But They’ll Just Screw Around All Day!
Many people - and the institutions they create - insist that kids cannot handle autonomy in their personal lives, because free kids will inevitably debase themselves, developing indulgent self-regard and fail to learn vital skills like the discipline to delay gratification. At other points in history, majorities of people have also insisted that members of particular races, ethnicities, and genders could not handle autonomy either. But this patronizing attitude has been consistently proven wrong, and it turns out that people, including children, thrive when they are free, provided they have a basically safe and nourishing environment.
Our students do screw around all day.
In my last post, I explained that, actually, yes, our students, particularly younger ones, often do screw around all day, insofar as “screwing around” means “playing.” In fact I can see them playing right now, as I write, all around me. I am sipping my third cup of coffee, sighing, and wondering how they keep it up, and why I do not feel like playing. God, they are loud!. But anyway - play certainly seems to be the primary format of activity that young people are drawn to, and there is clear evolutionary reasons as to why, namely that play is the primary means by which we learned the skills we needed to flourish for hundreds or thousands of years prior to the proliferation of mass schooling. The original goal of mass schooling was nation-building, and it was effective. However, schools created a more rigid dichotomy between “play” and “learning” in the societies it was implemented in, because the schools taugh skills students didn't want to learn. Thus, “learning” became “work,” and “play” became nothing more than a diversion from work. Schooling, along with the learning-play dichotomy it implies, have been ubiquitous for long enough that we now take it for granted as a necessity for the education of children and the proper functioning of society. Within this context, it makes sense that one might be suspicious of children’s ability and willingness to develop into adults without long-term, vigilant, and invasive intervention, and to equate "screwing around" with "wasting time."
But the dichotomy between work and play does not exist in nature, nor in children who have not yet been schooled; kids learn all sorts of things in play, even if unintentionally, including the skills which are valued in their economy (although, given that play is by definition voluntary, they do not tend to master the suite of skills necessary to function well in an authoritarian regime). At the same time, when kids are playing, they’re enjoying life, which we should be careful not to underrate, becausefun is an important nutrient, and most of us are not meeting the RDA. In fact, it’s hard to overrate having fun. Usually when we say we’re “having fun” we mean we're engaged in an activity so fully we're in a state of flow, an experience which reliably leads to happiness, fulfillment, and enhanced creative capacity; call it “educational” if you must.
The concept of school itself implies that the purpose of a child is to grow up. But this assumption, aside from being gloomy, is wrong. A child’s purpose is to be a child, just as an adult’s is to be an adult. When children are allowed to fulfill that purpose, they do end up developing into competent adults, even though it was never an explicit goal. Certainly, our students usually graduate with some weird holes in their “content knowledge,” but this hardly seems to hold them back. And such holes are far easier to fill then, say, a hole where there should be confidence, self-respect, or curiosity. You will rarely find our students bent over textbooks with furrowed brows, chewing on the eraser of a pencil, training for their adulthood. It is much more likely you will find them “screwing around,” fulfilling their purpose, being who they are today, one precious day at a time.