I’ve been reading, amongst other things, two of John Holt’s most well-known books about learning and education. I started with How Children Learn, which focuses mainly on very young children, mostly pre-school age. I’m now reading How Children Fail, which was actually published earlier–I went backwards–and which focuses mostly on the 5th graders that he observed as a co-teacher. Both of these books were fist published in the ’60s, and were revised in the ’80s, but they seem so strangely relevant even today. The focus of Holt’s writing was learning, and the ways in which schools/teachers can so easily wander away from that focus and lose sight of the fact that children actually innately want to learn. They may not be able to even articulate what they are doing or why they are doing it, but their goal is innately learning and understanding the world around them.
Here’s the interesting thing though, and why I think these books are still relevant today. When in the classroom, or even outside of the classroom, children are “taught” something, when there is an individual who is telling them something is so and it is important they should know it, and the sooner the better, their goal is no longer understanding it for themselves, and therefore learning, their goal becomes proving to the teacher/parent/etc. that they’ve “understood”, that they “get it” or else their goal is to completely avoid the situation all together. So many of the “strategies” Holt describes that kids use in school I either remember using myself, or have seen kids often use, so I can’t help but find the whole thing fascinating.
I think any teacher would recognize that not much has changed since Holt wrote these books.