Category Archives: history of education

Children Educate Themselves – by Peter Gray

The following is the 4-part series “Children Educate Themselves” from Peter Gray’s blog Freedom to Learn

PART 1: Children Educate Themselves I: Outline of Some of the Evidence
As adults we do have certain responsibilities toward our children and the world’s children. It is our responsibility to create safe, health-promoting, respectful environments in which children can develop. It is our responsibility to be sure that children have proper foods, fresh air, non-toxic places to play, and lots of opportunities to interact freely with other people across the whole spectrum of ages. It is our responsibility to be models of human decency. But one thing we do not have to worry about is how to educate children. MORE

PART 2: Children Educate Themselves II: We All Know That’s True for Little Kids
Have you ever stopped to think about how much children learn in their first few years of life, before they start school, before anyone tries in any systematic way to teach them anything? Next time you are in viewing range of a child under the age of about five years old, sit back and watch for awhile. You’re in for a treat. MORE

PART 3: Children Educate Themselves III: The Wisdom of Hunter-Gatherers
Our human instincts, including all of the instinctive means by which we learn, came about in the context of a hunting-and-gathering way of life. So: How do hunter-gatherer children learn what they need to know to become effective adults? MORE

PART 4: Children Educate Themselves IV: Lessons from Sudbury Valley
The Sudbury Valley School has, for the past forty years, been the best-kept secret in American education. … Professors of education ignore it, not out of malice but because they cannot absorb it into their framework of educational thought. . . . To understand the school one has to begin with a completely different mindset from that which dominates current educational thinking. MORE

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SCHOOL-ATTENDANCE — “the child is taken from him, and sent to school, the father to prison.”


One of the most signal features of the school-system of
Prussia and of many of the neighboring States is the universality
of the children’s attendance. After a child has arrived
at the legal age for attending school, — whether he be the child
of noble or of peasant, — the only two absolute grounds of
exemption from attendance are sickness and death. The
German language has a word for which we have no equivalent
either in language or in idea. The word is used in reference
to children, and signifies due to the school ; that is, when the
legal age for going to school arrives, the right of the school to
the child’s attendance attaches, just as, with us, the right of a
creditor to the payment of a note or bond attaches on the day
of its maturity. If a child, after having been once enrolled as
a member of the school, absents himself from it, or if, after
arriving at the legal age, he is not sent there by his parents,
a notice in due form is sent to apprise them of the delinquency.
If the child is not then forthcoming, a summons follows.
The parent is cited before the court ; and if he has no excuse,
and refuses compliance, the child is taken from him, and sent to
school, the father to prison.

From a pamphlet published by a director of the school in Halle,
I translate the following forms of notices and summonses, in
order to give a more viid idea of the manner in which this
business is conducted: —

— Horace Mann, 1843

FROM: The “Seventh Annual Report of the Secretary of the Board of Education of the State of Massachusetts, 1843”
As found in original scanned format online on Page 365-6, The Life and Works of Horace Mann

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