Why Children Protest Going to School: More Evolutionary Mismatch
Posted: December 5, 2011 Filed under: Brooklyn Free School
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