How Does School Wound? Kirsten Olson Has Counted Some Ways

In her book "Wounded by School," Kirsten Olson identifies seven ways by which school can produce lifelong wounds. What lasting emotional effects--positive or negative--has school had on you? How is school currently affecting your children or others whom you love?

The Human Nature of Teaching III: When Is Teaching an Act of Aggression?

I've known kids who would rather get a beating than a B. The methods of coercion we use in schools today are at least as hurtful as the "barbaric" methods of the past. I argue here that any coercive teaching is an act of aggression--from the viewpoint of the teacher as well as the student.

How Hunter-Gatherers Maintained Their Egalitarian Ways

If we truly believe in the values of equality and peace and want them to reign once again as the norm for human beings, then we need to (a) find ways to deflate the egos, rather than support the egos, of the despots, bullies, and braggarts among us; (b) make our ways of life more playful; and (c) raise our children in kindly, trusting ways.

The Human Nature of Teaching II: What Can We Learn from Hunter-Gatherers?

Hunter-gatherers did not teach by coercion and generally did not attempt to direct their children's learning. Yet they did teach, in ways that preserved children's feelings of security, trust, trustworthiness, and personal autonomy. Here is how they did it.

The Human Nature of Teaching I: Ways of Teaching That We Share With Other Animals

Teaching is natural in at least some other animals as well as in humans. Almost all such cases of teaching involve relatively simple ways by which the teacher helps the learner practice some skill or acquire some information that the learner is highly motivated to practice or acquire. Teaching, then, is altruistic; it serves the learner at some cost to the teacher..

What Do Chinese Americans Think of Amy Chua’s Tiger Mother?

In reviews of Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” on, Chinese Americans express much more dislike for the book than do other reviewers. They are more likely than are other reviewers to see Chua’s parenting methods as cruel, to see her values as misdirected, and to believe that she unfairly stereotypes Chinese mothers.

Amy Chua Is a Circus Trainer, Not a Tiger Mother

Amy Chua may not have written her "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" as satire, but in fact it is satire. It shows the absurdity of our current, mainstream approach to education if we take it to its logical conclusion.

How to Advise and Help Your Kids Without Driving Them (or Yourself) Crazy

We love our kids. We want the best for them. And so, we offer them advice and help that they didn't ask for and don't want, and they reject it or ignore it. In some instances our impulse to help leads us to become downright pests to our children. ... Here are seven suggestions for really helping kids, in ways that respect their individuality and need for autonomy.

Unsolicited Advice: I Hate It, You Hate It; so Do Your Kids

"Have a nice day," said the mom to her teenage daughter; to which the daughter replied, "Motherrrr, will you pulleeeeze stop telling me what to do!" I empathize with both parties in this old joke. . ... Why do we dislike unsolicited advice, especially when it comes from those we love?

Fight Bullying with Babies

Here are four stories about the power of babies and young children to reduce the aggressiveness and increase the kindness of older children and adults.

Cheating in Science: School is a Breeding Ground

One of the tragedies of our system of schooling is that it deflects students from discovering what they truly love and find worth doing for its own sake. Instead, it teaches them that life is a series of hoops that one must get through, by one means or another, and that success lies in others' judgments rather than in real, self-satisfying accomplishments.

Cheating in Science: A Tragic Story of a Suicide

I begin with a true and tragic story. Many years ago I was a graduate student conducting research in one of the top biopsychology laboratories in the country. The lab chief was one of a handful of the world’s most prominent research psychologists at that time, and many in the lab believed he was headed for a Nobel Prize. ...

Experiences of ADHD-Labeled Kids Who Leave Typical Schooling

Parents reports indicate that most ADHD-diagnosed kids do fine without drugs if they are not in a conventional school). ADHD-diagnosed kids seem to do especially well when they are allowed to take charge of their own education.

The ADHD Personality: A Normal and Valuable Human Variation

The brains of people diagnosed with ADHD are no doubt different from those of other, but that doesn't make ADHD a "disorder." ADHD (in most cases) is only a disorder to the degree that we, as a society, fail to provide environmental conditions in which people with differing personalities can make best use of their strengths and learn to compensate for their weaknesses.

I Want Your Stories of ADHD in Homeschoolers, Unschoolers, and Free Schoolers

Most ADHD diagnoses in children are initiated because of inattention or disruptive behavior in school. To date there has been no research at all on ADHD in children who do not attend a conventional school. If you have (or are) an ADHD-diagnosed school-aged child doing homeschooling, unschooling, free schooling, or some other form of unconventional schooling, I invite you to post or send me that story. I will analyze the stories qualitatively and quantitatively and present the results soon on this blog.

ADHD & School: Assessing Normalcy in an Abnormal Environment

One out of every eight school-aged boys in the United States has a diagnosis of ADHD. If just teachers' ratings were used for the diagnoses, that proportion would be one out of every four! How can that be? The answer to that question is not unlike the answer to this question: Why do so many monkeys in cages look so abnormal?

Freedom from Bullying: How a School Can Be a Moral Community

Many years ago, as part of my early studies of the Sudbury Valley School, I sat in on a school meeting. The main agenda item had to do with a complaint made about a new student who had been coming to school wearing a leather jacket with a swastika painted on it. At most schools this kind of offence would be quickly and efficiently handled by the principal, who would call the student into his or her office and order the student to remove the jacket and never bring it back to school. But that's not how Sudbury Valley handles things. Sudbury Valley has no principal. It is run--entirely run--in democratic fashion by the School Meeting, which includes all students (age 4 on through high-school age) and staff members together. The debate I heard that day was one befitting the Supreme Court of the United States.

School Bullying: A Tragic Cost of Undemocratic Schools

Let's say you are 15 years old, or 13, or 11, and for some reason--over which you have no control--you have been singled out by your schoolmates as an object for scorn and humiliation. Every day at school, for you, is another day in hell. No matter how you feel about school and how terribly you are treated there, the law requires you to be there. What ...

Kids Learn Math Easily When They Control Their Own Learning

Math. As a society we worship it, hate it, and fear it. In our schools we force kids to study it (or pretend to study it) for thousands of hours and then we wail about how little they learn. Here, now, are reports from "unschoolers" that tell a different story. Math is fun; math is easily and naturally learned as a tool when needed; and kids who want to go to a ...

When Less Is More: The Case for Teaching Less Math in School

Early in the twentieth century, L. P. Benezet, superintendent of schools in Manchester, New Hampshire, performed an outrageous experiment. He prohibited the teaching of arithmetic in the first five grades (grades 1-5) in some of the elementary schools in Manchester's poorest neighborhoods.

Children Teach Themselves to Read

The general assumption in our culture is that children must be taught to read, but the experiences of "unschooling" families and of people involved in the Sudbury school movement prove otherwise. Here, based on stories submitted by parents, are seven principles relevant to the question of how children teach themselves to read without formal instruction.

The Decline of Play and Rise in Children's Mental Disorders

Rates of depression and anxiety among American children and adolescents have been increasing steadily for the past fifty to seventy years. Today five to eight times as many young people meet the criteria for diagnosis of major depression and/or an anxiety disorder as was true half a century ago or more. Why?

I Want Your Stories of Self-Directed Learning

As you know if you have been following it for awhile, this blog is primarily about self-education, especially in children but also in adults. It's about learning that occurs through play, self-directed exploration, and self-initiated focused effort. The comments and emails I have received over the past few months suggest that many of you have stories to tell that are quite relevant to these themes. I would love to hear and perhaps share your stories, which can be about your children, others you know, or you. Your stories may be a great source of inspiration for other readers.

The Morally Questionable Lessons of Formal Sports

You are a big-league baseball pitcher. The opposing pitcher has been throwing hard inside fastballs and has hit one of the batters on your team--maybe deliberately, maybe not. Should you retaliate by hitting their best batter with a high inside fastball? To do so is to deliberately risk injuring a fellow human being.

A New Look at the Classic Robbers Cave Experiment

In his famous Robbers Cave experiment, Muzafer Sherif invited two groups of boys at a summer camp to engage in a sports tournament for valued prizes. As he predicted, the tournament led to serious animosity between the two groups and ultimately to a condition resembling inter-tribal warfare. How did this happen?

Some Lessons Taught by Informal Sports, Not by Formal Sports

Imagine an old-fashioned sandlot game of baseball. A bunch of kids of various ages show up at the vacant lot. They've come on foot or by bicycle. Someone brought a bat and ball (which may or may not be an actual baseball), and several came with fielders' gloves. They decide to play a game.  ...

The Biological Distinction Between Play and Contest, and Their Merging in Modern Games

In nonhuman animals, play and contests are sharply distinguished. Play is cooperative and egalitarian, and contestests are antagonisitic and aimed at establishing dominance. Hunter-gatherer humans accentuated play and avoided contests in order to maintain the high degree of cooperation and sharing that was essential to their way of life. In our society, with our competitive games, we often confound play and contest. What might be the consequeces of this for children's development?

Pushing Competition and Damaging Health: Making Play Offensive

If American football were a food additive or a drug, it would be banned by the FDA. Or, if financial interests prevented its banning, its package would at least carry a surgeon general's warning: Football causes brain damage. The evidence that football causes brain damage is now indisputable. But the deleterious effects of our strong focus on winning go beyond football and brain damage. The compulsioin to win, in general, may be bad for our health.

Empowering Neighborhoods and Restoring Play: A Modest Proposal

Because neighbors don't know one another as they once did, parents' fears of "strangers" in the neighborhood has helped to cause a sharp decline in children's free outdoor neighborhood play. Here is a proposal for bringing neighbors together and creating safe, neighborhood play-and-learning centers that everyone can enjoy. We may actually do this, as a pilot project, in a neighborhood already selected. Please read on, and supply your ideas for improving the project.

Developmental Psychology’s Marriage to the School System

Have you ever seen the Handbook of Child Psychology? Amazingly, this 5000 page work, billed as the authoritative summary of all of child psychology, has almost nothing to say about children's playfulness and curiosity. How can that be? Here's my theory.