Long ago, we had the hunter-gatherers, nomads who roamed their lands, hunting prey and gathering fruit, nuts and other edibles. Then roughly 10000 years ago, beginning in the Fertile Crescent, along came the game-changer: agriculture. Humans began to exert control over their environment: clearing land, diverting water, planting seeds, harvesting, and finally, domesticating animals.
Seems great, right? No more hunting every day to meet their dietary needs. Permanent shelters were built; a place to hang their hats, or at least their animal skins. And to avoid getting eaten by wild animals outside at night.
Here's the irony. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle was knowledge- and skill-intensive. It required knowledge of plants, animals, environment, as well as skills in building tools to hunt and gather. Creativity was required to find their food and defend against predators. The best part: short hours of hunting meant more time to play and enjoy life, which included singing, playing games, making crafts, telling stories, and more.
Agriculture, on the other hand, ended up being being very labour-intensive. Farmers had to plow, plant, cultivate, tend to flocks. Soon the entire clan was in on the action because of all the work required, including all the children. Ultimately, this meant all work and no play, which made a society of dull parents and children.
While hunter-gatherers had no idea about the value of land, farmers soon ended up with large tracts of valuable land to protect and maintain, resulting in more children, and eventually "wealth." What started as probably a good idea, agriculture ended up with negative values: hard labour, child labour, private ownership, greed, status, and competition.
Growing up on a farm, from a child's perspective, there was the loss of childhood; play was thrown out the window and replaced with mind-numbing, repetitive work. Another adverse effect stemming from agriculture was strict obedience and corporal punishment. Creativity was seen as change, which was considered dangerous, so only traditional and historic methods were adhered to. Farming societies became very hierarchical and "power-hungry" in nature.
Kids growing up in hunting-gathering families lived the opposite lifestyle: freedom and creativity to find food that day, or go hungry. Sure there were more risks, but the rewards were there as well, coming in the form of free time and relaxation. There was also a communal feel, where family members, relatives and friends helped each other in times of need. It was a far more democratic society, where people negotiated and compromised to achieve their goals.
You might start to see how this is all shaping up things to come. In fact, already you might be thinking: is my classroom a hunting-gathering society or an agricultural society? Are you raising children (or tomatoes) or training them (or horses) like a farmer? Or are you letting them grow wild and free, guided by their own decisions like a hunter-gatherer? Or perhaps a bit of both?
(adapted from Free to Learn, Peter Gray)
Daniel H. Lee
This blog will be dedicated to sharing in three areas: happenings in my classroom and school; analysis and distillation of other educators' wealth of knowledge in various texts; insights from other disciplines and areas of expertise that relate and connect with educational practices.