“School has become an abnormal setting for children,” says Peter Gray, a professor of psychology at Boston College. “Instead of admitting that, we say the children are abnormal.”
Gray, the author of several books including “Free to Learn,” recently discussed the necessity of unstructured play for children’s intellectual and psychological development with Reason TV’s Nick Gillespie. He says that children need “less school” and fewer structured extracurricular activities to allow them to develop the emotional resiliency, creativity, and problem-solving capacity that only self-directed play can foster.
Gray notes that American children have dramatically increased in depression and anxiety since social scientists began measuring these states, which contributes to cultural phenomena such as college students unable to process an A- grade or near-riots on campuses over hearing mainstream political ideas that aren’t leftist. Overscheduling children and reducing recess time not only creates anxiety, it keeps them from the large spans of “down time” they need to develop properly.
Gray says he thinks parents will have to drive changes to school structure and culture by using their powers of school choice to support schools designed to encourage free play.
“I actually think that in the longer term the change is going to occur, not by virtue of the schools themselves changing. I just think that the school-industrial complex, if you want to call it that, there’s so much economic incentive, there’s so much momentum associated with it, inertia associated with any real change, I don’t think it’s capable of the kind of real change that I’m talking about. But I think what’s happening is more and more people are leaving it. That’s documented.”
“At some point, I think there will be enough people doing this, that there will now be a voting bloc that says, ‘Look, if we’re going to spend public money on education let’s not spend all of that public money on these coercive institutions, let’s spend some of it on providing more educational opportunities so children whose parents can’t afford something like a Sudbury School, which is way less expensive than most private schools but still costs something, can do it.”