Friday, February 17, 2012

I love John Holt

As a homeschooling momma of 4, I attract a bit of attention when I leave the house. I'm often peppered with questions. Questions like "Why aren't your kids in school?" followed by "Is that legal?!" and the most popular "What about their socialization?"

I adore John Holt. Years ago when I found his book "Learning all the Time" I found an instant connection. I couldn't wait to connect with this magical man. I was devastated when I discovered that he died in 1985. Come on John! Couldn't you have hung on for a few more decades?
Ah, well. So it goes.

Luckily I have an overactive imagination and can carry on a decent conversation with dear old John through his books. My latest conversation has been with "How Children Fail." I asked John some of the questions you've put to me in the past and he answers brilliantly. A sampling below:

You ask: Don't children need to get used to living in the "real world"?

John answers:
A mother said to me not long ago, "I think you are making a mistake in trying to make schoolwork so interesting for the children. After all, they are going to have to spend most of their lives doing things they don't like, and they might as well get used to it now."
Every so often the curtain of slogans and platitudes behind which most people live opens up for a second, and you get a glimpse of what they really think. This is not the first time a parent has said this to me, but it horrifies me as much as ever. What an extraordinary view of life!..Is life nothing but drudgery, an endless list of dreary duties? Is education nothing but the process of getting children ready to do them? It was as if she had said, "My boy is going to have to spend his life as a slave, so I want you to get him used to the idea, and see to it that when he gets to be a slave, he will be a dutiful and diligent and well-paid one."
It's easy to see how an adult, in a discouraged moment, hemmed in by seemingly pointless and petty duties and responsibilities, might think of life as a kind of slavery. But one would expect that people feeling this way about their own lives would want something better for their children, would say, in effect, " I have somehow missed the chance to put much joy and meaning into my own life; please educate my children so that they will do better."

You ask: Shouldn't we try to get certain facts, recipes and ideas down every child in school?

John answers: "These ideas are absurd and harmful nonsense. We will not begin to have true education of real learning in our schools until we sweep this nonsense out of the way. Schools should be a place where children learn what they most want to know, instead of what we think they ought to know. The child who wants to know something remembers it and uses it once he has it; the child who learns something to please or appease someone else forgets it when the need for pleasing or the danger of not appeasing is past. This is why children quickly forget all but a small part of what they learn in school. It is of no use or interest to them; they do not want, or expect, or even intend to remember it. The only difference between bad and good students in this respect is that the bad students forget right away, while the good students are careful to wait until after the exam.
...Much of what a child learns in school will be found, or thought, before many years, to be untrue...Moreover, we cannot possibly judge what knowledge will be most needed forty, or twenty, or even ten years from now...Instead, we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned."

Thanks John. Let's talk again another day. 

1 comment:

Jane said...

I can't read too much John Holt and still leave my kids in school, but his ideas empower me to be confident in rejecting some of the old-school ideas. I'm trying to strike a balance, but I'm not sure it's possible.