The Rights of Children Gets an Airing

Asking why we don’t let children vote, choose their own guardians, or decide what instruction they want is a minefield of controversy for adults, most of whom are quick to dismiss such questions as senseless. However, if the point of school is to create good citizens who participate in politics and have knowledge, self-control, and agency, I think these questions are important. After all, how we treat children determines what sort of adult they become more than how we teach them.

John Holt wrote Escape from Childhood: The Needs and Rights of Children in 1974 and it generated a lot of negative reactions from readers. So much so, that John decided to not bring the subject up thereafter unless asked, and turned his attention to figuring out other ways to reintegrate children into the fabric of daily life. His subsequent books, Freedom and Beyond, Instead of Education, and Teach Your Own, show John’s practical applications of his philosophy to make a difference in children’s lives that goes beyond improving their test scores.

I think Escape from Childhood is John’s most challenging work because it lays out a legal and philosophical case for giving children the same rights as adults while at the same time demonstrating that the world we’ve created for children is vastly different than the world they shared with adults until the mid-nineteenth century. Yes, some of the changes are good (no kids working in coal mines, etc.) but some changes, such as universal compulsory schooling, also have very bad side effects. Most people feel the positive changes outweigh the negative ones for children, but how do we know what children really think about this situation? John Holt addresses this question in Escape from Childhood.

I was surprised to be interviewed recently about my reissue of Escape from Childhood by Trevor Mattea for the New Books in Education website. It was a pleasure fielding his thoughtful questions about a topic that rarely gets addressed in any depth. You can listen to the interview here: