top of page

Academic Articles

Me being serious

Me being friendly

You can download pdfs of some of my academic articles by clicking on the titles below. You can find references to all of them by opening my Curricluum Vitae, above.

MY MOST RECENT ARTICLE. Decline in independent activity as cause of decline in children's mental wellbeing: Summary of the evidence [This article published in 2023 by the Journal of Pediatrics presents multiple lines of evidence for the thesis that a decline in children's independent activity is a major cause of the well-documented decline in their emotional wellbing.]   

Some Articles About Self-Directed Education

Self-Directed Education—unschooling and democratic schooling. [In this chapter of the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education, I define Self-Directed Education, offer a biologically based theory of how it works, and summarize research into its effectiveness.]

Democratic schooling: what happens to young people who have charge of their own education? [This study of graduates of Sudbury Valley School, conducted with David Chanoff, was career altering for me. The finding that adults who had grown up with no coercive schooling were doing well in the world intrigued me on many levels and led to all my subsequent research into Self-Directed Education and play.]


Patterns of age mixing and gender mixing among children and adolescents at an ungraded democratic school. [In this study, Jay Feldman and I assessed the degree to which students of different ages and genders interacted with one another, at the Sudbury Valley School, and the contexts in which they did so.]


Playing in the zone of proximal development: qualities of self-directed age mixing between adolescents and young children at a democratic school. [In this study, involving many days of observations at Sudbury Valley School, Jay Feldman and I focused on naturally occurring interactions between older and younger students and what the students seemed to learn from such interactions.]


Former students’ evaluations of experiences at a democratic school: Roles of the democratic processes, staff, and the community of students. [In this survey, Gina Riley, Kevin Curry-Knight and I asked alumni of the Hudson Valley Sudbury School to described the roles of the democratic processes, the adult staff, and free interactions with other students in their education at the school.]


The challenges and benefits of unschooling according to 232 families who have chosen that route[In this survey Gina Riley and I asked parents in unschooling families how they defined unschooling, why they chose unschooling, and the benefits and challenges of unschooling for themselves and their children.]

Grown unschoolers’ evaluations of their unschooling experiences: Report I on a survey of 75 unschooled adults. [This is first report on a survey that Gina Riley and I conducted of grown unschoolers, in which we present their views of their previous experiences as unschooled children and teens.]

Grown unschoolers’ experiences with higher education and employment: Report II on a survey of 75 unschooled adults. [This is the second report on a survey that Gina Riley and I conducted of grown unschoolers, in which we describe their reported experiences with higher education and employment as adults and how unschooling may have affected these.]

Children’s natural ways of learning still work—even for the three Rs. [I review the biological, evolutionary foundations for Self-Directed Education and present evidence that, given an appropriate setting, it works well in our modern society. Some evolutionary theorists have argued that children’s natural ways of learning don’t work for learning to read, write, and do arithmetic, but I present empirical evidence that they do.]

Evolving the future of education: problems in enabling broad social reform. [I describe three major constraints to the spread of educational innovations even when those innovations have been proven effective. These are (1) government regulations that prevent innovation; (2) the conservative nature of social norms; and (3) the school system’s inadequate definition of educational success.]

Rousseau’s errors: they persist today in educational theory. [Jean-Jacques Rousseau, through his book Émile, is often referred to as the originator of child-centered, back-to-nature theories of education. In this essay I describe four fallacies in Rousseau’s conception of children and their learning, which are still present in much progressive educational theory.]

COVID Disruption of schooling and radical reform in education. [The disruptions caused by a pandemic, terrible as they are, can lead to long-term positive change. Here I speculate on ways that the Covid-19 pandemic may have a positive long-term effect in encouraging innovations in education.]

How children coped in the first months of the pandemic lockdown: Free time, play, family togetherness, and helping out at home. [In large-scale demographically balanced surveys of families with children conducted in early months of the Covid lockdown of schools, we found that children and parents reported the children to be less anxious and more engaged with self-initiated projects than they were before the Covid pandemic.]

Deb O’Rourke’s Can this be school? Fifty years of democracy at ALPHA. A review essay. [I review O’Rourke’s book about the only long-lasting public school for SDE in North America and elaborate on the ways that thought about educational reform has regressed over the past half century.]

La competence cognitive des enfants: données récoltées en laboratoire et sur le terrain. [Children’s cognitive competence: evidence from lab and field.]  [I review evidence that children are better thinkers than Piaget and other psychologists of the past believed, under the subheads Piaget’s Errors, The Age Four Transition to Verbal Reasoning, Evidence from Hunter-Gatherers, and Evidence from the Sudbury Valley School. The chapter was published in French, but here is my English manuscript.]

Some Articles About Play


Definition of play. [I describe how play has been defined by researchers and offer my preferred definition.]


What exactly is play and why is it such a powerful vehicle for learning? [I identify the defining characteristics of play and explain how each characteristic contributes to play’s power.]


Evolutionary functions of play: practice, resilience, innovation, and cooperation. [I review research literature concerned with the roles of play in the survival and reproduction of mammals, including humans. I suggest that play servers four evolutionary functions.]


Risky play: why children love and need it. [I review the evidence that self-chosen risky play helps children (and other young mammals) develop courage and resilience.]


The decline of play and the rise of psychopathology in childhood and adolescence. [I summarize evidence that over the past half century children’s opportunities for play have greatly declined and contend that this decline is a cause of the huge increase in mental disorders in young people over these same decades.]


Playing in the zone of proximal development: qualities of self-directed age mixing between adolescents and young children at a democratic school. [In this study, involving many days of observations at Sudbury Valley School, Jay Feldman and I focused on naturally occurring interactions between older and younger students and what the students seemed to learn from such interactions.]


The special value of age-mixed play. [I review research indicating that play involving children who differ considerably in age is more nurturing, less competitive, more creative, and more conducive to learning than is play among children very similar in age.]

Studying play without calling it that: humanistic and positive psychology. [My thesis here is that much of what humanistic and positive psychologists study and write about properly falls under the category of play, but they avoid that four-letter word.]

Play as a foundation for hunter-gatherer social existence. [I use reports of anthropologists to develop the thesis that a playful attitude characterized all aspects of band hunter-gatherer social life, including their work, approach to justice, religion, and child rearing.]


 The value of a play-filled childhood in development of the hunter-gatherer individual. [Hunter-gatherer children play freely “from dawn to dusk” in age-mixed groups. I describe how such play seems to contribute to their development as highly resilient, courageous, mentally healthy individuals.]

The play theory of hunter-gatherer egalitarianism. [Band hunter-gatherer societies are the most egalitarian societies that have ever been found. One theory of how they maintain their egalitarian ways is the “reverse-dominance theory.” Here I develop my play theory as a complement to the reverse-dominance theory. I show how, in humans as well as in other mammals, the drive to play suppresses the drive to dominate and promotes cooperation.]

Hunter-gatherer egalitarianism as a force for decline in sexual dimorphism. [In this commentary I use the play theory of hunter-gatherer egalitarianism plus the concept of sexual selection to explain why, over evolutionary time, the average size difference between male and female hominids declined.]

Public libraries as centers for play: A survey and case examples. [In this survey we learned how libraries, through installing maker spaces and other means, are providing young people with opportunities for self-directed playful activities.]

Play is nature's way of teaching cooperation. Here I present evidence that a major function of play, in animals as well as humans, is to promote cooperation and bonding. 

Some Article About Teaching In Higher Education

Engaging students' intellects: The immersion approach to critical thinking in psychology instruction. [I describe how I designed college courses in ways that encouraged active critical thinking rather than passive memorization and regurgitation.]


Incorporating evolutionary theory into the teaching of psychology. [I present advantage of applying a Darwinian evolutionary analysis to the main ideas in psychology, in thinking and teaching about those idea.]


Forward to Lisa Forbes & David Thomas (eds), Professors at play playbook. [In this forward to a book on techniques to promote more play and playfulness in university classrooms, I contend that all (or nearly all) of academia, properly viewed and enacted, is play. If we and our students aren’t having fun, then why do it?]

Me being young

bottom of page