Free to Learn by Peter Gray

That blurb makes the book sound far, far more “anti-school” than it actually feels. Even though Free to Learn presents very unconventional ideas about education, it reads in a balanced way, without alienating people, and even admitting this approach might not be a right fit for everyone.

If you’re familiar with Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen or Free-Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy, you’ll recognize a lot of the same fundamental ideas in Free to Learn: How children learn through play, how well they learn when given the freedom to explore and discover without intervention, the benefits of mixed-age groups.

I enjoyed this book on a personal level. It’s very similar to the way my own family approaches homeschooling. Gray mixes anthropological evidence and psychological studies with his own anecdotes, most of which consists of his observations of his son’s alternative school, Sudbury Valley. Gray wasn’t completely sold on the philosophy of this school when his son first started attending, so his observations were approached with a skeptical eye. This was also the first time I’d heard of the Sudbury school, so those portions of the book were pretty fascinating to me.

My only criticism: Privilege is a bit of a problem. I wanted Gray to spend more time talking about how these ideas might work outside of homeschooling or private school circles. Is there a practical way that this philosophy can be implemented in public schools? What about in low-income and/or violence-prone communities? I was thinking about these questions as I read, but the book didn’t do too much to address them. This left me feeling overwhelmed (maybe a little depressed) when I thought about education on a large scale.

Maybe tackling those issues in depth would have required writing another book. Regardless, I appreciate that this book made me slow down, stop and think deeply about its points before moving on to each next chapter. Free to Learn was an interesting read that inspired me at a family level.

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