John Caldwell Holt (April 14, 1923 - September 14, 1985) was an American author and educator, one of the best known proponents of homeschooling, and a pioneer in youth rights theory. After many years of working within the school system, Holt became disillusioned with it. He became convinced that reform of the school system was not possible because it was fundamentally flawed. He became an advocate of homeschooling. [Source: Wikipedia]
I am making this collection of John Holt quotes, some I've ferreted away for nearly two decades so that it is easier for me to find them when I want them. At the moment they are scattered all over my hard drive! The first books I read that questioned my beliefs about education were by John Holt - How Children Learn and How Children Fail, followed closely by Teach Your Own. I haven't read everything he wrote, but what I have read echoes my own patterns of thinking. This man made sense when he spoke about education. So much of what we do and say in our world doesn't make sense. And when it usually does we generally ignore it!
The writings of John Holt had a lasting impact on not only my own life, but also that of my children and I believe we are better people as a result.
"The most important thing any teacher has to learn, not to be learned in any school of education I ever heard of, can be expressed in seven words: Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners." John Holt
"To trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves...and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted." John Holt
We learn to do something by doing it. There is no other way. John Holt
The true test of character is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don't know what to do. John Holt
The child is bold. He is not afraid of making mistakes. And he is patient. He can tolerate an extraordinary amount of uncertainty, confusion, ignorance, and suspense... John Holt
"I have used the words "home schooling" to describe the process by which children grow and learn in the world without going, or going very much, to schools, because those words are familiar and quickly understood. But in one very important sense they are misleading. What is most important and valuable about the home as a base for children's growth in the word is not that it is a better school than the schools but that it isn't a school at all." John Holt, Teach Your Own
"The child is curious. He wants to make sense out of things, find out how things work, gain competence and control over himself and his environment, and do what he can see other people doing. He is open, perceptive, and experimental." John Holt
"I have many times talked to teachers who wanted to teach in alternative schools, or I'd meet some young guy who'd say, "I want to work with kids," so I say, well, what do you know that is so interesting that kids of their own free will will come up to you to learn how to do it. Usually they don't have any answer at all. My reply is, you don't want to work with kids, you want to work on kids, do things to them or make them do things that you think would be good for them. The place to start is with something that really interests you, and then make yourself available to help others get to really do it also." John Holt
"The child does not merely observe the world around him. He does not shut himself off from the strange, complicated world around him, but tastes it, touches it, hefts it, bends it, breaks it. To find out how reality works, he works on it." John Holt
"It is the duty of a citizen in a free country not to fit into society, but to make society." John Holt
"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, Teach Your Own
"What makes people smart, curious, alert, observant, competent, confident, resourceful, persistent - in the broadest and best sense, intelligent- is not having access to more and more learning places, resources, and specialists, but being able in their lives to do a wide variety of interesting things that matter, things that challenge their ingenuity, skill, and judgement, and that make an obvious difference in their lives and the lives of people around them." John Holt, Teach Your Own
"We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty rewards – in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else." John Holt
"We can think of ourselves not as teachers but as gardeners. A gardener does not 'grow' flowers; he tries to give them what he thinks they need and they grow by themselves." John Holt
"All I am saying... can be summed up in two words: Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted." John Holt
"Children may be more capable of competent self-directed learning
than we give them credit for..." John Holt
"The hardest one is learning to trust their children, learning that they don't have to make learning happen. Learning that you don't have to be stimulating them all the time. Parents start teaching their kids because they feel a strong sense of responsibility but they tend to sometimes feel more responsible than they really are. The hardest thing to do is learn to back off. There are surely millions of people in this country who are pretty indifferent to what their kids do, but they're not home schooling. Home-schoolers ask questions like, "How can I be sure I'm giving my child enough?" I have to say, just the world out there as it is has plenty of food for thought. You don't have to make your life one long field trip or turn your home into a miniature of the Smithsonian or the Metropolitan Museum." John Holt
"The child is curious. He wants to make sense out of things, find out how things work, gain competence and control over himself and his environment, and do what he can see other people doing. He is open, perceptive, and experimental. He does not merely observe the world around him, He does not shut himself off from the strange, complicated world around him, but tastes it, touches it, hefts it, bends it, breaks it. To find out how reality works, he works on it. He is bold. He is not afraid of making mistakes. And he is patient. He can tolerate an extraordinary amount of uncertainty, confusion, ignorance, and suspense ... School is not a place that gives much time, or opportunity, or reward, for this kind of thinking and learning." John Holt, How Children Learn
"The philosopher wants to empower us while the expert wants to stand over us and make us dependent on him. A true teacher - and we're all teachers, the human animal is as much a teacher as it is a learner - basically likes showing people who want to know, here, do this and do this. The essence of teaching is working yourself out of a job, getting a person to the point where they don't need you. The home schooling movement is, of course, a marvelous paradigm of that, and that's why it generates self-reliant learners, teachers and leaders." John Holt
"I guess my ideal educational system would be a society in which knowledge was widely free and widely and freely shared, and children were everywhere trusted, respected, safe, valued, and welcomed." John Holt
"Children are better at thinking than we are for the most part. There are certain kinds of specialized thinking that we are better at than they are, but for the most part if we look at those components of the scientific method - observation, wondering, speculating, theorizing, testing theory - point for point they do this better than most of us. People who are as good as kids at doing this are usually distinguished scientists, geniuses, prize winners, and so forth. The old saying that children go to school to learn how to learn doesn't make sense. They're better at it than we are!" John Holt
"I choose to define it here as most people do, something that some people do to others for their own good, molding and shaping them, and trying to make them learn what they thing they ought to know. Today, everywhere in the world, that is what "education" has become, and I am wholly against it. People spend a great deal of time- as for years I did myself- talking about how to make "education" more effective and efficient, or how to do it or give it to more people, or how to reform or humanize it. But to make it more effective and efficient will only be to make it worse, and to help it do even more harm. It cannot be reformed, cannot be carried out wisely or humanely, because its purpose is neither wise nor humane. " John Holt
"To parents I say, above all else, don't let your home become some terrible miniature copy of the school. No lesson plans! No quizzes! No tests! No report cards! Even leaving your kids alone would be better; at least they could figure out some things on their own. Live together, as well as you can; enjoy life together, as much as you can." John Holt
"Children do not need to be made to learn to be better, told what to do or shown how. If they are given access to enough of the world, they will see clearly enough what things are truly important to themselves and to others, and they will make for themselves a better path into that world then anyone else could make for them." John Holt How Children Fail
"Next to the right to life itself, the most fundamental of all human rights is the right to control our own minds and thoughts. That means, the right to decide for ourselves how we will explore the world around us, think about our own and other persons' experiences, and find and make the meaning of our own lives. Whoever takes that right away from us, as the educators do, attacks the very center of our being and does us a most profound and lasting injury. He tells us, in effect, that we cannot be trusted even to think, that for all our lives we must depend on others to tell us the meaning of our world and our lives, and that any meaning we may make for ourselves, out of our own experience, has no value." John Holt
"Let me sum up what I have been saying about learning. I believe that we learn best when we, not others, are deciding what we are going to try to learn, and when, and how, and for what reasons or purposes; when we, not others, are in the end choosing the people, materials, and experiences from which and with which we will be learning; when we, not others, are judging how easily or quickly or well we are learning, and when we have learned enough; and above all when we feel the wholeness and opennesss of the world around us, and our own freedom and power and competence in it. When then can we do about it? How can we create or help create these conditions for learning?" John Holt
"Of course, a child may not know what he may need to know in ten years (who does?), but he knows, and much better than anyone else, what he wants and needs to know right now, what his mind is ready and hungry for. If we help him, or just allow him, to learn that, he will remember it, use it, build on it. If we try to make him learn something else, that we think is more important, the chances are that he won't learn it, or will learn very little of it, that he will soon forget most of what he learned, and what is worst of all, will before long lose most of his appetite for learning anything." John Holt, Teach Your Own
"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him."
John Holt, How Children Learn
"Leaders are not, as we are often led to think, people who go along with huge crowds following them. Leaders are people who go their own way without caring, or even looking to see, whether anyone is following them. "Leadership qualities" are not the qualities that enable people to attract followers, but those that enable them to do without them. They include, at the very least, courage, endurance, patience, humor, flexibility, resourcefulness, stubbornness, a keen sense of reality, and the ability to keep a cool and clear head, even when things are going badly. True leaders, in short, do not make people into followers, but into other leaders. " John Holt, Teach Your Own
"The modern world is dangerous, confusing, not meant for children, not generally kind or welcoming to them. We have much to learn about how to make the world more accessible to them, and how to give them more freedom and competence in exploring it. But this as a very different thing from designing nice little curricula." John Holt, Teach Your Own
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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.
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 supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.