Why Children Protest Going to School: More Evolutionary Mismatch

Our schools work against children’s instincts, not with them.
Published on November 10, 2011 by Peter Gray in Freedom to Learn

Is this sign funny or tragic?

Most children in our society protest going to school. Am I telling you something new?They protest in many ways—by feigning illness, by dragging their feet in the morning, by doing the least they can to meet the school’s demands (or not doing even that), and by violating school rules when they can get away with it. Even those who get high grades in school and enjoy a bit of showing off protest school through their expressions of cynicism, and sometimes by cheating, which they justify by saying that it’s all just stupid hoops to jump through anyway (see post on cheating).

Why all this protest? Education is a good thing, right? Children need to become educated to do well in society. Society goes to tremendous expense and trouble to provide schooling—lots of it!—for every child (whether they want it or not). Are these kids just spoiled ingrates?  If so, then you and I—and essentially everyone else who ever attended school after schooling became compulsory—were also spoiled ingrates. We all protested it. In fact, back in the days when schools first became compulsory kids protested it even more than they do now, even though there was much less of it then. They had to be beaten with birch sticks to get them to stay in school and do what the teachers told them to do.

In my last essay I used the concept of evolutionary mismatch to explain why infants and young children protest going to bed—alone, in the dark, at night. The term refers to a lack of congruity between environmental conditions today and those that existed during the time of our evolutionary ancestors. For at least 99 per cent of our history as human beings, we were all hunter-gatherers. Anthropologists have pointed out that the hunter-gatherer way of life is the only stable way of life our species has ever known.  Ever since the origin of agriculture, a mere 10,000 years ago, we have been caught in an ever-faster whirlwind of cultural change. From a biological perspective, we are all still hunter-gatherers, doing the best that we can to cope with the conditions of life that exist today.  In my last essay I pointed out that infants and young children protest going to bed alone because, in hunter-gatherer days, to do so would likely lead to death. The monsters under the bed were real. They were jackals, tigers, and other nighttime predators, prowling around looking for small snacks unprotected by adults. Instincts and fears that evolved when we were hunter-gatherers have not changed.

Read the article by Peter Gray here


3 Comments on “Why Children Protest Going to School: More Evolutionary Mismatch”

  1. Emmanuela says:

    I still don’t know why children protest going to school can you elaborate more on that please?

    • bzeines says:

      It is fairly simple. There is a lack of interest in being coerced against one’s own basic drive to know oneself. Peter Gray uses the example of hunter gather societies and how children are educated. They are treated as full human beings, and thus find their natural place within their group. They find a place in the tribe that fits their truer nature whether it be artisan, medicine man or hunter.

      In mainstream schooling, children are being coerced and disempowered at every turn. That in itself is a reason not to want to go to school. It is what I felt when I went to school. All I wanted to do was draw and be with my friends. It has been shown through much study that children learn the most through play and socialization. Is that what modern school offers?

      School has to change. The very of idea of education needs to be transformed. More homework, more tests, longer days, tougher teachers or any other quick fixes to a broken system, will not create encouragement in the future leaders of our world.

      Of course this is my view and it seems to be shared by the writer of the article. My suggestion is that if you do not know why your children want to go to school, maybe you should ask them.

  2. rose says:

    why does my child protest going to bed? we co-sleep and all go to bed together and snuggle up to read books first yet every night he freaks out when it’s time to go to sleep. hmmmm??

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