Not News That Play Works

4 01 2007

Time to say it again!
Play’s the Thing. Snook says it here, not to mention here and also here, among many odes to play as real-life learning. Work is just, well, work.

This isn’t news. Thinking Parents know it, academics and college recruiters know it, little kids know it, psychologists know it, preachers and politicians certainly OUGHT to know it (but maybe they were themselves stunted by clockwork and schoolwork?)

Play makes children nimble—neurobiologically, mentally, behaviorally—capable of adapting to a rapidly evolving world. That makes it just about the best preparation for life in the 21st century. Psychologists believe that play cajoles people toward their human potential because it preserves all the possibilities nervous systems tend to otherwise prune away…

There’s only one graduation requirement and over 95 percent of students meet it. They have to write and present a thesis about how they’re prepared to be an adult. It takes time to write, even more time to figure out.

…Students have become lute-makers, auto technicians, musicians, equestrian-farmers, dedicated environmentalists. Some have started their own companies at 18. Others take retail or service jobs to get money for travel abroad…Most make college a deliberate choice on their own timetable—82 percent enroll within six years of graduation—not something they simply hurtle on to, driven by parental expectations…

— Hara Estroff Marano in “Psychology Today” May/June 2006, sizing up Sudbury Valley School

Mac co-inventor Paul Graham is more practical than academic but he knows it too:

By the time they reach an age to think about what they’d like to do, most kids have been thoroughly misled about the idea of loving one’s work. School has trained them to regard work as an unpleasant duty. . .

Actually they’ve been told three lies:

  • the stuff they’ve been taught to regard as work in school is not real work
  • grownup work is not (necessarily) worse than schoolwork, and
  • many of the adults around them are lying when they say they like what they do.

The most dangerous liars can be the kids’ own parents. If you take a boring job to give your family a high standard of living, as so many people do, you risk infecting your kids with the idea that work is boring. . .

If you think something’s supposed to hurt, you’re less likely to notice if you’re doing it wrong.

These are the staples in my idea pantry. Learning is fun, not work. Schooling is work, not education.

Favorite Daughter has never been to school (though she now plays at college) precisely because I believe school screws up such lessons as these, and all the hapless folks who receive them.. .Defining heaven as reach that exceeds one’s grasp wasn’t really about reaching for ever-better-paying contract clauses — was it?

I see dutiful young people turning Heaven into Hell no matter what their circumstances or working conditions, because that’s all they know, because that’s what they’ve been taught by their parents and school and life and society, because they can’t believe in anything else:
“If you think something’s supposed to hurt, you’re less likely to notice if you’re doing it wrong.”