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How Our Schools Thwart Passions

Watcg at TED Here:

Watch at Youtube here:

follow your passions that's what almost
every graduation speaker says to the new
graduates it's almost cruel if all
you've been doing is school and school
like stuff how do you have any idea what
your passions might be or how to follow
them following your passions discovering
your passions requires lots of time to
play an explorer but we've pretty much
removed play from young people's lives
over the past few decades we've greatly
increased the amount of time that
children must spend at school and at
school work at home and at school like
activities outside of school we've more
or less turned childhood into a time of
resume building but you can't find
passions by building a resume by trying
to please other people you find your
passions by doing what you love to do
it's no surprise therefore that people
who are famous for their passionate
achievements have often declared their
dislike of even their hatred for school
here are just a few examples
Einstein this coercion of school and
such a deterring effect that after I had
passed the final examination I found the
consideration of any scientific problems
distasteful for an entire year Edison I
was never able to get along at school I
was at the foot of my class Churchill
how I hated school and what a life of
anxiety I lived there I counted the
hours to the end of every term Annie
Sullivan I'm beginning to suspect all
elaborate and special systems of
Education they seemed to be built up on
the supposition that every child is a
kind of idiot who must be taught to
think Margaret Mead my grandmother
wanted me to have an education so she
kept me out of school
Beatrix Potter thank goodness I was
never sent to school it would have
rubbed off some of the originality henry
david thoreau what does an education do
what takes it makes a straight cut ditch
out of a meandering Brook Mark Twain who
said so many things soap and education
are not as sudden as a massacre but
they're more deadly in the long run and
Dolly Parton quite appropriately the
only one in color here I hated school
even to this day when I see a school bus
it's just depressing to me the poor
little kids some years ago Kerstin Olson
who was at that time a graduate student
at Harvard began to do research on how
highly successful people were inspired
by their experiences at school but her
early findings led her to turn that
thesis around by a hundred and eighty
degrees here's the book that came out of
that work wounded by school and here's a
quotation from the foreword to that book
I'll read just a little piece of it also
an expected to hear stories of joyful
and productive learning instead she
discovered the shadows of pain
disappointment even cynicism in their
vivid recollections of schooling instead
of the light she expected she found
darkness since the time that Olsen's
respondents would have been in school
school has become even more oppressive
over the past few decades we've greatly
decreased even eliminated recess from
schools even from elementary schools
we've removed much of the creative
activity that used to be part of the
curriculum from the curriculum we've
increased homework all in the name of
improving scores on multiple-choice one
right answer standardized tests the
results of this are exactly what we
should have been able to predict over
the same deck
creative thinking has declined at all
grade levels among school-aged children
anxiety depression suicide have greatly
increased over this period of time a
recent poll by the American
Psychological Association revealed that
teenagers are now the most stressed-out
people in America and 83% of them
attribute their stress to school but now
I want to turn to a happier topic and
tell you about my youngest brother Fred
Carlson he's got a different last name
from mine because he has a different
father he's 12 years younger than me so
he started first grade in public school
at the same time that I started college
he lasted in that public school through
4th grade and when he was in fourth
grade about that time his mother my
mother became something of a hippie and
moved on to a commune in Vermont and
Fred left school at that point and went
to a little free school that my mother
had helped us out where he was free to
do what he wished follow his own
interest develop his passions if you
will that school only went was not
certified for high school however so
when he was 14 he enrolled in the public
school for ninth grade but on the second
day there in public school this is the
honest truth the principal of the school
said to him we don't like you hippie
types around here it's the best thing
that could have happened to him he left
school that day and never returned
he spent the next couple of years
hanging around the commune he helped to
build a house and developed a love of
wood and carpentry he learned to play
the guitar in the banjo when he was 16
he heard about a program for high school
dropouts a publicly supported program
and so he enrolled there the head of
that program asked him what he'd like to
do and he said I think I'd like to build
a banjo so nobody there knew how
anything about banjo building but the
head of the program helped Fred
find a guy in the community who had a
woodworking shop and knew a little bit
about banjo building a guy named Ken and
with Ken's help Fred built a banjo
after that Fred spent the little bit of
money that his father had saved for his
education to take a six-week course and
guitar building and use the rest of the
money to buy the tools he needed to set
up his workshop the rest is history by
the time Fred was 21 years old one of
his beautiful handmade guitars was
already on display at the Smithsonian
Museum since then he's produced one
instrument after another each one a new
invention each one entirely different
from any of the others most of them are
made for serious concert building but
some as you can see in the lower right
hand part of the slide here are just
purely for whimsy as part of my research
I have spent a good deal of time
studying the consequences of
self-directed education studying the
outcomes for people who have not gone to
a conventional school a school where
there's a curriculum and tests and all
of that but who rather took charge of
their own education some of my first
research of that sort was a study of the
graduates of the Sudbury Valley School
many years ago this is a school in
Massachusetts where children from age 4
on through high school age are free to
follow their own interests essentially
all the time and more recently I
conducted a study of grown unschoolers
these are people who are legally
homeschoolers but who don't do school at
home don't are not bound by any
curriculum but rather play and explore
and pursue their own interests the most
interesting thing that I found from both
of these studies for our purposes here
is that many of these as people as young
adults we're pursuing careers that were
direct extensions
of the passion and interest that they
had developed in play as children so
here's just a few examples one girl who
loved to play with boats when she was a
little girl went on as a teenager to
apprentice herself to a ship captain and
at the time of the study she was captain
of a cruise ship herself another girl
liked to play with dolls as many little
girls do and she went from that to
making doll clothes and then making
clothes for herself and her friends by
the time of our study she was the head
pattern maker at a large company in the
high-fashion dress industry another boy
in this case loved constructive play he
would as a child make whole villages of
plasticine to scale make factories to
scale of plasticine as he got a little
older he began to hang around local
garages and he learned automobile
mechanics by watching and asking
questions at the time of our study he
was a much sought-after machinist and
inventor there's another one who loved
as a child science fiction he was
passionately involved with science
fiction he would devour one science
fiction story after another and through
science fiction he discovered
mathematics and he became passionate
about mathematics today he's a professor
of mathematics
there was another who at the time of the
study was doing nothing but computers he
was fascinated by absolutely passionate
about computers spending all this time
doing computers at the time of the study
it was 22 years old he was founder and
president of a computer software
development company that was doing multi
million dollars of business a year and I
could go on with many other examples as
part of my preparation for this talk I
asked some of my unschooling France
about their children's interests and
here are three examples that I want to
share with you Kari McDonald's daughter
Molly has many passionate interests one
of which is baking a couple of years ago
somebody asked her
what she wanted to be when she grew up
and she said a baker but I already am
one one of the things that I've learned
from my studies of children on an
unschooling path is that they don't
distinguish they don't divide life into
a period of preparing for the future
followed by a period of living that
future they don't distinguish between
learning and doing that's true when
they're children
and it's also true when they're grown up
to the right of Molly is her younger
brother Jack who's passionately into
photography in the upper photo we see
him looking at the book a book of
photographs by one of the famous
landscape photographers that he very
much admires to the lower right in the
slide is one of Jack's
own photographs called reflections in
the upper right hand corner is akela
Richards daughter Marley Marley I think
is 13 maybe 14 in this picture she is a
voice actress she has had gigs providing
the voice for animations for fanfiction
audios she has an absolutely beautiful
voice she's passionately involved in
that and through were interested in
voice she also developed a passionate
interest in Japanese and taught herself
Japanese because some of the animations
that she most enjoys are produced in
Japan she's also now tutoring another
young person in Japanese so how does
school swart
passions the answer to that is almost
too obvious it does so by requiring that
everybody do the same thing at the same
time it's not possible for all the
children in a room to be passionately
interested in the same thing at the same
time it does so by displacing intrinsic
motivation and substituting for it
extrinsic motivators like grades and
honors and trophies you can't develop
passionate interests by aiming for
grades and honors and trophies trying to
please other people you have to do what
you love to do
Arlis of what other people think of a
regardless of what kind of grade they're
going to give you for it it does so by
inducing fear fear of failure fear of
embarrassment fear freezes the mind and
prevents the development of passionate
interests it does so by teaching that
there's one right answer to every
question and one right way to do
whatever it is you're supposed to do
that's a surefire way to nip any
possible developing interest in the bud
it does so by distinguished
distinguishing between learning which is
called work and play which is clearly
separated from learning it's a break
from learning called recess if it exists
at all at school but anybody who's
involved in a passionate interest knows
that at least when you're involved in
that interest work can play and learning
are all one and the same thing so in
conclusion if we want our children to
grow up with passionate interests we
have to find an alternative to school at
least an alternative to school as we
know it today or at minimum we have to
reduce the power of school in our
children's lives reduce the effects of
school and greatly increase the amount
of time that our children have to do
what children are designed to do which
is to play explore discover what they
love to do and to pursue that passion
now I know that this thesis runs counter
to deeply held beliefs in our culture
about the value of school and maybe it
runs counter to some of your beliefs but
I hope that I've given you at least
something to think about and I thank you
very very much for your kind attention


Peter Gray: Research Professor of Psychology, Boston College Professor Gray is a research professor at Boston College whose work focuses on the role of play in human evolution and development. His current research and writing focus primarily on children's natural ways of learning and the life-long value of play. His own play includes long-distance bicycling, kayaking, backwoods skiing, and vegetable gardening. Learn more at Professor Gray is a research professor at Boston College ( whose work focuses on the role of play in human evolution and development. He is the author of the book Free to Learn and writes a regular blog for Psychology Today, and is the president of the nonprofit Alliance for Self-Directed Education He has conducted and published research in comparative, evolutionary, developmental, and educational psychology. His current research and writing focus primarily on children's natural ways of learning and the life-long value of play. His own play includes not only his research and writing, but also long-distance bicycling, kayaking, backwoods skiing, and vegetable gardening.

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