John Holt seems to have been an amazing person and I wish so much he was still alive and I could meet him. Instead, I read his books and become inspired again and again about how humans, especially young humans, thrive. Mr. Holt started out as an education reformer but somewhere along the line he gave up on that route and instead supported home schooling. His magazine “Growing Without Schooling” was the center of the burgeoning unschooling movement back before the internet made it so easy to connect with other like minded people. I have almost every issue on my shelf, purchased when I was pregnant with Sophie and I was still shedding the instilled beliefs I didn’t even know I had about education and parenting. Thank the Heavens I found Mr. Holt ad his works! Thank Chocolate I found unschooling! I fervently feel this gratitude almost daily.
Shortly after finding John Holt, I found another major unschooling influence for me, Rue Kream, author of Parenting a Free Child, which I have read over and over until the pages are getting soft (reading in the bath does that). Unlike Mr. Holt, I got to meet Rue at a conference a few years ago, and found her lovely, a bit shy, fiercely intelligent, and overflowing with obvious love and enjoyment for her husband and two daughters. I said it then and I’ll say it now, Thank You Rue, for your wonderful, courageous life and book that has so influenced how Paul and I live with Sophie and Luc. May many blessings rain down on you and yours!
Anyway, how nice to visit Rue’s blog this morning (something I only sometimes do because she very sporadically updates) to find a whole slew of some of her favorite John Holt quotes. They’re so good, like medicine I need to take regularly to counter the anti-kid prejudice that exists EVERYWHERE once you start noticing it. In case you would like to partake of the same medicine, in case you’ve never heard of John Holt and don’t know what you’re missing, I lifted some gems and brought them here.
Watch out though. If you’re like me, you’ll read them and go on with your day, thinking nothing more of it, while quietly, in the back of your mind, they’ll start working on you…. There’s a lot, skip around if you like, scroll, read here or there. All of them are good.
“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.”
“Children do not need to be made to learn about the world, or shown how. They want to, and they know how.”
“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.”
“Living is learning and when kids are living fully and energetically and happily they are learning a lot, even if we don’t always know what it is.”
“I would insist that much of the seemingly irrational and excessive anger of little children—‘tantrums’—is in fact not only caused by things that happen to them or that are said and done to them, but that these things would make us angry if they happened or were said and done to us.”
“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 that 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.”
“A man can not say Yes to something with all his heart unless he has an equal right to say No.”
“‘Allowed to experience childhood.’ At one level these words are true, but hardly worth saying. At any age, we experience being that age. Clearly the users of such words mean something else. Being allowed to experience childhood means being allowed to do some things and being spared having to do others – or forbidden. It means that adults will decide, without often or ever asking children what they think, that some experiences are good for children while others are not. It means for a child that adults are all the time deciding what is best for you and then letting or making you do it. But instead of trying to make sure that all children get only those experiences we think are good for them I would rather make available to children, as to everyone else, the widest possible range of experiences (except those that hurt others) and let them choose those they like best.”
“No use to shout at them to pay attention. If the situations, the materials, the problems before the child do not interest him, his attention will slip off to what does interest him, and no amount of exhortation or threats will bring it back.”
“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.”
“Since we can’t know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is senseless to try to teach it in advance. Instead, we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned.”
“Children are born passionately eager to make as much sense as they can of things around them. If we attempt to control, manipulate, or divert this process, the independent scientist in the child disappears.”
“There is no difference between living and learning.”
“Education now seems to me perhaps the most authoritarian and dangerous of all the social inventions of mankind. It is the deepest foundation of the modern slave state, in which most people feel themselves to be nothing but producers, consumers, spectators, and fans, driven more and more, in all parts of their lives, by greed, envy, and fear. My concern is not to improve ‘education’ but to do away with it, to end the ugly and antihuman business of people-shaping and to allow and help people to shape themselves.”
“The anxiety children feel at constantly being tested, their fear of failure, punishment, and disgrace, severely reduces their ability to perceive and to remember, and drives them away from the material being studied into strategies for fooling teachers into thinking they know what they really don’t know.”
“It is hard not to feel that there must be something very wrong with much of what we do in school, if we feel the need to worry so much about what many people call ‘motivation’. A child has no stronger desire than to make sense of the world, to move freely in it, to do the things that he sees bigger people doing.”
“We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions — if they have any — and helping them explore the things they are most interested in.”
“Be wary of saying or doing anything to a child that you would not do to another adult, whose good opinion and affection you valued.”
“Why do people take or keep their children out of school? Mostly for three reasons: they think that raising their children is their business not the government’s; they enjoy being with their children and watching and helping them learn and don’t want to give that up to others; they want to keep them from being hurt, mentally, physically, and spiritually.”
“To trust children, we must first learn to trust ourselves…and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.”
“It’s not that I feel that school is a good idea gone wrong, but a wrong idea from the word go. It’s a nutty notion that we can have a place where nothing but learning happens, cut off from the rest of life.”
“When a child is doing something she’s passionately interested in, she grows like a tree — in all directions. This is how children learn, how children grow. They send down a taproot like a tree in dry soil. The tree may be stunted, but it sends out these roots, and suddenly one of these little taproots goes down and strikes a source of water. And the whole tree grows.”
“It is as true now as it was then that, no matter what tests show, very little of what is taught in school is learned, very little of what is learned is remembered, and very little of what is remembered is used. The things we learn, remember, and use are the things we seek out or meet in the daily, serious, nonschool parts of our lives.”
“We ask children to do for most of the day what few adults are able to do for even an hour. How many of us, attending, say, a lecture that doesn’t interest us, can keep our minds from wandering? Hardly any.”
“Every child, without exception, has an innate and unquenchable drive to understand the world in which he lives and to gain freedom and competence in it. Whatever truly adds to his understanding, his capacity for growth and pleasure, his powers, his sense of his own freedom, dignity, and worth may be said to be true education.”
“Teaching does not make learning…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 being 100% false. Learners make learning.”