‘Most children in school fail.’ These are the opening words of John Holt’s book ‘How Children Fail’. I’d forgotten all about this dear old friend of a book until I came across it again on a second hand stall the other day.
Finding his book the first time was like finding silk when I’d been dressed in mohair for years not knowing I’m allergic to it! It was probably what cemented my then unspoken suspicion that schools weren’t always the best places for kids and that the system doesn’t always do right by them.
I noticed that many of the kids in the schools I was working in at the time seemed to be allergic too. They just didn’t sit comfortably in the school situation, didn’t seem to be getting what they needed and, in more of Holt’s words, were failing ‘to develop more than a tiny part of their tremendous capacity for learning, understanding, and creating with which they were born’.
This book was published years ago and he’s written many more since then. But the problem still remains the same and what he predicted also seems to be coming true; that by ‘raising standards’ we are making the situation worse. We are raising the proportion of failures too. We are making more and more children miss using their potential.
They appear to be achieving, if you believe that passing tests and getting grades within a narrow structure of academic tasks is the sole benchmarks for educational achievement. But I don’t believe that. John Holt didn’t believe that and increasing thousands of home educators don’t believe it either. We believe there are other things to achieve, other more important life skills than academic skills. And it’s by neglecting those that we are creating a huge divide between the people who can use academic skills easily and appear to be winners, to those who cannot. We are making misguided assumptions about their intelligence. And even sadder we are switching off young people to learning for life.
We really need to get our heads round the fact that school does not have to be the god of an education. If anything, an open attitude and approach is, one that suits the individual.
John Holt is a god among many home educators. Home educators know what he knew and are proving him to be true. Proving that children do not need to be shut in institutions for hours on end away from the real adult world they will one day be part of, doing dull academic exercises and endless tests, in order to become educated. Home educators educate in the real world, through a variety of real experiences and approaches, in contact with real adults other than teaching adults. And by doing so they turn many school failures into achieving children.
Holt says at the end of his book ‘We made a terrible mistake when (with the best of intentions) we separated children from adults and learning from the rest of life, and one of most urgent tasks is to take down the barriers we have put between them and let them come back together’.
That’s exactly what home schooling does. And is one of the reasons why it’s so successful.