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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Interview with John Holt

Today's alternative schools don't really trust the child's ability to direct herself. Freedom is used more as a 'motivational device'.
"Many people, among educators, parents, and the general public, seemed to be very interested in and even enthusiastic about the idea of making schools into places in which children would be independent and self-directed learners. .... Yet from many experiences during this time I began to see, in the early ’70s, slowly and reluctantly, but ever more surely, that the movement for school reform was mostly a fad and an illusion. Very few people, inside the schools or out, were willing to support or even tolerate giving more freedom, choice, and self-direction to children. Of the very few who were, most were doing so not because they believed that children really wanted and could be trusted to find out about the world, but because they thought that giving children some of the appearances of freedom (allowing them to wear old clothes, run around, shout, write on the wall, etc.) was a clever way of getting them to do what the school had wanted all along – to learn those school subjects, get into a good college, etc. Freedom was not a serious way of living and working, but only a trick, a "motivational device." When it did not quickly bring the wanted results, the educators gave it up without a thought and without regret."

The hardest challenge for home-schooling parents is to let go and learn to trust, to keep faith.
"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."

Taking all the 'Children are not allowed' signs down is half the work that needs to be done to enable education!
"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. The adult world is full of signs saying off limits to kids. If we could take down all the signs that say "children can’t come in," or "no children allowed in except accompanied by adults" we’d probably do most of what needs to be done."

How can we adults (who have lost our ability to learn) teach children how to learn?
"I’ve learned more from them than they have from me. I’m much, much closer to being able to learn the way they do than I was several years ago. I started the flute at 34; I was a very bad learner, very tense, very scared of mistakes. I started the cello at 40. I was better, only played a couple of years because I was lecturing and had to quit. Took it up again at 50; I was a still better learner. I’ve taken up the violin now at 60, and I’ve gone much further in the first year – with 10 to 15 minutes a day on the violin – than I did in my first year on the cello. Some of it is a transfer but some of it is that I’m much happier at the whole business of learning something new. Much of it is just by hanging out with these little guys and seeing what they do."

When people (usually young) say 'I want to work with children', they most often don't mean it at all!
"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." (This is so similar to Vinobhaji's response to a young man. Read the 6th point in this blog-post.)

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