explaining to the four year old why it is that it’s very important to pick things up, “Can you — Will you remember to do it next time?” And so on and so forth. And the four year old says, yes. That’s fine and that’s the end of it. But let’s say the four year old continues to leave stuff thrown around. Then at some point there may be a consequence, which is, you know, “For the next day, you can’t — sorry to say — but you can’t play in the playroom. You have to be in some other room for that whole next day. Maybe that’ll help you remember that when you play in the playroom you have to put your toys away.” And so that might be the consequence. So those are typical things. Or somebody littered and hasn’t picked up the litter, and so they have to be grounds crew the next day and do the whole cleaning up of the grounds. So it’s usually something that fits.

Now occasionally… And occasionally there’s more serious misbehavior at the school. So, there may be somebody who’s come as a teenager who thinks that they can use drugs at this school just like they used drugs at their old school. And that as long as they’re not caught by some adult, that they’re going to be able to get away with using drugs at the school. And, but — this is the kind of thing that could destroy the school and, and the students at the school know that. They’re not going to close down a public school because kids are using drugs at the school or during recess or after school or during lunch hour, but this school would be closed down if there was evidence that kids were using drugs. It would be closed down by the town. And the students know that. And so, somebody who comes to the school believing that they’re going to be able to use drugs at the school, they will be reported to the Judicial Committee. They’ll — The first — The first time other kids will say “No, you can’t do that here.” There will be peer pressure, and most of the time that works. But let’s say it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work, and this kid continues to use drugs or drink alcohol…things that are against the state law and that could get the school closed down. This person will be brought up before the Judicial Committee and, ultimately, unless the person in a genuine way says, “I’m going to stop doing this” and does stop doing this, ultimately it will be brought up to the whole school meeting and there will be a discussion of what to do about this. And in most cases that student will be suspended, can’t come to the school, until they have come back with a sincere declaration that they now understand why they can’t use drugs at the school and they’re ready to follow that rule. And… But then, if they violated again, depending upon the severity and how often this happens, they may well be expelled from the school. And there are some cases of young people being expelled from the school. That’s always a very difficult decision, because there’s always the belief that this is a young person who needs help. And we believe we could help this student. We believe that over time the student… But on the other hand you can’t let this person destroy it for everybody else. So it’s always a difficult decision, and I think that one of the things that many schools of this sort have difficulty learning is that there are some students who are not ready to follow the rules. Are not willing to follow the rules. They’re willing to just to destroy it for everybody else, and you are not doing a favor to the school by keeping them on. So that does happen, and it’s always difficult. So I don’t know if there are any other questions about about discipline.

The other thing I can say is, I can’t say that… Bullying is an overused word in our culture today. A lot of things get called bullying that would not have been called bullying in the past. But real bullying is very rare at the school in fact. One of my graduate students, many years ago, spent many many days at the Sudbury Valley School observing. He was kind of a fly on the wall. He was doing his doctoral dissertation based on observations of activities at the school. And one of the things he reported to me — I hadn’t even been thinking about bullying — was, “You know, the most remarkable thing to me is I don’t see any bullying.” And he apparently was a kid who was bullied himself when he was at school. So… as a kid at high school. And. And so this was quite impressive to him, that he saw these kids interacting with one another and he really didn’t see any serious bullying. And I think there’s several reasons for that. One is the rule that I just said. But I think, in a way, there are two other reasons. One is that the kids at the — is that the kids at the school sort of identify with one another. As a community, they come to care about one another. They’re sort of like a family. They may teach one another. You know, they’re not always nice to one another. By no means is that true, just like siblings are not always nice to one another. But they’re — but they control themselves. They ultimately — they like one another and they like the community and they’re trying to preserve the community. That’s part of this. And I think one of the big reasons for the lack of bullying is age mixing itself.

People mistakenly believe that if you allow teenagers and younger children to intermingle, children of all ages, from age 4 through about 18 to intermingle, that the older kids are going to bully the younger kids. It doesn’t happen. In fact, the older kids are very protective of the younger kids. They will break up little fights, or they will stop and, you know, if you sometimes — What my student sometimes observed, my graduate student sometimes observed, there might be a 10 year old who’s in some kind of way, that’s sort of been picking on, on a 7 year old. And a 15 year old will come over and say to the 10 year old, “What are you doing?” You know… “Can you see that that you’re really kind of hurting this kid’s feelings by doing this?” And that’s so much more powerful than if a staff member were to come over and say that. This is somebody who’s this amazing 15 year old kid. Who — you’re going to be 15 before long — who’s telling you that what you’re doing is not very nice. And so he observed that. And he saw, and he saw how effective that was. So the age mixing, I think, also reduces bullying. The older kids look out for the younger kids, and also the older kids… There’s actually other research — there’s a variety research… I’ve written, I’ve written scholarly academic articles and blog articles on the value of age mixing. And one thing that’s been regularly found is that older kids are nicer, not just to the younger kids but to one another, when there are younger kids around. There’s something about younger kids that brings out, especially the little ones, the 4 year olds and 5 year olds, that brings out the nurturing capacities, the nurturing instincts of older kids. So I think that that’s another reason why there’s relatively little bullying. That doesn’t mean to say that it never occurs; it does occur to some degree.


So you had a question about if the blogs were going to come down now that there’s books out. I said no. Just confirming with you that that’s true?


All the blogs are continuing for people who’ve been following the blogs. There’s been… There’s been one change that had — that I have been a little upset with. I’ve argued with the editors at Psychology Today. It used to be that you could write questions and comments on the blog posts, and they did away with that. And the reason they did away with that is that a lot of the bloggers for Psychology Today were getting a lot of very crude comments. Very obscene ones. Nasty ones. And many of the bloggers were tired of that. They always have the option of cutting out their own comments, however, but the editors, seeing that not all of them were being cut out and seeing so much obscenity and a certain amount of spam on the blogs, decided we’re just not going to allow comments on them anymore. Interestingly, in my, in my, in my 13 years of blogging with — and some of those blog posts have hundreds of comments, actually. More commonly they have somewhere between 10 and 15. I have never had an obscene comment on it. Never. I’ve had argumentative comments. I’ve had some trolls who are trying to, trying to take issue with everything I say. But I leave it on. And I respond politely. And I have a little note at the end of my posts, that generally said, that says something like, you know, “Questions and comments are welcome and you will notice that we all treat one another respectfully here, even when, even when we disagree.” And I think that had an effect. And I also think that the kinds of people who follow my blog tend to be people who are respectful. So it didn’t happen with my blog, and so I really valued the questions and comments. I argued. I tried to preserve it. I said, you know, let people, let people not have it who don’t want it, and maybe you could make a deal where if the blogger themselves don’t get rid of the bad comments themselves, then you will take away their right to have comments. I’m, I can live with that. But I couldn’t convince them. So the result is you can’t comment there. But what I do now is I have a little note at the bottom of every blog post, saying if you want to comment, go to my Facebook page, and go to the link of to this blog post on my Facebook page, and you can comment there. If you look at my Facebook page you will see that some of my recent, my most recent blog post has now about 50 comments. Very interesting a lot of discussion. Some disagreement. Some people taking issue with what I write about, which makes it all the more interesting.

So that’s the way I do it now. It’s not ideal, because not everybody is on Facebook, but that’s what I’m doing for the time being. If anybody has another way of doing it, that they can suggest to me… I thought of doing a Google Doc, you know, that you could go and comment on a Google Doc. But the problem with a Google Doc is you could edit. If you can edit… If you can comment…You can also edit what other people have put, and I don’t want that. I don’t want people to be able to do that. So if anybody comes up — if anybody has a thought about that, let me know about a better way to do it. At any rate, right now it’s not working badly on my Facebook page.


I’m gonna think about that one. And it rolls into — you also had a question from someone who’s struggling to find community near them. And so I’m going to put the link to the Alliance for Self=Directed Education in the chat. And the Alliance has been less active over the past 12 months than historically, but it’s starting to get more active again. So there’s Alex Khost runs an online magazine, Bria Bloom runs local groups, September Olivius runs a resource library… And you can become a member there, or use the contact forms to connect with us, and we can try to get you plugged in.


Yeah, and what — one of the longtime projects of the Alliance has been to develop local SDE groups. So geographically — identify — being able to identify people who live in your area, your geographical area, who are also involved with Self-Directed Education, especially unschoolers who can then get together. Of course a lot of this was disrupted with covid, where it was difficult to get together except with people that you already knew very well. But the, but that’s in my mind one of the main projects of the Alliance, is to create this — these communities of people that are geographically located where you can find, you can find other people, other families who are interested. You can share thoughts. You can — your kids can play with those kids. You can develop play, play opportunities. And so on. And so that’s always been one of the main endeavors of the Alliance’s, to create those. And Bria was kind of in charge of that, last I knew. Bria Bloom.


I also — The research…. There’s also a research group, that, Peter, you run with Dr. Sonia Bercuci from Romania, if I’m correct there. And that group hasn’t been broadcasting a whole lot but hopefully will soon.


And, yeah, well this is sort of, this is really a group that is for people who are doing systematic research on self-directed education. So one of my longtime concerns is that there’s very little academic research. For a while, it seemed like I was the only person in the world who was actually doing and publishing in academic journals on self-directed education. There was a little bit else but, but very little. And so… But gradually there have been more and more people doing research or interested in doing research. I get, I get emails from, from doctoral students — even from undergraduate students — who say they want to go on to graduate school to study some aspect of self directed education. How can they do it? Where can they go? So I formed this research discussion group to meet that need. So that people who are doing research, who are definitely serious about planning research… We meet once a month to talk about the research that people are doing. At each meeting somebody talks, describes the studies that they’re interested in designing. So that’s the goal of that, of that group.


It’s 9:30. Peter, do you feel like you want to do one more or would you like to close on that note?


I could do one more question if there’s something remaining there.


There aren’t any clear questions in the chat, but what the community one made me think of… Usually when people ask me that, they’re asking how to find their people but they’re also asking how they can show up to support self-directed kids. And what they can do to support groups of self-directed kids who they encounter. Do you have any guidance for folks in those situations?


I would say, you know, contact the Alliance for Self-Directed Education. That’s part of what the Alliance is all about, is you can, you can join, even — If you’re not a member of the Alliance for Self-Directed Education, join. And there’s… There are forums on the Alliance. There’s ways of discussing and supporting one another there. There’s all kinds of volunteer things you can do, everything from writing articles for the Tipping Points magazine to playing, playing a role in helping to develop the resource catalog that has resources for self-directed education that the Alliance keeps track of. So there’s all kinds of opportunities to support the movement. The other thing that I would really love to see, and I’m, I would love to see it become a function of the local self-directed education groups, would be that people who are already into self-directed education for their own kids would begin to also take it on as a larger cause. Would begin to say, “Alright, so I should be concerned not just for my own kids, but also for making the world better for other people’s kids. And what can I do to help publicize self-directed education? What can I do to help change the world?” if you will. And that’s one thing that’s — what ASDE is all about is how, is doing that. And working through ASDE to do that. But… And there… And among the things that I think that people could do more of is, just to take an example, suppose, in your community, maybe even in your family, a young person who was in self-directed education does something interesting. Go to the your local little newspaper — you know? All kinds of — every community has some kind of a weekly paper. It’s usually kind of… Supports itself by advertising. Usually the writing is pretty bad in it. But they, but they’re always looking for interesting articles that are relatively well written. So you… So, you know, like, if somebody graduates from the high school in the town, the typical High School in town, and wins some kind of an honor or does something really interesting, that might be in the, in the paper. Well, do the same thing for somebody who’s self-directed. You know? So, “So and so, you know, has won this award for a novel that they wrote.” Or whatever it is. I mean, there are kids that do this. Or, “So and so has just been accepted to this prestigious…” whatever it is. And even though we in self-directed education, we’re maybe not so impressed by that, the world is impressed by that. And so it doesn’t hurt as a way of letting people know you can be in self-directed education, you can do remarkable things that are even viewed as remarkable by the world at large. So, getting things published like that. Doing holding events at your local library, where you show films about self-directed education. You have discussions about it, or that at least are related to it. Discussions about play. You might have discussions about books, such as mine, that pertain to self-directed education. There’s — they’re actually now a lot of really wonderful books on more and more, by more and more different kinds of people, who are writing about self-directed education. So there’s no end to possibilities for book club discussion. So you know they…

One of my first… I’ve been, I’ve been increasingly being invited to libraries to address groups that are involved in a book discussion. So that’s a — that’s a, that’s something that you can do, is organize in your community. And it might be a book club that’s not specifically on self-directed education. Might be a book club on Parent-Child relationships. Or a book — or discussion — about, what is childhood all about? What we know about children… And it could read books on it, and among those books might be some books that have do with self-directed education. So I think these are — I would love to see people get involved that way. I would love to see people think of this as a movement. Quite rightly most people who get into self-directed education, they’re doing it for their own kids. That’s your first priority. Of course, it is. You’re doing it for your own kids! But now your kids are okay, your kids… You know you’ve, you’ve solved this problem for your kids. Now, take it on as a community responsibility, to try to make the world better for kids in general.

Now, take it on as a community responsibility, to try to make the world better for kids in general.


There’s a lovely answer. Thank you so much.

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