A Brief Look at John Holt
by Gareth Lewis
John Holt played a pivotal role in making homeschooling a viable option for parents and children in the United States.
He started his career as a school teacher and despite the fact that he was successful was not blind to the deficiencies of the system within which he was working.
He wrote two best-selling books - 'How Children Fail' (1964) and 'How Children Learn'(1967) - which became standard text books for students studying education and eventually sold over one and a half million copies.
Rather than resting on his laurels (teaching at Harvard etc) he chose to carry on trying to understand the real reasons why children were learning so little at school.
By the late 1970s he had come to the conclusion that schools could not be reformed - they are inherently flawed institutions - and that parents would be best advised to teach their children at home. His work became less and less accepted in academic circles but found a warm reception amongst parents who could not understand why things were not working out for their children at school.
He started a magazine, Growing Without Schooling, in which he set out a radical philosophy: not only suggesting that children should not be sent to school but also that any sort or organised schooling was detrimental to a child's development.
John Holt spent much of the remainder of his life campaigning for and supporting Homeschooling. His books are still amongst the most lucid on the subject. It is at least partly due to his efforts that Homeschooling is now legal in all the states of America.
John Holt will be remembered as one of the people who did most to restore a measure of humanity to the education of children in western countries in the twentieth century.
There is of course another side to the story , many people who homeschool feel intimidated by the legacy of John Holt - they do not feel comfortable with the way he recommended a lack of structure to the teaching day and the fact that he would not promote a particular curriculum or particular books.
My perspective, as a European, is, however, that John Holt is the only person in a prominent public position, on either side of the Atlantic, who has been prepared to stand up and support parents in their attempts to defy the authorities and give their children a proper education.
Whatever differences people may have had with him on points of detail, his courage helped to win everyone in America the right to follow whatever course of education that they believe to be best for their children. It must be at least partly thanks to him that things have moved forward so rapidly in America while so little progress towards real educational reform has been made in the UK and the rest of Europe.
An excellent article describing his life and work of John Holt by Patrick Faranga - his friend and colleague can be found at http://www.mhla.org/HoltOrigins.htm.
Visit http://www.freedom-in-education.co.uk/ for other great articles and information on home education from Gareth.
Gareth Lewis is the author of the very popular "how to" homeschooling books:
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Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active support of national, state, regional and local home education groups.
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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine
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