John Holt has long been one of the most respected advocates for homeschooling in the U.S. His wisdom and insight is highly regarded by the homeschooling community even today, 27 years after his life. [Is that tactful? Does “after his life” make sense? I tried “after his death” and “after his passing” but even though true, it seemed a bit macabre. Now I’ve said them all. Great. Nice save, me. ]
He began his career as a teacher himself. In the 60’s Holt worked to reform the public school system to better suit the interests of students. Early in the 70’s he realized public schools were not going to be reformed without a greater shift in society at large. He then became a tireless, passionate advocate for homeschooling.
Holt wrote eleven books on the public school system, homeschooling, and learning. He founded the magazine Growing Without Schooling.
The book Teach Your Own, the John Holt Book of Homeschooling thoroughly informs the reader on the benefits of homeschooling and refutes the stereotypical arguments against homeschooling. It offers the reader insights into why and how children learn [covered in more detail in How Children Learn] and touches on the myriad ways public schools are failing our nations youth [covered in greater detail in How Children Fail].
Above all, John Holt cared for, appreciated, and respected children in a manner that has all but vanished from our culture today and this is what really shines through in all his writing. My only critique might be that he lacks the parental perspective. As far as I can tell, he didn’t have children of his own, but spent much time observing and learning about his students and his friend’s kids. As parents, we seek understanding for the challenges we face raising our children and homeschooling them, if we make that choice. Of course, there are great homeschooling books written by parents, like Alison McKee’s book which I reviewed a couple weeks ago on this blog. What is best about John Holt’s perspective is his pure faith in the ability of all children and his words both reassure and inspire us all to do our very best.
“If children are taught at home, won’t they miss the valuable social life of the school? If there were no other reason for wanting to keep kids out of school, the social life would be reason enough. In all but a very few of the schools I have taught in, visited, or know anything about, the social life of the children is mean-spirited, competitive, exclusive, status-seeking, snobbish, full of talk about who went to whose birthday party and who got what Christmas presents and who got how many Valentine cards and who is talking to so-and-so and who is not.”
—Teach Your Own
“[W]hen they learn in their own way and for their own reasons, children learn so much more rapidly and effectively than we could possibly teach them, that we can afford to throw away our curricula and our timetables, and set them free, at least most of the time, to learn on their own.”
—How Children Learn