Monday, November 9, 2009

45 Years Later, Same Ole’ Same Ole’

I just finished The Underachieving School by John Holt. It’s a collection of essays about education written by Holt in the 1960s, but it could have been written today.

About the author:

John Holt was born in 1923 in New York City and raised in New England. He went to private schools, but he chose not to reveal the names of the schools he attended because he felt that was irrelevant. He said, "... the things I'm supposed to know so much about I never learned in schools." He taught in private schools for many years before writing his first book, How Children Fail, in 1964. This book and How Children Learn, 1967, have sold over a million and a half copies. Holt’s clear writing and empathic understanding of children has made these books favorites of many teachers, parents and homeschoolers.

Some quotes from The Underachieving School:

· “Education is something a person gets for himself, not that which someone else gives or does to him.”

· “When children give wrong answers it is not so often that they are wrong as that they are answering another question.”

· “[The student] comes to feel that learning is a passive process, something that someone else does to you, instead of something you do for yourself.”

· “The child soon learns not to ask questions: the teacher isn’t there to satisfy his curiosity…he soon comes to accept the adults’ evaluation of him.”

· “It is a very recent idea, and a crazy one, that they way to teach our young people about the world they live in is to take them out of it and shut them up in brick boxes.”

· “Let’s get rid of all this nonsense of grades, exams, marks. We don’t know how, and we never will know how to measure what another person knows or understands…let the children learn what every educated person must some day learn, how to measure his own understanding, how to know what he knows or does not know.”

· “Somewhere we got the crazy notion that a class would learn most efficiently if everyone was learning the same thing at the same time. As if a class were a factory.”

· “Too often it is school and nonstop talking teachers that turn them into inert and passive learners.”

· “What true education requires of us instead is faith and courage—faith that children want to make sense out of life and will work hard at it, courage to let them do it without continually poking, prying, prodding and meddling. Is this so difficult?”

John Holt died in 1985. I’m sorry he didn’t get to see his dream of a real reform of public education realized before his death. I’m still waiting for the reform myself.

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