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A Conversation With Peter Gray
by Michelle Loucas

A Conversation With Peter Gray

Join us at the Philly Free School to hear Dr. Peter Gray speak on: "Learning Through Play: How Children's Natural Curiosity, Playfulness, and Sociability Serve Their Education."  RSVPs are no longer being accepted, as the event is full. Email us here to try to get on the waiting list.

Peter describes what he will focus on here:

"Children come into the world exquisitely designed by natural selection to learn about the physical, social, and cultural world around them. In this talk--based on cross-cultural research, laboratory studies, and my own research at alternative educational settings in the United States--I will describe how children's instincts to explore, play, and bond with others provide the natural foundation for education. I will also describe the conditions in which these educative instincts seem to operate best." 

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This free talk will occur on Wednesday, January 31st from 6-8pm, and is co-sponsored by Philly Free School and Smith Memorial Playground.

Free To Learn Free To Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life

A short bio of Peter:

Peter Gray, research professor of psychology at Boston College, has conducted and published research in neuroendocrinology, developmental psychology, anthropology, and education.  He is author of an internationally used introductory psychology textbook (now in its 7th edition), which views all of psychology from an evolutionary perspective.  Much of his research focuses on the role of play in human evolution and how children educate themselves, through play and exploration, when they are free to do so.  He has expanded on these ideas in his book, Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life. He also authors a regular blog called Freedom to Learn, for Psychology Today magazine and is president of the nonprofit Alliance for Self-Directed Education.

How the Learning Happens: Clean Up Magic!

One of the responsibilities of every School Meeting member at the Philly Free School is participating in Clean Up. For about 15 minutes at the end of every day, our whole community comes together to put the school back in good order after a day of wildness, fun and learning.  

Getting 85+ people engaged in cleaning a huge school building at one time is no small feat. To meet this challenge, School Meeting has created a system where everyone is assigned a space to clean, under the leadership of a Clean Up Clerk. The Clerk is assisted by two deputies, called Zone Leaders, who provide oversight in certain regions of the building to ensure that the tasks are getting completed.  No one can go to the Roller Rink to play with their friends and prepare for departure until the Zone Leaders and Clean Up Clerk are satisfied with the quality of the work done in each room. These year-long positions are filled via elections at School Meeting, and they make a big difference to the culture of the school. 

As Media Clerk, I interviewed Noah Mogliewski (17), Clean Up Clerk, and Nadja Mogliewski (15), Zone Leader, to share their stories about taking on these important roles. Here are excerpts from that conversation:

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Michelle: Why did you run for this position in the first place?

Nadja:  I started cleaning and Reb (a staff member) said “You’re good at that!” so I became a Floater [cleaning wherever there was a gap]. Then he said, “You’re good at THAT too!” so he asked if I would run for Zone Leader.

Noah: The school needed someone to run for the job and Reb suggested, “Brother-sister combo?” I thought, “Sure, why not?”

Michelle: What is rewarding about the job? Why do you continue doing it?

Noah: It’s nice not being stuck in one area. I can be everywhere. I love resource management—I look for games with a lot of it resource management involved. This is like that.

Nadja: I like helping out. When I first started, I didn’t know a lot of the kids’ names. Now I know them all, and my friends who started at PFS before me don’t. It’s rewarding to be part of such an important job at this school. It’s something that I’m good at—organization. Sure I can clean, but this is using my talents better.

Lunch Room Clean Up

Michelle: What are some of the challenges of being Clean Up Clerk and Zone Leader?

Noah: I have to be everywhere. I have to lug the vacuum up and down. Some people aren’t in their area and it’s not worth it to fight with them about it. Where do I put this empty box? The computer lab team is hiding brooms, again!

Nadja: Well, I’m short, and young, and my voice is high—it’s hard to get people to do their jobs. It’s a matter of commanding authority, or maybe simple respect. Gender is part of it. I am friends with some of them, so that makes it hard.

Michelle: Were there any surprising elements to the job?

Noah:  It was explained to me that kids run things here, but it wasn’t clear to me until I started actually running things. If I don’t tell SM that we need toilet paper, we won’t have any toilet paper!

Nadja: It’s increased my school loyalty.  After only going here for 6 months, I had so much PFS spirit! I think being a Zone Leader helped. The school is a life, and you bond with that life when you take care of it. Now I feel like charging into war for the Philly Free School!

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Michelle: What, if anything, have you learned from the position?

Noah: It’s helped me learn how to prioritize friendship and job. Is my casual friendship with this person worth it? Can I tell them to be quiet and go back to cleaning? If I do it in a different way, it might take longer. The approach depends on the person.

Nadja: It brought good perspective on what staff go through. Only a taste, because they are doing so much. It’s a tough job, but I have learned a lot. You want good relationships with these kids, and it’s hard not to get completely angered and explode sometimes. It’s also shaping—we get to choose who goes where. It’s a huge responsibility. 

Michelle: What advice do you have for future Clean Up Clerks?

Noah: Upstairs needs the Simple Green, downstairs needs the brooms! Get to know the people you assign to staff the Janitor’s Closets.  Enter each room differently, because those teams are all different.

Nadja: Honestly, you have to know your people and your jobs. Pay attention to detail. Get to know the personalities. It’s problem solving!