For those, who were around in the 60s, John Holt was a favourite educational writer. His books are just as relevant today and well worth a read if you can find copies. He started off talking about how to change schools and finished believing that schools were impossible to change.
If he were to visit schools today he would see that little has changed
In the forward to his book, ‘The Underachieving School’, he was asked to answer a question: ‘If America’s Schools were to take one giant step forward this year towards a better tomorrow what would it be’?And Holt's answer was:
‘It would be to let every child be the planner, director, and assessor of his own education, to allow and encourage him, with the inspiration and guidance of more experienced and expert people, and as much help as he asked for, to decide how he is to learnt, when he is to learn it, how he is to learn it, and how well he is learning it.’
And in his essay, ‘
True Learning’ can only arise out of the experience, interests and concerns of the learner, and later he says,
‘Almost every child, on the first day he sets foot in a school building, is smarter, more curious, less afraid of what he doesn’t know, better at finding things out, more confident, resourceful, and independent, than he will ever again be in his schooling or, unless he is very unusual and lucky, for the rest of his life.’
To often, Holt says, children learn that, learning is separate from living, that they can’t be trusted to learn for themselves, that they come to believe that learning, from now on, depends on the teacher, and it about ‘taking orders’.
Teachers, according to Holt, in effect say ,
‘Your experiences, your concerns, your curiosities , your needs, what you know, what you want, what you wonder about, what you hope for, what you fear, what you like and dislike, what you are good at or not good at- all this is not of the slightest importance, it counts for nothing. What counts here is, and the only thing that counts is what we know, what we think is important, what we want you to think and be.’As a result the child learns not to ask questions and he soon learns to accept the teacher’s evaluation of him. He learns that to be wrong, or to be confused, is a crime – he begins to learn the ‘game of school’. Later, if he can’t match the teachers’ expectations, he may learn to be indifferent, hostile or even ‘drop out’. It is, as one of Holts essay is called, the fourth R – the beginning of the rat race.
What true education requires of teachers, Holt writes ,
'is faith and courage – faith that children want to make sense out of their life and will work hard at it, courage to let them do it without continually poking, prying, prodding and meddling.
Is this so difficult?’
I think this exactly what creative teachers and school want as well.
Holt would recognize the ‘latest’ concept of ‘personalized learning’ but I bet he wouldn’t’ place money on it being achieved.