Being coerced to do something you don’t want to do under threat of punishment is an experience that nobody likes. Nor do people like being told that they’re wrong or ignorant by someone telling them that they know better yet it happens all the time. Our politics and public dialogue that is our leadership is about coercion, it’s about self-righteousness, it’s about hitting people over the head with facts. And it doesn’t work. Or rather it works but not at what people wanted to do. It works at people resisting, at people disengaging, at people undermining their leadersâ€™ authority. Particularly in the area the environment there’s a lot of self-righteousness, a lot of attempts to coerce, expectation that facts will change people’s behavior. So if it doesn’t work or if it works, it’s the opposite of what we want. Why do we keep doing it? Would you be surprised to find that our educational system specifically teaches us to behave that way? Yet almost no one notices it. They think we have to teach a certain way and yet it produces results the opposite of what we want and not only does it have to not work that way but for most of human history we haven’t worked that way. And people today are recreating what works – alternatives to that system that produces these kind of productive results. Today’s guest Peter Gray is an expert in just that. What you will find unbelievable at first that is if you’re like me and will misunderstand at first but as you pull it the string you’ll find the whole sweater unravel of what you think about education, what you think about how we learn as children, as people. Peter and I talk about self-directed education. What started for me as unbelievable but transformed into what you’ll hear about in this conversation. It’s longer than my usual episodes but it’s what I wish I’d heard decades ago.
Joshua: Welcome to the Leadership and the Environment podcast. This is Joshua Spodek. I am here with Peter Gray. Peter, how are you?
Peter: I’m good. Thank you.
Joshua: And I wanted to start off byâ€¦ I am going to ask you to describe a little bit about your work. But before doing that I recommend going toâ€¦ Iâ€™ll have a link to it, to Peter’s column in Psychology Today and Iâ€™ll also give the links that I found most valuable for me because it has changed my view on education, on childhood, on how we learn, on a lot of different things. And I think that context will help a lot. So it’s fine with me and I hope fine with Peter if you pause right now, go over follow that link and start reading that. And I should also add I recorded an interview with Nicole Beckwith who graduated from school that I have a feeling we’re going to talk a bunch about and so there’s an earlier episode of someone who graduated from the school that we’re going to talk about and went through self-directed learning. I’ve talked too much. Peter, I’d like to talk about self-directed learning and I wonder if you could tell us a little bit either about it and sorry if you’ve explained it a lot or maybe how you came to it because I think that you came to it in an interesting way.
Peter: Yeah. Thanks, Joshua. First of all, let me say that I actually prefer to call it self-directed education rather than self-directed learning. And let me say why. Self-directed learning is obvious. Everybody learns in a self-directed way. You know it’s not a profound idea. Of course, most of what we learn is self-directed. But what most people would say is that of course children learn, you learn every minute you know amoebas learn. I mean learning is no big deal. Education – that’s a big deal. That’s human.
Joshua: That’s an institution.
Peter: Thatâ€™s something valuable. Education is that aspect of learning that allows us to become adults, that allows us to function meaningfully in the world, that allows us… So education is not the same as learning. It absolutely is dependent on learning. But to say that children are capable of self-directed education is far more profound statement than that children are capable of self-directed learning. Also I avoid the term self-directed learning because it’s been kind of co-opted by a lot of people who talk about self-directed learning in our course of schools meaning that children are self-directed in doing what they’re told to do and so on and that’s not what self-directed education is about. So I just want to be clear about that.
Joshua: I appreciate the clarification.
Peter: And I also make a distinction as the president of the Alliance for Self-Directed Education, this is something we’ve spent a lot of time talking about in our organization, between Self-directed education with capital letter so it’s kind of a brand name in a certain sense and self-directed education with smaller letters Self-directed education is that aspect of education that all of us are engaged in as we educate ourselves whether or not we’re students in a course in school, whether our children are engaged in whether or not they’re enrolled in a school for forced education, Self-directed education with capital letters as we use the term refers to the deliberate decision that our children are not going to go to coercive schools, they’re not going to go to an environment where they are forced to learn, where the motivation for learning is reward and punishment rather than real interest and where curiosity doesn’t matter and all of that sort of thing. So I just started off with a point of terminology that I’m trying to get out there in the regular world. I would like to see people start to use this term Self-directed education with capital letters in the same way that people talk about Montessori education or Steiner methods of education and so on as an accepted understood normal means of education. Ultimately, I think it would be the means that nearly everybody if not everybody would choose once it’s available but at this point what we’re trying to do is to get it out there as a normal mode of education.
Joshua: And returning to what we’ve done for most of our human history.
Peter: Yes, of course, through most of our human history we never had schools. Some of my research has been to look at hunter gatherer cultures not directly but by way of surveying anthropologists who’ve lived in hunter gatherer cultures and in every one of those cultures children play and explore largely on their own but they’re certainly exposed to what adults do that they interact with adults and educate themselves in that way. The idea that children need to be taught in order to learn is a new idea and it really came about originally for purposes different from what most of us think of as education.
Joshua: I want to put something in here too also because the title of this podcast is Leadership and the Environment, not Education and the Environment. But it might not be obvious to people they might think well I’m an adult I’m not a kid and so you know I’m here for leadership. I’m not here for education or to learn about that. There’s one word in particular that you said â€œcoerciveâ€ is like the root of it was that’s howâ€¦ I donâ€™t want to get too much into it but it seems like that’s how they got me to stay in school was coercion. And I feel like there’s a lot of leadership that we have learned is people try to lead through coercion and through telling people what to do or not freely involving people in it. And I feel like our educational system teaches that, [unintelligible] kids that is based on that and I think has a major role in why peopleâ€¦ Our leadership today is not so great in my opinion, of companies, of governments, of the world. And I grew up in a course of environment it was the least democraticâ€¦ One of the least democratic confinements I could imagine. But I didn’t notice that until I started reading your stuff.
Peter: Isn’t it interesting that you know we in the United States you know we believe in individual freedom, individual rights, we believe in democracy and yet we raise our children in the least democratic institution that we have – schools. It’s the most hierarchical institution that we have and children are at the very bottom of that hierarchy and they grow up in that. And how can they not be cynical about these ideas of American democracy â€“ â€œOh, yes, itâ€™s a free world. Yeah, right.â€
Joshua: Because I mean the word I use is hierarchical, the word I use is authoritarian. I mean the teacher was in charge, the students had to do what they’re told and for whatever facts we learned facts are nice but we also learned the behavior of obedience and toeing the line and/or you get punished. And how many years of that? It was I mean certainly K through 12 and in university until I pick my major it was still pretty much that. And you know in reading your stuff and thinking about it first there was a period of, â€œThis is crazy! A five-year-old voting on school policy. That makes no sense whatsoever.â€ which is basically the response I get when I describe it to anyone else and then you learn more and more and youâ€™re like, â€œWait a minute. This makes a lot of sense. And this other way doesn’t make much sense.â€ And I never knew other… And then when I started teaching it was just natural for me to start giving grades and tests and it felt like normal but it wasn’t.
Peter: Right. It feels normal because we all grew up with it and you know we went to coercive schools, our parents did, for most of us our grandparents did. It’s a little hard for us to imagine something different since almost nobody has experienced it. That school as we know it has become the norm. But I think that it’s interesting to recognizeâ€¦ So you’re talking about this experience of coercion and obedience and so on. I think it’s important to recognize that schools really started for the purpose of indoctrination and obedience training. That was the clear purpose. There was no belief when schools started that this had anything to do with critical thought, with creativity, with anything other than obedience and the indoctrination. A lot of people talk and say that our school system originated as sort of in the factory model out of the Industrial era but it really originated before that. It really originated during the Protestant Reformation.
The first compulsory schools that you would recognize as schools if you went into them, you would say they look like schools where children are lined up in desks and they’re given instructions to memorize and there’s coercion involved in the procedure for doing that and there’s a certain amount of time allotted for each so-called subject. Those were all Protestant schools that throughout the world, in fact throughout Europe and the colonies in the United States they were compulsory. They were led by Protestantâ€¦ Protestant clergy developed them. And the explicit stated written purpose of them was to quash free will and to indoctrinate children in Biblical doctrine. That was the explicit purpose. And you can read if you go back and read the writings of the people who developed those schools, well those schools gradually evolved once that power of religion faded and states began to be more powerful, states took them over.
But methodology didn’t change. You still had the same procedures that were set up for indoctrination and obedience training. And you also still had largely that motivation initially. So there was not you know even in the early United States and certainly in the colonial period there was not a trust of people. There was the feeling, â€œWe need.â€ If anything there was fear of critical thinking, you wanted to quash critical thinking, you wanted to get people to be obedient and that’s what schools were for. And if you think of the design of schools as even as they exist today, they’re well designed for that. Nothing is very well designed for that because we are by nature people who resist having our freewill quashed. Children resist it and they fight it with every bone in their body. But if you’re going to have a system for doing it, this is the best system that’s ever been developed. And we’ve still got it.
So I don’t think most people who go to teaching today go into teaching thinking, â€œMy passion in life is to quash children’s free will and to indoctrinate them in some kind of truth that I know is absolutely true and that I’m going to make sure that everybody else believes this too.â€ I don’t think most people go into teaching that way. People go into teaching because they love children, because they want to bring out the best in children, they want to promote individuality, they want to promote creativity and critical thinking and produce good citizens and all of that in the sense of good [unintelligible] who are going to examine issues and debate them and so on and so forth but they’re stuck with a school system that was designed for something entirely different from that. You can’t do that in our school system no matter how well intentioned you are. You can do it a little bit.
There are teachers who are brilliant teachers who override some of that but just think of it – you’ve got you’ve got basically one teacher and a class of maybe 30 kids and you’ve got a curriculum and an expectation that everybody has to do that curriculum and you, the teacher, are judged on whether they learn that curriculum. There’s no conceivable way that every child in that classroom is going to be interested in the same thing at the same time. Thatâ€™s just not possible. Maybe you know a really charismatic teacher can at various times in various moments get everybody interested in something for a period of time but it’s not going to last and it’s going to be a long ride and it’s going to always depend upon the kind of ability of the teachers to seduce interest into this for a period of time. The only way that we could have a school that promotes the kinds of things that I think most people including most teachers value is to totally reform the way we do schooling.
Joshua: Totally restore. It feels like yeah, this is a model that we have that says, â€œIf given enough facts, the person will change and we know these facts and they don’t. So let’s give them these facts and this knowledge.â€ And it misses that the behavior that you’re teaching is that’s what they’re learning more. I mean I think people know that if you behave one wayâ€¦ If you say you do one thing and behave a different way as a leader, people are going to follow what you do more than what you say. And lo and behold we have all these people who are trying to lead by caution. And as you’re saying it’s difficult for a teacher to go against the tide. And I mean that’s to me it’s way beyond because I’ve been to conferences where teachers, now this would be among progressive educators, and that’s a smaller change. And they’re you knowâ€¦ The testing and the AP and it’s all for getting into college. But what are we actually teaching?
And then when I first started reading your stuff I thought, â€œOK, this is going to be some progressive education stuff.â€ Like I do that. I mean I’m a university professor so it’s a different context. And then I saw I think it was you posted like describe the differences between progressive education and how that it’s not a qualitative change that is necessary. And it’s like a going down the rabbit hole or tugging at the string and suddenly there’s no way to stop the whole sweater from unraveling that if even progressive education… I think this what we talked about before and talked about before at the college level or an apprenticeship way then it makes a lot of sense for students to follow someone but they’ve chosen what they wanted to do. And if I say, â€œOK. I want to become a physicist and itâ€™s time I want to work with my physics advisor., that makes a lot of sense that toâ€¦ OK, Iâ€™m going to follow what that person tells me to do. I’ve chosen to do that as an adult having matured.â€ For a child now it doesn’t make sense. And in the beginning the idea that a child would have a say in their education it ultimately revealed that we have this model that says children are stupid and can’t figure things out.
Peter: And there’s nothing that’s farther from the truth that children are stupid. One way that I think it helps for people who are new to this idea to understand it it used to be easier for me to say this than it is now because now we’re in such a crazy world that we’re starting to even teach little tiny children as if they need to be educated. But until very recently I could say look at children before they ever start school, before they reach the age of five years old. Look at, and nobody’s tried, at least until very recently I could say nobodyâ€™s tried to teach them anything then. They’re just learning on their own. Parents are nurturing them, they’re talking to them, they’re loving them. They’re providing the world for them but they’re not teaching the children in any specific way. But think what children learn in that period of time. They learn their whole native language from scratch. They learn a huge share of what they’ll ever know in their entire lives. A huge amount in that amount of time entirely on their own, entirely through exploring playing, testing things out once they’ve got language asking questions and so on and so forth. You can’t stop them from learning unless you shut them away in closets. That drive to learn, that curiosity is so strong. We don’t have to think about motivating children to learn. We just have to let them learn. They want to understand the world around them. Now they’re not going to all want to understand exactly the same things at exactly the same time. My experience is they’re all going to want to eventually know how to read in a literate world because they can see that it’s really valuable and itâ€™s actually not very hard to learn how to read what you wantâ€¦
Joshua: They probably can’t help learning to read.
Peter: You can’t help learning to read. There’s nobody who has gone through Sudbury school which we can talk about later who hasn’t learned how to read. Most of them don’t even know how they learned how to read any more than they know how they learned how to talk. It was they picked it up. You’re surrounded. Weâ€™re all going to learn. We live in a numerate environment where you know unless you isolate children everybody’s going to learn the kind of math that you need to go through life. And if you need more math to do what you want to do, then you learn it in relation to what you want to do. These things are not difficult. I think that this idea that children need coercion to learn certain things that are necessary for their lives has been proven wrong so clearly and so many times that it’s just not a viable idea anymore and yet that’s the idea that everybody comes back to. Everybody thinks that people would grow up ignorant if they weren’t forced to learn certain things. I’m not somebody who says you can just turn kids out onto the street in our environment because if you turn kids out onto the street depending on where they are and what the street kids [unintelligible] and so forth there may not be much opportunity for exposure to things in the world that are valuable to learn and to broaden yourself and so on. So that’s why we need to think about providing children with the opportunities for education rather than coercion through education.
Joshua: You know when I spoke to Nicole who was at Sudbury for I think two years and she says a lot of people think there’s no rules. It’s just on the contrary. There’s lots of rules. Everyone’s involved with them and when youâ€™re involved with them… She rebelled. She would smoke and she was kicked out of all these schools. And then she went there and she spent most of time with the principals, not sent to the principals and not principals but with the administrators because she liked it, because it’s not that she didn’t want rules. She didnâ€™t want to be coerced. She didnâ€™t want them to be imposed on her. And when you talked about learning math and so I have a PhD in physics and when I was in school I feltâ€¦ Especially because I started majoring in physics in my junior year and a lot of people come into college thinking that they’re going to major in it so I was taking classes with freshmen who were advanced relative to me. And I felt like I was on a bucking bronco. I felt like if I let off for a second, I would not be able to catch up because if I missed one class, I might miss that subject and if I missed that subject, I might not get that course down. If I don’t get that course down, I am not going to be able to learn all the physics that I need to know to become a physicist. And then I read about a guy who came from Sudbury who had no requirements to take any math classes, let alone any classes gets a PhD in math from MIT. Now I’m sure he took math classes but he probably chose to do it in a way that he wanted to. To prove my model wrong all I need is one example and that one example like blew my mind.
Peter: I can say that I know that example and that person never took a math class before MIT, neverâ€¦ As far as I know pretty much was self-thought. I mean math is something that, my own view is that you can learn it better from a book and on your own in your own ways than you can in the class because you can go back and redo things, you can give it a thought you know. So you certainly don’t need math classes in order to learn math.
Joshua: Yeah. Nicole said that there are lots of peopleâ€¦. Yeah if they wanted to learn something and the books didnâ€™t do it, they just asked one of the adults not because they’re an adult but because they’ve more experience and the personâ€¦ She said they do two years of math in a few months because it’s tuned to them, the motivationâ€™s coming from their own internalâ€¦ And she said that happens all the time and it made me think of all the times I couldn’t get something and the class moved on and I was like, â€œBut wait, hold on!â€ Or were times when I got something and I was like, â€œMan, canâ€™t these people get it?â€ But you’re stuck there.
Peter: Iâ€™ll tell you a little story about learning math. See I think that there are two times to learn anything. Maybe three times. One is learning because you’re just so curious about it. This is playing, you just really want. You know you are just whether it’s math or anything else you’re just really into it and that person you don’t have to coerce them, you know you just have to let them go and provide them with opportunities whether it’s books or these days YouTube’s or whatever the heck it is allow that to happen. The second time you need to learn something is when something that you want to do requires that you know that. And so now you say, â€œOh, darn you know I want to be a physicist but to be a physicist I’ve got to, first of all, I’ve got to get into college and get into college I’ve got to learn, at minimum I’ve got to learn the S.A.T. math in order to get into the college I want to go to. So oh, gosh, I’ve got to sit down and study math.â€ So you do it and you want to do it even if you’re not all that interested in the specific kind of math you’ve got to learn for the S.A.T. and figure out this is the math I got to learn for the S.A.T.
And what has been observed over and over again at both Sudbury Valley and among [unintelligible] schoolers once a kid decides you know all right I want to go to this college. I don’t know why they’re requiring that I learn a certain amount of trigonometry and a certain amount of this kind of algebra and a certain kind of geometry and so on in order to go to college but that’s the way it is and so I’m going to learn it that person learns it really, really quickly. It doesn’t take thousands of practices of any given problem. You just learn how the rationale for solving this kind of problem, what it means to solve that kind of problem, you do a couple of problems of it and you’ve got it. These things are just not that difficult when you want to do it. So that’s the second time.
And I’ll tell you just a little story about that. I have a colleague and a friend who is a relatively famous biologist and he’s kind of known as a mathematical biologist. And he told me that he went into biology because he hated math and he loved science and he thought, â€œBiology is an area where I can do science without having to do any math.â€ And he apparently got bad grades at math at school and so on. And lo and behold he developed a particular theory. I won’t give it away because I don’t want to reveal exactly what this is. But he developed a particular theory in his line of endeavor which somebody else criticized by developing a mathematical model supposedly proving his theory wrong. And so here he was, â€œDarn, somebody’s developed a mathematical model. I don’t know how to respond to that. I don’t like math. I don’t know how to do math.â€
And so what he told me is he just decided, â€œAll right. I got to learn math.â€ And so he taught himself the math that he needed. He figured out, he’d found out he could do math after all. He’s not a complete dummy about math. And he reached the understanding of that mathematical model and moreover he could see the flaws in it. Then he developed his own mathematical model that supported the theory that he had already developed based on more qualitative kinds of evidence. So I think that happens all the time. I talk to scientists all the time about questions like you know, â€œDo you use the math that you used in high school, that you learned in high school?â€ And I am like, â€œNo. There’s a special kind of math that I have to use. It has very little to do with what I have to learn in relationship to the problems that I’m solving.â€ That’s the way life is. No matter what we want to do there are certain things that we have to learn in order to do those things. And people in self-directed education never think of themselves or rarely think of themselves, â€œI’m just learning something in case I need it in the future.â€ They’re learning it either because â€œRight now I’m just curious about thisâ€ or because â€œRight now I need to know this.â€ And so therefore I’m going to learn it.
The third, I said there are sort of three ways to learn. The third way is just kind of incidental. You know as we go through life we just pick stuff up. That’s kind of how we learn language. That’s kind of how we learn to read. We just pick stuff up as we go or not necessarily deliberately working on it.
Joshua: What you described about learningâ€¦ I mean I can’t imagine anyone listening to what you said and not thinking about a time when they themselves, â€œI got to pick something up. I better pick it up.â€ and so they do. The advantage of if you teach kids that way I thinkâ€¦ I also thought about learning leadership because leadership I just don’t believeâ€¦ I’ve never seen an example of someone learning leadership by reading books about it or by being told how to do it. And my big model which sounds remarkably like what you’re talking aboutâ€¦ One of the great ways to learn to lead I thinkâ€¦ I call it the Grunt model of leadership I think to lead effectively a lot of times you start by doing what no one else wants to do. And my big example for that is Martin Luther King. Now we think of the Montgomery Boycott like that was what got him started but no one knew at the time that he was going to win a Nobel Prize or that there’s going to be some civil rights acts coming up in the future. I doubt many people had heard of Montgomery. There was no Internet to organize car rides and someone had to, not just him but you know there had to be a team of people getting people rides, getting people to where they wanted to go, making sure that they didn’t feel like, â€œLet me just take the bus.â€ because it wasn’t like there was a long history of nonviolent civil disobedience working at the time. I guess there’s India and some other examples of that Thoreauâ€¦ But he had to do the work of what you were describing about you know when you want to learn somethingâ€¦ I guess you described it in the context of kids wanting to go to college, â€œI don’t know why they want me to learn this trigonometry but I’ll do it because it’s important, because it’s going to get me what I want.â€ And if you learn that asâ€¦ I didn’t learn that as a child that if I just work hard at what’s necessary, then I’ll get to where I want to go.
And a big theme that I hope comes across in this podcast is that there are a lot of people who want to make a difference in the environment and they want to have a leadership role. And the way to do it, the way I think works is there’s a billions of people who are demanding leadership in this area. They want to act but they don’t really know what to do to make it possible and I think leaders help people achieve what they want to do but don’t really know how. And so if they do that now, yes, there will be some grunt work but out of that they’ll know what to do and how to do it and they’ll be connected and things like that. Instead what they do is they get a job and they want to get promoted and promoted and promoted and follow that path of doing what they did in school and they don’t actually lose to lead. They learn to follow more. And I think because of this path of education is saying like, â€œTake this well-worn path.â€ and yes, most presidents have come through tops of you know lots of leadersâ€¦ I say leaders, I should say lots of people with authority are emerged from this process and so they think, â€œWell, I want to be like that.â€ And then there’s this great quote from the director of Most Likely to Succeed, I don’t if youâ€™ve seen the movie, and he was speaking to a lot of hiringâ€¦ The people whoâ€¦ The leaders of the companies that they talked about like what’s his name in Googleâ€¦ He is no longer there. His name will come to me in a second. Anyway. He said he’s talked to these people who hire top students from the top programs at the top universities and they say, â€œOK, we hired you. We have this problem here. It’s a really big challenging problem. We don’t know how to solve it but that’s why we hired you. So here’s the problem.â€ And the person who came out of the top of the MBA or Harvard or Stanford or wherever they say, â€œGreat! I can’t wait to get started. What should I do?â€ And that’s not why we hired you. But they end up with authority but not leadership skills. And when I read the reviews and watch the videos of students who came out of Sudbury they’re just saying stuff that I’m like, â€œI learned that in my 20s and they’re in their teens or younger.â€ And yeah I just imagine my life had I learned through experience of how to learn on my own.
Actually, thereâ€™s something you said earlier. The kids learn on their own. And I think one of the big things it’s not just on your own. It’s not just one kid learning. It’s all these kids with the age differences and they’re playing but they’re learning and they’re not protected from like sharp objects or from playing on the rocks.
Peter: It’s important to point out we’re not talking about learning in a vacuum. We’re talking about learning where youâ€™re immersed in this world and you have friends and you’re doing things all the time and you’re interacting with people and you’re learning by watching what other people do, you’re getting interested in things partly because other people are interested in them and you’ll see how much they’re enjoying them. So for example just to take learning how to read at Sudbury Valley that you know if Sudbury Valley were a place where everybody was four years old and nobody knew how to read, nobody would learn how to read. You got to have people who know how to read.
So you’ve got four-year-olds there but they’re observing eight-year-olds reading books maybe comic books, whatever they’re reading, they’re reading stuff on the Internet, they’re reading as they’re playing computer games and they they’re having such fun reading and you’re four years old and you want to join that club. You want to do what they’re doing. So you’ve got these models of people who are reading and you see reading as part of life and so on. And you’re also you may be starting to play some of these games. You know maybe youâ€™re five or six years old and playing now with some seven- and eight-year-olds and they’re reading the words on the screen to you as you’re playing and they’re not deliberately teaching you how to read but in effect that’s what they’re doing. So you’re learning in a social environment. You’re learning by interacting.
You know that there’s a great developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky, Russian psychologist, who sort of developed this kind of Marxist view of psychology. And his point was that learning always begins socially and then it becomes kind of internalized. We learn language socially and then we can internalize it and that becomes what we call verbal thought. Critical thinking it starts off with you know we say something and then somebody else contradicts us, somebody else says, â€œWell, you know there’s another point of view about it.â€ And then we respond. So the first critical thinking is not our own critical thinking. It’s a function of a couple of people talking back and forth about something that’s important to both of them and they’ve got different perspectives on it. And then we gradually begin to internalize that so at some point as I am growing up I say to myself a certain thing and then I can imagine what my critics would say and I become my own critic. I become my own critic of my own ideas but that wouldn’t have occurred if I didn’t have real critics in the real world.
So it’s really important that our kids beâ€¦ I think this idea of self-directed education can be misunderstood to believe that it’s all by yourself. That’s not true. It is by virtue of freely interacting with other people in an environment where you’re free to interact. And at Sudbury schools the age mix aspect is extremely important. The fact that kids can experience other kids who are just a little bit beyond them and that motivates them to want to do it. They see what the potentials are. They see, â€œOh, boy, if I could read, I could do this or that just like if I could climb trees, I could be like these cool kids who could climb trees.â€
Joshua: And likewise for the kids who are older also learn from the kids who are younger or they learn by sharing with the ones who are younger. They play differently.
Peter: This is a great place to talk about leadership too because so what’s happening is you’re right. I mean the older kids are learning every bit as much but different things from the younger kids. So number one, they’re learning and this is part of leadership, I guess, they’re learning how to be nurturing and caring, how to boost somebody up, how to, â€œIf I’m going to interact with this little kid, I’ve got to start off by sort of teaching this little kid how to do what it is that we’re doing together and I have to take into account this little kidâ€™s needs. You know we’re playing a game of baseball and we’ve got an age mixed group but we’ve got a little kid up at bat I can’t throw my fastest pitch. I have to sort of toss the ball in some way that he has a chance of hitting it.â€ So my motivation now becomes â€œCan I really help this little kid do what this little kid wants to do?â€ And it is interesting that kids want to do this. Teenagers especially love to do this. They love little kids, they love to help little kids.
You know in an age segregated environment like our typical classroom we think of leadership as a personality variable. Some people are sort of naturally leaders and some people are naturally followers but in the real world we’re of course all leaders in some situations and we’re all followers in other situations. And that’s the reality at a Sudbury school when you’re interacting with a kid much younger than you and you have to kind of teach and explain to them and help them along and sometimes correct them when they’re doing something either dangerous or naughty you become a leader. And on the other hand, when you’re interacting with other people you know you are being taught and corrected and so on and so forth that now you’re to some degree a follower if you want to use that language. So you know this is kind of real world aspect of leadership.
Another quick, because it’s relevant, another quick little story. There’s a book, I’m not at this moment thinking of the authors, but the title of the book is The Headman Was a Woman and it’s about this hunter gatherer culture in Malaysia, the Batek, and these anthropologists were studying this culture and hunter gatherers have had notâ€¦ They don’t have chiefs, contrary to popular belief. They operate by consensus and so on. But the governments always want them to appoint somebody as their leader, somebody that the government can talk to about regulations and laws and the sustenance and so on. And so this group was required to come up with somebody that they would see as their head. And so what the anthropologists reported, well, they got together, they sat down and they chose this particular woman and they labeled her the headman. And why did they choose her? They chose her because she was the most nurturing, caring person that they knew. She was the person who was always there to help when somebody needed help. She was wise, she was a leader not because she had physical power or any other kind of power, not because she could make people do things but because she was so willing to serve other people’s needs that she stood out as somebody who even more than most of the other peopleâ€¦ In these cultures, everybody cares about one another within the band but even more than other people she was willing to go out of her way to care for people. So that was their view. That was their way of choosing a leader.
I think the same thing happens in playgroups among children. So who emerges as the leader in a playgroup? If you are going to try to be a leader by bullying everybody into doing what it is you want them to do, they’ll quit because the essence of play is that it’s voluntary. Nobody is forced to do it. So the only way you can be a leader is by helping people do what they want to do. Figure out what it is. So what is it we all want to play? Let’s figure this out and you know I want to play this, you want to play that, let’s figure out, let’s get our heads together. The leader is the one who helps organize that and who is best at helping to work out compromises, who’s best at seeing everybody’s needs and making sure that those needs get mapped. That’s the way I would define leadership in a non-authoritarian system.
Joshua: Yes, so many students of mine in my leadership classes, so many of them tell me, â€œI thought the way to become a leader was to be the best at something.â€ Like because that’s in a video game you’ve got to be the low level guy, then you’d be the higher level guy and the leader is always the one who’s like the best fighter. And in sports the people whoâ€¦ In sports where it’s organized by adults it’s always the best player who gets to be the captain and that’s who picks the sides and so forth. But when it’s chosen, as you say, sorry I am going to I repeat what you said but I can’t help it is that you’ve got to resolve conflict and you’ve got to figure out why is this person leaving and if people disengage, you’ve got to re-engage them and that’s you may not be the best at the sport. And it sounds like when kids just play around the sports kind of change like the rules are one way Monday and another way Tuesday. And partly because people make it, like that’s how kids do stuff. And that’s more relevant to how I think leadership is how people effectively lead, not necessarily how people with authority authorize. But I mean conflict resolution that wasn’t something I really effectively learned until my 30s probably. And Nicole talked aboutâ€¦ I mean she went right on the judicial committee and spent a lot of time on that and it was right away.
Actually, I got to ask you something aboutâ€¦ Anyone who’s a parent is probably thinking, â€œI have a daughter. I wouldnâ€™t risk this for my kid.â€ Or maybe there’s some kids listening and are like, â€œI really want to do this.â€, and I can’t help but think of the very personal opening lines of your book, which come to think of it, I’m going to put a link to it. Yeah, yeah, I’ve read aboutâ€¦ I started reading your book because the chapters on your page. So Iâ€™ll put a link to that. This was a very personal antre to… I think you didn’t know aboutâ€¦Your son introduced you to Sudbury. Am I right?
Peter: Well, my son is the reason that weâ€¦ Actually, I had heard of Sudbury even before about it but it was because of my son’s rebellion in public school that we found Sudbury for him. Sudbury is now a school. And that led to my interest in how the school works and then doing a study of the graduates of the school and so on.
Joshua: Was it scary? As I understood your son found it and requested to go there and if you don’t know about it, I would imagine… Am I riskingâ€¦ I imagine thingking… I’m not a father, I can’t say for sure but I would imagine thinking, â€œOh, my son’s going to throw his life away.â€
Peter: Right. Exactly that’s the way most people would think about it. Then to some degree, although I was open to the idea, you know I didn’t know many people who had done anything like this. I actually did know one person. So actually my initial study of the graduates in the school was you know was not, I canâ€™t think of the word, it was motivated by my real concern. If graduates of this school were not going to flourish in adult life, I would have done what I could to get my kid out of there to go someplace else. So it was not a disinterested. That’s what I trying to think, not a disinterested study. I was personally interested in this. If the graduates of this school weren’t doing well in life, I wanted to know that. So, that was the personal motivation to do this study. I was also academically interested and intellectually interested in that because here’s the school that flies in the face of all of our assumptions about education. And wow, wouldn’t it be interesting if in fact the graduates do ok? I don’t even have to say they do better, just if they do OK, if they’re not doing anything like typical school. Isn’t that a profound finding? Shouldnâ€™t that really shake us up and shake the whole educational world? Turns out it didn’t shake the whole education world. It just ignored it.
But the fact, at this point, so I agree with this. The typical parent because we think as we started off in this talk pointing out that the norm for several generations now has been school and it’s very hard for most people in our culture to imagine people growing up healthy and knowledgeable and able to go on in life without doing what we think of school. And we all have a particular picture because schools are all pretty much the same even if they’re progressive schools, they vary a little bit and there are more choices aside but there’s still this model of what a school is. Well, this is nothing like that model. This is really trusting kids.
And so at this point, if this point it’s easy for me to say it is way more risky to send your child to the public coercive school than it is to send your child to a Sudbury school, way more risky, the chances of damage to your child by sending your child to a coercive school is greater, and the chance of the child will eventually commit suicide, and the chance that the child will lose his or her love for learning which is innate to children, the chance [unintelligible] seduced into some career that it’s not really a passion to the child because what the child has done, what the school has done to the child is to teach the child that your job in life is to go through one hoop after another. You do first grade so that you can then do second grade so you can then do third grade. And the goal of all of this is to make it to the next level. And if you can get all A’s and gold stars, all the better and the purpose of life is to please other people to get these rewards and external rewards from other people, and to do that you’ve got to suppress your own interest, your own desires, your own curiosity, that’s what’s being taught and that is a dangerous message. It’s a dangerous message, itâ€™s a message that ruins people’s lives. And so in my view there’s far less risks allowing your child to self-educate in a caring and loving environment in a place that’s safe enough where the child can explore and play and see the best in other people far less dangerous than sending your child to a coercive school.
Joshua: So the need for adults in a school that doesn’t change. I mean obviously the adults will practice different skills. Youâ€™re talking about how older kids teach younger kids. Throwing a judgmental adult and I imagine that completely undermines it all because once they start getting graded for it, it’s going to… So kids still go to school. Kids still benefit from adult supervision. I donâ€™t know if supervision is the right word but it’s not just throwing them to the lions, nor is it just like let them figure things out from 0. There’s a lot of structure.
Peter: And it’s interesting to see how you know, again, really if we get back to leadership, there’s a certain set. So the way the school operates it’s one person, one vote at the school meeting and so on and so forth and so the 4-year-old has the same vote as the 60-year-old faculty staff member at the school and so on everybody has the same vote but that does not mean everybody has the same influence any more than the fact that in hunter gatherer band you arrive at consensus doesn’t necessarily mean everybody has the same influence. Generally, in a hunter gatherer culture and I’m an old person so this is going to sound self-serving, there’s a certain kind of respect for the elders. They’ve been around longer. They’ve already had these experiences. They don’t have more actual power but they have more authority because they’ve had more experiences, they in some sense presumably are wiser, not in every case. There are old people who are fools and hunter gatherers recognize that too.
So at Sudbury Valley it would not be reasonable to say that the staff have no more influence over what happens than the students do. At the school meeting the staff don’t hold back. They use their best arguments that they can possibly present. They don’t pull back. But in order to get something passed whether you’re a staff member or youâ€™re a student you have to convince the majority of everybody who’s there including the four-year-olds who are there that this is a good idea. So if you’re going to have authority, it’s only because you can persuade the other people to come along with you. It’s just like what I said about in play – the person who has authority when you’re playing a game is the person who’s best at figuring out what’s going to make everybody happy and not everybody is really good at that. Some people are better at it than other people and those are the ones that get listened to and that is an ability that I would hope generally speaking grows with age and grows with experience in the world. Not entirely so. I mean you know there are differences, there are some people just seem to be born wise and there are some people who seem to be born idiots and they remain idiots for the rest of their life. But the fact of the matter is that there’s a difference between having equal power in the sense of power, official power, â€œI can make people do this.â€ and having an influence because â€œI can persuade people, convince people that this would be a good idea to do this.â€
Joshua: Yeah. The distinction that I read is that it’s not that they respect older people because they’re older, they respect the experience that the person has. I’m sure that if a young person had a unique experience that was particularly relevant, I would guess, I’m not there but I would guess that the old people if that young person did something no one else had done and they could learn from it, then they’d say, â€œWell, we respect you for that.â€ And likewise I think someone having authority like someone who is on a team and is very effective at resolving conflict and figuring out how to re-engage people and things like that that person may have powerâ€¦ To me power means ability to influence but not authority because authority to me, maybe I’m just a [unintelligible] but authority to me means ability to punish if you don’t comply and they never have authority in that sense. Like when I say my boss has authority over me I mean my boss can fire me or withhold my pay or something that makes me suffer. And that’s authority. And whereas if somebody does something in such an effective way that I want to do it that way too, then they influence me but not through authority and that’s what I think that people are learningâ€¦ That’s what we’re not teaching in our regular schools, for one thing.
Joshua: I want to switch topics. This might be a bit of a jolt but thereâ€™s leadership which I think we’ve been talking about in a sense and the environment and so I’m actually curious what you think ofâ€¦ One of the things I ask people on the podcast toâ€¦ Well, I ask them what about the environment they care about and if they’re willing to do something to act on that. I wonder if that’s something you’d be willing toâ€¦ I figured if we talked about it before. I think I mentioned it before we recorded. When you think about the environment is it something that you think about a lot? Is it something you care about?
Peter: It is something I think about a lot and that I care about. It’s a frustrating issue to think about. At the personal level I do what I can. I don’t do everything that sometimes I think I should do but I minimize like you’ll notice, viewers can’t see me, but I’m wearing several shirts because I keep the house cold. I don’t want to burn more fossil fuel than I have to. I cut my own wood for a wood stove at my house. I of course compose and recycle and I grow vegetables in my garden. I bicycle. For most of my career of teaching at Boston College I commuted by bicycle a distance of 17 miles each way.
So at a personal level I do what I can and I shouldn’t say I do everything I possibly could but I go more in that direction than the average person. But what’s frustrating to me you know are huge environmental issues climate change and so on. This is an international problem. And how do you get? And this is a political problem. And the frustration of resolving that political problem is something that is sort of beyond me, beyond my grasp, beyondâ€¦. There was a while when I was working on that and I felt like I was beating my head against the wall. So part of my hope is that if children grow up in a more democratic way and we can get rid of the idea that the purpose of life is to be greedy, that the purpose of life is to accumulate as much as you can as an individual or for your family and to beat out other people which is a lesson that’s being taught by our schools that the more innate sense of caring and meaning, critical thinking about our environment that we will have people who know how to compromise and think and work out and will approach political issues as problem solving you know instead of â€œCan I win the election by favoring this or that?â€ question you know â€œHow can I solve this problem? Can we figure out how to solve this problem?â€ I guess that’s part of my hope.
Joshua: So it sounds meaningful. I mean you mentioned frustration and you mentioned a lot of what you do and have done for a long time. Sounds like your whole life. So that tells me that there’s a lot of motivation. There’s something driving you. Iâ€™m curious what’s behind driving the action because you don’t have to do these things. And I’m reading that the bicycle was as one exampleâ€¦ Or you said you keep the house cold but I think it’s not that you keep it purposefully cold. You’re just not heating it unnecessarily.
Peter: No, I’m not air conditioning it in the winter. I’m keeping it warm in the summer.
Joshua: And so what’s behind that? What is it thatâ€¦ I mean what difference does it make? What’s driving it?
Peter: That’s an interesting question. It really is interesting question. And this is where we sort of get in the question â€œHow do we as individuals decide what’s meaningful to us?â€ From a certain perspective you could say, â€œWhy should we care about the future of humanity? Why should we care about the future of humanity any more than anything else? Why should we do that?â€ And boy, you know if you get into that line of thinking kind of the whole sense of purpose and morality sort of goes out the window.
So there’s a certain sense you know whether you’re religious or not religious there’s a certain sense that morals begin with some kind of assumptions, some kind of first premise. And I guess for me and maybe it’s natural, maybe it’s not, I don’t know, that the idea of serving humanity and making life better for people, including future generations, even though I’m not going to be here for it, that I think most people who have served, who have done things that are useful to humanity, I think for somehow they begin with that assumption. And I think there may be something natural to that assumption. I don’t know. I can’t argue it one way or the other from an evolutionary perspective but I think that to me it begins with the belief that human beings are valuable and that we want to make the world better for all human beings, not just ourselves. And we want to make the world better, we want to keep this idea that there are people here on this Earth. We want this to continue on for a while. And so that becomes motivation to try in whatever way, whatever small or larger way depending on the situation we’re in to try to work towards those ends.
Joshua: Well, certainly service to others resonates deeply with me. One of my mentors Frances Hesselbein, her phrase that she says all the time is â€œTo serve is to live.â€ And at first I thought, â€œWell, that’s a little much.â€ And then the more I’m like it really isâ€¦ This is just me speaking for myself but really serving others it’s not low, it’s not you beneath. It’s a major part of leadership. And then I’ve done a lot of stuff at West Point now and serviceâ€¦ Funny, like most people wouldn’t think ofâ€¦ Well, whatever associations people have service is the foundation of military as well as a lot of politicians although not all. So sorry, I’m just ruminating on what you said. I’m curious ifâ€¦ You mentioned that you do a lot of things but it sounds like there’s other things that you like, â€œOh, maybe I should do something.â€ or the things that youâ€™ve been thinking about. I wonder if you’d be interested at your option on doing something that in service of others, I got to say this, not to fix all the world’s problems all by yourself overnight but not telling other people what to do either, but something measurable. I wonder if youâ€™d be interested in doing something you haven’t really done and to act on these values.
Peter: Well, do you have any particular thing in mind?
Joshua: Well, okay so at this point most people seem to have something that they’ve been like, â€œI’ve been meaning to do that for a while.â€ And I’m not saying to do it for the rest of your life but maybe give it a shot because I had people come back on a second time and share what it was like. And I think most listeners have something that they themselvesâ€¦ Their values are going to be different. Some people are like, â€œService. Yes, that’s very important.â€ but some might be thinking, â€œWell, I don’t really care about service.â€ but they have something that I mean if theyâ€™re listeners to this podcast that there’s something that they probably care about that was meaningful to them. People seem to have something that they want to do. I mean if there’s not something youâ€™ve been thinking about, I could bounce off some things that other people have done but I wonder if youâ€¦ I am holding back partly because I want listeners to figure out for themselves but also because you said it sounded like there’s some things that you’ve thought about but haven’t done.
Peter: I’ll give you an example. There are some times when there are some sorts of conflicting interests. So there was a period of time when I avoided travelling, I avoided flying because every time you fly in an airplane you’re adding incrementally to the number of planes that take off and of course airplanes contribute a huge amount of CO2 to the environment. So there’s part of me that says I shouldn’t fly but there’s another part of me that gets invited to speak at conferences that have to do with issues I care very, very deeply about where I think I can have an influence but to get there I’ve got to fly there. And so although I used to be very proud of keeping record of not flying that’s no longer true. That’s gone by the wayside. You know it’s a little bit like people accuse Al Gore you know flying around. And so they think, â€œWell, that’s hypocritical.â€ And so is it hypocritical, am I being hypocritical or am I justified in balancing one thing versus another? These are dilemmas that I think about and I imagine others think about also when they try to take seriously how do I live this. Thereâ€™s part of me that says so I know people even have relatives who in their approach â€œI’m going to have the lightest footprint I can have on the world.â€ and to live in a kind of cabin in Vermont and are pretty much off the grid and so on and so forth. There is something very attractive to me about that. But on the other hand, for me that would also be a retreat from having the kind of influence that I’m currently having which I think is for the good.
So you know we make personal compromises. And I think that is important, so for example, you know we could be working probably more effectively towards â€œWell, let’s have virtual conferences more often rather than actual physical travel international conferences.â€ So these are issues that I do think about.
Joshua: One of the things that makes it easier for people at this point is to make it a SMART goal meaningâ€¦ I say it every time and I forget it every time â€“ specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time based. And the time based often makes it easier for people because it’s not saying, â€œI’m going to doâ€¦â€ Like some people they’ll reduce their meat consumption or they’ll reduce their using plastic or something like that. And for the rest of your life that’s kind of hard to figure out. But over a time period it’s often easier. It sounds like something you’ve already done.
I also have to comment that with Al Goreâ€¦ You know when I saw Inconvenient Sequel he puts it that he gets it at the last minute he brokered a deal between Solar City and India. There’s a lot of flying but I think a lot of people see it and they think, â€œWell, he had to fly because it was important, because it’s worth it.â€ The thing is that everyone believes that their decision is worth it. So when a parent says, â€œWell, I care about the environment but an SUV in an accident is safer. So I am going to get an SUV. And Al Gore justified it so I can justify it.â€ And at some point if you’re going to change a system, the leaders are the ones who figure out how to change the system.
Peter: Yeah. I mean I think what you’re getting at is and what is frustrating about the environmental problems to me is there is limits on what we can do as individuals. And we really do need strong laws and they need to be international laws. And that, of course, we’ve had a huge setback now with Trump and all of that but we really need to be working towards international treaties. These are not problems that I can solve myself. You know we all abide by this idea â€œLive the change that you would like to see.â€ but if that means sort of stepping out of the influence world and meanwhile everybody else is going on the other way and also whether it’s individuals you know, â€œWhat I do it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t have any impact on what other people do because I’m just one person.â€ But the same thing applies across countries and if one country follows that treaty and another country doesn’t, then the treaty becomes worthless. So as much as we’re talking sort of about trying to arrive at consensus and trying to lead by example and caring and so on and so forth I think the world can only be saved at this point by enforceable international laws. And so at the same timeâ€¦
Joshua: Oh, we have to go back to something I said earlier. What I’m talking to you about is not fixing all the world’s problems by yourself overnight. I want to explicitly release that from the picture here. I would like to save the world but what I’m talking about is living is acting on what you talked about because I think that I predict that after you do it you will speak differently than you speak now.
Peter: After I do what?
Joshua: If we together or you alone come up with something to act on and then we speak about it afterward. It won’t change that you’re just one person. It won’t change thatâ€¦. It won’t pass the laws all on your own or by virtue of what you do. But I predict it will changeâ€¦. I think youâ€™ll speak differently about what you do next. I don’t want to be too mysterious. Most people when I speak to them the second time they want to do more and they’re glad that they did it. And yes, it might not fix everything but it fixes something. And what the point of the podcast is to get that out there so that increasingly people feel likeâ€¦ To replace people’s feeling like, â€œIf I act but no one else does what difference does it make?â€ Because I want to bring people from lots of different areas to share their experiences so that people listen and sayâ€¦ I think what will happen is they’ll sayâ€¦ People who listen to you and come to this podcast because they saw your name they’ll say, â€œOh, Peter did something. He liked it. I guess I could do something too.â€
Peter: Well, I do think that my experience exactly fits what your point is. All those things that I just described I love doing them. I love chopping my own wood. I love bicycling, it is so much more fun than driving. So there’s no question about that. When you take these kinds of stands you might think that you’re doing it for the good of the world but you’re also increasing generally speaking your own happiness by in some ways simplifying the way you’re living. So I absolutely agree with that.
Joshua: What happened with me that got this podcast going was when I started realizing that these thingsâ€¦ OK, it’s not necessarily the case that if you do something that serves others, that you will like it. It could be that you serve others and you don’t like it but you know maybe the sense of reward is there but it’s painful to do. And the crazy thing is that it’s not like a little bit better by my standards. It’s a lot better and that’s what I’m sharing is trying to share that, this is maybe on faith, that enough peopleâ€¦ I think virtually everyone given the chanceâ€¦ Iâ€™ll illustrate it this way – given the chance for the taste buds to recover they’ll prefer vegetables to candy but it takes a couple of weeks for the taste buds to recover from the onslaught of sugar and salt, fat and all that. And I believe that if I go around to enough people who are prominent enough in their fields, renowned, that others listen to them and say, â€œOh, that’s fun.â€ Then people will say, â€œI do want the vegetables.â€
Peter: It is interesting how our taste change and that if you decide that something is good for you and you really become convinced to that and something else is not good for you or not good for the world you find joy in the thing that is good for you and you begin to develop a distaste for the thing that is and I’ve experienced that certainly, even in exactly what you’re describing. I don’t like candy [unintelligible] real sweets. I like a little sugar and to certain things you know and also know I gave up eating meat some time ago. Once in a while I’ve been in this situation where I had a hamburger and I actually found it distasteful. I was like, â€œWhy did I ever like that?â€ So that does happen, it does happen I have experienced that since you have. If you change your diet, you begin to develop a sensitivity for the more subtle flavors of things and the salt and grease and so on interfere with those more subtle flavor.
Joshua: They override it.
Peter: Yeah, override it. And so I think a lot of people experience that. I think what probably most people who may become vegetarians somewhat thinking this is going to be a sacrifice because they like sweets, they like meat and they like salt and so on but who’ve made this dietary change for whatever reasons whether they’re doing it because they think it’s good for health or good for the environment or good for animals, whatever reason they’re doing that, they oftentimes find themselves feeling, â€œWow, you know this is making my meals much more enjoyable than they were before.â€
Joshua: And so I wonderâ€¦ You mentioned that you decreased your flying before but now it’s gone back up again. I wonder if you, not that I’m suggesting you do this one but if you went for some period of timeâ€¦ To me it’s not just what you don’t do but it’s what you replace it with like maybe that would be something you would do and try to keep your influence as high as it was before but without the jet fuel.
Peter: Something to think about.
Joshua: Want to give that one a shot?
Peter: I’m not ready to declare that right now but I’m ready to say itâ€™s worth thinking about.
Joshua: Okay. Because what you were talking about people who give up meat for a whileâ€¦ Yeah I last had it in I think 1990. And people are like, â€œHow do you do it?â€ I’m like, â€œThe same way I don’t eat cockroaches. Like I don’t want it.â€ It’s just maybe some people eat it somewhere but that doesn’t meanâ€¦ And I did like it. I grew up loving hotdogs and hamburgers and chicken nuggets and things. So I’ll just do one last nudge. Might there be something that you might considerâ€¦ Is there something that comes to mind in service of others that you might take on for a bit? If not not flying, something else.
Peter: Nothing comes immediately to mind.
Joshua: Okay. So I’ll leave it there but I’ll leave an open invitation that if something comes up that you think of that you’re like, â€œHey, you know that does sound like what Joshua was talking about like that is something I’ve been meaning to do.â€ And then I give you an open invitation to come back and then to share that with others, to share that experience because I think what you talked about that experience of people being like, â€œNow that I’ve changed I like it. I don’t want to go back.â€ to hear you say that about something is one thing but to hear you describe it in real time might be another.
Joshua: Well, I like to close with a couple of questions. Is there anything I didn’t think to ask to bring up? And boy, having read your book there’s so much stuff that we touched on that is more and more and more about self-directed education. And also, is there anything to share directly to the listeners you might want to say? That could be one question or two.
Peter: Yeah. I mean I certainly don’t want to get into any new topics or we would be going on forever but you know if people really want to learn more about self-directed education you could look at my, as Joshua suggested, look at myâ€¦ I do a regular blog for Psychology Today called Free to Learn or Freedom to Learn rather. My book Free to Learn. I summarize you know I’m a scientist, I’m a skeptic, I’m a person who talks about evidence. I’m not a person who goes on gut feeling and idealism and so on and so forth. So these are documented works. I went into this as a skeptic you know, â€œDoes this really work? Well, what’s the evidence?â€ And so I would ask you to be skeptical as you should but to examine the evidence about self-directed education. And one place to start is with my book and following up on looking at the academic articles that are relevant to that. I’m not asking people to take any of this on faith or to do it just because it sounds good but to really look at what the evidence says.
Joshua: And I will put the links to Psychology Today, to the book, to the chapter of the book. Warnings to the listeners – if you start reading the first chapter at least if you’re me, you’re going to want to finish that book as it is really, as I said, it’s like you just keep pulling out the sweater and youâ€™re likeâ€¦ But the reward to the sense ofâ€¦ I’m going to indulge myself in commenting what you said that the reward to what it brought me in understanding parts of my childhood that really just didn’t make sense and I felt like I had to rebel. Look I got a PhD and MBA like the education system I worked it. But there’s so much that didn’t make sense and now does. It relieved a lot of anger, frustration, something like that. This is me speaking personally. Sorry [unintelligible] on what was your final thing. But I hope to motivate people to follow those links and read. Well, Peter, thank you very much.
Peter: Thank you, Joshua.
I hope that you follow the links to his column and his book. My podcast post that I also link to compiles the links that I found most relevant. So you might want to start with those. By the time I press my limit on pressing Peter on acting on something new environmentally and I hope I didn’t come off as rude or coercive. He had already shared his experiences on management practices with keeping the house not heated in the winter and so forth and biking and he enjoyed these things. And he spoke about generally from experience having done things before, acting on his values and finding that he liked them even when from the outside observer they would’ve thought they wouldn’t like it. I think he said those things with experience. So partly for those reasons I didn’t keep pressing. And I think regular listeners identify in him things that some people only on the second episode share or experience. So if you haven’t acted on things as he has or could act more, I predict that you’ll enjoy them also.
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