Children are more capable of competent self-directed learning than we give them credit for.
This interview was done about a year before Holt died.Read More…
Martin Brickman (Teachers College Press, 2003) has written a wonderful history of the alternative vision of a lineage of American thinkers who challenged conventional education to be more than sitting down and taking tests. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott, Margaret Fuller, John Dewey, John Holt, and George Dennsion, are among those featured.Read More…
I placed much of the material Holt Associates used to create various materials and books about John and his work with the Boston Public Library in 2011. It is now available to the public. John Holt's correspondence, articles, newspaper clippings, and audio cassettes can be found here: John Holt Archive at the Boston Public Library.
Ron Miller's book Free Schools, Free People: Education and Democracy After the 1960s contains a great chapter that discusses Holt's contributions to American education, "The Legacy of John Holt."Read More…
An article by Pat Farenga that appeared in Challenging the Giant: The Best of SKOLE, the Journal of Alternative Education (1992).
By Yonat Sharon
John Holt's ideas resonated with many people who read his works. Those who tried to apply these ideas inside the school-system have often met objection, disregard, or merely superficial changes that only cover up the same old deeper patterns. But outside the school-system, in family settings, many found this way of learning both effective and fun, and discovered that it is the schoolish way of teaching that leads to objection from children, to them disregarding lessons, or to merely superficial learning.
Homeschoolers can let learning rise from daily activities: fractions can be learned from cooking, biology from gardening, physics from playing with Legos or sand, English [as a second language] from video games, art from decorating the home, history from the news, and countless other subjects that come up as normal people live an active life. Holt coined the term "unschooling" to describe this way of educating—letting learning be a natural part of life. It is not copying school into the home so that parents replace teachers and instruct their children. Unschooling means freeing our minds from the mental system of the schools by recognizing learning that arises from life experiences, without a timetable or curriculum.
When we start doing things this way we soon find out that it affects not only the way we educate our children, but also other areas in parenting and in life. Just as we learn to recognize learning even when it happens outside a classroom and without textbooks, we start finding friends for our children even in people who were not born the exact same year as our children, or finding work without job descriptions (unjobbing). The basis of Holt's ideas is the view that there isn't and shouldn't be a separation between learning and life. So it is no wonder that adopting this way for teaching, we discover that it is not only a way of educating but a way of life.
A decade ago there were only a handful of homeschooling families in Israel, most of them in the Galilee or the greater Jerusalem area. Little by little other families joined them, many choosing homeschooling right from the start and not sending their children to any external system, even day care. Today (2003) There are several hundred homeschoolers in Israel—religious and secular, poor and affluent, in the city and in the country, from the northern border down to Eilat. Over time, the children of the veteran families have grown and the first ones are approaching the legal-age in which they will be drafted to the army. We all watch them with interest to see how they approach this stage of their life.
Most homeschooling families base their actions legally on the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty and on supreme court rulings. Other families ask the Ministry of Education for exemption from the compulsory schooling law (and need to renew the exemption every year).
In many areas in Israel there are regular meetings of homeschoolers for social opportunities, common activities, and mutual support. Country-wide connection of the homeschooling community is supported by the Beofen-Tiv'ee ["naturally" in Hebrew] newsletter, conferences, and virtual community at http://www.beofen-tv.co.il/chiq.
There are several Israeli Internet sites about homeschooling:
* http://ootips.org/horut/hs-faq—questions and answers about homeschooling.
* http://www.beofen-tv.co.il/chiq—the main virtual gathering place for Israeli homeschoolers.
* http://www.efratonline.com/flag—general information and a discussion group (an Israeli site in English).
* http://www.homeschool.org.il—Education From Home, the site of Ari Noyman who is doing a Ph.D. about homeschooling.
Ever since I read this book, I knew it should be translated and published in Hebrew. I made my opinion clear every chance I had, like old Cato who finished every speech with "Cartago must fall!" until his Roman fellowmen heeded his words and destroyed Cartago to the ground. My words did not have the dramatic effect of Cato's, but little by little mothers from the homeschooling and alternative education community started translating parts of the book and sent me their work. Several friends also consented to my requests and joined the translation project in their free time.
Editing texts in such different levels of translation and unifying the writing styles of the different translators required the skills of a professional editor, so I enlisted Mike Livneh, a knowledgeable and experienced editor, and - lucky for me - my father. To smooth the last rough edges and ensure high quality, I sent the book for review to several friends who work in books or education or both, and they generously helped to improve it.
One small yet important task remained: publishing. Volunteers weren't enough for that, since this involves a considerable expense. Luckily, Ilan and Anat Shen-Levi of Prague Publishing agreed to publish the book, seeing its value and not just its price.
The book you are holding is a result of the joint effort of all these people, who donated their time and energy to turn good intentions into reality, with the only payback being the feeling that they found what Holt wished for everyone: "a work worth doing".
Thanks to all the volunteer translators:
Yol Portugali Kushnir, who worked on the project from the beginning and continued to translate right to the end;
Yael Ran, who translated whole chapters as if she originally wrote them;
Dr. Yifat Fireman, who's attention to details left nothing to be corrected;
Talia Shiloah, who's effort and serious attitude brought a steady improvement in quality;
Noa Bareket, who managed to translate a complete chapter in spite of difficult time constrains;
Dr. Avner Kasher, who reported to mission right away, and did it quickly;
Ronit Sela, who did a wonderfully professional work;
And Noa Gal, who actually ignited the project, and then came back like a good fairy just when I felt it was stuck.
Thanks to all the reviewers who contributed corrections, comments, and insights: Dr. Basmat Even-Zohar, Gila Horesh, Roy Sharon, Nohar and Orr Shalit, Bracha Fabian, and Raheli Mendelson.
Thanks to Mike Livneh who edited the book with patience, rigor, and openness.
And thanks to Ilan and Anat Shen-Levi for agreeing to publish the book.
John Holt was a teacher. Teaching, for him, involved learnin—learning about children and learning about learning. When he taught math, he learned how children learn math. Every lesson was also a research experiment and observation, and so was break-time, and life in general. John Holt was a relentless researcher.
His field studies on learning and teaching were published in his books How Children Fail and How Children Learn. The books soon became best sellers and made Holt one of the central and most influential people in American educational discourse.
Holt, like other educational thinkers in the sixties and seventies, worked to reform the American educational system and was one of the leading figures in the freeschooling movement. For years he participated in educational initiatives, traveled all over the US, lectured, counseled, and helped in every possible way to make schools better places for children.
And he learned from that too. And his conclusion from all his years of study about reforming the school system was to stop: Stop attempting to change the schools, stop trying to heal the system. He reached the conclusion that the problem in the school system is not something that could or should be fixed, because it is embedded in the foundations of that system, in the assumptions on which the very idea of schooling is based—the perception that children are a mold for us to shape:
"Organized education operates on the assumption that children learn only when and only what and only because we teach them. This is not true. It is very close to one hundred percent false."
Holt suggested to completely abandon the molding education, and called for creating alternatives. Not educational alternatives, but alternatives that will come instead of education; Not improvement in schools, but complete liberation from it: unschooling.
This call was heartedly echoed by families from all over the US - they chose to break free from the dependence on schools and give their children the freedom to learn in the family and community circles. The homeschooling movement, that included only a few thousand families in the sixties, has grown up to about 3-4% of American children today.
Holt was excited to see how homeschooling children learn naturally to read, write, math, science, art, and any other subject they are interested in. For him, the contact with homeschoolers was another opportunity to learn more about learning and to polish his insights from his many years as teacher and educational reformer.
The book you are holding is the result of Holt's decades of study and research in learning. It was inspired by Holt's acquaintance with many homeschooling families, and has inspired many other families who got acquainted with Holt through his words. For them, Holt was a teacher—he helped them find their way.
This is a time for zeal in education reform, and it knows no bounds. Newsweek reports, “More than a third of the state legislatures have passed laws mandating testing that emphasizes achievement in basic skills.” Cries for, “’More, tougher tests!,’ ‘Higher standards!,’ and ‘Back to Basics!’” are being made all across the political spectrum. All political parties agree that education is in need of serious overhaul, but they still urge their people to support the cause of public schooling, value a four-year college education, and work hard to purchase more and more years of schooling for their children. The time is 1976, but it could easily be today.
John Holt's thought and work are the exclusive focus of Vol. 5 in the Continuum Library of Educational Thought, released Nov. 15, 2007.
Read Pat Farenga's foreword to the John Holt volume here; it is the third post down the page.