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Books

Free to Learn

Free to Learn has been published in 18 languages. Here are 16 of them. The English version can be purchased in paperback, hardcover, Kindle, or audio formats here.

“Free to Learn provides us with deep, carefully researched insights into the connections between freedom, learning and play…. [I]f you are involved with children, education, unschooling, free ranging, or anything having to do with play, Free to Learn is something you’ll want to read, own, share, and give to everyone you know who cares about the lives of our children and the future of our world. DeepFun.com

Some Comments about Free to Learn

“Peter Gray is one of the world’s experts on the evolution of childhood play, and applies his encyclopedic knowledge of psychology, and his humane voice, to the pressing issue of educational reform. ...He forces us all to rethink our convictions on how schools should be designed ...” —Steven Pinker, Harvard University Professor of Psychology and author of How the Mind Works

“Anyone wh
o cares about learning should read Free to Learn. Gray’s book is a compelling and easy read; if everyone would read it with an open mind, a wholesale revolution in education (right through to university) would be the inevitable outcome.”—Dissident Voice

“This is an extraordinary and relevant book for unschooling parents, and those who care about the wellbeing of the children in their lives…Whether you buy this book, borrow it or check it out of the library, this book is as important as any of John Holt's early books.”—Home Education Magazine

“Peter Gray’s Free to Learn is profoundly necessary as a fundamental illumination of the continuing tragedy and entrapment of both kids and their teachers in a generally failing and failed educational system. Gray demonstrates through science and evolutionary biology that the human species is designed to play, is built through play, and that for kids, play equals learning. Free to Learn is timely, paradigm shifting, and essential for our long term survival as adaptive humans.” Stuart Brown, M.D., President, The National Institute for Play, author of Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul

Psychology. The Textbook

When I started teaching many years ago, I couldn't find a textbook that I liked, so I started writing my own, just for my class, and handing out photocopies. I wanted a book that treated students as intelligent scholars, able to think about and examine ideas, not just memorize stuff.  As a biologist by background I also wanted a book that examined psychological ideas in the light of natural selection.  Eventually, in 1991, Worth Publishers published the book in beautifully illustrated form. Ever since then, the book has been used to introduce undergraduates to psychology, and even in some graduate programs, throughout the world.  The book is now in its 8th edition. The most recent two were updated by David Bjorklund, who is now a co-author of the book.  Here is a sample of comments about the book from early adopters:

• "This is a truly outstanding book.  ... What I like most is that it is a genuinely thoughtful and intellectually serious piece of work.  . . . Peter Gray has obviously thought long and hard about a great range of different topics in psychology, and he has scanned the field for the truly important ideas and critical research findings.  He is a very clear thinker who presents ideas with precision  . . . My students responded very positively to this extremely well written and engaging book.  It was quite an accomplishment to write an introductory book that deals so seriously with ideas and with history, which does not spare students the real complexities of these issues, and which nonetheless receives such an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response from students.  To be honest, I would not have thought the thing possible! ... In summary, I have never used a textbook about which I feel as much enthusiasm as I do about Gray's Psychology."--Hal Pashler, University of California, San Deigo.

"The first edition of Gray's Psychology was, in my opinion, far and away the best introductory psychology text on the market.  . . . Gray has a great gift of being able to take extremely difficult and complex concepts and make them accessible to the typical undergraduate.  . . . [Concerning the Behavioral Genetics chapter] I was continuously amazed at Gray's mastery of behavioral genetics--he seems to understand behavioral genetics as well or better than those of us who devote all our efforts to its pursuit."  -Matthew McGue,  University of Minnesota.

• "The breadth and depth and integration in the Gray book is unmatched in any book I have read.  My attempts to suggest to my students that psychology is "big," "deep," and "complex" and that understanding the human condition is a struggle that often yields wonderment, is reinforced between the lines throughout this book.  We are all engaged in a process here, and Gray makes that clear even as his book and the students who read it become the process." David Falcone, LaSalle University.

• "My initial concern was that, in a one-semester course, this book would be too much for my students.  I was surprised to hear that they summarily enjoy the textbook because they find it comprehensive and challenging, but also easy to understand and digest.  One student said, and the rest agreed, that she appreciates being treated like an adult."  Frank George, University of New Mexico.

"Dear Peter, Please do not think it presumptuous of me to use your first name, but I feel as if I know you well. . . I would like to thank you for writing such a valuable and entertaining text.  . . . It was the best text of my first year.   . .. to me you became a real person, not just some stranger who wrote a book for college students.  This is a great book.  Thank you very much for it.  Best Wishes and Love."  A first year undergraduate, University of Delhousie.

“I just wanted to let you know how much I have enjoyed your textbook here in the introductory psychology course at Harvard! It is the clearest, most organized, most interesting textbook I have used in any course here so far. I especially love all of the experimental evidence you use to illustrate the concepts. The facts that I’ve never before written to the author of a textbook and that I am deciding to do so in the middle of studying for the class’s final exam says sit all—your text has given me a valuable, fun introduction to the field of psychology and has reinforced my decision to major in cognitive neuroscience. Thanks so much!”  Sincerely, Kerry Jordan.

Collections of Essays to Benefit the Alliance for Self-Directed Education

These small books are collections of some of the most popular of my articles that were published originally on the blog that I write for Psychology Today.  They are organized by theme, and the wonderful cover illustrations were created by children involved in Self-Directed Education. All proceeds for their purchase go to the Alliance for Self-Directed Education. 

To purchase any or all, go to the Tipping Points Press page of the Alliance.

Mother Nature’s Pedagogy. Children come into the world biologically designed to educate themselves. Their natural curiosity, playfulness, sociability, willfulness, adventurousness, tendency to look ahead, and desire to do well were all shaped, by natural selection, to serve the function of education. In this collection of essays, Peter Gray describes, with research evidence, how these natural drives play out in children who have ample opportunity to exercise them. He also desribes children's natural prosocial drives and discuses ADHD as a natural personality variation, not a disorder.

How Children Acquire “Academic Skills… Children who grow up in a literate and numerate environment generally typically pick these skills up in their everyday living. In this collection,Peter Gray presents the evidence that this is so. He also presents evidence that teaching--especially when it is forced and comes too early--can interfere with children’s learning to read and calculate. The book also includes an essay on the difference between Self-Directed Education and progressive education and another  refuting the claim that children lose academic skills during summer vacation from school (the so-called “summer slide”). 

Evidence that Self-Directed Education Works Theory is one thing; empirical evidence is another. In this collection of essays, Peter Gray presents evidence that children can educate themselves well, without coercion or coaxing, when provided with an appropriate environment. The evidence comes from observations of children before they start school, anthropological research in hunter-gatherer cultures, studies of graduates of a school designed for Self-Directed Education, and studies of grown unschoolers (homeschoolers who were in charge of their own learning).

The Harm of Coercive Schooling.  Schools operate by methods of coercion, enforced with reward, punishment, and threats. Coercion interferes with children’s natural ways of learning and turns learning into “work.” Peter Gray describes here also how schooling promotes bullying, cheating, and showing off; contributes to high rates of anxiety, depression, and even suicide; aims to push everyone, regardless of the shape of their personality, through the same square holes; and leads to a lifetime of anxiety dreams. The final essays show how the harm has moved down even to kindergarteners.

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