Free to Learn

In 1965, soon after John Holt’s first book, How Children Fail, was published, a teacher wrote to him, saying, in effect,

I have just read your book, and like it.  But there is something you don’t know, that you should know. For over thirty years I have been teaching in the public schools of New York City. For over thirty years, along with my fellow teachers, I have been going to educational conferences, and training sessions, and workshops, to hear countless leaders in education talk, as you do, about the dignity of the child, and the importance of individual differences, and of fostering positive self-concepts, and building on the interests of the child, and letting the child learn from curiosity rather than fear.  And for thirty years I and my fellow teachers, as we went back to our classrooms, have said to ourselves, “Well, back to reality,” and have gone on doing just what we had done all along which was to try to bribe, scare, and shame children into learning what someone else had decided they ought to know.

I, too, could have written these words to Mr. Holt when I was teaching in the public system.  I would have added that my enthusiasm in learning new techniques which promised to deliver what I so believed in would have fortified me to “Instill change!”  .. going back to my classroom with excitement and determination.  Until they, too, failed.  The fact of the matter is that you simply cannot respectfully force someone to learn or meet the individual needs of 20 – 30 people at the same time.

THE GOOD NEWS IS we don’t have to do that.  Instead we CAN honor the dignity of humanity, appreciate individual differences, foster positive self-concept, and allow the teen to explore his/her interests and learn from his/her curiosity rather than from fear. There is a great option.  We have the FREEDOM to educate outside of the traditional school system.  It’s called “Home Schooling” and Open Doors is here to help you make that happen.

Birds fly, Fish swim; Man thinks and learns

“I would be against trying to cram knowledge into the heads of children, even if we could agree on what knowledge to cram, and could be sure it would not go out of date, even if we could be sure that, once crammed in, it would stay in.  Even then, I would trust the child to direct his own learning. For it seems to me a fact that, in our struggle to make sense out of life, the things we most need to learn are the things we most want to learn. To put this another way, curiosity is hardly ever idle. What we want to know, we want to know for a reason.  The reason is that there is a hole, a gap, an empty space in our understanding of things, our mental model of the world. We feel that gap like a hole in a tooth and want to fill it up. It makes us ask How? When? Why? While the gap is there, we are in tension, in suspense. Listen to the anxiety in a person’s voice when he says, ‘This doesn’t make sense!’ When the gap in our understanding is filled, we feel pleasure, satisfaction, relief.  Things make sense again – or at any rate, they make more sense than they did.

When we learn this way, for these reasons, we learn both rapidly and permanently. The person who really needs to know something, does not need to be told many times, drilled, tested.  Once is enough.

Man is by nature a learning animal. Birds fly, fish swim; man thinks and learns.”

John Holt from How Children Learn

john holt