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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Seven Sins of Forced Education - Review

"Seven Sins of our System of Forced Education" (Sept. 2009) is an article written by Peter Gray that was featured in Psychology Today. I was passed on this link by a member of a LinkedIn group of teachers that I belong to. I thought the name seemed familiar, so I checked my bookshelf and discovered that this is the same Peter Gray that wrote the 1st Year Psychology textbook that was used when I went to Queen's University. This man has important things to say and the psychological training and field experience to back it up.

I explored his blog entitled "Freedom to Learn" and read the titles of some of his recent blog posts. There is a great deal of overlap on what he tackles and the main ideas of my blog posts, since starting it in January of this year. That's not to say that I should be held in the same company as Dr. Gray and his insights, but it does solidify the reason I started this blog, and affirm the notion that there are so many talented and brilliant writers out there who are also driving educational change.

"Seven Sins" has many harsh and blunt moments. It accuses schools of being prisons. Reading this article forces the reader into a prison-like state-of-mind cultivated by the desire to read on through the damaging comparisons, but feeling helpless when Gray's critical observations hit home, especially to those of us currently working in the education sector. Gray states that he is casting off euphemisms, in an attempt to expose the truth - regardless of the uncomfortable thoughts it creates.

The main points of Gray's article focus on the negative effects of schools directly created by achievement-driven programming, isolating student tasks, age-based groupings and policies, lack of student input and direction in school activities, limiting top-down teacher delivery of the curriculum, lack of play and exploration in learning, anxiety cultivated through competition and student comparison, and an overall limiting curriculum that inhibits student resourcefulness, ingenuity and critical thinking skills.

Many who read this article will debate and refute the merits of such a scalding exposition. I propose that Gray's seven signs should be a report card of sorts for educators and administrators who can use it to self-reflect and track their progress on the path to educating our youth. Every teacher, school, school district and state or province, would fall somewhere on a spectrum for each of these sins on any given day or at any given teaching moment. These sins should be a warning. A glimpse into the mirror to measure our resolve in eliciting the lasting and meaningful change needed to better serve our future generations.

Rather than scoff and dismiss Gray's arguments as tyrannical judgments on your chosen career path. Think about each area of criticism and provide yourself with the personal examples and insights that absolve you (at least to a degree) from the idea that you have helped to perpetuate the very things that need to change in the best interests of our students.

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