Playing Heroes, Being Heroes


As a child, we played at being heroes.  As we grow older we admire heroes, real and imagined, and wish to be heroes ourselves.  Somewhere along the way, we may think, it’s only in the realm of make-believe and a non-existent utopia where heroes make their mark.  We struggle back to hero-hood or not depending on our courage and self-determination.

Peter Gray is my hero.  He led me to this conference by answering an email from a “nobody,” although I apologize and know that’s a democratically incorrect thing to say.  I’m even a more gushing fan after meeting and hearing him.

Excuse this short-cut enumeration, but there are simply too many ideas flying around at break-neck speed so to facilitate the capture, I’ll list points from two talks that struck me.

From Tsao-Lin Fang

  1. A hero is someone who has the courage to become himself and take the journey that he believes he must take. Eventually, the hero returns home.
  2. The ultimate mystery is within yourself.
  3. Mythology is an excellent way to imitate the unlimited imagination. Myths inspire one to be more of a hero and have the courage to follow one’s dreams.
  4. Our schools should be a school for gods and our learning journey should be like a hero’s journey.
  5. Follow the bliss of being yourself.
  6. When people dream big, they can get into a state of bliss.
  7. The holistic hero tries to encompass the individual’s circle into the circle of the whole cosmos.
  8. Find the hero in yourself, the people around you and the people you love.
  9. Have the courage to take the journey you must.

These are from the keynote speech, “The Hero’s Journey – The Holistic Education from the Perspective of Joseph Campbell.”  Tsao-Lin Fang from Taiwan is founder, President of Formosa Alternative Pedagogy Association, Professor of Education at National Chengchi University, Principal of Hsin-Chuang Community University, Chief Editor of Alternative Pedagogy, Former Chairman of National Chengchi University Graduate Institute of Early Childhood Education, Former Chair of Education Department of National Chengchi University.  (From the APDEC 2016 Program)

From Peter Gray

  1. Peter’s son hated and rebelled in school, so Peter put him in Sudbury, a radically democratic school where students are free to do what they choose. To answer his own doubts about it, Peter decided to study the school and surveyed the students who graduated from Sudbury.
  2. How could students who used no textbooks, no curriculum, who did not study in a systematic way get into college? Learning is thought to be progressive.  You need to do A before proceeding to B and C and if you don’t do it in the prescribed way, you fall behind.  Students from Sudbury show that this is not the case and it’s possible to attend college, even the elite ones without formal schooling.
  3. If they fell behind their college courses, they just caught up. They asked the professor what they had to read to catch up.  They took responsibility for their own education.
  4. Test taking is regarded as a kind of skill that needs to be practiced like there’s an art behind it, but it’s not.
  5. Why is studying in college more tolerable now when they couldn’t even tolerate formal schooling before? When they decided to go to college, it was their decision.  It was still a self-directed form of education.  Some wanted to pursue being a doctor and that requires going to college.  There are those who were drawn to a liberal arts education.
  6. They realized how refreshing it was to attend college and formal school for the first time. They never went to “school” in the traditional sense.  What was quite disappointing for them was the immaturity of their classmates who were not really interested in college but were only there because they were expected to be there.
  7. After university, they pursued careers that were also self-directed. They didn’t become assembly line workers. They were in charge of their own time and work.  Some started businesses while others pursued something that was almost in direct relationship to what they were playing at in their youth.
  8. For example, a boy flunked out of school at 13 and went to Sudbury where he developed a fascination for computers but there were no computers in Sudbury. He decided to find a way to convince companies to donate computers by saying that students would learn and buy their computers in the future.  He went on to make billions establishing a software company.
  9. A girl spent time making clothes for her doll and became a pattern maker in the fashion industry. A boy who liked building things from scrap became an inventor.  Not everyone’s career is connected with something they did in their childhood playtime but those who didn’t, attended college to find what it is they wanted to pursue.
  10. Peter then became interested in unschooling which he was skeptical of because in Sudbury, there were a lot of things going on with a number of students and staff. Unschoolers, on the other hand, are mostly only with their parents at home.
  11. For the survey on the Sudbury graduates, Peter was able to find most of them but for the survey of unschoolers, Peter only relied on an online invitation to get respondents. The people who answered the survey are most likely those who had attained some level of success in their life.  The survey may not show what is typical but it does show the potential of unschooling.
  12. Three people hated unschooling because their parents weren’t active in their education or were highly dysfunctional, but majority of the respondents were glad that they were unschooled and would choose to unschool their children or send them to an alternative school.
  13. The unschoolers who were surveyed went onto careers in the arts and creative fields but there was a percentage who ended up in STEM careers. Some built businesses around their art.
  14. A man who loved the woods led him into paragliding, photography and flying. He became an aerial photographer.  A woman who was fascinated by the circus as a girl founded her own circus company and then worked in tall ships to secure ropes up high.
  15. Peter asked unschooling parents what the hardest thing is about unschooling and it’s dealing with the judgements of other people – the grandparents who feel the parents are destroying their children’s future, the disapproving neighbors, relatives and friends. To undertake something like unschooling as a parent, you have to be very courageous and find your own support network to make you feel what you’re doing is not crazy at all.
  16. Defensive parenting is a term to describe what holds parents back like the fear of being criticized. Peter had that feeling himself.  There are some parents who believe in unschooling or in Sudbury school but do not have the courage to face the criticisms.
  17. Peter asked parents who followed his blog to answer a survey about their children learning to read. The range of age when they started reading is wide, from 3 to 13 and in the end it doesn’t matter what age they start because once they’ve caught up with one another, you can’t tell them apart.
  18. What’s important is they learn to read without any pressure so they don’t associate reading with pain. The primary thing is interest.  One child learned to read because her mother read Harry Potter to her but in a speed too slow for her and her mom would stop when she wanted to continue.  Because she was motivated, she worked harder to read herself.

These are from Friday’s Open Space session.  Peter Gray from U.S.A. is a research professor of psychology of Boston College and writes the popular “Freedom to Learn” blog in Psychology Today.  His introductory textbook, Psychology is the most commonly designated textbook in the Ivy Leagues.  Gray is frequently invited to speak on television as an expert on childhood development.  His works are also often cited in newspapers and magazines. (From the APDEC 2016 Program)


The drawing at the top of this blog entry was done by a boy whose parents attended the APDEC.  It was auctioned at the fund raiser for the conference which ran short of funds. These hand-made musical instruments were also made and auctioned off by a mother who was always carrying her one-month old baby to the sessions.









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