Self-Directed Education as the Pursuit of Passions

Author(s): Peter Gray, Ph.D.


Passion for learning is thwarted by:

  • Requiring everyone to do the same things at the same time. It’s not possible for all the children in a room to be passionately interested in the same thing at the same time.
  • Replacing intrinsic motivation with extrinsic motivators, such as grades and trophies. To pursue a passion you have to focus on what YOU want to do, not try to impress others or win honors.
  • Threatening students with failure or embarrassment, which generates fear. Fear freezes the mind into rigid ways of thinking and negates the possibility of passionate interest.
  • Teaching that there is one right answer to every question, or one right way to do what you are supposed to do. That’s a surefire way to nip any possible emerging interest in the bud.
  • Teaching children that learning is work and that play, at best, is just a break from learning. But anyone involved in a passionate interest knows that play and learning and work are one and the same.
Gray, Peter. “How Schools Thwart Passions.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 25 Nov. 2018,