Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Book Review: Free to Learn

Free to Learn
Peter Gray
Copyright 2013
235 pages

Taking a break from SVS Press books but still wanting to continue my Sudbury research, I picked up Free to Learn, an examination of what it means to play from an anthropologist (and also father of an SVS student)'s perspective. I'm not sure I really have much to say in review because I completely internalized the entire thing while reading it, enjoying it much more than I expected to. It's an easy read, apparently, as Gray's words leapt off the page and melded themselves immediately into my view of reality.

One of the things I enjoyed most about Free to Learn is the scale from which Gray speaks as an anthropologist. While exploring the world of alternative education, most every bit of literature I come across asks the Why question--"Why is our education system the way it is?" To which the unanimous response reads, "Well, the Industrial Revolution." But Gray, not accepting that as the complete answer, explores further, back to hunter-gatherers, the earliest humans, and plays with concepts he finds there.

In fact, play is exactly what he does, as he, himself, admits. "...I would estimate that my behavior in writing this book is about 80 percent play. That percentage varies from time to time as I go along; it decreases when I worry about deadlines or how critics will evaluate it, and it increases when I'm focused only on the current task of researching or writing. ... I am taking into account not just my sense of freedom about doing it, my enjoyment of the process, and the fact that I'm following rules (about writing) that I accept as my own, but also the fact that a considerable degree of imagination is involved. I'm not making up the facts, but I am making up the way of stringing them together. Furthermore, I am constantly imagining how they will fit into the whole structure I am trying to build, one that does not yet exist as concrete reality." (p. 140, 151) That play through which Gray writes is palpable throughout and makes for an entirely enjoyable experience.

Before reading Free to Learn, I knew, perhaps only through intuition, that play was an important part of learning, just not to this extent. Gray teaches us, through an examination of evolution, that play IS learning and that it is a powerful force, indeed. I can't recommend this book highly enough.