World Bytes

World Bytes: Set our Children Free to Learn and Grow

By Terrance Malkinson

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 [Basic Books, 2013, ISBN-10: 0465025994], developmental psychologist Peter Gray suggests that there is a fundamental flaw in our system of education, and that better ways to promote intellectual growth are possible. According to Gray, our children spend their days inside, passively instructed, forced to sit still, and take tests in a “curiosity-killing” institution. Even outside of school, children are not given the opportunity to play and explore without close adult supervision. They have little opportunity to be creative, make their own decisions, control their own lives, and take responsibility for their actions resulting in indoctrinated, anxious, unfocused children who end up struggling through a series of organized life events.

Gray believes that children, if free to pursue their own interests through play, will learn with energy and passion. Children are born as learning organisms, filled with curiosity, playfulness and sociability ” learning through experience. They learn from success and they learn from failure. How can this be achieved? Based on anthropological, psychological and historical experience, Gray believes that we must allow children to manage their own learning and development. Through the natural evolution of free play, children learn to control their lives, solve problems, get along with others, and become emotionally mature and resilient. As is the case with employees, when adults take responsibility for their actions and their own professional education, they will be better and continuously learning employees ” confident in their abilities.  This approach is much more effective than the process of utilizing traditional models of closely regulated and supervised employees and managed intellect-killing schooling, according to Gray.

Gray’s thinking is also congruent with many medical specialists who believe that our children are developing allergies and immune system disorders because they are discouraged from playing in nature and getting dirty. Rather, they grow up in a sanitized environment where their immune systems are not challenged and so do not develop naturally as intended. They are bombarded with ubiquitous antibacterial chemicals and preservatives that are in soap, toothpaste, mouthwash, and many other products that make kids far more likely to suffer from allergies.

All this is not to suggest that parents stop providing close supervision, exercising discipline, offering guidance, and avoiding cleanliness as the world is becoming increasingly toxic.  Rather, perhaps it is time that well-meaning parents take a look at their child-rearing practices, and consider giving their children more freedom to develop through natural processes.

Other Bytes


  • In the 2007 film “The Bucket List,” Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman play men terminally ill with cancer who set out to do all the things they wanted to do before “Kicking the Bucket.” We each have our own “bucket list.” Jamie Malanowsky provides 25 suggestions for surprisingly new destinations to put on your bucket list in his article “Life List: The 21st Century Don’t Kick the Bucket Just Yet!” [Smithsonian, 46(5):25-35, September 2015,]. As Malanowsky states in his introduction, “Get Going.” People often procrastinate until it is too late and, at the end of their life, regret that they left with dreams unfulfilled.
  • The cover story of the July/August issue of InTech focuses on the Internet of Things (IoT) [“Realizing Value from the Industrial Internet of Things: Long-term Vision and Value Proposition Required to Achieve Success,” 62(4):12-18, July/August 2015,]. Greg Gorbach and Chantal Polsonetti discuss IoT’s significant value to manufacturing and other industrial organizations, encompassing four main components: 1) Intelligent assets; 2) Data communication infrastructure; 3) Analytics and applications to interpret and act on the data; and 4) People. This is an in-depth article that concludes with actions to be taken regarding Internet of Things strategies.
  • The cover story in the October 2015 issue of Discover [pp. 25-35,] focuses on science and aging. Topics include: reversing Alzheimer’s disease, bionic vision, heart muscle repair, skeletal muscle building, and the aging personality. On the same topic, an article in New Scientist by Jessica Hamzelou [“Renew Yourself: Why Ageing Isn’t Irreversible,” Vol 227, #3039, pp. 30-33, 10 September 2015,] discusses the question: Could purging worn-out cells be all that it takes to stay healthy as you age?
  • In “Beyond Knowledge: Making Discoveries Beyond the Limits of the Human Mind” [New Scientist, pp. 28-31, No. 3036, 29 August 2015,], Jacob Aron discusses how we have been able to invent tools that take us beyond our natural abilities, and how computer technology is able to change our ability to think, transcending the limits of our current ingenuity. Central to this is the ability of computational technology to extend our mathematical capabilities. As discussed in the article, “the first major computer-assisted proof was published 40 years ago and it immediately sparked a row. It was a solution to the four-color theorem, a puzzle dating back to the mid-19th century.” Continuing on, “mathematicians were reluctant to accept this as a proof,” due to the possibility of an error in the computer software. The article concludes with the statement, “humans remain the ultimate judge even if we don’t always trust ourselves.”
  • In the cover story of the 15 September 2015 issue of FORTUNE [172(4):90-97], senior editor Kristen Bellstrom, et al., reveal their “Most Powerful Women List.” Nineteen of the twenty-seven women profiled are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.
  • Steven Gibb and C. Washington reports on citizen-scientist partnerships with government agencies to collect data used to drive environmental policies [Chemical and Engineering News, 93(36):12-17, September 2015].
  • It is no secret that in today’s 24/7 world, many people are not getting enough quality sleep. In his article “Sleep On It!” [Scientific American, 313(4): 52-57, October 2015,], Robert Stickgold discusses the importance of sleep to the health of your brain and body. Stickgold provides an excellent review of the damage that a lack of quality sleep causes, as well as references for further reading.
  • Maurice Schweitzer et al provide a step-by-step guide when determining whether a mistake merits a corporate apology and, when it does, for crafting and delivering an effective apologetic message in their article “The Organizational Apology” [Harvard Business Review, 93(9):44-52, September 2015,]. Organizations, at some time in their history, inevitably make a mistake that requires an apology. The communication needs to be effective or it will cause even greater problems. The authors provide clear guidelines on whether a mistake merits an apology, and, if so, how to craft an apologetic message.
  • Many companies today are global, having employees in diverse and far-flung nations. Tsedal Neeley provides a framework to help leaders of geographically dispersed teams to combat social distance, in  “Global Teams that Work” [Harvard Business Review, 93(10):74-81, October 2015]. The Neeley examines how physical separation and cultural differences create social distance that leads to misunderstandings and lack of trust. Neeley proposes a five-component system structure, process, language, identity and technology that allows global leaders to manage effectively.

Terrance Malkinson is a communications specialist, business analyst and futurist. He is an IEEE Senior Life Member and a member of the American College of Sports Medicine and the World Future Society. He is currently an international correspondent for IEEE-USA InSight, an associate editor for IEEE Canadian Review, editor-in-chief IEEE TEMS Leader, and a member of the editorial advisory board of the IEEE Institute. Additionally, he leads a number of applied research projects. The author is grateful to the staff and resources of the Reg Erhardt library at SAIT Polytechnic and the Haskayne Business Library of the University of Calgary. He can be reached at

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the author and not necessarily those of IEEE or IEEE-USA.

Guest Contributor

IEEE-USA is an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), created in 1973 to support the career and public policy interests of IEEE’s U.S. members. IEEE-USA is primarily supported by an annual assessment paid by U.S. IEEE Members.

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