the curriculum of play

by Bernie DeKoven on May 17, 2013

John Taylor Gatto’s article, The Curriculum of Play, is visionary in its scope, and deeply validating for anyone who believes in the kind of education that takes place when children are free and at play. Perhaps I am so drawn to it because I’ve spent so much of my life, since 1971 and the publication of my Interplay Games Curriculum, and the years of teaching and training that led up to it. Nevertheless, dear Deep Funster, I decided to assume that at least some of Gatto’s article would be as affirming to your beliefs as it was to mine. I am not in total agreement. But if I were, it probably wouldn’t be as much fun to read.

To give you a taste, I pith it, as follows:

  • Organized play, the kind that happens under supervision on school playgrounds, misses almost all the values real play has to teach. It isn’t play at all; it has no danger, it has no unpredictable component.
  • Whatever else it is, play is freedom. It expresses a wordless joy at being alive.
  • All real play has a meaning that transcends the immediate needs of existence, almost as if it existed to remind us that rational calculations about the use of our limited time fall woefully short of what our spirits need to thrive.
  • True play is easy to spot because the players are intensely involved, totally absorbed, displaying a high degree of concentration.
  • Freedom is the first characteristic of real play, but rules play a larger part in play than in everyday life – without a dedication to the rules (even if those are self-imposed rules), the illusion of play is lost.
  • Play teaches many other things we expect to find in the educated, things which strike one by their absence in common forms of schooling. Play teaches empathy, how to endure, how to have leisure, adventure, independence, self-reliance, and more.
  • Notice that the tests of play are all performance tests; none are assisted by paper and pencil. In the most valuable forms of play – solitary play – these tests can only be graded by the player. Competition against oneself is the great secret to having a productive and interesting life. Those who learn that lesson become immune to boredom, armored against vicissitude. But the only way to possess this secret is by playing.

See also:


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Grizwald Grim May 17, 2013 at 10:14 am

What makes solitary play the “most valuable” form?

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Bernard De Koven May 17, 2013 at 11:37 am

Glad you caught that, Griz. You’re right, of course. I my solitary self take umbrage of the most personal kind, believing, as I do, that there is no such thing as solitary play – that all play forms engage us in a relationship with the other.

Perhaps the last line in this article will cast some light on the author’s meaning. He says: “Competition against oneself is the great secret to having a productive and interesting life. Those who learn that lesson become immune to boredom, armored against vicissitude. But the only way to possess this secret is by playing.”

I, of course, would never describe learning as “competition against oneself.” I think, if anything, it’s a deeper, coliberative relationship between oneself and whatever other is, at the time, other. But again, different times, different frameworks.

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