What children need is not new and better curricula but access to more and more of the real world; plenty of time and space to think over their experiences, and to use fantasy and play to make meaning out of them; and advice, road maps, guidebooks, to make it easier for them to get where they want to go (not where we think they ought to go), and to find out what they want to find out (John Holt, 1981)
John Holt was born on 14th April, 1923 in New York City and died on the 14th September, 1985. He was the eldest of three children, and grew up mainly in the New England area of the USA. He taught in private schools before writing his first book, ‘How Children Fail’ (1964). This book and his second book ‘How Children Learn’ (1967), have sold over 1.5 million copies and have been translated into fourteen languages.
He was a visiting lecturer for education departments at Harvard University and University of California, Berkeley. However, he sought reform to education not through academia, but instead through his many books on educational theory and practice (see list of his publications here). He eventually concluded that schools were beyond reform and turned his attention to the value of homeschooling. He started an influential magazine called ‘Growing Without Schooling’ in 1977, which was the USA’s first homeschooling magazine.
The quote is taken from his only book about homeschooling, ‘Teach Your Own’ (1981). The book was later revised by Holt’s colleague, Patrick Farenga, and published again in 2003.
A quick response
Readers of this blog know that the importance of play (see here), creativity (see here), experience-based learning (see here) and fantasy (see my many posts on literature) are important to me. Holt is playing my tune; well almost. I haven’t given up on schools, and I see a more significant role for teachers than I think he did. While I share his frustration with the regimentation of schooling and the at times narrowness of curricula, schools have played a critical role in offering mass education to all children. I see a key role for adults as teachers not just as people who provide learning environments and get out of the way. I also believe that as teachers and parents we need to know where we want children to go as learners. Adults play key roles as teachers. Let me give an example (paraphrasing part of my book ‘Pathways to Literacy') that focuses simply on how adults can support readers. As children develop as readers they need the support of teachers and parents who not only expect them to learn, and provide good learning environments, but who also actively encourage and support them as learners. We do this in varied ways, including:
- providing information and knowledge that our students do not have;
- listening to them as they share personal discoveries about learning;
- suggesting strategies that other successful readers use;
- sharing insights, successes, problems, pain, and joy experienced in reading and writing;
- supporting them when their best efforts are not up to their normal standards;
- introducing new language forms, new authors, new uses for reading, alternative writing styles, new language, new writing topics, new purposes for writing and new audiences; and
- demonstrating real and purposeful reading and writing.