Thursday, August 14, 2014

Why I Call It the Treehouse

I didn't like school. I was bored and daydreamed, so on weekends I wandered. I also built stuff. I built some clubhouses out of scrap lumber and built two or three treehouses. I tried to build a robot and a submarine. Those didn't work.

Now who taught me to build the various houses? No one. My father was a general contractor so I had access to his tools when I was six and seven, so I sawed and hammered and made myself a treehouse.

I built a raft, too, and sent it out on a pond. It didn't sink, which was good when a friend and I pushed ourselves into the middle of the pond.

Was I being creative? No. I don't even know how to define creativity, but I know it's something that blossoms when kids are left to follow their own interests.

If I had to define what I did, it was solving problems, which is what I do a lot even now. It was more play than anything else, which is why its best, education and play (and even work) are supposed to be the same thing.

In high school I again daydreamed but lived on the weekends, which included drinking and drugs. Once I got into college my drug use stopped and I rarely drank. College was a lot more interesting than high school, which is one of the reasons that high-school partying stopped (I was hanging out in bars when I was 15).

Play can be a very serious and absorbing thing. It's not necessarily "fun." It's so important I've known people to loose their lives because of the lack of it.

I know a man who's going on 70. He told me when he was growing up there was a kid in the neighborhood who was not allowed to play. Dirt and violence, you know. The only comic books he was allowed to read was "Little Lulu," and I hope to God she is not around anymore.

Unfortunately this kid went nuts and killed himself at 18.

The psychologist Peter Grey calls this a "play deficit." He's not the only scholar who's noticed what the lack of play does to kids. Stuart Brown is another, and when he studied prisoners he found most allowed to play. This included murderers.

Grey writes, "Over the same decades that children’s play has been declining, childhood mental disorders have been increasing. It’s not just that we’re seeing disorders that we overlooked before. Clinical questionnaires aimed at assessing anxiety and depression, for example, have been given in unchanged form to normative groups of schoolchildren in the U.S. ever since the 1950s. Analyses of the results reveal a continuous, essentially linear, increase in anxiety and depression in young people over the decades, such that the rates of what today would be diagnosed as generalized anxiety disorder and major depression are five to eight times what they were in the 1950s. Over the same period, the suicide rate for young people aged 15 to 24 has more than doubled, and that for children under age 15 has quadrupled.

That's worse than "not good." It's horrible. And there are other things:

"The decline in opportunity to play has also been accompanied by a decline in empathy and a rise in narcissism, both of which have been assessed since the late 1970s with standard questionnaires given to normative samples of college students. Empathy refers to the ability and tendency to see from another person’s point of view and experience what that person experiences. Narcissism refers to inflated self-regard, coupled with a lack of concern for others and an inability to connect emotionally with others. A decline of empathy and a rise in narcissism are exactly what we would expect to see in children who have little opportunity to play socially. Children can’t learn these social skills and values in school, because school is an authoritarian, not a democratic setting. School fosters competition, not co-operation; and children there are not free to quit when others fail to respect their needs and wishes.

"In my book, Free to Learn (2013), I document these changes, and argue that the rise in mental disorders among children is largely the result of the decline in children’s freedom. If we love our children and want them to thrive, we must allow them more time and opportunity to play, not less. Yet policymakers and powerful philanthropists are continuing to push us in the opposite direction — toward more schooling, more testing, more adult direction of children, and less opportunity for free play.

Public schools unfortunately aren't going to get any better, because it comes to the point that the hierarchy and bureaucracy is more important than the health and safety of the children.

Jerry Pournelle called this his Iron Law of Bureaucracy:

"First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

"Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc."

Since the schools cannot be reformed, and can only get worse, the only things parents can is without their children from the schools.

And it's obvious that more school and longer days isn't going to make things better. it's going to make things worse. And the bureaucracy does not care how many kids are mangled or die, because they'll find someone else to blame.

I've pointed out before I had two educations. One was public school - reading, writing and arithmetic - and then there was what I learned out of school, which was 100 times better than what I learned in school. For practical purposes I could have dropped out of public school in the first grade.

What I did on my own was explore, discover - hunt and gather. And I learned by observing, exploring and playing. Often by imitating.

In fact, if we are going to have schools, they should develop those inborn traits - the curiosity, the desire to explore and discover - to play.

But that's going to happen with the public schools.

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