What is Self-Directed Education?

I’m Peter Gray. I’m a Research Psychologist who studies children’s natural ways of learning. My research and that of others convinces me that children come into the world biologically designed to educate themselves. They don’t need imposed schooling. In fact, I’ve become convinced that imposed schooling, as it occurs in our standard, everyday schools, does much more harm than good. It undermines young peoples’ natural ways of learning. It leads them to associate learning with stress and anxiety. It promotes shallow learning for the sake of passing tests rather than deep understanding. For this reason, I joined with others to help form the Alliance for Self-Directed Education. You can find lots of information about Self-Directed Education on the Alliance’s website, but here are the basics: I’ll begin with the termeducation. Unfortunately, for many people this term has been distorted by its being linked for so long and so closely withschooling. But education is not the same as schooling. A useful definition of education is this: It’s the sum of everything a person learns that enables that person to live a satisfying and meaningful life. By this definition, of course education is a wonderful thing! It’s a necessary thing. It’s something we all want and need. We couldn’t, after all, live a satisfying and meaningful life without it. Self-Directed Education, then, is education that derives from the self-chosen activities and life experiences of the person becoming educated, whether or not those activities were chosen deliberately for the purpose of education. Self-Directed Educationcaninclude classes or lessons, if they’re freely chosen by the learner, but most Self-Directed Education does not occur that way. Most of it comes from everyday life as people pursue their own interests and learn along the way. The motivating forces include curiosity, playfulness, sociability, and the general desire of every person to do well in life. Self-Directed Education necessarily leads different people along different paths, though the paths may often overlap as each person’s interests and goals are in some ways unique, and in some ways shared by others. Self-Directed Education can be contrasted toimposedschooling, which is forced upon individuals regardless of their desire for it, and is motivated by systems of reward and punishment. Imposed schooling is generally aimed at enforcingconformityrather than uniqueness, and it operates by suppressing, rather than nurturing the natural drives of curiosity, playfulness, sociability, and self-direction. Research has shown repeatedly that Self-Directed Education works beautifully if young people are provided with the conditions that optimize their natural abilities to educate themselves. These conditions can be provided at a fraction of the cost of our coercive, state-controlled schools. They’re already being provided by many homeschooling families who’ve adopted the approach commonly called “unschooling”, by resource centers and co-ops for self-directed learners, and by schools that have been designed explicitly to support Self-Directed Education. The members of the Alliance invite you to learn more about Self-Directed Education, and about the supports available for it, by visiting our website atself-directed.orgWe also invite you there to join the Alliance. Together we can create a world where children are truly free to learn.

8 thoughts on “What is Self-Directed Education?”

  1. This is totally correct however modern day PC/Marxist cultures like ours has become, won't allow much of this. This is counterproductive to the puppet-masters of a dumbed down populous. A populous that is easily controlled and forced to join the "Race to the Middle" occurring in public schools today. Conformity and groupthink is the rule now, not individuality. A child who develops and enhances their natural dominant abilities lives outside the box and is a threat to the controlled and compliant sheep.

  2. I don't understand how this type of education prepares students for college level work! I get it but it only makes for a great after school program.

  3. Fantastic summary with delightful illustration! I am enthralled with the realm of self-directed learning, and have been since I designed my own degree in college in 1997 with the support of a stellar mentor-professor. Now with a 4-year-old, I'll do anything to weave a lifestyle for our family that allows us to give her this fortune– or birthright– perhaps both. Thank you for your work. I am deeply in love with the beauty of the human spirit, and the field of SDE is one of the few that truly honors this beauty. I will share this video!

  4. Imposed schooling may be the most efficient and economy way for now. To achive Self-Directed Eduction, more human resource and finance is needed. A tradeoff way may be what Confucius had said, "teach Students in accordance of their aptitude".This "teach" is not a imposing one , but a directive one.

  5. Термин само-направленное не совсем точный Скорее – это самоуправляемое обучение, самообучение, самоучение. В буквальном смысле учит-ся – это учить себя.

    а об-учаться – это учиться об кого-то, об учителя.

  6. There's nothing more meaningful and satisfying to have a true definition for education itself and to apply it out next. Thank you, Mr. Professor Peter Gray for your primer! 🙂
    I shall one day create an education organization known as the MES (Matrioska Education System) and I will always in my heart; shall credit you for your knowledge you shared us through that sparks it all! It shall be a heaven and a haven for many learners and educators; with academic freedom held and a society that follows not of rules or regulations but of values! Individualism will enter the scene with democratic (and anarchic) decision makings that each and every individual agrees on a consensus. No one shall and will get left out. Instead of authority; there's autonomy built with responsibility just as what the life itself is of.
    Instead of discipline; devotion will be in and instead of judgement full of subjectiveness; evaluation with objectiveness shall come and hence, the sides of the coin are no more but of an whole entire coin; viewed in all angles which are all represented.

    I am Zaw*, now age 16, and had started working on it to establish it soon since 3 years ago; living in a nation that historically struggled and is now; currently corrupt called Burma / Myanmar. But soon, every war, every poverty, every conflict, every crime to everything around us will be resolved and the education is the seed for it all and for us all. I have a dream to bring a change to the education system like Finland and reform the country for the benefit for all as well. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and I hope to learn more form you! 🙂

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